Friday, February 9, 2024

Happy Friday

I don’t think the Supreme Court is going to let Colorado kick Trump off the ballot, which, in the long run, is a good thing.  Let him lose the old-fashioned way: by getting the shit kicked out of him by the voters.  Now it’s up to Biden and the Democrats to make their case that not only is Trump a criminal, he’s a danger to the nation.  That should not be hard to do, but it will be anyway.

On another note, a new play of mine, Watercolors, will be given a reading via Zoom as a part of the Playwrights Thriving Reading Series tonight (Friday, February 9) at 7:00 p.m.  Tune in and listen.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Happy Friday

Thirty-five years ago today: December 22, 1988.

Having degrees in theatre didn’t make me a better playwright. It was the people I met and the places they took me on the journey to get them that did that.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Dramatic News

I have two shows going up this weekend: “The Christmas Commercial Conspiracy” opens tonight at Main Street Players in Miami Lakes as a part of Miami One-Acts Winter Session.  Meanwhile, “Any Second Now” will be presented as part of the University Players one-act series at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey.

If you’re here in Miami, come up to Miami Lakes, and if you’re in Teaneck, New Jersey, go see my play.

Oh, and rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Happy Friday

We are barreling toward the holidays, starting next week and going full-tilt until January 2.  Between the week-long Thanksgiving break most schools are on starting Monday, then the various and sundry holiday special events — including December 7, the end of the Medicare enrollment period — the inundation never ends until the last balloon is popped and it’s 2024…and the election campaign takes off.  Can the End Times be far off?  One could only hope.

I have three theatre events coming up: the District 8 Thespians, which is for Miami high school students, on Saturday the 18th.  There hundreds of aspiring actors, directors, designers, and playwrights will gather to share their enthusiasm for the wicked stage.  I’ve already read and adjudicated 31 short plays (up to 30 pages), and the scope is amazing.  Then I will sit in on an evaluation of students applying for scholarships. This will be my first time doing that, so I have some things to learn.  Then a week from now, I’ll be working with my friend and director Jerry on a production of “The Christmas Commercial Conspiracy” for the Miami 1-Acts Festival at the Main Street Players in Miami Lakes. That’s a two-day event; my play is one of eight.  At the same time, theatre students at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, will produce “Any Second Now,” a short play about characters waiting to be cast in plays by anxious and brooding playwrights.

Speaking of anxious and brooding playwrights, I’ve started yet another play: “You, Me, and the Turkey Baster.”  I hope to have something to show for it by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, we brace ourselves for the crush of holiday consumerism — a good sign that Bidenomics is working — and the end of pumpkin spice everything.  And now that the no-named tropical storm has moved off, it’s time for the wildlife to enjoy the sunshine.

“Iguana see clearly now, the rain is gone…”

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Midwest Dramatists Day 1

The 2023 Midwest Dramatists Conference took off like a rocket yesterday with sixteen readings, including “Forgive Us Our Debts,” plus a fun evening of writing a one-minute scene in six minutes.  So, everything was up to speed in Kansas City… or in this case, Olathe.

It was the first time I’d heard my piece, and I was overjoyed by the performances of Curtis Smith as Luke, Brent Custer as Jared, Sam Bennett reading the stage instructions, all under the guiding hand of Phil Kinen, who has directed all of my works at MDC since 2017.  A playwright can hear the characters in their head, even say them out loud as the words are written, but nothing really makes sense until you see them on their feet in 3D.

After the reading, every play got feedback from adjudicators Sean Grennan and Lindsay Adams Kennedy, and they were insightful, cogent, non-prescriptive, and above all encouraging.

We have nine more plays to hear today after our break-out sessions with Sean and Lindsay, then tonight is the big gala dinner.  Then we start thinking about next year.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Happy Friday

The first day of Midwest Dramatists 2023, and it starts with a good breakfast.

Then the show goes on.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Travel Day

I’m on the road to Kansas City, Kansas — Olathe, actually — for the Midwest Dramatists Conference 2023.  This will be our first meeting since 2019 due to the pandemic, and it will be a reunion of sorts: the invitees are all alums of the previous conferences.  I’m taking my play “Forgive Us Our Debts,” a short play about a young man working for a collection agency.  But I’m really looking forward to being together with some of the best playwrights that I know.

American Airlines had to change my flight because of severe weather forecast for tomorrow in and around Dallas, so they re-routed me through Charlotte.  But I’m still getting in about the same time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Get The Hook

Some observations on Lauren Boebert’s performance last week in Denver from The Nation via Balloon Juice:

Boebert’s performance was noteworthy not just for her personal boorishness but also as part of a larger pattern of right-wingers vandalizing musicals. Strange as it may sound, one of the cultural symptoms of the Trump era is the hard right’s affinity for musicals—an art form they also repeatedly desecrate.

