Monday, February 28, 2011

Fifteen Things I Learned On Youngblood's Winter Retreat

1. We have a healthy crock pot to group member ratio.

2. There is no wrong way to make a Hot Blooded, but the right way involves a lot of whipped cream. And booze.

3. There is something in the first aid kit that will hold your glasses together.

4. Yes, Mike Lew can jump from all the way up there without hurting himself.

5. Snowmen are easily anthropomorphized.

6. There are no losers in handstand contests, particularly if an anthropomorphized snowman is judging them.

7. We love real life entrance applause.

8. A monologue about kicking a small-statured individual can bring a room of playwrights to tears...of laughter.

9. Our group feedback is better than the feedback some jerk gave you two years ago or whatever.

10. John Guare is the best.

11. John Guare's play titles are the best.

12. "Fondue for two" is best when shared by about eleven people.

13. Playwrights are great storytellers and even better laughers.

14. People are not necessarily adverse to paying a clown ten thousand dollars per weekend, but they'll have to think more about what they'd like the clown to do to really earn that money.

15. You don't need sleep.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"The Talls" at Second Stage Uptown

"The Talls", a play of mine that was part of Youngblood's Bloodworks series last summer, will receive it's world premiere at Second Stage's Uptown space this August (1st-27th) as part of their ninth annual summer series (alongside Michael Mitnick's play "Sex Lives of Our Parents" in the June/July slot). I couldn't be more psyched!

The fabulous Carolyn Cantor will be directing and I couldn't say better things about the folks at Second Stage.

A description of "The Talls" from Playbill:

"The Clarke family is dealing with some very tall problems. Just ask 17-year-old Isabelle Clarke. Negotiating Catholicism, politics and virginity in the 1970s can make the tallest girl feel really small. A comic drama about coming of age when life's lessons come in all sizes."

There will be very tall people on stage. I hope that you can make it in August!

The Long and the Short of It

Every month, Youngblood playwrights write 5 brand new 10-minute plays and produce them at the Brunch series. As a member, I think it feels like we live in some strange theater garden and our tomato plants produce 10-minute plays and it's perpetually August and we've got two canning pots going 24/7 but we still can't keep up. (For those of you who aren't old timey homesteaders, I just mean there seems to be no end to the new short plays that this group produces.)

I think I need to get some tips from everybody else though, because I have a hell of a time writing short plays. I do. It's why in my 3 years of being a member of Youngblood I have written exactly 3 brunch plays. I always feel like I have to do at least one per year, and then after I do that I'm all like "Well, I don't have to do another one this month, because I wrote one x months ago..." and then it's summer and I get to breathe easier till the fall when Asking For Trouble punches me in the face.

The thing with short plays is they're just as hard as long plays. It's so deceptive. You think because it's short it'll be easy. Ten pages? Please. Right? WRONG! You have to do all the structural and character work of a full length but rapid fire and super clear, so you can't cheat or fake anything. It's the exact same amount of stress and self doubt that comes with writing a full length but condensed into a size that lets you look at the whole process at once and see just how crazy it is that you're even doing this because surely other people are more qualified and you really aren't that bad at math and accounting is a very comfortable profession. I cannot tell you how many scrapped brunch plays I have on my hard drive. Seriously, I have a whole folder labeled "Aborted Brunches." I've already scrapped three short plays for the Sloan brunch, and that deadline is today.

Somehow, the other Youngblood writers seem to handle all this just fine. There's never a lack of awesome new brunch plays. Clearly, I am just missing some critical secret. Is it acai berries? Cayenne pepper? Yoga? Tell me!

Anyway, we're going on retreat this weekend, and I'm hoping they'll sit me down for a master class.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good People

I just saw this on Facebook and I thought, "please, please, please let this be a good play." And just when I thought these stories would never grace the stage, too! Shut my mouth.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Show Queens Go Pop

Let's put aside the issue of privilege long enough to discuss something really important: show queens that attempt to have pop careers.

This phenomenon is heaven. HEAVEN.

