Monday, May 30, 2011

Who Are Your Artistic Influencers?

It's a question an artist gets asked quite a lot in the theater. Or it's something that gets discussed generally. Who are your influencers? Whose work do you admire? It assumes your work doesn't come from within. Or that there isn't anything new, only recycled. And it's true, dat. Who knows what goes on in the subconscious, when you're so focused on a scene or even a line or two that, unaware to you, you're digging into your favorite playwright file.

But I also think it's a chicken and the egg question.

In my short playwriting career, anyone can see that I at the very least admire August Wilson and Sam Shepard. They both put characters on stage that had never been onstage before. August Wilson writes plays that are true to his people. I try to do the same thing. Sam Shepard writes about the American family the same way I try to, and seems to have the same point of view of American society, where it's headed, and where the answers lie. It was a compliment to me when someone, after reading Fool for Love for the first time, said, Oh, now I can see your sensibilities and why you like Sam Shepard. But I don't go around intentionally writing the way they do. If I do anything of the kind at all it's that I might use them as a departure and try to take my own riff on things. But one thing I don't think you'll ever see is a play I've written "set on an island off the coast of Massachusetts." To use a newspaper adage, it's not my beat.

And of course I admire Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neil. Just look how I write stage directions. I could read either one of those writers simply for their stage directions. 

But more to the point, just like Wilson's major influences were, as he called them, the Four B's (the blues, Amiri Baraka, Romare Bearden, and Jorge Luis Borges), I wouldn't say I necessarily draw inspiration from the theater and playwrights. Heavens. My big gripe with most theater people is they spend way too much time in the theater. I think any artist should live their lives--raise families, travel, work on a shrimp boat in the Gulf--and then take what you learn and put it on the canvas, or in your music, or on the stage. So many of the people I talk to know so much more about the theater than I do, but I wonder if they know anything about their fellow human beings.

I started out in life as a photographer. To this day I am a very visual person, to the point where one of my profs, in exasperation I think, said one of my scripts was a screenplay, not a theater script. I was intentionally trying to write small visual snippets for the stage (think the end of Blasted.) She was not going to have any of it, though. I do constantly try to work visuals onto the stage, and when someone asks me what my influencers are, I'm always a bit nervous to actually tell the truth.

But then today I stumbled on this very interesting short documentary on Henri Cartier-Bresson, who should be on everyone's list of favorites artists, and should be a mentor for anyone who works in the arts because his approach to his work can, I think, be applied to anyone's art: painting, music, theater. His work was so influential (there's that word again) to so many of today's photographers, that to not know him and is work is a crime.

And then, I don't know why except I think in life circumstances happen that seem coincidental--I don't know if they are supposed to happen or that we're just more aware that they happen--but then over email I got notice of this project by Magnum photographers. Again, everyone should know about Magnum and the photographers who worked for this great agency. They are the greatest photographers in the world, and their approach to their work is something that all artists should strive. What they do with images playwrights try to do with words. As I looked through the photographers' portfolios, I was inspired to write a play about the people and things I saw. These people bring new worlds within the boundaries of own world, and they teach us.

Right now, I think I can say the one writer I greatly admire is Cormac McCarthy, and not for his success in the American cinema. Nor do I necessarily want to emulate him, but I do like the worlds he conjures up (and how he does it.)

Musically (and this will come as no surprise) but I love any of the great country singers (two favorites are Lucinda Williams and Chris Knight) for their storytelling abilities. (Here's just one example from Chris Knight.) The songs they write have so much drama and tension in them. And again, none of them are set on an island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Friday, May 27, 2011 Let$ You $ee Who I$ Influencing Our Government

As a freelance columnist, one of the first big lessons I got was learning, if you want to figure out what the real story is, figure out where the money is. Figure out where it's coming from, where it's going, how much is getting made (especially by whom) and you've got your story.

But it's not easy to figure out. But here's a start. Influence lets you type in a company, politician, or prominent individual and see how they're influencing the political system. And when we say influencing the political system we all know that means you can see where they're spending their dollars in the political system. Who they're supporting, which is another way to say bribing. See what they support and how much they're spending. See who their lobbyists are and how much they're paying them.

It's sad that our political system has reached the point where dollars are votes. One man (person)/one vote my eye. But what's also great about the world and the digital space is how you can use it to combat the system.

Let's face it: The system is busted. And funny, it's been busted for a long time. I just got finished reading Clifford Odet's Awake and Sing, written during the first Great Depression and produced in 1935, and you could almost change the date and everything would be the same. The same issues are facing families, the same responses and choices are being made, and the same cry about socialism is being heard. Funny, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

But also, the play ends in the optimism of youth. Optimism isn't always with the young. As much as I've complained of late on this blog about age discrimination, most times I get the response that I don't look or act my age. That's the secret: Don't ever lose your optimism. Don't ever lose your idealism. And just act like a juvenile delinquent. That's how you stay young.

