Sunday, August 31, 2008

About to (Playwright) Binge

The Playwright Binge start up again tomorrow, for our 13th Binge. This is an online group of writers (mostly playwrights) who take up the challenge of submitting a play once a day, every day, for thirty days.

I started this group almost seven years ago, with about a dozen people playing along. Now we've got more than 400 playwrights from around the world signed up, and it's turned into a very supportive, year-round community. During the actual binges (we do this twice a year), folks post what they've sent to the list, where they sent it, and why. They're pretty good about sharing info, too.

Theatres of the world beware--here we come!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

update: novel progress

Finished Part II of the new novel on Thursday. I'm probably about 250 pages into this current rewrite. I just have one more big section to go and then this draft will be done, and then it'll be time to get back to editing and revising all over again. My early morning schedule has been paying off--I wrote about 100 pages in the past 30 days, 56 in August alone. I just need to keep that up for the next 50-70 pages (I think that's how much I have to go). In my fantasy world, I'll have this novel done and ready to go out by the end of this year (though the fall seems so busy that I'm a little scared).

I'm guessing this week will be all noodling time, planning for Part III, and that's hard to do at 5am, because I'm only half awake, but that's the time I have, so I'd better use it.

A Union Man?

I just joined the National Writers Union (assuming they accept my application). I've never belonged to a union before. Technically it's associated with the AFL-CIO and the UAW (local # 1981). Now when I rail about the recent decline in the power of American Labor I theoretically won't be quite so lame. I've actually committed money to helping folks who will advocate in my best interests. (Sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?) Collective action for the common good--what a concept.

I have a friend who helps run the Boston chapter and she's encouraged me to join for years. They offer job postings and contract advice and seminars for members. All stuff I can use.

I have to confess that as a student, I got a bit bamboozled by the Reagan era anti-union tsunami that swept the nation, and saw unions as relics of the past, mostly interested in protecting people with excessive rules and not allowing flexibility and initiative. Most of the press still presents unions that way (ah, who owns the papers and TV stations, after all?) Then I started doing a little reading and had my eyes opened as to the extreme (and violent) struggle that went on between organized labor and capital at the end of the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century. It's easy to take for granted all the protections and benefits that the labor struggle has provided to so many. Taken for granted enough that we're starting to see them gradually erode.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Life Imitating Art. And not. Pumpkin Patch vs. Cabbage Patch

My play Pumpkin Patch is now available from Playscripts, which is very exciting. (Everyone should immediately go buy a copy. It's in a collection of plays, so you'd actually get all kinds of good plays, even though you're really just after this one really good Gabridge play.)

The play is about two people in a community garden--one of whom is the coordinator and catches a woman stealing pumpkins. There's a big dust up, drama all around. No one comes out looking particularly good. I like it because it's a play where people get to smash things on stage, which is fun for everyone.

So today, my son and I rode our bikes to our community garden. It was the first time we'd had two days of sunshine in a row in almost forever. We had a great ride (in our family, we tried to determine everyone's superpowers. Noah's is riding his bike. Mine is that I'm very good at falling asleep--watching TV, reading books, typing on the computer, watching plays). Sun shining overhead. Not too hot. Birds singing. Flowers blooming.

I took my little preliminary tour of our 12' x 27' plot, just to admire it and check for problems, before starting to harvest cucumbers and tomatoes. And I stopped right at the path's edge. There was a hole in the ground where there used to be two very pretty heads of cabbage growing. There was one left of the three that we'd grown, but two had been stolen.

I ranted and railed. What kind of person steals from a garden? Why did they have to take two? I mean, if they were really, really hungry, I could have spared one. But they took a long time to grow. Two? There was a twisted off tap root from one of the cabbages, still fresh. The thief had been there this morning.

"Call 9-1-1," my son advised. He's eight. I had to explain the police might be busy solving other crimes with higher priorities than my missing cabbages. He was a little put off by this, but then gave a big pirate roar and said that if he was a policeman he'd catch the thief and put him in a jail with bees. So the thief would get stung. This sort of punishment can come to mind, I suppose, when there are bees buzzing about, busy pollinating squash.

