It’s almost new year’s

Somehow, I managed to take the whole fall off and not even realize it.  I guess I was distracted.  Or overly focused on what was in front of me.  Or something.

Looking forward to 2011.  There is a lot to be grateful for and I am both curious about and hopeful for what’s on the horizon. 

When the skies dumped two feet of snow on a grumpy city, something possibly transformative happened.  People had to stay put at home with loved ones.  Or play in the snow.  Or stay put with loved ones in another city.  While the struggle to get home is mighty, I have had more smiles flashed at me,  had more of those random five line dialogues passing someone on the street (the sidewalk ballets) than in a long time.  I had two hour-long conversations with strangers this week.  Just sitting there, minding my own business, eating my french fries, and then a sidelong glance, and the ever-so-tentative initial attempts at conversation.  With a retired Scottish lady I-banker and a former pro-footbal player. 

I hope that these are the kind of collisions that continue to come.  That this snow storm isn’t the only deus ex machina of coming times.   We need people to be so disarmed by, oh, say,  the forces of nature that all the walls come down.  They need to express delight, confusion, sadness to someone.  And so they reach out to you and your world gets a little bit bigger.  And you learn a little bit more.  And you’re connected for a second.

Those of you who live where there are no seasons, I feel bad for you.  Maybe that’s why Paul Thomas Anderson made it frogs for the Valley.  May you have frogs, then.

Family

Two things happen when family comes to visit. 

1.  I eat too much. 

My sister, Uncle Mike and Auntie Robyn came to visit this week.  Cathie  likes food, Mike is a chef and Robyn is a nutritionist.  Everyone likes food.  So that meant stops at Lil’ Frankie’s, Keste, Dirt Candy, Cafe Condessa, Apizz, Ma Peche and Anissa.  I have a refrigerator full of fancy leftovers but I think I need to drink nothing but green juice for a week.  But eating with them, it’s not just about the food.  It’s about the company.  The time to catch up and talk after being apart for so long (they all live in Honolulu).  A little bit of waxing poetic.  When you are a theater artist or generally busy NY’er, it means you are usually eating pizza while you walk or powering down an egg sandwich in 5 minutes on the subway.  It’s eating for survival.  And there’s no one to talk to while you’re stuffing your face.  3 hour meal?  Never.

2. I ask myself why I have planted myself in a city that is 5-10,000 miles away from all my family. 

Why?  Why can’t I be in LA or Honolulu where the climate is milder, my people are around and life is a little more gentle. 

Why am I here?  Theater.  Did you say Theater?  What are you doing?  Trying to chase a green unicorn down a rabbit hole?  Make Theater?  That’s why you’re here?

Well, that’s a lot to walk away from.  Easier life, family, temperate weather. 

So, as I said my goodbyes to all of them and hopped the subway towards my little apartment, I sat there listening to the hums/screeches/bumps of the train, thinking, “Better make some theater, then.  Better make it damned fine.”

Summertime Rolls Vol. 3

Somehow it’s already August 16th.  How did that happen?

It has been slow and fast, rolling and still all at the same time.  Trying to get things in order before it all gets rugged again.

Playing in Traffic just went down and it was exciting to be a part of madcap theater on the writing end for a week.  I’m really psyched about the wonderful volume called Out of Time & Place that Christine Evans and Alexis Clements have edited that includes all 11 of us from the 2008-2010 Women’s Project Playwrights Lab.

out of time & placeout of time 2

It’s Lynn Rosen, Laura Eason, Charity Henson-Ballard, Crystal Skillman and Christine Evans in Vol. 1 and Bekah Brunstetter, Alexis Clements, Nadia Davids, Andrea Thome, Kara Manning and yours truly in Vol. 2.  I’m excited because it’s a truly diverse set of dynamic women playwrights but also because in this short two years, I’ve come to love and respect their work.  Like a crazy person, I re-wrote TBA, so what lives in that book is different than the version that 2g produced a couple of years ago.  Different beginning and end.  I think it was the right thing to do.  Hope that it was.  It was actually a lot of fun to work on the interview that introduces the play with Lloyd Suh and Denyse Owens because the process itself was so fast and furious, we never got a chance to reflect.  I think we might have all collapsed afterwards.  So, we pulled out old notes, old drafts, and wracked our brains to remember.  How did Lloyd get off book in three days to step into the role?  How did Denyse transition the cast to a whole new guy?  It was good to think through the how, through the process of it all.  And all that thinking made me miss Silas quite a lot.  You live with a character for a really long time, it’s always sort of sad to see them go away.  It’s like they move to a different town.  A faraway friend.

