I put NEW WORKS in all caps because of it's importance. New work is vital to keeping theater alive and there are many wonderful Bay Area theater companies who embrace local playwrights and new work exclusively and it's a beautiful thing.
One of these companies is Wily West Productions.
I was first introduced to Wily West through The Playwrights' Center of San Franciso where many company members had attachments to PCSF whether they were past board members and playwrights or producers, directors, and actors.
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I quickly became aware of the work Morgan Ludlow was creating, the aesthetic the company was establishing, and the mission to embrace innovative and thought-provoking plays and playwrights. From their first show, Widow West, to their producing partner collaborations with bay area playwrights (Stuart Bousel, Patricia Milton, Rod McFadden, Krista Knight, to name a few) to their BATCC award-nominated Gorgeous Hussy (Ryan Hayes is nominated for Best Performance and Morgan Ludlow for Best Original Script), Wily West has celebrated the unique voice of local playwrights.
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To help support the season, which includes producing WORLD PREMIERES of FOURTEEN new plays supporting the work of FIFTY theater artists, we are running an Indiegogo campaign.
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For an incredibly ambitious season, our fundraising goal is incredibly modest ($7,000), but vital to bringing these plays to the community.
Please check out the campaign and consider donating, then you, too, can be a SUPERHERO!
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It's our fifth fest and our first time at Tides Theatre. The new space was beautiful to work in and Jennifer Welch at Tides was a dream to work wtih. The move to the bigger space proved to be the right one as we sold out once again, though there were a few no shows.
It all began for the playwrights, which this year included me, Friday night at 7pm. We lined up on stage, ready to pull the theme from a hat, as well as who are director and actors would be. We were excited, nervous, and ready!
Playwrights: Larry Rekow, Mary Blackford, Deborah Wade, Chas Belov, Me, Laylah Muran de Assereto (hidden), Barry Slater, and Bridgette Dutta Portman
This year, I had asked past playwrights to send in their suggestions for themes. I thought this would be a great way to keep everyone connected to 24-Hour fest. And boy did they send them in! In the hat was no less than 39 themes! Jeffrey Blaze, who wrote for 24-hour in the fall and who was acting this time around, was asked to pull the theme for us:
How did vanilla get such a bad rap?
I thought this was a particularly challenging theme, which it indeed turned out to be, but that's what this is about: challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves to create exciting theater on a deadline.
Since I'm producer for 24-the hour fest, being picked to write in addition to producing is always challenging. Up until the morning of fest, I'm able to keep these two jobs separate: producer duties until 10pm Friday night, then swich to writing mode until 6 am. But on Saturday, with a full day of rehearsals, 8 directors, 8 playwrights, 18 actors, and 8 volunteers, a new space to manage, and being up for a total of 43 straight hours, it can get exhausting.
As a playwright, I want to spend as much time with my director and actors during rehearsal as possible. As a producer, I'm pulled away, tapped on the shoulder, emailed, called, and texted. Fires, fires, everywhere.
For example, the theater space we rented (not Tides) for a couple early hours of rehearsals, was gated and padlocked. And the theater contact was unresponsive. Actors and directors lined the city streets (until I sent them across the way to a hotel bar lobby to wait it out). In the meantime, one of our directors emailed to say she had fallen ill and couldn't direct. All of this before 9am.
Turns out, I had keys or was supposed to have keys to the theater, but didn't bring them. Luckily, Jennifer Welch saved the day. Because she's awesome. And I called in a back up director who was at the theater by 10:30am. First two crisises dealt with, but it was early in a very long day.
How do we get through this? How do I get through this? Six words: Bridgette Dutta Portman and stage Bill Hyatt. They are the core of 24-hour fest and are rock solid in supporting the show and me.
Stage manager, Bill Hyatt Associate Producer Bridgette Dutta Portman w/playwright Chas Belov
We also have a great group volunteers for house, led by the outstanding Elizabeth Flanagan, and a terrific crew which nearly always contains the dutiful, talented, and easy-going, but determined Jan Carty Marsh. She knows her stuff and she will do what you need and she's polite and a joy. Joining her this year was Seema, who came and jumped right in comfortably.
Elizabeth Flanagan, House Manager Jan Carty Marsh and Seema Sairam
On the producing side, delegating is key. Never have I known this to be true than this year and never had I done it more than this year. It made a world of difference. Once you surround yourself with the best people, delegation isn't worrisome to a control-freak, but a relief.