In Pumpkin Patch, the garden coordinator's mantra is "Don't Plant Pumpkins!" That's what she tell her gardeners, because she knows they'll have their hearts broken. "Plant zucchinis, plant green beans, but don't plant melons, don't plant pumpkins." She's both right and wrong, of course. The gardeners will get their hearts broken, but if they don't plant pumpkins, then nobody gets any pumpkins, and everybody loses. (Confession: when I was coordinator of this garden, I used to issue the same warning, but slightly more gently.)

I never thought to have her say, "Don't plant cabbages." Who steals cabbages?

Unlike in my play, there was no scoundrel at the garden with a bag full of two perfectly round heads of cabbage. Just me, shaking my head and muttering.

The nice thing was that for once, I'd already written and thought about all this. A lot. At least enough to write about it and to be involved with two productions of the play. So I had plenty of practice making up scenarios for why someone would do this and how they should act. Who knew being a writer might actually pay off someday.

I picked the remaining cabbage. (At least they left me this, right?) It could have grown bigger, but it's beautiful and big enough for a meal for our family. (Watch out, kids.) I picked a few tomatoes showing pink, too, because I find tomatoes more tempting than cabbages, myself, and my faith in humanity was just a little tarnished.

But I'll plant more cabbages next year. And today, once I was done harvesting and then planting new seeds of chard, spinach, lettuce, and beets for my fall crop, I weeded the garden of some friends. They're busy and have two small kids and the plot was desperately overgrown with grass and bindweed and other good sized chokers. So I filled up bucket after bucket of weeds until you could see the eggplants again and smell the dill and thyme.

There wasn't anything I could do to get my cabbages back, or keep them from vanishing next time, but I could at least make sure that somebody will have a pleasant surprise the next time they visit the garden. That helped a lot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Anne Lamott on the process

I'm rereading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which is awfully helpful (and if you're a writer, I can't recommend it enough), while I'm in the midst of major rewrite #3 and trying not to think about whether this novel will ever be any good.

Here's a quote that seemed just what I think about the process at the moment:

Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly. There will be many mistakes, many things to take out and other that need to be added. You just aren't always going to make the right decision.

That pretty much sums it up for me. Right now, I'm desperately trying to stay hypnotized and avoid breaking the spell. Sometimes I feel a little out of it, I have to confess, because my subconscious is whirring away trying to figure out what the hell is coming next in each scene. A fine cold eye is definitely not what I need right now.

Just call me Michael Phelps

The Olympics are always a good writing time for me (if I don’t get sucked too much into watching them), because I find myself thinking: Look at those people. Pure dedication. Constant training and sacrifice. These athletes work in the gym every morning at 7am, then swim in the pool for eight hours a day, or bike a hundred miles, or do flips across a gym mat all day. If they can do that, I can sit down at my desk at 5am every morning and write for a few hours (without complaining). I want to be in the writing Olympics, I want my work widely published and produced, and if that’s going to happen, I’ve got to train like these people.

I’m sure that these two weeks are probably the biggest surge of the year for gym memberships and sales of running shoes (maybe except for New Year’s week). Maybe it’s the same way for the number of pages written in the dark early morning. And like most gym memberships, attendance at the desk will fade off over time (especially once Lost starts coming at at 10pm). But hopefully, for some of us at least, the habits will stick.

(I have manged to write 7 pages in the dark hours in the past two days, by the way.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Boston Theatre Conference 2008

I'm back from today's Boston Theatre Conference, run by StageSource, both energized and totally exhausted. I knew it was going to be a good day when a) it didn't rain on me during the five-mile bike ride to get there (though I felt a sprinkle) and b) the first person I met was a college theatre professor who was interested in taking a look at my play, God's Voice.

The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown today was crackling with positive energy. Jeff Poulos, StageSource Executive Director (who rocks!) said there were 260 people there (and he'd hoped for 150). We came from all aspects of theatre--writers, directors, actors, designers, administrators. The overriding theme was "Raising Our Standard" with much of the discussion around ways to increase collaboration between institutions and between artists.

