Thursday, January 31, 2008

holy crap I'm in Kentucky

This morning, a glorious day, winter in Chicago. The day's forecast: 100% chance of Snowy Fuck-All. Awoke with three words on my lips. "Louisville or bust." I didn't bust. 5 hour drive, SE on I-65, gas outside Indianapolis. Bought a vitamin water at Circle K/Shell. Looking at a rack of humorous bumper stickers, giggling, I forgot I was holding a bottle of water in my right hand. I dropped it. It exploded on the floor of the mini-mart. I hadn't even opened it! The plastic bottle suffered a severe structural malfunction upon impact (for crissakes it was plastic!!!). I had chosen a yellow citrus vitamin water, now puddling at my feet, and it looked like I peed on the floor. True story. Back in the car. Drive. I'm here for the first weekend and table rehearsal of the Apprentice Anthology project at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Is this heaven? No, it's Louisville. Bourbon and baseball bats. A dangerous combination? Yeah: Dangerously awesome.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

an open letter to bald men who wear 180 wrap-around earmuffs on eff'ing cold days

Look, dude. I'm not your mom. But your mom called and told me to slap you in your bald head as I walk behind you. The windchill is -23 F. Did you know that 110% of your body heat escapes through the top of your head? Science has proven this. Looking at you makes me feel colder. I will not think any less of you for wearing a hat. I know you're worried about that. What I think of you. Wear a hat. Buy this hat and wear it. Thank you.

where the girls are

The true test is to find work, whether past or present, by women writers that we had undervalued…by that test they have failed, because they have added not one to the canon. The women writers who mattered – Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather and others who have always mattered on aesthetic grounds – still matter.

--Harold Bloom, skeptical of feminist criticism, kind of a douche

Kris Vire posted a good writeup on the Time Out Chicago blog of the Chicago Dramatists "Feminine Dilemma" panel discussion. Clicky: http://www.timeout.com/chicago/blog/out-and-about/?p=3598. I wanted to go, but I was face down in my apartment trying not to drown in my own phlegm. Too much information? It's a topic of interest to those who write and have a vag, but gender disparity in the arts and, oh, THE ENTIRE WORLD, should be of interest to folks, vag or sans vag. It's a conundrum where the answer isn't about Affirmative Action, or quotas, or equality on programming a gender-balanced 50/50 season.

Ward Six has a post tackling the concept of female writers and levels of "American literary greatness," and how women rarely make it to the top of that mountain. Who is making that distinction and why would that be? Author Rhiann Ellis makes this curious personal observation regarding girls and boys:

Is it that worthy literary achievements by women aren't being recognized? ...But it is also that worthy literary achievements by women aren't happening, too. I've been in writing classes -- taking them and teaching them -- from first grade on up through graduate school, and you can watch it happen: little girls write circles around the boys, they love writing more than boys and care more about doing it well and produce reams of it. This is true right through college, when boys begin to catch up. And then, by the end of college and into graduate school, something happens: boy writers begin to become more experimental, daring, and confident, and the girl writers begin to self-destruct.

-Rhiann Ellis, Ward Six

I'm not exactly sure what she means by "self-destruct" unless it means the opposite of being experimental, daring, and confident. Viewed from the perspective of the theatre business, the case of "daring and experimental" may be viewed as a liability -- daring and experimental will, more often than not, make producers nervous as hell. But, I wonder, to what extent is the feminine perspective a liability in theatre? Another curious point made if you spelunk into the comments of the post:

I feel as though the parameters of that concept [literary greatness] favor "masculine" ways of seeing the world. (Please take those quote marks to heart.) Personally, I am not terribly interested in the Big Picture in fiction, or rather it only interests me as a context for presenting the Small Picture, which is all I really care about. I think a lot of women writers approach their work in a similar way.The Big Novel has to be seen to be GRAPPLING with something, to be TACKLING some big PROBLEM, and for whatever reason, this approach seems to appeal more to guys. And then the world of publishing rewards them for their efforts.

