Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Consider this scene from Death of a Salesman:
Biff: Pop! I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you.
Willy: I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman and you are Biff Loman!
Biff: I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them! I'm one dollar an hour, Willy! I tried seven states and couldn't raise it. A buck an hour! Do you gather my meaning? I'm not bringing home any prizes any more, and you're not going to stop waiting for me to bring them home.
Willy: You vengeful, spiteful mut!
Aw. I love a good link.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Last but not least, Ryan Dowler interviewed newbie Angela Hanks. Here's what she had to say on childhood lies, the virtues of Texas, and her various writing habits.
Ryan Dowler: When you were a child, did you ever tell an outrageous lie?
Angela Hanks: Of course, man. In sixth grade I told this chick, Anna, that I was a twin. I believe Abigail was my twin’s name. I chalk it up to a combination of that Good Ol' Middle Child Syndrome, an impressive imagination, and adolescent yearning. I am one of five. Smackest in the middle. I think I just wanted some person close to me. Since that past infraction, I've been fine with being the middle child. I love my brothers and sisters completely and wholly and have come to understand how incredibly important they are to me and me to them. I wouldn’t be this fine- ass individual without them.
RD: Where do you like to write?
AH: While I sleep with my laptop, I frequent the computer lab over at the New School. I recently obtained an MFA in Playwriting from there. I am not ashamed that I still write at the computer lab. Not ashamed at all. Sometimes my magical computer location is available. I’ve secretly cried in the computer lab because shit sometimes gets real when you’re writing plays. I have slept over at the computer lab. Seriously, I have. It’s the sense of communion, I believe, that attracts me to it. Everyone is there to get something accomplished.
RD: If you could give any book to the fifteen- year old version of yourself, what would it be?
AH: Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks. I had already read Carson McCuller’s The Member of the Wedding by then.
RD: I think we're the only two Youngbloods/ers/ies from Texas. Are you ready for the TEXAS POWER ROUND?
RD: Okay, here goes:
Have you ever been to Schlitterbahn Waterpark?
AH: I have!
RD: Isn't it the greatest?
AH: Fond memories, yes. While I did not last on the surfing simulation ride, I have not been dissuaded from putting “learn how to surf” on my To Do Before I Die List.
RD: Do you want to dispel any myths about Texas?
AH: I want to dispel myths in general but Texas and its people feature majorly in my work. Here’s some history for you: Texans were once called Texians for a ten- year period after the Texas Revolution which resulted in the Republic of Texas. But then the United States was all “Eff you guys you can’t be your own country, and we’re gonna start calling you Texans, and wait a minute- are you hanging out with both Mexicans and American Indians! What’s wrong with you? Put a border there. Send those Comanches along the Trail of Tears. And listen you immigrants living in the Texas Hill Country: you’re not Czech- American or German- American or Swiss- American. You’re just plain white, but please keep making your delicious, delicious beer. But Okay: assimilate and adjust”. And that’s how all of that happened. And you know what: black cowboys exist. I know this because I’ve been to the Black Cowboy Rodeo at the State Fair of Texas. And you know what else: racism kinda still exists in the United States. It’s just that it exists more openly in some places. Than others.
RD: Do you have a Texas flag shower curtain?
AH: I do not own a Texas flag shower curtain, but my Texas Driver’s License will not expire until 2012.
RD: Isn't Williamsburg just a more snooty, less diverse version of Austin?
AH: Ha! Yes. Poor, poor Willy B. Get with the Progress Program. I do know some kids who live in Willy B and they’re decent people and I wouldn’t be friends with them if they weren’t ‘cause seriously who has time for jerks?
