Monday, May 23, 2011

Boston Theater Marathon XIII report

I'm still tired after yesterday's Boston Theater Marathon.  You'd think I'd run an actual marathon, rather sit in a dark theatre for 10 hours watching 50 ten-minute plays.  This year, I had my 16-year-old daughter, Kira, in tow, and we were also joined by Alexa Mavromatis (a fellow Rhombus playwright), for the entire event.  We carefully packed pb&j, nuts, chips, water, and a pound of dark chocolate to help us remain in our seats for an entire day (bathroom breaks excepted). 

The time passes a lot faster that you might expect.  Every hour, there are five new plays, each in a different author's voice, produced by a different theatre company with a unique cast (though there is some overlap--my friend Bob Murphy was in three Marathon plays).

There is, as you would expect, usually a pretty big mix of plays, some that I like and some that I don't, a couple favorites and a couple dogs.  I would say that this year seemed to be the strongest set of plays I can remember.  There were no plays or productions that I thought were absolutely terrible (and let's face it, in 50 plays, you expect something that just won't sit right), and there was a stretch from 2pm - 5pm, that I thought was the best stretch of ten-minute plays I'd seen strung together for a long time, just winner after winner.

Some of my favorite plays of the day included:
  • Slugger by Terrence Kidd about an oddly upbeat, slightly crazed woman, with desire for a little payback.  It featured a fantastic performance by Jessica Webb.  
  • Rick Parks' Birdbaths, "Twilight" and Other Sundry Items, which I'd seen before at the T Plays, was just as delightful in this subsequent production.  
  • Trust Fall by Steve Lewis, was zany and bright and a provided great spark of energy to start the third hour.  Brain surgery with a plastic knife has never been so funny.  Director Vincent Ularich got stellar performances by two of my favorite Boston actors, Becca Lewis and Bob Murphy.
  • Speaking of Boston actors, Michael Ennis' play, Park N' Ride, got a scene stealing performance from Marie Polizzano, who you might remember from the Huntington's Cirlce, Mirror, Transformation (as well as strong performances from Barlow Adamson and Maureen Keiller).
  • My daughter and I both had great fondness for the only one-woman show of the evening, Camberwell House by Amelia Roper.
  • In A Tall Order, Sheri Wilner's very sharp play, about dating and the possible consequences of ordering from the menu on a date, got another terrific performance from Jessica Webb.
  • I was pleased to see strong physical humor in Christopher Lockheardt's play, Stuck, produced by New Exhibition Room, both Alejandro Simoes and Hannah Husband were great fun to watch.  They're a company that really interests me now that I've seen a couple of their shows.
  • I'm a sucker for math plays or plays about mathematicians, so Erin Striff's Ms. Connections made me happy.
And there were plenty of other good scripts and performances.

Oh, yeah, I had a play in there, too.  Escape to Wonderland was in the 6-7pm hour, and we got vibrant performances from Meredith Stypinski and Allison Vanouse.  I saw them on Friday night, in Hotel Cassiopeia, and could definitely see how their work together on that play helped boost their work in my play--just by virtue of already knowing each other so well.  Director Jeff Mosser did a great job of directing the action so it was clear and energetic.  I couldn't have asked for a better production of the play.  (And hope to work with this bunch of folks again soon.)

This Marathon offered a few less than the usual number of Red Sox plays and references, though there were still a few, of course.  We had a lot of plays this year about aging and, as might be expected, a fair number about dating and first meetings.  Not very many political plays, which is too bad, because I'm a fan of political theatre, though they're not always easy to manage in a festival setting.

Though the scripts and productions are always of high quality, I always long for a better use of the theatrical space.  (See my web post from 2009--An Open Challenge to Playwrights Writing for the Marathon.)  The super constricted tech time and set change set creates high barriers to interesting design for Marathon shows, but I'm always dying to see more shows making use of movement, dance, color, sound, music.  We only had one musical this year, plus two other plays in which music played a role in the narrative.  I'd love to see more productions finding ways to fully inhabit the space available and giving audiences something bright and interesting to watch. 

Thanks, as always, to Kate, Marc, Jake, Michael, and everyone at BPT and the BCA for keeping this important theatrical event not just going, but thriving.  I was grateful to be part of it this year and hope to be involved again.  Can't wait to see BTM XIV next year!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

guest blogging at BPT

I'm the guest blogger over at the Playwrights' Perspective blog for the Boston Playwrights Theatre today, talking about how much I love the Boston Theater Marathon.  Check it out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Interview on Gasp!

