Posts Tagged ‘Writer’

Words. Words. Words: Playwrights On Playwrighting

Saturday, June 15th, 2013
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Thanks, Theatrical Intelligence readers, for your responses to Words. Words. Words: 10 Beloved Quotations.
 
Your comments on Twitter, Facebook, and here on the blog (those I love the most!) have been the catalyst for this second round.  So, I hereby launch an ongoing series of theatrical quotations from my collection.

Jean KerrJean Kerr (July 10, 1922 – January 5, 2003)

”I think if you can write a play, or produce a play, the first step toward success [is] if people don’t want to kill themselves in the lobby. Now there must be four or five other steps, but that’s the first.”

 

Suzan-Lori ParksSuzan-Lori Parks (Born May 10, 1963)

“People ask me when I decided to become a playwright; I tell them I decide to do it every day. Most days it’s very hard because I’m frightened — not frightened of writing a bad play, although that happens often with me. I’m frightened of encountering the wilderness of my own spirit, which is always, no matter how many plays I write, a new and uncharted place. Every day when I sit down to write, I can’t remember how it’s done.”

 

Wendy by Retna LtdWendy Wasserstein (October 18, 1950 – January 30, 2006)

“The trick… is to find the balance between the bright colors of humor and the serious issues of identity, self-loathing, and the possibility for intimacy and love when it seems no longer possible or, sadder yet, no longer necessary.”

 

 Tina HoweTina Howe (Born November 21, 1937)

“…the cruel part is that, to let the play live, you have to surrender control and let your characters go. You have to let them stumble, fall into walls and be mute, let them drift and be lost. If you hold the reins too tight, they won’t spring to life.”

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Kushner-ReutersTony Kushner (Born July 16, 1956)

“I love reading; it’s a great way to avoid writing.” 

 

Katori-Hall-Playbill-VaultKatori Hall (Born May 10, 1981)

“I’ve had frank conversations with theaters who say, ‘We love your play, but we’ve already done a play by another black person this year,’ or ‘I don’t think the kind of people you write about are the ones our audience wants to see’…  Up and coming young black female writers are still struggling to have their voices heard and have their plays produced.”

 

Theresa Rebeck by Sara KrulwichTheresa Rebeck  (Born Feb 19, 1958)

“Plays written by women are not being produced.  In 2007, the one year I opened a play on Broadway*, I was the only woman playwright who did so.  That year, nationwide, 12 per cent of the new plays produced all over the country were by women. That means 88 percent of the new plays produced were written by men. (Back in 1918 before women had the right to vote, the percentage of new plays in New York, written by women, was higher.  It was higher before we had the vote.) Generally, over the last 25 years the number of plays produced that were written by women seems to have vacillated between 12 and 17 percent. This is a disastrous statistic…”

*Rebeck’s plays SEMINAR and DEAD ACCOUNTS opened on Broadway in 2011 and 2012, respectively. 

 

la–ca–0909–lynn–nottage          Lynn Nottage (Born 1964)           

“I feel it’s my social responsibility to shine a light on areas that don’t get seen. My personal feeling is that it’s an artist’s responsibility to be engaged with the culture. And when the culture is going through turmoil, I think an artist can’t ignore that. I don’t feel that every artist has to be politically engaged, but I can’t imagine that you can be an active participant of this culture and not in some way reflect that in the work you are creating.”
 

 

Hansberry by CorbisLorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965)

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”

 

 Hellman Sam Falk-The NYTimesLillian Hellman (June 20, 1905 – June 30, 1984)

“If I had to give young writers advice, I’d say don’t listen to writers talk about writing.”

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Selecting from my quotations collection for this post, I found myself  drawn to the playwrights above. I admire each one of them for having the courage to find the way to “say it like it is” in a personal and distinctive voice. BRAVO, PLAYWRIGHTS.
 

Next up: ACTORS

 
PHOTO CREDITS:
Hall: Playbill Vault
Hansberry: Corbis 
Hellman: Sam Falk/The New York Times
Howe: New York University
Kerr: Playbill Vault
Kushner: Reuters
Nottage: Al Seid/Los Angeles Times
Parks: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Rebeck: Sara Krulwich/The NewYork Times
Wasserstein: Retna, LTD
 

 

When You’re Feeling Creatively Stuck…

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

An earlier version of this post was published as “What Role Were You Born to Play?” in June 2009.

Behind the stage door, great wisdom lives...

When you’re feeling creatively stuck, it’s time to identify those inborn talents of your youth – the ones that went into hiding as you morphed into an adult – and rediscover your Theatrical Intelligence. 

Try this:

Think back to your childhood. Remember the neighborhood where you grew up? 