I don't judge the old contingent of artists who sought affordable rents or anyone trying to find affordable anything but [the artist-influx needs to] maintain an awareness and respect for the folks who first lived in those “affordable” areas, and not by choice, but because financial circumstance limits them to these particular neighborhoods.. I live in Crown Heights which is awesome. It’s predominantly West Indian, but there’s a diverse, community-minded crowd developing. An incredibly dynamic mix of people. My favorite bar there is Franklin Park. One of the bartenders plays some awesome Luther Vandross jams. Because he genuinely loves Luther Vandross. And I genuinely love that.
Austin is pretty rad. It’s eclectic. And Austinites work collectively to keep it that way.
RD: Similarly, last question: How has place influenced your work?
AH: It takes many hours to drive across the state of Texas. On that drive, the entire state changes in geography. I grew up in Dallas. 90% of my plays take place in Dallas. I feel like sometimes I write about Texas to get back to Texas because I'm so far far away from Texas. And I want to be near it but I can't. Not right now, at least.
Eric: Hi Lydia!
Lydia: Hi Eric! Well, to begin with the obvious: Where did you grow up? And when did you start to think seriously about being a playwright and why?
Eric: I grew up in Pepperell, MA, a little town on the border of New Hampshire. Very small: horses, foxes, turkeys.
I never had this perfect Road to Damascus "I'm going to become a playwright!" moment. I wanted to be a writer when I was young and impressionable. Somewhere in high school I made the responsible decision to move away from prose writing; I could easily see myself becoming some hunchbacked hermit all alone in the MA hills.
I began writing plays, and that migrated into college, and here I am now. Beyond the collaborative aspect, I like the possibilities and limitations of theatre. For me, it forces a "story-first" mentality. Also, I think you can do weird stuff well and get away with it.
Right back at you: You grew up in CT, right? Did you always live there? Do you feel like it influenced your writing in any way?
Lydia: I grew up in Ridgefield, CT, but I was born in northern California. I rode across the country at about one and half sitting on my grandma’s lap. Ridgefield is about an hour from the NYC and a ten minute drive from there to the town they based the The Stepford Wives on. The town has a Main Street complete with a local pizza place, and a candy store full of middle school kids.
I think it factors in some of my work, but it’s hard to explain how. The isolation affected me, and certainly the lesson that wealth conceals but does not solve unhappiness.
I did not want to be a playwright until a few years ago. My first year at Columbia, I was dragged along by a friend to a reading of a play written by his teacher. We wound up at the bar with the cast, playwright and her husband. Someone bought me a beer, and the playwright asked me why I hadn’t signed up for her class. In the dark, I couldn’t think of a reason not to.
Alright, back to you. What's the weirdest thing you've written into a play? What's the best moment of theater you've ever experienced? And what writers do you admire? Would you say that your work has a particular style?
Eric: I'm going to swap up the order that I answer these questions, if just to make things difficult.
We talked about how difficult and unpleasant it is to describe your own work, so I'm going to tread carefully with these answers.
I'm sure I have a style, though I don't quite know what it is. It's dangerous to try to identify and stick to a single style anyway, right? You just become a parody of yourself. That being said, there are common trends in my writing, and writers who have clearly influenced me.
Though I'm sure they're real common influences all over the playwriting world, the two playwrights who impacted my writing the most are probably Sam Shepard and Sarah Ruhl. I think they do really similar things, one in that gruff cowboy way, and the other in that wistful poetic way. Their best plays both make their own universes with their own rules, but allow them to be really accessible. They're also real funny! Lately I've been really into Mickey Birnbaum and Stephen Adly Guirgus.
Some of my early college-era plays were pretty weird. I grew up reading lots of comic books, and I think the hyper-compressed comic book writing of the sixties fed into the way I thought (think) about stories. I would try to pack as much as possible onstage; there'd be lots of historical figures and talking animals. One play had Vincent Van Gogh, Harry Houdini, Pinocchio, and a pair talking bugs. I think I've become more restrained since then. But talking animals do come up a lot.
Best theater moment as an audience member: I saw some Boston production of the Tempest when I was a kid (it's my favorite Shakespeare); I don't even know how much I understood or enjoyed it, but that motherfucker is burned into my brain. So much magic!
