Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: And Now a Note without a Suicide

Claire Rice on the Year of the Rat.

Madam life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room,
He’s the ruffian on the stair.

– William Ernest Henley

Rat_Girl

I’ve spent the last year of my life contemplating incomplete suicides and other deaths. I’ve killed a great number of people on stage in a variety of ways. Sometimes I’ve written their deaths and sometimes I’ve directed them. Once or twice I’ve acted them. It often surprises me how flippant in the moment I can be about death, but after all the actor will get up and walk off stage in the dark only moments later. Crudely, it is often just one tool in the great storytelling tool box. Character B must die to show that Character A has lost all humanity. Meanwhile, Director A and Playwright B have spent hours going back and forth on the best method to bring about Character B’s demise. Should we slit the throat? Hang from rafter? Drown in a well? Poison? How fun it is to play at such violent fictions.

But this year has been the year of the Rat. Kristin Hersh’s Rat Girl, that is. In particular, I’ve spent the last year contemplating the climax of act one where she attempts to end her own life. I spent hours contemplating her method of death. Her door out. In the end I choose a violent and painful end. She picks up a discarded and used box cutter from the clutter that surrounds her. The tool yields itself up out of her world as if she’s bidden it to come. The box cutters appear during a discussion of the death of god, perception and responsibility, art and creation.

But it isn’t easy. The idea is there. The tool is there. The will is there. The need is there. Everything except the action.

In literal time it takes about ten minutes to get there.

In stage action time it takes two full songs and a monologue to get there.

In play time it takes a sleepless night, the purgatory of a hallucination, the stalemate between the fractured self and the sane self, and a calm acceptance of deeper desires.

And then she is reborn. At the top of act II she’s faced her own death at her own hands and now has to move forward and deal with consequences of that battle: the pain on the faces of her loved ones who feel betrayed and scared, the condescension of professionals who’ve seen it all before and the dismissal of those who expect nothing less of an artist. She’s died, but she hasn’t yet decided to live. As the evidence of the value and worth of her life piles up around her, she still cannot be sure. How can she be? How can we demand of her to hurry up and start living when she knows just how close death is and how easily it can be willed closer? At any moment the door out can be manifested before us and we can choose to walk through it or stand before it still.

When she finally chooses life she does so with her own voice.

How long does it take for her to find that voice?

In literal time it takes two hours and thirty minutes including a fifteen minute intermission.

In stage action time it takes about 38 short scenes split between two acts, several songs, a few monologues and two car scenes.

In play time it takes a crisis of identity, a swim in the ocean, a loss of a friend, a terrible accident, multiple discussions about art, the value of art (and thus the value of the self), a lonely suicide, a fractured survival, a move, a pregnancy, a validation, disillusionment, an escape and a return (all in all about a year and change).

Maybe in future productions it won’t take that much literal time, or that many songs or that many car scenes. Maybe in future productions it will take longer. But it will never be easy and it will never be separated from the discussion of art. How could it be? How could the life of an artist, who lives to created, not be filled with discussions on the value of that creation? The perceived value of that creation? The act of creation? Its place in the world? Its place among other art? The difference between art and product?

Of all the deaths on stage, it is this near death that has been the most difficult for me and the most rewarding to contemplate and put out into the world. It isn’t mine. It’s so many other people’s before it is mine, but it is so close to me.

I refuse to allow this death to be easy, or the life that follows it. I refuse to make it simple or direct, because it isn’t.

I’ve taken death on stage for granted, but I refuse to take the choice to live on stage for granted any more. And I’m not going to let you take it for granted either.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Gone Fishing

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List will return in two weeks.

In the mean time, go see Kristin Hersh’s RAT GIRL adapted for the stage by Stuart Bousel at DIVAfest. Get your tickets at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/577015

You can support current and future DIVAfest projects here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/divafest-2014

Frogs

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Revolutions Don’t Start in Gilded Halls

Claire Rice can hear the people sing.

El Teatro de la Esperansa occupied a small corner of the Red Stone Building on 16th Street between South Van Ness and Mission. The Redstone is full of non-profit organizations that fall around every end of the spectrum; from social change organizations to arts organizations to support groups to animal welfare. There is also a wonderful empanada place on the ground level. The Red Stone also housed Theatre Rhinoceros and Luna Sea Theatre, both of which lay follow now.

I spent more than six years working in El Teatro de la Esperansa.

It was moldy. It was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. It’s walls were too thin, the music from the art gallery below was too loud, and it’s equipment was old and grumpy. The booth was like a tree house that had to be climbed into through a small hole. Everything smelled weird. The risers were so worn they groaned in pain. There were never enough lights. The speakers were blown. The doorways were too short for tall people and too narrow for wheel chairs. The building owner’s son would throw illegal midnight raves in the space next door. Squatters complained that the rehearsals were too loud. The landlord was never available. And the bathrooms were definitely haunted.

I had some of the best times of my life in that building.

The little black box got its name from the company that built it. El Teatro de la Esperansa was founded in part by Roderigo Duarte Clark in LA and then moved up to San Francisco. Roderigo was a leader in Chicano theatre. El Teatro de la Esperansa produced bilingual touring shows and fostered playwrights like Josefina Lopez, Roy Conboy and Guillermo Reyes. You can read more about Roderigo here: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977239022 and here: http://articles.latimes.com/1993-10-12/entertainment/ca-45067_1_el-teatro-campesino

Roy Conboy, a faculty member in the SF State Creative Writing Program, brought Greenhouse to that little theatre in the Mission. Greenhouse gives graduate students at SF State an opportunity to work with professional directors and actors to present new plays in reading. It was through this program I saw the first readings of plays by Karen Macklin, Chris Chen, Elizabeth Gjelten, Peter Sinn Natchtrieb, and Elizabeth Creely (among many others). I worked with Roy Conboy to produce several of his plays there. After I graduated, Gabrielle Gomez and I rented the theatre and produced three plays (by Gabrielle Gomez, Megan O’Patry and myself) as well as a reading series. I saw plays evolve there and find their feet. I saw writers fail, struggle and get back up and work again. I saw writers find their voices.