-J. Robert Lennon, Ward Six

Is this Big Picture/Small Picture true of male and female playwrights? I don't know. If anybody who sees more plays than I do has a thought, please share. What is true, I think, is a lot of theatres want their programming to seem relevant in the Big Picture, however you define THAT. And if it's true that men write towards the Big Picture programmed by male artistic directors looking for that Big Picture, then that might be one possible explanation for more productions of plays written by men.

I always wondered what difference it would make if I had followed through on the impulse to write under a gender-neutral or masculine pseudonym -- granted, the initial impulse was to at least write under a last name that wasn't a total Polish mindfuck. I test-drove a pen-name when I first started sending things out, but it didn't feel right and it didn't feel like me. Would it make a difference if my plays were written by a man? You'd hope that rejections are based on content and not preconceived notions of what a female playwright will write, or to what audience they appeal.

My one anecdote involves a table reading of an early draft of "The Butcher of Baraboo" a couple of years ago. The cast of that play is 4 women and 1 man; the man is resigned to an important, but small, role -- y'know, like a man-Ophelia. Anyway, the actor reading the lone male role came up to me after the reading was over to tell me why he liked the play. Decipher this how you will: "It's a play about women who just happen to be characters, y'know? It's not a "woman's play", y'know? It's unusual."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"baraboo" in baraboo

My play The Butcher of Baraboo is getting a public reading in Baraboo, WI. This amuses me to no end. Thank god they have a sense of humor. The reading is at The Village Booksmith in downtown Baraboo on the eve of Feb 1. They invited me to come and asked if I wanted to read in it. Tempting, but I declined as I will be elsewheres.

steve martin on being funny

Found this by way of my internet lover BoingBoing: Here's A lengthy article in the Smithsonian by Steve Martin and how he developed his stand-up routine. It's really just an excerpt of a chapter of his great memoir Born Standing Up. I bought the book for my mom for Christmas, and I accidentally read it before I wrapped it. I made sure not to crack the spine or smear palm sweat over the cover -- it was a gift, after all. Though I'm sure my mom wouldn't've minded TOO much if the book got banged up. Mom always seemed excited about gifts of construction paper glued to other construction paper when I was little, so a banged-up hardback is an amazing step up.

Steve Martin had terrific patience for teaching his audience how to understand his comedy, or not understand his comedy -- not understanding is part of the fun. It's also a bit of a lesson on how artists need to build in a subconscious lesson plan within the work, something to teach the audience how to process it. Easier said than done.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

still alive (see also: still sick)

It's a special night when I close down River North. Even Mother Hubbard's debaucherous den of sin had gone sleepy-eyed to the good morrow as the Acting Studio coughed me on to Hubbard St at 4:15 this morning. And the snow -- O The Snow! -- had fallen. I wrote from 9pm to 3:45am in a windowless, fluorescent-lit room, fueled by 1 diet coke, 1 coffee, 1 chocolate Rice Crispie Treat, 1 bottle of water, 1 snack-sized bag of Cheetos, and a dose of Walgreen's generic non-drowsy multi-symptom cold relief which provided no relief at all. My nose is chapped red from generic facial tissue and my eyeballs feel like they've been Botoxed with the tines of a spork. I was home by 4:45am. Nomar pooped on the kitchen floor in protest of being cat-sat by a giant bowl of food for the past 22 hours. My 24 hour play is about righteousness and the game of chess. It's called Deep Red. Actors are memorizing it as I type this. Folks at Infamous Commonwealth Theatre are blogging the day's sleep-deprived progress here: http://infamouscommonwealth.blogspot.com/. I was invited to come back and see how rehearsal is going, but State & Hubbard is so very far away and I need a nap.

Friday, January 25, 2008

24 hour project (part 2)

You know what's going to be more fun than writing a play in 12 hours?

Being sick and writing a play in 12 hours.

I've written some of my best stuff while sick.

Wait, no I haven't.

