Monday, June 10, 2013

William Inge 1913-1973

I can’t let this day go by without remembering that it was 40 years ago today that William Inge shuffled off this mortal coil.

William Inge -- 1913 - 1973 Playwright

William Inge
1913 – 1973
Playwright

He left by his own hand, convinced he had nothing more to say.  But since 1981 his life, his words, and his characters have been celebrated and his legacy has been honored in his own hometown of Independence, Kansas.  The only sadness I have is that we didn’t do it until after he was gone.

Rest in peace, playwright.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Photo of the Day

This is from my trip to the William Inge Festival.  It’s me with Elizabeth Wilson, the only surviving member of the original Broadway cast of Picnic from 1953.  You might recognize her from her many roles in film (Dustin Hoffman’s mom in The Graduate and Roz in 9 to 5, and recently as Sarah Delano Roosevelt, the mother of Franklin D. Roosevelt, in Hyde Park on Hudson).  She has become a great friend of the festival and a good friend to many of us who attend.  She is a bright shining spirit.

PMW with Elizabeth Wilson 05-03-13

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Inge Festival Day 3

Yesterday was my big day.  I presented my paper to the scholars conference along with three other scholarly types.  The presentations went very well and they sparked a lively discussion with the participants; something that doesn’t often happen with such events.  It helped that we had some nationally-recognized actors, directors, and teachers in the crowd.

Last night was the big gala dinner with some fun entertainment and some poignant moments.  When it was all over I and two other participants went back to our hotel and packed up.  We were picked up around 10:45 p.m. and driven to the airport hotel in Tulsa to spend the night so we could be up and ready to catch our flights home.  The festival isn’t over until tonight, but we all have other obligations, mine being the premiere of a play of mine this evening at the Lake Worth Playhouse in Lake Worth, Florida.  More about that later.

As it is, I am sitting in the gate at Tulsa International waiting for my flight back to Miami.  I’ve had about four hours of sleep, so that’s why this post is a tad abbreviated.  I took a bunch of pictures at Inge with my phone camera, so I’ll post the good ones — if there are any.

I will now embark upon a search for a good cup of coffee and a doughnut.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Inge Festival Day 2

Thursday was cold and rainy.  I’ve seen a lot of strange weather at the Inge, ranging from tornadoes to blistering heat, but snow in May beats everything.

But we still got out and did the things that we came here for, which was talking about theatre, schmoozing with friends, listening to stories about plays and the people who make them, and then actually going to workshops and seeing presentations.  Yesterday I watched readings of short plays called “The Inge Variations” wherein selected playwrights took characters from Inge plays such as Rosemary from Picnic and Grace from Bus Stop and put them into new situations.  It was a lot of fun.

Last night we saw the staged reading of Samuel D. Hunter’s new play A Great Wilderness.  Mr. Hunter is the New Voices award winner for 2013.  The play was read by, among others, Dakin Matthews and Shirley Knight, and was very well done.

Today is the big day for me: my paper will be presented this afternoon, and a lot of people have threatened to show up to hear it.

Tonight is the gala dinner and birthday celebration for William Inge.  There will be cake.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Inge Festival Day 1

We saw a very nice production of Bus Stop last night.  This is the one Inge play that got a lot of notice because it was made into a movie with Marilyn Monroe as the “chanteuse” Cherie.  The movie isn’t a lot like the play — for one thing, a major character, Dr. Lyman, has been excised — and the emphasis on Cherie takes away from the rest of the characters who make the ensemble work.  The performance we saw was a fine example of ensemble casting and good work.

I spent some time catching up with friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years.  Elizabeth Wilson is back, and she told us about the two months she spent in London filming Hyde Park on Hudson and what it was like working with Bill Murray playing her son: Franklin D. Roosevelt.  I also spent time with Marshall Mason, one of the men I wrote about in my doctoral thesis.

Today will be workshops and more catching up.

PS: The cold front came through as promised, dropping the temperature from 80 to 48 while we were in the theatre.  Glad I brought my Toledo Mud Hens jacket: yes, that says “Snow.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Welcome to Independence

I made it safe and sound to Independence, Kansas.  It is sunny and warm here, but the weather faeries are predicting that the storm that’s burying the Rockies in snow will bring cold winds and rain here by tomorrow.  I’ve packed accordingly, so I’m ready.

It’s nice to be back.  Kansas is getting a well-deserved bad rap politically because of Gov. Sam Brownback and his plans to move the state back to the 19th century in both fiscal and social policy, but it is still a beautiful place and the people are very friendly.  I hope they can back away from the fringes and get back to electing governors like Kathleen Sebelius and, dog help us, a few moderate Republicans.  The current crop makes Bob Dole sound like a secret gay Kenyan Muslim socialist.

