Monday, March 10, 2014

Writing the Rails

My little corner of the Internet has been abuzz all day with the news of the Amtrak Writers' Residency. The company will be giving 24 writers a round-trip ticket on one of their long distance routes to write ("room" only—you'll have to come  up with the "board..." and I'm okay with that). The competition is going to be fierce—almost every writer I know has already filled out the online application (and it was only announced two days ago). It's open to all disciplines—although a composer friend of mine wondered if he could be a viable candidate... in looking at the guidelines,* it would probably be difficult to provide the work sample (maybe a 10-page PDF from a score?).

As I've said before before in this blog, I'm a huge fan of train travel and this residency has given me the idea of creating a site specific piece for a train. I have no idea how it would work for the audience... or the actors, for that matter... or how to rehearse it... but I've never let that stop me in the past!

*It's important to point out that there is a lot of concern—and it is justified—about Amtrak's Official Terms and this point in particular:
6.   Grant of Rights: In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose... 
I decided to go ahead and agree to this point—although I'm sure the Dramatists Guild would slap me upside the head for it—and submit anyway. Legally, it's not very smart of me but since almost nothing I've written is very commercial, I weighed the experience I would gain with the potential "loss of income" and the experience won; I know that others will not agree with me on this point but it's how I feel. I hope that Amtrak will reconsider this point and make their rights request a little more reasonable.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Live Arts Festival: What We Saw and Did in Philadelphia

We had a great weekend in Philadelphia, as we always do. The work was uniformly strong and we were able to rearrange our schedule for the hellish Saturday so that it was pretty easy (thanks to my having accidentally bought tickets for both the matinee and evening performances of WAMB that day and Sarah Muehlbauer for generously offering us a refund for the evening show that was going to cause all our problems). A quick bullet list of the shows we saw and our impressions:
  • Nicole Canuso Dance: a lovely, nicely-crafted duet in the park at the American Philosophical Society—the perfect beginning to our weekend!
  • Charlotte Ford, Bang: by far our favorite show of the festival—it's very funny, smart and beautifully performed by Ford and her collaborators, Lee Etzold and Sarah Sanford. 
  • SnakeEatTail, WAMB: Visually, the aerial work is great, the space is fantastic and the performers are engaging. This is Muehlbauer's first production and it shows a bit—the recorded text is very poetic and there's not much variety in the way it is delivered so that it blends in with the music, which is also rather sonorous. I'd be interested to see another project by the artist, though, and encourage her to use less pre-recorded material, if she can: everything that involves a live performer here works pretty well.
  • New Paradise Laboratories, 27: Another visually successful production presented by exceptionally talented performers. I only wish I could have enjoyed the show more: there's so much fodder in the idea of the 27 Club and how the path to stardom for so many young artists is so incredibly self-destructive. But that's not the focus of the work here. Too bad. 
  • Bruce Walsh, Chomsky vs. Buckley, 1969: It's funny, it's well-acted and directed, it's short and  they give you snacks and drinks! This is a very close second in terms of our favorite shows—it's definitely our favorite living room production.
  • Applied Mechanics, Some Other Mettle: To be fair, it was the end of a very long day... The performances are all strong—both physically and artistically—and the director's use of the environment and incorporating of the art installation into the work is visceral and compelling. But I never really connected to the primal text and subterranean context for the piece. Another company that I will certainly go to see again, though.
  • Pig Iron Theater Company, Zero Cost House: Another strong production by director Dan Rotherberg with fantastic performances by Dito van Reigersberg and James Sugg (I could watch these guys do just about anything), and excellent work by Alex Torra, Mary McCool and Shavon Norris. And I also enjoyed Tohsiki Okada's clever script—even though I disagreed with some of the points he makes in it. It was the production that Catherine and I probably spent the most time discussing afterward.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday Night OOPS at the Live Arts Festival

We usually plan a little better than this. Because the Live Arts Festival has grown so dramatically over the years, the venues are less within walking distance of each other than they were when we first started going, and some aren't especially near to mass transit. We know this, but it's not as much a deciding factor in what we see as perhaps it ought to be. Add to that the fact that we like to see as many productions as we can possibly cram into a weekend and there are bound to be some short travel times. Up to now, we've managed to keep it to where a brisk walk and some pre-planning will get us where we need to be on time (thank you, Google maps).