There's a first for everything!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

24 hour project

I'm writing in Infamous Commonwealth Theatre's 24 Hour Project this weekend. More info here. (It's a small venue and only two performances on Saturday evening, so if you want to come, call ahead because they sell out). How it goes: four playwrights write plays from Friday 8pm to Saturday 8am. The plays are fully rehearsed and off-book 12 hours later for performances at 8pm and 10:30pm Saturday. That's it. Will it be awesome? Will it be a train wreck? Who knows! That history ain't writ yet, homies. It's possible I could pass out or go batshit insane by 4am Saturday morning. I will resist ending my play with a meteor killing everybody.

he's back


My sister left for Disney World and dumped Nomar Rasputin Kittycat Mofo Garciaparra at my apartment. My family cat-sitting fee is a 6 pack of beer that doesn't suck. I know the photo looks blurry, but that's what Nomar looks like after he face-plants in the catnip.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

how you write, what you do

I watched the movie Once the other week, and then watched it again with the commentary track with the director and stars of the film. One of the things they talked about is how interesting it is to watch artists -- in this case musicians -- make what they make. The process it takes to get from A to Z. How it becomes something that is, more or less, finished; or how it -- the recognizable song/painting/whatever -- became the thing it became. It really is fascinating. Like I could watch Bob Ross paint his happy little trees for hours. What's so interesting isn't the final picture (forest landscape on a snowy day. yawn), but how he used that scraper tool and a little white paint to make those happy trees heavy with happy snow, and how that scraper tool makes that scraping sound on the canvas. I'd watch Bob Ross paint for hours. It's magic.

For writers and writing, I'm not so interested in learning about the nebulous, intangible stuff of inspiration and creativity. Borrrrrring. I prefer the quantifiable details: Where do you write? When? Pencil or pen? In a spiral notebook or on office legal pads? When you write on the computer, what font do you use? How do you format your stage directions? Where do you go for character names? When you write at Starbucks, what do you drink? Do you snack? How good is your writing after a couple glasses of crummy [yellowtail]? Music? No? If music, what kind, how loud? Do you wear pants? Can you write on a bus? On a train? In bed?

When I started writing, I tried to crib routines from writers I liked. Like T.C. Boyle said in an interview he writes in a dark room and blasts jazz music, so I tried to do that, but it didn't make me a prolific short-story writing genius. A lot of writers get up at 5am to write. That seemed like a good idea until it seemed insane, and it seemed insane almost instantly. I had a pretty great routine when I was unemployed, but it involved never seeing the sun, ever.

I've done a lot of writing in coffee shops. I prefer the holy cathedral of St. Arbucks over, say, a mom & pop java dive. At the corporate joint, I don't feel guilty ordering JUST a cup of coffee and squatting at a table for a 5 hour writing jag. I'm one of THOSE people. I hate those people. I am those people. Eek. My favorite Starbucks on the planet is in a strip mall in Webster Groves, Missouri. My favorite Starbucks in Chicago is either the 'Bucks at Diversey & Sheffield, or the Ghettobucks at Bryn Mawr and Winthrop where I saw a homeless guy pee on the wall.

More: I use 11 point Times New Roman and a macro keyed by Ctrl+J for stage directions and I don't like to eat while writing because eating is for watching television, not writing, and 39% of everything I've ever written has been written in bed. No pants. Well sometimes pants. Are pajama bottoms "pants"? When I get stuck on an ending, I end the play with a meteor crashing through the ceiling and killing all the characters instantly. The end.

I go back and fix it when I'm not so frustrated.

I'm saving that meteor-kills-everybody ending for my master-work. Wait for it.

Was this interesting?

(Meteor crashes through ceiling and kills this blog post instantly. The end)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

a little funny for a cold, cold weekend

I saw Sweeney Todd last night after work. Oh mah gaaahd! The last 3 minutes of that film are gorgeous. Then I took the Poo Line home for the first time since I-don't-know-when, and I'm glad to see all the pigeons making good use of the CTA station heating lamps. Must've been 50 pigeons huddled together under the lamp at the Randolph/Wabash station.

