Monday, June 17, 2019

Back Home Again

It took about 20 hours, including seven of those being layovers in Anchorage and Los Angeles, but I’m home again after an amazing week of theatre, friendship, learning, growing, doing, and becoming.  The Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference has imprinted on me an appreciation for the craft I practice (and practice and practice) and created a bond with people I admire and truly feel a connection with both as a writer and a human being.

I took this picture as I was heading back to the hotel after the last event, the gala dinner and celebration. It was getting late, but as I’ve shown over the last ten days, the sun doesn’t really set in Valdez this time of year. In fact, it wasn’t until my flight landed in Los Angeles this morning at 5:30 a.m. PDT that I saw my first dark night in ten days.

Perhaps that’s a metaphor for the feelings I have for these wonderfully talented friends I’ve made: the light won’t go out. Or, to put it in theatre terms, it’s not goodbye; it’s just intermission.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Alaskan Cruise

When I told my friends and co-workers that I was going to Alaska for a week, a lot of them assumed I was going on a cruise.  That’s not surprising; cruising from Seattle up along the Pacific coast is a very popular vacation and I know a lot of people who’ve done it.

Well, last night we took our own cruise along part of the Alaska coast.  This was a two-hour cruise through Prince William Sound and by the Shoup Glacier.  Almost all of the VLFTC company went along and we saw some spectacular wilderness along the shoreline, spotted a group of otters playing in the water, and even got to touch a piece of the glacier.

Here are some photos in no particular order.  Enjoy.

Map view of where we were on Prince William Sound.

Heading down the Sound.

The Shoup Glacier.

Those little black dots in the water is a group of otters playing. This is as close as they got to us.

Waterfalls.

A piece of the Shoup Glacier.

More waterfalls.

The conference ends today with a monologue presentation, a slam of ten-minute plays (including “Ask Me Anything”) and a gala dinner. Tomorrow we all head for home.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

It’s Showtime

Today’s the day my play “A Moment of Clarity” goes up in the play lab.  (It’s at 3:00 p.m. AKDT, which is 7:00 p.m. EDT.)

I had my one and only rehearsal yesterday.  I have a great cast, and I’m sure it’s going to be a hit.

Last night at the raucous Fringe, they did my one-minute “Gee Your Butt Smells Terrific” where Sam the terrier and Ben the beagle discussed the strange antics of their two-legs, and tonight they’ll do my other piece, “Planning Ahead,” a quick look at how marriage equality dealt with unexpected barriers.  Finally, on Saturday afternoon, there will be a performance of “Ask Me Anything” in the Play Lab Slam: six plays in rapid succession and anything can happen.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

This Isn’t Florida

I’ve lived or visited a lot of different places with different climates, and I learn to appreciate the differences.  For instance, in Florida you are very aware of the intensity of the sun so putting on SPF 50 to go out and work in the yard is part of the deal, assuming you care about not getting skin cancer.  Here in coastal Alaska in the summer you carry industrial-strength Off! in your pocket or purse.

This was sent by Bob, and while it’s humorous, it’s applicable. The skeeters here are not as big as the ones in the sign — I think that applies more to northern Minnesota or Michigan — but they’re just as annoying.

The other adjustment is the amount of daylight in the summer.  As I noted previously, this close to the Arctic Circle this time of year, the sky is lit up for 24 hours and the sun is up for over 19.  In Florida we are used to basically 12 hours of daylight year-round and virtually no twilight: when the sun goes down, the sky goes dark almost immediately.

It rained yesterday afternoon and evening. In Florida we’re used to downpours that are localized and heavy. Here on the coast of Alaska, it’s more like a light drizzle and mist that settles in for a while.

I haven’t included any pictures of the plays yet because they haven’t done mine yet.  That changes today — or tonight, actually — when “Gee Your Butt Smells Terrific” goes up at the Fringe.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

So Far So Great

This is an amazing place to have a theatre conference, and no, we don’t spend all the time in a room watching plays and eating.

Actually a lot of us spend time walking around the town.  Everything is within walking distance, including restaurants and other venues, and the local people have been very welcoming.  Valdez is a summer tourist mecca for trips into the Alaska interior and fishing, and even if the temperatures aren’t subtropical, it’s a nice break from the humidity that awaits my return next week.

As for wildlife, I was told to be on the lookout for moose.  So far all I’ve seen are some of the local indigenous population of rabbits.