After the plenary discussion, we split into breakout sessions. I was moderator for the playwright group. We had about 40 people pack the room, and for the most part we were able to follow my "no whining" rule. We hit a lot of different topics, from playwright groups, to funding sources, to possible thoughts around training sessions. We didn't come away with any major new initiatives, but it was also good for the bunch of us to be in a room together and get to know each other a little better. (Art Hennessey was there, too, and I'm sure he'll come up with a good post about it all on his blog.)

Lunch featured another lively discussion (I like how they paired us into multi-disciplinary groups) about the climate in Boston for theatre. Then after that, there was an inspiring mainstage discussion with the new heads of the ART, Diane Paulus, and the Huntington, Peter DuBois, and relatively new (3 years) head of Trinity Rep, Curt Columbus. The presence of these three might bode very well for theatre in our area. Curt Columbus talked a lot about how he's weaving his theatre into the fabric of his community--he was both funny and just totally seems to understand the good parts of theatre. I'd work with him in a heartbeat. Wow.

It was a busy, busy day (there was even another session after all that), with lots of networking and chatting with old friends. The kind of day that makes me see what I love about theatre and theatre people.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

dancing around the world

Where The Hell is Matt video

My daughter showed me this today. Fun, inspiring, and it's found an audience, that's for sure.

I'd never heard of it before, but it's had more than 8 million views on YouTube, and apparently now he's been on TV and has a book deal in the works. Very interesting to see what grabs people's attention.

It definitely makes me want to travel, more now than ever. There's just the small matter of $$. Maybe I'd better do a good job with my new novel and maybe it'll actually sell.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fun blog about writing a novel

Lynn Price on her Behler blog pointed out this very funny blog about the stages of writing a novel. Definitely gave me a good laugh.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

the upside--to writing and getting older

It can be easy to get caught up in the downside of playwriting--poor pay, long response times from theatres, a decreasing number of venues (it seems) for full-length work. General discouragement is in plentiful supply.

However, I was looking at a list from my publisher (Brooklyn Publishers) the other day and saw that my one-act play, The Elevator, has been produced twice this year by various high schools. This is the very first play I ever wrote, and it was produced by the Pendragon Theatre in 1987. It's a fine little piece about two people who get stuck together in an elevator. I wrote it on a whim and submitted it to them, since I'd worked with them backstage and as an actor, in our tiny little town of Saranac Lake, NY. The bill for the evening featured me, Elaine May, and Tennesee Williams. (It later went on to be produced in New York City and Denver.)

That production is part of why I'm a playwright and writer today. I was still in college and it helped give me the taste of watching my work live on stage, that first time of butterflies in my stomach as the lights went down and then back up on the actors on the set for my play.

I never would have thought, at the age of 20, that this same play would still be getting productions 21 years later. It's particularly gratifying to know that I wrote something that can still interest and entertain performers and audiences after all this time. I'm certainly a long way from being a well-known writer, but it's nice to know that you don't have to be famous for your work to have a long and productive life. There aren't many fields where you can create something that still sticks around after a generation has passed--I feel lucky to be a writer.

Friday, August 1, 2008

progress report--lots of new pages in July

I'm continuing to make solid progress on the rewrite of the new novel. The last two weeks have been particularly productive--I've written 56 new pages, which is just what I was hoping for. Because Noah's been in camp, I've been able to get up at 5am, write until 7am, get him up and walk him to camp, and then write from 9am-11am. Four solid hours is enough to write about five pages of new material, and I've been doing that every weekday for the past two weeks. (In my fantasies, I write this way all year long, which would mean I could write about 1,000 pages in a year. Wouldn't that be nice.)

Unfortunately, today was the last day of camp, so from now until after Labor Day, I'll only have from 5am-7am to write, but if I can keep it up, I'll be able to maintain my momentum. I'll need to keep being strict about no e-mail, no opening the internet browser, and no writing to-do lists until after my writing is done for the day. If I can get write 2 pages a day until school starts, I'll be satisfied.

I'll be joining a bunch of writers at the Playwright Purge, which is an online group that takes the challenge of trying to write something every day for a month. It's a fun group and a good way to stay productive.