The Inge Festival starts tonight with a production of Bus Stop.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Casual Friday

Another mandatory vacation day, but instead of taking it easy, I need to finish my paper for the upcoming William Inge Theatre Festival in Independence, Kansas.

Inge Festival 2013

It’s usually held in mid-April, but this year it will be from May 1 to May 4 because May 3, 2013, is the 100th anniversary of Inge’s birth in Independence.  He died in June 1973 and he is buried in the town cemetery under a simple headstone.

035 Inges grave 2

This will be my 22nd trip to Independence.  I started attending in 1991 when Edward Albee was the honoree, and I’ve only missed one year — 2002 — when I was directing a production of Grease during my last attempt at teaching.  (All things considered, I should have gone to the festival.)  I have learned much about theatre, writing, and I have made friends for life.  Returning to Independence is like a family reunion.

So there will be very light posting today as I devote myself to my paper.  But it’s a labor of love.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Back Home Again

I love going to the Inge Festival, and I’ll more about it later, but it’s also great to get home. There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed.

Regular blogging will resume tomorrow, but at a little later time than usual since I have to stop and pick up the Pontiac after its trip to the shop for some cosmetic surgery. More on that later, too.

Good night.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Back Home Again

I love going to the Inge Festival, and I’ll more about it later, but it’s also great to get home. There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed.

Regular blogging will resume tomorrow, but at a little later time than usual since I have to stop and pick up the Pontiac after its trip to the shop for some cosmetic surgery. More on that later, too.

Good night.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Inge Festival — Day 2

The weather turned a little cooler on Friday, but so far no rain or severe weather. I spent the day in at the William Inge Theatre Festival participating in a few discussions, including one on the New Voices award winner, Most Deserving, by Catherine Trieschmann, and then listening to David Henry Hwang discuss his life and work in a conversation ala James Lipton (“Inside the Actors Studio”) led by former Los Angeles Times theatre critic Daniel Sullivan on the stage of the William Inge Theatre on the campus of Independence Community College.

Mr. Hwang’s life and writing career has been a good example of what happens when a playwright emerges and audience members have certain expectations from his work based solely on an outside factor that may have very little to actually do with his writing; in this case, the fact the Mr. Hwang is an Asian-American. His first big hit was M. Butterfly in 1988, which dealt with the story of a French diplomat in China who fell in love with what he thought was a Chinese woman but turned out to be both a spy and a man. The play looks at the assumptions the diplomat makes about Asian women, and in so doing examines the assumptions we all make about people because of who they are.

He followed up M. Butterfly, which won the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize, with a number of other plays that look at the life and experiences of Asian-Americans, but he also looks at himself and the role he’s playing in the perceptions. In 1990, when the musical Miss Saigon was coming to New York with a Caucasian (Jonathan Pryce) cast in the lead role of a Eurasian pimp, the question arose as to why an actor of Asian ancestry wasn’t cast in the role. It led to some interesting moments, including a protest by Actors Equity, the union of stage actors, and in response, Mr. Hwang wrote a play Face Value, which was about the Miss Saigon kerfuffle… and in doing so, he accidentally cast a Caucasian actor to play the lead role of an Asian. Much hilarity ensued. Face Value was a flop, and so in keeping with his talents, Mr. Hwang then wrote another play, Yellow Face, which told the story of the events around Face Value. (Still with me?)

What it comes down to is that David Henry Hwang has that most valuable quality of being able to look at himself, his art, and the people around him and write about them with both a distance that provides a perspective that we all can share, but also an intimacy that gets to the true heart of what he is both feeling and sharing. And he’s a damn good writer to boot.

Last night was the big gala dinner where we were entertained by songs from Mr. Hwang’s other shows, including Tarzan and the revision of Flower Drum Song, and the presentation of the Jerome Lawrence award to Elizabeth Wilson, a long-time attender of the Inge Festival and the only surviving member of the original cast of Picnic.

Today I present my paper at the scholar’s conference, then tonight is the tribute to Mr. Hwang with guests and surprises.

Inge Festival — Day 2

The weather turned a little cooler on Friday, but so far no rain or severe weather. I spent the day in at the William Inge Theatre Festival participating in a few discussions, including one on the New Voices award winner, Most Deserving, by Catherine Trieschmann, and then listening to David Henry Hwang discuss his life and work in a conversation ala James Lipton (“Inside the Actors Studio”) led by former Los Angeles Times theatre critic Daniel Sullivan on the stage of the William Inge Theatre on the campus of Independence Community College.

