What I Did On My Summer Vacation

This past weekend marked the return to college for many of the nation’s young students; their parents helped them pack up their materials and traveled in caravans to bring them back to their dorms for the coming school year.  I know this not because I’m currently a student (oh, how long ago that was), or the father of one, or because I teach at an institute of higher learning.  No, I know this because I took a rare day trip out of the city on Saturday – to Chester, New York, in nearby Orange County – and what should have been an hour and a half drive took fully double that length of time due to the increased traffic.

My short play The Mascot Always Pings Twice received its world premiere at the Sugar Loaf Arts Center, part of a one act festival featuring pieces dealing with environmental themes.  (Which is only a small part of what Mascot is about, but having heard the script aloud in its entirety at last the environmental issues do come to the forefront more than I thought they did, so I guess they made the right choice!) Though I have been writing plays for a good number of years now, I have not yet grown so jaded as to take any production.  In fact, most of the productions my plays have received have happened with – and, honestly, because – of my involvement.  So if a production of something of mine is happening within a reasonable distance away, I’m going.  And an hour and a half drive – even if it winds up being three hours thanks to college weekend traffic – strikes me as reasonable.

So I rented a car for the weekend – which, again, took longer than it’s ever taken me to do, thanks to the weekend’s increased activity – and hit the road.  (After swinging by a local Petco and picking up an extra large container of cat litter, taking advantage of having a trunk for the first time in months.) And even surrounded by bumper-to-bumper traffic, I could feel the city streets and suburban sprawl give way to ever greener venues, until at last I was making my way through the gentle hills of the Hudson Highlands where the Catskills and Adirondacks begin.  And finally, I was in a sleepy little town, one of the little arts enclaves that dot the upstate, my destination reached at last.  I dined down the street, then made my way to the arts center.  There was a bucolic pond around the back of the building; I sat for a few hours with a notepad, scribbling.  I still have deadlines later this month after all, and felt the need to get some sort of work down.  (That I managed to become one of those pretentious artists scratching away while staring dreamily off into the distance was, of course, a bonus.)

Then I went inside to see the plays.  The local arts center has two playing spaces, so in order to go see the show I had to make my way through a throng of KISS fans, there to see the local tribute band.  (As one does.)

They did a great job with the script; it was gratifying to hear it, and see it up on its feet.  And it was nice to have an appreciative crowd.  But while that crowd was sizeable (a nice achievement!), the rest of the town was tiny, and quiet, and still – and after several months of hectic activity, and with many more such months to come, that was the best part of this trip.  To have a few moments of head-clearing, restorative solitude, in that sparsely populated landscape.

(Apparently it’s not a college town.)

Hopefully the Last One of These

You must believe me when I tell you, Constant Reader, that I would have blogged about any other subject if it were feasible.  But alas, this week’s Washington Post op-ed by Monica Byrne, “Why Theater (in its current form) Does Not Deserve to be Saved,” has utterly dominated the conversation of my peers.  For those of you who haven’t read it yet, it’s not quite the provocation it seems; the form of theater it laments is the sort of large institutional non-profit where real estate costs and administrative bloat have choked off the ability to function.  We’ve all heard the stories of such theatre’s troubles, especially of late.  Half my friends have shouted “yes, preach!” to its message; the other half have retorted that the piece doesn’t actually offer any viable solutions, and that since some degree of administration is absolutely necessary it’s wrong to vilify the whole field as parasitic, and the cause of all our troubles.

Frankly, I’m tired of the whole conversation – in its insular focus on theatrical administration it ignores the larger economic and social climate, the questions of what theatre artists should be trying to say, whether we should expect a cash-strapped audience to fork over hard-earned money if we don’t have anything to say, and so on – and would love to be able to ignore it.  To talk about anything else.

But can I?

Well, I had an in-person planning project last Tuesday for an upcoming collaboration.  But that’s something long range (I mentioned to my collaborator that I’d probably have a draft by sometime this fall), so I really can’t talk about it yet.  Other than that my collaborator’s offices are ridiculously nice.

I had a zoom planning project on Wednesday for the next reading of Before Vinson, which will be at Playwrights Theatre of East Hampton next month.  But again, that’s happening next month, and the real work on the script happened when I took the script to Valdez back in June.  So again, not much to say right now other than that we’ve all gotten adept at Zoom.

I saw a friend’s show in the Samuel French Off-off Broadway theatre competition on Thursday, and a bunch of us playwrights went out for drinks afterwards.  But that festival ended yesterday, so I can’t really promote her show any more.  (Though you can always go to NPX and show it some love).

