Openings & Closings, Beginnings & Endings

Yesterday, last meeting of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab’s season.  We still operate on a school year schedule/theater production company schedule, so it’s summer and school’s out.  As a kid, I was always sad when summer arrived because I’d be bored as anything.  Now, I’ll miss the company and comradeship as I soldier through these two new plays by myself during the desert of summer.

Also, today, was my last gig at a school for the year.  A meeting to debrief with the teachers after a semester long residency.  I walked up to the classroom teacher’s door and she had her wallet and keys in hand.  She locked eyes with me and said, “I forgot.”

Deep breath.  “That’s okay.”  Unlocks the door.  She seems upset.

Are you alright?  She says that she’s just got a billion things to do.  Has to prep for next class, buy supplies for a capioera workshop later that afternoon and she has ten things more to do.  She’s the team leader.  It’s the end of the year.  She says, “I’m so stressed out I’m about to start crying.  In nine years, I’ve never been so stressed out.”

I feel for her.  I ask if there is anything I can do.  She tells me about why it’s so hard right now.  End of year.  Behavioral issues.  Too many duties for too few staff.  I listen and I think she’s starting to feel better because someone hears.

I’ve been there.  Seven years ago, I was  a classroom teacher and I was there.

The other teachers filter in and we talk about our program and what worked and what could be better in our partnership next year.  And she lights up with ideas and anecdotes about our work together this year.

And I think about how all our hardworking, incredible teachers need more support, more time.  They need not to feel alone with the weight of the world on their shoulders and a classroom of students who need so much.  Students need a teacher, yes, but often they also need a mother, a father, a counselor, someone to draw a hard line, a coach, an artist, an inspiration, a citizen, a dreamer, a realist.  They need all these things.  Each teacher has 45 kids that need all these things (and it is a small ratio here, at my last teaching gig, i had 145 students).

How can we help them to stand under all that weight?
How can we hold them up?
How can we thank them for what they carry?
(Have you ever read “the things they carried?”)

They carry us all.


This opens next wednesday.  I’ve written a new 10-minute play for them called “Closing Up Shop.”  It’s a lovely evening of 7 eleven minute plays that take place in a convenience store.  Please come by if you can.  Some crackling plays, sharp direction and a fantastic cast.

Desipina & Co Logo

Desipina & Company
Rehana Mirza, Artistic Director & Rohi Mirza Pandya, Producing Director
Seven.11 Convenience Theatre 2009: The Final Year

Directed by RJ Tolan, Kel Haney and Robert Ross Parker
Musical Director Samrat Chakrabarti
Only for 10 Performances
Opening Night Wednesday, June 17, 2009
At Center Stage, NY
48 W. 21St Street, 4th Floor, NYC
June 17th – June 28th, 2009
Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm
With: Andrew Guilarte, Kavi Ladnier, Cindy Cheung*, Sam Ghosh, Tim Cain*, Jay Lee and Christopher Larkin*

The final Seven plays:
Soonderella by Samrat Chakrabarti and Sanjiv Jhaveri
A new pop musical involving a fairy tale of a different colour.

Color Me Desi by Rishi Chowdhary
A liquor-run to the convenience store before the big desi party uncovers that there are more shades of brown than there are colors to Holi.

One Dollar Box  by Eugene Oh
A provocative tribute about anybody’s father, anybody’s son and the desperate measures that arise when life boxes you in. Working man, work it man.

A Very Desi Christmas by Samrat Chakrabarti and Sanjiv Jhaveri
An original pop musical that illuminates the true meaning of rice.

Closing Up Shop by Carla Ching
A look at what happens when it’s time to move on to the next generation.

What’s in Store by Rehana Mirza
A run-in at the convenience store leaves its manager with the keys to closing up.

Raj Against the Machine by Vishakan Jeyakumar
A Sri Lankan immigrant questions his life in the convenience store, with his best customer by his side.