Cold? Bored? Pass out on the couch and watch 5 minutes of Drunk History vol 1 - Featuring Michael Cera

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Conor McPherson

I saw Shining City at the Goodman last night. First preview performance. I would have preferred to see it a little further into the run, but Dan hooked up some freebies and I can't turn down free. I'm a fan of the script and the production didn't disappoint. It's great across the board. No spoilers here. See it.

I can't help but feel it would be exponentially more awesome in a smaller theater. The Goodman's main stage -- the Albert? -- is... so... big. The stage is filled with a gorgeous set, but I think Conor McPherson plays are intimate affairs best served in a smaller venue. I suppose the Goodman is an intimate venue compared with the Broadway house where this play made its U.S. premier, and I'll hold my horses 'til some Off-Loop company tackles this script in a couple years. I wanted to be closer. I was up in the Mezzanine boonies with 50 coughers. You know that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where the high-priest guy sticks his hand into that dude's chest and pulls out his beating heart. I wish I could do that. But instead of a heart I'd pull the lungs from people who don't stop coughing in the theatre. Thankfully, the coughing settled down once the play began crackling. Conor McPherson is the Robitussin of playwriting. I dig it. One of my favorite Chicago productions of all time was McPherson's The Good Thief at The Gift Theatre. Michael Patrick Thornton was phenomenal in that play. It was the perfect union of actor, text, and venue.

I first encountered a Conor McPherson play when I was working as a Production Assistant at Greenbrier Valley Theatre in West Virginia in 2002. The actor they hired to play Valerie in McPherson's The Weir dropped out to travel to India, and the director asked me to audition. She had seen me act earlier in the season. Also I was the only one in the room who could do an Irish accent. If you know The Weir, you know that a 21 year old has no business playing Valerie. I wanted to write Conor McPherson a letter of apology for the inappropriate casting, and for the theatre not allowing us to say the word "fuck" in the play. The play is set in a rural Irish bar. Of course "fuck" appears in the text a lot. Not so in that production. Welcome to theatre in West Virginia.

I hadn't acted much before that summer -- a couple acting classes and a few student directing scenes in college. I was also doing double duty as the theatre's production assistant, so I had to set up and strike the rehearsal room and wash all the glasses, and quite a few glasses needed washing for all the drinking done in that play (Rootbeer for Guinness, Cream Soda for Harp, insulin for when the pancreas failed). The actors lobbied to have a piss bucket backstage since the toilet was so far away and entrances were always near-misses.

Acting in The Weir was terrifying. The character Valerie spends most of the play listening to the other characters, but then delivers a 12 minute monologue. I was offstage briefly before having to come back on and deliver that monologue about a dead kid. God I was nervous. I spent my time offstage trying not to barf. I was also pretty sure I had forgotten the monologue, and if you go up on your lines in a monologue, you're fucked. But as it goes, you get out there, settle down, and just get through it. I'm not gonna lie: it was fun making people in the audience cry with a dead kid monologue.

I had no idea if my performance was actually good. It was more the writing than me. And it's possible I like Conor McPherson because I link his writing to [acting] trauma and triumph. But mostly I like his writing because it's just good, y'know?

Friday, January 11, 2008

I have no qualms about body-slamming a 5 year old

19



http://www.howmanyfiveyearoldscouldyoutakeinafight.com/

Take the survey to find out how well you'd do in a swarm of 5 year olds. I fudged one question by considering a Karate class I took in 4th grade along with saving Sylvia from Mr. X in Nintendo's Kung Fu as "Martial Arts Experience."

I found this survey at The Brad's new blogging venture, The "Break It Down" Blog: Simplifying hot topics on the Internet and in technology. Lots of good geeky stuff along with good geeky funny stuff with a pinch of randomness.

