Thursday, July 31, 2008

steppenwolf FIRST LOOK new play panel

I'll be part of Steppenwolf Theatre's First Look Repertory New Play Panel Discussion taking place this Sunday, August 3, at 11:00 a.m. -- most likely in the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre. That's where it was last year and where the First Look Rep takes place, but I never really asked where it was. I make the assumption based on past experience. I think the event is free? Man, I'm not helpful at all. The title of this panel discussion is The Newest New. We're discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the current young generation of playwrights. Panelists include Mark Bly (Alley Theatre - Houston, TX), Jade Lambert-Smith (Alliance Theatre - Atlanta, GA), Ilana Brownstein (Huntington Theatre - Boston, MA), Ed Sobel (Steppenwolf's Director of New Play Development and First Look Repertory mastermind), and Me (representing young whippersnapper playwrights across America who will never know the benefits of Social Security, but that's not one of the challenges we're talking about).

photo 21: sears' drive thru keys

Here is a convenience you never knew you needed: a drive thru key booth. Of the beautiful dinosaurs along Lawrence Ave -- including the sweaty Aragon Ballrooom and Capone's Green Mill -- this flimsy building might be my favorite. It's a satellite service of the old school Sears department store located on Lawrence one block further west; I love their window mannequin displays. This Sears, man oh man, makes me nostalgic for a decade in which I've never lived; it smells like TV dinners and tastes like Eisenhower. Nobody will ever designate a drive thru key kiosk a national landmark, so I must designate it a national landmark of my heart.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

photo 20: everything but the kitchen sink on the kitchen table

I cleaned my bedroom and my living room, and book and paper clutter from those two rooms ended up on the kitchen table. The plan was to put it all away later, whenever later happens. If you are coming over for dinner we are not eating at the kitchen table. We are just not. I'm sorry. The rest of the apartment is clean. We may eat in the rest of the apartment. Also, if you are coming over for dinner, please bring dinner.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

photo 19: four parking tickets and a boot

At what point does one say: "Screw it. I'm abandoning my car."

(note: this is not my car)

Photo taken on the way to the judging event for Pegasus Players Young Playwrights Festival. Pegasus hosts a reading of excerpts from the 10 finalists for the Fest, and also gives public recognition to the 10 honorable mentions. Considering the competition drew 750 submissions this year, it's good to know you made it to the top 20 of the pile. It's a nice way to celebrate the work of the quality submissions. While I won't say too much about the closed door process of judging in Pegasus Players Young Playwrights Festival, I will say much discussion, thought, and deliberation takes place around the table. Not that I would expect anything less... I just didn't think much about it at all until participating in the conversation tonight. There was also pizza and beer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

photo 18: a. active key and lock service

I a-admire the a-audacity of a business that throws an "A" in front of its a-name to secure an a-absolute location in the telephone book. Example: A Active Key & Lock Services at the corner of Ashland & Wellington. Gosh, I love how much crap they wrote on their building. Signs above signs -- on the roof, even! Keys! Locks! Everywhere! I'm sold! -- if I'm ever locked out -- which I hope I never am. I should take that day-parking permit off my windshield. It's been on there for almost a month and that sticky stuff is a pain to scrape off the glass. Also, blurry shots of my cowgirl air-freshener from Uncle Fun (the fresh cowgirl smell has worn off) and my dashboard devil duck. The old woman on the corner was in front of me in the checkout and took for-ev-er to sign her credit card receipt.

theatre seven propaganda

Theatre Seven's Yes, This Really Happened To Me opened on Friday and closes August 3rd, so if you're gonna see it, you better see it, y'know? It's good. For reals.

Also coming up at T7 (beginning AUG 9)... ELECTION DAY - by Josh Tobiessen. It's a funny as all get out, non-preachy political farce. We've got a few promotional spots for the play's political candidate. I make a loitering, hand-slapping cameo in this one:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

photo 17: way down in the hole

When my bicycle has been bad, I chain it to a pole in the basement.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

photo 16: sidewalk chalk

The children of Eastwood Ave in Lincoln Square are doing their part to solve Chicago's airport woes. Traffic is still heavy on runway 22R --this runway contained 5 more chalk airplanes out of frame -- but by god, every single airplane departed on time.

I much prefer children in their native chalk-drawing habitat than I do to children screaming in Starbucks when I'm trying to work. I hate parents who use Starbucks as daycare. I hope your children grow up to shame you on some fundamental level.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

photo 15: o.a.r.

