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Aaaaaand We’re Back

Happy New Year, everybody!

(Oh wait, it’s the end of February.  We’re probably past the point where that greeting makes any kind of sense – even though I do know a few people who still have their Christmas trees up.  But anyway.)

A while back, I had mentioned that I’d be taking a break from this blog for the holidays – which, as mentioned above, was quite a long while ago.  It’s the first break from weekly posting I’ve taken since building this website, and it wound up being much longer than I expected – three months.

I needed a break.

Partly that’s due to natural burnout – it’s been something like nine or years of weekly posts, which does tend to eat up time and mental energy.  (Maybe not all that much, but still.) But along with that comes a harsh truth – I’ve covered about as many possible topics as its possible to cover, given that I spend most of my life pecking away at my laptop.  There’s only so many ways I can describe that.

Combine that with the fact that I’ve been working on a long range topic, and the time spent racking my brain for words to post here was actively taking away time from that, and I figured I’d take a break.  Maybe for a week or two.


Which turned into three months.  Sorry about that.


And it’s still true – the time spent writing this, short though this “I’m back” announcement may be, is actively taking away from time I’d wanted to spend working on that other project.  (Which will further be eroded by revisions to yet another project.  Oh well.) But over the past three months, a number of further projects have come up.  New things for me to work on, to try and promote.

New stories to tell.

So, since I have a reason to come back, I’m back.  Hopefully for a good while to come.

Until next week!

Cold Lemonade

On Saturday, February 24, the Sherman Players in Sherman, CT will be presenting my short script NORWEGIANS PAY HALF PRICE as part of their new Cold Lemonade cold reading series! You can find details here.

Holiday Hiatus

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

As of 11:58am Thursday morning, as Santa Claus pulled up in front of the Macy’s flaghip store in Herald Square, the Christmas season is officially upon us.  It is, of course, a time of the year teeming with artistic activity.  There’s holiday concerts aplenty, the Yuletide pieces showcasing centuries of artistic achievement.  The major movie studios will begin their rollout of all the major prestige pictures, ahead of the end-of-year cut-off for awards consideration.  And a host of Broadway and off-Broadway productions will be open to avail themselves of the influx of tourist dollars every December.  Yes, the end of the year is always full of excitement.

Paradoxically, though, if you’re not actively involved in one of these projects then this bustling time is actually one of the most uneventful times of the year.  New productions won’t start auditioning or rehearsing until after the new year.  People will be out of town to visit loved ones, or simply recuperate from the stresses of the year gone by.  There simply isn’t very much going on – unless you happen to have end of the year writing deadlines, in which case staring at a laptop and pecking away at your typewriter throughout the waning hours of December is the most you have to look forward to.

With that in mind, and my own deadline to attend to, I’ll be going on a hiatus for the rest of the year.  Weekly blog posts will resume in January.

Happy holidays everybody!

This Post May Not Be Comprehensible Outside of the Five Boroughs

A friend’s play was in an evening of short one-acts in a tiny little fringe space in Bushwick this weekend, and being the good-hearted soul that I am I naturally went to go see it.  Aside from wanting to support a friend, I was curious to explore the Brooklyn theater scene, especially as a Brooklynite myself.  I’d never had an excuse to visit the neighborhood of Bushwick before, and I figured this was precisely the excuse I needed (it’s become something of a pizza mecca these days, you know).  I left my Bath Beach apartment a little after 4pm that afternoon, to make my way across my home borough of the city.  The curtain was at 8pm – obviously I’d given myself enough time to arrive at my destination at a nice, leisurely pace.

(I’ll give other Brooklynites a minute at this point to chuckle ruefully.)

I encountered my first obstacle right away, on my local subway line – the D train at my stop was only stopping in one direction.  I couldn’t go towards Manhattan or Atlantic Avenue, ruling out most of the rest of the city for me.  Fortunately, I knew this in advance, and had an alternative, albeit a roundabout one.  I took the D train in the other direction, all the way out to Coney Island, to then catch the Q train going in the opposite direction.

That direction was towards the Dekalb Avenue stop.  Unfortunately, I’d only looked at my directions in a cursory manner, and made the mistaking that the DeKalb Avenue stop I needed to arrive at was the one on the Q line.  Alas, Bushwick is much further to the east, and the MTA has two subway stop which bear the DeKalb name.  I needed the one on the L line.

That wasn’t as big of a setback as it might have seemed, since I could simply wait for the next Q train, and then take that to the transit hub where I could change over to the L train, and then head east to Bushwick.  The trouble is, that hub is Union Square, in Manhattan.  That’s right, going by the New York City subway, there is no way to go from the part of Brooklyn where I live to the part of Brooklyn I was trying to go without first going to Manhattan.

The result of all this?  My commute from one part of the borough to another – only a few scant miles as the proverbial crow flies – took two and a half hours.  Which still gave me plenty of time to grab dinner and see the show, of course.  But still.

There’s always a lot of talk about building up the Brooklyn theater scene, as the costs of producing things in Manhattan (to say nothing of living there) becomes ever more prohibitive.  But that begs the question – just where in Brooklyn would this be?  And the related question – could I possibly get to it?  After all, the Williamsburg-Bushwick section of Northern Brooklyn requires the nightmarish commute I’ve just described for me.  Heck, it’s not even easy to get to Bay Ridge from where I am – there’s a huge golf course in the way, and no direct train route, so I need to rely on busses.  The areas around Park Slope or Carroll Gardens already serve as hubs of theatrical activity – but they’re not easy to get to from where I am OR from Williamsburg-Bushwick.

