Friday, February 10, 2023

Happy Friday

All good things…

I had hoped that my submission to the Inge Center’s New Play Lab would be chosen, but it was not, and since the festival has discontinued the scholars’ conference, I won’t be presenting a paper. So, for the first time since 1991, I will not be going to the William Inge Theatre Festival.

I cannot count the number of people I’ve met and gotten to know and admire in my thirty-plus years of visiting Independence, Kansas; this small town in the middle of the prairie, a town that Inge wrote about in many of his works, including “Picnic” and “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” even if he changed the names. On those trips I learned much about why Inge wrote the plays he did and the people in them, and I became a better writer, and, I hope, a better person for having been around the people who came to that place to honor a man who often felt shunned by that world.

I owe a debt of thanks to the memory of JoAnn Kirchmaier, Inge’s niece and a close family friend from childhood. It was she who first took me to the festival and introduced me to so many people and her telling them that I was a hell of a playwright. Thank you, JoAnn. And thank you, Jackson Bryer, my scholarly mentor, roommate, ride-sharer, and die-hard Yankee fan.

Staying at the Apple Tree Inn was an experience in itself: rooming across the hall from JoAnn and her daughters Paula and Kim, sitting in the lobby and chatting with Edward Albee, staying up all hours and singing old songs with Pat Hingle and Shirley Knight, sharing memories of summer stock theatre in Traverse City with Keir Dullea, driving Christopher Durang and John Augustine around town in my rented Mustang, meeting Robert Anderson and mistaking him for a bartender, laughing with Jerry Lawrence and Will Willoughby, meeting the playwrights and their friends and families, and having the distinct honor — not to mention the shivering stage fright — of chairing a panel on the Circle Rep Theatre with Lanford Wilson and Marshall W. Mason, Conchata Ferrell, Judd Hirsch, Tanya Berezin, and Zane Lasky who were on the stage with me. (I did get them to sign the published copy of my dissertation.)

I have wonderful memories of the years when the festival was produced by the irrepressible Peter Ellenstein, who made it an international event and brought in amazing talent to honor the works of so many playwrights, scholars, actors, directors and designers who made theatre thrive in America and around the world. He was succeeded by Karen Carpenter and later by Hannah Joyce who brought the festival the New Play Lab and introduced me to some amazing new writers with so many different voices and talents. I was honored to have two plays presented in the first years of the Lab. It was a chance to make new friends that I admire and know that I will be seeing them at other places, and hopefully sharing the stage with them. Each of you made me a better writer, whether you know it or not… or want to take credit for it.

The festival is going in a new direction now, and for me it’s time to remember the springtime in the prairie (and the occasional tornado). I have a lot of tangible mementos as well: Festival t-shirts that over the years have gone from medium to XXL (I started going when I was in my 30’s, after all), and a large collection of coffee mugs as well as an entire bookshelf of plays signed by the honorees from Edward Albee to Lynn Nottage.

I’d like to think that it’s not goodbye, it’s just intermission, but whatever happens, I wish the festival and the good people who make it happen the best for all they do to keep theatre alive and growing in the name of a man who deserves the honor they bestow on him.


Friday, May 24, 2019

Happy Friday

I’m Independence, Kansas, in the middle of the country, and if you’ve been following the weather news, you know that parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri have been taking the brunt of the storms, including flooding and tornadoes.  Somehow Independence has been able to avoid the worst of it.  Some say it’s because of the geography and confluence of two rivers; others say there’s an ancient Native American legend that involves protection from the spirits.  Whatever it is, we’ve been on the edge of the storms and very grateful.

The Inge Festival got off to a good start with readings of new plays and then a reading by our honoree, Octavio Solis from his collection of short stories, “Retablos,” about growing up along the border.

Today is my big day: the presentation of my paper at the scholars conference tilted “The Road to Recovery: The Depiction of Addiction and Treatment in ‘Come Back, Little Sheba.'”  It’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser, assuming we get a crowd.

I took some photos of the picture gallery in the Fine Arts building.  The first is the permanent display of posters from past Inge Festivals and the honorees.

In another hall they have put up pictures of all the special guests at this year’s festival.  You may recognize one.

That’s it for now.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Inge 2019 Day 1

Welcome to Independence, Kansas, home of the William Inge Theatre Festival.  Today I’ll be out at Independence Community College for workshops and at the New Play Lab performances at some local venues.  I’ll see if I remember to take a lot of pictures.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Monday, May 14, 2018

How Lifelike

There are statues all over Independence, Kansas: on street corners, in front of buildings downtown (yes, a town of 9,000 has a very nice downtown), and in the very nice park that is also home to a zoo, which includes peacocks (I traveled 1,000 miles to see peacocks?).

Anyway, there’s a statue in the park of William Inge sitting on a park bench in one of his classic poses.  Based on a photograph, he’s listening.  So of course he invites us to join him.

