Monday, November 28, 2016

Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry)

Thanksgiving weekend was a pleasant, familial affair. For several years we have been feasting in the Cleveland area, to be with my folks. As this was the first holiday without father, we decided to return to Athens. I drove my Mom down, my brother flew in from the Twin Cities with his family. It has been relaxing with books and puzzles and games and television and not too much Facebook.

There were so many journeys and events I only got one run in down by the bike path. For a Thanksgiving weekend, that is odd.

Saturday I connected with Dr. Condee, the subject was shadow puppets. Since the early Aughts the good doctor has been collaborating to bring the arts into O.U.’s Southeast Asian Studies program, with an emphasis on wayang or shadow puppetry. He’s traveled extensively in Bali and Malaysia and in our brief interview he had many delightful stories and information.

He also brought a portfolio of puppets!

Traditional wayang focuses on two narratives, Rāmāyaṇa, the love story of Rama and Sita, and the Mahābhārata, and epic tale of good and evil which, according to Condee, makes The Odyssey read like a short story.

Performing the entire Mahābhārata would take ages. Peter Brook produced part of it, and it took over nine hours. Most often artists choose the present part of the tale, which is called a trunk story. However, you can also tell original stories using various characters from the epic, and that would be called a branch story.

Red Onion, White Garlic is a folk tale for children, not part of either of these epics, though we will be incorporating wayang into the performance. Part of my conversation with Condee was to gain further insight into the practice, and how that might affect the way I think about my script, which I am in the process of writing.

We met at Donkey, which is apparently our established hangout. He had brought both plastic puppets, and also two more traditional characters made of hammered leather. The walls of the coffee shop were hung with art so available projection space was cramped, but it did mean there were several bright spot lights which was very helpful in cast these incredible, colorful shadows on the wall.

He described to me several companies, including those which experiment with certain performance traditions, expanding the possibilities of shadow art while maintaining the spirit of the craft.

In the most traditional performance, one player works all of the puppets and provides all the voices from behind a screen roughly four feet high and eight feet wide. Flickering light from an oil candle give the characters the illusion of subtle movement, like a living thing. The closer a puppet is to the screen the greater the detail, the further away they become diffuse - but much larger.

Larry Reed’s company ShadowLight often uses many players, behind but also in front enormous screens employing computer projections and light which keeps puppets in focus no matter how far they are from the screen and close to the light.

Our meeting, though brief, greatly improved my understanding of the practice, and I look forward to further study. Later, I got a plaid, wool sportcoat from Athens Underground.



Red Onion, White Garlic at Talespinner Children's Theatre opens April 8, 2017.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Race (two)

Nicholas Christopher & fans.
The casual irony of my friend's meta Facebook post (see yesterday) is that Christopher Jackson is no longer playing George Washington in the company of Hamilton, having stepped down in October. In fact, Jackson did not perform the night we saw the show in early August.

Immediately following the first anniversary of its premiere on Broadway, it appeared that every original cast member of Hamilton who was still part of the production at that time (Renée Elise Goldsberry, Anthony Ramos, Mr. Jackson) had taken the week off.

No matter, we saw the remarkable Javier Muñoz in the lead role (Google him and you will receive the suggested search string “javier munoz fierce”) and had the unique opportunity to witness the performance of Nicholas Christopher as Washington just as he was joined the production.

Yes, he is strong and majestic, as the role requires, and you will excuse the hyperbole, but his rendition of One Last Time lifted me two inches above my seat.

Christopher was the only performer to come out to sign autographs that night, a Tuesday. No doubt many of performers needed to rest up for their Wednesday double. I was standing in the crowd near the stage door as the kids excitedly waited to hand Christopher their programs while my wife, waiting by the main entrance, watched as Muñoz and others surreptitiously made their way out the front and into waiting cars.

By a strange twist of fate, after the crowd had dispersed and we had crossed the street, discussing whether or not we would eat something or just head for the train, I found myself separated from the rest of the family by several yards, walking up the street to catch them. Who comes walking down the street the other way but Mr. Christopher, who had obviously just signed his last program and crossed the street at the other end, and was now heading back across West 46th Street to anonymously continue with his evening.

