Email

Okay, here’s a question.  How are all of you out there dealing with the larger influx of email communication that we are getting these days?  Is it me, or is picking up the phone more uncommon and in-person meetings too hard to schedule because people are too busy?

I think I am getting upwards of 100 emails a day.  I wish that I were joking.  My gmail is bursting with emails, and that’s after I unsubscribed to a bunch of junkmail.  So, this is really all work-related and personal correspondence.

Who has a good system of filing and responding to all this stuff?  I’m drowning.  As a freelance worker and a writer, those emails are always flowing in faster than I can deal with ’em.  And they’re coming like a river of hot volcano and they’re threatening to burn my house down.

Anybody?

Middles

The middle is always the most difficult thing to characterize.

In theatermaking and in teaching, we often call this “process.”

I spend a lot of time planning in both things.  When writing a play, I’ll often spend weeks or months reading, researching, thinking.  Thinking while I’m in the shower, eating a cupcake, falling asleep on the subway, in the middle of a conversation with someone, while watching a play.  The play is omnipresent.

Teaching is very similar.  I build a map, think about where I want to end up with them at the end of 45 minutes, at the end of a 2, 4 or 10 week residency.  And I build backwards.  What game, activity, set of questions, turn and talk will get us there?

I find a lot of solace in that initial mapping.  There is something tangible and concrete I can hold onto and look at.  There is a terrain I mean to cover.  I just need to wear the right shoes and get enough rest and I should be able to make the journey.

But, on the journey, a torrential downpour will come out of nowhere.  The upper of my shoe will separate from the sole.  I’ll drop my water bottle in a stream and it’ll float away.  I’ll get 15 or so mosquito bites.  This is what happens in the middle of a residency when you add the students and daily school drama, absences, classroom teacher burnout.  This is what happens on a second and third draft of the play when all the feedback you’ve gotten starts running through your head and you get seduced by strands that take you off entirely in the wrong direction.  Then, your characters get angry and start to run amok.

I am in the middle of a lot of things right now.  In the middle of a big residency devising a piece of theater with young people.  In the middle of a residency around Fela! In the middle of a draft of The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness.  In the middle of building the Spring reading series called 2020 Visions at Teachers & Writers.  In the middle of writing an article on Philadelphia Young Playwrights for the Spring issue of T&W Magazine.

It makes me feel very messy.
But I am “in process.”

I’ll finish something soon.

I’ll cross a bridge.

The Nature of Professional Development

I wrote the below for the Teachers and Writers Collaborative E-Newsletter, to report on what we’re up to here. I got to sit in on a lovely Professional Development session with public school teachers and a T&W vet on Veteran’s Day,  one of only two city-wide PD days for NYC.  Professional Development has come to have so many different meanings and so many implications.  Over-professionalization of the field.  Artless, boring, dry sessions on testing practices.  When I was a teacher, so rarely was PD something to look forward to, much less learn from or enjoy.

In this particular case, I was moved to see teachers put in the position of their students, writing personal pieces though it’s scary and hard.  For, we can often be our best selves as teachers when we truly understand the difficulty in what we’re asking our students to do and have had to fight through fears to be brave and master the skills or create something specific and true.

***

In the airy, book-lined Center for Imaginative Writing at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, a group of teachers from Aviation High School are buried in their notebooks, scribbling out their responses to a prompt by Karen Ulrich, a T&W writer and author of How to Write Your Life Story.  “Today, our goal is to write a scene from your memoir.”  This felt big to me, a big goal.  But I took a deep breath and put myself in Karen’s capable hands.

Karen gave us an excerpt of her book which contained a list of prompts on “memory triggers.”  Turning points-decisions that changed your life. Regrets.  Secrets you have kept.  World events that have had a powerful effect on your life.  “Choose one that you are especially interested in writing about and make a list of moments in your life that apply to that category,” she encouraged.  She then asked us to select the one that we were most curious about. This would be the kernel of the memoir piece.

As the workshop went on Karen showed us how a unit on memoir can be employed to teach good writing technique for both fiction and nonfiction.  She started with character.  Karen said, “List traits of you at the moment in time you’ve chosen.”  I had used the world events prompt and from my list, I’d chosen the Blackout of 2003.  What was I like then?  “Bob haircut.”  “Tall shoes.”  “Always bustling.”  “A bit meek with authority.” Listing in this way helped me to examine myself from the outside and without prejudice.  More importantly, it helped me to find the voice for this protagonist-me in 2003.

We then moved on through setting, plot, sensory detail, and dialogue.  As each aspect was introduced, we did a bit of writing with that technique or device in mind.  At the end, Karen asked us to take the very best bits out of what we’d written and to cobble it together into a whole.  This seemed much less scary than being told to build a memoir piece from scratch.  Instead we had small bits which we could collage together into a cohesive piece.  In this way, Karen modeled beautifully how a teacher could take this work into the classroom and create a well-scaffolded unit for his or her students.

The teachers shared some of their final pieces and they were textured, with strong charismatic characters and richly drawn settings.  You could see that they were surprised by each other’s work and how personal and authentic it was.  For those who read aloud, there was a palpable sense of the pride in building and sharing this piece of memoir.

So, while they walked out armed with Personal Fiction Writing by Meredith Sue Willis (T&W, 2000), handouts from Karen’s own book, and samples of memoir writing, more importantly, they walked away with their own memoir pieces and the memory of having participated in this process so that when they ask their students to be brave and to write about something true, they will be able to say, “Yes, I’ve done that that too.  And it’s hard.  But it’s worth it, I promise you.”

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

Found Objects and Harold and Kumar

The folks over at Significant Objects are bringing a whole new meaning to the words, “found objects.”

8a-sankatray-550

The curators find a bunch of objects (for under $2) at garage sales, thrift stores, on the street, etc., then commission a writer to invent a story about the object–giving it a history, a life, a past, a “significance.”

Then, the objects are sold on e-bay. 

I like it.  I’ve sort of always loved found things.  Re-appropriated, re-made, re-contextualized.

In other news, Harold and Kumar are both respectively, well, in the news. 

John Cho is featured in Asian Pacific Arts and talks about how he used to be an English teacher during the day and act in plays at East West Players at night.  Kal Penn quit his sweet gig on House to work as Associate Director in the Office of Public Liason for Obama’s administration.

It seems to be our imperitive as Asian Americans to be overachievers.
Or to die trying.

Me, I’m more of an underdog than an overachiever.  But my nose, oh yeah, it’s to the grindstone.

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

HARD WEEKS
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.

RED ROVER
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.

With
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:

http://www.prospecttheater.org/default.php

THE FUTURE OF THE ARTS
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
sf.nancy@mail.house.gov

House Appropriations Commiitee Chair Representative David Obey
http://www.obey.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=637&Itemid=187

House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior Chair Representative
Norm Dicks
http://www.house.gov/dicks/email.shtml

Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Representative Louise McIntosh
Slaughter.
http://www.louise.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=506&Itemid=153