New Work for solo performers: CALL FOR SCRIPTS

I am super excited to be wearing my producer hat and posting the following call for scripts for solo performers. No fee. September deadline.

I work with this company, so happy to answer questions in the comments.

Please submit & spread the word to any and all of your playwright friends!!!

http://www.theopentheatre.com/call-for-scripts-new-work-for-solo-performers/

Motortown – Simon Stephens

Motortown is brutal. It’s cruel.  It’s disgusting and disturbing. If you don’t wince and pull back a little; if some of your skin doesn’t crawl when you reflect on this play then the director missed both the point and an opportunity.

Motortown is an awful, painful, ugly play chock full of the shapes and moods of modern reality. It is possible you will not feel good after you see it, which is exactly why you should see it. It has a (dark, frightened) place in my heart and is on my “To Direct” list.

Simon Stephens proficiently walks the fine line between making the audience thought-provokingly uncomfortable and making them so uncomfortable they will disengage. Motortown references but does not quite root in everything that’s been happening in hot, arid, beleaguered countries for the past 15 years, and deftly builds the same trepidation, shock and horror we feel knowing the tape of a beheading has surfaced. Then the denoument is as cluttered and dissatisfying as real life, leaving you with far more questions than answers; exactly the kind of theatre I get excited about.

Cast: 8  5M 3W  Run time: 75 minutes? If you’re directing, move it along. Everyone is feeling every beat of this show and there is no soft pedal. Synopsis: Danny has returned home a hero from the Iraq war, and he’s fitting in to civilian life Just. Fine.

Make this show get done in your community.

Country Music – Simon Stephens

Congratulations! You’ve passed the halfway mark. Five down, four to go. We are also crossing over into a territory of Simon Stephens’ plays that  l like.

I love small-scale theatre and plays that have a low threshold for entry (production wise), so Country Music had me from the very short cast list. And then the choreography of language from having only two characters in every scene, but one is consistent throughout. This is a little piece of genius. I haven’t come across this in any other work yet, and it is so effective for telling this story.

If the hard , beautiful truth that unfolds; the four characters; or the bare-bones set possibilities (a table and two chairs could do it all), don’t lure you in, Stephens’ appropriately sentimental intro will pull you over the edge. This is a very tangible, real-life scale story about the sort of one-time, but too-critical, bad decisions which lead to a lifetime of bad outcomes. There is someone from your school days or your neighborhood, no more than two degrees of separation from you, who screwed up to exactly this magnitude. You shake your head about him sometimes. Someone always about her at reunions and those in the know fall quiet. This is familiar, and it’s one I would love to direct.

Cast: 4  2M 2F  Run time: 80 min? It’s only 61 pages but there is space to be taken. Synopsis: The journey of a young man navigating what his life becomes after one bad decision.

One Minute – Simon Stephens

Who?

I did warn you. If you’re reading this one, four down five to go.

Simon Stephens wrote the following about this play in the Introduction to his second play collection (Methuen Drama) “…it was a detective story with its centre removed…Many of the scenes that one imagines when considering a dramatised police missing persons search were taken away…I wanted to find a form in One Minute, that dramatised the absence as much as the drama of a detective story.” This quote really made me think of One Minute as a play with a hole in it (a theme I will return to later).

For me this approach did not work. It didn’t give me what I would conjure up as a hollowed-out detective story, nor did it give me something else fascinating and meaningful in its place. And it did not pass my bar in the one category which can redeem anything for me: language.

Stephens is in his wheelhouse here with believably, relatable-y average “real life” characters who have real life speech tics and circular exchanges that drive neither the narrative nor the characters forward.  Further, Simon Stephens is parsimonious with stage directions so there are few hints as to the visual language. The play read as dissatisfyingly aimless, and didn’t convince me to want to wring something else out of it, so, not on my to do list.

Cast: 5  3F 2M Run Time: 75 minutes (max) Summary/Themes: This is a play about the search for missing child. It focuses on a very small group from the web of people who would be part of such an operation, and not necessarily the ones you would immediately think of. Themes of loss, guilt, futility, mistrust, confusion, and frustration feature.