It’s in places like this where it all begins. Ugly, dangerous places. These dark corners of the world are romantic in the rear view, even if they feel frustratingly small and ignored at the time. But there is so much freedom in places where the rent is cheap and no one is really watching what you are doing. In these dark corners you are beholden to no one but yourself. Any audience you get is a gift, because they had to work so hard to get to your out of the way and mean little home. You do things that are crazy because there isn’t anyone to tell you that you can’t or you shouldn’t. And it doesn’t always work. So often it fails. And it fails like a supernova because you learn by doing. Slowly. Painfully. Beautifully.

These dark corners of the world incubate.

And it is so wonderful.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this. Every company in that theatre will have a weird name. They’ll fuck and fight and die out. They’ll sing and celebrate and move out. They’ll laugh and cringe and dance out. They’ll grind and shake and rock out. They’ll come and go as they age and change and improve.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this. A small, poorly funded, off the beaten track theatre. Places where you can be the first to see something. That “something” is the next thing. The thing that will in ten, twenty or thirty years be at Berkeley Rep, Steppenwolf, or The Public. The thing that will change the world. I don’t know what it will be. It’s an adventure. It’s a failure. It’s a triumph. It is mediocre. It is sloppy. It is lazy. It is powerful. It is life affirming. It is a good night out. It is a bad date night. It is unsterilized, it still has all its sexual organs, it might have a splash zone, it will be full of naked men and it will monologue too much. It will have an out of tune piano that will play the most beautiful song you’ll never hear again. It will have a puppet that offends you so much you tell your grandchildren about it. It will have Shakespeare, Shaw, Shepard and every other “S” playwright. It will have no name, no name, no name and you’ll still love it. You’ll be the only person in the house and you’ll be standing in the back for three hours and loving it. You’ll be afraid to use the bathroom and you’re bike will get stolen. You’ll fall in love with the lead actress and you’ll party with the stage manager. You’ll grin like a mad man and cry like a motherless child. It’ll be your classroom and your torture chamber. It is a story you’ll tell your friends. It’s the thing you always wanted to do and now you’re doing it. You found it. It’s yours. It’s your special place.

Go out and adopt a theatre like this.

Mojo Theatre currently resides in this space. You can check them out on their website at http://www.mojotheatre.com/.

If you know a theatre like this, where ever it may be, please let us all know in the comments below.

Claire’s Enemy’s List: I Have No Fucking Clue What I’m Doing

Claire Rice, ensuring I have to spend at least an hour downloading, uploading, and formatting all her photos.

My camera broke.

I think it’s an easy fix and I’m going to look into getting it repaired. It probably broke from a combination of neglect, abuse and age: but I can’t say for sure. When it comes to that thing, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

I just sort of aim, fire and hope.

I know fuck all about that particular piece of equipment. I love it. I love taking pictures and I feel like I’ve gotten lucky and I’ve taken some really good ones. But, unlike my life in theatre where I know why a thing is good, I can’t write an essay on photography. I can’t tell you why one photo is better than another. It just feels right. Oh, I could bullshit about it for a long time if you want to. I can use the knowledge I have of theatrical framing and…blah blah blah… I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I’m not going to bullshit further or wax poetic or pretend I know anything about what I’m doing. But I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t mind. Getting lucky is fun. It isn’t artful and there’s no craft in it.

But, because my camera broke and I’m feeling nostalgic about it, I want to show off some of my favorite photos.

Don’t worry. I have a super angry post that feels very Enemy’s List cooking in the background here.

Troy: The Gates of Hell – Rehearsal Shot, SF State Rosie Josue, Aaron Teixeira, Vanessa Cota, Gregg Hood, Cecilia Palmtag, Teri Whipple, Megan Watson

Troy: The Gates of Hell – Rehearsal Shot, SF State
Rosie Josue, Aaron Teixeira, Vanessa Cota, Gregg Hood, Cecilia Palmtag, Teri Whipple, Megan Watson

City of Angels – Press Shot, SF State Sheena McIntyre (Clyde Sheets did all the lighting and set up for this)

City of Angels – Press Shot, SF State
Sheena McIntyre (Clyde Sheets did all the lighting and set up for this)

Don Juan – Production Shot, SF State  Elaine Gavin

Don Juan – Production Shot, SF State
Elaine Gavin

Killing My Lobster Reboots – Production Shot, Killing My Lobster Allison Page

Killing My Lobster Reboots – Production Shot, Killing My Lobster
Allison Page

Into the Clear Blue Sky – Production Shot, Sleepwalkers Theatre

Into the Clear Blue Sky – Production Shot, Sleepwalkers Theatre

Twelfth Night – Press Shot, AtmosTheatre Ashley Cowan, Nicholas Trengrove

Twelfth Night – Press Shot, AtmosTheatre
Ashley Cowan, Nicholas Trengrove

Ryan Marchand – For Fun

Ryan Marchand – For Fun

You’re Going To Bleed – Production Shot, DIVAfest Sam Bertken, Paul Jennings

You’re Going To Bleed – Production Shot, DIVAfest
Sam Bertken, Paul Jennings

Extra Shot – Taken during a photoshoot where we used a smoke machine

Extra Shot – Taken during a photoshoot where we used a smoke machine

Better Homes and Amo – Production Shot, No Nude Men James Tinsley, Warden Lawlor, Molly Benson, Cassie Powell

Better Homes and Amo – Production Shot, No Nude Men
James Tinsley, Warden Lawlor, Molly Benson, Cassie Powell

Love in the Time of Zombies – Press Shot, San Francisco Theatre Pub Neil Higgins

Love in the Time of Zombies – Press Shot, San Francisco Theatre Pub
Neil Higgins

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: One is the Loneliest Number

Claire Rice continues her meditation on the black box box office blues.

When all is said and done, even if we sell out all 588 seats to Rat Girl, there’s a chance that more people will have read this post then will have seen that play. And yet, that’s not a sad thing. A performance, even in a limited run, can still have an impact and be far reaching.

But we can’t measure the future. We can only count seats and hope. 588 is a lot of hope.

