It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: “It Looks Like (Pause) A Small Controversy. Bad Luck to It!”

Dave Sikula, king of controversy.

I ended our last meeting with a question from the estimable Eric L. of Oregon:

“How do you think this incident compares to the Beckett’s objection and legal action against Akalaitis’s production of ‘Endgame?’”

I’m glad Eric asked me the question, since I’d forgotten that particular incident.

Musing it over (thinking isn’t good enough, of course), I have a few thoughts and observations.

In 1984, Ms. Akalaitis was hired to direct a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” for the American Repertory Theater in Boston. In spite of Mr. Beckett’s well-known insistence on his plays being done exactly as he had written them, Ms. Akalaitis determined that the play not only needed to be moved from its creator’s stark setting (“Bare interior. Grey light. Left and right back, high up, two small windows, curtains drawn. Front left, touching each other, covered with an old sheet, two ashbins”) to what the New York Times described as “an abandoned subway station, layered with trash as well as a derelict train,” she also added an overture and underscoring by minimalist composer Philip Glass (coincidentally, her ex-husband) that was, to quote the Times again, “peripheral but supportive, a fierce scraping, like the sound – to extend the underground imagery – of a subway car careening off the track at high speed.” Hardly the post-apocalyptic wasteland Beckett describes.

 ART's "Endgame."

ART’s “Endgame.”

It’s unclear from my research whether Mr. Beckett was asked in advance if the changes were permissible or learned about them by reading ART’s publicity — the Times, in the review linked to above, summarizes the production as “Nuclear Metaphor ENDGAME,” so the cat may have been out of the garbage can well in advance – but, regardless, when he found out what Ms. Akalaitis intended to do, Mr. Beckett hit the metaphorical can lid and filed suit to stop the production. A settlement was ultimately reached, and a statement from the playwright was inserted into the program:

Any production of Endgame which ignores my stage directions is completely unacceptable to me. My play requires an empty room and two small windows. The American Repertory Theater production which dismisses my directions is a complete parody of the play as conceived by me. Anybody who cares for the work couldn’t fail to be disgusted by this:

As the author intended.

As the author intended.

Beckett also objected to black actors being cast in two of the play’s four roles, which caused Robert Brustein, the then-artistic director of ART to bemoan the playwright’s apparent racism:

I was really astonished. Beckett was a playwright who we revered. We were shocked. We had black actors in the cast playing the parts of Ham and Nagg, and we were most upset about his objection to that.

Was Beckett a racist? Who knows? Given Beckett’s boycotting of apartheid-era South Africa and his concern for human rights, the charges are doubtful. Critic Thomas Garvey of the Hub Review defends him, noting:

Beckett always disapproved of productions of his plays that “mixed” the races (or the genders in ways not specifically described), because he felt that power relations between the races and genders were not a part of the artistic material he was trying to present, and so he wanted to leave them out entirely, as he felt they would inevitably draw attention in performance from his central concerns. He was happy, however, to see all-black productions of his plays – or all-female productions of single-sex scripts like “Waiting for Godot.”

"Waiting for Godot" in New Orleans -- heaven only  knows what Beckett would have made of this one.

“Waiting for Godot” in New Orleans — heaven only
knows what Beckett would have made of this one.

(At this point, I’ll just note the cross-gender casting in Alchemist’s “Oleanna.”)

It should also be noted that Mr. Garvey didn’t have much use for Ms. Akalaitis’s production, saying that she’d “pasted her usual dim downtown appliqué onto ‘Endgame’ – she dopily literalized its sense of apocalypse by setting it in a bombed-out subway station … it proved to be bombastic and, well, stupid).”

Now, with all of this in mind, two things occur to me – but, since I’m 600+ words into this – and am beginning to enjoy my reputation for taking forever to get to the damn point – I’m going to deal with them next time.

Everything Is Already Something Week 40: Sorry I Didn’t Go To College Pt. 2

Allison Page, going back to school. Sort of.

Sorry guys, I still haven’t gone to college.

A little over a year ago I used this blog as a platform to tell the story of my first 4 1/2 years in San Francisco, being poor – really, really poor – and trying to find work that paid enough to feed myself and pursue my artistic life. That was harder than it could have been because, uh…I didn’t go to college. As you may have figured out.

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A lot has happened since I wrote it and I’ve been meaning to write an update. Now here we are, in August 2014. ’Tis the season for people to go back to school, so it seems only fitting to talk about it now. Lack of education has also been rearing its ugly head lately. January 31st I was laid off from the cushy job I enjoyed for two fleeting years and which pulled me out of poverty and sleeping on floors. It wasn’t just me who lost a job. 314 or so other people were laid off the same day I was. It was a strange day to say the least. Aware that some people seemed to go into conference rooms with a manager and then immediately exit, looking like they had just had lobotomies, meant that whatever happened in that conference room wasn’t something I wanted to happen to me. I tried not to make eye contact with the manager in hopes that if I were about to be laid off/get a lobotomy and he didn’t look me in the eye, he would forget and I’d get to stay there/keep my brain function. When I got an overly gentle tap on the shoulder, I knew what was going to happen. I was losing my job. No one wants to lose their job, not so much because that job won’t be theirs anymore, but because that means now you have to go find another one, and you remember how much work it was to get this one.

They pretty much looked just like that.

They pretty much looked just like that.