These are good and difficult questions, Lydia, so I'm totally going to boomerang them back to you. How would you describe your writing? Who're your writing crushes/influences? What was the first play you ever wrote? Do you have a "magical moment of theater" story?
Lydia: I too, have trouble describing my writing style. I’d agree that it depends which play is being written and that style tends to follow the content. But I guess I like violence, sex and humor. I’m more interested in families than romance. Most of my characters don’t finish their sentences.
I really like quite a few playwrights. For the more contemporary sort: David Lindsay-Abaires, Sam Hunter, Adam Bock, Julia Jordan, Joe Fisher, Craig Wright, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Martin McDonagh jump to mind.
My first play was a pretty awful treatise on a doomed romance, full of half poetic language without much plot. But I quickly moved on from that type of work.
I really like theater that frightens you. I’d say the moment in SoHo Rep’s recent production of Blasted when the whole space goes black was probably the most memorable experience at a play. You hear something like a bomb, and then the sound of heavy objects being thrown. You sit in the dark for what feels like an eternity while these sounds get louder and louder. I clutched a stranger’s arm for dear life. Then the lights came up and the entire set has been dismantled and blown apart.
Eric: Wow, Lydia, I feel as if I know you so much more both as a person and playwright! And I’m sure you could say the same for me! Sure am excited to see what we come up with!
Monday, November 22, 2010
The Management and Horse Trade Theater Group
A Christmas comedy for the suicide set!
Written by Joshua Conkel and Megan Hill
Directed by Meg Sturiano
Winter Lipschitz is lonesome. She has no friends, an addiction to the Shop at Home Network has run amok, her nipple hair is out of control, and on top of everything else, her cat Sparkles hates her guts. After a failed suicide attempt, Winter is visited by life coach Debbie Metzger-Bolger. Will Debbie give Winter the tools she needs to get her life back on track? Or are the Pearly Gates the only thing in store for poor old Winter?
Featuring Nicole Beerman*, Megan Hill*, Kirsten Hopkins*, Nick Lewis, and Joshua Conkel
December 2-19th@ UNDER St. Marks
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2
Tickets Available at www.smarttix.com
*Member’s of Actor’s Equity. Equity Approved Showcase.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Angela Hanks: So, you've lived in all 50 states. How was that?
Ryan Dowler: That’s an exaggeration of course, but I have lived in many places. It started when a friend and I dropped out of school in 2002. We were in love with learning and pretty full of ourselves, so we thought we would just do it all ourselves. That is to say, we would pick a city, move there and, with the help of great books and field trips, learn everything we needed to know about the world. The job market was good then so we could really choose any place in the country to move – ANY place – and we chose Iowa. There wasn’t any real reason other than the fact that it was “centrally located.” We knew no one there. Every day, when we weren’t working, we would get up early and spend all day completing assignments of our own design. The first textbook we picked for history (primarily because the Iowa City Public Library carried two copies) began by kind of saying, “Native American Genocide? Genocide Schmenocide! The numbers are greatly exaggerated!” We kind of looked at each other and thought, “What have we done?” But to answer your question, yes, then I moved around to a bunch more places, got degrees, etc.
AH: If you could perform one character from a play, who would it be?
RD: George Deever in All My Sons. Best walk-on ever. Or twenty years from now, Ray in Blackbird. Preferably anyone who’s an asshole and then isn’t an asshole and then still just might be an asshole.
AH: How does music inform your work? Does it? Or do you just like to rock out to awesome awesome jams?
RD: I’m one of those people who listens to one album over and over and over again while I work. It kind of acts as white noise to distract that part of my brain that wants to look all over or daydream or what have you. In high school, it was Weezer’s Blue Album and then a Ben Folds Five album over and over and over, and now lately it’s been Raphael Saadiq. When the album ends and iTunes switches to a new song, my brain goes, “B’wha?” and I have to start the album over.