It was a college rock explosion at lunchtime! O.A.R. played a small concert outside my office sponsored by The Mix 101.9 (bleh). Which is worse: the band using an acronym for a name or that the acronym stands for Of A Revolution.

photo 14: coffee & doughnut

8:15 a.m. and already it's a tit-twisting screaming bitch of a day, that's for darned sure. No fault of its own. The weather smiles a toothsome 75 degrees upon the Loop. I'm awake. I'm on the green side of the grass. Why's this day so awful?

Geez -- honestly -- I don't know!

I need a pick-me-up to turn my frown upsidefuckingdown. I pass by four Dunkin' Donuts on my walk from the train to the office. FOUR! Maybe, I think, my rubber-soled feet slapping down Lake Street under the El tracks, maybe I need a coffee and doughnut this morning? I will dunk just about any portable, non-fruit-based pastry into a cup of black coffee. Cookies, brownies, hand-held pie (hand-held pie? what? yes please!). I've worked the sweet field and I always return to the basics: a cup of black coffee and a plain glazed doughnut. Ain't nothing better than biting into a coffee-sogged ring of sugar-glazed fried dough. The hot gloppy mass slides down the gullet with ease, greases the lungs faster than whiskey, soothes the savage 9 to 5 beast. Oh my! I'm getting weak in the knees thinking about it. I don't even care if this Dunkin' Donuts doughnut looks like it has been dropped on the floor. My day is looking delicious.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

photo 13: site of fort dearborn at michigan and wacker

August 15, 1812 was a terrible no good very bad day to be a settler in Chicago. According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, the Potawatomi sacked the white man not at the fort itself, but at a location 1.5 miles south at what is now the intersection of Prairie & 18th. Then they set the fort on fire. I recommend listening to Sarah Vowell's story on This American Life about how you can see the entire history of the Unites States by standing on the corner of Michigan and Wacker. The story also appears in essay-form in her book Take the Cannoli.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

photo 12: starbucks

Whenever I have needed an overpriced coffee drink or a place to rest my bones in a really uncomfortable chair, Starbucks has been there. The venerable coffee emporium has fallen on hard times. They've stooped to offering $2 iced grande beverages after 2pm if you purchase a beverage earlier in the day: give them your stamped "Treat Receipt" and you get an iced latte for a song. Why, when I worked for Starbucks in the halcyon days of 2001, you know what 2 bucks would get you? A slap across your freaking face for thinking you could buy a Starbucks beverage for 2 bucks. Today, there was a grande delay on my grande toffee nut mocha and they gave me grande apologies and a certificate for a free beverage. I didn't even complain. I was like - "whatever." Yet, BAM! Free drink! Yes! I high-fived myself because nobody was nearby. Later, they came around with samples of their new soy orange mango green tea smoothie. It tastes like cough syrup and looks like the stuff Linda Blair pukes in The Exorcist.

Monday, July 21, 2008

tylenol pm versus advil pm

Listening to the Cubs game on the radio, I just heard a commercial for Advil PM. The commercial claimed that Advil PM is better than Tylenol PM. Would anybody like to vouch for this claim? I think it's a bunch of hooey. (But I have a bottle 150 caplets of generic CVS Tylenol PM that I'm not getting through anytime soon so I'd like to justify this purchase).

Bill Murray, Gary Sinise, and Florence Henderson?! Sweet Jeebus, this is going to be the best Air & Water show ever:,0,4130346.story

photo 11: toonces the driving cat

Toonces in his native habitat at the Wegrzyn homestead. Screened porch, comfy pillow. That cat's life is so difficult (although he does have some problems pooping, but I don't want to embarrass him). I went home today because I needed to do laundry I wanted to hang out with the family.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

dan, I got your postcard. It is hideous(ly awesome)

photo 10: no diving

I went to the lake. I took my notebook and said: I AM READY TO BE INSPIRED. I sat there. I watched these dirty seagulls and wondered when that "no diving" sign was painted on the rock. Then I left the lake and went to the Dollar Tree to buy a set of coasters (for a dollar-ish), but they had no coasters left. I needed to buy a new spatula too. The checkout line was long. Screw it. I put the spatula back. I am not waiting in line to buy a spatula. Grilled Cheese sandwiches will have to wait. I went home with no writing or coasters or spatula. The end.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

photo 9: necessity

Not ashamed to admit the times I've been so triumphantly out of toilet paper that I've used the cardboard tube.

