Archive for the 'writing' Category

The Play Reading

Cranky just finished writing a play. I was invited to participate in a reading series and to have a new work read. Cranky didn’t have a new work, but said yes anyway and planned to just make one up.

A deadline is a great thing for a writer. Until, of course, the deadline comes. Cranky made up most of a play sitting on the couch in her living room. Went to places she had literally never gone before. Then it was four days until rehearsal and six days before the reading, and the ending just fell off a cliff. And let’s face it, you got no ending-you got no play. Or movie or TV show for that matter. I am still resentful that I lost so many hours of my life watching Lost. If it was all a dream go fuck yourself. So there I am. The ending hasn’t been cracked. I pace around, say a prayer and thank goodness get an idea. The next few hours I keep running to my computer to add things. I wake up the next morning and grab my computer and start typing before getting out of bed. The dog looks at me funny because Cranky has never done this before and dogs are all about routine.

The night before the rehearsal I send the completed script to the six actors. I am thrilled and love the play. The day of the rehearsal I wake up and I hate the play. I’m sure all the actors hate it too. Especially the one I am closest too, who asks me if I will have time to “talk about the play” after rehearsal. The phrase “talk about the play” will send any playwright into a paranoid tailspin. Especially Cranky. So I walk around all day in a panicked state. The thought crosses my mind that I hope there is an earthquake on Thursday so we won’t have to read the play. Or maybe I will have to perform an emergency C-Section on the play and completely rewrite it in one day. I’m sure that the fact that I wrote anything good in the past was a fluke. And that I will never write another play again. That I am not a writer at all. I’m like “Please, please where are the disasters when you need them? How about a little blackout on Thursday? That will do the trick.”

The actors arrive at rehearsal. They all look very happy to be there and enthusiastic. I am sure this is because they are good actors and they are just acting. Then we read through the play. It’s actually good. They are laughing. It’s the perfect combination of sad/funny funny/sad that I like. The rehearsal goes really really well. I’m still nervous about the “talk about the play” person. We go to a diner and she asks if she can change three words. Three words. And tells me it’s a great piece. The earthquake/blackout wish starts to fade.

But we’re talking about the wonderful world of theater were nothing is a sure thing. Ever. The night of the reading there is a full house in the event room of the restaurant hosting it. Before the performance I notice one of the actors downing glasses of Guinness. When he orders another I ask him if he can perform after drinking beer. “Oh sure,” he says.

Everybody is happy. The reading begins. The first scene comes off great. Then comes the second scene with Guinness guy. He is inaudible. I don’t mean a little bit. I mean you can’t hear him AT ALL. It looks like I stuck a mime in there with the speaking actors for experimental reasons. Cranky does not write experimental theater nor does she want to see it. I can’t explain the physical sensations of anxiety that are running through my body. I hired him because his girlfriend asked me if I had something for him. Cranky did it to be nice. And he was a child star on some television program and has been in a bunch of movies. All I can say is, “Dude, Hollywood is calling get the fuck off the stage.”

When it is over I apologize to everyone I know in the room. Some people liked it anyway. Most of them were sitting in the front row.

But alas, such is the way it goes sometimes in the world of a thespian. And when all is said and done, I have written a new play.

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I Love You J.D. Salinger

I can’t stop thinking about J.D. Salinger. It may be trite to say, but I love J.D. Salinger. Trite, because really everybody loves J.D. Salinger. Except maybe my redheaded stepmother, who I think never read a book in her life. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m sure my other stepmother never read him either, because her reading choices never ventured beyond Sidney Sheldon.

Yes, definitely the making of an actress. Two horrid stepmothers, a stepfather, and two, or three estranged parents, depending on whose story you believe.

I discovered J.D. Salinger when I stole Catcher In The Rye from my big sister and read it. I tried to hand in a book report on it in seventh grade and it was rejected because it was on a list of unsuitable books or something. It was Westchester after all. They told my mother I was reading unsuitable books, but really she could care less.