Networking and the Theater

I'm the sort of writer who all he wants to do, deep down, is sit in a little cottage overlooking a quiet body of water and write all day. And then at the end of the day I spend the time with Sue and my kids and my dumb dog and listen to some music and have a nice dinner with a decent bottle of wine on the porch that overlooks the water.

Well, that ain't the way it goes.

What's I'm learning more than anything about the playwriting business is how much of it is a business. And how much I have to learn. There's TCG and Humana and the O'Neil Center and this fellowship and this conference and how it seems you have to know all this and be connected to all that. You just don't write a play and people recognize you for the genius you are and then they put it on and everyone loves it so much they come to the next play that you write. It may seem as if that's how it works, but that's only the outside looking in.

I've always been a writer, no doubt. But I've always been bad at networking. I've always been one of those people on the fringe, watching. Hell, I thought that's what writers did: They observed then wrote about the things they saw. And I always thought the social part was best left to the people whose time wasn't occupied with writing and art.

And I've never been good with groups, always much more comfortable one-on-one with people. 

And I know so much of this is colored by all that time--years!--spent in the corporate world, trying to fit in with people who I really didn't fit in with. I truly was the round peg trying to fit into the square hole (and square it was, so surprising for what you might expect from a software company, so mainstream, so conservative, so mind-numbing boring, filled with people whose value system was based on a house in the suburbs and not rocking the boat.) But that all came later. There were places and people who I look back open with a great amount of fondness. At one point I worked in a department where now I realize we really were all family.

But the world changed and business changed along with it, until finally I found myself in some sort of twisted Fellini/Tarantino/Disney world. Which brings me to networking.

I would have to go to conferences (all of them in Orlando because that was the sensibility of the president and owner of the company) and I would spend about a week trying to blend into the wallpaper because no one, and I mean no one, had a bit of interest in spending time with me. It was high school all over again, except I actually liked high school. I guess, yes, in retrospect, I lived out my high school days in my thirties, dealing with people who, as Lou Reed sings, were doing things I gave up years ago. I went from having friends and working with people who respected me and the work I did, to being a veritable outcast. I'm not even sure how it happened.

I remember one particular incident--an evening soiree, I guess you could call it--where I was with some co-workers, people who I shared an office with and with whom I worked with everyday, who actually ditched me. Ditched me. I can't believe I just typed those words and that I can truthfully say that something that embarrassing happened to me as an adult. And the next day we all acted like it didn't happened. No, what the hell happened to you guys? Where'd you go? I thought you were going to wait for me? None of that. Just an obvious signal that we don't like you. That was just one of so many times when I just swallowed my pride and said I have to do this. Yeah. I know. The question is why did I have to do it, and the answer was I could telecommute most days of days a week and it paid good money, which meant I could take care of my kids while my then wife could work on her career. The things we do for our loved ones.

The company would put us up in these hotels dotted throughout the theme parks, actually pretty nice rooms, and I would dread it, because I would have these nightmares that were ferocious. One I remember with such vividness that even today I wonder if it was a dream or if it actually happened: I dreamed that storm troopers burst into my room, broke the door down, and I clearly heard gunshots, and the sound of ejected cartridges hitting the walls and the floor and furniture, and the smell of gunpowder. What part of the recesses of my psyche that came from I don't know, but it's pretty telling that my soul was pretty damaged by about then.

So, now I'm learning and seeing how important it is to be connected in the theater world, but I think I still have vestiges of PTSD. I'm not kidding. The idea of doing all that schmoozing, I'll honestly say, scares me. You'll notice that when I go to plays alone, I bring a book, so I've got somewhere to dive if it gets too weird for me.

But here's the happy ending. It's never gotten too weird. I am finding that people are accepting and friendly and genuinely seem to like me. (Please leave your Sally Field jokes at the door.) I'm finding that people do accept me for who I am, and are interested in the work I'm trying to accomplish. I've known all along that theater people are some of the most accepting, open people you can find. That age doesn't mean a hill of beans to them (unless of course their age precludes them from getting a part) and that young people in the theater, for the most part, are willing to work with someone twice their age without a second thought.

It seems all my life I've wanted to make the world a better place. It's a concept I applied to my freelance business, and it worked. The business was successful and I was happy. I'm not sure where all this going or rereading this post where this rant came from. It's just the mind and the creative process at work. Just another stretch of the path I'm going down.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Too Cool To Be Forgotten

House rules, no exceptions
No bad language, no gambling, no fighting
Sorry, no credit, don't ask
Bathroom wall reads: Is God the answer? Yes.