Spotting him, walking by himself down the street and then recognizing him, I began blurting like a fanboy. “Oh, it’s you, in the, the [gesturing stupidly over my shoulder at the theater] Thank you so much! That was. You were truly amazing.” He was sincerely gracious and we shook hands and then continued our different ways down the street.

Several of the company members that night were either swings (company members whose only responsibility is to be available to take over for lead performers in case of absence) like Austin Smith as Aaron Burr, or understudies who were now regularly taking roles which were soon to be filled permanently by new actors, like Andrew Chappelle as Lafayette/Jefferson.

One of the most interesting put-ins for the night was Thayne Jasperson in the role of Laurens/Philip. Jasperson had been an ensemble member with the company since its premiere, and can be heard on the original score as Samuel Seabury in The Farmer Refuted. He is a remarkably talented performer, a triple-threat, as they say.

He’s also white. He’s like, really, really white. He’s from Utah white.

During intermission we were discussing how the performance was going and specifics about each actor and when the conversation turned to the guy playing John Laurens, I noted that it was odd. My eleven year-old son asked, "What does that mean, why is it odd?" and I said, "Because you know."

And he said, "No, I don't know."

And I said, "It’s just that he’s. I mean, he’s not uhm. What I mean is.

"Only Tories are white."

Before the boy could ask, what the hell does that mean? I added,"Look. He’s great! Let’s read our programs," before I could say another totally ignorant thing.

It takes constant vigilance not to impress upon your children your own narrow worldview so that they may have the best opportunity to first see the world as it actually is.

To be continued.

Friday, November 25, 2016

On Race (one)

Christopher Jackson & friends.
Yesterday, the family was sitting around watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Sesame Street float rolled up and who was riding up top, singing the song Try a Little Kindness but Christopher Jackson, he who originated the role of George Washington in the Broadway musical Hamilton.

My friend Grant soon posted on the Facebook, “Kindness? Sesame Street is totally biased and should be canceled. Shameful!” Indeed, even on this day of family unity it is impossible to see every moment as a prism through which to refract this entire American moment.

How to easily unpack this coy bit of FB snark for one entirely unaware? Grant was modeling President-elect Trump’s response to the company of Hamilton having addressed Vice President-elect Pence with a brief speech from the stage of the Richard Rogers Theatre, one week ago tonight.

"The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!" tweeted Donald J. Trump

What was actually said in those prepared comments did not become the controversy. In fact, it was an entirely respectful speech addressing the concerns a large part of the electorate has about the new direction this nation will take under a Trump Administration. It was a plea from the diverse peoples of America to be seen and to be heard.

What many actually heard was the Vice President-elect being booed by a large part of the audience as he entered the hall, and what they saw was an actor of color lecturing him as he exited the hall.

I got into a dust-up with someone on social media who commented, “Pure Bullying! By definition, it was. Plain & simple. He had a microphone, on his ground, with his gang.”

I not only provided this individual the actual definition of bullying but also pointed out that not all black people are in “gangs.”

He responded, “Who said anything about black people?”

Theater humor.
Of course. We have heard the dog-whistles for so long, and I myself am quite learned in the blunt tools of trolling and misdirection, but I walked right into that one. He who used the code-word "gang" went on to accuse me of race-baiting.

But let us ask the question: Was addressing Mike Pence in that manner appropriate? Was it fair? Did an actor have the right to single out an individual like that while attending the theater? Should not performing artists stick to their job of singing and dancing, and leave the speeches to others in a more appropriate venue? Does everything, after all, have to be about politics?

Well, the play in question is Hamilton, which has invited discussion of controversial issues such as race and immigration in America, and its creators have never shied away from their opinions on such matters. Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor currently playing Aaron Burr, was acting on instruction from the producers, and was provided the speech by them. Lin-Manuel Miranda himself (currently across the sea filming a movie for Disney) is said to have helped write it.

For days I was trying to remember a similar situation, as presented in a play, one in which an actor was intending to make a political speech from the stage without the permission and agreement of the company with whom he shared the stage. Yesterday, I finally realized that I was trying to think of a play that I, myself, had written.