The Tuesdays at Nine readings start up next month; we had a summer picnic for our gang yesterday, which was nice, but the bulk of my prep work (done this weekend) was spent reviewing our script pile.  Hours of me reading and scribbling on post-it notes.  Again, not tremendously exciting.

So alas, the conversation remains about the most recent jeremiad about how theatre is doomed.  Feel free to participate in that conversation if you wish.  For myself, however, I’d rather actually do this thing, then lament that it cannot be done.  (I do seem to spend a lot of time these days doing this thing that cannot be done.)

O.C. Play Fest

On August 18 and 19, my short play The Mascot Always Pings Twice will be presented as part of the 7th Annual O.C. Play Fest, at the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center in Chester, New York. More information about the festival can be found here, along with the link to purchase tickets. (And if you live in NYC and need a ride up to Orange County, I am renting a car for the weekend!)

At Least One Person Will Understand This

I typically address you as Constant Reader in these weekly posts, my hypothetical friend, and there are a few reasons for this particular affectation.  Partly it’s an acknowledgement of the weekly nature of these missives, with the implied promise that there’ll be something new to read each (and you therefore have an incentive to keep checking in).  Partly, of course, it’s because I’m pretentious as hell.  But the simplest reason is that, by and large, I don’t know who you are.  It’s a website.  People surf the web in anonymity (they hope).  I have a few basic assumptions about who you might be – you’re interested in the musings of a New York arts professional, for whatever reason – but beyond that, you could be anybody, and I try and keep that in mind when posting.

However, there are a few individuals who I know read this regularly.  My friend Arthur is one of these individuals – and as it happens, I was fortunate enough to attend a reading of a series of his short plays this past weekend.  We had a delightful time catching up – and in the course of that conversation, a tremendous amount of theatrical gossip was brought up.

It’s here that I face a conundrum, Constant Reader.  I don’t normally traffic in this sort of gossip; regardless of how distasteful I might find it, the real issue is that it might pose a liability to discuss it on my professional website.  None of this gossip is personal in nature, however, but touches on the precarious state of theatrical institutions at the moment.  And other than slaving away at revisions, it’s really all I have to report this week.  So, at the risk of writing a post that only one person in my audience can possibly understand…

In talking about how I still [REDACED] for [REDACTED], the conversation turned to how [REDACTED] will only be at [REDACTED] through [REDACTED], largely as a result of ongoing accessibility issues due to [REDACTED].  Naturally, this led to the topic of how [REDACTED], where [REDACTED] had previously been based, was now [REDACTED].  While the closing of theaters during the pandemic certainly didn’t help matters, it wasn’t the actual cause of [REDACTED].  No, I explained, what happened was [REDACTED] had [REDACTED] several years ago, in order to [REDACTED].  This meant that when the pandemic came, [REDACTED was faced with a massive loss of income which threatened [REDACTED}.  [REDACTED] attempted to [REDACTED] in order to generate alternate income, but all this managed to do was [REDACTED], as well as antagonize [REDACTED] because of [REDACTED].  Furthermore, an outside party was able to [REDACTED], causing [REDACTED}.  After a protracted legal battle, [REDACTED] was finally [REDACTED], and because [REDACTED] drove away other [REDACTED], [REDACTED] was ultimately purchased by none other than [REDACTED].

This led my friend to bring up [REDACTED], who currently runs [REDACTED] and was, prior to the pandemic and [REDACTED], one of the only theatrical producers still willing to deal with [REDACTED}.  However, [REDACTED] has encountered problems of their own, largely stemming from [REDACTED] instituting [REDACTED].  This hasn’t been done lightly – [REDACTED] has a long and sordid history of [REDACTED], using [REDACTED} as a shield against accountability.  Nevertheless, as the word is getting out, [REDACTED] is refusing to [REDACTED], and so another storied company is threatened by [REDACTED}.

These are difficult times for theater, and those of us who make it need to be very careful about the business practices we employ – we need to be ethical, and we need to figure out how to survive.  So I hope [REDACTED] was helpful!

X-ing It Out

I shall apologize in advance, Constant Reader, as this is a particularly half-assed blog post.  I spent the past week preparing an outline for a potential future product, and sending out submissions for other scripts, so my time has been fully occupied with tasks that aren’t the least bit interesting to read about.  I didn’t even get to do the whole “Barbenheimer” thing.  So I do feel as if I’ve let you folks down, asking you to read a whole post about I have nothing to post about.  I feel especially bad for the people who receive notifications about this blog through Twitter, as they’re receiving a whole tweet telling them that there isn’t anything to tell them.