Friday, July 18, 2008

photo 8: showmen's league of america

The grey building on the northwest corner of Randolph & Franklin is home to the Showmen's League of America, founded in 1913. You don't notice the little elephants above the windows at a casual pass and the blue awning for the office is fairly discreet. The biggest tip-off this the Showmen's headquarters is when you see a handlebar-mustachioed strongman in a leopard-skin singlet smoking on the corner. That's not true. I've never seen that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

the best musical performance on sesame street since Norah Jones pined for the letter Y

Feist counts to 4, of course.

photo 7: sax mich avenue

Not many guys can pull off wearing a fanny-pack on his fanny. But not many guys are this guy.

Saxophones are the best sounding instrument at the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Maybe it's the way it bounces off the Wrigley Building and the concrete in the plaza that allows a saxophone to transcend the traffic. The worst instrument is acoustic guitar -- can't hear it. Most annoying instrument: 5 kids drumming 5 buckets.

I hope for the return of the woman with the microphone and karaoke boom box; her rendition of "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey" was an inspiration.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Last night around 3 a.m. with a cold wet washcloth over my eyes and a dark cloud in my soul, I tried to think of movies that feature a character who can't sleep.

Sleepless in Seattle (duh)
Fight Club
Lost in Translation
Taxi Driver
Bringing Out The Dead
Wonder Boys
At least one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies
I couldn't think of anymore than that.

photo 6: steely dan at the chicago theater

You snoozed you loosed jazz/rock fusion fans. Steely Dan was sold out at the Chicago Theater. Didn't get your ticket? Look for Steely Dan in the sun visor CD holder of any 60 year old man on your block.

I'll tell you what superpower I want. I want the power to fall asleep when I need to go to bed. It's not a problem every night, but every few weeks I hit the toss 'n' turn rut. Ninety minutes of sleep in a night doesn't cut it. Today I walked through downtown like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. I didn't shave my hair into a mohawk or save a child prostitute with a spray of bullets, but my brusque and curt replies to the flotsam in the office e-mail inbox were more brusque and curt than usual.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

photo 5: truman college parking lot

This parking lot at Truman College is a former tennis court. I like to imagine the story here as a film and not as an obvious solution to the campus parking crunch.

The Truman College tennis team was the Bad News Bears of the community college tennis circuit until the belligerent, hot-headed chancellor made this threat to the alcoholic yet pithy tennis coach: "If your rag-tag group of racket-flinging knuckleheads don't start winning, we're gonna turn your tennis court into a PARKING LOT!"

Guess how the movie ends. (hint: see photo)

I biked to Pegasus Players, located on the Truman Campus, to pick up the finalists scripts to judge for the Young Playwrights Festival. I wasn't going to judge. Then they're all, "Hey... we're looking for one more judge..." Once YPF has its hands on you, man, it ain't ever gonna let go.

Monday, July 14, 2008

coming to terms with the play blurb pet peeve

In response to my earlier post about a play blurb phrase that annoys the living crap out of me ("comes to terms with"), Chicago Joe adds a few more skin-crawlingly bad phrases to the mix:

"upper middle class"
"coming of age"
"affluent couple"
"as they contemplate..."
"face the outside world"
Thanks, Chicago Joe. Those are god-awful. Bad blurbs eschew action in favor of meaningless cliche and fluff. Bad blurbs want the play to sound important and deep. Playwrights are often called to write a blurb for their own plays in the early presentational stages. Most theatres will want the playwright to give them some idea of what they think the play is about if they're promoting the play for a staged reading or premiere. Playwrights, who are not always marketing geniuses, will lean on the crutch of cliche rather than punch the action (hopefully, there is action to punch). Unfortunately, some playwrights are more concerned about sounding deep than about sounding fucking awesome. They should go to to watch a few movie trailers where shit explodes and learn how to sell a story. You're not betraying the important content by selling the story's momentum. Does anybody read a blurb and think: "I cannot wait to see that play about an upper middle class couple facing the outside world!"

Don't lie. Don't sell what's not there. But if you've written a story with momentum, you can usually find your blurb in what happens on stage in the first 15 minutes rather than in cliche that describes (supposed) internal enlightenment by the end. Writing the play's blurb is a really good way for a writer to compress the vital action into 1-3 sentences. I sometimes think the best playwriting lesson might focus on how to write a blurb for your play. It's like trying to sum up your life in your own obituary. You aren't going to dick around in your newsprint tombstone.