In general, I always prefer music to no music. My girlfriend Molly and I just moved to NY and we live in this building with all these older quieter people and Molly keeps telling me to turn the music down. I keep trying to explain to her that in the building we’re the Randle P. McMurphy contingent and the Randle P. McMurphy contingent isn’t supposed to turn the music down. If anything, we owe it to them to turn it up. To be fair, it’s all like Ray Charles and Loretta Lynn and its not even that loud.
AH: Where do you like to write?
RD: I just came here from Athens, Ohio where I had the perfect place to write, a place called Donkey Coffee. There are so many places to sit, different rooms and kinds of tables to choose from and every table has it’s own little lamp. What it is, it’s cozy. In New York cozy means small, but in Ohio cozy means smartly lit and warm, with a place to hang your coat. There was a table on the second floor with a big window where you could watch the snow fall and the people walking on the street. There was a couch in a great big room with paintings better than windows, where you could sit and write for hours next to sleeping teenage couples wrapped up in limbs and sweaters and scarves. Not a bad thing to see if you’re trying to write about the better parts of being a human being.
I almost missed out on a year and a half of very productive writing time at Donkey. Athens itself is a place of contradictions as an environment for writing. A lot of great writers – Laura Jacqmin, Dana Formby, David Mitchell Robinson , to name too few -- have come out of Charles Smith’s program at OU lately, but the workload in terms of writing is intense (3 full-lengths and 60 short plays written and staged in 3 years + all the classes on structure and theory + teaching). You’re really getting your Malcolm-Gladwell-10,000 hours- thing, but the location can be very isolating, for good or ill. Winter in rural Ohio can get pretty depressing and I remember I had one of those graduate student therapists because I was having trouble leaving my house.
She said there must be somewhere else you want to go to do your work. And I said there is one coffee shop I like, but I can’t work there anymore because everything I’ve ever worked on there – every essay, every lecture, whatever -- is a piece of shit. It was a pretty pathetic show, but I completely believed it, and walking through the door just brought all that back and it was all very distracting and sad. Finally the thing that happened – Winter ended and I stopped being foolish and in a kind of Saved-by-the-Bell Scheme, I started writing there to get close to another more talented playwright that I had a crush on, who’s now my girlfriend.
I haven’t really found a place in NY yet. A lot of them are lit like a Wal-Mart. I like that Café Grumpy location in Greenpoint, but it’s very far away. Ditto Flying Saucer, but they won’t take any cards. Did you see that Joan Rivers documentary? I want to work in a coffee shop that looks like Joan River’s apartment. That’s what I want. Where you can transition from coffee to beer when the time is right. Also it takes credit cards. And has a little lamp on every table.
AH: You do know that your last name rhymes with another Youngblood's last name, right? How do you feel about that?
RD: Darcy Fowler is actually the first Youngblood/er/y that I met. There shouldn’t be much confusion. She’s much more socially adept and bright than I am. She’s the one I’d choose first to be on my softball team, based on what I imagine leading/being on a softball team might be like.
There’s actually an actress in L.A. with my full name. She’s much more googleable than me. Old friends sometimes contact me to congratulate me on my plays and on playing “Pregnant Girl #2” on The O.C.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
In recent weeks, especially in the Wasserstein dust-up in our comments section, there's been a lot of discussion about ageism and Youngblood's "under thirty rule" in particular. I've been thinking about these comments a lot. See, in one month and three days, I, your humble blog administrator, will turn thirty.
They won't give me the boot immediately, of course. I'll get to finish the season and you'll probably be able to see a few more warped brunch plays from me. But still, it's bitter sweet. Sweet: I've been in Youngblood for three wonderful years and in that time my writing has grown exponentially as have my chances at becoming an actual, factual, honest-to-goodness career playwright. I never went to graduate school, and in many respects I feel Youngblood (and running my own theater company for six years) was my graduate school. There's no education like a DIY education, I can tell you that. But bitter: thirty is young for a playwright, isn't it? Why can't I stay another five years? Or ten?