I actually met Mr. Inge when I was seven years old and he was visiting his relatives in Perrysburg.  I only knew him as Jay Kirchmaier’s Uncle Bill.  But I did meet him, so we caught up.

Friday, May 11, 2018


Tonight we had a tribute to the works of William Inge with excerpts from three of his plays performed by actors from the University of Tulsa and Independence Community College, hosted by Ralph Voss, the man who literally wrote the book on William Inge.

We’re having a great time. I saw some very creative short plays at the second round of the New Play Lab. Amazing talent and acting.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Family Reunion

I got to Independence this afternoon, settled in (last-minute change put me at the Super 8 instead of the Inge House), and met up with my Inge family, old and new, plus playwright friends from Facebook. Tonight we saw a great reading of Carlyle Brown’s “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?”, a play about Langston Hughes facing the McCarthy hearings. Then we had an Inge-Fringe party at the museum and had a great time. And in the lobby of the theatre I met up with my own works on sale.

It’s great to be back.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Heading Out

I’m on the road to the 37th William Inge Theatre Festival.  If you’re keeping track, this is my 26th trip to Independence, Kansas, the town where playwright William Inge was born, grew up, wrote about, and is buried.

In years past I’ve been a scholar, and the last two years I had plays in the New Play Lab.  This year I’m hosting the scholars conference and seeing a lot of new short plays and connecting with friends old and new.

I’ll check in when I get there.

Oh, here’s where I’ll be staying: William Inge’s boyhood home.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Week Ahead

This is going to be one of those truncated weeks again for me as I get ready to head off to Independence, Kansas for my 26th trip to the William Inge Festival.  This year I’m standing in for a friend as host of the scholars conference, so I’ll get to see most of the events, including the New Play Lab, without having to prepare much or be nervous about a production of a play of mine.

In all the years I’ve been going, I’ve always found it both calming and enlightening to go to this small town in the prairie (about ten miles north of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “little house on the prairie”).  It reminds me of the place I grew up, and even if we are poles apart politically, the people are friendly and welcoming, and far more willing to welcome the eccentricities of big-city folk than if the tables were turned.  They do more than tolerate the visitors; they’re actually happy to have us, at least for a little while, and even if they may feel that our values don’t match theirs, I’ve never felt as if it was a zero sum game.  There is something to be said for mutual respect.

I know that it’s trendy on TV to pit one group against the other; that sells papers and boosts ratings.  And I know that it’s easy to say “both sides do it” and “don’t bother to argue with them.”  Rather, I’d like to think that the impression I leave on the people I meet there is that while I may be a lily-livered liberal snowflake faerie and they’re right-wing nutsery, we can still occupy the same space at the same time for four days and still come home with the feeling of having learned more than just something about theatre history.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Quite A Moment

Thank you to Kip Nivens and Bob Elliott of Kokopelli Theatre of Kansas City for bringing my short play “A Moment of Clarity” to life at the New Play Lab at the William Inge Theatre Festival Thursday afternoon. It was a magic moment made all the better by their performance.

Last night we saw a reading of “Ada and the Engine,” a new play by Lauren M. Gunderson, the Otis Guernsey New Voices award-winner.  It is, is a sense, a prequel to the film “Hidden Figures,” the story of the African-American women behind the scenes doing the math to get NASA to the moon in the early 1960’s.  In this play, it was the story of Ada Byron Lovelace who worked with Charles Babbage in the 1840’s to develop the first “analytical engine,” a machine the size of a ballroom that does math.  Today you have them in your pocket.  It was an interesting premise, a statement for love and feminism, and very nicely staged.

Today I get to listen in on a conversation with Beth Henley, this year’s Inge honoree and the playwright who gave us “Crimes of the Heart.”  Then later this morning I’m doing a workshop on dramatic criticism called “Writing on Writing.”  Please bring paper and a writing implement (or the electronic version thereof).

Last night we had cocktails and noshes at the home of Alf Landon, the former governor of Kansas who ran against FDR in 1936.  He lost, but his house still stands, and quite a nice place it is.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Meeting New Friends

One of the things I look forward to at the Inge Festival is meeting people who’ve never been here before and watching them discover what I’ve known for a long time: this is a casual affair and everybody hangs out with everybody.  Sure, we have movie stars and Broadway playwrights, but we also have struggling actors and budget analysts who write plays because it’s cheaper than therapy and doesn’t damage their liver.  Everybody has fun.

Last night I had a nice chat with an actor who delivered one of the most famous lines in movie history: “Open the pod bay door please, Hal.”  Keir Dullea is a charming and quiet man, and we found that we have some connections — we both did plays at the Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City, Michigan — and his stage credentials are legion.  We talked about everything from Quaker schools to jet lag.