However, we screwed up this year: we have 15 minutes to get from WAMB to Chomsky vs. Buckley, 1969, assuming that the first production starts on time. And here are the two locations on the map.
This route will take us 41 minutes walking, 28 minutes by mass transit and 10 minutes by car. But we don't have a car. We do have a Zipcar membership and there is a parking lot not far from the second venue: we can rent a car there at 6:30, drive to the WAMB venue and then back to Chomsky and then park the car until after the show (around 10pm).... and that will run us about $50. We could try a cab or car service but given the absurdly short amount of time we have, I'm skeptical that this would be successful (not to mention that I'm not sure it would be less than $50).

So, Philadelphians: any suggestions? We'd be grateful for any help you can offer.

UPDATE: We rented the Zipcar: I found one for a little less than $9/hour so it'll come out to less than $40. But we've got a lot of driving/subway riding that night:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Live Arts Festival: 2012

Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe
Time for our annual pilgrimage to the Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe. We'd planned to go over the Labor Day weekend but that's not an option this year — the festival opens on the 7th. So we'll spend Catherine's birthday seeing shows this year—one of them, right as birthday begins!

Friday, September 7
Nicole Canuso Dance—we saw her company perform in collaboration with a musical group at HERE a few years ago and really enjoyed her inventive choreography. This piece performs at the American Philosophical Society and was commissioned by them. A great way to kick off the weekend.

Charlotte Ford: BANG
Charlotte Ford: Bang—From the description, this will be a series of monologues and vignettes about gender and sexuality in which the actors play multiple characters: one of them will recite from "The Canterbury Tales in the original Old English, yet has mad tap skills." How can this miss? This collaboration with Lee Etzold and Sarah Sanford sounds fantastic; I'm really looking forward to it.

Saturday, September 8
New Paradise Laboratories: 27—I admire the abilities of Whit MacLaughlin and the actors he brings to his projects: New Paradise Laboratories work is always intelligent, engaging, disciplined physical performances that I don't see often enough. Apparently, this one is about immature slacker zombies: you don't see that often enough, either. I'm there.

SnakeEatTail: WAMB—Sometimes, a description in the festival guide just grabs you. "WAMB is an interdisciplinary performance and art installation that combines aerial acrobatics with live narration and original music." I don't see how it can miss.

Bruce Walsh: Chomsky vs. Buckley, 1969—Catherine and I caught his show, Northern Liberty, in 2005 and were impressed: we didn't think it was 100% successful, but the stuff that worked for us was truly excellent. This time, we're going to his apartment for the Noam Chomsky/William F. Buckley debate; intellectual, to be sure but before you start rolling your eyes, bear in mind: they're serving hors d'oeuvres....

Applied Mechanics: Some Other Mettle—We've never seen this company before, the show starts at midnight and the description in the festival guide is intriguing but a little vague. However, when we went to their website, we really liked what we saw there. Okay, sure: why not?

Sunday, September 9
Pig Iron Theater Company: Zero Cost House
Pig Iron Theater Company: Zero Cost House—It's almost not a Live Arts Festival for us without a Pig Iron show: they're one of our favorite companies working today. And I saw Toshiki Okada’s Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech in the Under the Radar festival this past January: a strange little triptych of playlets that was oddly engaging (unfortunately, even though Catherine didn't get to see that show, it's not playing in the Live Arts Festival when we're there—I think she'd like it even more than I did). I can't even imagine the production these very different groups will create.... but I'm looking forward to seeing it!

Sylvain Émard Danse: Le Grand Continental—Catherine got to see our friend, Katy, in a version of this at the Seaport this summer but I missed it. I won't get to see Katy, but it's free and I think it will fun to see here.