Donald Trump himself is a prime example. No president has had such an intense love for musicals. In the White House, music was key to calming down Trump during his frequent outburst of anger. As The New York Times reported in 2021, White House official Max Miller—nicknamed the “Music Man”—was tasked with playing show tunes like “Memory” from Cats to “pull [Trump] from the brink of rage.” This is truly a case of music having charms to sooth the savage breast…

The extreme right is rich in figures who can be described as failed theater kids. These are people whose sensibilities are clearly shaped by a love for the expressive power and excess emotions of musical theater. But they haven’t been able to make a name for themselves in the area of their true passion, so instead they bring their thwarted theater-kid energy to partisan agitation.

Trump’s on-again-off-again crony Steve Bannon is a quintessential failed theater kid, writing a long string of movie scripts that went nowhere. In the 1990s, with cowriter Julia Jones, he worked on a hip-hop musical titled The Thing I Am. A bizarre hybrid, this musical tried to mash together the plot of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus with the story of the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles…

[…]

James O’Keefe, founder and deposed head of Project Veritas, is yet another failed theater kid. Founded in 2010, Project Veritas specializes in creating deceptively edited entrapment videos that showed progressives allegedly saying or doing compromising things… Of course, Project Veritas itself can be seen as a form of theater—albeit ineptly produced theater with crude and melodramatic plots…

One could extend almost indefinitely the list of right-wing provocateurs who had theater-kid backgrounds to include figures like Steven Crowder and Mark Steyn (who recorded a truly dreadful album titled Feline Groovy where he croons, in a faux-Sinatra fashion, cat-themed songs against a background of pastiche soft jazz). Even Gore Vidal or Mary McCarthy would struggle to find the vocabulary to describe how terrible the results are…

Ironically, politics and theater are merging at the exact same time that actual theater—whether musical or not—is in financial crisis thanks to the lingering impact of Covid. The critic Isaac Butler warns, “The American theater is on the verge of collapse.” Butler’s solution is a massive bailout of theater along the lines of the Federal Theater Project of the New Deal era. The migration of failed theater kids into right-wing politics suggests an added side benefit to this proposal. Surely we want future Steve Bannons and James O’Keefes to be working on productions of West Side Story in Peoria rather than shaping national politics.

Since politics has fused with entertainment, we shouldn’t be surprised when would-be or failed entertainers thrive as political leaders and pundits. Frank Sinatra once sang of New York, “If I can make it there / I‘ll make it anywhere.” A modern update might be: If you can’t make it on Broadway, there’s always Washington.

Fifty years ago when I realized I wasn’t an actor, I got off the stage and hit the typewriter.  But I still knew the difference between theatre and real life.  These clowns don’t know the difference.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Buy The Book

“Cooler Near the Lake” is now on sale from Next Stage Press.

Sam and Frank Weaver are at their summer home in Harbor Grove, an exclusive resort community on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay in Michigan, for a memorial service for Ruth, Frank’s wife and Sam’s mother. They are joined by Greg and Janey Anderson and their son Gary, who was a childhood friend of Sam, and Sam’s former lover Pete. They reminisce about their summers spent up at the lake, and as the day progresses into night and the masks come off under the influence of good Scotch, some well-kept secrets and memories that would rather be forgotten are revealed.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Fifth of July

Fifth of July is not just a date, it’s a play by Lanford Wilson. It opened off-Broadway in 1978, then, after some revision, on Broadway in 1980. It’s also the play that was the starting point of my doctoral studies and the subject of my doctoral thesis in 1988.

In 1985 I directed a production of the play at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder with a great cast.

Fifth of July Nomads March 1985

The cast of Fifth of July at Nomads Theatre, Boulder, Colorado, March 1985

In the course of my studies I became friends with Mr. Wilson, and the director of the productions, Marshall W. Mason. So ever since then, I have marked the 5th of July as a special day for me and my love of theatre.

“Matt didn’t believe in death and I don’t either…. There’s no such thing. It goes on and then it stops. You can’t worry about the stopping, you have to worry about the going on.” – Sally Talley, Fifth of July.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Monday, June 12, 2023

Scenes From The Play

Thank you to the cast — Shawn Eby and Jamie Nelson — and Kenly Long for stage instructions, and the amazing direction by Dick Reichman for the reading of “A Tree Grows in Longmont.”