Today my play gets its reading and talk-back, and then tonight we’re having a reading of a new play by Lauren Gunderson, the winner of the Otis Guernsey New Voices award.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Welcome to Independence

Welcome to Independence, Kansas, and the Apple Tree Inn, the Algonquin Hotel of the prairie. In the last twenty-five years I’ve met and chatted and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning singing songs in the lobby with some legendary theatre people, ranging from Edward Albee to Shirley Knight to Jane Alexander to Pat Hingle to August Wilson to Robert Anderson to Christopher Durang and many others. This is my theatre family reunion.

The New Play Lab is already underway, but I need to get a few things done — like get something to eat — and then tonight we have a welcoming barbecue at the college and meeting my fellow playwrights and making some new friends.  Tomorrow is my play’s reading and a lot of other things, so … I’ll post when I can and share what I have.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Heading Home

We’ve had a good time at the Inge Festival.  I’ve made some new friends, communed with fellow playwrights, shared stories about getting plays read and produced, and found out that I’m not the only one who gets up at 3 a.m. to write blog posts.

This year we had some reminiscences of years past, including the gala dinner at the Independence Country Club, a place I haven’t been to since 2001.  I also had a moment in the library where I saw a book I had read back in grad school about American theatre and the prominence that the theatres were giving to the voices of the then-younger playwrights such as Lanford Wilson and Sam Shepard.  The author seemed to think that they were replacing the great American playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, as if they would supplant them and those of the old guard would no longer be important voices on the stage.

I’m glad to see that hasn’t come to pass.  The writers that followed them will have writers who will follow as well, as they are now, but there will always be room for good writing no matter when it was written, and people will come and see good theatre and listen to exciting and challenging words.

So now I head home with my mission: keep writing.

Books on Sale 04-23-16

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Leap Too Far

Last night we saw a production of William Inge’s “Where’s Daddy?” marking the 50th anniversary of the play and the return to the play by Barbara Dana who was in the original cast on Broadway.  This was a good production — fine acting with Ms. Dana playing Mrs. Bigelow, the mother of the character she played on Broadway, and well-directed by Karen Carpenter — but in the end the play itself is a mess.  Inge was trying to get back into the good graces of the critics who had labeled him as hokey, a playwright whose time had passed, and out of tune with the modern times of the 1960’s.  He tried to write something that spoke to modern problems and even tried to be hip by including a black couple as neighbors and having a character actually say out loud, “Do you think I’m a homosexual?”

There are two stories in “Where’s Daddy?”: the young couple struggling with their marriage and the impending birth of their child, and the young father’s conflicted feelings about his adoptive father figure and his questioning about his own sexuality.  In previous works Inge has been able to meld stories like these together, but in this play it does not work.  Rather than meld, they collide.

“Where’s Daddy?” takes Inge into territories where he has only hinted at before, but rather than the subtlety that we’d seen in previous works, he takes leaps.

It was a leap too far.  The play ran two weeks and he never really tried for Broadway again.  He moved to California to teach playwriting and continued with his life-long battle with depression.  Seven years later he was dead by his own hand.

His suicide was not a direct result of the failure of “Where’s Daddy?”, but it is apparent from the time that he felt he had to please the critics, which is a dangerous and futile goal.  One thing I have always believed as a writer is that you must first write for the characters and yourself.  Nothing else matters because nothing else will be truer.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Plays and Old Friends

I spent the rest of yesterday catching up with friends that I’ve made over the last 25 years here at the festival; some of them look like there’s a picture of them in the attic going to hell (h/t Oscar Wilde).

I also spent time listening to new plays as the part of the Play Lab series.  Mine will be presented this afternoon.  In the words of Robert Anderson, years from now when you talk of this — and you will — be kind.

Scripts at Inge 04-17-15

Shameless self-promotion: my books on sale.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Welcome to Independence, Kansas

All the flights were on time, the car was ready, the road was clear, the weather was overcast but no rain, and so the Old Professor and I rolled into Independence around 11:30 CDT.  We picked up our registration swag, checked into the Apple Tree Inn, and went across the street to the first of the luncheon series: the history of the festival.

The Play Labs start this afternoon, but I have time for a nap.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Nothing To Sneeze At

Here I am, 24 hours before the 35th William Inge Theatre Festival, and my allergies kick in.

Claritin, do your thing.

This is as good a time as any to tell you that from now through Sunday I’ll be in Inge mode: blogging about theatre and related fun but on a really limited basis because I just checked the schedule and I will be really busy.  There’s a New Play Lab where thirty-five short plays will be read and discussed, and I have one being done.  I’m also presenting a paper at the scholars conference, plus serving on a couple of panels.  Joining me for his third trip to Inge is The Old Professor who also is having one of his plays done in the Lab.

There will be the usual tributes and gala dinners and plays, including a production of the rarely-seen Inge play, “Where’s Daddy?” starring Barbara Dana.

According to my count, this is my 25th Inge Festival.  I think I’m getting the hang of it.