But that’s not the number I’m thinking about. That top number is rarely the number any of us think about.

We think about the One.

Admit_One

The One Ticket Sold

You think to yourself, as you print out the Brown Paper Ticket list, that there isn’t a need to print it out. There’s only one name. You could have written it down. Maybe you’re friends who said they were coming will surprise you and come tonight. Those fuckers always wait until the last minute to buy their tickets.

You wait behind your gray cash box that you bought at Office Max all those months ago. It has a lock on it, but you don’t bother to use it and the keys are inside under the cash tray next to that ball point pen that doesn’t work and you keep meaning to throw away. You wait, looking across the hall at the other show that seems sold out. It has a stupid name and the people running their box office seem much too peppy. They smile at you politely, the way people do when they feel sorry for you. Your list sits next to your cash box.

“Ok,” you say to the actor who you’ve been working with one on one for months to get this show onto it’s feet. “So there is one sketchy looking dude out there and that’s it. We’ve already been holding for ten minutes, I don’t think anyone else is coming. Give it all you’ve got and I’ll see you after the show.” Like a coward you run out of the dressing room. You are also the stage manager so you have to bring the lights down and the music up. The guy looks sleepy. You silently curse your friends while musing that the music seems very loud now that there is no one in the house.

She comes out to begin the show. You remember telling her that if there were any time there were less people in the house then there were on stage then the show wouldn’t happen. But, you remind yourself, you said that when it was a two women show. Now it’s just her. Less than One is None and the show must go on.

The One Who Didn’t Come

After awhile, loved ones begin to realize that you are never going to give up this acting thing. They still love you and believe in you and want you to accomplish all of your dreams, but they have also grown weary of seeing everything you do. The terrible thing about landing your dream job is that it becomes a job. Your parents are proud of you, but no longer take special trips to see you do…your job. Your boyfriend has become your partner and, though he loves you, he’s decided he only wants to see the shows that are “really good.” Of course, after that Shaw festival he no longer trusts you on what you think “really good” is. And as open minded as he is, he can’t help feel uncomfortable watching you kiss other people in public like it’s no big deal. He mostly stays home.

You peek through the curtains at the audience. Strangers. All strangers. The director and the producer are excited. “We don’t know anyone out there!” they keep saying. The marketing campaigns have all paid off. No one in the audience had to be comped, bribed, begged or threatened to see the play. Yet, it feels like no one is out there at all. Just people. Nice people, hopefully, but just people. People you will never see again.

The One Who Did

You can’t help it. You stare at the back of his head and try to imagine what he’s thinking. Why did he look down then? Why did he look up? What is he looking at? You try and watch the show, but keep turning back and looking at that head. Why is his hand like that? What’s he doing with his leg? Does that mean he’s bored? Is he going to leave early? Is he going to leave before intermission? If he does, will he still write a review? Is that fair?

You try and calm down. It’s opening night. Everything is fucked. The costume designer ran in late with the costumes, crying that her car broke down on the way to the laundry matt and that they had closed early and she had to call the landlord to get the costumes out. Two of the lamps burnt out moments before house opened. The props person forgot to bring more cookies, so the actors have to eat the leftovers form last night. The lead has a cold and is demanding hot water with lemon to be brought back at every scene break. The house was over sold due to an error in the the ticketing software. Everything is fucked.

But you can’t take your eyes off the back of the reviewer’s head. What the hell is he thinking? Does he see all the flaws? As you stare at him, his shoulders move as if in a shrug. Is he reading your thoughts or itching his back on the chair? You look up at the stage to distract yourself. Someone jumps a cue and suddenly no one knows what to do. It’s that horrible moment in theatre where a mistake happens and everyone has forgotten how to be human. The stillness is unbearable. When it finally ends you see him writing something down. Oh god, this whole this is an unmitigated disaster. Everything is fucked.

The One Who Mattered

The words tumble out of their mouths and it seems inconceivable that they were ever in your head at all. It’s an out of body experience that isn’t entirely without pleasure, but mostly is full of discomfort. Every now and again they trip on them and you wince. Sometimes it’s your fault, to many words starting with the letter “s” all in a row. It’ll have to be cut in the next draft. Sometimes it’s their fault and you curse the actors for their laziness and the director for her stupidity. Then that part happens, with the flowers and the water, and it’s all magic again. You love everyone. They are more talented then you will ever be and you are humble and honored. Then you remember it all began with you and you feel big and bold and proud. You did this.

Then you see her.

A few rows in front of you and to the side enough that you can see most of her face. You never told her, but you wrote this play for her. This play is about her. This play has her as a main character. Sure, you invited her to come but you never thought she’d show up. Her husband sits next to her, holding her hand. They watch the play. The lights from the stage reflected on their faces. Suddenly you feel like a hack. You feel false. The words feel like daggers and everything is wrong.

You wrote about her fear of death and now an actress who is a younger version of her is monologuing about it at her. You want to die. You imagine running out of the theatre and throwing up in the waste bin outside or maybe going to the bar and ordering a triple shot of something terrible and numbing and then throwing up.

She’s crying.

She brings her hand up to her mouth. Her husband holds her to him. She watches a younger version of herself die poetically onstage. Everything goes dark.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: 588 if We’re Lucky

Claire Rice has luck on her side.. hopefully.

For whatever sins I have committed, I consider a recent show I sat through punishment enough. The slate is clean and I can start all over again. It feels good.

And, though it may seem contrary, it has made me remember why I love theatre.

In this day and age we are fatted on entertainment all day every day everywhere we go. We have games to while away the hour before the bus comes. We have libraries of books are at our beck and call. Every movie ever made and all the television shows can be watched and shared and commented on. Magazines and news sources are at every click of the mouse. And is it any wonder that we argue so strongly about the stupidest points when we have entertainment news programs yelling at each other 24 hours a day and when every website thrives on user comments as a kind of content. I swear I only read SFGate for the stupid fucking things its ugly minded commenters say. We can stalk our friends and loved ones for fun without the need to tell them we love them and wish them well. Porn can always always always be had. Entertainment is everywhere all the time. No experience dies entirely, it can all be recalled and dulled down to a nub of a memory until it becomes so inconsequential it might as well have not even happened and we must search again for the next entertainment.

