This summer if you want a great show, a fantastic meal, and a night out that will leave you feeling optimistic and happy in these strange and uncertain times head on down to Stage West Calgary and catch Red Rock Diner. Director and choreographer David Connolly has assembled an energetic, youthful, fun, and talented cast for this tribute to the early music of rock ‘n’ roll.
“There’s an artistic epiphany in my play John Doe Jack Rabbit. There’s a moment where the TV’s broken and they’re stuck in this cabin and they’re on the lam and this one guy Gordy is reading a book – it’s this trashy horrible romance novel called Ravaged at Rush Hour. But then he gets so sucked into this book – as if he’s never read a book before – and he has this moment where he’s like, the person who wrote this book wrote it down so I would know what it feels like to be Jessica in the cab or whatever it was, right? And that was one of those things. That’s what playwriting is about. What art is about. This is what it’s like to feel like I feel, and I put it into this painting for you to grasp that concept, or I put it in this play for you to go – wow that’s what’s going on in your head.”
Neil Fleming is a multi-talented, award winning Calgary designer, playwright and television producer. In our hour and a half chat last Friday Neil and I talked about all kinds of things including playwriting, depression, Chuck Wendig, poltergeists and ADHD. The purpose of our getting together was to talk about Neil’s playwriting and specifically his current play, Spare Parts, which is being workshopped at the Stage One Festival of New Canadian Work at Lunchbox Theatre this week.
As a writer we spend long hours alone at the writing desk and sometimes we find ourselves facing internal or external resistance to a particular writing project or even our own writing career. Who in your life gives you the support and feedback you need that lets you continue on your journey?
Well my first sounding board has always been Jane, my wife. When I’m done a draft, I’ll be like, can you take a second to read this? And bless her, she’ll drop everything and go in the other room and I’ll sit there and listen to her while I’m trying to distract myself, but really I’m listening to her reading it and asking her what she’s laughing at if she’s laughing just to make sure she’s not laughing at an inside joke between the two of us that I intended for a larger group.
Are you more nervous giving her the first draft to read, do you think, than when it’s ready for an audience?
No, I don’t think so. I trust her. We have similar taste in story and content, but she likes things that are a bit darker than I do.
And you’re pretty dark at times.
I can be. But I think humour has always been a defense mechanism for me. It’s my way of not going to the dark place. More recently I’ve been trying to challenge myself to have something to say and not just be silly.
But when you did Last Christmas that was dealing with someone dying of cancer. It was a comedy and a Christmas show.
Sure. Pam Halstead at Lunchbox had commissioned me to write that. She wanted it to be a dysfunctional family at Christmas made up of people’s Christmas horror stories. So, there’s some Pam Halstead in it. The inflatable husband. One of her siblings bought her an inflatable husband one Christmas, and she opened it in front of everyone, and it was horrible and awful and fun but real, right?
I tried to come up with a family that didn’t resemble my own and didn’t resemble my wife’s where I could use details from real people but no one was able to accuse me of writing about my brother-in-law or whatever. They were fictional characters, but then so many people came up to me after the show because those characters resonated so strongly, and they’d say, “Oh that’s like my sister-in-law, and I can’t believe she’s in your play.”
So, it touched on some universal characteristics.
For sure. What I like to do is find little bits of truth and craft around those. Last Christmas started because one of my wife’s best friends worked at a dispensary in Vancouver, and her job was to teach old people how to roll a joint because they’d been given medicinal marijuana with a prescription, and they’d never smoked a joint before. And that’s just such an awesome image. So, I wanted the pot smoking grandpa. I just thought what a great start.
And then there’s a lovely part of that play where the grandson and the grandfather have a bonding experience. Where they’re sharing the marijuana.
I think that’s a favourite moment for the audience. It’s Christmas Eve, and the grandfather and the grandson are listening to Nat King Cole, and grandpa is experiencing being high for the first time. But they’re just having one of those philosophical conversations.
I love the absurdity of real things. One of my favourite things to do when I was looking for something fresh or new is I’d go to the news of the weird, and I have a play called Gnomes about garden gnomes and literally there was a news article about the Garden Gnome Liberation Front, I think, in Paris and they had broken into a garden show, and they stole all these antique gnomes, and then in the town square spelled out, Free the Gnomes with the gnomes.
And so, my concept for that play was there were three characters. Character one was a collector, and his parents had this massive collection of gnomes, and there was an incident where somebody came and smashed a bunch of them. And then here’s a woman from The Garden Gnome Liberation Society. I changed that. And then the last guy was from a group called DAMAGE which was defending all mankind against gnome evil, because he believed that gnomes were secretly evil, and that they come to life. And so, it became this argument between the three characters – were gnomes good, or evil, or ceramic?
The new play you’re working on with Lunchbox Theatre is called Spare Parts and has three characters. There’s Martin a widower living alone in the haunted apartment his wife Sarah convinced him to buy, and on the anniversary of the accidental death of his wife and daughter Emily, Martin decides to take an overdose of anti-depressants.
Then there’s Eric, Martin’s upstairs neighbour, and a former human guinea pig for pharmaceutical companies, who is now developing and promoting a new Life Style System that focuses on exercise, recreation, and meditation through colouring as a pathway to an enjoyable life.