In that play, the artistic director of a company, who is also acting in his final performance at that company in late 2005, is thought to be planning to speak out against the Iraq War following his final bows.
ANDREW
I hear tonight, instead, he might make a speech. 
BENJAMIN
A speech about -- 
ANDREW
About Iraq, yeh. 
BENJAMIN
Can’t say I’d support that. 
ANDREW
Nah? 
BENJAMIN
Not his place to do that. We got people from all across the globe coming here, tourists. Everyone knows someone in Iraq. It’d be insulting to them. 
ANDREW
It’s his last night as artistic director, his last performance -- 
BENJAMIN
It’s not right. He runs the place, he doesn’t own it. It’d be totally unprofessional. We’d have to take it up with the union. 
ANDREW
It’s just words.
BENJAMIN
Man steps out, speaks his mind, appears he speaks for all of us, init? Doesn’t matter if he says he doesn’t. I might even agree with him, don’t matter. He didn’t ask. 
David Hansen © 2015
That is from The Great Globe Itselffirst produced was in 2015. Had our production followed the Hamilton-Pence controversy rather than preceded it, our post-show discussions might have seemed a bit more pertinent.

To be continued.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Appletree Books (three)

Hour One

My final afternoon in the window at Appletree Books. Today is cool, in the thirties, but with bright sunshine cast through the window. Lucky for me, I am the only writer here this afternoon, I could choose the one with shade, the other is quite toasty. A solarium.

Remembered to get a cup of decaf, no caffeine after three, or noon if I can help it. No wifi in the window, which is just as well. I should be writing, anything, not checking social media. Nothing there to make me smile, anyway, certainly not inspirational.

I have been knitting together two Indonesian folk tales, and have been pleased with the results, but now I need to conceive of the third act and I am coming up short. I believe I require some nonsense writing. But not right now.

Instead, there is a script I will return to. There are so many scripts I have created in the past eight years to which I have not returned. That is all right, you know. But this one has called to me since the election, or rather the entire Year of Cleveland.

Hour Two

Madness sets in. Early evening drowsiness. Ugh, decaf. Set aside the old play, I was enjoying reading it too much to have an editorial eye. Instead, I returned to the folk tale, and asked questions, questions I turned into statements. Then I thought of my father and asked questions about my father, questions I turned into statements.
WHITE GARLIC
Are you the spirit of our mother?

QUEEN PARAKEET
You may think of me as your mother, if that will comfort you.

WHITE GARLIC
It feels as though our mother has been gone for a long time.

RED ONION
She has only been gone a year.

WHITE GARLIC
Soon she will have been gone many years.

RED ONION
Where do you come from, green bird?

QUEEN PARAKEET
I am the Queen of the Parakeets.

WHITE GARLIC
We are among royalty?

QUEEN PARAKEET
You may think of me as royalty, if that will impress you.
David Hansen © 2016
No idea if any of this is going anywhere.

This is not how I work. I run. I think. Maybe, eventually, I get an idea. Then I write. Staring into the screen or jotting down notes at random when I don't "get" it yet, when I don't have a clue. That is maddening.

Good Lord, I just started drumming my fingers on the table. That is not something I ever do.

At long last, progress has been achieved. Sitting still in an odd space can be exciting, until it is no longer odd. But it is a charming bookstore, listening to conversation between customers and employees was a delightful distraction.

Three weeks ago we were in a different place, but we continue to progress in spite of the difficulty. 

Appletree Books is located at 12419 Cedar Rd. in the Cedar-Fairmount District of Cleveland Heights.

Monday, November 21, 2016

On Memory

DANI: You remember everything.
CHARLES: What’s important.
- from "The Way I Danced With You"
Strange Days (1995)
Last night we saw Doctor Strange, there’s this bit at the beginning when the main character, an unusually talented brain surgeon is conducting a procedure and at the same time playing one of his favorite games where he shows off his “photographic memory” by having a nurse play random pieces of pop music and instantly reciting when it was released.

This is a game I might play, I have played this game. I could pretty much tell you exactly when a song was released until about the turn of the century. I could tell you pretty much when anything happened, until the year 2000.

