Wednesday, April 30, 2008

White People Challenging Racism class starts tonight

I start co-facilitating White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action tonight, at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. It's a five week class, where people learn about and discuss white privilege, various forms of racism, and formulate an action plan for making change in one of their spheres of influence. I'm part of a group of nine or ten facilitators in the WPCR group who rotate teaching the class (we've had more than 500 people take it over the years).

I've helped lead the class twice before, but it's been a year since the last time. So I'm nervous. Plus, it's always a little nerve-wracking to spend one night a week for five weeks talking about the intricacies of race with ten strangers. The first night is always the hardest, but the anticipation is the hardest part. Once we get started, the time usually flies by.

Six Views roundtable wrap up

The rest of the Rhombus Six Views, Same Shape festival went well. On Saturday morning I moderated our roundtable discussion on methods and models of new play development. We had an experienced panel--Ilana Brownstein (literary manger of the Huntington Theatre Company), Gary Garrison (executive director of the Dramatists Guild), Kate Snodgrass (artistic director of the Boston Playwrights Theatre and Boston Theatre Marathon), Joe Antoun (artistic director of CentaStage), and Jacqui Parker (artistic director of Boston' s African American Theatre Festival).

We had a good turnout, in terms of audience--probably about 33 (not including our six Rhombus writers)--playwrights from all around the area, and they seemed pretty engaged in the discussion. I came prepared with a good list of questions that got people talking. I wished we'd recorded audio of the discussion, so I could post it here. As moderator, I was paying attention to the flow of the discussion and trying to figure out where to steer it next, so I didn't take very good notes (anyone out there who was there with better notes, please do post a comment here).

However, I can list a few of the highlights.
  • Several panelists talked about the importance of knowing when to say no to a reading. Not all plays need every different kind of development process all the time. It's up to you, as your play's best advocate to consider seriously what is most needed for your play, now.
  • In light of that, Gary Garrison posed three questions that he feels are critical to answer (or have a pretty good idea about) before you start getting into a development process (that isn't run by you). If you don't, you're at risk for easily being led in various different directions, and muddying your play. His questions were (I hope I'm getting this right):
  • What is your play about?
  • Why did you write it?
  • What do you want to see on stage?
  • Ilana Brownstein offered up an additional question--What is your nightmare version of this play? It's helpful to know what you don't want to happen to your script.
  • We talked a bit about various developmental programs--the Huntington Fellows Program, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the O'Neill, and others, as well as grass roots, do-it-yourself kinds of weekends.
  • The importance of giving a script time to grow and realizing that the first production does not mark the end of the growth of a script. Jacqui Parker talked about being able to remount or extend the run of a play, to allow her to fully realize changes she wanted to make after seeing the play on its feet.
  • We also talked about the limitations of staged readings, and ways in which it's possible to explore plays on their feet before they reach production.
  • Money was a topic. The expense of new play development greatly affects how it's put together, and how, because of union rules, it's actually more expensive for large institutions to put on a workshop of a new play than for a smaller group.
  • We talked about the other elements in a play besides dialogue--set and lighting and sound design, asking is there a way for playwrights to better understand or communicate with designers. I suggested we put together a panel or workshop in Boston to facilitate this (and I think it could happen sooner rather than later).
  • We had good questions from the audience about the history of new play development, and about graduate schools--the consensus was that attending a formal playwriting program was definitely not necessary in order to write good plays or have a playwriting career. This is from people who teach and run such programs. If you want to attend a formal program, it's important that you have a good idea of how you learn, and that you look closely at such programs to know who you'll study with and if they're a good match for your needs.
We covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes, that's for sure.

In addition to learning a lot, I was pleased with how generous and open all the panelists were. And how relatively easy it was to put something like this together. I definitely feel inspired to work on more such events in the future--to find answers to my questions (and share them with the community).

Friday, April 25, 2008

Six Views is on its feet

We (Rhombus) got the Six Views, Same Shape new play festival off and running last night, with Joe Byers' play, Noori and the Imperialists (a play about the end of the world). He had a terrific cast and a good turnout (attendance of 27, not counting the six of us writers--our target was 25, so that was good news). The audience was pretty warm and gave lots of good response, which is really what the whole thing is for.

