Thursday, March 19, 2009

Night Terrors? Seriously...?!?

i think it was all due to a trifecta of bad juju. an ill-conceived heavy dinner. a lack of sleep and overall exhaustion. and just a stressful week or two (or three). couple these conditions with my lack of ingesting my little blue pill on a regular basis lately and..... i woke up screaming last night.

scared the shit out of me, people.

i was dreaming that i headed into work early. current job but my old office... the old office building had a long hall that ran down the middle of the building with a large glass door and windows at the back entrance (where i entered). i pulled up and saw a dark figure at the far end of the hall. i had remembered that the alarm had been set off late sunday night (something that actually happened this past weekend) and i assumed someone had been stowing away in the building until we left and then slept through the night. when someone arrived in the morning to turn off the alarm, he'd slip out the front of back door.

so i entered the building and he slipped around the corner. i turned off the alarm and stepped back outside. i looked around the building to see if i could tell who was sleeping in the building. but he was not to be seen... so i thought i missed him.

i reentered the building. he appeared from around the corner and started walking towards me. i could not make out a face.... i patted my hands over both walls trying to find a light switch... there was not a switch to be found.

so i started to call out at the approaching figure. "hello!" but "hello" was not coming out right. i couldn't form the word properly... it sounded like a deaf person trying to speak. so i started to scream.... repeatedly... unable to form words properly.

then i awoke... sitting up in bed. screaming.

night terrors. fuck me.

i mean.... my list of phobias and hang-ups are well documented here. i don't need to add fucking night terrors to that list.

so i took one of my blue pills today.



Monday, March 16, 2009

Notes From All Over: Theatrical Edition

well, my lovelies.... even my apology for the neglect is rooted in the theatre. it's been crazy. in just the past couple of weeks i've had a public reading of my full-length play and then i needed to complete a satisfactory version of a new twenty minute play for theatre southwest's annual festival of originals (FOO). the deadline was the 15th. it was dropped in the mail on the 13th.

at rise...

at home with albee
really, the past month or so has held a lot of theatrical goodies for me. it started with a farewell reception for dr. sidney berger at the university of houston. i never really took a class with dr. berger, who was responsible for making the UH theatre department such a successful program, but he did sit in and offer insight on both of my plays performed through the albee workshops.

plus.... the evening held tickets for the houston premier of albee's "at home at the zoo." this is an evening created by combining two albee one acts. back in 1958 albee shook the theatre world with his the zoo in-your-face deconstruction of the american dream. thirty years later, he has given a prequel to this piece: homelife.

i had not had the opportunity to read or see homelife and since albee's zoo story is what first ignited my passion to write, i was beyond curious to see what albee had concocted for peter prior to his encounter with jerry in zoo.

homelife is really albee at the top of his craft. honing his use of words like a master. and while zoo is a bit less shocking 30 years later, homelife adds a new layer of intensity to the piece while providing fascinating insight into peter.

rutherford cravens, who has long been one of my favorite actors in the houston community, dominates both pieces as peter while i thought caleb george, a student at UH, was a touch out of his league as jerry. he started zoo too big, too agressive and did not allow himself enough room to grow in intimidation and urgency.

of course, having mr. albee in the audience probably didn't help with nerves.

yes, edward albee was in the audience and i was able to speak with my former mentor before the reception. i immediately regressed to calling him mr. albee when i first approached him. i had become comfortable enough in my second workshop class with him to call him edward... but that was some time ago.

i was relieved to learn he still remembered me and we fell into simple, if not brief, conversation. he remains very busy, which is good. not terribly long ago he lost his partner, jonathan, a sculptor who's work i had seen at an exhibition here in town several years ago.

we are both skeptical of the UH theatre department and its future under the new leadership. he and i have both heard individuals express concern. plus, it was dr. berger who was responsible for bringing in all the world-renowned talent such as albee and lanford wilson.

he asked what i'd had produced recently and i told him i've been writing and that i had a reading coming up.... he was pleased. i said otherwise i've mostly been doing "smaller things."

"what do you mean, 'smaller things'?"

"you know, ten minute plays."

"oh, god."

"i know... aren't they horrible?"