Mr. Hwang’s life and writing career has been a good example of what happens when a playwright emerges and audience members have certain expectations from his work based solely on an outside factor that may have very little to actually do with his writing; in this case, the fact the Mr. Hwang is an Asian-American. His first big hit was M. Butterfly in 1988, which dealt with the story of a French diplomat in China who fell in love with what he thought was a Chinese woman but turned out to be both a spy and a man. The play looks at the assumptions the diplomat makes about Asian women, and in so doing examines the assumptions we all make about people because of who they are.

He followed up M. Butterfly, which won the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize, with a number of other plays that look at the life and experiences of Asian-Americans, but he also looks at himself and the role he’s playing in the perceptions. In 1990, when the musical Miss Saigon was coming to New York with a Caucasian (Jonathan Pryce) cast in the lead role of a Eurasian pimp, the question arose as to why an actor of Asian ancestry wasn’t cast in the role. It led to some interesting moments, including a protest by Actors Equity, the union of stage actors, and in response, Mr. Hwang wrote a play Face Value, which was about the Miss Saigon kerfuffle… and in doing so, he accidentally cast a Caucasian actor to play the lead role of an Asian. Much hilarity ensued. Face Value was a flop, and so in keeping with his talents, Mr. Hwang then wrote another play, Yellow Face, which told the story of the events around Face Value. (Still with me?)

What it comes down to is that David Henry Hwang has that most valuable quality of being able to look at himself, his art, and the people around him and write about them with both a distance that provides a perspective that we all can share, but also an intimacy that gets to the true heart of what he is both feeling and sharing. And he’s a damn good writer to boot.

Last night was the big gala dinner where we were entertained by songs from Mr. Hwang’s other shows, including Tarzan and the revision of Flower Drum Song, and the presentation of the Jerome Lawrence award to Elizabeth Wilson, a long-time attender of the Inge Festival and the only surviving member of the original cast of Picnic.

Today I present my paper at the scholar’s conference, then tonight is the tribute to Mr. Hwang with guests and surprises.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Inge Festival — Day 1

From the William Inge Festival: I spent most of the day (Thursday) participating in discussions on such things as playwriting, diversity in theatre, and just generally basking in the glow of being with other people who love to write as much as I do.

I could give you a detailed run-down of all the topics we covered, but actually, you had to be there, so I won’t do that. (And I hear a collective “Whew!” from the readership.) Just suffice it to say that I had a great time; it’s the four days of the year that I get to eat, drink, and breathe theatre, and it’s a great deal of fun.

The best times are the times I spend just sitting around and talking to people. I had a long and meaningful conversation with Barbara Dana over lunch where she gave me some wonderful insight to a role in a play that I’m working on. (I told her to not be surprised, then, if the role ends up sounding a lot like her.) I also spent some time talking to a student who is determined to become a director, which means he was taking copious notes as we talked about the writing process. The takeaway from all of this seems to be that the best things that happen here are the things that we’re inspired to do once we go home and get back to work on our dreams and visions.

Last night we had a concert reading of The Most Deserving, a new play by Catherine Trieschmann, who is the New Voices playwright this year. New Voices is the Inge Festival’s way of seeking out new plays and playwrights and showcasing their work, and this play, a comedy about a small-town arts council giving away grant funds, was a funny and interesting story.

Today we’ll have a conversation with David Henry Hwang, this year’s honoree, and tonight will be a big gala dinner with singing and skits and a lot of fun and chat in between.

PS: Sales of my script seem to be doing well; they had to replace the supply that was out on the table because they’d sold some.

Inge Festival — Day 1

From the William Inge Festival: I spent most of the day (Thursday) participating in discussions on such things as playwriting, diversity in theatre, and just generally basking in the glow of being with other people who love to write as much as I do.

I could give you a detailed run-down of all the topics we covered, but actually, you had to be there, so I won’t do that. (And I hear a collective “Whew!” from the readership.) Just suffice it to say that I had a great time; it’s the four days of the year that I get to eat, drink, and breathe theatre, and it’s a great deal of fun.

The best times are the times I spend just sitting around and talking to people. I had a long and meaningful conversation with Barbara Dana over lunch where she gave me some wonderful insight to a role in a play that I’m working on. (I told her to not be surprised, then, if the role ends up sounding a lot like her.) I also spent some time talking to a student who is determined to become a director, which means he was taking copious notes as we talked about the writing process. The takeaway from all of this seems to be that the best things that happen here are the things that we’re inspired to do once we go home and get back to work on our dreams and visions.