Ninety-nine and a half just won't do.

Almost Saturday Night
Outside my window, I can hear the radio,
And I know that motor wagon is ready to fly,
'cause it's almost Saturday night.

Already Gone
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key.

I wanna watch the ocean bend
the edges of the sun then
I wanna get swallowed up in
An ocean of love

Beautiful Wreck
I've lost count of the times I've given up on you
But you make such a beautiful wreck, you do
Ya, you make such a beautiful wreck, you do
You make such a beautiful wreck, you do

Beautiful Wreck
At the dark end of this bar
What a beautiful wreck you are.

It's better to burn out than it is to rust.

She said her name was Billie Jean and she was fresh in town.
I didn’t know a stage line ran from hell.

And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me

I wished I was in Austin
In the Chili Parlor Bar
Drinking Mad Dog margaritas.

Won't you share a common disaster?

Crumbling Down
Some people ain't no damn good
You can't trust 'em, you can't love 'em
No good deed goes unpunished.

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
You been out ridin' fences for so long now
Oh, you're a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin' you
Can hurt you somehow

Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that's just some people talkin'
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
Don't let 'em pick guitars or drive them old trucks.
Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such.

Don't think twice
It's all right.

Why'd you let go of your guitar
Why'd you ever let it go that far
Drunken Angel

Everyday is a winding road
I get a little bit closer
Everyday is a faded sign
I get a little bit closer to feeling fine.

Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night,
The first one's named sweet Anne Marie and she's my heart's delight.
The second one is prison, babe, the sheriff's on my trail,
And if he catches up with me, I'll spend my life in jail.

Georgia, Georgia, no peace I find.
Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Even God must get the blues.

God must hate me
He cursed me for eternity
God must hate me
Maybe you should pray for me

Did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love
Is it over now- do you know how
Pick up the pieces and go home.

Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

So I bought a guitar and I practiced real hard
I wasn't much good, but I was willin'
Till to my chagrin, my girlfriend came in
And she said, "Can you sing any Dylan?"

out all night playing in a band
looking for a fight
with a guitar in your hand
with a GUITAR in your hand

We all got holes to fill
and them holes are all that's real
some fall on you like a storm
sometimes you dig your own. 

I am just a poor boy
Work’s my middle name
If money was the reason
Well I would not be the same.

I love this town... like an unmade bed

I need a love to keep my happy.

It's a long way to Texas... it's a long way back home
It's a three hour flight on the plane when I go
... away from this snow from Boston to South Shore where the
Dreams roll and tumble... and bring the prose to the wheel...

If you're goin' through hell,
Keep on goin'.
Don't slow down:
If you're scared don't show it.
You might get out,
'Fore the devil even knows you're there.

It ain't wise to need someone
As much as I depended on you.

It's goodbye to all my friends.
It's time to go again.

Now that we come showin' up
Rumors bouncin' off of that truck
Just a let 'em stare at her and me
'Cause I don't care about anything but us

And there's nothing wrong with me
This is how I'm supposed to be
In a land of make believe
That don't believe in me

And when you said I scared you,
Well I guess you scared me too.

If I had possession of Judgement Day
I wouldn't have no right to pray.

Now I'm leaving Normal and heading towards Who Knows Where.

I've finally learned that there's good and bad
And that a guy can do some choosin',
Of that I'm glad cause this heart and face
Won't take any more bruisin'.
And the next time I fall in another's arms
There's one thing I'll be certain,
That she can bear the weight of the love I give
Without considering it a burden.

Living Life #9.

When you can't find a friend
You've still got the radio.

Livin' on refried dreams.

Guess I've got that old travlin' bone, 'cause this feelin' won't leave me alone.
But I won't, won't be losin' my way, no, no
long as I can see the light.

All I ask
Don't tell anybody the secrets
I told you.

I said "Mama, he's crazy and he scares me
But I want him by my side
though he's wild and he's bad
and sometimes just plain mad
I need him to keep me satisfied"

My Give A Damn's Busted

I got no friends 'cause they read the papers
They can't be seen with me and I'm getting shot down
And I'm feeling mean.

No more to give so no more to take
Why won't you
 leave me alone?

 I'm old enough to know better, but still too young to care.

Why is there one in every crowd, and why do I attract them?

Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus,
People bought 'em
And they called it Paradise
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea

Is it too much to demand
I want a full house and a rock and roll band
Pens that won't run out of ink
And cool quiet and time to think.

 And the moral of this story
Is I guess it's easier said than done
To look at what you've been through
And to see what you've become.