Because of these incredibly capable and genereous folks, and my newly-found comfort in delegating, I did get to have quality time with my director, Scott Ragle, and the talented actors tasked to bring my hours-old play to life, Drew Reitz and Daniel Solomon.
And boy, did they have a job ahead of them.
Daniel Solomon, Scott Ragle, Drew Reitz
We gathered in an empty space (in this case, the hallway to the theater) and ran lines. Then I'd interjcet with, "I'd like to cut a line," or, "I have line changes." So rehearsing from 9am to 7pm to get off-book becomes even more challenging for them. Thank goodness they were open and willing to receive my need to refine the play.
I think they understood the massive struggle that happened with me overnight.
I'm not going to lie. This was the most difficult writing experience I've ever had. Ever.
I've done 24-hour fest since the beginning, writing for it three out of the five times. Never, NEVER, had I struggled they way I did this time. Never had I not had a play early enough in the evening that I knew it could be finished by 6am. The last time around, I struggled and thought I wrote drivel, but that was just normal, overnight emotional writer's block meltdown, but this THIS was different. This was no pages. this was anxiety, tears, chest pain, and getting sick.
This was going to be the first time a playwright failed to deliver.
At 2am, I sent an email to my director. I hadn't figured out the 'why' of my play, yet. Looking back on the email, I'm surprised it wasn't at all panicky. I was quite panicked. I hadn't appreciated his reply until Sunday when I reread it:
Me: I'm writing about 2 guys in a band. One of them wants to leave the band right when they're on the verge of signing a big contract, but he also maybe wants to keep his friendship with his bandmate and childhood friend. Problem is I don't know why they guy wants out, yet.
Scott:: he loves his cat "vanilla" too much to go on the road.
Maybe it's about cats.
It was not about cats.
The smartest thing I had done was rent a hotel room near the theater. The second smartest thing was inviting a friend and fellow fest playwright to stay with me. But for the grace of Laylah, I would not have made fest deadline.
5:00am and only three pages. Tears. Anxiety. Laylah, having just sent her play after reaching a breakthrough from her own struggles, asked to read what I had (knowing I'm usually too hard on myself). What she didn't do was hug me. What she did do was tell me this was like a marathon (knowing I used to run marathons) and we were in the last .2 miles of the race. What I had was good, I just needed to end it. "Give me another 1/2 to 1 page and send it." (of course I heard 1 1/2 pages and nearly threw up).
The marathon analogy was the right thing to do. I did it. It was going to be a short play, but it was a play.
I sent it off at 5:59am.
Then she hugged me.
So when I asked Drew and Daniel to accept revisions, they understood that I did what I could overnight and we had to expand and tighten in rehearsals. They were terrific about it.
The funny thing was, I barely had to touch the dang thing. My changes were minor. Once Scott, Drew, and Daniel read it, began blocking it, I realized I had the makings of a darn good play.
And, when I saw it during the performance and heard some people in the audience, when the final, cutting line was delivered, give out an audible, "oh." I knew I had succeeded.
Daniel Solomon and Drew Reitz taking a bow after performing "Pablum."
By the way, all photos were taken by the great Jim Norrena (and more can be found on PCSF's Facebook page. Where you can 'like' us, too!)
No one (e.g. directors, actors, dramaturgs) can make changes, alterations, and/or omission to your script – including the text, title, and stage directions – without your consent. – Dramatists Guild Bill of Rights
Recently during a discussion on Facebook about new plays often having text dictating “female characters be thin and/or beautiful without it really being necessary,” a whole can of worms I’d love to open and take on, as well, someone posted: “Honestly, I would just cut the language.”
To be fair, the poster also said if it were a significant change, she would ask the playwright. Gee, thank you. Now, if you would please apply the same respect to ANY of my language, I’d thank you very much.
While I wanted to applaud her honesty, though I’m not sure she realized she’d have protests, I was really bothered by how cavalier the statement was: “I would just cut it.” Like it was no big deal. Like the playwright was incidental to the text; insignificant. It’s disrespectful.
When I pointed out that no words should ever be cut or changed or added (or paraphrased as is something that happens too often) without permission from the playwright, she thanked me for my sentiment.
But it’s not a sentiment. It’s not permitted.
And when it happens, it’s defilement. (can I direct you all to a great post by Bitter Gertrude called “Directing Creative Freedom and Vandalism,” please).