T5 – Simon Stephens

T5 is a monologue. It is deeply modern. The character is an adult woman whose friends would probably think she actually does ‘have it all.’ I love to see the spotlight on a woman who does not have to be an object. Yet, I’m not sure T5 escapes all of the female stereotypes as there is a touch of hysteria in her. There is an emptiness to the piece that I wanted to be intentional, an echo of the emptiness of modernity, but the text did not, ultimately, make that feel true.

Cast: 1F – 30s. Run time: Again, no clue. Up to 30 minutes. Themes: modern life, escape, having it all, isolation. Play script: Methuen Drama

Wastwater – Simon Stephens

Before you cry, or feel like you have to run away because of the glut of Simon Stephens, allow me to unveil the mystery. When I was in London I bought a number of his plays. That number is 9. I read them all at once and I have some romantic attachment to noting the plays I read in order. So if you hate Mr. S, check back in a couple of weeks. I will be done with his batch by then.

About Wastwater:

Cast: 8 – 3W 4M 1Child. No notes about it in my edition, but the age ranges for the women do not seem particularly conducive to doubling. I think you could get away with it for the men. SS is often open to colorblind, cross-gender and non-gender binary casting, but please consult the rights. The child does not speak.

Run time: Not a clue. Based on length, I would guess 70 minutes. Based on the text I’m positive a director could push it in either direction. There’s spring in it.

Synopsis: Three slice-of-life vignettes that partially overlap in time, place, and connections between characters. Themes: adultery, addiction, human trafficking, the (UK) foster system, independence, aging, trust.

My copy is dog-eared; there are some clever moments in the language that I wanted to return to. Simon Stephens has a clever streak a mile wide. But that doesn’t always carry me along to a dramatic experience I find fulfilling. One of the things I like about Simon is that he is not an all-the-time genius (fallibility in those you admire is so comforting!). And to drag him into a sports metaphor I think he would hate, there are some sweetly, elegant home runs in his canon, but also some pop-up fouls. For me, Wastwater is the latter.

Sea Wall – Simon Stephens

Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Simon Stephens’ work. No, I haven’t seen or read Curious Incident…I don’t really want to. Yes, I know it won a Tony. I don’t like to talk about it.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, Sea Wall.

I’ve read half of Simon Stephens’ published plays and I would be quick to nominate Sea Wall as his best. To be fair it tickles the g-spot on a couple of my most deeply held biases: It has only been performed by Andrew Scott (hysterical fan-girl screaming), and it is sui generis among naturalistic, one-man shows.

Cast: 1M Run Time: 30ish minutes Summary: A naturalistic one-act family drama exploring themes of: growth, maturity, aging, death, love, marriage, belief in God. Playscript: Got mine from a Methuen Drama Collection, Simon Stephens Plays 2

NB: Rights were not available for amateur performances in the US, when I looked into it this year.

This is a good one for the monologue vs. one-man play debate. I come down on the side of ‘play’ for this one even though it lacks stage directions. The shape of the action does all the work of a larger,more elaborate story. Whatever you care to call it, Sea Wall is appealing and affecting which is how you win at theatre.

Play Notes

A year and a half ago I decided to write plays. I knew I should also start to read more plays but my spirit was not so moved and she’s pretty stubborn so I didn’t push. This May, hungry to dig down to the bones of Simon Stephens’ Carmen Disruption,  I read that script which opened the flood gates and I have devoured 15 plays in the last month.

That’s more than enough inspiration and lots of lessons on structure and dialogue, but I’m also standing on the precipice of a one-man show project, but not until I find a canon of the right scripts. So, the reading will continue.

Writing about writing is meta. It may even be absurd (see: “Writing about music, is like dancing about architecture.”). But when plays read starts to tick up from five or ten to dozens and dozens and more, some sort of accounting is (good for the ego) useful for tracking what I like, identifying themes, and not losing track of the good ones. So this blog evolves once again, and among other things, I will account for the plays I’m reading. I don’t know exactly what the formula will finally become for those posts, but for the record, I think dancing about architecture is probably the right way to describe it.

The most beautiful things

Are not the relics. They are not the paintings in the museum or the clothes, now shrouds, of the once regal body. The most beautiful things are the firefly moments: blink and you’ll miss them; you had to be there; that first heave as laughter starts; that glance you stole at a friend, after which you grinned, simultaneously, full spread.

Life is an ogre, a beast of leviathan proportions. It always wins. We always die.

