English vs Theatre: a personal history

So... I've got a confession to make. English, as a class, was never my strong suit. It's hard for me to determine whether or not it was a “quality of teacher” issue, or a “stubborn teenager” issue, but the end result is that my grades had a downward slope along the axis of time. I personally would argue that it was primarily the first case, but I'll acknowledge that there is a healthy dose of the second that probably contributed. I believe my Senior English teacher once told me that, while I had great ideas, I never expounded upon them. Essays, as it were, was my bane. I wrote what I thought, and I felt that was enough(stubborn.) That being said, this was the same teacher that gave me the highest grade I ever received in that class on the one essay I wrote for the one book I didn't read. You may wonder where I'm going with this.

Turning this same stretch of time, I was fortunate to play Dr. Chumley in a prodcution of “Harvey” by Mary Chase. I remember sitting in my dad's car having a conversation about the play, and the movie, for that matter, and we were discussing the scene toward the end of the play where Dr. Chumley steps into his office with Harvey. Chumley has been talking about a dream he has to take a few weeks off in Akron. In the play, Harvey leaves with Elwood, but in the film, Harvey stays behind with Chumley. By the time Elwood has left Chumley's Rest, Harvey rejoins him. I remember commenting to my dad that Harvey had stopped the clock for Chumley who got his two weeks. Given that Harvey brings you back to the moment you left, it's no wonder he was bored. I remember my dad looking at me and asking why I couldn't do that kind of analysis in my English class.

I'm pretty certain that I've learned more about character analysis as an actor than I ever have from any of my English teachers. By that same token, I've learned so much more about plot and storytelling as a playwright, than I ever learned trying to dissect the work of someone else. I've come to appreciate the fact that the question often asked, “What did the writer intend” is rather vainglorious. Sometimes things just happen. Characters will take their lives into their own hands, and sometimes we writers are just trying to catch up and record, waving at our intentions as our characters pass them by. Sometimes we tell the story we want to tell, but the form is nothing like we thought it was going to be by the time we set down the final period (full stop, if you prefer). Strangest of all, the characters are usually right.


A Sign Of The Times; or What's next?

Writing is an odd beast. You spend a lot of time working on a project, and when you finally find some semblance of completion, you also find yourself out of work. The urge, of course, is to jump right into the next project. This seems to me a consistent trend, and like all consistencies, the project started right after another is completed is most likely not to get completed anytime soon. That's because writing is a relationship, and when a project gets finished, so does the relationship. Sure, it's an amicable parting, but there is still a space of time needed to detach and recover from the investment. This is surely why trying to work on something new immediately almost always fails. It's a rebound. You don't start it because you think it's a rebound, but time usually proves otherwise.

I say this, because that's where I am right now. I started doing research for a project (one that is proving more introspective than anything) and I already feel my interest waning. I know it's a piece I'm going to write, but as of the moment... it's too soon. Of course, when I pick up the next in line (probably right after I actually resolve to be done with the current one for a while) the process of discovery will have to begin all over again. It's hard to know which one to gravitate toward. Right now, I'm struggling because I want to work on something, even reformatting some older projects, but I seemingly don't have the patience for that right now, either. I actually sat down to do another read-through of one of my plays and get it ready for NPX, but as I sat down, I ended up deciding I'd rather write this blog instead.

I think part of my languor stems from the post-breakup detox. It's harder to motivate when you're in a down moment. They usually last until I'm fed up with them, so you know, a few days from now, or a few weeks. In theory, I'll be continuing research, and I'll continue scratching ideas down hoping to find the stroke that inspires the next piece, but who honestly knows. I actually have a list of projects to work on, it's just a question of how or when they'll get off their asses and do something.

How's that for an update? Right. Well, I'm going to poke dead things with sticks. Who knows? Maybe they're not dead after all.