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and inhale the smell of that long ago place. If the neighborhood isn’t quite clear for some reason, or if you moved around a lot, breathe in a moment or two of shared secrets with your closest friend…

As you’re breathing, ask yourself: Was there a time when you and your friends decided to put together an event of some kind?  A gymnastics demonstration? A neighborhood circus with performances by your pets? Maybe a swimming show with a lemonade stand? Whatever it was, your part in this event made you really proud.

Write down what you remember. I’m willing to bet that your actions resemble one or more of The 8 Roles of Theatrical Intelligence, listed below:

1.    The WRITER: You had an idea and wrote it down. You understood the concept: tell the audience, tell them again, and tell them that you told them; with humor, drama and clarity.

2.    The ACTOR: You performed. You lived moment-to-moment. You understood that timing is everything, and that theatre isn’t larger than life – it is AS LARGE as life!

3.    The DIRECTOR: You “saw” the ideas as if they already existed, then staged it to please the audience. Your friends placed their trust in you because you gave them positive feedback about their strengths, and you made them feel good about themselves.

4.    The PRODUCER: You thought up the whole event, assigned your buddies the tasks that matched their strengths, sold the idea to everyone in the neighborhood and got them to pay for tickets. You invited everyone you saw, and one restaurant owner was so enthusiastic he threw an after-show party at your request.

5.   The DESIGNER: You envisioned the environment for the event. You drew it with vivid strokes and it took on a life of its own. You told your friends what to build, what to wear and why they had to wear it in spite of their objections (and they thanked you for it afterwards!)

6.    The STAGE MANAGER: You knew that your best buddy’s vision could be built. You crafted the schedule as to what had to be done by when, so your friends would have a chance to practice. You arranged parking places for bikes, strollers, cars, and managed the traffic and access to rest rooms.

7.   The TECHNICIAN: You made calculations from your friend’s drawings, found the right person to donate materials and stayed up all night building the set. You finished on time, and with no budget. When people got nervous and asked “What’s happening?” you replied “Workin’ on it!”

8.    The CRITIC: You recognized problems from the get-go, and knew that if the project had been approached from a different perspective it would have worked better. But heck, it was fun, and set the precedent for the next time. You wrote a flattering article for the Neighborhood News, in which you had instigated the “Kids’ Column”.

Do any of these roles sound familiar?

As kids, chances are that we played at least two roles with complete abandon. And as we morphed into grown-ups, many of us ended up playing a role that didn’t quite fit.

  1. What was the role (or roles) that you played?
  2. Are you currently playing one of them in your daily life?
  3. If not, when did it (or they) go underground?
  4. What was it about the event that made it so unforgettable?
  5. Can you imagine experiencing it again?

The goal of Theatrical Intelligence is to IDENTIFY the roles that gave you such joy and freedom as a child, TAP INTO that creative pulse you’ve been craving, and USE IT in your daily life.

Once you’ve experienced that pulse, it will keep on beating. Hold it close to you. Unexpected opportunity awaits.

 

On Writing and Handwriting

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

I’ve always had beautiful handwriting. With minimal effort on my part, penmanship was the only subject for which I consistently received an A+. Learning the Rhinehart Handwriting Method in third grade felt to me like initiation into adulthood: I was writing cursive clearly, I was grown up.

Since that time, I’ve hand-written countless invitations at the request of friends, “penned the place cards” for many events, and if there is ever a call for a designated scribe, I’m it. Clear, legible handwriting was just something I did; I never even thought about it.

During a recent Theatrical Intelligence Workshop a distant memory crept into my mind about winning a United Nations Essay Competition for high school students in New Hampshire. I had forgotten about this honor for 45 years and as I was pondering the reason why, it suddenly struck me: I was convinced that I’d won because of my handwriting. Every one of the judges commented about my beautiful writing*, yet it never occurred to me that they were referring to content, or style, or ideas in my essay. Of course I forgot the award – the reason (I thought) I had won it had no meaning to me.

If you had known me in high school you would have known I was obsessed with the theatre. Jeezum crow (as we used to say in New Hampshire) everyone in in my whole town knew I was going to be an actress – I had a reputation to uphold! At no time in my first seventeen years did it even cross my mind that I might do anything else. I discovered my passion early, and pursued it with a vengeance.

For twenty-five years that’s what I did; until I didn’t want to any more.

Readers of this blog are familiar with my belief that we all come into the world with Theatrical Intelligence and it often goes underground as we morph into grownups. Imagine my delight when my own theory provided insight into one of my own roles.

That role is writer. And the task is writing. Not handwriting.

*Truth be told, one out of the five judges did use the phrase “old fashioned penmanship”. That’s the only one I remembered, of course.

