Saturday, November 29, 2008

But enough about you.

Often I’m asked to describe what I’m looking for in a play. And since I pride myself on my eclecticism, the sheer constancy of my criteria has sometimes come as a surprise. Sure, I admire all kinds of plays. And yes, one thing I’ll say for me, I’m skilled at separating my personal tastes from questions of how effective a script will be. Yet there are aesthetic yardsticks I bring into play (as it were) more often than not:

Does stage space get used or at least acknowledged? If your play doesn’t use the spatial relations that are one of theater’s strengths, you should ask yourself if you’ve really wound up with a teleplay. (All right, I can think of several exceptions to this rule of thumb. But unless your work is on a par with Pinter or Beckett, get smart!)

Is there an awareness that an audience is sitting right there? I don’t mean I expect every place to contain direct address or break the fourth wall or employ Verfremdungseffekt. But even the most “realistic” of scripts should take into account that spectators will never for a moment forget they are watching a play, and writing that takes cognizance of this is going to be more effective.

Do you ask the audience to participate in creating your play’s meaning? Remember that if they’re going to sit there passively and be spoon-fed the script’s content, they could have done this more cheaply and more comfortably in front of their own televisions. Give them a break and give them something to figure out – let them bring themselves into a mental dialogue with you.

And I could go on, but I’ll spare you. The point of all this is that I was trying to trace the origins of this mental canovaccio, and by working backwards I was surprised to find myself in . . .

. . . oh, but this post is already lengthy, so you’ll have to tune in to the next post if you want to know the shocking truth behind my unyielding and highfalutin standards. K? (The image above gives it way, really.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Life on the A-list, part deux

I refer to Artistic staff, that A-list. Yes, we manage to have our fun. But it's not all about picking your favorite scripts and delineating the "deep tissue" of contemporary drama, you know. And lately we've had more than our share of budget meetings, planning sessions, and similar Gordian knots.

But anyway. Daily frustrations notwitstanding, this afternoon I heard tell of a new play by Timothy Daly entitled Derrida in Love. Isn't that a great title? Made me not just chortle, nor merely guffaw, but actually cacchinate.

And I was refreshed, and went on my way exulting.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gay Is the New Black

Every Sunday, as I’m hanging out with the New York Times – and after I’ve perused the magazines, Arts & Leisure and the Book Review, in that order – I turn to the gloriously unnecessary Style section. Specifically, I turn to the back, where they put the engagement announcements.

Yes, I admit it! I’m counting how many same-sex couples choose to announce their betrothals or their nuptials in this conspicuous way. The Times, to its credit, start posting “gay marriages” soon after Massachusetts legalized such unions. So the wedding column went from irrelevant to compelling for me almost overnight.

For a while we averaged 2-3 male couples. Only rarely was there female pair, a fact that I ascribed to the male penchant for display. And O, any Sunday with neither persuasion to show for itself discouraged me.

There was a time there when I was discouraged for a month o’Sundays. Fewer and fewer same-sex weddings, and I couldn’t help but notice that the netherward number followed the hateful legislations happening in more and more states, including Oregon.

But the something happened. People are ornery, and the more they’re told they have no rights because they’re not worthy of them, the more contrary they’re going to get. And the uglier the evildoers got (by which I mean those seeking to withhold others’ rights), the more previously disinterested people found their outrage.

I’m one of those – the reluctantly outraged.

Used to be, I didn’t get it about marriage, and its supposedly awesome sanctity. Let the hets have it, I thought, with its medieval trappings and its kitschy oaths. And I listened with dubious interest here in Oregon, a few years ago, when Measure 36 was on the ballot. There was all manner of cant about how marriage had to be protected, though no one was never able to articulate how exactly it was being threatened.

Over and over again, the evildoers’ standard statement was: “I have nothing against those people personally; let them have their civil unions or whatever, but let us preserve the traditional definition of marriage.” But the very next year, those same people were in high dudgeon when the State attempted to go ahead and codify legal unions. “It’s marriage by another name!” they shrieked. And thus gave the lie to all they’d said before.

They stoutly maintained it wasn’t about prejudice and hate. But it was. And it is. They could come up with no other reason, apart from vague references to the destruction of civilization. But it all range hollow, because at the end of the day, all they wanted is to keep an entire strata of Americans – 10% PLUS of them, for pete’s sake – in a stigmatized, disadvantaged state.

How can they not see this? Or are these presumptive Christians just behind caring?

So now that Proposition 8 has passed, once again I’m appalled at the large number of human beings willing to stand up and say, Yes, I support upholding the traditions of bigotry, cruelty and unfairness. Yes, I wish to continue interfering with other people’s right to happiness, and yes, I mean to maintain the current level of hatred and intolerance.

Congratulations! Because thanks to you, I’ve come to see it’s not enough to hope that people will do the right thing. It’s like the lunch counters of Alabama all over again. when in the 60s. Black folk came back to those eatiers again and again, and got knocked down again and again, until the bigots were too ashamed to continue their oppression.

So now I’m going to get married, and challenge today’s bigots to tell me that means nothing. Thanks for radicalizing me.

Okay, it’s a stretch to call me radical. I mean I’m no Wanda Sykes. But still! Even passive resistance can carry the day. Maybe it’s the only thing that does, finally.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Preview of Coming Attraction

Nancy Keystone's multimedia epic Apollo opens in exactly 60 days and I can't wait. But now, thanks to the cool new banner at the top of PCS's site, I can literally count the seconds -- check it out here.