A play blurb is difficult to write. If you're new to it, or don't pay attention to theatre marketing, it's easy to write something boring. Sadly, once the playwright is out of the marketing picture, she has little say in how the play is reduced in blurb form. Just hope the presenting theater knows how to tantalize... or "borrow" from another theater's awesome blurb.

I wrote the blurb for my play this fall at Chicago Dramatists. If you think it sucks goat ass, then disregard this entire post:

photo 4: sushi at tokyo marina

Tokyo Marina on Clark St isn't into artsy fartsy presentation. Heck, their sushi chefs aren't even Japanese. What you get at Tokyo Marina is satisfying meat & potatoes sushi (just go with it) and 8 pieces (not 6) per order of maki. If you're lucky, they're playing WNUA 95.5 smooth jazz on the radio. What is this, a dentist's office? I like my sushi simple. Roll some boring salmon or boring tuna into some boring rice and seaweed. It's just an excuse to eat soy sauce and wasabi anyway -- though not too much wasabi. There is a fine line between pleasant nasal sting and instant death. If we ever eat sushi together, you can have my ginger. I don't like it on fish. Ginger is for ales and Gilligan's Islands.

Guys! A tree fell down on my street and crushed two parked cars! They towed the cars out before a photo opp. How much would it suck to leave your apartment and see that your car had been crushed by a tree? Talk about nature erasing your carbon footprint.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

photo 3: morton salt on elston ave

I've joined the bicycle culture. My old Schwinn had been sitting in my parents' garage up in the suburbs, so I wiped off the grime and my folks got it tuned up for me at the bike shop. Bought that Schwinn new in 1993. Still rides like a dream... the dream where I win the Tour de France (dorky Pee Wee's Big Adventure ref. Nevermind). I had to drop off a script at Chicago Dramatists today, so my ride took me down Elston Avenue. I'm a fan of Elston for its low-volume traffic, industrial charm, and a nice view of downtown as you head southeast; it's a great road to bike. Two reasons for this photo.

1. The Morton Salt roof is visible from the Kennedy Expressway, and it was an important landmark on trips to Grandma's house. Driving from Evanston/Wilmette to the south side of Chicago seemed to take forever when I was five years old. Physical geography and mileage meant nothing. When I saw the Morton Salt roof, it meant we were making progress.

2. I was a temp in the accounting department at Morton Salt for 8 months in 2005. When I told my sister Amanda where I was working, she assumed I was working in this warehouse. I told her, no, I sat in a cubicle in an office downtown. Yet she preferred to visualize me driving a forklift here at the Morton Salt Warehouse. In time, I also preferred to visualize myself driving a forklift as I filed papers covered in numbers into an endless wall of file cabinets. During my long hours in the office salt mines, I would think that the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl might be a rad Halloween costume. But you would really have to emphasize the container of salt. Like it would have to be a comically oversized container of Morton Salt. Otherwise, you just look like a girl in the rain.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

photo 2: budacki's on damen

What defines greatness in a hot dog stand? Ask a few questions.

1. Can you smell the grease from two blocks away (at least)?

2. Does it exude an effortless "I Can't Believe This Place Passed A Health Inspection" charm?

3. Are there warped picnic tables in the parking lot?

4. Are the employees sweating like a can of cold soda on a 100 degree day?

5. Do you walk away from your dining experience thinking: "That was delicious, and I look forward to catching up on my reading as I spend quality time sitting on the toilet later today."

Budacki's will fill any hole in your heart with a caulk of nitrates and grease. I don't eat here very much, but when I do, boy oh boy (see #5)! You can't get French fries at Budacki's. You get Pomme Frites. Check out the sign: clearly the love child of a circus clown and French bistro. The restaurant's exterior makes a cameo in the movie I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With, a sometimes funny but mostly bland Rom-Com starring Jeff Garlin, Sarah Silverman, a who's who of Chicago talent and a where's where of Chicago locations. In a sad sign of our economic times, Budacki's raised the price of its 2 dogs, fries, and a can of soda combo from $3.75 to $4.00; if you were counting on using that quarter in change for the parking meter, forget it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

play blurb pet peeve

Reading the phrase "come(s) to terms with" in a promo blurb about a play. That phrase is a bucket of hogwash and you can do better. Either rewrite the blurb or rewrite the play (assuming the playwright wrote the blurb. If the theatre wrote the blurb, please, find somebody who can write a good blurb. Gosh).

photo 1: rainy day water taxi

It was raining when I left work and I didn't have an umbrella. Instead of buying an umbrella from the Walgreen's I spent $3 to take the Water Taxi from the Michigan Avenue Bridge to Union Station/Sears Tower. The Water Taxi is covered, though when you're cruising down the river, rain blows in sideways. I got wet anyway. But I was commuting by boat!

