Sunday, September 30, 2007

The History of American Playwriting, Part One

From Wait It Gets Better, the blog of playwright and bon vivant Wayne Peter Liebman. This is a conversation Wayne had with a chance acquaintance he met while visiting Lake Arrowhead.

What is it you do?

Me: I’m a playwright.

Oh. It’s a good living?

Me: Nobody makes a living writing plays. Maybe five people.
Like, can you name five living playwrights?

Arthur Miller!

Me: Rightio.

Tennessee Williams!

Me: Right again.

What’s his name. The funny guy.

Me: Adam Rapp?

Yeah. The Odd Couple, right?

By the way, this photo of Ugo Tognazzi, taken during his he-man heyday long before his desexed role in La Cage aux Folles, has nothing to do with Wayne or with the content of this post. I just can’t get over Ugo.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Cabaret Indeed.

So Cabaret opened tonight at Portland Center Stage, marking the official start of season #2 in the Gerding Theater at the Armory. And it was a triumph -- a fabulous, thrilling, affecting production.

Long before opening, a continual buzz was in the air about it because of its two stars, Wade McCollum and Storm Large -- both of them Portland performing arts royalty that have fan bases well beyond Stumptown.
Wade excels at tour de force roles in plays like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Rocky Horror and Bat Boy the Musical; Cabaret's sexually and politically dangerous EmCee is a natural role for him. And Storm as Sally Bowles! She doesn't have to look far for her character's objectives; in an incarnation not so long ago, Storm was living the cabaret life to the absolute max.

By the way, the photos I've included here, all by photographer par excellence Owen Carey, give you a good peek at what tonight looked like. If you are interested, there are many more photographs and good insights into what it was like to build this ambitious production at Chris Coleman's own blog.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

This just in

Here's a fresh take on new play development from Vassar, passed on to me by a young, fast-out-of-the-gate writer and thinker and polyglot who has been a huge asset in recent JAW festivals. Leave it to her and her cronies to come up with a new spin on the developmental process:

The Dynamo Theater Lab, sponsored by the Vassar College Drama Department, is seeking playwrights to help us experiment with the process of theater making. In the spring of 2008, our company will use new plays as a springboard to explore rehearsal and performance possibilities. We hope to discover new methods of bringing plays to an audience by changing the parameters of the rehearsal process. Over the course of six weeks, we will work on three previously unproduced plays. Each play will be rehearsed for one week and then presented to the public. After three weeks we will repeat the cycle, giving each play another round of rehearsal and public presentation, to incorporate lessons we learned from the first incarnation and to test out new ideas. Neither workshop readings nor polished productions, the work we create in this condensed period will invite our audiences into a dynamic, immediately imaginative experience.

We are interested in working with different types and styles of plays, but are especially seeking texts that experiment with theatrical form or that deal with important contemporary issues. Because the Dynamo Lab will consist of 12-15 Vassar students, medium to large cast sizes are encouraged. If you are interested in collaborating, please contact us at Most of all, we are interested in starting conversations with playwrights, to discuss your ideas for our proposed experiment and what part you could see yourself taking in it.

Go ahead, take them up on the offer, or at least inquire after the details. Sounds like good clean fun to me. By the way, did you know that the legendary Hallie Flanagan, of Federal Theatre Project fame, taught at Vassar? C'est vrai.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Literary Bagatelle 4U

Did you know that Haruki Murakami has his own web site? Well -- let me qualify -- I doubt very much the man has anything to do with this site. It's a Random House production intended to attract interest in Murakami's books. But if you're a fan, it's fun to wander around in the site's arty fixtures. And best of all is the site's eerie, minimalist soundtrack. It subtly shifts hues and tones, from tinkly to moody to quietly insouciant, and seems to morph makes a great wallpaper while you're paying your bills. Or mulling over what you should have said to your boss. Or musing over Jason Grote's impenetrable calm.

Speaking of minimalism, if you've never read Murakami's writing, do yourself a favor and get ahold of some of it. The short story collection of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is great for when attention deficit strikes, but it's the longer piece -- Kafka on the Shore, or Hard-Boiled Wonderland, where HM really shines. Haven't read the latest opus yet, After Dark, but from the way reviewers have described it, it may feel the way his site's music sounds.

These days I'm admiring of several prose writers that I'd call minimalist: Amy Hempel, Tom Spanbauer,
Chuck Palahniuk. (Check out CP's entertaining advice about writing at the above link.) Their work has taught me to excise all but the essential in my own writing. (Oh NO, another lit manager who secretly scribbles in his office at night -- it's true, I confess it.) The dashing but fell Palahniuk has a terrifc article about this in his collections of essays, Stranger than Fiction. The photo below is Tom, not Chuck, by the way....

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Yes, got back late last night from the emerald green island of Kaua'i. The place was, well...not what I expected. Though I had warnings, to this effect: (1) it takes forever to get anywhere, so plan to spend a lot of time in your rental car; and (2) food will be very expensive and very bad.

Turns out these caveats are way true! It took us several days to accept them, but once accepted, we turned them to our advantage by sticking largely to the north shore, where we were staying, as well as by avoiding destination restaurants and eating local.

I now understand what Dull Gret meant when she said: PIG GOOD.

The two photographs here weren't taken by me; my partner took pictures a'plenty, but I knocked his camera off a table (accidentally, Prince, no drama to report there) just before we saw our two best days of jaw-dropping these pictures are courtesy of Stephen and Karen Conn, interpid travelers whose photography I appreciate because yes, this is what Kaua'i really looks like.

Favorite thing about the island: the tropical showers that would come and go without warning. They could be fierce or soft as powder, but either way, the air afterward felt charged and shimmery. It's a lovely thing to be nudged into wakefullness in the night by the sound of a sopping shower; underneath its steady music, you hear water coursing rapidly through rivulets or dripping off the roof overhangs or drumming on the sand. A sonata to lull you back to sleep...

Got back to Portland just in time for showers of our own -- a perfect homecoming -- and to find that autumn is now in full swing here, with the dogwoods and maples showing their fall colors.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Ghost Light

Over the hills and far away with no lap top.....see you in seven....

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Does what we do matter?

Seems to me we in these latter daze of theater, we often speak disparagingly of our own field. Perhaps "disparaging" is too strong -- let's say we're meekly self-deprecating. "It's not rocket science," someone will say, or "it's only theater," indicating that drama queens should calm the hell down because it's not important. "We're not solving world hunger here," etcetcetc.

But it does matter -- content matters, sure, but so does the act of writing and the fact that we as human beings wish to express ourselves in this way. It doesn't just affect the reader or the audience; it changes us most of all.

Anyhow. Perusing the website of legendary Powell's Bookstore today, I was poring over an essay by David Bornstein in which he writes about writing in just this way. Hired to coach disadvantaged students on how to describe themselves on college application forms, the job gradually morphed from a chore to an epiphany as he witnessed the act of writing reveal the students to themselves.

Actually Mr. B's essay describes the experience as a bellwether for the way we can make a difference in the world, so ultimately it's not "about" writing, but rather about our power to effect change. Nevertheless, it was ratifying for this struggling scribbler.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Portland, when it sizzles

You have Mickey Birnbaum to thank for turning me on to this important development, created to make life commodious for the world's first terrenauts.

Yes, you deserve better recompense for visiting this site, but this is the best I can do at 4am when it's too darn hot to sleep and Lisa D'Amour won't return my emails and I toss & turn figuring I must have somehow brought that on.....