Thursday, June 24, 2010

Radio story about the T Plays

WBUR reporter Jessica Alpert put together a great story about the T Plays that just opened.  She followed me around last Saturday while I was writing/riding on the T.  It's a fun piece--I hope it helps bring people in to see the show.  (We sold out last night.)  It only runs for this weekend, so check it out while you can.

Listen to the story.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Huge News for Arena Stage for Playwrights

Check out this article on Arena Stage's new program for playwrights.  Basically, they're going to hire some playwrights on staff, with salary and benefits.  This is something I've been talking about/fantasizing about for years.  If this catches on among the large LORT theatres, it could be HUGE for American playwrights, by helping bring some additional stability to their lives (both personal lives and creative lives), giving them more space to make stronger work, and to help them stay focused on the theatre (less tempted to go write for TV).

So, in my ideal world:  1)  more theatres follow this model.  2)  One of them hires me.  But no matter what, this is very good news.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

T Plays--chugging along

We had a great rehearsal for my T play this afternoon.  The actresses were zeroed in on their roles, and Barlow Adamson, my director (who is actually co-directing with John O'Brien), seemed to completely understand these two characters I'd created.  It was a pretty inspired rehearsal, actually.  Intense time pressure can truly focus the mind.  We had a read through of all the plays last night, and the other plays were so funny and got great response, and of course, I go and write a drama again, and feel like the guy who brings a cat to an all-dog party.  I was a little concerned I hadn't managed to write what I'd intended (in terms of quality, at least).  But today set my mind at ease and got me very excited about this play.  I'll miss tomorrow's rehearsal/tech, but hope to see a run through on Tuesday before the show opens on Wednesday. 

It's going to be a very fun night.  Check it out if you can.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

T Plays--Draft is In (on time!)

I turned the first draft of my T Play, "Escape to Wonderland," in with a whole 25 minutes to spare.  Whew. 

I had a good time riding the Blue Line with WBUR reporter Jessica Alpert for a while this morning--mostly taking notes and getting a sense for the line and trying to think about how my actresses could fit best into something on this line.  She left after an hour or so, and then I wrote for a few more hours, back and forth from Wonderland to Maverick (and sometimes Govt. Center).

In the end, I wrote about 9 handwritten pages (some of it in a burrito place in Maverick Square, rather than on the T, because I was dying from hunger).  Basically, I rode the T from about 10:30 to 4pm (green and blue lines).  Then I hurried home and typed it all up--it comes to about 11 pages.  I think it'll run closer to 12-14 minutes, but we'll see.  I like the characters a lot and think they'll suit the actresses very well.  Our talk at Doyle's last night gave me a lot to think about when trying to write roles for them.

I'd hoped for a comedy, but it just didn't turn out that way (I put my back out this morning, and I might be less inclined towards comedy with a bad back...).  Everyone was pretty well behaved and quiet on the Blue Line today, so they weren't especially inspirational.  (Come on people, let's get rowdy.)

Now I'm off to the read through at Suffolk University.  Can't wait to see what everyone has written.  (It's easy to have a lot of doubts about my stuff, but I have hopes it'll turn out all right.  I'm positive Rick Park will have written something positively hilarious again.)

T Plays--getting started

I'm blogging about the T Play experience on the Mill 6 blog, you can check out my first post from last night here.

Here's a photo of my two actresses, Jen and Ally (a little blurry and dark, sorry, should have used the flash).

Today, I need to work on our neighborhood garage sale, and then head on down to start riding the Blue Line and get inspired (probably with a WBUR radio reporter shadowing me, too.  I needed a little extra pressure, right?).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

new book is started (and thoughts on getting started)

I've been doing the research forever (years, really), but yesterday I actually started writing the first draft of my new historical novel.  It took me a while of staring at the blank screen (at least an hour, and this is with having a very detailed outline already) before I actually got some words written, but I promised myself that I'd write at least a page.

I ended up with about 1,400 words (5 pages) which is an excellent start.  The hardest part is not getting distracted by new research questions, but I'll work all of that out.  My plan is to start writing 5 days a week, shooting for about 1,000 words a day (more is good).

I truly LOVE first drafts.  They're my very favorite part of being a writer.

A friend asked me the other day how I manage to get started writing and how I avoid the internal censor.  That's what trips up a lot of people.

Here's the advice I gave her:

If you're stuck, take a look at Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, or Julia Cameron's The Arist's Way.  They talk a lot about how to cope.

Here is some advice, that I've learned over the years:

  • Be willing to write crap.  First drafts have lots of crappy stuff in them.  You don't have to show anyone.  Don't expect to write a finished book with your first draft.  People get confused, because they read great published books.  Those books didn't start out great.  The first drafts were complete crap, and then got revised, and revised again, and then got edited, and edited again.  (Yeah, there are people who write perfect first drafts, but those people are rare and are best avoided.  They can only make you feel bad.)
  • Nobody sits down and writes a book.  If you sit down thinking about the book or play you're going to write, it's just impossible.  It's too huge.  There are too many ideas and characters and images and words.  Who can get it all out?  I don't sit down and write a book or a play.  I write a chapter, a scene, a page, a sentence, a few words.  I think a scene is the most manageable chunk--figure out the scene, the interaction you want to write, and get that out.
  • Don't read what you're writing.  Seriously.  There's time to go back and read what you've written later.  You know what you wrote, pretty much.  If you go back and reread it, you'll just want to quit, because it's so much worse than you'd hoped (because it's a first draft, remember).  But the better version, the soul of it, lingers in your mind enough for you to write the next scene.  Focus on that one.  There will be time to fix all this stuff later.  For now, enjoy the ride and build some momentum.

(I do plan to reread all this advice come Monday morning when I'm trying to get myself to write Chapter Two of this new book.)