No idea why, but since then I get dates mixed up the same as anyone else. I assume it has to do with my age, and where I am in my life, and I am not so quick to state without fear of contradiction what I know to be true.

There is also the very definite possibility that though I was generally accurate about pop music, when it came to things not so cleanly definable, such as who said or did what to whom, why and where and when that may or may not have happened. That is where I have truly made many significant errors.

Last year I had a deep dream. My wife discovered an app, one that - if you find the correct chair in which to sit - can allow you to travel backwards in time. There is a Siri-like AI you speak to, providing as many details as you are able, most specifically time and place, and it will transport you there.

We each had our own chairs, I cannot report where she went went, but I was successful at traveling twice. Each time I walked about, search for those I wanted to find but with no success. At first I was self-conscious that I would be recognized and then I realized that was impossible. Seriously, if the present day you walked past your younger self, you wouldn't even notice you.

Though I was confident each time that I had in fact returned to those moments, each over twenty years ago, and was in more or less the right place, I was merely wandering in a melancholy memory, alone in bleak daylight. Returning to a place was no more like peering at a still picture of the location of a party the day after it has ended.

Before Midnight (2013)
I am reminded of when my wife and I finally watched Before Midnight on DVD. We had seen the two previous films in this trilogy and while each of those were passionate, in the moment events (most of the second film happening entirely in real time) to go back to the first after watching the third would color that film with a dense wistfulness for lost youth which was not evident to me upon first viewing.

These three films follow one relationship over the course of almost two decades, dropping in on them at nine year intervals, from when they first meet, first speak to each other, to a time much later when they are married and have their own children.

What it would be like to watch each film for the first time in reverse order? That would be intense. It would be like a mystery, how did this all begin? Because we can never do that with our relationships. None of us were being recorded the day we met our significant other, how could we be? We didn’t know who that person was going to be in our lives.

For my part, I am glad there are no photos from the night I met my wife. First of all, they would probably have my ex-wife in them, too, and part that is always awkward. Also, my personal appearance in late 1989 was fucking embarrassing.

Even stranger, what if someone happened to have a video camera at the party that night, and went around interviewing everyone, and came up to ask us inane questions as we met and stood and drank and smoked cigarettes in the wee hours of the morning on January 1, 1990? What would we have said?

What did we say? What did we think? I know I was attracted to her, but then, I was attracted to a lot of people. What else was I thinking? I am lost in that. I wish I knew. My girlfriend’s punk high school pal who lived in Manhattan. I was impressed and intimidated, but she was open to me and we talked and that’s how these things begin.

In the movie Strange Days, there is a device through which you can record a person’s memory for playback. You can use these recordings to enjoy a memory and it will feel entirely like you are experiencing the moment again.

You can also experience others’ memories, and that is where the trouble comes in. Yes, it would be fun to feel for all the world like you are back at the beach when it’s the middle of winter in Ohio. But of course, that’s not where the money is.

The protagonist is a memory dealer, trafficking in recorded memories of sex and extreme thrills, but it’s an addiction to his own recording of intimate moments with a former lover that makes it impossible for him to get over her. Does the same thing happen to people who have made their own sex tapes? I shudder to think.

Doctor Strange (1978)
It is in the absence of specific details that our memories begin to shift and mutate, perhaps never settling into one final, if inaccurate, narrative.

When you first visit a new city, much of your disorientation comes not from not knowing what is around the next corner, but that you create a picture of what might be around he corner. We are constantly prepared for what we expect to see in a familiar place, and in our mind’s eye we anticipate seeing it. Our mind creates images of what it is about the experience, it’s instinctive.

So, when we are in a new place we instinctively create an expectation, and then confront reality -- but we retain a memory of what we thought we might see, but didn’t.

The same can be true in relationships. You create a picture of what is inside another person, and you believe it is there, and maybe it is, but maybe it changes, or perhaps that was never the picture. Even after you know the new truth, you still retain a memory of what you believed was reality. Reverse engineering your memories can be a traumatic thing to do.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Appletree Books (two)

Back in the window at Appletree Books, on the first day of snow. I was only planning on two slots, but then my wife had several good sessions back-to-back and I have also found myself writing a great deal more than I have in some time. Getting into the window was something I longed for, to be out in the world in more ways than one.