The Fringe is fast upon us and I’m excited about a number of things.  Lots of friends doing really interesting things out there this year.

And then Andrea is going to Ignition, Victory Garden’s new play festival  with her play Undone along with Rey Pamatmat who’s doing the beautiful Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them.  If you’re in the windy city, you should go.

And then I know things are smoldering with Mike Lew’s Microcrisis, to be produced by Ma-Yi this fall.  Matt Olmos said his new play  the death of the slow’dying scuba diver will be going up as part of EST’s Octoberfest.  Maureen Sebastian is in the new Circa Now and Then by Carly Mensch at Ars Nova in Sept.  And it sounds like The Foundry is on the cusp of something extraordinary.

In times like these, when faith is waning, and it’s either raining or too hot, or people in this city are too angry, I look towards the things to come, to the moments of surprise and wonder, the truths that I will be told in dark rooms on hot nights, in a room full of people, with a lit stage, among the believers.  Where in that moment, we imagine the world as something more than what is or some beautiful truth is illuminated that allows us to get up another day, get up and keep pressing on.

If you know of something that will keep my faith restored, post it here.  I want to know of exciting things coming.  And I need that faith restoration now more than ever.

Fela! and Student Performances

This is actually from late December.  I apparently forgot to click “publish.”  Oops.

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I was thinking to myself today, walking to the last day of a residency around Fela! at a school in the Bronx, that I am am so lucky.  It was 7:25 in the morning and I had woken up at 5:45 am to get there in time, it was about 15 degrees outside with the wind chill factor.  But, I got to watch Fela! with an entire theater full of NYC Public School students and it was one of the most joyous theatrical experiences I’ve ever been a part of.  I looked down the row about 15 minutes into the show and saw faces filled with wonder.  During the Q&A, Sahr, who played Fela, told the audience that they were the very best audience they had ever had.  I had seen this in his eyes when at the top of the show, he says to the crowd, “Everybody say, ‘Yea, yea” and hundreds of high school students thundered back, “YEA, YEA!”  He had to turn away, smiling at the wonder of all those voices who wanted to go on this journey with him.

But, I’m getting away from myself.  I’ve had to be part of a number of student cumulative performances in the last week or two.  Residencies wrapping up, school administrators, parents and teachers often like to see a product, a piece of theater that students make to show what they can do.  Now, unlike creating paintings or sculpture or performing songs on musical instruments, theater is a bit tricker to have a final showing.  Many students feel extremely naked onstage.  And you have to push all you know, all your energy and guts and feeling into this one moment when you perform, instead of showing a painting you’ve been working on for weeks.  Or being able to play in a student band with 35 other students.

What I witnessed today was this:

Being an extremely short residency (4 workshops taught by me, 4 by the classroom teacher), there really isn’t time to build a culminating performance.

In this, my fourth session with them, I went in thinking that I would help to take their writing into performance, emphasizing that it was an experiment, a rehearsal, a work in progress.  We had 45 minutes, really 30 when most folks had trickled in.  It was an impossibly short period of time to make anything, but we had to try.

I scaffolded with them a bit, reminded them of what we did with beats and call and response during our first session with wonderful TA percussionist and hoofer LeeAnet Noble.  And I had them look at letters I’d had them generate last time, writing to someone who they would fight for and telling them why, inspired by the songs in Fela!  (Everyone who had been in class wrote a letter, even if they showed up to class late, because somehow, everyone wants to tell the people that they love the most, who they would fight for the most, why they are beloved.)

I then put them into groups and asked them to choose their two favorite lines, add percussion, add call and response and create a piece to share.  The piece had between 2-5 other students letters represented.

They rehearsed.

They shared and their pieces were touching and ambitious.  Dense, rich, dangerous.