Go write that bad scene.

Friday, June 11, 2010

adventures in research

I'm currently involved in writing two historical projects, one a full-length stage play and the other an historical novel.  The novel is about the Civil War hero Robert Smalls.  I started the research six or seven years ago, but got involved with various other projects, but now I'm back.  Earlier this spring, I went to Charleston and Beaufort, SC, to scope out some of the associated historical sites, and I've been doing a lot of reading.  I've done a number of historical projects, and the research is one of my favorite tasks.

As I begin the first draft, I thought I'd also try to get some additional context by reading newspapers published in Charleston in 1862.  Luckily, I live near some great libraries (and I'm married to a librarian, who can help me figure out where to find stuff).  The Boston Public Library has a number of very strong collections, and I was pleased to find out online that they have copies of the Charleston Daily Courier on microfilm.  My plan was to spend all day yesterday in the library, reading and feeling very writerly.

So I got myself to the main branch in Copley Square right after it opened, ready to go--lunch packed, notebook prepped, pencils sharpened.  I asked the woman at the microfilm desk for the publication and dates I wanted.  Unfortunately, the film is in storage, and they're in the midst of moving storage facilities, so who knows when it would be available.  She helped me find the next closest source, which happened to be at Harvard.

Now, we all know that Harvard is a big deal.  (They know it, too.)  What I also happened to know is that Harvard's Widener Library is locked up as tight as Fort Knox.  No entry without a Harvard I.D.   I figured I didn't have much of a chance, but the woman at Boston Public Library (BPL) told me that I could get a visiting scholar pass for six visits, with a letter from BPL.  Which she could print and sign for me right there.  Very cool.  Harvard here I come.

So I hopped back on the subway and headed for Cambridge.  It was a grey rainy day, which was perfect for spending inside a library and made Harvard Yard look serious and studious (even though the student are all gone for the summer--it's only tourists and building contractors now).  Widener is an imposing brick building with neo-classical columns that says, "I'm important." I've always wanted to go inside, and here was my big chance.

But you don't just walk in, not even with a letter of recommendation.  First, I had to go to the Library Privileges Office, to get my I.D. card.  Yep, with the letter and my own license, I was able to get a special photo i.d. card (no impostors allowed) that will allow me my six visits.  The guy at the desk was very kind and didn't make me feel like a barbarian invader at all.  (I wisely negelected to mention being an MIT grad.)

My still-warm i.d. got me through security and I was up the stairs to the reference desk, after first stopping in to visit the Gutenberg Bible on repose under glass in the mezzanine.  Okay, so the whole place was full of stone arches and marble and fancy books not to be touched, and I definitely had the feeling of, "wow, nice club.  Guess I'd better make the most of my visit."

At the reference desk, the guy working there happened to be an old friend, whose son went to Cambridge Friends School with my daughter.  He sent me downstairs to the microfilm room.  The cute girl at the microfilm room sent me to circulation.  The guy at circulation sent me to the Phillips Reading Room--since I'm a visiting scholar (sounds fancy, doesn't it), all my requests have to go through the Phillips Reading Room staff.  Anything I get has to remain in the room--no checking stuff out.

The staff there were both helpful and patient (they must get a lot of visitors) as they explained the way the system works.  And they helped me discover that the microfilms I wanted are in storage.  I could request them (and did) but they wouldn't arrive until the following day, after 3pm.  The good news is that they'll hold them for 10 days, so I can go back next week (for one of my five remaining visits).

I'm not allowed in the stacks either, but was able to request a handful of books that the staff retrieved (and will stay in the reading room for 10 days).  For visit #1, I got about one whole hour of work in before having to leave and pick up my son from school, but I still love the feeling of being in a well-laid out library, the intense silence of it all, and working on a project, reading hard-to find books.  Days like that, even with all the running around, are part of what make being a writer fun.

I'll be back there next week for another adventure, and this time will get a lot more work done.

(Here's a photo from the Harvard Gazette of the recently renovated reading room with its high arched glass ceiling--it's a converted courtyard.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

T Plays 2010

Check out this very fun trailer for the T Plays. I did these with Mill 6 last year and had a great time. We'll be doing it again in just a couple weeks.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Schedule-Meisters in Minnesota

In what I think is my Minnesota premiere, my ten-minute play Schedule-Meisters is appearing in the Lakeshore Players 6th Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival. Fellow playwright and Playwright Binge member Claudia Haas is directing.  It's mostly sold out already, but I hear that some of the matinees still have a few tickets left.  So if you're in or know anyone knew White Bear Lake, Minnesota, pass the word.

Here's the summary: Schedule-Meisters promises to help ease any mother’s busy schedule, but Mary might be their most challenging customer yet.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Okay, so I can't write all the time.

Let's say I haven't even been close lately to writing all the time.  I've been going to a lot of meetings and enjoying visits from friends and family and doing some serious gardening.  And sometimes, I juggle, and not just figuratively.  My friend, and fellow novelist, Mike and I regularly practice our juggling at the playground after the kids get out from school.  About two weeks ago, we tried to put together a Juggle and Jam Day, inviting people to bring juggling gear and also their musical instruments, for an outdoor jam session.  Turnout was light but enthusiastic.  I hope next time to get even more musicians, but we were fortunate to have Suzie accompanying us on accordion, and Sy brought his unicycle (I actually got some of the old mojo back and rode for almost 50 yards.  And put a few knots in my shins.)

Here's a few images from the day:

Me with the nice new devil sticks I got for my birthday.

Mike with his spiffy clubs.

Have to admit I have never tried unicycling while pushing a baby stroller.

Isobel (from Noah's 4th grade class) is one our best diabolo students.

With Suzie playing the accordion, it felt sort of like we were in a hip French movie (she can play the soundtrack from Amelie).