And, yes, I have wasted no time doing some shameless self-promotion. If I don’t do it, no one else will.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Preview Of Coming Attractions

As you might know, later this week I’m going to the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska.  (That’s why the content here has been a bit sparse; there’s a lot to do both at home and the office before I go.)  I promise to take a lot of pictures and post them, either while I’m there or when I get back.  But here, via Alaska Life, is one of the views on the way into town.

As much as I like living in the warmth of the subtropics, I still have a place in my heart for the mountains and the wilderness.  Interesting side note: my first produced play was about wilderness survival.

The conference and all the things that go with it will keep me busy, but I’ve been assured by the people who’ve been there before that there’s plenty of time to explore the scenery and just revel in the beauty of the Last Frontier.

Photo via Flickr-Mr Hicks46.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Friday, May 17, 2019

Happy Friday

I’ve been finding out that four-day work weeks are becoming a Thing,  A lot of my co-workers and fellow commuters on the train are either doing ten-hour days to get the day off or are doing what I’m doing; using up excess vacation days — that’s a Thing, too — and are sleeping in or taking short trips to visit friends, family, or just get away.

So I’m trendy and didn’t even know it.

Just a heads-up to let you know of some things coming up that will impact the content and quantity here.  Next Wednesday I head out to Independence, Kansas, for my annual trip to the William Inge Theatre Festival where we will honor the work of Octavio Solis and I will present a paper on the depiction of addiction and recovery in Inge’s “Come Back, Little Sheba.”

I get back in time for Memorial Day, and then on June 7 I leave for a week in Valdez, Alaska, and the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference where “A Moment of Clarity” will be done in a staged reading, along with a great group of other plays and playwrights.  The week will also include a Ten-Minute Play Slam where “Ask Me Anything” will be performed, and there’s also a monologue workshop where a piece from “Can’t Live Without You” has been selected.  I’ve also entered two one-minute plays in the Fringe event, so I’m going to be busy… but not too busy to enjoy the scenery of being in Alaska.

This photo was taken on May 17, 1983, in Estes Park, Colorado, as I was helping set up camp for the summer at Cheley Colorado Camps where I worked for ten great summers between 1976 and 1986.

Yes, it had just snowed about two feet and so the idea of getting ready for summer camp was a tad ironic.  But that didn’t deter us then, and I just saw a Facebook post where the pre-camp crew has arrived at camp and they’re getting ready already.

I’m happy to report there’s no snow here today.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Daddy Issues

Paul Waldman in the Washington Post on Trump and his fear of revealing his tax returns:

There are two explanations for what Trump is trying to conceal. The first is that there are scandalous or even criminal activities that he has engaged in — partnerships with shady characters, cases of money laundering — and the returns would point the way to discover them.

To understand why, you have to remember that the Trump Organization is not an ordinary corporation in the way you might think of it. In fact, it is an amalgam of approximately 500 separate partnerships and pass-through companies (which is why Trump almost certainly reaped millions of dollars in tax benefits from the 2017 tax law, which included a 20 percent deduction for pass-throughs). If we had Trump’s returns, each of those arrangements could be investigated, and no one who has reported on Trump’s business activities would say there aren’t shocking things to discover.

The second explanation for Trump’s determination not to allow the returns to become public is in some ways more innocent: that as so many have speculated, he’s not nearly as rich as he always says. Is it possible that Trump’s motives are only the most petty, shallow and vain ones? After all, we’re talking about Donald Trump.

Of course, both things could be true. Trump’s returns could show him to be less wealthy than he says, and also reveal instances of scandalous or criminal behavior. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say that’s what’s most likely.

I think the biggest reason is that Trump has spent the last fifty years or so trying to get his father to like him.

No, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist.  But I am a theatre scholar and I spend a lot of time analyzing plays that deal with family, and this Trump story has daddy issues written all over it.

Think about it: the failed marriages, the serial lying and boasting, even the obsession with his appearance; he’s trying to win approval and be seen as a success to the one person who could make him feel fulfilled and gain acceptance.  This sort of pathology is the root of drama going all the way from Oedipus and Shakespeare and through modern drama — Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Robert Anderson (“I Never Sang For My Father”) — and on and on.  Even the bible is rife with characters seeking their father’s approval, including the big one: the New Testament.