And it reminded me, art can be made.  It can be made quickly with decent scaffolding.  And most importantly, the best art is made when it comes out of what the young people have to say.  This sounds obvious.   But I think that we forget this all the time.  I have to remember this and make it the root of what I do.

And yeah, I’m lucky because I got to see Fela! twice in order to make this residency happen.  But I’m also lucky because everything I learned in that theater and then in the classroom, stays with me.  And if I do anything right, it’ll show up in my work.

Back in the Saddle and Labfest

First time back in the classroom this week with the K-12 set.  I have been under the weather which makes it harder, but I still managed somehow.

I am reminded of what a hero the classroom teacher is, how they truly set the tone for great learning, safety, humor and creative exploration.

This is also a crazytown theater time.  I just had the good fortune of catching the closings of my friends’ plays–Ooh-rah! by Bekah Brunstetter and Thunder Above, Deeps Below (yes, again) by A. Rey Pamatmat.  It was a good reminder of what I reach for in writing–truthful moments, compelling and charismatic characters, and something about the blow at any moment.  Both, so lovely.

And now, here comes Ma-Yi Theater Company’s Labfest.   As you see, I’m closing this sucker.  So I have a little time to finish this here little play that is, eh, not quite done yet.

Labfest III
First-look readings of brand new full-length plays from
the next generation of Asian American playwrights!

Labfest 3 The Ma-Yi Writers Lab is the largest resident company of Asian American playwrights ever assembled.

This, its third LABFEST, will be the largest collection of brand new full-length plays by Asian American writers ever presented in one stand, anywhere in the universe throughout the history of recorded time.

Labbers have been known to write about things like space aliens, moustaches, salmon canneries, Darfur, calculus, cheesecake, and Scooter Libby – we make no promises about the content of this year’s crop, but we can promise that they will be brand new, first-look readings from the next generation of Asian American playwrights.

The person who attends the most readings wins a cash prize of one hundred million dollars.*

All readings are $5, available at the door.  To make reservations, email Mariah MacCarthy at mariah.maccarthy@ma-yitheatre.org, or call 212-971-4862.  All readings will be at Theater for the New City, at 155 1st Avenue (btwn 9th/10th St).

Monday, October 5 at 7pm
Heartbreak/India
by Kyoung H. Park

Tuesday, October 6 at 8pm
Garba Griha: Womb-House
by Michi Barall

Thursday, October 8 at 7pm
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them

by A. Rey Pamatmat

Friday, October 9 at 7pm
Infinitude
by Sung Rno

Saturday, October 10 at 3pm  
The White Knight

by Mrinalini Kamath

Saturday, October 10 at 7pm  
Growing Up For Dummies

by Nora Chau

Sunday, October 11 at 3pm  
How to Get Rid of the Wife: A Political Romance

by Nandita Shenoy

Sunday, October 11 at 7pm  
Jesus In India

by Lloyd Suh

Monday, October 12 at 7pm  
We in Silence Hear a Whisper

by Jon Kern

Wednesday, October 14 at 6pm  
The Kimono Project

by Patricia Jang

Thursday, October 15 at 6pm  
A Voice in the Wilderness

by Eugene Oh

Thursday, October 15 at 8pm  
Particles of Pakistan

by Rehana Mirza

Saturday, October 17 at 12noon  
Microcrisis

by Michael Lew

Saturday, October 17 at 2:30pm  
Sharksucker

by Dustin Chinn

Sunday, October 18 at 2pm
The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness
by Carla Ching

*payable in installments of $1 every 10,000 years

Thunder Above and the Saloon

You’ve got to see Thunder Above, Deeps Below.  I have said that Rey is the Asian American Tony Kushner of our time.  Go see why.  He’s taken Pericles and dropped it down into Chicago with three homeless kids trying to head west before the winter hits.  It is charming, irreverent, surprising, and best of all, theatrical.

Also witnessed the most packed Saturday Night Saloon ever.  Almost didn’t get in.  Everyone has amped their game up this year.  You have to wait until October for the next installment, but I recommend showing up early for some really good stuff from James Comtois, Mac Rogers, Crystal Skillman, Dustin Chinn, Jeff Lewonczyk and Brent Cox.  I would try to explain, but it’s difficult to encapsulate that which is the Saloon.  Genre-smashing, ingenious, speakeasy theater.  There.