The last time I was here it was seventy degrees, we had not yet lost the World Series, let alone the election. I was anxious, but not yet defeated. Being here is my way of saying you know what? I am still not defeated.

During Fall, fifteen years ago, I had two friends who were producing plays in New York City. One was bringing a production from here to there, a very personal work, to be presented at a theater festival. The other a friend from here, now living there, producing a new political satire.

At that time my wife and I were newly married, still childless, though only by default. It was 2001. I had only just begun my work in theater education with Great Lakes. We had expected a child, and we lost him. Taking a weekend in early October, booking a flight to see theater in NYC on my own, this would be an exciting diversion.

After September 11, my friend here decided it would be inappropriate to present something so personal, something that they felt was insignificant against the backdrop of recent events. I disagreed, but understood. I am not sure how I would have felt had it been my play, my decision.

My other friend's production, scheduled to premiere September 13, its opening was postponed for only one week. I still had my ticket for early October. The President told us to buy things, the Mayor of New York implored us to visit. So it was that on a Friday evening in October I was on our final descent into LaGuardia, flying over the western shore Manhattan at dusk, looking down upon what was already called Ground Zero, entirely lit as salvage crews worked 24/7.

Everyone was in the plane peering out that side of the plane. There were hushed murmurs. It was breathtaking.

One day I should share my reflections on the play I saw, which I enjoyed a great deal, though it must be said it was a very unusual circumstance in which to see a musical especially one which was so funny and dark and satiric. The music was so happy.

The night before the performance I met a number of my friends, including the producer, and asked if it were appropriate to go downtown, to look. It didn't feel right, somehow. I did not wish to gawk.

My friends urged me to, they said I must go downtown. I should bear witness. That it was important.

In the shadow of terrible events, it can be challenging to find that place in your heart to continue with things that are dwarfed in comparison. Creation can be stimulated by personal tragedy, but it can often be stifled.

My daughter is much better at this than I am. When she is sad, she paints and her work is so beautiful.

But recent events, while they have not busted open in me a drive to create something new, they have provided a focus and a desire to bear down and complete what I have already started, and I am here to continue that work.

Because, as the man says, "I still have so much work to do."

Writing In Our Windows continues through the month of November at Appletree Books, you can participate by signing up here.

Many thanks to the folks at Appletree for setting this up. See you on Tuesday, November 22.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hallelujah (SNL)

I’m not giving up and neither should you.
Guerrilla Theater Company opened You Have The Right To Remain Silent on October 23, 1992, with performances every single Friday and Saturday night beginning at 11:00 PM until closing for a summer hiatus the following May.

We had received good advice from friends operating a different late night theater production in Chicago. They said for the first two years, they most performed to a small number of dedicated family and friends.

It was our mission to write new work for every weekend (seven new out of twenty-one short plays, every week) and to never cancel a performance. We canceled one, during a blizzard. No one showed up for that one regardless, and I am glad to say it was the only performance where no one did.

My partner Torque had a dream, which was that when something important happened, in Cleveland, or in the world, people would want to know what the Guerrillas had to say about it. That our satiric take on events would be important.

After all, pre-internet, up-to-the-moment political satire was relegated to the television, and the television didn’t traffic in political satire. Johnny Carson and Arsenio Hall were your only nighttime talk show hosts, and they kept it light.

There were no network hosts willing to take strong political positions like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Meyers, no Daily Show, Full Frontal or Last Week Tonight. The only program that might comment on current events would be Saturday Night Live.

Three weeks before we opened, on October 3,1992 the network allowed host Tim Robbins to shame General Electric in his opening monologue -- but then were caught flat-footed when musical guest Sinéad O’Connor surprised everyone by tearing up a photograph of John Paull II. It was rare moment of protest on a program that had famously avoided that kind of controversy.

The fact is, we didn’t really watch the show anymore. Core company members Rob Schneider, Chris Farley and Julia Sweeney were not exactly daring in their performances, Kevin Nealon one of the most toothless Weekend Update hosts, and Dana Carvey departed shortly after George H. W. Bush left office.