Quivers down my backbone
I got the shakes in the knee bones
Shivers down my thigh bones
Like I'm
Shakin' all over

I've heard that into every life
a little rain must fall.
If there's any truth to the saying,
Lord, let it be a southern rain.

Blow up your TV throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own.

Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naive
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve.

So what in the world's come over you?
What in heaven's name have you done?
You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You're out there runnin'
Just to be on the run.

Well, I got a heart that burns with a fever
And I got a worried and jealous mind
Well how can a love
That will last forever
Get left so far behind?

I'm the PATRON SAINT of the denial with an ANGEL FACE and a taste for suicidal.

I recall once upon a time,
Livin' was so easy and I felt so fine.
But, my, my, my right before my very eyes,
Satan came with fire to burn me,
Wouldn't listen when they warned me.
A dagger in my back while she's calling me honey,
Wouldn't stand back, for neither love nor money.

The hotter it is you know the hotter it gets.

Every Friday, well, that's when I get paid.
Don't take me on Friday, Lord, 'cause that's when I get paid.
Let me die on Saturday night, ooh, before Sunday gets my head.

Why don't you cash in your chips
Why don't you call it a loss
Not such a big loss
Chalk it up to better luck

This old guitar ain't mine to keep
It's mine to play for a while

To live is to fly, low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes.

Well I been drinkin' again
And I know it's a sin
But I just can't refuse an old friend
Cause life is gettin' me down
And I been two times around
And there ain't nothing but pain around the bend.

Is there anything a man don’t stand to lose,
When the devil wants to take it all away?

Clouds of myst’ry pourin’ confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages, tryin’ to find the sun;
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain.

Well you stole it 'cause I needed the cash
And you killed it 'cause I wanted revenge
Well you lied to me 'cause I asked you to
Baby, can we still be friends

And I been from Tucson to Tucancary, Tahathapi to Tanapall
Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn't get weighed.
And if you give me weed, whites, and wine
And you show me a sign
Then I'll be willing
To be moving.

I'd rather look around me -- compose a better song
'cos that's the honest measure of my worth.
In your pomp and all your glory you're a poorer man than me
as you lick the boots of death born out of fear.

You took my joy   
I want it back.

You Might Be Shocked

You might be shocked if you were on a job interview and the interviewer casually pointed out that the majority of the staff was white. You might be speechless if the interviewer noted that the staff was mostly men. Or non-Jewish. Or even had all their arms and legs.

And you would particularly amazed if you were a person of color, a woman, a Jew, or in a wheelchair. 

But it's perfectly fine for an interviewer to sit with a person with close to thirty years of experience in the workforce, and note that the staff is mostly in its twenties. Gee, as if I hadn't noticed.

I got an email yesterday that the company where I interviewed for a job was going to continue its search, and best of luck to me. I knew I was going to receive that email, and for a split second I even considered being "professional" (just in case; don't burn any bridges) and sending an email back, saying thank you for your time, keep me in mind for future positions, etc,

But then I thought, to hell with it. They're not going to hire me; I don't fit into their "corporate culture." I knew it when I rode the elevator up to their offices and everyone was in their twenties. I knew it the minute two more interviewers were ushered into the conference room and they couldn't contain the look on their face (what was that?--surprise? horror?) I knew it when I was asked what I would do if they asked me to use certain words in the copy, and I said, You mean keywords for SEO?--search engine optimization?--and again, there was that look--surprise? astonishment? How could someone over thirty know this?

And I knew it when I was asked how I got inside a woman's head considering I wasn't a woman. And I know by then I was a bit gun-shy by the whole process, and realize that while it might be a valid question under other circumstances, by that point it seemed to come from a place that questioned a middle-aged man's ability to "relate" to women, even though I have two daughters, one about the same age as the interviewer, and over the course of my career, which spanned more than both the two interviewers' lifetimes, I've written for female audiences.

And while I most certainly will admit that maybe I wasn't best-suited for the position, I certainly don't feel it was my skills I was defending. Or if it was my skills I was defending, I'm pretty sure I was defending them for the wrong reasons.

This all is so astonishingly hard to write about, because again, I'm not certain I was the right person for that position. I'm fully aware of my deficiencies, and really don't want to get into the discussion about what older, more mature workers can bring to the workplace, their skills and knowledge that can only be attained by putting in the years.

But the one undeniable moment I'm not going to relinquish is the look on the faces of those interviewers when they walked into the room and took their first look of me. There is no hiding it; there was no hiding it. And after you've seen it more than once, you identify it quickly.

