Thursday, May 31, 2007

I guess I'm

starting a new screenplay tomorrow, even though I haven't finished the last one I started. But heck, I didn't finish the one I started before that, so I don't know why I should let that stop me!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Steven Leigh Morris and New Play Development

There's a huge article by Steven Leigh Morris in this week's LAWeekly, touching on everything from the safe choices of the Pulitzer drama committee to "development hell" to a suggestion that regional theater is turning into a miniature Hollywood studio mediocrity mill. My favorite passage is below. Sometimes I forget why I admire Morris and then he reminds me with something like this:
There was also a reading [at South Coast Rep's Pacific Playwrights Festival] of José Rivera’s new realistic, domestic drama, Boleros for the Disenchanted.... Rivera is a master craftsman who has a revolving commission with South Coast Repertory, which means that when he’s completed one commission, he’s automatically granted a new one, though he says he only has time to pen one play every three or four years because of his career writing for film and TV.

Why, then, does Rivera need such a commission?

“We want to keep him in the theater,” says Glore, which raises the question of who, exactly, is keeping Rivera out of the theater. Wouldn’t these resources be more appreciated, and more bravely dispersed, going to established, provocative but less heralded writers from, say, Padua Playwrights or Dog Ear Collective?
Or how about Fell Swoop Writers Group? I like those writers A LOT. Ever heard of them?

UPDATE: I also wonder how Morris defines "established," when he talks about the braver choices in commissioning new work. My student loans, six full-length plays (that I'll let you read...there are more, of course), stacks of shorter works, photocopies, and postage receipts make me feel pretty established, I have to say, even if they're piled up next to a lot of rejection letters. Maybe I'm not established by professional standards, but still, I'd argue for spreading the net even wider than Morris does, or even changing where or how the net is cast. And not just because I want a revolving commission. I want all my friends to get one too.

Alright, back to the article.

This festival underscores how the American theater in general employs a small circle of writers endorsed by “the network,” writers who are well entrenched in the national pipeline. This applies even to SCR’s “new generation,” such as Julie Marie Myatt and David Wiener. Myatt’s and Wiener’s plays each received full productions as part of the festival.

[...]

Perhaps what the theater needs is a standard of ethics similar to that used by newspapers to protect their integrity — a firewall between the publishing side, with its interests in marketing, and the editorial camp. What’s happening in these theaters is similar to a newspaper publisher stepping in — with the newspaper chain in mind — and consulting on the content of articles before they’re even completed. In newspapers, this would be considered an outrageous intrusion upon editorial liberty. Obviously, marketing interests still have subtle influences over the content of newspapers, but imagine what it would be like if that firewall were removed.

One of the healthier new-play-development scenarios I observed occurred at the Mark Taper Forum, where Glore was serving as dramaturge. Glore, with director Lisa Peterson, helped develop Richard Montoya’s Water and Power, while the theater’s artistic director, Michael Ritchie, removed himself from the process. Ritchie gave himself one role: He could decide whether to present the play or not. Marketing concerns were largely kept out of the process of developing the play.

After viewing five of the seven new works at the Pacific Playwrights Festival, I actually have little argument with the plays on display. My complaint is for the braver work that’s being left behind, because the reasons for that neglect are being echoed in a hundred more instances around the country, while our theater’s relevance as an art form hangs in the balance.
UPDATE: Check out the comments; I've written a little more there. And feel free to add a couple of cents.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Clubbed Thumb in NYC is doing my play!

Granted, it's a one-minute play as part of a larger festival called "A Pageant of the 50 States (and more)," but I'm still really excited. My play's about Arkansas, of course. If you're in New York, go see it next Wednesday, May 30 at 8pm and tell me how it goes!

Details about the event are here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Red and Yellow Black and White Face

The response to LaBute's lament that white people don't get to play Othello anymore was pretty strong, as evidenced by the Calendar letters in Sunday's LATimes. I linked to LaBute's article in an earlier post (find it here), stating that I wasn't falling for his provocation. Well apparently lots of others did, and I'm glad they spoke up, because this kind of idiotic line of thinking should not go unchallenged. Did I just fall for it? Dammit, I think I did. Anyway, here are the letters. My favorite letter is from a lovely playwright named Henry Ong. I'm quoting below:

I'LL tell you why no one would bat an eye at an all-black version of "Long Day's Journey Into Night." Because no one would think of casting Denzel Washington or Angela Bassett, famous as they are, in that play if it wasn't in an all-black production.

I'll tell you why Brad Pitt as Walter in "Raisin in the Sun" would cause an outcry. It's because a black actor is automatically deprived of one of the few roles that he can look forward to without being dismissed simply because of the color of his skin.

I love Brad Pitt, and would love to see him as Walter, but only if the black actor, or Asian, or Hispanic, is considered and cast in Mr. LaBute's "Fat Pig."