"the only good ten minute plays are either four minutes or 20 minutes."

it was classic albee....and i felt refreshed.

scene 2: a legend passes
i'd be remiss not to mention the passing of horton foote. the pulitzer prize-winning playwright was a texas native and had a unique gift for making poetry out of the simplicity of rural life.

he won two oscars: one for adapting harper lee's to kill a mockingbird for the screen and other for his original screenplay, tender mercies, with robert duvall (he's actually in mockingbird too).

and while i love both of these films, especially mockingbird, for me he will always be the author of the trip to bountiful with the immortal geraldine page. i've long-loved that movie and the charm and wit his writing brought to the script.

i was also fortunate enough to see some of his plays on the boards, most notably his pulitzer prize-winning the young man from atlanta.

another major voice lost.

scene 3: back on stage
i've been on stage once... maybe twice. but the only time i really remember is as a freshman in college in a production of ionesco's exit the king. i doubt i was very good... but in a production that went full-tilt-boogy with the absurdity of the script, i at least made people laugh.

but i'm not an actor and my nerves at having to mingle in large groups, not to mention SPEAK to large groups, have not only led to my little blue pill habit, but also to the realization that i prefer to write for the theatre than act in it.

when a friend asked me to help with a staged reading of his play, however, i couldn't turn him down. he's been beyond supportive over the years and is a very loyal and generous patron of the theatre here in houston. so i agreed to read stage directions.

and while stage directions may not seem like much, just the idea of getting up on stage in front of an audience to read stage directions called for one full blue pill and several halls cough drops to keep my throat from closing up due to nerves.

i will say, however, it was interesting being on a different side of the creative process again. i'm used to being the author....working closely with the director to cast, probe, discern meaning.... but here i was....utilized not as an actor per se but in an actor's capacity.

strange to see actors go through the discovery process. to watch the director lead actors through exercises of deconstruction of meaning and intent of the scene. all the while really being on the outside of the process. i didn't dare make directorial suggestions... and i was not there as editor/author.

but i was treated generously and, oddly, as a plus to the production. the other actors were very encouraging and allotted me additional applause at curtain call. probably because they all knew how uncomfortable being on stage made me... and the host of the reading series even asked me to plug my own reading.

so it was a good - if not nerve-wracking - experience. the oddest moment was the pre-performance....tradition(?) not sure if it's tradition for everyone... but this group liked to come together, hug, and then pass a kiss around the circle.

now, those that know me know i'm not big on the warm-fuzzy, touchy-feely shit.... so the hug itself made it uncomfortable. but i was also responsible for passing along a kiss on the cheek to an expectant father.


act II: the reading
so i had a reading of my play.... it was at stages where my first two plays were produced back in the late 90s. i can't tell you had good it felt to be back in that space.

it was the full length play that i finally completed last year after 8 years of distraction, obstacles and reworking of every bit of it in my head. after all that time gestating in my cranium, i thought it had turned out well. and a smaller reading last year received an excellent response.

but this was bigger than that reading. the theatre company that put out the call for scripts (they chose 3 out of 15 submitted) provided a director and a group of actors pulled from a very prestigious "actors gym" in houston. most members are on company at the alley theatre.

i have to be honest when i admit that i was really stressed going into this. they decided to put my play up first and i was cast less than a week out. i met my director for the first time face to face the friday before the monday performance.

but justin, my director, was amazing. the first thing he said to me was "i feel like it needs to move." and that's what he did. he took the reading and put it on its feet.... stripped the entire play of the majority of its stage directions and had characters move in and out of the scene. he wanted everything focused on the words.

as a playwright..... how could you ask for a better director?

and what he put on stage was a very sophisticated, very honest representation of my work. i honestly feel that out of every director i've worked with over the years.... he understood best what i wanted to accomplish with the script.

and i was honored with a very strong group of talented actors that brought amazing depth and emotion and humor to the characters.

the rehearsals had been slapdash versions of the play so i didn't know what to expect... and the morning of the play i made my debut on KUHF's "front row." it was surreal hearing my name and play discussed in the opening of the program... and then listening to myself discuss the finer points and benefits of a staged reading.

i thought, actually, it went well... but it took half a blue pill and several cough drops to get through it.