(I'm photoblogging for 30 days. I am putting this in small font to keep expectations low in case I miss a day or two or three. Photos may be mundane; life is often mundane)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

this link will be the highlight of my week if not the highlight of my entire life

smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics

Some hub bub all over the Teatrico De Interwebs on Chris Jones's Blog and the Time Out Chicago Blog about the Jersey Boys getting busted for smoking and the new push for an amendment to the smoking ban to allow smoking on stage, but with all sorts of strings attached (like, it would be a show-by-show basis and you'd have to mention the show contains smoking on the posters. What. The. Crap?).

A few of my plays contain smoking. My play Killing Women has smoking. When Theatre Seven produced it last summer, we had to use pussyfooting herbal cigarettes that are totally stupid-smelling. They smell like pot... but not really like pot. Herbals smell like stupid pot. The smell of an herbal cigarette is confusing. But there was smoking in the play because the character had to smoke.

GWEN: (offstage) Are you smoking?
ABBY: (she is) Maybe.
GWEN: Please don’t smoke.
ABBY: The window’s open.
GWEN: I don’t want Tess to think that smoking is cool.
ABBY: Smoking is cool.

But -- the smoking issue (even before the Chicago ban) has changed the way I write. Now, I don't write plays that require smoking because I know, one of these days, some theatre might stage the scene above in a way that Abby never lights the cigarette. Will the humor still work? I don't know. Without the smoking, it's not the scene I wrote. I worked with a theatre in San Francisco whose Artistic Director said to me I should seriously consider cutting the smoking out of one of my plays because theatres in California are hippie-dippie about including smoking on stage.

There's an artistic issue too. A lot of actors don't smoke. Most actors who don't smoke will learn to smoke for a role because they want to play the part, even if they are not a smoker. I can tell if somebody on stage is not a smoker. There's an unnaturalness to the movements. The inhale, the exhale. It looks forced. Smoking can become something that separates the actor from the character. What removes me from a play is not: "oh my god, that person is smoking and I'm going to get cancer and die tomorrow." It's more: "that actor has no fucking clue how to smoke a cigarette."

I don't smoke, but I like seeing good smoking in plays. I like smelling a play. My fingers are crossed for a waiver in Chicago. And if I never again write smoking on the stage, I can still write wholesome plays about raging alcoholics who beat their children because iced tea looks like whiskey.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

spider update from spider central

Okay guys. This morning? Baby spider party all over my lampshade. I mean, come on! I just woke up. I have to get ready for work. The last thing I want to do is crush baby spiders in Kleenex at 7am. You know what, it's not the last thing I want to do -- it's not even on the fucking LIST of things I want to do. And now my lampshade is Haunted Mansion cobwebby and I got the creepy crawlies.

The scary part now.

When I got home from work today... no spiders. Anywhere. Which means either (A) I smashed them real good and sent every single one of those eight legged bastards to their toilet-watery graves, or, more likely (B) The ones I didn't get retreated to the walls, corners, crevices to plot my doom. Probably hanging out with the mouse. It's times like these I remember a statistic. The average adult swallows 7 spiders in their sleep per year. That can't be true, right? I read it somewhere, but, really? I doubt it. How was that study conducted? I want John Stossel to debunk that statistic on 20/20.

the mouse. and also spiders

I thought it was gone, this mouse. I was wrong. Dead wrong. The mouse is cute and I would like to rip its head off and hit its head across the street with a tennis racket.

In other pest control news, there is a mild infestation of tiny spiders near and around my desk.

And I killed a spider on my laptop.


Summer: I hate you. Nature? I shake my fist at you.

(shakes fist at nature)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

debuts, american or otherwise

Saw this on the NY Times website: Sarah Kane Premiere Leads Soho Rep Season. It says their production of Blasted will mark that play's American debut... even though that play made a Midwest Premier in Chicago at A Red Orchid Theatre in the 2006-2007 season? I know Sarah Kane's estate is particular about licensing productions. Anybody got the poop on this? "Premiere" billing drives me bonkers.

Friday, July 04, 2008