Production Team
Production Stage Manager – Nick Tochelli
Assistant Stage Manager- Shannon O’Connor
Set – Jason Simms
Asst Set/Props – Amy Lee
Costumes – Jenny Fisher
Lights – Jeff McCrum
Sound – len DeNiro
Choreographer – Sandhya Jain
Graphic/website design Nilou Moochhala
Technical supervisor Enayet Rasul
Original 7-11 logo and t-shirt graphic design Atif Toor

Summertime as a Teaching Artist/All the Time as an Artist

I think I might’ve written the last post because living with less is on my mind because now begins the desert times for Teaching Artists.  Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky and gotten one of the few city TA gigs or are flying off to Alaska or New Hampshire or Vermont to work at a camp, you are here, trying to figure out how to piece together a living in the summer.

I feel lucky to have gotten a job working at the Public Theater for part of the summer.  Working with young people around Shakespeare with the wonderful Michael Wiggins.  Awesome.

But, until then and after that, it’s playing the survival game.  Temping, where I’ve often turned for summer work in years past is slower than usual due to the economic downturn.  And I will figure something out.  I always do.  But it occurs to me that these are the things we often don’t talk about as artists.  How do we make it all work.  So, I’m taking a poll in order to share resources.  I’m currently reading Microtrends by Mark Penn to research a new play and he says that gleaning information from polls can help determine the trends of tomorrow (and of course establish where we are).

So help me out and answer the poll.  And we’ll try and find some answers together.

Poetry, Found Text and Birthdays in America

I promised I would try to start getting to things before they close so that I could tell people about them.  I missed it this time, and I’m sad about that, but you can still check out Jenny Holzer’s Protect Protect, if virtually.  She has always wowed me with her truths and aphorisms, but now she is working with found text, heavily redacted, declassified documents she found at the National Security Archive.

I also saw the lovely Pious Poetic Pie from Fluid Motion last week and it was good to see poetry onstage again.  Beautifully directed by Denyse Owens and beautifully rendered  remake of Medea by poet Yubelky Rodriguez.  And, this guy’s post-show performance was also a revelation.  Makes me wanna write in verse again.  His band, the Mighty Third Rail, violinist, bassist and voice, was mighty fine.

And I hear some people are keeping their birthdays quiet.  Happy Birthday, Ed Lin.  Keep taking down the man.

Oh, and speaking of birthdays, you’ve got one more week to see American Hwangap, Lloyd Suh’s newest directed by Trip Cullman at the Wild Project.  A touching, heartbreaking, very funny play about what happens when a Korean American man comes home after deserting his family 15 years before.  And it’s his birthday.  But don’t trust me.  Variety, Theatermania, the NY Times, Time Out, they all friggin’ love it.

The Good Negro, Joe Turner’s and That Pretty Pretty

Been a busy couple of weeks teaching.  One of the benefits to what I do for a living is that I get to see some great theater for free, sometimes things I wouldn’t afford to be able to see on my own.  Working for TDF,  I saw The Good Negro, Tracy Scott Wilson’s new play about the civil rights movement and loosely based on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  She brings the man down off his pedestal and humanizes him for sure.  And in these Obama days, it’s an interesting reflection on the power of rhetoric.  I was also blown away by the magic and craftsmanship of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Lincoln Center’s new production with Ernie Hudson (Yes, that’s right.  Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters, Ernie Hudson.  I think he’s great in this.).  A forgotten song.  A missing woman.  A shower of gold.  A magic man who binds people together.  It’s 3 hours long and it seemed like a mere moments.

It’s the kind of play that makes a playwright envious and awestruck and hungry to see it again and wondering if she’ll ever get the mastery and imagination necessary to build something like that.  I am ashamed to say this is only the second of his plays that I’ve encountered.  Now I have to read the other 8.

Also saw, That Pretty Pretty at Rattlestick.  Man.  She broke all the rules.  I was telling my Pace kids this week that if you’re going to be artmakers, you need to be seeing thing as much as humanly possible.  I had them read Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Address.  It is sort of all over the place but he talks about the real and the unreal, chasing the truth in artmaking, but more than anything, being aware of the world around you and the implications of the deeds being done.  I think the thing about Sheila Callaghan’s play is that she’s somehow capturing the way that we are thinking right now.  She deals with gender and the mess of making art, stealing and borrowing other people’s stories and messing with people because you are stronger.  The narrative is fractured, but I think it reflects these times of piecemeal narratives and stories told, then re-told, then reinterpreted, then broken and re-ordered and turned into bricolage.  Pretty cool.