Theatrical Lingo

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Theatrical lingo, much like theatrical logic, works sort of like a secret code. “BREAK A LEG” in theatre jargon, for instance, means “Good Luck!” The term refers to the “break or bend of the leg” while taking a bow or curtsy. It’s as if the felicitation says “Great success tonight, with many curtain calls!”

A few favorite examples of this imaginative (sometimes loony) lingo are listed below:

Frank Rich and I share a laugh...

GHOST LIGHT: Theatrical superstition says that if an empty theatre is left completely dark, a ghost will take up residence. That’s the reason a single ghost light is left burning center stage in every theatre in America, after everyone has gone home. I’ve often wondered if the light is to keep the ghosts out, or to welcome them in. Probably both.

The light also serves as a practical safety measure in case someone wanders near the edge of the stage without knowing that an orchestra pit looms below, awaiting their potentially hazardous fall.

The fact that I cherish most about ghost lights, however, is that each one is carefully crafted by a stagehand. And like snowflakes, no two are alike. 

Frank Rich’s memoir, Ghost Light, is required reading for anyone serious about the theatre. (Is it necessary to disclose that Mr. Rich modeled the definitions of Writer and Critic for me decades ago? Well, anyway, he did. And he continues to inspire me with his Theatrical Intelligence in our changing world.)  He and I had a good laugh recently on the stage of Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre (see photo above): the usual clear filament bulb had been exchanged for a CFL – a compact fluorescent, or “green” bulb!  Less traditional perhaps, but a good superstition is hard to kill.

GEORGE SPELVIN: A fictitious theatrical name. Actors use this pseudonym to remain anonymous or to avoid their name appearing twice in the program if they’re playing more than one role. Sometimes the name is used when a character mentioned in the text never appears onstage; by crediting the role to “George (or Giorgio, Georgina, Georgette) Spelvin”, the audience isn’t tipped off that the character never shows up. Occasionally Actors Equity members working under a Non-Union contract (alas!) use the name to avoid penalties associated with Non-Union work.

VOMITORY: In a thrust or arena theatre, a vomitory is a ramped or stepped tunnel, giving performers access to the stage from beneath the seating area (see photo, right, of Arena Stage in Washington, DC). The term probably originated from the days of Roman amphitheatres, when those who were thrown to the lions managed to escape to tunnels under the arena, vomiting along the way. (Gross enough for you?)

Arena Stage's Fichandler © Nic Lehoux

Theatrical lingo includes hundreds of colorful terms, and just as many off-color ones. Please share your favorite in the Comment section above.

If you’re the first to come up with one I’ve never heard of, you’ll be my guest at a Broadway show!

 

On Writing: “A Deep-Sea Dive…”

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

This week I’ve been immersed in another solo writing marathon in New Hampshire, cast in my current favorite Theatrical Intelligence role: Writer.  When Studio projects required my input, I stepped out of Baker Library and into my role as Producer or Manager. I have a quick-change-agility at jumping from Performer to Producer to Director and back.

I am not, however, agile enough to change roles when I’m writing. So it’s been a challenging week.

Dave Eggers. (Photograph © Maria Laura Antonelli)

Writer Dave Eggers was recently quoted in a newspaper article : “Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you’re called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can’t ever get back down.”

It’s the “…you can’t ever get back down” part that’s been killing me all week. On one of several breaks today to see if I could recover from “Studio Surfacing” as I’ve come to think of it, I chanced upon a slim volume of quotes from literary women.

The mighty Virginia Woolf came to my rescue: “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” Her words stirred my soul.

How fortunate am I that millions of pieces have come my way!

Whether or not I can take a plunge into an Eggers-like-dive after surfacing to answer a phone call or an email, I can arrange my pieces. Every single day I’m aware of one little theatrically intelligent moment or another, from an early decade or a more recent one. So that’s what I did today: began to arrange my pieces.

As I pondered and reflected, more pieces kept coming at me and it was harder and harder to pay attention to the phone. The emails are still waiting.

What a wonderful day.


Retreating to a Place of Youthful Inspiration

Saturday, February 27th, 2010
Hanover, NH and Norwich, VT

Hanover, NH and Norwich, VT

For 10 days last month I retreated to the New Hampshire town of my youth. I had become increasingly frustrated with my inability to work effectively on my book in the middle of my hectic city life, and decided to just vacate. “To get away from it all”. (What a cliché from the 80s!)  I didn’t understand the phrase then, and wondered now: “What do I want to get away from?”

Of course it wasn’t what I wanted to get away from, but rather what I was going to that made the retreat a great gift to myself.


Baker's Tower Room

The minute I walked into Dartmouth’s Baker Library I connected to a place of inspiration from my past: the scene where my writer self had lived for a while, blossomed briefly, then disappeared for decades.