Tonight we had Carl Danielson's play, Everloving God. I baked brownies and helped with front of the house and lights. Despite a nice mention in the Globe this morning and a mass e-mailing yesterday afternoon, turnout was very light. We had six people attend, which was too bad, because it's really hard to judge laughs with less than a dozen, really less than 20. Still, Carl got a good reading from the actors, and I'd think it'd be helpful in figuring out where to rewrite the script.

Tomorrow, we've got the roundtable on methods and models of new play development. I'm moderating and have been trying to get ready. I've got a full page of notes and questions ready to go. The time will go by fast, I think.

Then it's on to my workshop/reading/open rehearsal of Constant State of Panic. I was still making changes to the script this morning. I think I've got a decent plan worked out for what I want to workshop, though my list is long and time will be short. I'm curious to see what value this way of working (workshopping in front of an audience) will bring. Part of it will depend on how engaged the audience is in taking an inside look at the process or working on this play. I doubt this would be a way to work very often, but I can see it adding an interesting spark. We'll see. (it's at 2pm tomorrow--if you're in Boston, come by).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Vanishing Point

I know I appear to have disappeared as of late, but I still exist. Really. But rather than writing or reading blogs, I've been trying to get the first act of my new play, Constant State of Panic, ready for this Saturday's workshop/open rehearsal in Rhombus's Six Views/Same Shape new play festival (Saturday, 2pm, Boston Playwrights Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave, Boston. Free.).

(The Festival runs April 24-27, and if you're in Boston, you should definitely check it out--we've got reading and workshops of six new plays, plus a roundtable discussion on models/methods of new play development, featuring Gary Garrison of the Dramatists Guild, Ilana Brownstein (literary manager of the Huntington Theatre Company), and Kate Snodgrass (artistic director of Boston Playwrights Theatre and who helps run the BU graduate playwriting program), plus artistic directors Joe Antoun and Jacqui Parker.)

The good news is that I did manage to get the act done in time before we left for Florida (which is where I'm writing this) and before a quick read-through with my cast (who are terrific). We get back from Florida just in time for Six Views to start.

I also needed to type up the new beginning to my new novel for my fiction group, which meets next week (so I had to send them the stuff before we left on vacation). I'd thought it was all typed and edited, but I remembered falsely--it was all handwritten scribbles. (Turns out there were 28 typewritten pages when I was done.)

All that, plus a whole bunch of family stuff, getting ready for vacation, coaching Kira's soccer team, and trying to prepare for teaching White People Challenging Racism at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (starting next Wednesday--I've barely even had time to think about it). I'm mostly just been trying not to panic.

So far, so good. Now I just need to clarify exactly what we're going to do in this whole "open rehearsal" on Saturday. I think I have an idea, but I'll be a little more relaxed with a plan on paper.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

making movies--on the run

We finished up our writing session at 5am this morning, with a decent draft. Our parameters: genre--drama, character--Reginald H. Higginotham, diplomat, prop--receipt, line--"This could get complicated."

Writing in a team of four is tough, especially for drama, but we got along pretty well. I'll go into our process in a future post, because I'm interested in how these things work, but right now I'm on the afternoon crew and I need to drive to the shoot at a flower shop. It'll be another late night I think.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Making Movies--on your mark, get set...

In a few hours, I'm off to Waltham to stay up all night with three other writers (and a director hanging around somewhere), to see if we can come up with a knock-em-dead short film script for our 48-Hour Film Project team. At 7pm, we'll get the call with what genre we have to write, along with a character we need to use, a line of dialogue, and a prop. The plan is to have a story and outline in place by 11 or midnight, so the storyboarding can start, and we should have the whole thing finished by 5am or so. (We're one of 90 teams in Boston this weekend.)

It's been 20 years since I actually made movies, so I'm pretty excited by this. I'll be there on Saturday, to be part of the crew, and hope they'll let me in on the editing and post-production on Sunday, too. I'm oddly nervous, like right before a big soccer game, or before the opening night of a play. I like the adrenaline of it, and the queasy sense of the unknown.

If you're in the Boston area, you can see the results of this when our film is screened (assuming we finish, which I feel confident we will). It'll be at the Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA, Tuesday, April 8, at 7pm. It might be brilliant, it might be a train wreck, but it'll definitely be worth checking out.l