then walking into the performance without any clue what to expect took the other half of the pill and even more cough drops. but ultimately, i was very pleased. it was what i had hoped for on stage and more (the stage itself, however... leftover from the always patsy cline show... that i didn't love so much).

scene 2: the talkback....
that was different. as discussed, i hate being on stage. well, here i was....onstage and placed before an audience for vivisection.

for the most part.....the comments were helpful. i felt some were off base. i felt some were well-intentioned but perhaps not germaine to what i had hoped to accomplish.

a dramaturge from UH (PhD and all) helped moderate and i hope to talk with him more. he made an interesting comment about chekhov not seeking a climax so much as letting the play fade to its conclusion. not realizing this was, perhaps, what i was going for... it is exactly what i want.

mostly there were comments about dramatizing more of the monologues or cutting back on the self-realization of emotions on the part of the characters. i thought these were excellent points.

i did not, however, agree with the big-mouthed nut job that went off about "feminine mode" plays and how i care more about characters and relationships than plot. i really just wanted to say, "so you found the play faggy? is that what i should take from this?" and then he went on and on about mamet (who i love) and how the theatre has lost its sense of dialogue.

now.... i'll take lots and lots of criticism....BUT....if there's one thing i know i know: it's dialogue. my dialogue is good. it's solid, it's realistic..... it's stylized enough for my taste where i feel like playing with it.... don't come at me with dialogue.

then there was the "mother" who wanted to know how old the children who never even appear in the play are... my answer was "hell if i know?" but if i had taken a moment i could've given her a range. but she felt that was important to know.

and then there was mr. psycho-babble who talked about the "gay cancer" and the second, third and fourth chromosomes and the 2nd and 4th months of gestation and bladdy, bladdy, blah.....

oh - the guy at intermission who told me i looked like dom deluise and then went on to tell me about his historical book that takes place in the days of custer and the indians but how he has trouble with "small talk." and all i can think about is "why the fuck do you need small talk when your characters have arrows being shot at their asses?"

but my favorite....? the actor who had a lot of good points during the talk back.... had made it all the way to his car.... came back.... and decided he HAD to perform a monologue from cyrano de bergerac in two different ways in order to illustrate a point.

yes, my lovelies... i got it all that night.

but most all.... i got the realization that the play i had hoped was completed, still needs some work. i don't think it needs a lot. but it needs some fine-tuning. i think it can only help the strength of the play.... breaking up the constant two people in every scene... dramatizing more action.... cutting back on the sentimentality that still exists in the play. cutting the entire final monologue and allowing the final dramatic moment to close the piece.... all this can only help.

it was a tough night.... it was hard to sit up there and not say much and not defend my work. but i also hope i'm evolved enough as a writer to know when criticism is valid.

it's all turning itself over and over in my head at the moment... i'm waiting for a follow-up discussion with the dramaturge, and then i hope to polish the piece... and shop it around.

scene 3: the next piece
just a quick coda... i was able to complete a 20 minute piece for the festival of originals (FOO) at theatre southwest. not sure when the five plays that are chosen are announced.... but i expect late april, early may. a long time to wait.

it took me exactly a month to conceive the play and drop the finished product in the mail for competition.

it was not the play i originally planned to write. i had planned to condense a full-length play about two lesbians i have in my head down for the FOO.... but something very tragic happened at work and it set my brain in motion.

i have extreme guilt over writing the piece... a friend, an employee.... had something incredibly awful happen to her and she lost a family member. at first i was really struck with how hard it hit me.... in all honestly, it knocked the wind out of me.

and then i found myself dealing with it the way i always deal with such events.... i started thinking about how i would deal with the situation. what would i feel? how would i react? and the scene started developing itself... and then i was suddenly in front of my laptop writing it out.

so i have guilt over it.... am i taking advantage of a friend's tragedy? am i simply expressing my emotions in the best way i know how? and what if the play is chosen and performed? do i warn her? do i try and keep it a secret because i feel so guilty?

or as one friend put it... should i never censor myself and simply acknowledge the fact that this is how art is often created? out of tragedy?

i'm conflicted.... but i'm trying not to worry about it too much. at least, not unless it's chosen for the festival.

on the upside.... i'm writing. and i'm writing consistently.

scene 4: (in an attempt to change the mood and subject)
so....? any ideas for a 10 minute piece?