I’m sure everyone was feeling a little overwhelmed and worried when they were given the news. The whole building felt tense. The people being laid off were shocked and sad, and the ones not being laid off were some combination of not being sure they wouldn’t still get the ax by the end of the day, and trying not to look happy that they were spared because that would make the sad people hate them. I couldn’t help but feel a little different. The truth is that most, if not all, of the other people who got laid off, will probably end up with the same position at a similar company. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had new jobs waiting. Job poachers wait outside that building when news of a layoff starts to spread. They have business cards and yell out “ARE YOU AN ENGINEER? WE NEED ENGINEERS!” So many people leave with their belongings and a possibility of future employment at the same time. These jobs are what they do for a living – the thing they know the most about. The thing for which they went to college and are passionate about. But I got my job there (game writer/narrative designer – basically the person who creates the fiction of a video game) based on a number of lucky things coming together. I have no educational background in that, or really anything else apart from the time I spent in cosmetology school in my home town’s technical college, from which I didn’t graduate. Otherwise I’ve just been acting and writing my entire life without proof that someone showed me how to do it. And you better believe none of the job poachers were outside the building shouting “ARE YOU AN OUT OF WORK WRITER AND FORMER HAIRSTYLIST WITH NO EDUCATION AND A COMEDY AND THEATER BACKGROUND? WE NEED THOSE.”

All I could think was “Well, Allison, say goodbye to making any money. You lived on easy street for two years. That’s amazing. Now say farewell to the sweet life and say welcome back to the hustling days of yore, because you’ll never have it this good again.” In my mind I went from rags to really, really nice rags back to rags again. And I had all these plans for the future. I was going to produce my own full length play. I had intended to just save up and pay for it. Now I would have to think about a fundraising campaign during a time when I wasn’t sure how I’d be making regular money for my own expenses. The good news is, I got a good severance package. Good enough that I decided to not pursue a job immediately and instead devote my days to writing. Doesn’t that sound magical? I thought so.

But I couldn’t write shit.

Most days I stared at my laptop in dismay and worried about the future. This was not helped by everyone always asking “What are you going to do in the future?!” (Thanks, EVERYONE IN MY ENTIRE FAMILY) After a few months of sitting on my couch eating sad sandwiches, or drinking an entire pitcher of sangrias in the union square sun, something weird and unexpected happened. I became Co-Creative Director of a theater company. I threw myself into it head first. It’s been crazy, exhilarating, awesome, and only slightly complicated. “Now,” I thought, “It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a degree. I already have the job!” Well…yes and no. The Managing Director, while working on funding strategies sends me a text:

He: “Hey, where is your undergrad degree from?”
Me: “I don’t have one.”
He: “HA! Ok. Just trying to make us all sound more qualified for this grant.”

Ah-HA! It’s come back around. Now it may be a granting issue? Even though the company has been around for 18 years and in the few months the other Co-Creative Director and I have been in charge we’ve gotten more done than most people would think could happen in a year? What if we didn’t receive some kind of funding because of my lack of a degree? Ohhhh that would be a bad day. I’d have to pour a pitcher of margaritas down my gullet just to swallow the shame pill. I haven’t heard more about this since he brought it up, so I’m going to take the pleasant road and assume he didn’t send the grant and a receive a response that just said “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA YOU’RE SO DUMB, GO TO THE DUMB STORE, WHERE YOU’LL FIND LOTS OF CLONES OF YOURSELF HAHAHA.”

The theater community in general is pretty chock full of people with fancy educational backgrounds. And it’s the same with the specific group of people with whom I most frequently associate and collaborate. I’m the quaint loose cannon from the middle of nowhere who has never used Viewpoints and hasn’t read The Cherry Orchard. It’s actually amazing to me sometimes that my friends in the arts are…my friends in the arts. They actually listen to me sometimes, which in light of the stuff I’ve never studied or cared about, is kind of crazy. (Cut to next week when they’ve all read this and decide “Yeah, why do we listen to her anyway?”)

I’ve also managed to land myself a steady stream of freelance writing gigs. Mostly working on scripts for web commercials. Hey, it keeps me from getting evicted.

Actually, that’s my biggest piece of advice to both college students and life students. Not that I’m prone to giving advice. Anyway: don’t beat yourself up for making a living. I’m still just as dedicated to my artistic pursuits as I’ve ever been (possibly more so) and I don’t feel bad about using my skills to pay the bills. It doesn’t make me a hack or a sellout – not in my eyes, anyway, but feel free to call me either of those if it makes you feel good. I think It just makes me an adult who knows that to be able to nail my artistic endeavors, I gotta eat lunch. Many of the artists (theatrical and otherwise) I respect the most, have other jobs to keep them afloat in this workaday world. On the upside I think it gives us a broader view of life.

I know, I hate myself for using this picture too.

I know, I hate myself for using this picture too.

I could sit at home and torture myself into writing all day, or I could go out into the world and have experiences worth writing about. Even if that means I’m writing jokes about the effectiveness of a certain kind of Bleach®.

So, how do I feel about not going to college, a year later? I feel pretty good. I feel just like people who did go to college in that I can’t predict the future. But I feel prepared to deal with whatever that future holds. Even if it means I end up selling shoes or sweeping chimneys…hey, are chimney sweeps still a thing? Maybe they bring that up at Harvard. Damn.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/co-creative director in San Francisco and you can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: Whose Play Is It, Anyway?

Dave Sikula asks an important question that comes up again and again in the theater community. Can he answer it too?

In our last thrilling installment, I’d been asked at a “Farnsworth” talkback why we hadn’t just added a prologue and/or epilogue debunking Aaron Sorkin’s presentation of the historical record.

As soon as that question was asked, I was immediately reminded of two stories I’d just read involving theatres and directors playing fast and loose with the scripts for their plays.

Now, before I begin this saga, let me state that I don’t think there’s a director working who hasn’t either altered the script s/he’s working with or, at the very least, thought about it. It’s not right and it’s not legal, but we’ve all done it. Most of the time, the changes are minor and banal, done strictly for logistical reasons. A character can’t be told to stand since he’s already standing, or is standing next to a table rather than the chair indicated in the script. It could even be something as simple as an actor’s height or hair color differing from the one in the text.

Me, directing. Looks exciting and glamorous, doesn't it?

Me, directing. Looks exciting and glamorous, doesn’t it?

But to the stories I’d read. The first story concerned a production of “Hands on a Hardbody” that had opened at Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars, or TUTS for short. The musical, by Doug Wright, Trey Anastasio, and Amanda Wright, is based on a documentary about a group of people who were trying to win a new pickup truck by keeping their hands on the car. The last person with a hand on the truck would take it home. The show flopped on Broadway (28 previews, 28 performances), but will probably have some sort of life in regional companies.