Because I believe in sharing the wealth, I give you Liza Minelli's Don't Drop Bombs.

And if you can beleive it, I know of an even better one. Did you know Sarah Brightman (with back up group Hott Gossip!) had a sci-fi disco single called I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper? Now you do. And what's more, the video is better than a fine wine.

Your move Patti Lupone. I look forward to your punk record. I'm waiting, Bernadette Peters- I want a gangster rap album.

Broadway As I Wanna Be.

EDIT: I could kiss reader DJK on the mouth for sending me this link to ETHEL MERMAN'S DISCO ALBUM!!!!!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Look Harder.

Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center, has written a very provocative blog entitled, What Is Wrong With The Arts? on The Huffington Post. In it, he asserts that there aren't as many great artists in the "classical arts" as there were when he was a young man in the 50's and 60's.

It is really good.

Despite having a problem with the separation of "classical" and "popular" arts, and not really gelling with some of his examples of "great" artists, I think he's dead on. The arts are run by people who are overly cautious, myopic, and obsessed with the past. I'm also glad to see somebody of his status say out loud that a new generation of artists should be given a chance. Obviously, I agree.

Here's the thing. I think he doesn't go far enough. I'm glad that people have been discussing the dearth of opportunity for women artists and artists of color. It's an important conversation to have. In doing so, however, we've managed to ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room.


I can feel the collective eyes of some of my Youngblood brethren rolling. I know, I know... I bring it up a lot, but only because it warrants discussion. And, yes, I know people don't want to discuss it. It makes people uncomfortable to discuss privilege, especially when they benefit from it.

I'm going to use playwriting as an example, because this is the world I know. In fact, let's look at Youngblood. How many members of Youngblood come from a family with a total income of, say, less than six figures? I'm guessing not many. But not all privilege is directly about money. How many people in Youngblood hold an MFA? How many people in Youngblood attended an Ivy League school for undergrad or grad school? A lot. How many writers in Youngblood grew up in rural America? The inner city? Not many, right?

Here's the thing: Youngblood is pretty fucking inclusive for the theater world, and I don't mean to call it out. Its fucking awesome. That's why I use it as an example: except for that whole under thirty thing, it's doing better than most theater organizations. Look at some of the other groups and you'll see a much, much narrower pool of talent. So what you get is a whole lot of plays about privilege written by people from privilege. How did this happen?


These are the Artistic Directors and Literary Managers. These are the people who run writers' groups and fellowships and prizes etc. These people really, really hate talking about class because they usually came from privilege, but also because it makes their job easier if they can just give X opportunity to a recent MFA instead of schlepping to the fringe theaters.

The reason that Kaiser doesn't see any great artists is that he's looking at it from the top down. If he could see the situation from the bottom up it would be obvious to him. Admit it: we all see the writers that are winning these opportunities and it's always the same people from the same narrow pool of croney-ism and credential-ism. There are no great theater artists because the gatekeepers either aren't finding them, or worse (and I hope this isn't the case, I really do) aren't even looking for them.

The next great playwrights aren't necessarily in Yale's MFA program right now. Sure, they might be. But you know what else? They're just as likely to be self-producing a play at The Brick. Or at Dixon Place. Or not even in New York at all.

I know this is a bit of a rant, and I'm sorry. Let me clarify: this is not a rant against the Ivy league or MFAs. Nor is it a rant against people with money. It is also not meant as an opportunity for playwrights to discuss their own backgrounds in the comments section. That's not helpful. I know that this class problem runs across many industries, but I love the theater and I expect more from it than I do the banking industry. This is merely a shout out to the gatekeepers running institutions, awards, grants, writing groups etc.

Dear gatekeepers. If you think there are no great artists working today, then look in new directions. Discover new channels. LOOK. FUCKING. HARDER.