Shows that we'll miss but wish we could see: Untitled Feminist Show by Young Jean Lee (Catherine saw it this spring here in NYC and really liked it); Red-Eye to Havre de Grace (we saw Geoff Sobelle in the original production in 2005 and it was fantastic); This Town is a Mystery by Headlong Dance (we always enjoy their productions and this one sounds especially intriguing but it seemed to us that we'd really need a car to make it work.... and the ability to make a covered dish) and Elevator Repair Service's Arguendo (I'm sure we'll see it in NYC but it would have been fun to see it here, too). I'm sure there are others, too, but those are the big stand outs.

Friday, April 6, 2012

More Deleted Scenes from Manna-Hata: Minetta Lane

Initially, I had mixed feelings about cutting this scene: I think it's a nice character study and an interesting slice of life from the late nineteenth century but I also think it just doesn't offer anything more than that. It's adapted from a newspaper essay written by Stephen Crane. In my first draft of the scene, I pulled back from the dialects that Crane had "transcribed" for his article... but sadly, not nearly enough: I was absolutely embarrassed when the poor actors read it out loud for me last summer. Even though I suspected at the time that the scene would not ultimately be in the final production, I went ahead and finished shaping and editing it.

Now, more than a year later, I see virtually no chance that it will be used, and so it takes its place among the outtakes of Manna-Hata.

Minetta Lane

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Manna-Hata: What You Probably WON'T See

Because of the episodic nature of my new piece, Manna-Hata, I've written a number of scenes that most likely—and in some cases, most definitely—will not be in the finished work. Some are ideas that I had early in the writing process that might have worked if I'd gone a different direction with the piece: compelling stories I found that just don't add anything to narrative I'm trying to create.* I may eventually cannibalize some of the material in them for other scenes—I've already done that in a few instances—but, as written, they're essentially detritus. I've had the idea for a while to post these to the Interlude to show a little of my process as a playwright on the piece.

The link at the bottom is a flight of fancy I had based on a few paragraphs from E.B. White's incredible treatise, Here is New York. As far as I'm concerned, any New Yorker who hasn't read this essay is not a New Yorker. At one point, this scene was going to be the beginning of the piece. At the end of the dialogue, you'll find the excerpt from White's essay that inspired the scene.

The Three New Yorks

Friday, September 16, 2011

Manna-Hata: How It May Begin....

I'm writing the script for our next large-scale promenade performance, Manna-Hata, and it's been very slow-going: 400 years of NYC history in one event that (I hope) will be less than 2 hours long ain't easy. I have lots of material written but nothing that's been jazzing me in terms of how to approach the story.... until now. I think I've got something that may work. There's a dialogue scene that follows this stage direction but I'm still working on that. I'm interested to hear what others think: intriguing, confusing, something else? Let me know....
As the audience enters, THE BAND is playing: perhaps something fast and percussive in a classic NY jazz style. As the music ends, the lights fade slowly out. Silence. 
Lights up suddenly on a street corner in Manhattan. The ensemble are all frozen in place, as though they have been captured mid-stride by a photograph; in the middle of it all stands the SETTLER. At the same time, a musical cue suddenly sets the scene into motion and the ensemble begins to perform the Pedestrian Street Ballet (1): they travel along a grid pattern as though they are navigating sidewalks in an intricate, fast-paced dance. As they do, the SETTLER stands still in the middle of them while the Ballet takes place around her. Occasionally, she will watch an individual or an encounter between people but, for the most part, she is merely looking all around, blissfully trying to absorb the entire scene. 
After the ballet has been going for a while, the NATIVE enters. She expertly navigates the Street Ballet until she reaches the spot where the SETTLER is standing. At this moment, however, the SETTLER decides to leave her spot and interrupts the flow of the Ballet directly in front of the NATIVE. She attempts to sidestep but moves in exactly the same direction as the NATIVE; she tries again and they continue to block each other. After a few back-and-forths, their movement modifies into a partner dance/movement. The SETTLER is awkward with the dance but the NATIVE is patient and guides her through the steps.

During their scene, the Street Ballet continues with various members of the ensemble occasionally tossing interjections into the dialogue.
The Street Ballet is a recurring theme I hope to use in the piece—something that can be modified to indicate time/place, if needed.
(1) "Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations." —Jane Jacobs