Of course, I feel bad for (almost) anybody on Twitter simply because it’s Twitter. (Fascists don’t count.  Take that, fascists.)  And I take some comfort in the notion that I can’t possibly do a job as incompetently as the folks currently running that site would seem to be doing.

I’d be content to simply gawk at that company’s death-spiral along with the rest of us, and that’s exactly what I’d do if I were in a different profession.  But actors and writers have had it drilled into us for the past decade and more; we have to have a presence on social media.  Nobody’s going to take the risk of hiring us unless they know we have a built-in audience, and the metric we’ve decided to use is the number of people we’ve convinced – through a carefully curated feed or straight-up emotional blackmail – to follow us on one of these sites.  Since a tweet, once tweeted, is available for all to see, and anybody can choose to follow us, that specific website has become the metric of choice.  If you want entry into the highest eschelons of the theatrical professions, if you want to prove you can bring the box office, then craft is helpful – but by gum, you’d better know how to tweet.

Except tweets are “X”s now, and Twitter is ridiculous glitchy, and the conversations therein have grown ever more nightmarish.  In that sense, it’s a rather accurate reflection of the country at large, but I digress – the point is that more and more people are fleeing to greener digital pastures, abandoning Twitter to only the most rabid of Muskovites.  (Or Elongelicals.  There’s a few choice nicknames making the rounds.) Eventually, even casting directors will realize what the rest of us have come to understand – that Twitter as a gauge of talent or marketability simply has no value any more.

But I’m sure that, rather than comb through the slush file or spending their evenings attending gritty off-off-Broadway showcases (if those are even a thing anymore), the gatekeepers will simply ordain a new social media site to take its place. 

And I have no idea which one it will be.

So for the first time in the history of this blog, I’m throwing it open to you, Constant Reader.  This blog has a comments feature; most of the time it just accrues the spam I clear out every week, but you could theoretically use it to tell me I’m awesome.  (Please tell me that.  I’m an actor and a writer; I crave approval.) If there’s a specific option amongst the plethora of new social media sites which you find works best for theatrical activity, feel free to sing its praises in the comments.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

Summer Stages

There is a predictable pattern to summer; it’s locked into our psyches in childhood, as we’re giddily released from school.  Summer may be one season, but it comes in three distinct stages.  There is the initial burst of activity, as we gleefully hit the beach and the amusement park and do all of the “summertime” things we’ve been dreaming of doing all the rest of the year; this lasts roughly until the 4th of July or so, that most prominent of summer benchmarks.  There’s then a few weeks of doldrums, a period of sticky and hazy torpor as we sit about, inactive, wondering if there will ever be anything else to do.  During this period we tend to forget about all the projects we actually have coming up, so around the end of July or beginning of August that third and final period of summer begins.  It’s.a race against time, as we try and rouse ourselves out of heat-induced torpor to try and complete our various tasks, a sickening knot of dread growing larger in our stomachs, a frantic burst of activity before fall arrives, and the clock runs out.

This pattern may begin when we’re schoolchildren, but it extends into our work life as well.  And it absolutely extends into a theatrical life – at least, it has this year for me, as it does most years.  First, there was the mad scramble to prepare for the Valdez Theatre Conference, happening just as I was finishing a Memorial Day weekend show at Theatre for the New City as well.  Then, all that completed, it’s been a daze of inactivity these past few weeks, trying to regain my mental clarity despite the summer heat.  (Which is the worst it’s been in a hundred thousand years or so, the humid air also clogged with smoke particles from the Canadian wildfires.  Nope, we’re not doomed at all.)

And now?

I’ve just finished revising a sketch of mine to be a viable ten minute one act.  I needed to get that out of the way before I could finish researching and outlining a possible project.   I need to get that out of the way by the end of the month, so that I can be finished with revisions to Before Vinson (the play I brought to Valdez this year, back in the first stage of summer) by the middle of August.  I need those done by that time so I can prepare for a reading the piece will receive in the middle of September, after which I’ll be at work on a possible new ten minute play so I can have that ready to submit by mid-October.  And so on.

That’s the infuriating thing.  Just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean I’m not caught off-guard by it, just as I am year after year.  I shouldn’t be, of course.  Just as you shouldn’t be caught off-guard by my ending yet another blog post lamenting the lack of time I have to do anything (which presumably includes writing this very blog post).  And yet, here we are.

Happy Summer Stage Three, everybody!

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