But a theatrical performance is a finite and unique experience that can only exist in its form in single moment. It takes effort to participate in. The experience can be relocated, but never truly copied. The seventh viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life will change only because of all the outside forces around it, but that movie will be the same. The seventh viewing of Romeo and Juliet will never be the same as the first even if it is the same production. If you watch a recorded version of that performance, it will no longer be theatre. Not really. And I love that. Nothing can beat that.

I am directing a production of RAT GIRL that will go up in May. If we sell every seat every night, about 588 people will see it. And then it will be over. Gone. That is less than 0.07 of the population of San Francisco. That is an terribly small percentage of humanity. The chances of this show being almost a puff of nothing in the history of the art, of the world, is so high that when asked why I do what I do I am forced to stay that it must be I do it only for myself. And yet, I remember moments (big and small) that have utterly changed who I am as a person and an artist. These seemingly insignificant moments of theatre sent shockwaves through my mind and have brought me here to this moment. It isn’t that I would be happy or lucky if one among 588 feels the impact that I felt. It is that I hope to create a thing that each of those 588 people carry with them as they move out into the world and into their lives and into everything else they do.

Becca Kinskey Brown Bag Theatre

I spent about six years at San Francisco State University as a graduate student and then as an administrator and lecturer. (Yeah, they let me tech people and my mother fucking Oedipus lecture was both a joy to give and totally mother fucking interesting.) And over the years there I’ve seen many things that were both remarkable and beautiful. The Brown Bag Theatre had many of those moments. Brown Bag Theatre is a small black box semester long repertory company that produces hour long shows from 12-1 for free almost all semester. The shows are entirely student produced and range from work-in-progress to ready to tour. But, there was no more foundational moment for me than watching Becca Kinskey in a cameo performance.

Memory is a tricky thing. I’m going to put this up here and someone is going to tell me I got it all wrong and none of it even happened. I don’t remember the show. I don’t remember anything else that happened. But I remember Becca Kinskey. I don’t think she was even a student at the time, but I think she was acting technical director. She was a favorite among the students for her calm and friendly demeanor, her whip smart mind, and her youth. She herself may have only just graduated from the program. How she got talked into do the show I don’t know.

Her performance was a comedy set. Her character was a first time nervous comedian. I don’t remember Becca telling a single joke, but I do remember that she became that character. The comedian was so nervous she began to tell sad and horrible truths about her own life. She cried, wept, as she lived out the nightmare scenario of being up onstage with nothing to say and an audience having all the wrong reactions. But, the odd thing was that we laughed. There were none of the normal cues for laughter, but the audience was played like a harp by the director and by Becca. We were unwitting participants in the sad fragmented story of the woman on stage. We laughed at every motion. Every tear. It was ridiculous. It was horrific. And through it all, Becca was not Becca. She was that frail and broken woman sighing behind the microphone. It was so good.

Frank Wood as Lucky in Waiting for Godot at American Conservatory Theatre

I am a vocal critic of American Conservatory Theatre and I expect I will only get louder. But I do what to put it on record that my heart hasn’t turned absolutely black against A.C.T. There are more than a few memorable moments that I’ve had there that could easily end up on this list.

But Frank Wood as Lucky beats them all by a long shot.

Frank Wood (downstage) as  Lucky, and Steven Anthony Jones as Pozzo.

Frank Wood (downstage) as Lucky, and Steven Anthony Jones as Pozzo.

I love Waiting for Godot. It is a piece of theatre that was integral to my development as an artist. The production at A.C.T. was fine. I remember little about Didi and Gogo. Gregory Wallace was in his usual form, putting his strange voice through a sort of auditory acrobatics that is beautiful in its singular nature, but I can never be sure if I like his acting or find his voice so unique that I think I enjoy his acting. At any rate, I had been waiting to hear Lucky’s monologue. I didn’t think they would cut any of it, but I couldn’t be sure. It is a rambling, stream of consciousness word purge that lasts five or more minutes. It is a plague of nothing and it is a poetry of the working mind; it is a parody of critique and acting and class and anything and everything. It is the thing that comes out of a slave’s mouth when he is demanded to “think” for no other purpose then as a sport. Sports of all kinds. Namely concurrently.

Frank Wood’s performance was naked and dangerous and drooling and violent in the pain he lived on stage. He was a man who is full of things to say, but can only say them when ordered to. He stared directly out into the audience and into nothing as his body shook itself so hard I thought his bones would come loose and he would puddle onto the floor. If I had seen him on the street I would have called an ambulance. I believed him to be in pain because I could see he was in pain. He was delirious and with every word further and further out of control. When I see this performance in my mind, he towers above me and I look up into his red-rimmed eyes and I am overwhelmed.

Next Time on Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List…

“588 if We’re Lucky Part II – One Is The Loneliest Number”

An ode to every production that has had to go on for a single audience member.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: How To Fix Writer’s Block

Claire Rice invites you to read this list out of order. It may either feel like she’s spiraling out of control or into it.

How_To_Fix_Writer's_Block

I am experiencing the most serious writer’s block I’ve ever experienced in my whole life.

There is a large part of me that wants to follow that sentence with a picture of a microphone drop and leave this post just like that. This is because I think that sentence is one of the truest things I’ve written in the last year.

It’s not that I haven’t been actively putting words on pages and forming beginnings, middles and endings. It’s that I’m not sure what I’m writing is true. Or, no, that’s not quite right. I believe that I underneath my writing is a larger hidden truth that is not being said. A confusing and muddled truth that I don’t have the words for yet. Over that truth I’ve written fictions and …

See? I’m doing it again! I’m being purposely vague. Except I’m not, at least I don’t think I am. What is it I’m trying to say? I don’t know. This is the block.

I even started writing “The Enemy’s List” because I wanted to be a truth speaker. I thought to myself “I’m a person who tells it like it is or, at least, I tell it like it is in my mind and I deal with the consequences later.” I imagined “The Enemy’s List” as a truth space. And it is. I don’t think I’ve told lies or said things I didn’t mean or even pandered to anyone. But, still, there is some filter over my writing that feels less than honest. I can feel that there is something underneath the words that is what I should really be saying, but I’m not.