Doesn't look real enticing to me, but who knows?

Doesn’t look real enticing to me, but who knows?

TUTS was the first of those companies (as far as I know) to present the show. The director, Bruce Lumpkin, invited Wright and Green to opening night, but neglected to tell them he had made changes to the show, mainly involving cutting sections and reassigning lyrics and songs to the characters for whom they were intended.

To quote Howard Sherman’s recap of what happened:

Green described to me her experience in watching the show. “They started the opening number and I noticed that some people were singing solos other than what we’d assigned. As we neared the middle of the opening number, I thought, ‘what happened to the middle section?’” She said that musical material for Norma, the religious woman in the story, “was gone.”

When the second song began, Green recalls being surprised, saying, “I thought, ‘so we did put this number second after all’ before realizing that we hadn’t done that.” As the act continued, Green said, “I kept waiting for ‘If I Had A Truck’ and it didn’t come.” She went on to detail a litany of ways in which the show in Houston differed from the final Broadway show, including reassigning vocal material to different characters within songs, and especially the shifting of songs from one act to another, which had the effect of removing some characters from the story earlier than before…

Describing her post-show conversation with Lumpkin in Houston, Green says, “When it was over, I was flabbergasted. I had been planning to go to the cast party, but I couldn’t. Bruce came over to me and said, ‘I know you’re mad and I know you hate it, but you know it works better’.” Green continued: “He was pressuring me to make a decision and say I liked it. So I left.”

Amanda Green, in happier days ...

Amanda Green, in happier days …

After much back and forth, Samuel French pulled the right for the show and made the company close down the production.

Now, bullying of Amanda Green aside, what Lumpkin did – and he’s apparently well-known for doing things like this with the shows he directs – was both hubristic and stupid. It’s one thing to make wholesale changes and hope you can get away with them. It’s another to do it and invite the creators to see how you’ve “improved their work,” which in Wright’s words, they’d “spent years building and honing … and had very specific character-driven moments. People didn’t just say things.” But it’s in a whole other level to demand that those creators approve changes. As of this writing, Lumpkin still has a job, but I find it hard to believe that any licensor will rent him a show without, at the very least, keeping a close eye on the product in progress, let alone the final production.

As usual, I’ve hit a critical mass of verbiage before coming to a conclusion, so I’ll leave matters here until our next meeting.

Everything Is Already Something Week 38: How To Submit A Submission

Allison Page wants you to submit… to her will.

I’ve been on both sides of the writing submissions game. Either way, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. Here are some things I’ve learned livin’ on both sides of the fence.

HOLY SHIT, LEARN TO READ:
You would think that writers know how to read. I would say it’s assumed. Expected. Necessary. And yet…I find that the simple, straightforward directions laid out in the submission announcement have been largely ignored. Maybe you’re thinking, “But Allison, were they actually simple and straightforward or are you biased?” I’ll let you decide that. I asked for one 3 page sketch in PDF form. What have I received? MP3s, spreadsheets, word docs, pictures – ya know, things that aren’t PDFs.

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Yes, some writers have done it properly, thank goodness, but many haven’t bothered to pay attention to the specifics of the submission requirements, which doesn’t leave a good first impression. In this particular case, I’m looking for people to add to our collaborative writers room, and if you can’t even bother to follow these simple instructions, how can I expect them to adhere to more challenging guidelines?

MAKE IT EASY:
On the other side of the fence, if you’re about to open the floodgates for submissions it’s important to get what you need, but if you overcomplicate the specifics, you might end up alienating writers who might actually be a great fit. I can hear you saying, “Hey, if they’re not willing to jump through all my hoops, I’m not interested!” Fair enough, but just know that along with the lazy people you’re weeding out, you might be weeding out a good candidate. A good idea is to accept submissions in formats that people have heard of and weren’t just invented yesterday and need to be downloaded and installed.

KEEP IT SHORT, YO:
Each submission is different, obviously, but when you include a bio about yourself, maybe don’t make it a novella. Keep it simple. Give me the highlights. I’m already swimming through piles of writing in search of sunken treasure, don’t add too much more to that stack. It’s cool to know things about you, but a life story is kind of unnecessary, and then what will we have left to talk about at the bar after writers meetings?!

SIMPLY THE BEST:
When I read someone’s submission, I assume it’s a piece that they feel shows them in the best possible light. I assume it’s the shiniest, brightest diamond at Kay Jewelers.

Eh, I've seen shinier.

Eh, I’ve seen shinier.

And it should be. Send something that shows off your strengths and showcases your unique perspective and talents. Break out of the pack.

SUCK IT UP AND SEND IT OUT:
I hate submitting things. It feels stressful to me. I don’t like taking the time. I end up spending an hour after I’ve gotten everything together, just staring at it to make sure that I’ve properly followed the instructions and haven’t somehow typed a nonsense word into the body of the email, or attached a photo of my butt. (I don’t actually have photos of my butt all over my laptop, but so paranoid am I about doing something wrong, that I am convinced that it’s possible I’ve taken a picture of my butt without my own knowledge and attached it to an important email.)

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Thankfully, when I finally do submit something, I feel a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that I am, in fact, allowed to be a writer now. Which isn’t to say that you’re not a real writer if you’re not submitting things. That’s totally not accurate. But it does make me feel good on the occasion that I do send something in, even if (as happens most frequently) I don’t ever hear a damn thing.

Submissions can be tough on both sides, but the reality is that it’s an avenue – however flawed – which can lead to your work being performed or published or, at the very least, read. And that’s a good thing for everybody.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/hustler/Co-Creative Director/brunch-eater in San Francisco. You can see her perform in Killing My Lobster Goes Radio Active August 13th-23rd. Tickets available at killingmylobster.com You can also follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

Everything Is Already Something Week 35: Caution, Contents May Explode

Stop reading about the film version of “Into The Woods” and read this instead- it’s Allison Page! 