So one Sunday, when I was making the usual stop after church with father no. 2 to pick up the Sunday paper at Lippy’s, the candy/toy/comic book/book store, I checked under S and found more books by this Salinger guy. I saved my allowance and eventually got to buy all three. For the longest time I kept looking for more of them, until somebody tipped me off that no more were ever gonna come. Ever.

I took them with me when I had to go to Massachusetts to visit the first father and his second wife, the redheaded stepmother. It was horrible there. The only saving grace was that they had a dog, who I spent all my time with. Laddy. Laddy, the bright light in the long summer with the evil stepmother.

The stepmother who hated me.

And the first father, who tried to make up for everything by buying me things, which we had to hide in the trunk of his car until I left, because evil stepmother would be furious if she knew. The first father, who was tragically handsome, but could never get the family thing right. He really wanted a wife and kids and a dog, he really did. He just didn’t know how to do it. His mother was a divorced chorus girl who went back on the road with some follies or other and left her boys with various uncaring, unkind relatives. I heard he kept running away. So he didn’t know how the family thing was supposed to work or something, I guess.

I will never forget the long boring summer in the town of one-story houses. The baking heat with not a tree in sight. Flat. Hot.

The stepmother who couldn’t clean or cook. She specialized in flirting with other people’s husbands. They actually moved a lot because of her affairs with neighborhood married men. Even though I was a kid, I kind of thought “Fuck you Daddy,” in the back of my mind, “You cheated on Mommy with the redhead and now you got what you deserved.”

The other thing she was good at, was watching T.V. The minute the father put the key in the ignition to head off for work, the kids were thrown in the backyard, the shades went down and the television was switched on. She sat there all day smoking cigarettes with her short nails with the red nail polish. I always admired her hands. They were the opposite of my hands. She had long fingers and wore a big fat wedding ring. Her short nails were big enough for polish. My hands were small little things with tiny nail beds. They were no match for hers. Next to her ashtray was a bottle of beer that she spent the afternoon with. Shlitz or some awful thing. Merv Griffin was the high point of her day. “Merv is on, “ she would say. I would come in from the glaring sunlight and watch it with her. How she kept her figure with all that beer was a mystery. Except thinking about it now, I never saw her eat. I know Irish people like that. They exist on drink. No food.

That summer she played Robert Goulet records on the stereo a lot. I know if Robert Goulet had lived in the neighborhood she would have had an affair with him. She was probably having fantasies that Robert Goulet would come and rescue her from that barren suburban landscape.

She couldn’t cook. If she tried pancakes, there was raw batter in the middle. Her vegetables were canned, which I found really frightening. I couldn’t eat her food and she would get really mad a t me. My mother was a great cook, and I had never seen such a thing. She once made these pink ham steaks with curdled milk on top. She made me sit there for hours staring at it because I wouldn’t eat it. The house smelled weird, which really depressed me.

So it was into this landscape that I brought J.D. Salinger. I remember sitting outside reading one of his books and feeling the deepest resonating joy. He picked out the stuff of life that was funny and sad-making at the same time. I had escaped the land of the stepmother in my mind. I could think different, be different, and rise above the finks. I was learning, like Lydgate in Middlemarch by George Eliot, “… that books were stuff, and that life was stupid.”

My whole persona at the time was influenced by Salinger. When a beau told me that when I talked I sounded like New Yorker magazine I was thrilled.

I hope there is a closet full of manuscripts in his house and they all get published. Because I MEAN REALLY it has been AGES since I stopped hunting for more of his books under S at Lippy’s. Which was sad-making and all. So I salute you my literary Big Daddy. And hope everything gets published, because the phony reviewers can’t bother you now.

The Fucked Festival

It all started when I tried to make a phone call on my husband’s IPod. “What are you doing? he said. “Huh?” I said, “trying to make a call.” “That’s my IPod!” he said, as I tapped the screen with my forefinger. “Oh. Really?” I said. Oh oh.
I thought I was keeping it together really well. I was like, “Wow I am under duress and I am handling it very well.” Then these kind of things started happening and I realized I wasn’t handling it well at all.