The playwright watches and learns.

You can watch it now for the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

“A Tree Grows in Longmont” Goes Live

My play, “A Tree Grows in Longmont,” will be presented in a reading today from the Valdez Theatre Conference at 4:45 p.m. Alaska Time, which is 8:45 p.m. Eastern.  The cast includes Shawn Eby, Jamie Nelson, and Kenly Long, all directed by Dick Reichman.

If you can’t watch the live YouTube performance, it will be available for a limited time on-line.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Travel Day

It’s time to go check out some theatre at the Valdez Theatre Conference in the land of the midnight sun.

It’s a long trip, but worth it.

I’ll be posting updates, but allowing for the time zone difference, they won’t be at the usual time.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Happy Friday

I just finished a new play, Watercolors.

At a retrospective exhibit of the works of the late artist Eric Michael Foster, his surviving partner Nick is dealing with his struggle to move on with his new partner while preserving Eric’s legacy. It’s complicated by echoes of the past and the uncertain future.

In addition, I also have a play that is making the rounds: Cabana Boy.

Mitch and Ben have landed jobs for the summer, working poolside at a resort in the Florida Keys. Since it’s the off-season, they’re looking forward to a quiet and restful twelve weeks. Little do they know… When they meet Alex and Miriam, a couple from California, it soon becomes apparent that there are things to be learned about each other and themselves during the day and after-hours.

I am also packing up copies of my plays that have been published by Next Stage Press for donation to the sale table at the Valdez Theatre Conference, of which you will be hearing about ad nauseam from now until the end of June.

Would you rather that I posted something about TFG? Didn’t think so.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Happy Friday

Hey, Kids, Let’s Put On a Show! — Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post looks over the possibilities for the spring musical in these censorious times.

Bad news, schools! Just when you thought you had your finger on all the things that were being subjected to surprise, unwelcome censorship, they spring another censorship on you. This time, it’s high school theater coming under attack — from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” to “Marian, Or The True Tale of Robin Hood” to “August: Osage County.”

The Post reported: “Following a record-setting surge in efforts to change curriculums and ban books at schools nationwide, the education culture war has now reached the stage. The controversy in [Ohio’s Cardinal Local Schools] is one of a number of recent instances in which school administrators have intervened to nix or alter school theatrical productions deemed objectionable — often because they feature LGBTQ characters or deal with issues of race and racism.”

But also when they are “The Addams Family.” (One school board member complained, as reported in The Post, that “The theme of ‘The Addams Family’ is ‘darkness, grief and unspeakable sorrow. … These are not themes that we as a school would permit … so I don’t think we should put it out there.’”)

Now you might be looking at your spring play or musical and worrying: What will my school board say to this? Are they going to shut it down? Don’t worry: I have found their notes! Here they are!

The Crucible: Portrays witch hunts as a bad thing. No.

Legally Blonde: Courtney is shown as a retail worker whose contract includes the right to a break; this is unacceptable union propaganda.

Oliver!: Portrays child labor in a negative light.

Les Misérables: A convict such as Jean Valjean should not be voting, let alone serve as mayor. If you want to stage this, Valjean should be returned to prison immediately to serve out the remainder of his sentence, and the rest of the show should be devoted to the heroism of the valorous Javert.”

My Fair Lady: This can be perceived as a tale of breaking a woman’s spirit — and we love that about it!

Guys and Dolls: We like the depiction of someone who has developed “a bad, bad cold” but is not wearing a mask.

Little Shop of Horrors: This is fine because it teaches that plants are evil.

Twelve Angry Men: Suggestion that an innocent person might fall afoul of the justice system is Democratic propaganda aimed at undermining faith in the judiciary.

Cinderella”: Cinderella’s stepmother had every right to raise and employ her in a manner of her choosing, and it was not the place of the state to intervene.

Into the Woods: Offers a laudable cautionary tale about the perils of engaging in barter economy rather than selling your cow through traditional market-based channels. Love the warning about children listening! Still, can’t help but feel that there is something about it we should be censoring.

Rent: There is much to object to in this show about bohemians struggling to love, live and make art amid the AIDS crisis, but fortunately it has given us someone to root for in the figure of their landlord, Benny. Cut everyone else, and let’s see more of this guy!

Seussical: Honestly we have no idea what’s going on in this musical and don’t know whether we should censor it or not. Glad to see there is no Lorax.

A Year With Frog and Toad: Why are we glorifying amphibious same-sex relationships? This is the very thing Alex Jones warned us about.