My big problem now isn’t inspiration, it’s dread of content. Let’s say you’ve got the ingredients for two pie recipes – one is for a Chocolate French Silk pie and one is for a Personal Fears And Worst Parts Of Yourself Plus Chocolate Shavings pie. They both contain some chocolate, but the first one sounds less painful to make, right? That’s what’s going on with me right now. I’m keenly aware of what I should be working on. I have 75% of a draft of a play that’s really important to me and is filled with lots of real shit. And it’s been 75% done for months. I haven’t touched it since February. I NEED a completed draft this month, and it currently has no ending. A play should probably have an ending, so they tell me. And then I have this other play. I have a fully completed draft, I’ve had a reading of it, and I don’t *need* to make the necessary revisions until fall. But I’d much rather work on that, than the more pressing script. Who wouldn’t choose a juvenile horror comedy with a mythical beast to work on over something that so closely relates to their own demons, and the demons of people who have been close to them?

Wait, it's not going to write itself? BUT PEOPLE SAY THAT ALL THE TIME.

Wait, it’s not going to write itself? BUT PEOPLE SAY THAT ALL THE TIME.

Overall I think it’s a cop-out to say that you can’t write anything unless you’re in the mood or feeling inspired. Maybe I say that so that I can convince myself not to wait for inspiration, knowing that I’m so lazy I might never get around to feeling inspired. (I enjoy playing tricks on myself to force myself to work. I do it all the time. Just setting bear traps around my apartment to create a sense of urgency. You know, regular stuff.) But dreading the content isn’t much different from “not feeling inspired” if the end result is the same – not getting shit done. I’ve been primarily writing comedy for the last several years, which is obviously fun. Even when it’s hard, it’s fun. You know what’s not always fun? Writing a character that you love who is completely sabotaging their own potential for happiness. UGHHHHH, RIGHT?!?

YOU CAN'T TELL BUT I'M HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE!

YOU CAN’T TELL BUT I’M HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE!

’m hoping this is one of those situations that I’ll later look back on and say “That was really hard but SO WORTH IT.” and not “That was just really hard. Pass the bourbon, stranger.” I feel bad even talking about it, somehow or other people write way more exhausting/personal/tragic/depressing/catastrophic stories than the one I’m working on. I recently saw a production of The Crucible (while in the middle of pondering this topic) and thought “Yowza. Imagine writing all that misery.”

Arthur Miller: Bucket Of Fun And Smiles.

Arthur Miller: Bucket Of Fun And Smiles.

Or Titus Andronicus…that couldn’t have been a good headspace for Shakespeare to live in. Ah, to be a fly on the wall of those therapy sessions. I guess that’s part of the toil of being a playwright – not always wanting to live in the world you’re building, and worrying that it’ll take you somewhere you’re afraid you’ll never be able to leave. This isn’t just a problem writers face, but something actors can get stuck in too, obviously. I’ve done some heavy actor-brooding in the past. Antigone wasn’t exactly a giggle-fest.

That probably sounded pretty grim. In actuality, I’m really excited about this play – it’s just not easy. There is plenty of humor in it, but I’ve got that part down. It’s the other icky-sticky-dark-murky stuff that needs my attention.

PS. If you see me looking forlorn, staring down at the sidewalk…buy me a cookie.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director/whatever and you can follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Everything is Already Something Week 29: Haiku for Playwrights

Allison Page, better late than never.

And now, a bunch of Haiku about the ups and downs of playwriting which are totally plaguing me right now:

ACT 1
I guess I should start,
Inciting incident right?
Nah I’ll watch TV

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HEAD COUNT
40 characters,
Who would produce this monster?
Not my problem…art.

CONDITIONS PERFECTO
I can’t write it’s cold,
I need a pony to write,
I can’t write it’s hot

DIVERSITY
Too many white men,
Must change world with this play,
No pressure yeah right

ACT 2
Disappearing guy,
Character gone since scene four,
I guess he’s dead now

PUT UP A FIGHT
Characters argue,
Who says “poppycock” for real?
Talk like humans talk

TEARS OF A CLOWN
I hope no one laughs,
When that guy starts crying hard,
Please get good actor

FLESH WOUNDS
But how much stage blood,
Is too much stage blood, you guys,
Is five buckets cool?

ACT 3
Uh oh story fades,
Can’t sustain three acts no way,
Better make it two

STAR POWER
I need Cate Blanchett,
Otherwise this play is shit,
Guess this play is shit

Silently judging you

Silently judging you

TAKING A BREAK
I’ll stop for a sec,
Just for a cup of coffee,
Oops been 9 hours

GRAND FINALE
Endings are so bad,
But how do I make it stop,
Ev’rybody dies

REVISIONS
I hate the whole thing,
Let’s make it Greek tragedy,
Keep only first page

Allison is toiling over two scripts at the moment. You can follow her adventures on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Everything Is Already Something Week 24: Deadly Deadlines and the People Who Love Them

Allison Page is dancing as fast as she can.

Forgive me for the stream of consciousness-esque post – that’s just where I am, kids.

AHHHHHHHHHH! I’m being crushed beneath the weight of my own choices! I’m being lowered onto the fire of my own creation! The tips of my toes are touching the flames!…I have too many deadlines.

FIRE IS HOT

FIRE IS HOT

But I need the deadlines. I can’t function without them. I imagine there are people out there who can write without deadlines. Who just magically get things done “in their own time” except that, unlike me, “their own time” is a week from Thursday instead of three years from now.