On the OSF proposed tranlations

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has announced plans to craft modern translations of William Shakespeare's catalog. Predictably, this has caused a some small wild fires on the internet, but I feel I must address this a little myself given that I, myself, am a Verse Dramatist and considered Shakespeare my homeboy. 

So lets dive in. The OSF has plans to produce every single one of Shakespeare's plays in the cycle of 10 years. They started in 1935. The company has been performing the Bard for longer than most of us have been a live. There is a certain sort of respect and dedication required to continue that kind of tradition for 80 years. But I also think it's clear that they love Shakespeare, and I can't but think they are very qualified for the undertaking.

Language shift is a huge issue that most people don't even recognize. When we sit down and read Shakespeare, or go and see his work on stage, we hear it, quite literally, with a modern voice. The sound and pronunciation of the English language 400 years ago is significantly different, and we miss a ton of jokes and puns because the language they were written in doesn't exist anymore. Check out these guys for a taste of what it used to be. As the language continues to drift, what else will be lost?

The postulation is that it will lose the poetry, that translating it into modern english will diminish the work. My issue is that not everyone can take three day classes focused on the character of Shakespeare's words. Most people have a hard time getting to the theatre at all, and for a lot of laypeople, the Bard is already inaccessible. Indeed, it's more like watching opera for people; that Old Pronunciation English is becoming a foreign language. And while yes, you can still get the gist of Shakespeare with good actors emoting, do these laymen actually get it? How much is missed when you don't understand the language. I cannot but help to remember the scene in Star Trek 6 where the Klingon's start reciting Hamlet “in the original Klingon.” Who is to say were it goes from here? 

I think what the OSF is proposing has the potential to be amazing. It could also fall flat on it's face. The issue to me is, do we want the Bard's words to be limited to those who have the time to study them? In a culture that has a hard time reading the comments to an online article, do you really expect non-fans to sit down with an annotated copy? Strangely enough, I suspect the critics would all laugh at a Twitter edition and call it genius. 

But most important, let's face it, another translation of Shakespeare will never be the original. But at this point, it's unlikely that the originals will ever be the originals either. We can perform the words, but the character of the language of the day is already different. His work will still go up following his lines. The originals will still be for sale at every Barnes & Noble, and it will still be studied in schools. A new translation will not alter the existence or performance of the original. I say go for it.


Wait... that's not what I meant...

One of the things I've always loved about writing is how much control characters have over a story. I love how they reach out, grab your intentions, and twist them to their own designs. I think the whole process of it is interesting and I think it goes even further, too. 

I've mentioned in the past how there are three elements involved before any line can be written, and that is terribly relevant to the conversation. Every writer's intention actually as a very wide range of possibilities for fulfillment. Sometimes the characters agree, sometimes they don't and often they surprise you. Whenever I find myself facing one of those “writer's block” moments (I don't believe in writer's block, by the way) there begins this period of introspection. I cannot tell you how many times I have literally written within my notes “What are we thinking here?” or “What are we doing here?” There are a finite number of ways to ask oneself that question, and I'm pretty sure I've touched on most, but what's interesting is that this is the period where the writer begins exploring parallel dimensions. 

First we try forcing the story through the pinhole that is our concept. We fray the premise and the line that leads us to the quandary, and we try to ignore the angels dancing upon the head of the pin that marks our place in the story. Then, when we've had enough of that, we grab a needle with a bigger eye. It is always interesting to me, discovering that I'm at that point. That's when the real magic happens. And I ask myself why it took so long to reach this point. (Hint: writers are stubborn.) 

This is why I don't actually believe in writer's block. I've mentioned this to a few people in the past, and now I'm telling the world definitively that it doesn't exist. What it really is, and has always been, is the subconsciousness reaching up and stopping the conscious mind from making a mistake. It's the characters reaching out saying, “Na uh. I'm not doing that. I would never say that.” That's when we, the writer look up from our books with a confused expression upon our face saying something along the lines of “What the hell are you talking about?” And we go back to character building, which, depending on how far along we are, is actually character exploring. We start asking, “Why don't you want to do that?” And as we continue conversing, an epiphany happens. Suddenly, we know what happens next. And suddenly, somehow, we've reached the end of the scene and are getting lost in the next. 