A few days later I picked up my cell phone and listened for a dial tone before I dialed. Oh oh. This is the kind of stuff that happens to me when I’m stressed.

I got up this morning and told my husband I wouldn’t be home for dinner tonight because I had a rehearsal. Then I emailed another director to ask if I could bring a guest to tomorrow night’s screening of a film I was in. Then I got a call from a friend and she consoled me when I told her how I had spaced and had missed an audition last Thursday afternoon. Then I emailed my scene partner to tell him we could work tonight if we went up early because my rehearsal was at 8pm. AND THEN I got an email from the film director saying, “The screening is NEXT WEEK.”

I ran to my Filofax and realized I had it flipped open to the wrong page and had made all these plans based on NEXT WEEK’S schedule. So I had to call my husband, email the director, email my scene partner and change everything and find the sides for the audition I DIDN’T MISS. This is not good.

I have an ex-boyfriend from high school, Bob, who is basically a shut in. He was the coolest guy in three towns, gorgeous and in a band, had a car and killer blue eyes. Funny, how a lot of the cool guys are losers or go to jail after peaking in high school. Bob stays up all night watching TV, gets up at 2pm, takes his psychotropic medication and starts watching TV again. Once when we were talking he said, “You know Crank, I know all about what is going on. I know all the news and everything. But they never tell you what DAY it is.” I immediately sent him a couple of World Wildlife calendars with a note saying:

Dear Bob,
Not knowing what day it is NOT ATTRACTIVE.
Love,
Cranky

Now Bob and I are in the same boat! And I had to fix it. So I looked at my life and identified the stressors. A sick relative that I take the loser bus on a horrible trip to depressed upstate to visit. Can’t change that. Rehearsing a show. Don’t wanna change that. The specter of co-producing a piece that I wrote with a summer festival in NYC. Ah-hah! Must change that.
I realized that my mind has been going in circles ever since I got accepted into this apparently disorganized festival. If you hear the word festival, run. I was notified in April that my play had been accepted and would get the performance dates by May 6th. I needed the dates to figure out the timing of casting and rehearsals. The festival runs for a month, and if my dates were far enough from the dates of the play that I’m IN, then I was gonna perform the piece myself. But if the dates were close to the play I’m IN, then I would cast another actress. It’s a 20-minute one-woman piece. Also, just in general, it would be kinda nice to know what I can and cannot do for the rest of the summer. And a 20-minute monologue needs some serious rehearsal time.

So May 6th comes and goes and no dates. So does May 7th. 8th, 9th, 10th, 11, 12th. 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th. 17th. 18th, 19th, and 20th. I send the festival four equally spaced emails explaining that I cannot proceed until I know the performance dates. Do I get an answer? NO. NO. NO.

All this time my mind is stuck going in circles. “Should I start working on it? Should I talk to the actresses I know and love? Should I start working on it? Should I have an audition? I wonder if that blond actress I like is doing anything now? Is someone gonna wanna learn a 20-minute piece for three or four performances?” I feel like the festival is now torturing me. On purpose. How long does it take to make up a schedule? Does the festival care about the playwrights? Or does it just wanna collect the door? Is this usury? Do I hate them now? AH, YEAH. So I run to my computer and write this email:

Hi All,
I’m sorry to report that I have accepted a role in a production that runs until mid-July. I have been waiting to hear the performance dates for my piece since May 6th – the original date given to me that we would be receiving our performance dates. I’m terribly sorry, but I have to withdraw from the festival, as I can no longer keep my life on hold waiting to figure out my schedule for the near future.

I know you must have your reasons, but it seems inconsiderate to me and a sign of a lack of organization. It does not give me a good feeling about the festival to be continually put off about what I will be doing with my life for the summer. I do need to be able to make plans and say yea or nay to job offers.
Cranky

Ahhhhhhh. And the minute I send it, I can think again.