I’ve set the hardest deadline for myself yet: I scheduled a first reading of one of my plays for January 26th. In case you haven’t noticed, or in case you’re reading this in the future (OR THE PAST) – that’s 12 days from now. I scheduled the reading last month, knowing I was already behind. But to be honest, if I gave myself more time…I don’t know that it would make any difference. I’m not a well-oiled machine without a deadline. With one, I know how much time I’ve got. I know how much needs to happen. Without one, I’m like a kid who has been sent outside to play and doesn’t come back home for 6 months because she followed a field of pretty daisies and took a nap in the sunlight every day. I wish I weren’t like that, but I am. At least I can recognize that and try to schedule myself against it. I don’t think that makes me a bad writer (If anything makes me a bad writer it’s probably all of my run-on sentences.) it just makes me the kind of writer that I am.

Oh boy. Not touching that one

Oh boy. Not touching that one

We all work differently. And apparently I work better under the pressure of just having a cast show up to read something that isn’t done yet. Thankfully, most of them are friends of mine, and in the event that I bring in an unfinished script, I really don’t think they’ll give a shit. But hopefully that won’t happen. But if it does, I’ll feed them booze. And pizza.

Last night I finished the first act. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) There are only going to be two total, I’m not doing three. That just feels like the way this particular story breaks down. I’m sure there are opinions about that, but that’s what I’m going with currently. This whole play (OR THE HALF THAT EXISTS) is me doing things exactly how I want to do them anyway, so I’m really whole-hoggin’ it. That being said – I cannot work without an outline. There was a 6 page or so chunk that I was miserably stuck in. I just couldn’t figure out how one scene was going to go down. You know why? Because I decided I didn’t like that part of the outline. You might think “Well, Allison, why didn’t you just changed the outline?” and the answer is…I guess I thought I was James Dean or something. I tried to work it out in my head while looking at something that didn’t jive with what needed to happen. Eventually I changed the outline, after writing the damn scene several times and deleting it, and then it finally came together.

The worst part was the grind of that group of pages. Right after I got through them, I immediately wrote 10 more in the space of 45 minutes, when I had wasted two weeks on the previous 6. Isn’t that stupid? I’m inconsistent that way. Maybe everybody is to some extent. I bought “The Diaries of Dawn Powell” the other day. The earliest diaries are very short and say things like “Wrote a story today.” Or “Wrote a play today.” Or “Finished a novel today.” And those made me ill. Because they sound like they were so…easy. Then I got to the good bits last night. After I finished the first act, I celebrated by reading some more. I got to a portion where she had been working on a novel. She talked about how miserable it was and how she didn’t think she’d ever do it again once that one was finished – which isn’t what happened. She wrote a bunch more. It was the perfect book to buy with the struggle-y writing I’ve been doing lately. There are gem entries about how much she loves the play she wrote and thinks it’s the best thing she’s ever done, followed by an entry about how she let her playwright friend read it and he absolutely hated it. Then later someone else read it and loved it. It’s the truncated version of things so many playwrights and writers in general go through. It’s those bits that make you say “Oh, yeah, I’m not the only one dealing with this noise.”

The Diaries of Dawn Powell also contains about a million entries that include things like "Went to dinner. Very drunk." my favorite being "Very drunk. Fell down stairs." - that's my kind of writer.

The Diaries of Dawn Powell also contains about a million entries that include things like “Went to dinner. Very drunk.” my favorite being “Very drunk. Fell down stairs.” – that’s my kind of writer.

I recommend the book for people like me who might want the occasional dose of “I’M NOT ALONE!” or any playwright, really. It does a great job of capturing the feeling of creating a new work. Later on she apparently delves into what happens during a disastrous production of one of her plays – I personally can’t wait to get to that part. But, uh…I should probably be writing instead.

You can follow Allison on Twitter @allisonlynnpage where she promises to post quips about playwrighting. You can also see her onstage at SF Sketchfest on February 3rd.

Theater Around The Bay: The Best of the Blog

2013 was a year of change on multiple fronts and our website was no exception. Though Marissa Skudlarek, as our first “official” blogger, began her semi-monthly contributions in 2012, the eight-writer line up that currently composes the blog’s core writing team wasn’t solidified until October of this year, when Claire Rice was brought on to replace Helen Laroche, who, along with Eli Diamond, stepped away as a regular contributor earlier this year. Eli and Helen, along with the current eight and our lengthy list of occasional contributors (most notably Annie Paladino), all get to share in the success of the blog, which steadily and dramatically increased its traffic over this past year. With 45,611 hits in 2013 (compared to 27,998 in 2012, 11,716 in 2011, and 8,435 in 2010), there can be no doubt that the San Francisco Theater Public (as we’ve taken to calling the blog amongst ourselves) is “kind of a thing.” With our current all time total just shy of 100,000 hits, we wanted to use the last blog entry of this year to celebrate the different voices that make our blog unique, while also paying homage to the vast and diverse world of online theater discussion. To everyone who makes our blog a success, including our dedicated readers and Julia Heitner, our Twitter-mistress who brings every installment to the Twitter-sphere, a gigantic thank you for making 2013 the best year so far! Here’s hoping that 2014 is even better!

STUART BOUSEL by William Leschber 

Whether it be Shakespeare, Ancient Greece, Celtic Myth, or the plight of the contemporary 30 something, Stuart Bousel always has something intelligent to say about it, and if you’ve read any of  his blogs over the past year you’ll know he has an ample array of in-depth thoughts about these things and so much more. I’m proud to have known Stuart for a number of years and the plentiful hours of intelligent conversation are invaluable to me, but my favorite 2013 blog entry of his is one that offers both a larger social insight and something very personal as well. The Year of the Snake blog isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, and offers the perfect mix of two brands of self awareness: the satisfaction that comes at being proud of one’s achievements, juxtaposed with the self doubt that comes whenever we embark on something new and challenging. These traits are heightened by a particularly uncertain year for myself and so many others who have had an odd go of it in 2013, the Year of the Snake, and maybe that is why this particular blog resonated so strongly. Although this year is possibly the most challenging some of us have had in recent memory, what Stuart articulates so well here is that sometimes we have to pass through the fire to come out stronger from the forge. The process of wriggling into new skin in due time…aye, there’s the rub: “…the truth is, the changes tend to kind of happen while you’re not looking, almost as a side result of trying to change.”