On another note, some success yesterday with a class in a long term residency that I have that had not really taken to writing or performing so much yet.  But, I did some Teacher in Role work with them and let them ask questions of the character and suddenly, all they wanted to do is be involved and give the character advice on how to be an agent of change in her own life.  It really stunned me and affirmed the power of this kind of work.  It just works.

Oh, and have you seen Electric Company lately?

Red Rover and The Stimulus Package

Last week was hard.  We have some of those weeks.  Running back and forth between different sites, with different teachers and students, we have some successes and some losses.  While the good days were very good, the not-so-good days were really not so good, but we soldier on.  I have to find a way to build a culture of respect and safety in a classroom where those are foreign terms for many, many reasons.  I’ve pulled out every trick in my 10-year hat of working with young people and I’m still stumped.  If you have caught lightening in a jar, tell me how you’ve done it.  I’ll keep trying.  I am stubborn.  I am persistent.  I have patience.

In other news, if you need to laugh, if you need to see something strange, see Red Rover, which is a children’s television show meets dark, dark comedy. It’s also by my friend Rey.  He is very busy this month.  This one, I had the pleasure of seeing as an installment in Vampire Cowboy’s Saturday Night Saloon series, but now, the five installments are one big play.

Red Rover

Monday February 16th at 8pm; Tuesday February 17th at 8pm

Written by A. Rey Pamatmat
Directed by Dominic D’Andrea
Original Music by Matt Park

Canada’s favorite Children’s live studio audience Television Show now in the US featuring the lovable Red Rover and Miss Clover and their musical adventures with counting, shapes, colors, and MURDER! A smash hit straight from the red hot Vampire Cowboys Saturday Night Saloon Series.

TJ Clark, Matt Park, Margo Brooke Pellmar, David Spangler, Alexis Black and more!

All performances will take place at the West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street (between Broadway and West End Avenue) Tickets to all shows are $15 and can be purchased at the door, by calling 212-352-3101, or by visiting:

Through the advocacy of the Association of Teaching Artists and Americans for the Arts, the Coburn amendment did not pass, which would have barred artists and arts organizations will be assisted by the stimulus package, like everyone else.  We were lumped in with casinos, zoos, highway beautification projects.  These things, apparently, are frills.  But, small victories, right?  If you have time to send some nice old-fashioned thank you notes, please do…

This, from Americans for the Arts (2/13/09):

Just moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives approved their
final version of the Economic Recovery bill by a vote of 246-183. We
can now confirm that the package DOES include $50 million in direct
support for arts jobs through National Endowment for the Arts grants.
We are also happy to report that the exclusionary Coburn Amendment
language banning certain arts groups from receiving any other economic
recovery funds has also been successfully removed. Tonight the Senate
is scheduled to have their final vote, and President Obama plans to
sign the bill on Monday – President’s Day.

A United Voice
This is an important victory for all of you as arts advocates. More
than 85,000 letters were sent to Congress, thousands of calls were
made, and hundreds of op-eds, letters to the editor, news stories, and
blog entries were generated in print and online media about the role
of the arts in the economy. Artists, business leaders, mayors,
governors, and a full range of national, state, and local arts groups
all united together on this advocacy issue. This outcome marks a
stunning turnaround of events and exemplifies the power of grassroots
arts advocacy.

We would like to also thank some key leaders on Capitol Hill who
really carried our voices into the conference negotiation room and
throughout the halls of Congress: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-
CA), House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI), House Interior
Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA), and
Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY). We also
want to publicly thank President Obama for taking the early lead in
recognizing the role of the arts in economic development. These
leaders were able to convincingly make the case that protecting jobs
in the creative sector is integral to the U.S. economy.

From ATA

To whom to e-mail a THANK YOU!

House Speaker Representative Nancy Pelosi

House Appropriations Commiitee Chair Representative David Obey

House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior Chair Representative
Norm Dicks

Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Representative Louise McIntosh