There have only been a couple times in recent memory when tuning in to (or most recently, checking the YouTube page for) Saturday Night Live was something absolutely everyone wanted to do, to see what their their take was going on.

The first was eight years ago, when Tina Fey’s iconic impersonation of Sarah Palin so defined Palin’s character that ever since it has seemed like Palin has only been impersonating Tina Fey.

Most recently, it has been the Clinton/Trump debates. Kate McKinnon has impersonated Hillary Clinton during the entire 2016 campaign season, but it was Alec Baldwin’s scabrous take on Donald J. Trump that caused a sensation.

There are those who have criticized these debate sketches for “normalizing” the person of Donald J. Trump, which is ridiculous. You don’t blame the fool. Only the Republican Party can be blamed for nominating and promoting an outspoken, xenophobic misogynist who never condemned the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan and embraced the support of the Russian government for normalizing Donald J. Trump.

And their gamble won. By standing idly by while American integrity was compromised and American dignity was decimated, the Republican Party has near absolute power of the government. Lines that few had dared cross before certainly have been, and we can only imagine what happens next.

But Hillary Clinton is (fill in the blank.) Okay, whatever. She lost* and between she and President Obama reminded the American people what it means to step away with dignity, with whatever dignity it is we as a nation have left.

I was sure that few who have enjoyed watching SNL during the past few weeks were looking forward to last night’s program. I mean, do we ever want to see Baldwin’s Trump ever again? What could possibly be funny on November 12, 2016?

Well. As my father always reminded me, when you aim at a king you must kill him. And the folks at SNL created a cold open to conclude this traumatic election season with class, style, pathos, breathtaking timeliness and most of all talent.


Who knew Kate McKinnon could sing and play the piano like that?

Leonard Cohen died the day before election day, on November 7 and for better or for worse, his Hallelujah is his best known and most covered song. But is because of our familiarity with that song, as performed by McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton, that makes this tired paean once again mournfully triumphant.

*The Electoral College. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a sizable margin.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The 2nd Annual Cleveland Playwrights Festival

I got mine.
For nearly a quarter century I have been presenting or attending original work in rough, urban, Cleveland settings.

Recently, we attended Twelfth Night at the Hanna Theatre, and it was truly remarkable, perhaps my favorite production of that play, and produced in the most beautiful theater space in the city. Sitting in a plush, comfortable seat, the carpeted stairs and chandeliers, the molded plaster and paint, a classic home for the living arts, warm, soft and inviting.

Last night I was present for the opening evening of the Playwrights Local 2nd Annual Cleveland Playwrights Festival held at Waterloo Arts in a vast storefront; concrete floor, plastic chairs, the back row a former church pew. A simple platform stage. The pressed tin ceiling is a telling vestige of the room’s history; perhaps a hardware store, or maybe a bar, some time eighty years ago.

Earlier that night my colleagues and I had walked the length of Waterloo to get coffee, and I felt that I was had been transported to the Tremont of my twenties, as though all of that neighborhood had been confined to one side of one street. A working class neighborhood, down on its heels, where hipsters and artists had taken root and created a funky vibe and have attracted the strangest crowd of people.

Derf had an opening last night for his The Baron of Prospect Avenue, featuring all the original panels of the soon-to-be-released novel, I popped in and got a signed copy of Trashed. There are other galleries, and boutiques, not one but two vinyl record stores, and of course the storied Beachland Ballroom, where I have attended concerts a film festival but most School of Rock performances featuring my son on the drums.

With our coffee we dipped back into Waterloo Arts for a staged reading of that script I have been working on, The Way I Danced With You, and later an absurd, hilarious and profane audience interactive piece of work by three playwrights entitled Marry, Fuck, Kill.

Melissa took special care with my script, and I am grateful for all of the time and attention. We had a reading through last weekend, and then then she spent nearly ten hours over two nights working with Kim and Ryan in that space, blocking a script-in-hand performance.

I was grateful for the special attention. This piece has been read aloud in rehearsal rooms for small, invited audiences, received a standing read at Last Frontier, and now this, and at each stage the work has been expanded and focused. I have been listening and revising, listening and revising, and I have not had the freedom to do that with many of my recent works. There have been deadlines, and I have had to make and meet them.