I face this issue often. I'm actually hiding from such an exploration right now, couched in the veil of blogging, and pretending that I can't see the characters waiting expectantly for me to catch up. Eventually I will. But I do face this issue often. How does the scene begin? How do we make this transition within the scene to the next point? How does this moment feed into the next scene? What am I missing? What don't I know? These are all questions I ask myself, to quote a friend, “on the regular.” But eventually, I catch up. 

There are a thousand ways the same story can unfold; a thousand reasons the characters can make the same choice. But in our work, there is only one true way. While we might refine the phrasing and flesh out the presentation, hide the wires and paint the scene differently, in the end, the characters know their own ways home. The struggle for us as writers is remembering how to follow their lead.


Editing: What is this thing?

I really want to talk about editing. Editing is a fine beast, and a totally different state of mind than writing. It is not terribly infrequent to sit down with every intention of writing, and suddenly find oneself editing instead. I don't usually see this as a problem, if only because the process of the edit actually resolves itself into discovering the solution to whatever the current conundrum happens to be. There are other times where writing simple never happens, and I'll disappear into a different project and edit that instead. This isn't entirely the way I thought this post was going to start. I could edit, (and of course, I have) but I think I'll just jump around instead. (My webcam's off... you can't watch.)


On Bravery

So, I've been seeing this meme online lately showing the military in combat situations side-by-side with a picture of someone in the LGBT community coming out, with the caption “This Is Real Bravery” or “This Is Real Courage” and I'm really starting to get annoyed. Do these people think there is only one kind of courage? Do they not realize that for an LGBT person to come out, it is a personal battlefield? Now, I'm not saying that anyone in the Military isn't brave. I think that's a different kind of courage. But to the people who think that there is only one kind of bravery... I have to ask this question:

What is the one thing in your life you're most ashamed about? Most afraid that someone else will find out? What action have you taken that you don't think you can tell the people closest to you? Now do that thing, be that thing, for years. Do that thing around everyone you know and never let them see you. Never tell them. Feel their judgment: not knowing if they will hate you, forgive you, or love you if they find out. Do this for years. Now after all those years have passed, stand in front of everyone you know, everyone you have ever met, and tell them the truth.

Now imagine that this thing is natural. That it is neither illegal, nor immoral and no one has ever been harmed by it. This thing, which you are neither asking them to do themselves nor asking them to do with you; this thing which has nothing to do with them in the least; will not affect them in the least; will still get you cast out of your family; cut off from your friends; driven out of town; if they knew. And stand up before all of them, and tell them the truth.

You don't think that's brave? You don't think that takes courage? They are the ones holding the gun, and they are pointing it at you, and you are unarmed, merely asking to be loved for who you are, and forgiven for the crime they imagine has been done to them. Could you tell them the truth, knowing that they might pull the trigger? You are alone. Can you do it? Tell me again how that isn't bravery. Look down the barrel of the gun, knowing the truth might kill you, and speak anyway. To me, that is the epitome of brave.

I'm a cis straight white male and I have nothing to gain from this fight. But I will fight because I'm an egalitarian, and though all those terms are true, what I am; what they are; what you are, is human. I believe that 'man' is just 'boy' with bigger toys. Let's be Human and realize we're beyond such toys; beyond such tantrums. Let's be Human, and embrace each other in our Humanity. “Let he who is without sin” has never stopped the stones. More often what has is someone brave enough to stand in front of the target. The brave don't pick up stones, they stand in front of them. I'm standing in front of them. And now that you know where I stand, where do you?