Laura Axelrod, a writer whom I've known for years, has just put up part 1 of an interview with yours truly on her blog, Gasp!.  We met online, probably through the Submission Binge, when we were both writing for theatre, trying to figure out the business, and also blogging about all sorts of things.  I've always been interested in her take on theatre, art, and the world (especially because she does it with writing that is sharp, crisp, and to the point), not necessarily in that order.. 

How Writing is like Painting My Bathroom

For the past week or so, I've been doing ceiling patching and repair in my bathroom and have just finished painting the whole thing.  It struck me that this project is lot like any of my writing projects:

  • I tend to procrastinate before each step.  I might put off starting the whole project for months.  Once I've started, it's not so bad.
  • Anything structural has to get taken care of first.  Fixing those big holes in the wall, spackling, fixing or sanding trim, all has to be done early.
  • There's a lot of prep.  Picking the color, buying the paint, getting out the drop cloth, taping, removing hardware and light switch covers.
  • The first coat, the primer, is thin, and doesn't at all resemble the final result.  With the walls and trim primed, the whole project doesn't look particularly promising  But without it, the whole thing will end up coming out like crap.
  • Even the main paint takes more than one coat.  Despite the claims on the can, there's no genius paint out there that can get job done in one coat/draft.
  • It takes time.  There are tools you can use to make the job go faster, but there really aren't any shortcuts.  You have to cut in the corners, roll the big spaces, touch up the edges and missed spots.  The whole thing always takes longer than I planned.
  • There's no point trying to judge the result while the paint is still drying.  I have to take a break and come back later.  Only then can I assess where I've missed spots and whether I still need to put on another coat.
  • This is the kind of job that inconveniences everyone in the family a little bit, and it also tends to make the whole house a mess.
  • I will make mistakes.  There will be spots or divots in the drywall, brush marks.  No one else will notice them (unless I point them out).  I'll always know they're there. 
  • The final stages take as long as painting the walls.  There is trim to paint, brushes to wash, and all sorts of final bits of clean up.  But without attention to these details, the project won't ever look right.
  • The result is always a transformation, and usually one of which I'm proud.  (Every once in a while, it turns out that we picked the wrong color or used a bad roller, and the whole thing has to be started over again.  But that's pretty rare.)
Now I need to go put some light switch covers back on.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

fun audio play (Another Brick in the Wall) and a Twitter experiment

The Huntington Theatre asked a bunch of us Huntington Playwriting Fellows to write short audio plays for this year's Emerging American Festival (which runs next weekend, May 13-15).  Each writer is supposed to write a play for one of three specific places--either Harvard Square, Boston Center for the Arts, or the Institute for Contemporary Art.  I chose the BCA again (I know it best).

Last year we had to record them using our own voices and very low tech recording.  This year, I got to use three actors, the very talented Ed Hoopman, Bob Murphy, and Paul Melendy.  (If you know them, you can imagine how much fun we had working on a comedy in a very small sound studio.)

The result is a short, very fun audio play, Another Brick in the Walk, about three bricks in the BCA plaza.  You can listen to it here.  There are a whole bunch of short audio plays by very talented writers and pals o' mine here.

As a way to extend the fun, I'm going to try a little experiment with these three characters from the play.  We're going to have each of the characters have his own Twitter feed.  Over the next week, leading up to Emerging America, they'll be chatting with each other (starting Friday) from time to time.

In order to make this experiment more fun, I need your help--these three bricks need followers.  So if you are on Twitter, please consider following @BrickBillyEA, @BrickFrancisEA, and @BrickRodEA.  (You can follow me, too:  @PatrickGabridge.)  And let other people know about it, too.  They'll start tweeting tomorrow.

It's just for a laugh, but I think it'll be fun.  (Note:  their dialogue won't make as much sense or be as funny if you don't listen to the audio play first.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Good news: I'm going to Seven Devils

Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, that is.   We were away in Costa Rica for a week on a family trip, and upon our return I was looking through the 200 messages that had accumulated in my inbox and came across one from Jeni Mahoney, co-artistic director of the id theater, who puts on the conference.  They'd picked my script Flight as one of the finalists and had been trying to reach me all week.

So, now I'll be heading to McCall, Idaho, for two weeks in June, where I'll get a week to work with a director and dramaturg, and then another week to work with a cast of actors who are flying in from around the country.

I'm very excited for this trip.  The script is at the point where this sort of workshop environment (which culminates in a sit-down reading) is exactly what's needed for me to take it to the next level.

I've been applying to residencies and workshops like this for a long time (I first applied to the O'Neill in 1992), but this will be my first time getting to go.