List of Possibilities
In an effort to try and push past this block, I’m going to try and be vulnerable. Honest. Open. Fearless. One of these things might just be the thing I’m trying to say, but I’m not saying.

Enemy’s List
I love it. I love it so much. Also, note, this is not an ongoing list of my enemies. It is an ongoing rant about things that upset me, weird me out, unsettle me, or piss me off. In writing this blog I don’t feel as if I creating my own Nixon style enemies list, but instead adding my own name to other people’s lists. I realize that I might step on toes, upset an apple cart, and may add unwelcome adjectives to my name when I’m spoken about. The thing is, people might say those things about my directing work and my playwriting already. Those things are just as much my truths as the essays I write. I started this because I began to feel as if I was building a reputation as a “shit talker” (well, at the very least rude) or they type of person you go to if you want to bitch about this or that. I’ll lean in and participate. I’ll play devil’s advocate. I’ll nod my head and dig into it with you. I figured I might as well capitalize on it.

I Hate Lists
I love lists. I love Cracked.com and Buzzfeed and AV Club’s Inventory. I hate that it means the only way to write on the internet is through a scan-able, easily digestible, neatly organized list. It makes me feel dumb. It makes me feel like there is no other way to write. It makes me feel like I’m talking down to you. It makes me feel like I’m inviting you to pick and choose from my thoughts like a buffet. That they may be tangentially connected, but that a part could be lifted from them the list will still be intact. Like a mixtape of my thoughts, you can read the first to get the gist and skip to the end to get the most important bit and feel like you’ve taken it all in. I love lists for all the reasons I hate them. I am conflicted as shit about this.

I’m Just Bitter
I look at some of the playwrights and directors who are my age and I see them finding a level of success that seems to be just out of my reach and it galls me. What choices have I made in my life that have lead me to this moment? Who’s fault is it that I am not where I want to be? Could it be the overpriced education failed me? Could it be that I didn’t go to a top tier school? That I didn’t come into this independently wealthy? That I’m a woman? That I’m from San Francisco and not New York? That I’m terrible? That I don’t try hard enough? That I’m not good enough? Maybe success is a green light on the other side of a lake. Maybe it doesn’t matter what I do, what accolades I get. Maybe I’ll never feel like I’ve “arrived” or I’ve “broken through”. Maybe I can’t because I’ve chosen theatre and there is no longer any such thing as success in theatre. Maybe I’m so bitter I’m one of those people that lashes out at everything and I blame everyone else and every “system” that is keeping me down.

Fuck You
Sure. Maybe I’m bitter, but that doesn’t mean the Actor’s Equity website doesn’t suck or that I don’t have a right to my opinions.

I’m Not Bitter
I have no doubt in my mind I would have the opinions I have regardless of how “successful” I was or wasn’t. Also, except for this mental block and the existential crisis about truth or whatever, I feel pretty good about where I am. Sure, not great. But what can you do? I’m conflicted as shit about this.

Ugh, This Sucks
Where is the truth? Am I at it yet? Is this even interesting?

Because I Want to Say It, It is Worth Saying
That is tantamount to: Because I have access to the internet I have the right to act like an asshole on message board because you can’t see me. I also have access to a stage and actors who are willing to participate in saying things for me. There’s a lot of power in all those things. Have I fully realized that power and what it means? Have I take the responsibility for it and honestly weighted the impact of my actions? I don’t know. Worse, I honestly don’t know if you are either. I sat through half a show last night and didn’t know why I was there, why anyone else was there or why the show. Why the show? Why the show? So I left at intermission because I didn’t see any reason anyone should have stayed. I didn’t owe anyone my attention or understanding.

When I Say It, You Need to Listen
It hurts my feelings when people walk out of my shows. I want to call them stupid. I do call them stupid. I blame everyone else. I get angry. I am hurt. I gave these people a gift and if they walk out it is because they didn’t try hard enough. I can’t and shouldn’t spoon feed meaning to every audience member.

I Am Conflicted As Shit
Where is the truth? Am I at it yet?

The Story I Want To Write
The circumstances surrounding my sister’s upcoming wedding may just be the plotline of an independent movie or a “white people dinner party” play. This is a truth. I want to write it. It will make a good and entertaining story, one that I’ve already told several close friends. It will be important to me. It will be my truth. It is also not mine. My character would be bystander to the events. I don’t have the “right” to this story, because the story belongs to the living people whom I love who are living through it as we speak. It will also no longer be true the moment it hits the page. It will be edited and finessed for entertainment. People without clear objectives will be given higher stakes. Character types will emerge. Clichés, stereotypes, and my one subjective world view will supplant the real people. It will be work shopped and judged and walked out on and critiqued and rejected. I will write a true story about me and the people I love and it will be rejected. It will be categorized and filed away. It will be made an example of and it will be ignored. And it will be true and it will be false and it will kill me to write it. It will also make me feel better. It will hurt the people I love. It will not be left in a drawer to rot because that isn’t why I write. I write to be heard. This isn’t a fun hobby. This isn’t an addiction. This isn’t an ego boost. This isn’t therapy. It won’t make me feel better to have written it because it will be “out”, but because it is true. It is my truth, even dressed in all the false layers of fiction or memoir or style or form. This is my truth and I can’t bear to have it in your hands and I can’t bear the thought of not giving it to you.

All the Stories I Want To Write
It isn’t just that one. It’s all of them. That one is just a good example. A fresh example. But it’s also true. In the past year I’ve written things that I thought were good, fun, entertaining or any number of things. They did what I wanted them to do, but where they true? Where they my truth? Where they a truth I was willing to stand behind and defend? Where they worth having been said even if they were true? What is my metric here? How were they false? Why am I unsure? I used to say that when art scares you, that is when you should do it the most. But…really? You know…really? I mean. Maybe it means I shouldn’t write it.