Meanwhile, let me tantalize you with this image from the workshop Nancy just finished in Los Angeles.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Local hero

Melpomene and Thalia have spoken. And the winner is....Steve Patterson! That’s Steve in the photo, looking like a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and James Bond (the classic one), incognito except for my bruiting his success about. After his articulate and poised appearance at the Wordstock Festival of Books on Sunday, Steve went on that evening to snag the coveted Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama with my favorite play of his, Lost Wavelengths.

In his acceptance speech, he graciously thanked his PlayGroup colleagues for their support and their counsel. But hey, we’re just glad to say we know the guy.

Actually, to qualify my first reference: M & T had nothing to do with this. The Bowmer Award is the playwriting part of the Oregon Book Awards, and is offered biannually by the fabulous people at Literary Arts. The way this works is that an out-of-state playwright of note serves as the judge, so as to avoid any appearance of cronyism.

This year’s judge was an outstanding writer and also one of the nation’s best teachers (i.e., guide, guru, fellow traveler) of playwriting. No, not her. The other one: Sherry Kramer.

Author of When Something Wonderful Ends and David’s Redhaired Death, among many other plays, this daring and groundbreaking artist certainly had a plethora of innovative work to select from the many Oregon authors who submitted this year. But she gamely got it down to five nominees and ultimately selected Mr. Patterson for the brass ring.

Lost Wavelengths, a play about a Jandek-like songwriter and the outsider music specialist who is searching for him, is a haunting, sometimes eerie play that lurches madly from the laugh-out-loud funny to the achingly painful. It ought to be produced all over the U.S., and I hope the Bowmer Award will garner it the attention it deserves. It was first read here in town at Portland Theatre Works, and subsequently workshopped in JAW 2006, so it’s ready for prime time. Let me know if you’re intrigued, and I’ll put you in touch with Steve.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Baragh O'Bama?

All right, just one more jubilant post-election posting and then I'll move on, I swear.

But guess what, Obama's "Irish." Inasmuch as his great-great-great grandfather came from the Old Country. I love that -- not only because I can claim him as a compatriot, but because this fact points up the absurdity of judging (or accepting or rejecting) anyone on the basis of their antecedents. Whether your ancestors came from Kenya, Kansas or Killarney, you're here now. We're all mutts and we might as well be proud of it.

Non e vero?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wordstock Loves You

Oregon playwriting gets a boost of well-deserved recognition this Sunday when the five finalists for the 2008 Oregon Book Awards find out who gets the Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama.

Literary Arts presents the drama award every other year, and each time it’s adjudged by a prominent literary figure from out of state, in order to avoid even the appearance of cronyism. (Isn’t that cute? I think Literary Arts is unaware of how teeny tiny the theater universe actually is….) Now that the name of the lucky winner is in the can, we can learn the judge’s erstwhile secret identity: the fab and glam Sherry Kramer, who is not only a fiercely original writer but also one of the best playwriting teachers in the nation. So it will be interesting indeed to see who Sherry selected for top honors.

The competition is fierce: Dori Appel of Ashland, for Hat Tricks; Jacklyn Maddux of Portland, for Strange Sightings in the Great Southwest; Steve Patterson of Portland, for Lost Wavelengths; Francesca Sanders of Portland, for I Become a Guitar; and George Taylor of Beaverton, for Renaissance.

Confession: I’m partisan here. Francesca is an alumna of PlayGroup, the playwriting group that I host at PCS; and Steve is a current PlayGroup member. The play for which he’s nominated got a workshop in JAW 2006. Good thing the choice of ultimate winner is not up to me.

BUT! Here's what is up to me. Prior to the announcement Sunday evening, all five playwrights will be appear at Wordstock, speaking on a panel moderated by moi-meme. I’ll ask each writer to read a brief excerpt from his/her nominated work, then I’ll ask some questions, then you’ll ask some questions.

Date: November 9, at the climax of the 3-day festival
Time: 2pm sharp
Place: Oregon Convention Center, Wieden + Kennedy Stage, Room D-136

Wordstock, by the way, is Portland’s “annual festival of the book.” It's a big deal, a real celebration of writing of all kinds, from poetry to graphic novels. Click here to see its whimsical (and oddly touching) welcome video with a great bonus: images of gorgeous autumnal Portland.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Breaking news: THERE IS A GOD, after all.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the 44th President of the United States of America.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy, Happy Hallowmas

Sure, you knew that Hallowe’en is an elision of All Hallows Eve, but what about All Hallows itself? Better known today as All Saint’s Day, it’s sort of a European Day of the Dead kind of thing. November 1 honors saints in the broad sense of dead people who have “attained the beatific vision.” It’s a holy day of obligation in some corners of the Catholic dispensation. The following day, All Souls’ Day, is set aside for the “faithful” who are not destined for Hell but who still have a ways to go before acceding to their ultimate heavenly post. Praying for them is understood to help walk them up the stairs, as it were.

My sainted mother was/is Catholic. My father, well….let’s say his spiritual interests were more atavistic. This meant they had in common an uncommon sense of an unseen world impinging upon human affairs. Though I was born on October 10, she took a bit of a risk and waited till Hallowmas to have me baptized. The risk, you see, is that had I died prior to baptism, I would have spent eternity floating around in Limbo, happy enough but ignorant of the limitless bliss I might have enjoyed if not for my parents’ intransigence.

But all went well, and I was formally presented to the unseen world on November 1, in the company of the all the saints.

If you and I are acquainted, you may judge for yourself whether this bit of sympathetic magic panned out as my mother hoped.