On The Path Of Form And Style

I've talked in previous posts of how my work has changed, but I think the scope is missing from it. Part of the idea for this post came up as a desire to talk about that age-old question, “Where do you get your ideas,” and part of it is just rumination from some the comments I've made in other posts. I got to thinking that maybe it would be interesting to go over my work in a timeline sort of fashion and talk a little bit about how my style has developed over the course of my career thus far. I'm not gonna offer much of a preamble here... I'm just sorta gonna jump right in.


It's All An Act

2-Act vs 5-Act

The way in which my writing has changed with the passing of time is evident in every facet of the process and the final product. I write in verse because that is simply the way I write. I wish I could say there was something purposeful about it, but the truth would remain unchanged. I like it. It's structure has become more sophisticated over time, and large part of that was intentional, but I think it would be more interesting to note one of the unintentional transitions.

My early play-in-verse structure, in both form and layout, drew from the heavy hitters of yore. My original emulation of Heroic Couplets strove after the flavor of Milton and Paradise Lost, while the structure itself pulled upon the Bard; William Shakespeare. I had read more Shakespeare than any other playwright, all those years ago, and I recall being somewhere in Hell, then, too, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that they influenced my beginning. Of course, I was certainly nowhere near capable of accomplishing so daunting of a task with any degree of success... which is not to say I didn't finish that first play, but that I slowly started to change my methodology in the second... and in every play since, too, for that matter.


On Writing, Playwrighting, and Theatre

In the last couple of days, the conversation on Twitter with @DramatistSteve and @DGFund and on Facebook have been on writing: what keeps you writing and what started you writing. Now, the context has revolved around the theatre, but my writing history and my theatrical history are not linked. I've been writing, in general, at least six years longer than I have been a playwright (which is clocking in at fifteen years.)

I feel like most people who have found their lives in theatre, had a lot of early theatrical experiences. It seems like a lot of people either had very active theatre families, or they got involved in the theatre at a very early age. There are of course other stories from people who stumbled into it, and I feel I probably fall into the later category.


Gaaah! Or, Post-Conference Mayham

As the title might suggest, Lordy, Lordy, have I been busy. There is a lot to be said for trying to assemble an infrastructure from the ground up, and it's definitely given me a new appreciation for the entrepreneurial spirit that I never believed I had. Now, let's not get too crazy. I haven't gotten around to attempting to self-produce (not that there's anything against that). If you know me, you know that's the thing I fear most. I want to sit down opening night and see the show for the first time, having never met the cast, if at all possible. To me, that is when I know how well I did my job. But I'm not there yet, and I'm writing today to talk about the road I've been building to that end. So...

Where to start? That was one of the battles I had to face after attending the Dramatists Guild Conference #WriteChange a few weeks back. There was a lot of chicken-and-the-egg conversations I was having with myself. Honestly.  Here's my post-conference to-do list:


Dramatists Guild National Conference, La Jolla

So, it's been about a week since the Dramatists Guild Third National Conference in La Jolla, California, #writechange and my mind is still reeling. There is no way to properly describe the sheer volume of information that has been lodged in my brain. No way to describe how over this past week, I've been striving to utilize it all and present myself in a more professional, and more visible manner. The sheer number of things I didn't know I didn't know, and which I'm still trying to wrangle under my control, is astounding.

It started simply enough with "Building Community: San Diego Playwrights" and thank you to SDPlaywrights for opening the door into how to connect a little better and how to network on a local basis. This was followed by the an amazing one-on-one with John Logan. It's hard to express how great it is to hear things you keep trying to tell yourself coming out of the mouth of someone so prestigious. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

From panels such as "Writing Wrongs" which focused on writing to/with underserved communities such as inmates underage and older, to genital mutilation in Africa, to "Gender and Sexuality on Stage," there was a lot be inspired about.

On the other hand, there were so many panels on practical things like the New Play Exchange which opens a new avenue by which new plays might be discovered, to an in-depth discussion on the Playwright's Bill of Rights, and basic negotiation tactics presented by David Faux, that... my head is going to explode.