I fear that championing the cause of local independent theater in New York City requires thinking extremely local.  Block-by-block local.  And logistically, that’s incredibly difficult to make work.  As difficult as a New York City commute, even.

I Will Happily Complain On Your Behalf If You Like

I always try to be careful in writing these posts, Constant Reader.  It would be incredibly easy to complain about the annoyances of the creative life, of pointless auditions or misguided productions, and get some measure of catharsis from sharing my pain – hopefully in some stylish prose that provides some measure of entertainment to others.  No matter how artfully told my account may be, however, it would always run the risk of offending potential co-workers or collaborators who recognized themselves in my jeremiad.  No, I can’t risk the potential blowback I might incur by making complaints on my own behalf.

It’s a good thing I have friends, then.

A friend of mine had a reading of a full-length play of theirs this past week.  Given the nature of this week’s post I’ll refrain from saying who, or what the piece was, but rest assured it was a terrific play.  And it’s getting an off-off Broadway production this coming spring, as it should; the company mounting that production held last week’s reading as a combination workshop and fundraiser.  That is, of course, the way of theatrical productions – there’s always a reading or a workshop or some such thing in order to get the bugs out, make sure everything is ready before making the investment of time and money in a full production.

In fact, there’s inevitably more than one.

This particular piece had two additional prior readings – last year.  All told, since it was written in 2018 – six years before it’s ultimately produced, as its writer intended – it’s had a total of five staged readings, and been a finalist or semifinalist in a dozen separate playwriting competitions.

I’m pretty sure they got the bugs out some time ago.

Which raises the inevitable question – just how much development do we need, anyway?  It’s not that we don’t need it – I’ve certainly had my scripts benefit from workshop readings and table reads, in ways I’d never be able to anticipate ahead of time.  But after a certain point, you know what you’re dealing with, and any further changes can only happen once you’re in a rehearsal room and your actors are on their feet.

Actors are empatically not on their feet in a developmental reading.  In a contest they’re probably not there at all.

And the question becomes – exactly why do we all need to jump through quite this many hoops?  Are we trying to prove that there’s interest, to mitigate any risk?  My friend’s play, to use the popular metric of the day, has a whopping fifty-three recommendations on NPX thus far.  He’s an award-winning writer with a recognizable name.  How much risk can there possibly be?

 Again, it would be churlish and self-serving if I were making this argument on my own behalf.  But I’ve got enough friends who are better and/or more prominent than I am who are going through all of this to be able to say it’s not about me.  It’s not about any one of us.  It’s a broader system, and it’s unsustainable.

The reading was really good, though.

Memoriam

I received the awful news last weekend that a friend of mine had passed away. Jamie Carillo, an actor I’d worked with back in my days at Classical Theatre of Harlem.  (Also a director, and a professor at Emerson College, and many other remarkable things besides.  To give you a sense of how remarkable, his family has requested that any memorial donations go here, where he served as an interpreter.)  A sweetheart of a man gone way too soon – he was my age.  Actually, he was five years younger than me.  Goddamn cancer.

Jamie and I worked together on a number of CTH shows, the most prominent of which was probably our 2004 production of Mother Courage and her Children.  It gave Jamie his most prominent role – Swiss Cheese, the middle child in Mother Courage’s doomed brood.  It was a production of Brecht’s famous anti-war play at the height of the Gulf War, about as relevant as theatrical programming can get.  (The Public Theatre certainly thought so a few years later, when they mounted their production with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline.) And it was a good, strong, production – vintage CTH.  The performances were sharp and aggressive – Jamie was wonderful at creating standout characters with economy, so that you’d never see him reaching for an effect and yet they’d be lively and vibrant – and a set that could potentially kill you at any moment.  The good old days, if you will.

I miss those days.  And I’ve been thinking about that production a lot.

Part of the reason for my reverie is selfish, of course.  For most of the run of Mother Courage, I played a succession of small roles such as the Clerk.  During our final week, however, the actor playing our Chaplain took ill.  An understudy would have stepped in – except that our small off-off Broadway company didn’t have any.  So instead, the director called me – seven hours before curtain time, mind you – to see if I could get up to the theatre right away and be worked into the part.  I’d barely gone through the blocking before giving a public performance – including the Chaplain’s song, mind you – and I will never forget the feeling of stunned relief as I made my last exit as that character that first performance, embraced by my castmates.  Jamie included.

I miss moments like that.  I miss Jamie.  But I also miss productions, like our Mother Courage in the middle of a war, with that unshakeable conviction that they were making a difference.  My god, there were a lot of us twenty years ago, shaken out of our complacency here in New York by a terrorist attack and a war that followed.  We also had comparatively cheap spaces and generous funding from the Bloomberg administration, so anybody who’d get some hungry actors together could find a stylish way of saying “war is bad” or “Bush is dumb” and be hailed a genius.  But it’s twenty years later, and despite our efforts there’s at least two additional wars engulfing the planet, and our audiences seem to want to have their cares soothed away by jukebox musicals instead, and a particularly horrifying question keeps pestering me.

Did we make any damn difference at all?

I want to believe that.  For my sake, for Jamie’s, for all of ours.  And I’m going to keep plugging away as if that’s the case.  But with each passing year, it gets a little harder.  And for a whole bunch of reasons, I’m really starting to feel the years right now.

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