Rant over.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

What's Premature and Brilliant on Broadway

Today, in the New York Times, Ben Brantley reviewed Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark because he wasn't sure if it would be eternally postponed. Though I am hoping Spiderman closes so no one else is injured or killed (on stage or in the audience), I thought it was unfair of him to give the review during previews. Perhaps he could have reviewed the preview as a preview and promised us another review when the show actually opened (if it ever does.) Though again, I would like Spiderman to close, I think the point of postponing its opening was to give it a chance to make it a better show for a better review. As a playwright, I would be a little upset if a critic decided to come to the previews of my play because he was feeling impatient and afraid he would never get a chance to see my show.

However, if a critic crashed previews for my broadway play because he could not wait to see it, that actually might be one of the better days of my life.

Enough about the perfunctory nature of Broadway and its critics.

Broadway has just done something really brilliant; the powers that be have finally trusted us to drink in the theatre.

In early December, I was given tickets to see American Idiot at The St. James Theatre on West 44th st. I was trying to keep an open mind about a rock musical and had heard pretty good things, but I wouldn't say I was really looking forward to seeing what I thought would be a fair version of Rent meets Jersey Boys - so I headed straight to the bar.

I knew I would be overcharged but since I had gotten the tickets free (thanks to the fantastic Theatre teacher, Scott Paynter at the Westerville Central High School in Westerville, OH), I thought, why not? Since I knew I wouldn't be able to take my beer into the theatre, I made sure I had enough time to chug a bottle of Bud Light before the curtain went up.

But that's when everything changed. I didn't see any bottles or even glasses at the bar. What I saw instead were...sippy cups! No, they weren't letting babies drink at the bar, the sippy cups were for us, the adult audience members! Everyone was getting their alcohol delivered to them in a sippy cup - to take into the theatre! And to keep!

In many of our Youngblood meetings, we discuss how the theatre going experience could be much improved by allowing audiences to eat and drink during the show - causing further merriment as we entertain. PLUG - YOUNGBLOOD BRUNCHES.

And Broadway has wised up. Thank you, St. James Theatre, for trusting us to imbibe during American Idiot (without spilling on ourselves or on your seats.) Thank you St. James Theatre, for letting us have a better time. Thank you St. James Theatre for the souvenir. Speaking of souvenirs, what a great way to get even more of our money! I was charged not only for my Bud Light - but also the cup - I believe it came out to about $14. Imagine if the cup said "American Idiot", you could charge us even more! And then when my friends came over and I served them a beverage in my American Idiot cup, I would be advertising for you for free.

So Broadway and Off-Broadway, learn from the St. James (and the theatres across the world like The Abbey in Dublin which allows you to bring your drink inside the theatre), we love to drink during the show and some of us will throw down a little more cash to do so.

Making theatre and concessions cheaper to foster the future audiences of American theatre is a whole nother blog.

Also Broadway (American Idiot, specifically), Director plus Lyricist does not equal Book Writer. And while both Michael Mayer and Billie Joe Armstrong are very talented individuals, this show could have been very strong with a stronger story. If you're looking for book writers in the future, Youngblood playwrights are ready, willing, and able.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Everybody Is A Critic

An older gentleman poked his head into the office before The Sluts of Sutton Drive to ask, "Would you mind turning the music down in there? It's terribly loud." We also had a few walkouts with each performance. As I predicted, the show was a little divisive. I kept telling myself that it's okay for people to dislike a comedy with strip teases, eye gauging, dismembered penises, and bombs going off. Mostly people were really into it, but it was also kind of hysterical when they weren't.

Overheard in the EST Lobby:

"There's a SECOND act? How can we be expected to sit through that?"

"It's derivative and immature, but at least the actors are okay."

"That playwright must've been on Kablammo."

"Awful, awful, awful."

What can I say? I wrote a play that was punk as fuck, and my whole cast and crew were incredibly bold and wonderful. I'm eternally grateful to them and I'm also grateful to my adventurous audiences who took in the show with such great spirit. Even the ones who hated it.