One important issue that was presented was "The Count," an in-depth study on Gender Disparity in the theatre, the results of which boggle the mind. (here's a good review) Of all the plays that were staged in first class productions, only 22% were written by woman playwrights. Who knows if that even begins to talk of characters presented and women cast, in all walks of race or gender. It is quite a discussion on how an industry so often forward thinking, can yet also be far behind.

But finally, being there for a celebration of former DG president and epic composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz was incredible. The honor of being to hear some of the earlier iterations of "The Wizard and I" from the musical "Wicked" gave me a wonderful glimpse into a form of the art that I will never have the capacity for.

This was my first time attending a conference of this magnitude as it relates to my field, and I'm hoping that that which has inspired me so far is only the beginning.

Here's to the future, my friends.



What inexorable woe
     Is the lonely heart
     That weighs upon the lonely mind.

Worse still when affection's

I have banged my head
     Against that wall
     And now the noise
          Of my rattling
               Frazzled brain
               Would overpower
               The woe of the heart
               Though they sing in

This corpse of a burdened soul
Seeks the warmth of the sun
     Born and bathed in love.

But want and desire
                    So strong
     Have left me numb
          Dried and cracked
     As the Santa Ana's blow
     Parches all hope;
     And assaulted by longing
               Confused by the
               Scattered sky;
     Domed and empty.

But there is no sun
     And the stone wall
     And squalid corpse
     Left now desiccated
     Arcs where the sky should be.

Oh that this shell would crack,
     That the loneliness
     Would shatter 'neath
          The reflection

That the light would pour through
          The cracks
     Coating me in the
          Warm viscosity
     Of a broken yolk
     Bathing me in love
Freeing me
     From the stone shackles
The unrequited sandstorm
     Carved for itself.

Sometimes I thing I have forgotten how
     That the tepid residue
     Of the Last Great Love
          Is a false expectation
     Remembered brighter
Like a starving man
          And a broken plate
     Where the traces of breakfast
          Yet remain.

Have I stared too long?
     Is the afterimage too bright
     To see if the wall is gone?
Have I dodged the light
     Thinking it but an echo
          Of my screams
     Reverberating on the inside?

Or have I dried even further
     Turning that brittle enamel
          Into a marble tomb
     That glows only on the outside
     Reflecting away such love
          As would cook a better



What affliction is desire?
     Of waiting
          Knowing in the end
      That you are not wanted.
It is the inklings of another's
      Seeming affection
That baits us ever forward
      And yet,
           In reflection

The ache you feel is self-inflicted
     Slow torture
     Of seeing more
          Than what is there.
Rationally, we know why.
     Know what other priorities
     Lay indelicately
          Affection to the side.
We know what Fears
     A sweet caress
     Can command.
          We know what hidden
     Would prefer to hide
          Never venturing forth
               Into the rain.
We're tired of wanting to be wanted
     Of hoping for
          Affection's sound
     Offered not as a response
          But as a desire:
     Of warmth stirred
          From a warm heart
     That pretends to play it cool.
What do we get out of this
     Pointless longing?
Why would our heart persist
     Against the silent wall
          Forged of self-preservation
That brings isolation
     To the heart that would
     Rather not be lonely
     If not for the past
          And the echoes of fear
Bouncing off those self-same
It should be us who flees,
     But there are
And the occasional light
          That spills from them
     Ignites a new wick
          Though the silence would snuff
     Each candle that marks the
Now the candle burns low
     And I fear that the wind
          Will blow
     And that I'm running
          Out of


The White Whale

How impossible it is to purge
    A love once it has found
    A hole in the heart to serve
    As anchor.
Hard when that harpoon, and the
    Knowledge of it's fearful strike
    Is known, truly, and yet
        Kept at a


O'er the uncertainty of action
    Of feeling, even when the
    Feeling is recognized and known.