Keep in mind we are talking about new plays where you have playwrights at your fingertips. Playwrights understand collaboration. Playwrights want collaboration. Playwrights are eager for collaboration. (By the way, if you’re a playwright and you don’t want to collaborate, I’d recommend writing fiction or poetry. Theater is collaborative).
However, if we feel the cut or add you are asking us to make is not right for the play, then you have to be ready to hear “no,” just as we need to be ready to hear, “we can’t produce your play.”
Changing a script without permission is not a feeling, emotion, or attitude on my part (or the part of any playwright), but is a bonafide right as the creators of the work. Yet, the debate continues. (see this facebook exchange on Playscripts)
I used the Dramatists Guild’s Bill of Rights to back me up.
This triggered the expression of another frustrating myth: she said, “no director ever follows stage directions.” We can talk about his forever. Stage directions are vital to a play. They aren’t any more incidental to the play than the playwright is, IF they’ve been used properly. They, too, should not be ignored.
Because it would be a digression I'm not interested in taking on right now, I’ved linked you to a couple posts about why ignoring stage directions is not cool (thank goodness for teachers like Dr. Louis E. Catron, Professor of Theatre, College of William and Mary) and why playwrights need to do better with them so they myth that all actors and directors should ignore them can go away. Forever.
Along with anyone thinking it is ever okay to change even one punctuation mark in our scripts without permission.
For the last six weeks I've been participating in a writing project for Wily West Productions where I've recently become an associate artist. Eight writers were invited to write short plays over the course of six weeks on a general theme. Each week, a subtopic is assigned by yours truly that related to the general theme and each week we wrote as many scripts as possible.
The theme is Superheroes.
And thus we've called ourselves The Playmakers League. One of the playwrights, Laylah Muran, created superhero avatars for each of us, which we will be using as trading cards!
alter ego: Jennifer Roberts, playwright.
weapon: poisonous gas and quick wit
super power: parasitism and herbivory
critical weakness: pizzly bears and pesticides
origin story: Raised in Transfer, PA but has invaded Sharpsville, PA, Weirton, WV, Rochester, NY, San Mateo, CA, Union City, CA, Columbus, Ohio, and Alameda, CA where she's currently considering her next move if she didn't have six legs happily sunk in the landfill of the bay area.
The goal is to generate work fast and to have fun. Often the playwrights borrowed characters from each other, built upon plots and wrote response pieces. Through it all, we engaged in conversations about each other's work and offered encouragment to keep on keeping on. Alongside the writers, Kat Down from the band Sit Kitty Sit, wrote music inspired by the theme and the plays.
The end game is to generate enough work to curate a full show in August.
And generate we did.
Originally, we estimated we would have around 56 plays at the end of the writing period. But as I'm writing this, with our final week still in progress, we have written over 104 short plays, many of us averaging three to four plays a week, though my personal bests were seven plays week three and eight plays in week four.
This morning, as I wrote a post to the playwrights revealing the last subtopic, I found myself getting emotional. It's been a wild ride. Challenging. Inspiring. And besides just being super fun, the subtopics I've been using have all meant something to me on a personal level, and judging by the tremendous work being written by all the playwrights, they've related to the topics, as well.
Our plays run the gamut of poignant to tragic to hilarious to absurd to outright frightening.
A wild ride, indeed.
I've scheduled time with director Alicia Coombs and producer Quinn Cayabyab, purchased a nice, medium-priced cabernet, and we're ready to dig in to these scripts and curate the best dang superhero show ever.
Collage Cabaret, as we are calling it temporarily, will be a fun show with live music by the incredibly talented Kat D, and will run three weeks in July/August in rep with another Wily West production, Everybody Here Says Hello by Stuart Bousel.
I'm excited to be part of this year's San Francisco Olympians Festival. I've been commissioned to write about the Naiads, who are freshwater nymphs.
Each year, Stuart Bousel, creator of the festival (who also runs SF Theater Pub and SATURDAY WRITE FEVER and who does a whole bunch of other amazing theater-things her in San Francisco) chooses parts of Greek mythology to explore through the interpretations and retellings by Bay Area playwrights. The selection in last season's theme, The Trojan Requiem, was as creative as the festival itself. We saw plays about Achilles, Ajax Major, Hecuba as well as plays from the points of views of objects and tools of war: the bow, the plains of Ilium, the walls of Troy. It was utterly fascinating.
This year, the theme is the Monster Compendium. Sweet, right? There will be plays about Centaurs, Chimera, and Hydra, just to name a few. And among them, an evening on Nymphs.