Is This Even Interesting?
I am conflicted as shit about this. My heart is racing. My head is light. I’m hiding in my home. I’m sleeping too much. I may be having a medical emergency or I may be having the weirdest longest anxiety attach of my life. This is a lie. This is an exaggeration. This is closer to the truth then you know. This is a play-by-play of my life. Do you deserve to have that information? Do you want it? Should I care about what you say? Am I starting a conversation or am I yelling on a soapbox? Do I have to pick one?

What This Isn’t About
Don’t talk to me about writer’s block. This is a truth block. This is a wall of self. A crisis of voice and intent. This is a self-examination of the worthiness of what I’m putting out into the world. All the things that I am: Bitter. Angry. Confused. Unsatisfied. Argumentative. Contrary. Poetic. Subjective. Delightful. Funny. Insightful. Empty. Damning. Distant. Unsettled. Uneducated. Over-education. Stupid. Intelligent. Conflicted as shit. Fucked. Condescending. Complicated. Defensive. Offensive. And trying to find the moment when it just exists. This voice. This person. The one who is no longer defending my right to say want I feel, but just says it with the authority that I have granted myself.

I Don’t Know
I really don’t.

I Am Conflicted As Shit
Fact.

If you are feeling the need to give me advice on getting over “writer’s block” I want you to know that I’ve googled several advertisement laden lists that are both wonderfully insightful and disturbingly stupid.

This one is good: http://thefuturebuzz.com/2008/12/03/how-to-overcome-writers-block/

This one is great: http://io9.com/5844988/the-10-types-of-writers-block-and-how-to-overcome-them

This list is mostly the same as any other, but the last tip is a so unbelievably weird it had to be reprinted here. No judgment here. Whatever gets you through the day. Thank you Brian Moreland, I look forward to being more hydrated if nothing else. http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/7-ways-to-overcome-writers-block

“If nothing else works, I resort to my number one, lethal weapon to cure writer’s block: the Glass-of-Water Technique. Before bed, fill up a glass of water. Hold it up and speak an intention into the water. (Example: My intent is to tap into my creative source and write brilliantly tomorrow. I choose to be in the flow of my best writing. I am resolving my story’s issues as I sleep and dream). Drink half the water and then set the half-full glass on your nightstand. Go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning, drink the rest of the water immediately. Then go straight to your computer and write at least an hour without distraction. This may seem a bit out there, but give it a try. It works! Do this technique for three nights straight. It gets me out of my writer’s block every time, often the next morning and definitely within 72 hours.”

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: They Can’t All Be Winners

Claire Rice mines the silver lining of someone else’s black cloud.

Sometimes it feels good to sit and ruminate on the failures of shows we didn’t participate in. This is just a fact. This is partly because it feels good to know that we aren’t the only ones who make mistakes. It is also because rehashing our own bad show stories can turn a conversation from jovial to somber. Importantly, stories like these solidify your ideas of what “good” and “well made” actually mean. Yes, in a community as small as ours it can backfire. Honestly, if you sat around bad mouthing Company X all the time, the likelihood of it getting back to Company X is high. When it does get back to them, they have every right to write you off their list and dismiss you. Of course, maybe they are sitting around talking about your shitty production photos, giggling under their breaths at your stiff poses and feeling a small sense of satisfaction that these aren’t their production photos. You never know.

Schadenfreude

So kids, let’s hit the wayback machine and get ourselves into some trouble. Let’s travel back in time to a place that was full of hope and joy. A time where it when talking about the rent wasn’t a political statement. A time before now, but not too much before.

I had been to this particular established theatre company more than a few times and I’d enjoyed what I saw more often than not. I was excited about this show because it was by a woman and it had a majority female cast. Also, it was a horror play which intrigued me because you don’t see many plays in the “Friday the 13th” vain. It had so much potential. The company was good, the actors were mostly all good, and the script had some interesting moments.

Too bad the set kept falling apart.

The set was supposed to do this neat thing where the main house set split down the middle and moved into the wing space to reveal the second set beneath. It sort of gave you the feeling that under all the sweet suburbia there was a dark underbelly. Or, it would have, if the set didn’t move on and off with any reliability.

At one point, there was a blackout that just seemed to be taking forever. But the intimacy of the theatre revealed it all. One half of the set shakily moved into position. The other half jerked and shook and bumped, but nothing happend. Suddenly the lights snapped up on half a house and half a bloody basement. A stage hand quickly ran off stage. The actress entered and tried to pretend like nothing was wrong, and then the phone rang. But, the phone was on the other side of the house. The side that was now a bloody basement. Calmly she made the only choice she could. She walked over to the phone to pick it up. It was at that point the stagehand re entered and tried to make the moving wall move again. It didn’t. In the middle of the scene the stagehand looked up and, for the briefest of moments, looked right at me. With her eyes she seemed to say “This has all gone terribly wrong. I want to go home now.” But there was no home to be had. No where to go. Suddenly the wall came loose from whatever was stopping it’s progression. It was snapped into place and the house was whole again. The actress on the phone did a wonderful job of just letting all that happen.

Sometimes stuff just doesn’t work. They can’t all be winners.

spider-man-turn-off-dark-12-10

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: What Theatre Needs

Claire Rice gives us a list of wishes…

You don’t have to tell me that if wishes were fishes we’d all be very good at making our own sushi. Still, there are things I wish existed that I really think would be awesome. And I know that some of these things are in my grasp. Like a bike, for example. I could make that happen. Black Widow getting her own Avenger’s movie, on the other hand, is not exactly in my control. I mean, I can write the screenplay and I can film it and I can hire the lawyers to protect me from Disney and Marvel…but it just wouldn’t be as satisfying as if Mark Boal wrote it and Catherine Bigelow directed it. Sometimes I think it’s OK to just send things out into the universe and wish.

But none of these wishes are going to be for more money. All of the wishes I have below can be gotten for more money, but “more money” as an answer is boring. You will always want there to be more money. You will always want things to be more equal. You will always want things to be more fair or to work in your favor.

This isn’t that kind of list.