And I know the three people I came in contact that day would deny all this in the most emphatic way. And I'm not saying they are mean, horrible people. The only thing I can fall back on are Anita Hill's words, You just don't get it, which I am fully aware is lame, but our prejudices (yours, mine, ours) are so ingrained into our ways that we just don't see them.

Lawyers will tell you that age discrimination is the hardest thing to prove. (Although when a company's hiring does not reflect the diversity of society, you may have something.) Really the only thing I or anyone who experiences the prejudices that are inherent in our society can do is move on. I'm not going to fight this. I don't have that much to gain. So this company, which is very successful, I might add, will continue with its questionable hiring tactics. As a headhunter told me yesterday, I have the proven skills, I'm likable, and I have the experience. I just have to find that place where I'll be valued. And I will be. I've made lots of money for businesses over my lifetime. And I'll tell you this: Something that would give me supreme pleasure is to be valued by the competitor of the company where I interviewed.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hamilton Says Lance Armstrong Took Banned Substances

Say it ain't so, Lance.

Tyler Hamilton now says that he witnessed Lance Armstrong shooting banned substances while they were teammates. Hamilton is now the second teammate of Armstrong (the other was Flloyd Landis) who said they saw Armstrong take performance-enhancing substances.

CNN has a report with some sanitized pictures of Armstrong.

Armstrong, I think, is one of the true heroes of our time. As you can see from the first line of this post, I'm like a little kid when it comes to Lance. I was following the Tour (that's the Tour de France; it's like other things that are on a first-name basis over the years, starting with Jackie and onto Lance and continuing today with Pink) way, way back in high school (think Breaking Away) living in the Midwest when I thought myself so, so European. Six consecutive wins and seven overall wins of the Tour. But then he puts his fame to good use. I rank him right up there with the likes of Bono, who you can say what you want, but puts his money and his fame to good use trying to change the world for the better. When did Mick Jagger ever do that?

Nina Totenberg to Receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Boston University

It is because of my absolute deep respect for good journalists that makes me post this. Nina Totenberg, who dropped out of Boston University as a journalism major so she could take a job as an actual reporter, will be receiving an honorary doctorate this Sunday from BU.

Here's the interview with her from the website, BU Today. I particularly like the advice she gives journalism majors: Don't do it. It's the same advice I gave my daughter. I don't think the industry knows where it's going today, and I think that's a terrible thing. We are in such need of good, objective reporting today (and for those who say there is no such thing, you don't know what you're talking about. When I hear that argument I just nod my head, the same way I do with bone-headed Christians--there's no use fighting. If you want a fight on your hands, accuse a real reporter of not being objective.)

But in this day of the Internet and the likes of Perez Hilton and Fox News and celebs like Anderson Cooper, there still are a few talented, intelligent reporters who are more interested in reporting the facts and not pushing some corporate agenda. And many of them are nameless, their files are on the Internet posted by the myriad of news outlets across the world on the Internet. It's a different world, and I wonder what Ms. Totenberg would have done if she were an undergrad today. Probably pursue law.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Putting Artists to Work for Cultural Recovery

Okay, from a StageSource tweet I followed a link about some legislation pending in the Masschusetts' Senate for funding. And I wrote to my senator asking him to support an amendment. This is important to me, not only because I'm trying my darndest to make a living in the arts, but because I truly believe in the positive influence and power artists have in our society.

Here's what I wrote:

On May 18, the Senate Ways & Means Committee released a proposed state budget for the coming fiscal year that would significantly cut state support for the arts, humanities, and sciences through the MCC.

Senator Eileen Donoghue of Lowell will file an amendment to restore MCC funding to this year’s levels.

The Senate Ways & Means Committee recommends $7.45 million for MCC for fiscal year 2012. That would cut $1.65 million, or 18 percent, from the agency's current budget and would represent a cumulative cut of 41 percent to arts and cultural funding since 2009.

sen. keene...i strongly feel that cuts to the arts and cultural funding is detrimental to our society...of course i understand about the dire condition of the economy for schools. roads, infrastructure, etc...but i also strongly believe that in times like these, we need to bond together's what will keep us pulling together as a group, as a's not a feel-good thing i'm talking's about a real necessity for community that will get us through these tough times...

thanks for listening...

That's it. (Feel free to use the text when writing to your own senator; of course you will.) Then from another tweet from StageSource, of which I'm a member, I found this.

Funny that Julie Hanus and I came up with the same reason for artists in our society. I think most artists realize their value in society (even though they are usually so bad at articulating it,) while I think there is either a misunderstanding or a lack of appreciation on the part of the general public for the contribution of artists and the arts in society.

The arts bring us together, and in my experience they do it much better than any promise from some politician who make standard campaign promises to unite the country. Artists and the arts generally don't have the agenda that you get from politics and politicians.