The rehearsals, while not cold, we cool. The cement floor and dim light, before the space was made bright and clear and warm for an audience. When we rehearsed Hamlet in the Brick Alley space in the early months of 1999 we had two choices, heat or quiet. The Brick Alley was literally an alley between two brick buildings which had recently received a metal roof and the heating unit was LOUD. We’d run it for every available moment during breaks, and then shut it off so we could hear the Shakespeare, the heat swiftly dissipating into nothing.

My first production at Cleveland Public Theater (Junk Bonds by Lucy Wang) we rehearsed in what had recently been an appliance store on street level. It was spring, 1995 but a Cleveland spring, again, there was cement and it was cold. Reznor heating units are a potent reminder of the creative process.

My reading was well-attended, there were well over thirty people, pretty much every seat taken. A lot of familiar faces but also many that were not. The leap they had taken by both performers from the previous night to this was remarkable. Kim particularly ramped up both her charm and intensity right where it was needed the most, and I don’t know whether it’s in the writing or some innate talent with mimicry but after meeting only a week ago Ryan was suddenly doing an uncanny impression of me.

My takeaway from Alaksa was that the two characters had to equally share the story, which is hard because she is hiding so much. My focus has been on her and from last night’s reaction I believe I have found that medium. The piece runs at a neat hour twenty, and I did not feel a moment when the audience checked out, no coughing, no fidgeting, everyone sat stock still when they were silent but there was a lot of laughter, and awful lot of laughter -- including during the third scene, which is when the room in Valdez fell silent.

Melissa ran the talkback, which I have to say was entirely satisfying, as the audience was focused on all of the issues I have hoped to address in the work. The term quarterlife came up, and indeed, that is the central focus of the final act, that sense of regret you feel before you’ve even really started.

Also noted was what I call Thelma & Louise syndrome. One out of one hundred want to know what happened to them after they made it to the other side of the canyon. Some people are so entirely optimistic that if you do not show them the smoking wreck, they have to imagine for themselves a happy ending. My piece has an open ending, but most in the room were realistic about the outcome.

The big, scary thing about this play (one said) is that everything you know can be wrong. Yes, that was my intention, and I was so relieved to hear that. What's next?

The 2nd Annual Cleveland Playwrights Festival continues at Waterloo Arts through Sunday, November 6, 2016.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Appletree Books (one)

That's me in the corner.
No, when I originally signed up to participate to write in the front window of Appletree Books on Cedar Road in celebration of NaNoWriMo, I did not imagine it would be seventy-five degrees, nor that the Cleveland baseball team would be one win way from the World Series. Honestly, I would rather have taken up my friend's invitation to enjoy a little of that energy over a cocktail at Hodge's or a beer at Parnell's.

Instead, I am sitting in the window of Appletree Books. Trying to write.

It's a little warm, but at least the front door, which is right next to me, because I am sitting in the front window, is open. I like the sound of the end-of-day-traffic. I also like to watch the people walking by. They smile. Why not? It's seventy-five degrees out and we are in the World Series and there's this guy, typing in the window of the bookstore. What's not to smile about?

Maybe that Donald Trump has a strong chance of winning the election one week from today. Try not to think about that. There is writing to be done.

I have also signed up to write in the window at Appletree Books in three weeks, when there may very possibly be snow on the ground. Not only within the bounds of possibility, that is a thing that happens here.

Sunset over Cedar Road
Anyhow, these are anxieties I have brought with me, and I am working to purge them now, in these first few minutes, because I actually like being here. My tiny space, set up high from the sidewalk, in plain view, creating.

What must they think? My God, what is that? That is a writer, my boy! Perhaps he is working on a novel, or if nothing so grand or important, we may assume he is perhaps writing a play. He looks far too approachable to be a poet.

Except I'm not. I am writing a blog. Ye gods, avert your eyes, my son. No one wants to see that shit.

I like this chair, it keeps my posture straight.

Okay, enough. There's a play to be considered.

Many thanks to the folks at Appletree for setting this up. See you on Tuesday, November 22.