Note: Please feel free to post how many 5 year olds you could take in a fight.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

this saturday @ chicago dramatists

Lil somethin-somethin going on this Saturday at Chicago Dramatists. FYI. Please note the sentence that mentions wine and cheese. Eff yeah.

- - - - - - - cut along dotted line - - - - - - -

THE 6th ANNUAL SHOWCASE OF THE NEW RESIDENT PLAYWRIGHTS
Saturday, January 12 @ 2:00pm

Please join Chicago Dramatists and its playwrights for the first reading of the New Year as we welcome our new Resident Playwrights for 2008 and sample selections from their diverse work. A discussion with the playwrights about their writing and careers will follow the readings, plus a wine and cheese reception in the lobby.

GENE – A companion piece to Eugene O'Neill's “Hughie”
by Resident Playwright RON HIRSEN
Directed by Lila Stromer
Ozzie arrives at the Shelton Hotel in Boston on a cold November day in 1953 to visit his old friend Gene. But the stubborn guard won't allow Ozzie up to see him. "Mr. O'Neill ain't seein' anybody today." RON HIRSEN's play “The Frugal Repast” was developed at the O'Neill Playwrights Conference and produced by the Abingdon Theatre in New York City in 2007.

FINDING A CONTEMPORARY GOD
by Resident Playwright CHRIS MANN
Directed by Associate Artist Anna C. Bahow
What does one do about death when religion no longer serves as the cornerstone to the American family? An older woman can't get over her husband's death and a father (although dead) can't let go of his family. CHRIS MANN has written over 20 plays that have been produced professionally. “Finding a Contemporary God” was commissioned by the Laine Family Foundation.

BROKEN FENCES
by Resident Playwright STEVEN SIMONCIC
Directed by Associate Artist Ilesa Duncan
A Starbucks appears in West Humboldt Park and signifies the first wave of gentrification in a neighborhood that hasn’t changed for generations. STEVEN SIMONCIC has six past productions, including “Broken Fences.” Pegasus Players and Live Bait Theatre will produce “Heat Wave” this winter in a joint production.

TEN CENT NIGHT
by Resident Playwright MARISA WEGRZYN
Directed by Associate Artist Ann Filmer
Dad's shot himself in the head and failed musician Roby Finley is on her way home to Burkeville, TX, with a suitcase full of stolen cash. A family comedy from a time when a dime could buy you a phone call home. MARISA WEGRZYN's “The Butcher of Baraboo” was produced in Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory in 2006 and premiered off-Broadway at Second Stage last summer. She is currently working on commissions from Steppenwolf, Yale Rep, and Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

snooze no more

My snooze button.

It is no longer attached to my alarm clock. Some plastic broke off last night so I've yet to see how fixable it is.

CHAINSAW CALLIGRAPHY PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Be gentle with your snooze button. Do not smack it with your fist like you're trying to ding the bell in a strong-man high-striker game at the county fair. Avoid dreams involving a Chuck E. Cheese WHACK-A-MOLE game. Do not slap your snooze the way your 6 year old self once slapped your older brother/sister so hard just to see if you could make a hand-print shaped welt on his/her skin, and then he/she turned around and slapped you in your larynx: the Snooze cannot defend itself in that manner. Abuse the Snooze and it will never come back. You will never again know the pleasure of just 9 more minutes.

Monday, January 07, 2008

politics

Will not be discussed here.

Take it outside.

Last week after the holidays felt like one big non-alcoholic hangover. I face-planted on my desk at work.

In gadgets & gizmos news: I got a new cellphone to replace my 2004 clunker. I also downloaded a ringtone. The theme for The Twilight Zone. I may regret that choice when someone calls in the middle of the night as I'm drifting off to sleep, and then I have an apocolyptic dream where I'm the last person on the planet with all the time in the world to read, but then my glasses fall off my face and I step on them. But then I find an ophthalmologist's office and give myself Lasik so it's okay! Eat that, Rod Serling.

By the way, don't ever go into graphic detail about your own Lasik surgery. It sounds horrifying.

I'm going to sleep. Don't call me.