The arts promote dialogue, as opposed to politics which usually promotes debate.

The arts bring people together usually in a celebratory way: theater, painting, dance, music. Think of all the times you've been to something like a concert, and what a positive feeling you left with.

I saw some terrific theater...

...and you can argue with me that it wasn't. Some might say it really wasn't theater.

The actors weren't professional. It didn't take place in a theater. It wasn't the result of any theatrical process. In other words it happened in the "real world" by "real people" reacting "in the moment." But my experience, my reaction to it, was exactly what I would hope I'd have from a piece of theater.

It was produced just one time, and then it closed forever. It happened last Friday at a retirement party on the Cape at a country club. I didn't know hardly anyone there--just one or two people; I just a quiet observer, just like I'd be in the theater. A man was retiring--he was leaving a life he knew for 32 years--so the stakes were pretty high, at least a dramatic moment was ripe for the taking.

His co-workers put on skit, this wonderful piece of theater I'm referring to. They structured it. They actually realized they needed something to hang their skit on, and instead of concentrating on something classically Aristotelian--rising action, climax, denouement--they chose the alphabet. I loved it. Something we've known since our childhood. Something familiar. Something simple. Twenty-six scenes. Each "actor" was assigned a letter, and had to stand up at a staged area and talk about the retiree, and the script, their monologue, because that's what it was, was to be rooted in that letter.

When you give people, people who are not trained or comfortable in being in front of an audience, give them a microphone and force them in front of an audience, they are stripped bare. The are naked. And my reaction was I cared for each and everyone. I applauded their bravery, which in a small way spoke the something deep and meaningful in the human spirit, and also something that I think is waning in our society too.  I wanted to hear what everyone had to say. I rooted for the ones who were uncomfortable. I enjoyed the more polished speeches. But even deeper, I was amazed but how much was revealed.

There was Mr. Popular. He was attractive to look at. Vivacious. Funny. Comfortable. And it was easy to see why people liked him. And he reveled in his place in this little community.

Conversely, there was the guy who was unpopular, and you can see how he struggled for the group's approval. Everything Mr. Popular wasn't--not comfortable in his own skin, unfunny, inarticulate, the group still accepted him and drew him in.

From A to Z I saw quiet people, smart but reserved people, the outsiders, and people who believed in sincerity and love, and weren't afraid to show it, because when you put people under pressure, and make no bones about it, these people were under pressure, people will resort to what they are most comfortable with, their core values and beliefs.

And there were two other characters. There was the man for whom all this was done: the retiree. who seemed at first so much outside of all this. Sometimes it seemed as if I wasn't so much at a retirement party as I was at a wake, and the participants were celebrating their life, their vitality, because they were going to go on living in the world they and the man had occupied. He was the one moving on.

And then there was me. The outside spectator, who thought about his own life, his community, if there even is one, and how long it's been since I've had a "real" job, one where the office was my life and characters like I was watching were a part of my life. Thirty-two years. Thirty-two years of his life the man spent in his career. Wow. And now it was over. They talked how he now had time to paddle his canoe and read his Boston Globe. Hmmm....

I wish I could write scenes like this, actors' pieces, that are simple and rely on the talents and instincts of people who can replicate this kind of world night after night. This is storytelling at its best, something I strive for but never seem to be able to get it quite right. It's frustrating as hell, to sit here at a keyboard day after day, then see it so genuinely and endearingly done by people who aren't even trying.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'm blowing off an audition because...

Maybe career-wise I'm shooting myself in the foot, but I'm blowing off an audition at a very well-known and connected casting agency this afternoon because...because...oh God, there are so many reasons, but first the simple one stupid reason I agreed to the audition is this:

I am flat broke and if cast I'd make $500 on the day of the shoot. File that under, I Was Young And Stupid And Needed The Money.

I have been cast in I think two industrials in my entire life. I used to go on auditions all the time and would get occasional callbacks, but rarely a job. This one was for a computer company (I'm always getting called in for white-guy office workers, in other words, a white guy in either a suit or business casual.) I don't even own a suit. I know it's acting, but just once can they call me in for something that's a bit more my type??

And I was looking at myself in the mirror today and yes, full confession here: I'm feeling old (well, I'm feeling maybe not old, but my age: it's not easy being in an environment where 99.9% of the people are over half your age and  you're constantly reminded of your age, just like I imagine people of color are constantly reminded of the color of their skin. It's an interesting, eye-opening experience for me in our society.) And I just wasn't up to standing in this crowded hallway (yes, auditions are so glamorous; you're jammed cheek by jowl with actors in a hallway) with all these glamorous people. Yes, most are glamorous and so much better looking than me.