Here's a video of Jem and the Holograms covering Le Tigre. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

An Evening of Short Plays and Music at Death by Audio

The year was 2003. America was about to engage in another war abroad, and still grappling with the paranoia of terrorism. It was a time when white people were still president, it was a time of fear, a time of uncertainty. And somewhere in upstate New York, in the alley between a strip mall and a McDonalds, an adolescent was vomiting from malt liquor at a rock show.

Club Culture. The crescent jewel of the Orange County, NY rock scene. Kids from all around the county would pile out of dad's jeep, or out of their friend's red volvo after smoking their first joint to come together to perform and listen to music, both good, and in hindsight, well, not so good. It was what most kids did on the weekends, climbing the abandoned movie theater next door or looking bad ass smoking a cigarette between bands. An older man, we''ll call him Bernie, he seemed like a Bernie, watched over the enterprise with a grizzled smile of satisfaction. Like a papa bear, watching over his under age cubs while they made out and got glitter and black eyeliner all over each other. Bernie, a creepy, papa bear ran this place where both 40 year-olds in black leather pants with spikes playing death metal and 13 year-olds playing Blink 182 covers could come together and have some fun.

It was around this time I had a band of my own where I was the singer, or well, screamer. We played raucous hardcore songs, whom some of our influences I'm less than proud to admit today. At the same time, I was taking acting classes, writing plays, and in the high school drama club. The same month my band formed I had my first leading role- Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte's Web. That adorable little piglet who befriends that spider was out on the weekends screaming out all his angsty teenage woes. There was a certain contradiction between my life in theater and my life in music that was bothersome. Something about those nights at Club Culture I wished were present when I was dressed as a pig on stage (Okay, maybe not that time specifically).

If you're reading this, chances are you don't think twice about seeing a play. But you probably have some close friends who maybe see 1-2 plays a year, if that. I recently found out a close friend of mine had never seen a play in his entire life (you just got called out, James Meehan). I bet those same friends go to concerts on a regular basis though, and would totally see a play if they knew where to go, what to see, and had the money to do it. It's a sad fact, which I have to assume the theatre world knows. That there is a huge untapped audience in this city that for whatever reason they aren't reaching.

Well why not just go to them?

The past few years the Brooklyn music scene has exploded with underground, do-it-yourself venues run out of lofts, old grocery stores, a fucking party supply store, whatever. While there are theatre artists who do plenty of similar work, for whatever reason it hasn't caught on at the national level so many of these venues and the artists who play at them have. These are often run by young people who are not making much from it, and promote an all ages, all inclusive feel that harkens back to those days growing up. It takes away the bullshit. I think we need to take away the bullshit.

I've put together a show at one of these spaces, Death by Audio in Williamsburg, that puts three short plays by Youngblood writers in front of four up and coming local bands. It's going to be an experiment for sure. We're stripping away some of the formalities of theatre, and asking something of both our theatre audience and our music audience. For all the concerns we've had about putting this together, at the end of the day we're all just people in a room getting together to have fun and forget about our lives for a few hours.

Of course, no art world is perfect. The Brooklyn music scene touts inclusiveness, yet can turn its back on artists after a bad blog review. There's also a culture associated with it that's made Williamsburg and hipsters the butt of more than a few jokes. And even considering the exclusiveness most Broadway and Off Broadway theatre has, there's something irreplaceable about being locked in a room to watch drama (even if it is with people only over the age of 55). It's time for both worlds to become more creative and more inclusive with who their audiences are what kind of work their doing, and this is a tiny step in that direction.

If you're free Thursday night, swing by Death by Audio for some plays, some bands, and some cheap booze all for 7 bucks. It'll be like how I imagine The Globe Theatre was back in the day when ol' Bill Shakespeare had all the drunks down in front standing and throwing beer bottles at the men in dresses. And unlike those days back at Club Culture, I don't think anyone will be vomiting.

An Evening of Short Plays and Music

By Mira Gibson

By Ryan Dowler

By Chris Sullivan


Death by Audio
49 S 2nd St Btwn Wythe and Kent
L to Bedford, JMZ to Marcy

Plays at 8:00 sharp, bands to follow.