Am I Ahab hunting out of love?
    Honestly I seek its culmination
    Or its demise
        Either would be a blessing
Though I'd far rather
    Love made Manifest

Than the death and disenchantment
    Of a pull so strong
        So constant
    And then gone.

But it is not gone

    And fresh sightings
        And earnest hints of promise
            From a heart that
        Cannot hide
            And a mind that would.

And I am wishing I could prove
        Myself as worthy
    To the mind that
        Reigns such heart
    As cast that first harpoon.
        So, I am Moby,
        And Ahab.

And is she, too,
    Ahab and Moby?

Yet it is a battle of love
    On a sea of pain
        And fear
    And the deep

Storms of hope
        And hope becalmed
    That white whale
        That albatross
            That captain

That white hope
    Would wave the
        White flag,

But surrendering hope of
        Only birthed
    Itself in surrender.
And hope yielded, but hid
    A passion that would not die

And a yearning stronger than
    The sea
Whose absence
    Renders the tale
    Ahab and Moby
        To metaphors

And this is anything but mundane
    And trying to accept what
    And what will be
    That hope and love
        Unburdened by truth
        Would become the truth
        Ahab and Moby
    Would end a battle
        That was love
    To become love.

That the harpoon
        Which is love
    Might be reeled in
        That the white whale
            Might become the ship
                And that together they might
                    Sail and


Scholarship essay 2.0

After careful consideration, and many thanks to the commentaries offered, I took the time to look once more at the prompts and realized I didn't fully answer either of the two I kinda-sorta addressed. Here's round two. I like it more. Also included are the prompts, cause that's rather useful.

1. Tell us about the moment that you knew you were a dramatist and what unique contribution you knew you could make to both your community and the theatre community.


2. What would your participation in DG’s national conference mean to you as a dramatist? How would it take you to another level in your craft and/or career?


3. What is the role of the dramatist in the community? What responsibility does a dramatist have? What responsibility does the community have towards a dramatist?


Scholarship Essay, 600 word limit

So the Dramatists Guild is having their annual Conference in La Jolla in July and I have every intention of going. So much so that I've already paid for it. However, they just announced through the Dramatists Guild Fund scholarship opportunities for said Conference. All one has to do is write a brief essay on one of the prompts offered, and this is my submission. Any feedback would be great.


Furrowed Brow

The furrowed brow is not
    quite unlike the unfurrowed
    Waiting now
        for the planting.

The furrowed brow belies a thought
    which is not so much a seed
    than the manure
            into the soil.
Fertilizer but no genius
    no muse to summon forth
    the true spirit of the pen
and birther of the fruits
    of thought and feeling.

Furrowed but fallowed
    no truth has been writ
        and no measure has been
to avail oneself of what's

Where has the seed gone?
        Whither the muse
    who has withered
        ripe for whatever is to come.

And yet plenty does come,
    by the wind, by the wing
        by the hoof...
            we just call them

Cultivated by nature, and not
    the green thumb of man
    who would seek to tame
    that which nature makes unruly
    til the furrowed land lies
    hidden and only
    by nature chosen
        are given leave to grow.

And do we harvest this bounty
    this wolf among the weeds
    which is, in fact, a puppy,
        untrained, domestic
That we ourselves would call a wolf
    because we've already killed
        them all
        and no longer know
what the wolf is.

So we burn it all down,
    plow it under
        furrow the brow
and plant our wolves
    which will never see a
for the wolf is neither fruit
        nor seed
    but the brow furrowed
    turning thoughts
        into manure
turning the soil
    hoping to find gold in
    the ground
        so that we might plow no
    But that apple is spoiled,
        and the gilding stripped
            from the bough.
        just ask Midas
    the value of gold,
that skeleton in
    El Dorado:
All that remains in the land of

So unfurrow the brow
    unfurl the sails
        and leave behind the plow
and let the wind
    natures genius carry you
        the seed
and behold that you are
the weed that bears true fruit
    to those who know the
    and plough the mistletoe.