The aura of respect for the written word still permeates the hallways. How I cherished that environment! I could see my Hanover High School classmates walking the halls – same bodies, different heads – relentlessly writing and re-writing term papers and stories, all the while pretending we were in college.

I’m happy to report that my writer self fully emerged in New Hampshire and made herself comfortable. She has continued to grow after returning to New York and I’m confident will continue to do so. The book is depending on her.

New Hampshire Lilacs

It may not be necessary to do so, but I’ve decided to visit Hanover again in the end of March. And another trip is on my calendar for the end of May when the State Flower of New Hampshire blooms.

Inspiration from our youth is such a treasure, irresistible to touch, and to re-capture again and again and again.


What Role Were You Born To Play?

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Recently I’ve re-connected with some old friends who cannot wait to retire. They’re ready to do what they’ve “always loved doing” because for one reason or another, they didn’t end up doing it in their regular work.

If you are stuck in a job you don’t like, tapping into your Theatrical Intelligence can help. Identifying your inborn talent(s) that may have gone underground in your adult life, can get you unstuck.

Try this:

Think back to your childhood. Remember the neighborhood where you grew up?  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and inhale the smell of that long ago place. If the neighborhood isn’t clear, or you moved around a lot, picture a time when you shared secrets with your closest friend…

Was there a time when you and your friends decided to put together an event of some kind?  A gymnastics demonstration? A neighborhood circus with performances by your pets? Maybe a swimming show with a lemonade stand? Whatever it was, YOUR part in this event made you really proud.

Write down what you remember. I’m willing to bet it resembles one or more of The 8 Roles of Theatrical Intelligence:

1.    The WRITER: You had an idea and wrote it down. You understood the concept: tell the audience, tell them again, and tell them that you told them; with humor, drama and clarity.

2.    The ACTOR: You performed. You lived moment-to-moment. You understood that timing is everything, and that theatre isn’t larger than life – it is AS LARGE as life!

3.    The DIRECTOR: You “saw” the ideas as if they already existed, then staged it to please the audience. Your friends placed their trust in you because you gave them positive feedback about their strengths, and you made them feel good about themselves.

4.    The PRODUCER: You thought up the whole event, assigned your buddies the tasks that matched their strengths, sold the idea to everyone in the neighborhood and got them to pay for tickets. You invited everyone you saw, and one restaurant owner was so enthusiastic he threw an after-show party at your request.

5.   The DESIGNER: You envisioned the environment for the event. You drew it with vivid strokes and it took on a life of its own. You told your friends what to build, what to wear and why they had to wear it in spite of their objections (and they thanked you for it afterwards!)

6.    The STAGE MANAGER: You knew that your best buddy’s vision could be built. You crafted the schedule as to what had to be done by when, so your friends would have a chance to practice. You arranged parking places for bikes, strollers, cars, and managed the traffic and access to rest rooms.

7.   The TECHNICIAN: You made calculations from your friend’s drawings, found the right person to donate materials and stayed up all night building the set.  You finished on time, and with no budget. When people got nervous and asked “What’s happening?” you replied “Workin’ on it!”

8.    The CRITIC: You recognized problems from the get-go, and knew that if it had been approached from a different perspective it would have worked better. But heck, it was fun, and set the precedent for the next time. You wrote a flattering article for the Neighborhood News, in which you had instigated the “Kids’ Column”.

Do any of these roles sound familiar? Even at an early age your Theatrical Intelligence was at work.

What made your event so unforgettable? What worked?

You wanted everyone to talk about the event all week! That is the first of The 6 Principles of Theatrical Intelligence:

1. Everyone shares the same goal.

Next, everyone would’ve been mortified if no one showed up, if one of the pets didn’t cooperate, or if the setting wasn’t finished. Embarrassment doesn’t begin to describe it! That’s the second principle:

2. Everyone shares the risk.

What else worked? Everyone worked together and beat the deadline!  Third principle:

3. Collaboration rules!

The 4th principle takes over (sometimes against all odds) when a show is being developed:

4. The work matters.

Chances are that you experienced 4 of The 6 Principles before you were 8 years old.

(The 5th and 6th principles occur when there’s a more sophisticated level of production: 5. Failure is your friend, and the fastest way to learn. 6. Success comes with the courage to step into the unknown. We’ll take those on later.)

I believe that every one of you was born with Theatrical Intelligence. As a kid, chances are that you played at least two roles with complete abandon. And as you morphed into a grown-up, you may have ended up playing a role that didn’t quite fit. It happens to many of us.

What was the role you were born to play?

Are you currently playing it?

If not, when did it go underground?

How will you get it back?

The goal of Theatrical Intelligence is to IDENTIFY the role(s) that gave you such joy and freedom as a child, and put them to USE in your daily life.