There's Stuart, emerging from his security blanket just like 2013 emerged from the crap year known as 2012.

There’s Stuart, emerging from his security blanket just like 2013 emerged from the crap year known as 2012.

In other favorites-of-the-year news, I present you the Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith. For those in constant transit and who have an easier time taking in a podcast over reading articles online, this is for you. Now my favorite podcast surrounding film would fall to Filmspotting where new and old films are discussed weekly with humor and insight. But if I had to choose the single best episode  I heard this year it would be Jeff Goldsmith’s interview with writer/director Ed Burns. In the words of the host, the Q&A podcast aims to “bring you in-depth insight into the creative process of storytelling”. He interviews screenwriters specifically (often writer/directors) about how they go about their personal process. Not only are the insights into the writer’s process wonderful to hear but the peeks into their role in the film industry are also fascinating. The Ed Burns episode ranges in topic from 90’s indie films, to his writing process, then on to making micro budget films, and his thought on how the industry is changing and what he’s doing to work in the grain of the dawn of steaming entertainment. It’s great. And here it is: http://www.theqandapodcast.com/2012/12/edward-burns-fitzgerald-familiy.html

ASHLEY COWAN by Claire Rice

Ashley Cowan’s posts often feel like sitting on the couch with your best friend and chatting late into the night with a mug of hot coco.  Every post  is heartfelt and full of a kind of determined enthusiasm that is infectious.  Her post abouttheatre traditions/ superstitions was very funny (if I had known that thing about peacock feathers I might have made different choices with my life.) And her post about her grandmother and goodbyes was touching and beautiful.  But my favorite post would have to be Why Being A Theatre Person with a Day Job is the Best…and the Worst.  She beautifully lays out the complex and heart breaking experience of knowing a “the show must go on” mentality is an imminently transferable job skill, but a skill hard to sell to non-theatre perspective employers.

I read Dear Sugar’s advice column for the first time on September 1, 2013, my thirty second birthday.  The piece I read was Write Like Motherfucker  It was surprising, honest and full of so many of the things I had been thinking and feeling.  It was and is full of all the things I needed to hear. “We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor.  I know it’s hard to write, darling.  But it’s harder not to.”

Ashley Cowan and Dear Sugar - You've just made two new best friends.  You're welcome.

Ashley Cowan and Dear Sugar – You’ve just made two new best friends. You’re welcome.

BARBARA JWANOUSKOS by Stuart Bousel 

Barbara Jwanouskos is the kind of theater person who figured out long ago what many of us take much longer to figure out: namely that one can balance theater with the rest of their life (she’s a pretty amazing martial artist in addition to being a playwright, blogger, grad student, and non-profit development expert), and that nothing happens if you sit and wait for it, you have to go after your dreams actively. Smart, generous, good-natured, Barbara’s writing reflects a serious mind and soul you might not immediately pick up on when you first meet her, though her bad-ass-ness is definitely apparent in her punk rock haircuts and straight forward conversation style. Her “calls it as see sees it” voice is still developing in her blog, but with “Young Beautiful Woman” she had a bit of a breakthrough, giving us a story both personally meaningful to her while also showing us where the issue of pigeon-holing women in theater and films begins: that most double-sided of backyards, the fine arts masters’ program. This blog had the greatest reader impact of all the contributions Barbara has made for us this year, and it’s the kind of thing I want to see more of from her. It’s with incredible eagerness I look forward to her 2014 contributions, knowing she plans to really hit our readers, black belt style, with more ideas like these.

Barbara Jwanouskos is so intense she needs to be photographed in Dutch Angles.

Barbara Jwanouskos is so intense she needs to be photographed in Dutch Angles.

Outside of our humble little blog, I have read a number of interesting theater related articles this year, but this one from HowlRound seems to have stayed with me the longest. Though when I first read this I kind of had a reaction of, “Well, duh, it’s just part of the process- stop whining!”, I also admire that what Morgan is saying is that a life in the arts is pretty always a heartbreaking business, even when you do finally find your niche, your project, your collaborators. And it’s heartbreaking not just because of the lack of opportunities, or the difficulty in making a living, or all the other things we also talk about, but just from the sheer fact that if you’re doing it right you’re ALWAYS putting your heart into it and the nature of the business rarely appreciates or honors that- while, of course, still expecting you to throw your whole heart into it every time! I, and most of the theater people I know, spend a lot of time talking about sustainability in the theater community, funding and payroll, audience demographics and marketability, etc. and sometimes I can’t help but wonder when theater started to quantify and qualify itself the way I expect Wal-Mart too. When did it become about numbers and money and conventional ideas of success as represented through big numbers, and not about coming together with people of vision and making cool stuff because the world really needs that? Morgan’s article is a bittersweet plea to remember we’re all artists here and artists are delicate creatures in many ways, even if it’s probably through their strength that, ultimately, the world will be saved.

WILLIAM LESCHBER by Marissa Skudlarek

It has been a pleasure to read Will Leschber’s “Working Title” column since it debuted in September 2013. Theater can sometimes feel like an insular, inward-looking art; it’s not  a part of the mainstream cultural conversation in the way that movies, music or TV are (though we Theater Pub bloggers are doing our best to change that!) Even worse, theater people sometimes take a perverse pride in their own insularity, looking down on movies and TV as lesser, more commercial art forms. So I love Will’s idea of writing a column that places theater in dialogue with film. He acknowledges the virtues of each art form without belittling either of them and, in so doing, seeks to bring theater into the larger cultural conversation. Nowhere is this more evident than in his piece “To Dance Defiant” about one-man dramas Underneath the Lintel and All is Lost. The play is language-based and the film is image-based, says Will, but both confront stark, essential truths: “What decisions in life remain the most important? How do we measure it all? What significant artifacts do we leave behind? Is anything we leave behind significant? Or is the struggle and the suffering and the joyous dance in spite of all the dark, the only significance we are afforded?” Will’s column is about the importance of the art we make, be it on stage or on film — and therefore, is about the importance of our humanity.