So, I wish…

1 – Ashland Everywhere
This past Monday I was sitting in the lobby of Berkeley Rep listening to a pre-show discussion with a few of the playwrights featured in this week’s Monday Night Playground. When, as part of a general discussion about the arts and funding, Jonathan Luskin asked “Why can’t every state have an Ashland?”. I’m sure I’m among the many who, after returning from their first trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, felt a deep longing for the utter immersive theatrical environment that is OSF. The dream of spending nine months living and breathing live theatre. It’s hard not to romanticize it. But, before OSF alumni comment on the thrills of seclusion in Ashland and the joys of months upon months of self important tourists, let me say that I know that it can’t be perfect. But, I also agree with Jonathan, why can’t every state have it’s version of Ashland? I don’t mean the paint-by-numbers three month runs of Oklahoma!, or the unscrupulous and shady touring productions (like a certain production of Peter Pan that blew through a few years ago.) No, I mean forward thinking, risk taking, creative, invested caretakers of the American theatrical ambition. A place where the artists and craftsmen are treated as both employees and artists. A place to be introduced to theatre for the first time, a place to live theatre for a week, a place to relive favorites, and a place to discover new voices. And, yes, employers. Great behemoth employers where the young train, the up and coming to hone their craft, and the established relax into 401k plans.

2 – Nerdy Trade Magazines
Oddly specific and full of the best and most up to date information on trends, topics and news. How many theatre companies prefer to use Meisner Technique in their rehearsal rooms? Meisner Today knows (or it would if it existed.) I know, I know. Print media is dead!!! We’re playing a wishing game here. I want to open my mail box and have piles of glossy news items fall out. Yes, I get American Theatre Magazine and Theatre Bay Area and both are great. I don’t know about you, it get’s exhausting looking at all the ads for graduate schools in American Theatre Magazine, surely there is someone else willing to advertise in there that will make reading it feel more adult. There will never be a day when Howl Round or 2amT will come monthly and glossy, and I don’t think it should…oh but I kind of wish it did. I’m not going to lie. I want a theatre version of Rollingstone. I want it to be that stupid, that gossipy, that hero worshipping, that controversial and that entertaining in itself.

3 – Legitimate coverage
I don’t want to wait for Vanity Fair to cover Tracy Letts because Meryl Streep is in an adaptation of his play. I want every entertainment magazine, newspaper and entertainment broadcast to devote a little space to theatre. Not just major catastrophes like Spiderman, but the fact that cool stuff and terrible stuff is happening all over the country all the time. I want Vanity Fair to talk about theatre so much that around the time of the Tony’s they have a big Annie Leibovitz theatre spread where they name everyone and give little descriptions (I love those!) I want AV Club and Jezebel to roll their eyes at Vanity Fair and write article after article about “real” theatre stars, accomplishments and pitfalls.

4 – Conventions and Trade Shows
We never called it cosplay – we called it costuming. And,no, it isn’t fun to dress up as the family from Death of a Salesman, but you can’t tell me there wouldn’t be a million Rent heads there all to see the panel with the original cast. Vender booths, sneak previews of Broadway hits before they open, tech fairs with the latest in lighting and sound and projection equipment, costume parades from our favorite designers (LIKE FASHION WEEK!), season announcements from big regional theatres and…oh goodness. It would be terrrible and wonderful and fun.

5 – Comfortable Seats
The older I get the more I dread going to see theatre at certain venues. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how good the show is. If my ass has fallen asleep, my spine has started to tingle from bad lumbar support, and my hips (my lovely wide American hips) have finally had enough of being squished beneath the arm rests I may just walk out.

6 – More Broadway in Las Vegas
This is like the Ashland wish, only this theatre is way more commercial. Yup. Hoaky, touristy, loud show offy and commercial commercial commercial. I want more of it. I want a Rogers and Hammerstein Theatre on the strip doing shows in rep. I want brilliant musical directors, singers, actors, set designers and crew to cut their teeth and earn retirement fund there. I want the type of people who wrote Urinetown to have an edgy big theatre there too that does crazy new works with big budgets. I want a sketch comedy troupe with multi-media know-how to do their thing there.

7 – More Poaching from the Lower Ranks
I want the big regional companies to look below them and think about moving whole shows up from the small independent companies. When I see a cool show at Crowded Fire, I want to get excited when I see that the next season it’s at Marin Theatre Company.

8 – Less Excitement about Seeing it First, More Excitement about Seeing it Next
I want a new play to premiere at Kitchen Dog Theatre and I want to know for sure that in the next few months I’ll get the opportunity to see it too. I want there to be a ripple of excitement spreading across the country. The New Play Network and it’s rolling premiers are doing a good job and I want more! I want little black box theatre franchises all over that will open a show all in the same season. I want a big broadway show to open on Broadway AND in Los Angeles. I want previews for shows just like movies. I want them all in a single place so I can watch them all. I want to share them on Facebook and I want to say: “Man, I can’t go to Dallas right now but I hear that Playhouse will do the show in June!”

9 – Away with Curtain Call
I just don’t think they are necessary. It’s a false kind of pageantry that isn’t necessary. It’s hoaky. It breaks the mood. It wastes time. It’s a form of begging. I want the audience to feel like it’s a special treat to see the actors without the makeup or the character. The curtain call has become pro forma. It’s lost it’s magic. I don’t need it any more.

10 – A Powerful Politician and The Owner of a Media Outlet
I want friends in high places for theatre. Loud ones.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Money Talks and Bullshit Walks

Claire Rice, here to slap your new year in the face with some hard-hitting journalism. 

I won second place in a bullshit contest in middle school. I don’t mean the contest was bullshit, I mean that I was the second best bullshitter among thirteen year olds in New Mexico and I was given a medal to prove it. I didn’t win another award until college. It was an award for my performance in one of the main stage plays. I received the certificate during an assembly where scholarship awards were also being given. When I went up to shake the department chair’s hand and collect my piece of paper he pulled me close and whispered in my ear: “You should have gone for the money.”

These were my first lessons in how important awards really are.

Please sir, I need a little something to fill out my CV.

Please sir, I need a little something to fill out my CV.