But along the way are the most precious jewels. Do not ever deny yourself the gift of the smiles of your friends, whether you created them or they give them to you freely in the moments of your greatest, and least need, and everything in between. It is a fleeting thing, even in the most enduring love , to know, believe, and receive that love in the same moment. Accept it. Stretch your soul wide to clasp it in. Every next breath you take will hum with that gift.

Make it easy to reach this space and your life will glow.

Hi, I am a human.

Hi!

I am a human. On this, a Monday night, the twenty-third of March in a year some of the world would agree is two thousand and fifteen years after the birth of Jesus Christ. A kind of arbitrary milestone in an impressive spectrum of beginnings planet earth has had: accreting out of a bunch of dust; reforming after having the moon knocked out of us; all that boiling simmering down and the iron sinking to allow the earth’s crust to form; non-toxic oceans; cellular life; plantssssssss. You see where I’m going with this. There are a lot of stories out there. The ground you’re standing on is so rich with history you could spend the rest of your life learning everything about those few square feet and you’d probably die in the middle of the story. So much. So much, and we never get it. Not all at once anyway. Humans just don’t learn.

I am…alive and awake and mortal and pleased to be all of the above and non-specifically hopeful and feeling like an organ player in the ecstasy of some symphonic climax, hands and feet all engaged in the labor of this huge instrument. But it’s just my brain. Steadily pedaling bass notes processing all that I have taken in over the past few days.The reeds are my emotions, piping away with an undirected enthusiasm. Chipper melodies and sour notes mingle together. Cacophony. But here is the solo, vulnerability and fear. That’s it. Eureka! Tonight, what I’m feeling has a name. I am afraid.

I am afraid that everything I think is wrong. The past few weeks have upended me a bit. Dumped out of the wheelbarrow, unceremoniously, on my ass. You have reached the end of this ride. What you do next is entirely up to you. But you’re not getting back in this particular wheelbarrow and it’s leaving. The time for this is passed. It’s a sunny day in this old-fashioned, corn-fed fugue, and my overalls are cut-off and dusty like I like them to show that I’ve been working and playing. and the sky is the kind of blue you want to get lost in. Makes you believe if you kept staring at it you would find yourself transported to anywhere the sky was that same blue in that moment. So it’s not an awful kind of metaphoric day to second guess yourself from the tips of your boots to the crown of your head. So you have a sit, maybe, on that soft green Technicolor grass.  And invite the clouds to come in and make shapes to tell your fortune. And you realize you make your dreams come true every day. So then what? What’s the best dream? Or….

The wind sounds different in places where the land doesn’t rise and trees are rare. How do you pick when there are rights and no wrongs?

Among other things, I don’t know how to absorb all this trauma in the world. Or accept how little use most of us make of our lives. Or what to think if it turns out there is no use to make.

And that’s how I feel tonight.

Thank you

Good morning. It’s Sunday. It’s Sunday night on the other side of the planet. I left home on Saturday. 15ish hours ago. One should not start a sentence with arabic numerals (or use ampersands in narrative writing) & in t-minus 17 minutes many of the United States (including the one where I live) will spring ahead to start “Daylight Savings Time.”

I am a moderate sleeper at baseline. Worse when my mind is jumping with ideas and/or my body is miffed at something I ate or drank (regrettably frequent occurrences). I will be DAYS making up the sleep deficit from Friday and Saturday this week. But, today:

A woman told, with belying lightness, the intimate story of her humble prayers in the first year after her husband’s terrifying cancer diagnosis.

I made a new friend. I made him smile.

I played.

Strangers read me their poems.

A bold, inspiring woman shared her path (and tools) to creativity, and reminded us all to sing.

I had a dinner of hugs and kisses and laughter, and stories and shared joy, and fellowship and kindness and caring. There was also food. It was delicious.

I am drop-jawed constantly at the life I am leading, and want only to be as grateful for it as it is good to me.

Thank you for a beautiful day. Thank you for being present in it. Thank you for the choices I get to make. Thank you for the people and experiences which make every choice meaningful. Thank you for health. Thank you for the little pretty things that glitter even on the dirtiest day; and big, loud, wide open hearts, wherever you find them.

The beginning of saying something, maybe.