Maybe I'm better off just sticking to the theater and the stage, where I feel so much more comfortable. 

So, looks were a big thing. I'm just not feeling too good about the way I look lately. Because of school I haven't been in the gym in months, I've been eating crap food just to stay alive so I'm out of shape and have put on weight, and reread the above paragraph about age if you want some more reasons.

And I was rehearsing the script this morning and I couldn't memorize it exactly, which is scary because for an actor if you can't remember your lines, well, that's a problem.

But it was so badly written. It was so badly written it was stupid and do you know how many times I've sat with corporate types who don't know the first thing about writing, who are schooled in writing or script-writing from what they've seen on television, or worse bad cinema? And every nerve in my body is screaming, this is stupid, I'm making an ass out of myself, we're all making asses out of ourselves, doesn't anyone care?

And you know what: the answer to that last question is either a) they really aren't aware they're making an ass out of themselves; or b) they don't care. What is the deal that self-respect is the first thing that goes out the window when it comes to money?

I have three plays I'm currently working on. All three are good writing. Do you know how I know it's good writing? Because I'm a good writer, and I'm so good at it that I can spot it a mile away. I have three plays that are in various stages of completion that need my undivided attention and for me to blow off a good portion of the day to do something I don't want to do and makes me feel like shit is just plain stupid.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday's Thoughts on Age Discrimination in the Workforce

Like most people, I'm not a big fan of Mondays. I learned though, when I was struggling, like I am now, that Monday's are the day that you really learn what you're made of. Put a person under pressure, and you'll see what they are made of. They'll crumble, or bitch and moan, or yell and lose their temper. Or they'll knuckle down and face what it is that's beating them up, and figure out a way to get passed it, move on, defeat it, do whatever it takes to get to Friday.

I'd get up on a Monday morning, and an entire empty week would loom below me like a ski slope. (I'm one of those people who see things like time lines and even the alphabet in 3-D color and shadow.) So the top of the week is really the top of the week. I'd have no work, no obvious means of income, with bills piling up and my stomach just churning, and I'd pick up the phone or email or something and by Wednesday I'd usually have something. Work. A plan. Hell, sometimes it was an entirely new problem, but I had something going.

I always say, homelessness and starvation are really good motivators.

So that's where I stood today. Actually, it was over the weekend when all the craziness of the semester just dissipated and I suddenly realized my I got my last check for teaching and I have no visible means of support. (Or, invisible means, either.)

Nothing yet. And this economy makes it all the harder. I did go on an interview last week for some contract work, but I'm not holding out for much there. Riding up in the elevator, I noticed just like the last place I worked that the people were at least half my age. The VP who I first spoke with me and  was probably just a bit younger than me, even came out and told me that the average age of the your average worker there was in their twenties. (The fact that there wasn't an true representation of all ages in society is always a good indication that while they talk diversity, they really don't practice it. I don't recall seeing any African-Americans either.)

Then came what I always dread. He ushered in two managers who had never met me and only knew me from my resume. And the looks on these twenty-something faces when they turned the corner into the conference room and saw me told me all I needed to know: Age discrimination is alive and well. It's a look I've seen a number of times on younger people's faces when they first lay eyes on me, and the generational gap yawns between us. And I know I barely have a fighting chance, even if I might not be exactly right for the job. (Although this time I think I was.) 

There's not a lot you can do in that situation. I can't prove that I was being discriminated against. But I do know what I saw.

And truth be told, when I was freelancing it was a requirement of the clients I took on that I 1) liked the people I'd be working with because I like to have fun, and I do consider my work fun; and 2) I had to feel that client organization was making the world a better place. I built a pretty good, thriving business by being true to my own beliefs and values. It worked once, and I believe it will work again.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Honey Must Love Me...

...because look what came in the mail yesterday.


While working on my dramaturgy dossier on Trojan Barbie for contemporary drama, I was first turned onto, then fell in love with the Greek tragedy. I knew very little about Greek mythology and even less about Greek tragedy and the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, but the more I learned, the more I got sucked in. (It was nice to learn that when she took the commission to adapt Trojan Women, Christine Evans also knew very little about Greek tragedy and basically familiarized herself through an independent study while working on her doctorate at Brown.) We saw Euripides' Ajax at the ART a few weeks ago, and it was amazing--2,500 years old and still relevant today. The human emotion still current.

People are always amazed that Sue and I don't have a television; I haven't had one for maybe six years now. People always ask us what we do if we don't watch television.

