Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I feel like the internet is not really working.

I left a Facebook group today UK Playwrights Forum. I left with a flourish of grey that usually I condemn as flouncing.

I think on-line communities are immutably tribal or narcissistic and I'm worried about it. This whole internet thing isn't a very good forum for speech. This is what happened:  I write plays and before that I was a lawyer. The process of becoming a lawyer involved large amounts of socializing, time spent learning the profession by observing others in the profession and not only what the others did,  what kind of people they were.

I didn't really do this after my first play Baby Love Time, I wrote plays by myself. I thought until today that I could use more socialization. I used to have a wonderful time in the 00s: there was an active and diligently-managed playwright's forum on People disagreed and argued, but 90% of the posts and discussions were about helping each other in the immediate and difficult challenge of writing a play.

So I joined UK Playwrights Forum to find that support and that socialization. I made two posts. The first was from a Canadian theatre company giving advice on being your own dramaturg. That was met with a storm of criticism where self-righteous, insecure dramaturgs belittled the uselessness of the exercise of being your own dramaturg. So that was fun. It ended with dueling production credits.

I drew back, noticed that most of the posts were boring self-promotion but then recently got a FB memory of an article begging actors to scour scripts for clues about their characters and to memorize the script on the page. I posted it. Cue outrage from people who say that this is the job of the director.

It was the nasty orthodoxy and the insecurity in the subtext of the comments that annoyed me far more than the actual comments themselves. It really showed people trying to prove their worth as a playwright by denigrating the observations made by others. It was that simple and that sad.  Free speech is really shrinking all over. What is replacing it is this shrill orthodoxy. I see it in politics, I saw it on the FB group I left, I see it horribly taking shape on University campuses. The shrill orthodoxy is grounded in insecurity and fear. Such are our times. The internet does not disperse this insecurity and fear, it fosters it.

Playwrights of all people should know that in the end there is only this moment and a person is speaking to a person, a person with a rich backstory probably beyond your imagination, a person with conflicts and challenges that may well exceed your own. If you are only shouting them down, think how much you miss out on. This is why playwrighting I unfortunately concluded recently does involve being kindhearted as well as honest. To others and to yourself. So off to another place.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Enchilada Reading of the Treason Play

 So I decided I was going to run this reading the way that I wanted to run the reading. Seventeen years of being a playwright and a lawyer have led me to conclude that law as a profession really rewards fundamental mistrust of every person, but being an artist requires finding true connections with people and being a playwright requires being very self-aware. So all this stuff has to go down about love and trust. Ack! A playwright has to be self-aware about her unconscious motivations and constantly seeking to remedy her own blindnesses.  That process of bearing knowledge of your own weakness requires love and support, of yourself and of others.  So you must give love and support. Francesca Reid, who was my beloved Joan, Lady of Wales in the reading said it last night over enchiladas: I am a professional human being.

So one thing I have noticed is that my core brain doesn't really distinguish between religions, sovereigns and corporations. I went to church the same way I went to court the same way I go to the theatre now. Looking for truth. Now I write plays and I look for the truth of human relationships and it's good, actually, I think, that I have a lot of models for getting at the truth - the Christian years, the lawyer years, the corporate years, the expat experience. The model I have now involves me staying calm. This requires alcohol and good Mexican food. I don't trust people to make good Mexican food in the Uk so I have to make it myself.

My experiences with Bill Clinton Hercules, Kerching and Wedding at Cana taught me that a reading with actors pushes a play forward in clear ways.  But it's dangerous to expose an early draft. It's not really dangerous beyond the dangerous and frightening feelings of vulnerability that accompany honesty. But that shit stings, so I opened the evening with guacamole and Prosecco and sincere thanks that the actors I had were good people, were kind people, and were shit-hot actors. The French accent that Nora Silk created for Isabella was mesmerizing, and the contrast between Rachel's Oxbridge enunciation and the troubled brogue of Joan's Welsh accent was heartbreaking (that was Francesca again).  Robert Fitzwalter, the baron, was played by Sam Donnelly. This guy is gorgeous and bearded and a synthesis of all that is good in Jude Law and Tom Hardy. I fear he will be a film star before this play gets a big production. And Guy Masterson was a revelation as Stephen Langton. You have to hand it to Masterson. He can really deliver an authoritative presence, even on an orange folding chair in my kitchen after chicken mole enchiladas.

My rules for the reading were that I had to have fun, I had to let myself have fun, I had to be the real me, and so we had it at my house so I could see my kids, and I invited my new friend Pippin who also is a Dartmouth medievalist and I invited this wonderful young director Richard McNally and he read the stage directions. My house was full of love and respect last night.

I basically ran the reading like a dinner party at my house with a reading tacked on to the end. The reading was a gift to me, the chance to hear the words and to know --in the several moments that my heart was singing --that I had written a line we could keep.

I used Dona Maria Mole base but it still took me forever to make the Mole sauce. But Mole is the best. It is good for establishing those true connections. True also for a decent guacamole and some quesadillas with loads of fresh jalapeno studding the melted cheddar. Enchilada Readings are definitely a new working model.

The flag below is the flag of St. Edmund. It was on St. Edmund's Day that the secret meeting to create the Magna Carta was held. Hidden in plain sight in the middle of a festival. A meeting attended at risk of execution for treason. A risk that was much, much higher for women. Anyway, spoiler alert, in the play the UK has already broken apart and Ireland has united and Scotland has left and so there's only Wales left, and England has decided to shower a little attention on her. In need of a new flag, a group arises who says St. George's flag is associated with violent racism, and so St. Edmund's flag should be adopted. Especially as the dragon is a nod to the Welsh.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

true story 1: the magic shop

George Street, St. Augustine, Florida, 2017. The inside was painted black with a tiny stage and hot despite two ceiling fans and two anemic portable air conditioners. We had bought the jumping lights, multiplying red sponges and a trick deck for my son when he was ten.  He is now thirteen; in the slanting light of adolescence, the dusk of his childhood. We found the magic shop again just a few weeks ago.

We went looking for it to buy a flaming wallet, a purchase my husband had forgone on our first visit - a choice he bitterly regretted.  He couldn't have been more eager to part with $70 when he found out they were still available. Unfortunately he got very good at the trick very quickly. It really turns into a fireball.

While we were paying for the wallet we spoke to the magician, mid thirties with puppy dog brown eyes. He remembered us from two years before. He had long hair then, and when he showed tricks to the customers he used the stage and he was fine. But lately he hadn't been fine. Suddenly he was telling us about not being fine and said that he always wanted to visit England but he was too scared to get on a plane, fear of flying and what could he do about that.

In an intensely American way at a magic shop he put his cards on the table, saying the truest desires of his heart, inspiring in the listening humans a similar unguarded heart.  He was doing something that -for British people- is much scarier than flying. He was exposing an unguarded heart.  He only had a few seconds with us at the till. The walls and traps we erect as protection are very time-consuming.  In Britain you have to talk about the weather for, well, fifteen years and counting.

I didn't really reply other than I couldn't keep my eyes off him.  He had got to the heart of the matter in fifteen seconds. I am older now and more careful in my advice. What the hell do I know anyway?  We did not give answers and my kids were already outside the store jonesing for ice cream so it was just me and R looking at him, but in my own slanting light I think maybe that is an answer, that all these stupid words are not at all the magic.