Hold up! I know some of you may say, "Hey, I didn't think Nymphs were monsters?" Well, you'd be correct if you were looking at it through the Judeo-Christian lens on morality, but as Bousel reminds us,
"[W]ith the Greeks, the lines between monster, nature spirit, minor gods, personified concepts, and divine creatures are pretty blurry. Nymphs are not gods, they are nature spirits, but they are born from the blood of Ouranos, as are the satyrs andcentaurs, the furies. The harpies are technically gods, as are Echidna and Typhanos and Pan. But all have "monstrous" qualities in appearance and to some extent, demeanor. I would say that for the Greeks, whose morality system was not judeo-christian, and therefore evil is not necessarily an attribute of monster, the grouping of monsters would be a kind of catch all for all those things which were not clearly gods, and yet had aspects or elements which made them clearly not human."
Here's a sneak peak of my still un-named play about the Naiads of Catawba-Wateree River in South Carolina. It's cool and enviromental, like I do.
The fesitval kicks off with short plays about the Nymphs On Wednesday, November 5th. The festival runs through November 22nd. Here's the amazing lineup of Nymph playwrights:
Oh! And there's art! Fantastic, amazing art by some incredible artists. And SF Olympians are doing something new this year in regards to art. They're having a monthly art challenge!
"[O]pen to any and all disciplines, to create a piece of art based on a specific monster-type or named-monster in the Greek cannon. Every piece submitted will go up onto the San Francisco Olympians Festival Facebook page, placed on our Pinterest, and uploaded to our website. Once the ten months are up, we will choose the 10 best pieces (1 per month) to exhibit it in the official art show on November 1st!"
When a man can do better than everyone else in the same walk, he does not make any very painful exertions to outdo himself. The progress of improvement ceases nearly at the point where competition ends. - William Hazlitt
Competition is good. Competition keeps your hands on the keyboard when they'd rather be sat on. (did that sound how I wanted it to?)
Competition is overwhelming and can make you want to fling your body into the sea with rocks in your pockets. (or is that just me?)
Competition is healthy.
Competition is painful, as Mr. Hazlitt reminds us.
Most of all, competition challenges us, encourages us, and, though we may only realize it upon reflection, moves us forward.
Over the past few weeks, when social events and obligations have taken me away from writing more than I expected, coupled with all the work I was doing to support and champion fellow writers, I began to feel as if I were walking through deep mud, creatively: slowly and thickly not. getting. anywhere.
(<---this is me. in the mud. thinking I was getting nowhere. but I finished. and got a medal.)
Yet upon reflection, I've done more this year than last year and most all of it spurred by competition.
I was challenged to submit more and I have. I've submitted to 30 contests, festivals, theatres, and residencies. it may not sound like a lot, but it's a vast improvement over the 13 submissions in 2012.
I was challenged to submit a proposal for a commision for the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which terrified the hell out of me, and I did. (what's that saying about doing one thing that scares you every day year?)
I was challenged by friends who arrived Thursday mornings and sat and wrote in silence across from me at my dining room table, or on the couch, or in my den, for hours.
I was challenged in other ways as well, mostly by hearing of and seeing and supporting the successes of other wonderful playwright peers and thinking, I should be doing that. And when I look back on 2013, I did do that.
Could I have done more? Yes. Should I have done more? Absolutely and Always.
New Year's Eve; it's a time to celebrate the past year, look at your accomplishments proudly, then quickly look forward, and plan how, through painful exertion, to outdo yourself.
In 2013, I...
On tap for 2014...
Is there room for more? Absolutley and Always.
Bring on 2014!
And thank you to all who continually engage me in healthy competition. It's on!
They did. And I am.
By now, we all know the goal: write 31 plays by end of August (31 days). Now in it's second year, this bright idea by two women writers based in the San Francisco Bay Area, has taken off, causing stress and panic to playwrights around the globe. And in it's wake, some really great plays.
This year they kicked off the event with a preceding five day warmup: write one 256-character play per day for five days. Brilliant. Ratchett up the on-demand creativity pressure dial, why don't you?
However, loads of great, super-short plays were posted to app.net. Oh, goodness they were good. And
since I'm a glutton, I signed on to do it, as well. One of them even got a shout out!
The start of 31 plays began at midnight and I successfully posted my first play. At the suggestion of a friend, I took my 256-character plays and expanded them. It was really fun to see what more these characters had to say. Turns out, they were still brief. And I liked it.