First, we do still follow the news online and there's Netflix for our entertainment. But we're also psyched about sitting together and popping in these DVDs. Sue calls it brain night. We'll actually sit down with a pizza or maybe a bowl of SmartFood. Sue props herself up on the couch; I'm amazed how she can sit with her feet tucked under her with her knees to her chin. Maybe some people thinks it's boring. Maybe some people think we're just nerds. Frankly, I don't understand how people can spend a good portion of their lives following fat, spoiled, overpaid athletes or following some television series with a lame plot line.

I mean, the Greeks did it first and did it so much better.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Like A Man Freed From Prison

I'm reveling in all my free time. It's like after a show closes and you suddenly have your life back. I have time to do all the things I want to do, all the things, the crazy, weird things that make your life normal, or at least make you feel comfortable.

For one thing I can blog some more. It's not a big deal to write here, and it doesn't take up that much time, but it shows just how little time I did have that I couldn't post here. I was blogging on our contemporary drama classes blog, and I literally would use very waking minute to do something for class: read standing on the subway, take twenty minutes to open the laptop sitting on some couches outside class to write five more lines of dialogue in a play. It was all so crazy. I do like to be busy, but the past five months were overload.

Did I mention what I did when I finished? I opened a bottle of cream soda, sat on the floor of the living room (or what we call the music room) and played guitar for about three hours. I've been so out of practice and it's something that I just love to do to relax--a lot of times I'll work for a while and take a break for about ten minutes. If I'm working in the office instead of on the couch I'll usually have Alice, one of our acoustics, propped against the table.

And I've been doing all the crazy little things that a man just freed from prison might do. Today I'm making bread. Yesterday I was in Boston (to drop off the infamous dramaturgy dossier), went to the graduate school office and figured out how I was going to pay for the summer semester, and then I went to Daddy's Junky Music and played a bunch of guitars they have there. (Also bought a metronome, something one of my music teachers, Lloyd Thayer has been beating in my head to get. I bought it off the salesman who walked in the guitar room and said hi, and I said hi back in a way that said, leave me the hell alone. They know me there and he was decent enough to let me alone and not hassle me with pushing a guitar sale.) I went a few doors up and grabbed a hamburger at Wendy's; Wendy's hamburgers are a nasty vice I have. I met my daughter for dinner and I was able to talk and listen without having this other tape running in the background of my brain, thinking about dialogue and plot and stage directions and getting this paper written or planning this project. I'm picking up laundry and making grocery lists and I'm making sense out of our house. Sue works two jobs to keep us going, so I'm the one who manages the house and I actually like doing it. I've always been kind of domestic. I like to cook and I like working at home; the only time I ever liked working in an office was when I was first starting out and I thought I was hot shit. It didn't take me long to realize I was what is known as a self-starter (hardly anyone is; most people need the whip from the office to keep them motivated) and did much better on my own away from the stupidity of office politics and general office shenanigans. I always thought that was so much noise.

It'll will all start again in a week and a half when summer starts. I am so excited about the classes I'm taking, but for now I'm happy to just be able to noodle around the apartment.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Life is too short...

Yesterday at exactly 2:00 p.m. (according to the clock on my MacBook, at least) the spring semester ended for me. Just a few minutes before that the notice on the printer came on saying the toner was low. After all those months, I quite suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. A curious feeling; we've all felt that where you're crazy at work and suddenly it's Friday at 5:00 before your vacation.

BU has ruled every second of my life for about five months. Every waking second, and a lot of my sleeping ones, were concentrated on what I had to do, where I had to be (sometimes two places at once.) I knew this was going to be a challenging semester, even more challenging than the fall when I was acclimating myself to grad school then suddenly in the second week my back went out and my leg became paralyzed and I couldn't walk. I got through that and I knew I was going to get through the spring, too. I kept telling myself (and I'm bragging but I feel I have bragging rights), You are one of three people picked for the program. BU and Kate and I'm sure there were others on the selection committee who felt you could do the work, felt strong enough that you were given a scholarship and a teaching fellowship. So do the work.

I look back on the semester and think I finished one full-length play (of which I am so happy with and proud of) and started and finished a second full-length script. I've read I don't know how many plays and books, self-educated myself on the life and work of Sam Shepard, participated in amazing discussions in class about plays and playwriting and playwrights, something I am passionate about, taught a class of sophomores, again about something that I am greatly passionate about, and basically fulfilled the requirements for a pretty rigorous curriculum. I've grown immensely as a playwright and as a student and as a thinker and a theater creative artist. And what's funny is that, while I can see how far I've traveled, I can see how far the road continues on. And that discouraging and enticing all at once. There's so much more to learn, so much more to do. Life holds an incredible amount of opportunity and challenge. As they say, life is too short.
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