William Leschber, proving saucy minx comes in a wide variety of hats.

William Leschber, proving saucy minx comes in a wide variety of hats.

In one of my earliest Theater Pub columns, I wrote about how much I liked local critic Lily Janiak’s willingness to publicly critique her own criticism and question her own assumptions. So it was great news this year that Lily was selected as one of HowlRound’s inaugural NewCrit critics, bringing her work to a national audience and allowing her to write longer, more in-depth pieces. Even better, Lily has continued to question her assumptions and acknowledge her biases, approaching criticism in a spirit of open-minded inquiry. I particularly liked her piece “Our Own Best Judges: Young Female Characters Onstage” because, if I may admit my own biases, Lily and I are both extremely interested in the depiction of young women in plays. And then we ask ourselves: are we right to be so concerned, or does it mean that we are (wrongly) holding female characters to a higher standard than we hold male ones? “Critics are supposed to be objective, to approach a work with no agenda, but in this case, I have one. […] It’s impossible to separate one’s politics from one’s aesthetics (aesthetics are never pure!), but sometimes I worry that my politics have too much control over my critical criteria,” Lily writes. The whole piece is well worth reading for its thoughtfulness and honesty. That it happened to discuss three plays that I saw myself, got my friends’ names published on a national theater website, and spurred a response from Stuart Bousel on our own blog is just icing on the cake.

Lily Janiak: Because This Picture Is Just Too Good Not To Include

Lily Janiak: Because This Picture Is Just Too Good Not To Include

ALLISON PAGE by Dave Sikula

Let me tell you about Allison Page.

I met her this year when I played her father. I had no idea who she was. I had friended her on Facebook and, looking at her posts, thought we might get along. We had some similar interests, and despite her terrible taste in other things (I mean, seriously, “Ghost Dad,” “Daria,” and Kristen Wiig?), there was enough overlap that I thought we might become friends.

Then we met and she instantly drove me crazy.

I have every reason to hate her. There are things she does and writes about that just annoy the bejeezus out of me – BUT, that’s what I love about her. Her pieces for this here blog combine the miracle of being confessional and personal without being self-indulgent. Obviously, I don’t agree with everything she says (she accuses me of not liking anything, but oh, how wrong she is), but even when she irritates me, it’s in a way that makes me need to defend my own positions – and that’s what the best art does for me. If I had to pick one post of hers that really spoke to me, it was this one on how we need and create nemeses. I find you’ve got to have someone or something to fight against or do better than in order to do your own best work.

But don’t tell her I like anything of hers or she’ll just hold that over me.

Allison Page: because this photo never gets old.

Allison Page: because this photo never gets old.

Moving on to something online that I found of interest was this, Frank Rich’s latest profile of Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is one of those people my feelings for whom, words like “reverence” are far too mild. I know that if I were ever somehow to get a chance to meet him, I’d fall over in a dead faint, or at the very least, be utterly tongue-tied to the point where I’d sound like an episode of “The Chris Farley Show:” “You know when you did ‘Sweeney Todd?’ That was great.” But any chance to read about what he’s really like is fascinating.

CLAIRE RICE by Barbara Jwanouskos

What I love most about reading Claire Rice’s Enemy List is how Claire seems to pick up on an uncanny wave-length of theater topics that happen to be populating my brain (and others), like why there were so many plays dealing with rape this year. The post I particularly enjoyed was her interview with Dave Lankford, Executive Director of The Shelter and author of the internet famous blog post, “Dear Actor”. Claire’s interview gave a clear insight into Lankford, his background as a theater artist (playwright, actor, director, etc.) and what prompted the writing of the post. More so, her interview demonstrated through Lankford’s response, what it is like today to be a theater artist where so many of us are also using the internet as a means of communication, discourse and criticism about theater in general. For whatever reason, “Dear Actor” seemed to resonate with many people in a way that was surprising, but Claire’s interview presented Lankford at a more more meta level, which was fascinating to consider.

Claire Rice: just who exactly is the enemy?

Claire Rice: just who exactly is the enemy?

I love tracking HowlRound essays by some of my favorite playwrights – especially when they write about things I’m actually dealing with… like teaching playwriting! “Teaching in the 21st Century” by Anne García-Romero and Alice Tuan was a blessing to me sent from the heavenly gods of playwriting. I constantly flip back to this essay when I need to recalibrate my goals as a new teacher. García-Romero and Tuan’s approach mirrors what they had learned from the great Maria Irene Fornes. I appreciate their innovative approaches to get writers of all kinds jazzed about writing plays and how they deviate from strict adhearance to teaching structure versus other traits that good plays have – like voice and liveness.

DAVE SIKULA by Ashley Cowan

I met Dave Sikula earlier this year while working on BOOK OF LIZ at Custom Made Theatre. A project that inspired a blog or two on Cowan Palace and also provided a chance to get to know the guy who is now behind the column, “It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review”. After kindly driving me home after numerous performances and being graced with many Broadway songs on his impressive car sound system, I soon got to know Dave as a incredibly smart, insightful, and experienced theatre enthusiast. I’ve come to enjoy his contributions to the Theater Pub blog for the same reason. One of my personal favorites to read was his last piece, The Ritual Business. Ten years ago when I studied in London, I had the chance to see TWELFTH NIGHT starring Mark Rylance at the Globe and it’s a performance that’s forever stuck by me. I loved reading about Dave’s time in New York and his vivid description as an attentive audience member. I felt like I was there again reliving a magical moment of the theatrical experience of my past while also connecting to his observations and reactions.

Dave Sikula: suggesting you eat this cheesecake instead of reviewing it.

Dave Sikula: suggesting you eat this cheesecake instead of reviewing it.