Unless and until we are willing to level the playing field for black, Asian, Hispanic and minority actors, and unless they can vie for and play roles such as Moses or Spider-Man, I suggest we continue to deprive ourselves of blackface, yellow face or brown face white actors.
It's an interesting thing to be discussing in light of the Taper's production of David Henry Hwang's Yellowface, which was reviewed by Charles McNulty in today's LATimes. It's an interesting, smart play, and it examines these issues with charm, humor, irony, and a pleasant combination of self-indulgence and self-effacement that I'd imagine LaBute could never pull off.

I liked the production of Yellowface better than McNulty did; it looks sharp, it has a affable light touch, and keeps things moving well enough. It does slow down in the second act, mostly because of some interesting but digressive meanderings in the script. Regardless, it's a fun show, and far more thoughtful than the sentiments expressed in LaBute's article.

Did I just fall for it again? Dammit!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I saw Porgy and Bess

at LAOpera on Friday. Some singers were better than others (Eric Greene as Jake and Angela Simpson as Serena were highlights), but overall it was a really fun show. I've decided that, with all the great standards that have come from the opera, my favorite music is at the top of Act II, when Serena starts calling on "Doctor Jesus" to take care of Bess. I was getting the spirit right along with her!

Zack, did you see it? What did you think?

Monday, May 14, 2007

I'm kind of over

that Neil LaBute post, so I thought I'd post something above it to get it out of the way.

I've taken up yoga! Have I ever mentioned that here? I'm going to a 6:30 class in Burbank tonight. Should be fun, since I haven't been in a couple of weeks.

Oh, and I saw Scab last night, which made me want to write a play about young love. I even had an idea that I wanted to write down on the back of my program, even though I didn't have a pen. Not really a story idea, just a line, a sentiment. When I got home I did sit down and write a little bit, but I got a little frustrated/tired and ended up watching Arrested Development on DVD with JW instead. I didn't remember until this morning that idea I had during the play, and I still haven't written it down yet. Hold on, I'm going to do it now.

Okay, done.

I actually did some really productive writing yesterday, which was partly why I let myself off the hook last night. I did a rewrite on a screenplay that's been sitting around on my hard drive for about two years waiting for me to fix a really easy Deus-Ex-Machina problem it had. I've worked on it for the past couple of weeks and yesterday I wouldn't let myself leave it until I got to the end. Except for that break for lunch I had with JW in WeHo. And calling my mother. And my grandmother. But still, I got it finished!

Now I can get to work on those other two unfinished first drafts of screenplays I have sitting in my hard drive. Wish me luck!

There! Take that, LaBute post!

Fat Pig reviewed in LATimes

There's an interesting review of Neil LaBute's Fat Pig at the Geffen in today's LATimes. It brings up a lot of things about how polarizing LaBute is and how misperceived he is as a writer (at least in Charlotte Stoudt's opinion, anyway).

I'll admit to not being a fan, and although I can occasionally get myself worked up about the nastiness of the worldview he communicates, that's not really why I've never taken to him. I'm not convinced he's a misogynist and I don't really mind that he's unafraid to expose his characters' vanities and shallow selfishness. I just think the moralism at the heart of a lot of what I've seen of his work is conservative and simplistic.

I must say I'm no expert; the last play I read or saw of his was The Mercy Seat, which I read precisely to confirm that I don't much care for his writing. At the time the play had gotten so much buzz as a raw, unflinching 9/11 response that I couldn't help myself. The questions it asks are interesting, but I remember thinking it had structural problems and was kind of repetitive. I remember thinking it not terribly deep, either, which might've had something to do with the need to respond quickly to the events of 9/11. Or exploit them. I'm not sure what he was doing there. Regardless, my desire to confirm my suspicions was satisfied, and I haven't looked back.

Maybe that's not fair, though. Maybe I've missed out on the one LaBute play that will make me understand him in a different light (if any of you can suggest one, let me know in the comments). Still, is it a weakness on my part that I don't wish to engage in work when I feel relatively confident of what kind of ideas are going to be communicated and what my response is going to be?

The Times Charlotte Stoudt seems to think so:
Because LaBute is so good at getting under people's skins, he's accused of being a misanthrope or a misogynist. He's neither (or perhaps no more so than anyone else) and the name-calling just proves he's onto something.
Reading this passage sent me into a rather defensive tailspin. Although I might be more inclined to agree with the "misanthrope" than the "misogynist" label, is my negative reaction to his theater an automatic justification of his work and a dismissal of my critique?

All that said, I must say Fat Pig is one of the first plays by him I've been curious about in some time. I feel this way not only because the New York production gave a big break to a certain badass Arkansas-native actress, but because a theater geek friend of mine said that of all of LaBute's plays, he disliked Fat Pig the least. How's that for a recommendation? I'd see it at the Geffen if the tickets were a little cheaper. Or if Ashlie reprised her role. Maybe I'll go to Barnes & Noble and read it over a Starbucks before putting it back on the shelf, like I did with The Mercy Seat. Aww, those were the (temp) days....

