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.

Rescue Me, A Cool Dip on the Barren Saharan Crick and 13

Why haven’t you been blogging, Carla? I have been learning how to make a theater company run.  Grants?  Rehearsal schedules?  Booking space?  Talking to artists?  Finding designers?  Holy.  Cow.  I already had five jobs.  Now I have a sixth that is actually a 6th,7th, 8th, 9th and 10th.  But it is exciting.  So exciting. I’m working on my first program for 2g–it’s called 13: Instant Vaudeville. You should really come see it.  There will be clowns and puppets and a dude with a guitar.  And an improv and a couple of new songs and a couple of new plays and a lot of surprises like spontaneous interpretations of Ed Lin’s “Snakes Can’t Run” and special guest Kelly Tsai.  Full lineup will be out soon.  But 35 artists in total have donated their time and talent to collaborate on feats of wonder and magic. Please come.  And tickets are selling out fast. But, you should also really see Rescue Me which will surprise and delight. David Greenspan, as our trickster goddess storyteller marvels as Artemis and Julian Barnett breaks the heart as Orestes and Jennifer Ikeda is one tough chick.  And there’s Paco Tolson.  And if Paco’s in it, it’s gonna be good.

And of course, there’s  a Cool Dip on the Barren Saharan Crick.

Kia has woven some wondrous things, I think.  And Will Harper mesmerizes as the man with water running through his fingers.

In other news, I was a guest in Michael Wiggins’ Dramatic Activities in the HS Classroom class at NYU on Monday.  It was kind of a brilliant exercise in that he got his class into groups and had guest TAs join them and then together we tried to plan a residency.  I wish someone had done this with me 10 years ago!  It did confirm for me the beauty of the Lincoln Center Institute planning methodology which has been so useful to me and which I peppered in along the way in our group planning.  It really does work, get everyone on the same page, and it’s wildly efficient. But, it was a case again, where I got to learn from colleagues and future colleagues, while at play.  I felt lucky to be learning.

Getting to the Good Stuff: The Myopia, Lear & Goodbye Cruel World

There seems to be an embarrassment of riches out there right now.  I got a chance to see Plays and The Myopia from the wonderful folks at the Foundry.  I would describe it, except that you have to see David Greenspan work his magic.  Plays is an essay on reading plays by Gertrude Stein, which Greenspan goes to riff on in The Myopia.  When David Cote called him a “one man cabinet of wonders, ” he wasn’t kidding.  This slight man, with nothing but a chair and bottle of water takes you on an epic, sweeping journey.

The, you should really run to see Goodbye, Cruel World before it closes this weekend.  Robert Ross Parker adaptation of Erdman’s The Suicide dazzles and delights as he orchestrates a cyclone of serious fun with Cindy Cheung, Will Harper and Paco Tolson as  Semyon Semyonovich, the man who tries to kill himself.  See Zinoman’s thoughts on it here.

And then there is Young Jean Lee’s Lear.

And here is an interview with her that illuminates her process/inspiration for the play:

I haven’t been as moved by a piece of theater in some time and I admire the ambitious nature of her storytelling.   About 2/3 of the way through, the ceiling became the floor.  Run to see it.  It’s sold out, but there are wait list tickets, I believe.

In a week, I got to witness three pretty inspiring shows, all radically different.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Carla’s a teaching artist.  She’s a playwright.  How does she have money for theater tickets.”  In these hard economic times, I appreciate that so many theatermakers are going to great lengths to get people like us in the doors.  I got Lear through the Soho Rep 99cent Sundays deal.   Goodbye, Cruel World had a half-price matinee ticket.  And Melanie Joseph at the Foundry put out the work to people in theater that she was going to offer the Plays/The Myopia double bill for $20 to folks who bought tickets for the first week in advance.  Now, the question is, how can Off-Broadway and Broadway houses take a cue from their downtown counterparts and get young folks, artists, and people who most desperately need to see theater, in the doors.

Knock knock.  Who’s listening?

Hanging On and Letting Go

It is my opinion that often a playwright doesn’t get to hang on to the complete vision of their play enough.  They get butchered, bastardized and taken away from their original intention because so many people are pulling at it.  And you end up with a hodge podge mess of a thing.

Here’s a letter from JD Salinger describing why he will never let Catcher in the Rye be made into a film.  What I admire perhaps, is his strength of conviction but it seems like at the end of the day, he doesn’t trust actors.

The most interesting pieces I’ve seen lately seem to have a complete  vision are Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are, So Shut Up and Listen at the New Victory Theater and Pig Iron’s Chekhov Lizardbrain at Clemente Soto Velez.  In the case of the first, the director got 13 14-18 year olds in a room and devised the piece with them.  In the case of Pig Iron, from what I have read, the piece was group conceived by three of the actors and the director.

So, what I am trying to figure out is where I can belong in a collaborative process like that which yields striking results, where everyone buys in and creates something that is more than the sum of the parts.

I am going to see if I can make the April/May workshop of The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness that kind of experience for all involved.  We’ll see.  We’ll experiment.  We’ll play.  I’m going to try to hang on by letting go, but doing so in a collaborative environment.

I would like to hear about successful collaborative or devised experiences that anyone has heard about.  Anybody?  Colossal failures too.  It is helpful to know what doesn’t work.

But, for now, have a look.

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.

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?