Last night we had a concert reading of The Most Deserving, a new play by Catherine Trieschmann, who is the New Voices playwright this year. New Voices is the Inge Festival’s way of seeking out new plays and playwrights and showcasing their work, and this play, a comedy about a small-town arts council giving away grant funds, was a funny and interesting story.

Today we’ll have a conversation with David Henry Hwang, this year’s honoree, and tonight will be a big gala dinner with singing and skits and a lot of fun and chat in between.

PS: Sales of my script seem to be doing well; they had to replace the supply that was out on the table because they’d sold some.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Inge Festival — Opening Night

The family is back together again, along with new faces and old friends, too.

We started off with dinner in the Fireside Room at the Student Union. We re-introduced ourselves, told how long we’d been attending the festival, and what we were doing this year. It was great to see a lot of people who have been at the festival for as long or longer than I have, and also to welcome first-timers.

We then moved on to the William Inge Theatre and saw a reading of Off The Main Road, a play that Inge had written in the 1960’s based on a teleplay he’d done for “Bob Hope’s Chrysler Theatre” in 1964 starring Anne Bancroft and Jack Warden. I’m assuming that the play was probably a lot different than the TV version; the subject matter, the language, and some of the characters were a tad risque for the television of the time: domestic violence, the F-word, and openly gay characters were not something Bob Hope or Chrysler wanted up against Lawrence Welk, I’m sure.

The story is about a woman and her daughter moving into a tourist cabin outside St. Louis to get away from an abusive husband. Inge raises some interesting questions, but a lot of the characters and the dilemmas they face seem to be familiar, and even some of the dialogue is reminiscent of his earlier work in Bus Stop and Picnic. (I’ll be participating in a panel discussion this morning where we will plow this ground again.)

Today begins the workshops and the sessions dedicated to working with college and high school theatre students who get the chance to explore their possibilities with people who know the profession. This is one of the best parts of what the festival does: bringing the arts to the people who will carry it on to the next generation.

Inge Festival — Opening Night

The family is back together again, along with new faces and old friends, too.

We started off with dinner in the Fireside Room at the Student Union. We re-introduced ourselves, told how long we’d been attending the festival, and what we were doing this year. It was great to see a lot of people who have been at the festival for as long or longer than I have, and also to welcome first-timers.

We then moved on to the William Inge Theatre and saw a reading of Off The Main Road, a play that Inge had written in the 1960’s based on a teleplay he’d done for “Bob Hope’s Chrysler Theatre” in 1964 starring Anne Bancroft and Jack Warden. I’m assuming that the play was probably a lot different than the TV version; the subject matter, the language, and some of the characters were a tad risque for the television of the time: domestic violence, the F-word, and openly gay characters were not something Bob Hope or Chrysler wanted up against Lawrence Welk, I’m sure.

The story is about a woman and her daughter moving into a tourist cabin outside St. Louis to get away from an abusive husband. Inge raises some interesting questions, but a lot of the characters and the dilemmas they face seem to be familiar, and even some of the dialogue is reminiscent of his earlier work in Bus Stop and Picnic. (I’ll be participating in a panel discussion this morning where we will plow this ground again.)

Today begins the workshops and the sessions dedicated to working with college and high school theatre students who get the chance to explore their possibilities with people who know the profession. This is one of the best parts of what the festival does: bringing the arts to the people who will carry it on to the next generation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Welcome to Independence

Welcome to Independence, Kansas, home of the 31st annual William Inge Theatre Festival.

The trip was fine; no delays and the weather is great. The festivities begin tonight with the performance of an unproduced play of Inge’s, Off The Main Road, and then tomorrow begins the workshops and fun.

I’ve already met this year’s honoree, David Henry Hwang; I was sitting in the lobby writing this post when he and his wife checked in. And I rode up from Tulsa with one of our guest performers, Tzi Ma.

Time to get ready for the show.

Welcome to Independence

Welcome to Independence, Kansas, home of the 31st annual William Inge Theatre Festival.

The trip was fine; no delays and the weather is great. The festivities begin tonight with the performance of an unproduced play of Inge’s, Off The Main Road, and then tomorrow begins the workshops and fun.

I’ve already met this year’s honoree, David Henry Hwang; I was sitting in the lobby writing this post when he and his wife checked in. And I rode up from Tulsa with one of our guest performers, Tzi Ma.

Time to get ready for the show.