The Princess and The Pea(Nut)

The last play I wrote that was produced in New York City was in a festival in Midtown. The festival people were great and the festival was run really well. My play was a short play, so I was paired up with another writer to make a complete program.
The other writer didn’t appear to know what she was doing, but she was determined to be the boss and run the show.
Getting the Equity paperwork out of her was nearly impossible, and we almost missed the deadline. It squeaked in, by me hand delivering it, smiling, begging, and paying a rush fee.

I put the program together and emailed her a copy. She never looked at the email, and found a typo in one of her cast’s names the day before opening AFTER it had been printed. Love that.

I let her chose which play would go first. She wanted first, natch. We teched separately. I attended her tech run through to see what we would be dealing with for a set change.

Her set had a rope tied to the sprinkler system on the 18-foot ceiling. A big heavy rope. They had to bring out a huge ladder and take it down between the plays. Not a swift transition. If she had chosen to go second it wouldn’t be a problem, but the princess had to go first. So I let it go, and figure we’ll deal. You don’t was a cumbersome drawn out set change between plays for the sake of the audience. For my play, we were using a few black cubes to keep it simple.
We find out the day before opening night ,that we need someone to help with the box office. When I ask her, before I finish my sentence she says, “OH I DON’T KNOW ANYBODY.” At least make believe you are trying to think of someone before speaking. It’s my fault. My OCD is showing and she can tell I’m gonna take care of it. You have to look like you don’t really care to get her to do anything. I didn’t do that.

On opening night when she is setting up for her play, a giant bag of Styrofoam peanuts appears. “What the fuck?” I think. The next second they are dumped on the stage. To signify an ice flow on a river. A MILLION FUCKING STYROFOAM PEANUTS! As they say in Brooklyn, “You gotta be shitting me.”

I went to tech. I saw the tech. THERE WAS NOT A PEANUT IN SIGHT. There was not a peanut even mentioned. This is why you have tech, so you can strike and set up EXACTLY the way you will be doing it for performance.

I say nothing to her. There is no point now. The peanuts are out of the bag.

Everything on the stage for her play is labeled with signs. The rope has a sign that says ROPE. A box has a sign that says DOCK. A play by a retard for retards. I can’t figure out what it is about. Someone eats and apple and commits suicide. Really heavy dude.

After her play is performed, her actors walk off stage and don’t do dick. My actors are stuck with the fucking peanuts. The director and I jump onstage and start sweeping, while her stage manager is doing a high wire act with the rope.
It was all so unnecessary. If this play had a fucking real snow machine from Hunter Mountain, it wouldn’t have helped. And why not use a white sheet instead of a five-foot bag of Styrofoam peanuts? Why not? Because the mind who dreamed up this fachada play would never think of anything logical/simple like that.

We have a reception after the plays. Guess who sets up for the party? Guess who takes care of the comps for both casts? Guess who looks like she is losing her mind?

She arrived for opening night carrying a bag of things for the party. Princess dumps it at my feet and says,” Would you bring this upstairs for me?” I said NO. Aren’t you proud of me? When the party was over, she asked me if I would bring her stuff home and then bring it back the next day so she won’t have to carry it. No again sister. She gets the “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING” award.

We get fined for the rope tied to the sprinkler. A safety violation. The director of the festival attended the play and charged out of the theater totally beet red faced with fury.

We got reviewed. The reviewer mentioned the ungainly set change. The reviewer also detested her play. THE REVIEWER LOVED MY PLAY. It was Karmic justice, don’tcha think? The title of the pairing was “Two With Troubles” the reviewer added: “Only one actually.” Her play was described as: “ A meager meal that was perplexing and difficult to follow. We don’t even get a try at the meaning of life.”

My play was described as: “A nice encapsulated character study between the two different worlds…clear and illuminating.. Succeeding as satisfying theater…”

Thank you. The suffering was worth it. Good blurbs from a review are everything to a writer.

Since then, I’ve only had plays I write produced out of town by other people. Ohio, Kentucky. All I have to do is put them in an envelope and lick the stamps. No princesses, no peanuts.