It’s not like he’s the first president trying to win paternal blessing.  Our history has a lot of men who played out their family dynamics on the national stage as well as around the kitchen table.  But with Trump this particular drama seems to be on a tragic arc that not only drags the audience along with it but the whole world.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Monday, April 1, 2019

Applause Line

Thank you to the wonderful cast — Robert Ayala, Leslie Kandel, Anthony Wolff, Carla Zackson Heller, and AJ Ruiz — and director Jerry Jensen for bringing “Can’t Live Without You” to life this past weekend. It is everything and way beyond what I hoped for.

L-R: Carla Zackson Heller, Leslie Kandel, Anthony Wolff, Robert Ayala, AJ Ruiz

The show has three more performances: Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday Reading

Mayor Pete Week — Eric Lach at The New Yorker on the current boomlet for Pete Buttigieg.

It’s already boomlet season in the 2020 Democratic Presidential race. “The Mayor Pete boomlet is real,” the CNN analyst and polling maven Harry Enten tweeted, on Thursday, referring to Pete Buttigieg, the young, can’t-we-all-be-reasonable mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Enten pegged this boomlet in part to a new Quinnipiac poll of the 2020 Democratic field, which showed Buttigieg jumping all the way up to four-per-cent support, good for a fifth-place tie with Senator Elizabeth Warren. Boomletissimo?

It’s true that Buttigieg, who technically is still in the “exploratory” stage of his campaign, has recently been everywhere, which in American Presidential politics is defined as television and the early-voting states. After an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last month, Buttigieg was praised for his poise. During an interview on the New York City morning radio show “The Breakfast Club,” the host Charlamagne Tha God declared, in amazement, “This guy seems like he’s telling the truth!” “The Daily Show” did a segment on how to properly pronounce his many-lettered last name. (“Buddha-jedge.” Say it fast.) The Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda followed the candidate’s husband on Twitter.

Part of Buttigieg’s appeal is that he offers a kind of political refuge: he’s a candidate that lets you forget about the baggage and conflicts of the race’s front-runners, if only for a little while. He sounds comfortable discussing complex issues, smiles warmly, and has no visible political enemies. Putting himself forward as an alternative choice has been part of Buttigieg’s brand for as long as he’s been on the national political stage. Two years ago, during his unsuccessful effort to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, he held himself out less as the millennial candidate—a mantle he’s fully embraced more recently—than as the compromise candidate. He was the third man in a contest that featured a lefty, Keith Ellison, and an establishment figure, Tom Perez, who both seemed like avatars of the Party factions that had done battle during the 2016 primaries. “I don’t know why we’d want to live through it a second time,” Buttigieg said at the time. Put that on a bumper sticker.

As a Presidential candidate, Buttigieg isn’t triangulating so explicitly—it would be tough to do that in field this crowded—but he’s still working to synthesize the disparate forces animating the Democratic Party and its voters in this moment. “Sometimes pragmatism points you in a comparatively radical direction,” he told my colleague Benjamin Wallace-Wells, earlier this year. For someone getting so much credit as an intellectual—news stories about him mention the fact that he’s a Rhodes Scholar just about as often as they mention that he would be the country’s first openly gay President—Buttigieg’s policy ideas are more gestural than prescriptive. He’s for eliminating the Electoral College and packing the Supreme Court, and he speaks often about how, as the millennial in the race (he’s thirty-seven), he has the right perspective to tackle issues such as climate change, health care, and the legacy of the country’s recent wars. He has a name for the approach this perspective leads him to: intergenerational justice.

In lieu of an armful of specific policy and legislative proposals, like Elizabeth Warren has, or a signature idea, like Cory Booker and his “baby bonds,” Buttigieg touts his time as a governing executive in South Bend. Like Ronald Reagan, who while running for reëlection, at age seventy-three, famously promised not to hold his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience” against him, Buttigieg takes questions about his age and reframes them as ones of record. “I think local leaders, where the rubber meets the road, where you’re dealing with everything, from filling potholes to economic development to public safety—that’s the kind of background that I think would serve us best at a time when Washington can’t get anything done for them,” he said on “The Breakfast Club.” It’s at least an argument—one that Buttigieg likes to back up by reminding people that South Bend is a diverse city and that unemployment has fallen under his watch.