Aside from Dave’s contributions, it’s been an interesting year for the Internet, huh? I fell for every hoax imaginable and had my spirits crushed when I learned that no, there would not be a new season of Full House or an 8th Harry Potter book to look forward to in 2014. With all that going on, one article that weaseled under my skin came from The Onion, believe it or not, and was entitled: Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life. I found it to be a humorous and honest piece about how many of us (in this artistic community) tend to balance our time. But the thing I truly want to share with you guys is this video, because at the end of the day (or year) sometimes you just need to watch some cute animals do some cute stuff.

MARISSA SKUDLAREK by Allison Page

Marissa Skudlarek and I communicate differently, but we think about a lot of the same things. If I’m a grilled cheese sandwich, she’s duck confit. She has the ability to say things that I know I’m also feeling, but haven’t brought myself to express properly without the use of a lot of F-bombs and references to Murder, She Wrote. Generally speaking, I like to accentuate the positive rather than wallow in a pool of the negative, so when her article “You’re Doing It Wrong, You’re Doing It Wrong” (Technically the second half of a two part article. The first one is also worth reading, but the second really drove it home for me.) The internet, and the world, can be a dark and dismal place. Some days it feels like there’s nothing to be happy about; nothing that’s going right. In a world that seeks to find the worst in everything, Marissa seeks out the subtle nuances of her theatrical experiences, and of the world around her. It’s refreshing and thoughtful, and a big reason I love reading her posts. Not everyone is doing it right wrong. I like to think Marissa is striving to do it right; for women in general and for herself.

Marissa Skudlarek: you bet your sweet ass she'll make that dinosaur chair look classy.

Marissa Skudlarek: you bet your sweet ass she’ll make that dinosaur chair look classy.

Outside of the Theater Pub Blog, there are always a lot of conversations stirring up interest. Every writer, every playwright – hell, every person has a different way they like to work. This last year I’ve been focusing more on writing and I’m always trying to find new ways to keep myself excited about the writing process. That can be hard to do, seeing as you still need to sit down and fuckin’ write at some point. That part is unavoidable. Though this article is actually from the end of 2012, I didn’t read it until this year, so I’m counting it! It’s an interesting collection of the daily routines and writing habits of famous writers. Hemingway wrote standing up? Well, that’s weird.

Theater Around The Bay: Gender Parity Discussion Starter #1

Gender parity in the theater world, particularly in regards to the gender of our most frequently produced playwrights and the number and quality of roles for women, has been a very hot topic recently, and it’s a conversation happening on many fronts and from many different angles. A few months back, Stuart Bousel posted on his Facebook page a challenge to come up with 100 male playwrights who have created excellent roles for women. Anyone was welcome to contribute a name or two (or ten), and all names were accepted since the point was that “excellent” is really going to be a matter of taste, and could be broadly interpreted (for instance, is a role excellent because it has a lot of lines, or because of the complexity with which it’s drawn, or for how it functions in the action of the story, or for all of these reasons?). Dozens of people responded and Charles Lewis III was kind enough to compile the final list, which we now re-publish here as a way for you to start your own conversation about gender parity in theater. Who on this list do you agree with? Who do you contest? Who do you think is missing?

1. William Shakespeare
2. John Patrick Shanley
3. John Guare
4. Henrik Ibsen
5. David Mamet
6. Arthur Laurents
7. Stephen Sondheim
8. Jean-Baptiste Racine
9. Nat Cassidy
10. Arthur Miller
11. Clive Barker
12. JB Shaw
13. Oscar Wilde
14. Sean O’Casey
15. JM Synge
16. John Webster
17. Tom Stoppard
18. Tennessee Williams
19. Bertolt Brecht
20. Lee Blessing
21. Charles Mee
22. Mac Wellman
23. Jean Anouilh
24. Christopher Fry
25. Anton Chekov
26. Jose Rivera
27. Garcia Lorca
28. Adam Bock
29. John Kander
30. Fred Ebb
31. James Lapine
32. Hugh Wheeler
33. Athol Fugard
34. Euripedes
35. Lanford Wilson
36. Aristophanes
37. John Peilmeier
38. Christopher Durang
39. Tracy Letts
40. Aeschylus
41. David Auburn
42. Edward Albee
43. Sophocles
44. Anthony Clarvoe
45. Aristophanes
46. Don Delillo
47. Daniel Heath
48. Neil LaBute
49. Craig Lucas
50. Adam Guettel
51. Michael John LaChiusa
52. Thornton Wilder
53. Ed Graczyk
54. Brian Friel
55. Charles Busch
56. John Waters
57. Dawson Moore
58. Carl Thelin
59. Molière
60. Friedrich Durrenmatt
61. Jean Genet
62. Enrique Urueta
63. Steve Yockey
64. Christopher Chen
65. Joshua Conkel
66. Gary Graves
67. Prince Gomolvilas
68. Jon Tracy
69. Peter Nachtrieb
70. Pierre Cornielle
71. Paul Zindel
72. Horton Foote
73. George C. Wolfe
74. William Inge
75. Christopher Hampton
76. Stuart Bousel
77. Eugene O’Neill
78. Martin McDonagh
79. Kirk Shimano
80. Morgan Ludlow
81. Lee Blessing
82. Donald Marguiles
83. Marcus Gardley
84. Robert David MacDonald
85. Harold Pinter
86. Steve Lyons
87. Richard Kalnoski
88. Richard Greenberg
89. David Ives
90. David Lindsay Abaire
91. James Goldman
92. William Finn
93. Pedro Caldeón de la Barca
94. Paul Zindel
95. Mark Dunn
96. Leonard Melfi
97. David Henry Hwang
98. John Ford Noonan
99. Henry Krieger
100. Tom Eyen
101. Jonathan Larson
102. Joseph Kesserling
103. Langston Hughes
104. August Wilson
105. Rajiv Joseph
106. August Strindberg

NOTE: Originally compiled Tuesday – 12 March 2013 (names first submitted Saturday – 9 March 2013).

NOTE: List shortened to 106 names, following the removal of John Patrick Shanley from #91 (he’d already been listed at #2).