There is big money to be had out there. More important than the Critic’s Circle or BroadwayWorld.com, the best major grants are awards that recognize past achievements and the potential of future achievements. This year the Andrew Mellon Foundation gave $3.7 million dollars for playwriting residencies all across the country.  Awards went locally to ZSpace to hire Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and to Cutting Ball to hire Andrew Saito.  I haven’t talked to the Mellon Foundation myself, but I can’t help but feel this award was given in large part because of the book “Outrageous Fortune” and the national conversation about the state of new play development in the United States.  If so, it was given in an effort to effect change on a national level.  Mellon was using its money to talk.

The Mellon Foundation is privately funded and isn’t accountable to the general public for its actions.  The National Endowment for the Arts, on the other hand, was founded by Congress.  Wikipedia said, at the time this article was written, that the NEA is the largest grant-maker to arts organizations in the nation.  That fact needed a citation so, it’s hard for this piss poor journalist to say.  What I can say is that someone had the balls to type that into Wikipedia in 2012 and no one had refuted it at the time of this writing.  So, we’ll say it’s true enough.

So, what is NEA money saying?

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The total budget for the NEA was $158 million dollars, which is about half of what the Washington Post says the Affordable Care Act’s website cost. The NEA keeps a wonderful search tool on all the grants it has given out since 2000 here: http://apps.nea.gov/GrantSearch/SearchMain.aspx. Since 2000 the NEA has given over 300 grants totaling over $6 million to just about 70 Bay Area theatre companies and supporting organizations. The smallest grant was in 2003 to American Conservatory Theatre for about $2000 for pre-production support for the world premiere of “Malaya” by Chay Yew, a play A.C.T. has yet to actually premier. The largest grant was made in 2013 to Berkeley Repertory for $75,000 to support Marcus Gardley’s play “The House Will Not Stand” which opens January 31.

Compare that to New York, who’s theatre companies received almost 900 grants totaling over $25 million. TCG received the largest grants consistently since 2000 with the largest sum of money being $380,000 in 2000, 2003 and 2004. The Lincoln Center received $100,000 to produce “War Horse.” The smallest sum was $5000 to support Amas Musical Theatre’s production of “Four Guys Named Jose”. Chicago, on the other hand, has only received about 195 grants totaling just over $4 million. It’s smallest grant was to the American Theatre Company for a reading of a new translation. The largest grants were for $100,000 each for Steppenwolf and the Goodman Theatre, both were to support world premier productions. Minneapolis has been awarded just over 140 grants totaling almost over $3 million dollars. The smallest was $5,000 to Pangea World Theatre to support new works. The largest was $100,000 to Mixed Blood Theatre company to support two new works.

Of course, cities all over the United States received funding, this is just a very small sampling. Also, I’ve only looked at projects that were listed under Theatre. This does not include any of the other multiple categories that theatre companies might apply under for funding (including dance and music).

No one reading this will be surprised that New York also receives the lion’s share of the NEA pot. What this spot check shows is that the majority of NEA funding is indeed going to new works and organizations that support new works. It isn’t all world premiers either, there are rolling and regional premier. Apparently “Ragtime” didn’t make its way to Austin, Texas until 2012 so it counted as a regional premier according to the NEA grant. So, this writer feels that the NEA has been saying since 2000 that it supports new works and the creators of new works. If you look over the lists and lists and lists of grantees you’ll find all of the usual suspects, but the projects being funded are incredibly diverse. The NEA grants tell us that, yes, New York is still the center of American theatre. What they also tell us is that the NEA is so full of hope. The NEA isn’t thinking about risk. So often new works are associated with risk and trouble. “Will we fill seats? No one has heard of this playwright or this play.” But the NEA is saying it believes in new works and the artists and organizations creating them.

I encourage everyone to go and download these reports and create wonderful diagrams on gender equity, ethnic diversity, zip code funding disparity and anything else and everything else. It’s all right there for your to create beautiful charts and graphs to measure all kinds of things.

And while the numbers may tell you that the NEA has hope for the future, they won’t tell you the actual future.

Rocco Landesman stepped down as chairman in November of 2012. He was appointed by President Obama in 2009. Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa is filling his role until a new Chairman can be appointed. President Obama has yet to nominate a replacement for Landesman. Also, Ralph Remington, the NEA Theatre/Musical Theatre Director, left in November. His seat is also still empty. The senate will vote to confirm Janet Yellen to the Federal Reserve on January 6. I’m sure finding someone to fill the empty seats at the NEA is totally on the to do list. Probably.

There is more to worry about than just a slow bureaucracy having a hard time catching up. After the government shutdown and a continuing power struggle, politicians on both side of the isle are considering what should be considered “necessary” funding. Writers like Rick Smith, who asks if America still needs the NEA since we now have Kickstarter, aren’t helping. The Washington Post found arts administrators across the board are feeling edgy about the vacancies “Without a leader who can champion its initiatives — or defend its mere existence — the NEA flails and tends to lose funding, experts say.” You can read the full article here.

The NEA is a common and easy target for Republicans, Social Conservatives, and budget cutters. And since theatre organizations are generally hinging their budgets on $10,000 NEA grants, it’s doubtful that there is a lobbying voice that will be able stand up for the NEA in Washington with any real power. And looking at the top lobbying clients, I don’t think any of them will stand up for us either. $158 million dollars isn’t a large piece of the pie when thinking about the national budget, and it’s possible that the smallness of the number is what makes it seem so unnecessary. Too little funds are spread too thin to too many places. American Conservatory Theatre received $30,000 for the production of “The Orphan of Zhao” from the NEA. It received $326,000 from San Francisco Grants for the Arts to support the entire season.

Go ahead and plan your Oscar Awards party and scoff at the ridiculousness of it all. I also look forward to sitting with you at a bar and complain about how BroadwayWorld.com awards are strange and meaningless. As Theatre Bay Area gears up for its first year of excellence awards, I look forward to the debates about how much weight a piece of paper or a plaque should be given. Only time will tell if new local accolades will mean increased funding opportunities. Where does legitimacy come from? What comes first: the accolades or the funding? Is there a funding source that carries more legitimacy than another?

Lastly, if the NEA isn’t seen as a legitimate way to spend government funding, how do we change that?

Should we give them an award?