Buttigieg is going bigger in one notable way. Like most of the rest of the 2020 field, Buttigieg resists being simply an anti–Donald Trump figure. But lately, it seems like he might be O.K. with becoming an anti–Mike Pence. “He’s been consistently horrible, and holds beliefs that are sincerely awful when it comes to L.G.B.T. equality and a lot of other issues,” Buttigieg said of Pence this week, on the Buzzfeed morning show “AM to DM.” “I’m sure he does not consider himself to be a racist. But I think the moment you come on board with a project like the Trump campaign or the Trump-Pence Administration you are at best complicit in the process that has given cover for a flourishing and resurgence of white nationalism.” This wasn’t how Buttigieg always talked about Pence. In “Shortest Way Home,” a book he published just a few weeks ago, Buttigieg wrote of getting to know Pence, despite his views on L.G.B.T. rights, as personally “gracious and decent.” Here might be evidence of the political newcomer’s evolution: he appears to have picked an enemy. What might next week hold for Mayor Pete?

From Writer’s Block To Stage — J.W. Arnold in South Florida Gay News on a certain playwright’s journey.

Anthony Wolff and Robert Ayala star in the South Florida premiere of Philip Middleton Williams’ “Can’t Live Without You” in Boca Raton.

Miami writer and playwright Philip Middleton Williams is still trying to finish his novel, “Bobby Cramer.” It’s been more than two decades.

“Sometimes an old dream, like an old friend, can show up when you need it the most,” Williams explained.

That’s exactly what happened with “Bobby Cramer.” In 2001, while visiting the Florida keys with his parents over Christmas vacation, the title character of the novel inspired a new play.

“As I was driving, it occurred to me, what would happen if Bobby Cramer walked into the room?” he recalled.

By the time, Williams and his parents reached their motel room, he had sketched out the first scene in his head and by the end of the vacation, he would have the story finished. Now, that play is getting a new production by the Playgroup at the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton.

The play centers around Donny Hollenbeck (Anthony Wolff), who thinks he has created the perfect life for himself. He has a lucrative career writing romance novels (under a female nom de plume), a nice girlfriend (Leslie Zivin Kandel), a go-getter realtor with ambitions beyond the next closing, and a beautiful home in Florida. But, when Bobby Cramer (Robert Ayala), a character from a novel he abandoned years ago, pays Donny a visit, he starts to realize his dreams took a wrong turn somewhere.

“The story is really about Donny’s struggle with his alter ego. His girlfriend wants him to settle down and start a family and his agent wants him to keep cranking out books,” said Williams, whose last play, “All Together Now,” was produced last season by the Playgroup. “I do that a lot—borrow characters from my other projects.”

While Donny is probably not gay, there are some twists.

“He’s attracted to this good-looking guy, Bobby, the yin to his yang. Bobby could be gay, but he’s questioning. Donny had experiences and it’s certainly a convenience to have a girlfriend,” said.

After pausing, the writer continued, “I’m still writing the novel. I may never finish it and it may certainly never be published, but that doesn’t matter, the novel is my Bobby Cramer. I may be writing a play or other stories, but I’m always coming back to that novel.”

Even though Williams created his characters before the more recent era of pansexuality or omnisexuality, the play also seems to predict many of the attitudes that are predominant with young people today.

“In many ways, it’s tough for people to admit they’re gay or straight and this fluidity that people are experiencing is because they’re being labeled, wrapped up in a package,” he said. “We have gay and straight actors and they all bring a sensibility to the study. I have not been to any rehearsals and I stay away because the playwright just sitting there gets in the way. I let (director) Jerry Jensen do his magic. My part is done and now it’s Jerry’s turn.”

Doonesbury — Dating himself.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Family Ties

As any good scene designer will tell you, it’s the details that make the difference. Set designer Teresa Biber LoMonte has added touches to the set for “Can’t Live Without You” that, to me, give it a polish and sense of the story that take the scenery beyond just a place for actors to perform in.

One is especially meaningful, at least to me. In the play we learn that Donny has a twin brother named Danny. Look at the photo over the printer and the pink flamingo. That’s my father and his twin brother.

The final dress rehearsal with an invited audience is tomorrow night; opening at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 30.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

First Tech

Last night the cast and crew went through the first technical (light and sound cues, costumes) rehearsal of “Can’t Live Without You.”  It was their second night on the set designed by Teresa Biber LoMonte.

As the playwright, I make it a rule not to attend rehearsal because the play is in the hands of the director and the actors; my work, for the most part, is done. So last night was the first time I saw the play since we had our read-through in January.

I also know that the role of the playwright is to not make comments to the actors; any notes are given to the director. But when the lights came up at the end, I had a hard time talking to Jerry, the director, because I was sobbing with joy and wonder at the work he and the cast had created. About all I could muster was “Thank you.”

The show opens Saturday afternoon.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Thursday, March 14, 2019