Anyway, my point is just because a writer's a provocateur doesn't automatically mean he's substantive or complex, and just because we don't fall for his provocations doesn't mean don't get or can't take his message.

I'd worry about him reading this, but I would assume he doesn't read blogs because he thinks they're "annoying," that is, when he's not making a case for an all-white Raisin in the Sun. More provocation I'm not really falling for....

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Christopher Gaines pleads guilty to Scotty Joe Weaver's murder

Thanks to another anonymous commenter, I got the update that Gaines has pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Robert Porter and Nicole Kelsay have pled not guilty and will go to trial later this year. Here's an up-to-date article about the trial.

In case you're looking, I've written about the case previously here and here.

This most recent Anonymous comment is quite moving; I thought I'd reprint it here. Hope you don't mind, Anon. Thanks again.

I live in the town were Scotty lived. I didn't have the privilege of knowing him, but I do remember seeing him about a week or so before his murder. My husband and I had gone out one weekend night and keeping with tradition around here, we stopped at Waffle House before going home. Scotty just happened to be working that night. Some guys were giving him a hard time and he was trying to be so nice. For some reason, he kind of stuck in my head. When I saw on the news what happened, I felt so sad, like I had lost a friend as well. His death touched alot of people around here. I hate that it took his death for some of us to finally get to know him.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I'm blogging about Bug

so that must mean I liked it. Here's my original post, along with comments from readers that encouraged me to go this weekend. Let me assure you, I most certainly did not crap around.

In short, it's among the best 99-seat theater I've seen in the almost 5 years I've lived in L.A., from the play to the direction to the performances to the lighting and sound designs. Really sharp stuff.

If you recall from a previous post, I mentioned that I often sit down to watch a play and, as soon as the lights come up on the set and the first words are uttered, I think to myself, "I could leave right now," and even trying to force myself to engage in the play won't work. The exact opposite happened with this experience; from the opening light cue, I knew I was going to be in great hands.

Go see it. Don't crap around.

Friday, May 04, 2007

A little JW context

Aww, it's my first ever post specifically about the bf! I think.... Too bad he's not at work to enjoy it/be irritated by it.

I've gotten a couple of comments in the Coachella 2007 post about a little teasing I gave him, and, since I guess it's time for a new post....

Anyway, check this link for the whole story, but the pertinent passage is below:

JW and I had a nice lunch at Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown, which has a well-stocked ipod or CD changer DJ-ing for them. I was giving JW the occasional pop music pop quiz. Sample:

ME: You have until the end of this song to tell me who's singing.

(Pause.)

JW: Journey?

ME: BOB. DYLAN.
Thank goodness he's a good sport. Okay, here's the back-story.

JW went to one rock concert in the 80s and it was Journey. He always brings them up when he doesn't know what pop group is playing, just to be contrary -- "Is this Journey?" etc. Oh, but he does recognize The Clash when he hears them, which is one of the countless reasons I keep him around. He's full of surprises, that one.

New dad Mark asked in a comment what kind of music is appreciated by a person who doesn't know the difference between pop giants Dylan and Perry. I won't speak for all people who can't distinguish the two, but for JW, it's Shostakovich, Mahler, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, etc. He exposes me to the classics of classical, I try to do the same for him with the classics of pop. It's sweet, actually.

So JW doesn't always like the stuff I like, and vice-versa, but our tastes do cross sometimes. For example, I love John Adams now, and I've made him a fan of Rufus Wainwright and Antony and the Johnsons. And Eagles of Death Metal. Except he calls them "Demons of Black Death." Purposely calling things by the wrong name even after he's corrected repeatedly...also part of his schtick.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Update on Scotty Joe Weaver

Some of my faithful readers may recall a blog post I wrote last year about the brutal murder of a young gay man in Alabama named Scotty Joe Weaver. I wondered what it meant that it seemed to be completely absent from national news, and that I only learned of the hate crime two years after the fact, thanks to a fine documentary called Small Town Gay Bar.

I received an anonymous comment on that post today by a friend of his; he let me know about an update in the case and gave me some detail about Scotty Joe and the trial. Christopher Gaines pled guilty to Weaver's murder and will likely spend the rest of his life in prison without parole. I found news items about Gaines' plea here and here.

Thanks again for the update, Anonymous.

Bug at the Coast Playhouse

There's a nice profile of director Scott Cummins in today's LATimes on the occasion of his direction of the west coast premiere of Tracy Letts' Bug. I like the last paragraphs the best:
In the end, Cummins insists..."The whole play is a metaphor for the difficulty of relationships, condensed and heightened. Tracy is asking what prevents us from healthily or fully loving."

But Letts asks the question at full volume, at a thriller's pace, says Lost Angels Artistic Director Laura Niemi. "The most incredible experiences I've ever had in theater have been in smaller venues, where you see the actors sweat. 'Bug' has that same punk-rock sensibility. Whatever you think of it, you're definitely going to feel something."
The article is here.