I know why.
Theater is not a place for young people. I see all sorts of problems with the institutions: racism, sexism, classism (the one nobody likes talking about.) But ageism? I can certainly see how the search to find the next great young playwright, as one commenter put it, could be annoying to somebody who found playwriting later in life. Even so, that's maybe one or two or a small handful of young playwrights. The rest of us have to wait until at least thirty or later for any modicum of success. And why? Because the whole industry is controlled by people who are middle aged or older and they want to do their own generation's plays.
I don't mean that as an insult. I like plays by writers around my age too (when I get to see them.) I just think it's disingenuous to say that ageism is such a big problem when you can barely get young people into a theater*. Unless you mean ageism against young people, but I don't think that's what these people mean. The reason there is no "over thirty" playwriting group is because THE WHOLE INDUSTRY is an over thirty group.
I'm going to miss Youngblood terribly, but you know what? There are tons of writers' groups in this city. I hope I'll find a new artistic home when I go, but I also understand why I do have to go. Although it may seem otherwise to some, a place for young playwrights to grow together is fundamental to the health of the art form. I'd like to be in Ma-Yi, but I'm not Asian. I'd like to be in the Public's Emerging Writers Group, but I have an agent and they don't allow that. This is okay. There need to be more groups like Youngblood, not less. Groups for queers, women, people of color, writers without MFAs...
Theater should be for everybody, shouldn't it?
*On that note, and this should be a whole other post, if you are interested in getting young people to your theater then you should do plays they want to see instead of using an edgier font on your marketing materials. Just a little tip from me to you!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
As profiled by fellow newbie, Alex Borinsky.
Darcy Fowler laughs very generously and her whole face lights up when she smiles. She was one of the first people I met in Youngblood, and I liked her from the start. I’m looking forward to seeing one of her first plays, The Bird and the Two-Ton Weight, when it goes up this winter at E.S.T.
Darcy grew up in Massachusetts, on the Marblehead-Salem border. The town is sea-shantyish, she says – lots of lobsters and lobstermen. It’s witch country, too: here and there, a few people still claim to be witches.
Darcy names Nicky Silver, Adam Bock, Aaron Sorkin, Laura Wade, Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers, and Tina Fey when I ask her about her influences. Then she adds, “And my mother.” It becomes clear that we share a deep, aching love for the Muppets. Of the lot, Darcy identifies mostly with Fozzie Bear, the hard-loving comedian with a heart of gold. Her favorite play of the moment: The Pavilion, by Craig Wright.
The Bird and the Two-Ton Weight tells the story of a girl who comes home after death of her mother to act as the glue that will hold her family together. She finds a mysterious parcel on the front porch that seems to be her mother’s notebook. The play unfolds around the ways in which this notebook moves the girl through her grief.
Later I asked Darcy how much her plays emerge from her own experience. She answered that they start with her own experience, yes, but that the process of shaping the play involves a growing confidence in a structure and set of characters that draw the play away from the impulse that inspired it and towards a life of its own.
Darcy says that she enrolled at Syracuse to study acting, but that the faculty encouraged her and her classmates to make their own theater, to find confidence in their own voices. The Bird and the Two-Ton Weight came out of that encouragement. It was the project on which she says she discovered that “I had this voice I didn’t fully know I had.”
These days, Darcy writes, performs with the Story Pirates, and develops a webisode with friends called “You Make My Dreams Come True,” about a group of girls who start a Hall and Oats cover band (http://www.youmakemydreamscometrue.com/. Seriously good.). Though the majority of her roommates are musicians, Darcy at first denies any musical skill of her own. “If I could I would play the drums,” she says, and pauses. Then: “I play the drums when I’m drunk. It’s a great way to get out excess energy.”
She is an ardent apostle of the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.