The Phantom of the Opera: On the one hand, the Phantom is a compelling, charismatic portrait of an incel; on the other hand, he is not paying for the real estate he occupies. Add a line where he says, “And I pay rent monthly!” and it’s fine.

Frozen: Correctly implies that climate change is not a problem. No censorship needed!

Our Town: Nice to see a woman’s death in childbirth accepted as one of those sad but unavoidable things that sometimes happens! Good to normalize this.

West Side Story: Erroneously suggests that hating people who differ from you is bad. And students should not learn about life-ruining acts of gun violence through musicals. They should learn through personal experience thanks to our lax gun laws.

Hello, Dolly!: Glorifies waitstaff unnecessarily.

High School Musical: On Stage!: You would think that this bland, innocuous Disney production would be acceptable, but it is actually not, because producing a Disney show at this time could be perceived as a veiled attack on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

What about Little Mary Sunshine?  It was good enough for my high school in 1970.

Monday, March 13, 2023

And The Oscar Went To…

I continued my tradition of not watching the Oscars, so I was interested to see that it was, according to the news reports, an ordinary night at least in terms of headlines.  Nobody got slapped, nobody streaked, no one refused to accept the award, and most of the speculators about who would win got it right.  I’m very happy to see people get their recognition, and if it matters to them and their career, then that’s great.  A sincere and heartfelt congratulations to them.

Not that it matters to them or to anyone else, but I’m lukewarm about awards for artistic expression.  I’m not being a snob about it; I’ve won a couple of awards for my playwriting, and I am very honored by them.  But I also think that it’s very hard to judge one piece over the other when they are by definition very different in so many ways that it makes you wonder where they find common ground to decide that one film is better than the other.  Even in the acting category, how do you determine that one performance in a film is better than the others in other films?  I’m glad I’m not a voter at the Motion Picture Academy, or for the Tonys, for that matter.  Judging a theatrical performance is even more enigmatic; at least on film you have the performance that doesn’t change from showing to showing.  On stage, any number of things can turn a great play into a bad night for the actors and the audience.  How can you take that into consideration when you’re asked to vote for the “best”?  Obviously some people can, and do, but I don’t know if I could.

I’ve learned over the past forty-five years or so that most good playwrights are not a competitive bunch.  My experience at various festivals and conferences has been one of supporting my fellow writers, listening to what they have to say, and learning from their stories.  I don’t know if it’s like that in film; I’ve never been involved in that industry.  Maybe because playwriting isn’t about making money, whereas the movies are pretty much all about the dollars; that’s why they call it an industry; it’s a factory-produced product.  That doesn’t mean it can’t have heart and genuine meaning in its artistry, but the bottom line on movies is the bottom line.  Theatre, on the other hand, hopes to be about the art above all, often to the point that some in the business are suspicious of theatre companies that make a huge profit… or any profit, for that matter.  In my life I’ve seen some of the best theatre in venues that had trouble rubbing two dimes together.  That’s not how you judge good work.

There’s no assurance in artistic expression, no promise of a fortune or even a payday.  But I believe that most artists, be they painters or writers or musicians or glassblowers, don’t do it for the money.  As the immortal caricaturist Al Hirschfeld noted, “Making art is not about making money.  If you want to make money, open a delicatessen.”  Theatre companies come and go, playwrights have day jobs, and yet we still persist in writing.  Every other writer or actor has their reasons; their need for doing what they do.  In my case, as I’ve often said, it’s therapeutic: it’s cheaper than therapy and doesn’t damage my liver.

So, congratulations to those of you who won, be it an Oscar or just a pat on the back from your fellow artists.  Now, get back to work.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Happy Friday

Two bits of news from the theatre world for me.

First, Next Stage Press will publish “A House by the Side of the Road – Seven Short Plays About a Family” in May.  These ten-minute plays tell the story of a father and his sons throughout their lives and beyond at moments that tell us about them.

In June I will be returning to the Valdez Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska, where there will be a reading of “A Tree Grows in Longmont,” the story of Philip and Allen and their lives together and apart over more than thirty years.

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.

END OF PLAY.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Happy Friday

I have been invited to talk to students at one of the three charters schools where I work part-time as a grants administrator to talk about a career in theatre.

I intend to tell them that the odds are stacked against them and that they have a better chance of becoming a power forward for the Miami Heat than they do of finding a full-time career in the performing arts as an actor — or a playwright.  But if they truly have the passion, the drive, and the dedication, they will find a way to do both: make a living and feed their passion.

The worst thing you can do is give up on that dream.

Meanwhile, cherish the sunrise.

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