Last night Facebook fed me a thumbnail of Alanna Bennett’s buzzfeed article “What A ‘Racebent’ Hermione Granger Really Represents.” Today I was listening to BBC Radio 4’s  Front Row and they had an interview with George the Poet, and I have so many thoughts and feelings about both of these pieces of media, I’m having trouble knowing where to start.

#1 “Bravo!” Also, “Yes! Keep going! Keep telling your truth!” “Thank you!” And, “God bless you” (in a totally secular way) spring to mind. And just plain “Wow! Way to get down with some real shit and make it simple and accessible and timely and honest.”

#2 “Racebent” is a term I need to learn more about. I absolutely understand it syntactically, it’s completely logical (see “gender bending”), but at first glance it seems like it could get the conversation off on the wrong foot. Or that it is sort of preemptively self-deprecating in a context when something boldly positive seems more appropriate.

#3 What should I do about all this?

The two pieces knit overlap to cover the following themes: being ‘the only,’ mostly in school; yet not feeling like one belonged in either world -where one was ‘only’ or one was ‘every;’ relating to/interest in culture/cultural icons that were not “mirrors” of oneself (all three of us -Ms. Bennett, George, and myself are all people of color).

This is the story of my life.

My current set of pretty much all-white friends, mostly don’t know the previous generations of pretty-much all white friends, but even with their limited view they could offer a pretty accurate testimonial of my “no mirrors” life.

Ms. Bennett makes her point with two well-chosen quotes from Junot Díaz. And it is possibly this fact that is really making these themes spin round in my brain. Junot Díaz was my first college writing teacher. And when we conferenced, he talked to me about the fact that I wasn’t writing mirrors. At the time I really didn’t understand this feedback, and I took it the wrong way.

Today, I both understand and support the argument that without a narrative you don’t exist. The proof is in every history course ever taught. But I still struggle a lot with what this means for me personally.

I genuinely feel that true diversity in the stories we take in, from news to social media to television to books, is an important battle in a war against time and culture that won’t be won while any of us are alive to see it. True diversity = all people equally expected and equally depicted in all circumstances. I do what I can to support and promote this.

Simultaneously I am despondent that people are narrowing their own or attempting to narrow others’  choices based on never having seen a woman, man, homosexual, transsexual, person of a specific race, age, ability, whatever do ______.

I know that my stubborn universalism is Pollyanna. I am trying to keep it from being naive. But I believe you can also fight ignorance by expecting better and helping people meet that expectation. I also don’t want to be angry all the time. I can’t do it.

I don’t belong anywhere. I’ve understood for years now that if the some honest-to-goodness skin-deep racist bullshit boils up I might be an early casualty, probably walking home through some cracker neighborhood from my hillbilly folk dancing class.

I have no narrative. I have read hundreds of books and I have never appeared in those pages. Not in whole cloth. Not in the people who were supposed to “mirror” me. So I am both dead and invisible. And yet I have a job, and drive a car, and leave little impressions in many places. I must be a ghost.

And what are ghosts but the energy, and maybe the dust, being pushed around the universe by and from all the people and things now and before. So I’m back to my stubborn universalism. My nothing is the future of everything, so I am everything and everybody.

I have no ‘people’ so I am all people. I have no story so I am all stories. I have no mirror because it does not have enough facets to reflect all of who I am.

I wish everyone saw themselves that way and worked to make it true.

 

Maybe it’s time for all of us to start thinking about terrorism

Dear beautiful human, thank you for reading and thinking along with me for a few minutes. I hope that while you experience this post you are in a place that feels safe and good. I hope your body is comfortable. I hope you can easily call to mind images and the warmth of being with those you love; or that they are near. It has been a week on planet earth with deep, sharp reminders about how abruptly and senselessly these basic, vital joys can be destroyed.

Again.

I want everyone to think about terrorism, because getting used to the way the world has changed takes practice. And getting ready to changes the world also takes practice.

  1. Terrorism is the potent world order. It is not new. There is nothing new about violence as a tool wielded on a scale large enough to change borders, regimes, societies, and history. But I imagine it is new for many  of us to take a deep breath and acknowledge that actions of the kind we have seen this week are not going to stop. This is the way it is now. And there is not a leader, or an army, or a coalition, or a campaign that will definitively bring this era to an end. As with other periods of constant intertribal and intercultural violence it is going to take an enlightenment.
  2. “Why?” is the wrong question. “How?” is somewhat helpful. “Who?” is actually immaterial now. “Where?” and “When?” have been answered.  “Every populated place,” and  “Until further notice.” The right question for this time and these acts is “What?” What is this? What can be done? What do I do? What has to change? What does the end of terrorism look like? 

“Why?” is not a good question because these acts are not reasonable. No matter our own longing for attribution, explanation, patterns or predictive signals, terrorism is more like the destructive forces of disease or wildfire. When the conditions are right there will be an outbreak. This applies to both the conditions that incubate terrorists, and actual acts of terrorism.

“How?” is both a reasonable question and a reasonable tactic. If the building blocks of the tools of terror are harder to get, the terror will have to change, which offers a chance to control it. It seems frivolous, but a moment of levity is probably in order: if terrorists could be limited to historical weapons and modes of transport even a madding horde would be laughable. You could hear them miles off. The meme would get to any village before they did, and it’s hard to get through a tank-guarded checkpoint on a horse or a camel. Point: Is true international arms and chemicals control possible? How?

So. What? What do you do? I don’t know. But I am going to make something up.

Practice. Acknowledge living in a world in which terrorism is the norm. Acknowledge how scary that is. Be proud of how brave it is to have and act with an open mind and heart in that reality. Be that brave. Acknowledge how tiring it is to live in this reality. Find community to share that truth, and give you energy.

Do not give in to “Why?” and “Who?” Why is a distraction, and who is a division. Both of these are subtle tools of terrorism. Looking for a clear, satisfying reason that never comes will amplify fear. Defining a ‘them’ to our ‘us’ is isolating and deteriorates community, part of the ‘right conditions’ for terrorists/terrorism.

This statement is attributed to Ghandi: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” This may have become: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Either way, challenging times in our civilization call on the individual to reflect on how they are contributing to and supporting a terrorism-free society. Learn about yourself, live better, set an idealistic example.

And if this post wasn’t long enough and you want some more food for thought about the incredibly loud and extremely close now, the perspective of the MI5 Director General is here.

“We are building up a new world … Builders must be strong. Courage, sisters, don’t get weary. Courage, brothers, don’t get weary. Courage, people, don’t get weary, though the way be long.” – Dr. Vincent Harding

The bad news, the good news, the bad news

Now, more than ever, the phantasmagoric consumarketing machine is out to sell you things you don’t need faster than you can realize you don’t want them. “Planned obsolescence,” and design for speed of manufacture -not durability- means the objects breakdown faster, so you ‘need’ another one sooner, and hell why not get two so you’re never without? Most objects are not designed with reuse or recycling in mind, and not enough of us have the bandwidth to pay attention to the lifecycle of our things so sooner or later we will all be choking on microbeads and microparticles of elastane just like the fish and seabirds.

Meanwhile, entertainment is taking great advantage of the incredible multiplicity of media. This increased competition has really upped the narrative game. Though I pretty much don’t watch any of it, I believe the myriad of sources who tell me there are good stories all over the place, you just have to look. Looking often means, premium channels, paid streaming online services, or television obedience devices like Roku etc. This kind of boils down to: people are spending money on experience, storytelling, art; and they are spending it on opportunities to avoid the phantasmagoric consumarketing machine!

That’s almost 100% good news. The parade is rained upon only by the fact that entertainment begets things, and we’re absurdly fond of things. *Sigh* Please don’t buy that box set. Okay, I tried.

There’s one more piece of good/bad news, the one that got me started on this post actually. The Atlantic tells me that successful playwrights are writing for television and established television writers are writing for the stage. Apparently this is one of the reasons why more ‘really not too bad’ stuff is showing up in both media. It’s also a really obvious example of the great media Ouroboros! The folks who have made it get everything because now that they are established they are a safe bet for investors. Everybody (who already has a seat at the table) wins! And the folks who are trying to make it now have even fewer crumbs to nourish them while they hustle.

The Atlantic article brushes up against a number of issues that construct the glittering surround sound buckyball glass ceiling of mainstream success in the arts and media, but maybe later. For now:

  • Consider going on a stuff diet. Lose some “things” weight this year.
  • Buy an experience instead, but please pass on the physical souvenir.
  • Nourish an artist, especially if it’s yourself.