And finally, there’s Sarah, Martin’s dead wife. As Martin trips through his various symptoms, side-effects, and visions, we meet Sarah as a memory. In life, Sarah had a business taking people on tours of haunted buildings. She knew the story of Lester – who had been found dead in a heritage building – presumably payback for a romantic tryst. When she heard the apartment was coming on the market, she knew she had to convince Martin to buy it and move in. These three characters…
Well, four if you count Lester.
Four characters are caught up in a story about suicide, depression, guilt, religion, and the supernatural. First question, how much of that is based on personal experience?
Well I didn’t know this at the time, but I did struggle with anxiety and depression. It was more anxiety, I think. Depression I didn’t know how to define. I didn’t know anything about mental health really. Depression to me was sadness, as a writer. As a clinical term it’s something else. What I was struggling with was my inability to focus and accomplish things and constantly feeling like I was getting lapped by younger writers or whatever. I was like why can’t I get anything done?
Recently I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD and it was such a relief to finally know what I’ve been struggling with my entire life really. But, before I was diagnosed I was buying a book by Peter Shankman called Crazy Publicity Stunts and Why Your Company Should Do Them because I was thinking of doing a street theatre project that was sort of a social media experiment. And beside that book, in the people who bought this book also bought section, was another book by Peter Shankman called, Faster Than Normal. How to hack your ADHD brain and unleash your super power. And I was like, I want to read that. I ordered both of them. And that book explained my entire life, my entire history, and I was like Oh, my God. That’s my childhood. This is high school. University. All of those things, and I could see how things went sideways
And when you’re a writer and you sit down to write something it’s work. The first draft is always fun, but fixing it and fine tuning it that’s work, and if nobody’s breathing down your neck waiting for a draft then it’s easy to just let that one sit there and start something new. So, I have a lot of different projects that haven’t seen the light of day because I haven’t been able to focus. I started Spare Parts years ago, and it was part of my mental health journey.
The other thing with ADHD is that when I need to focus I can hyper focus. That’s the H part. As an adult it’s not hyper activity it’s impulse control. And so, yesterday I was writing solid for five to six hours on the play because I have to give them something to read by Monday so we can start to work on it.
Who are you working with.
Col Cseke is the director. Graham Percy is playing Martin. Matt McKinny is Eric, and Julie Orton is Sarah. And some things have changed already from your introduction. I’ve cut the daughter. They rent the place they don’t buy it. I know I’ve made that note before about Eric being a Guinee pig so he knows what the prescription is and what it does, because I need somebody in there to help detail what’s going on for the audience because your brain is a complex machine. That’s what fascinated me about this idea in the first place, because when I was struggling with those anxiety issues I talked to my doctor about it – this was years ago – and she gave me a trial prescription of Escitalopram which is a serotonin inhibitor in a way. And when I got the pills they came with warnings.
The side effects?
It was a crazy.
It’s supposed to help you, but like how could it maybe do that to you.
Do the exact opposite.
Well if you have suicidal tendencies it could amplify that.
Yeah, and I’m like, do I want to take this, and so you know I decided at the time I don’t think this is for me. But I kept the information and that’s what started it.
That’s what started this play six or seven years ago?
More than that – I think, 2007 is what my hard drive tells me was a first draft. So, I’ve learned a lot in the last eight or nine years. Mostly in the last year. What’s always interested me as a writer are the odd outlying people. Spare Parts is kind of about that. It’s about people just on the outskirts of regular society. Like the neighbor, Eric’s character. He’s trying to rediscover his purpose by starting this sort of life style system.
It’s kind of a religion he’s working on?
It’s open to all religions, because in his theory religion is part of the problem because of people bickering over the differences between theirs, and yours, and whatever.
So, his philosophy could be placed over any faith?
Yeah, his philosophy of life is to find the things that make you feel good because you’re only here for a finite amount of time.
What are you hoping to accomplish in next week’s workshop?
What I love about playwriting is it’s all about questions. Dramaturgy is all about questions, hopefully. And I don’t mind suggestions, but questions are great because I will write them all down, because a question from anyone – whether it’s from an actor, or a stage manager, or an audience member, represents a certain percentage of that population. There’s a lot more people who will have that same question. I lost you for two or three lines because you were hung up on something, so I always feel like you have to address those with what’s the simplest way for me to make that question go away. If it’s that kind of question.
I was just reading this book, Damn Fine Story, by Chuck Wendig who’s a novelist and a writing blogger. Terrible Minds is his blog. In his book, which is about story telling more than anything else, he uses Die Hard as an example. And at the root of it he says stories are about characters. Stories are rooted in character, and so a character has a problem, and then how they try to solve that problem is the story.
And they either solve it, or they don’t.
But what he pointed out – Bruce Willis’s character’s problem, John McClain – I only know that because he keeps referring to him in this book, but his problem is that his wife left him for this job in LA, and he’s a New York City cop, so he’s flown out at Christmas time to convince her to come home to get his family back together. And coincidentally all of this stuff goes down with Alan Rickman, and terrorists, and the tower, and him not having his shoes on – those are all coincidental pieces of the puzzle of I’m just trying to get back together here with my wife.
And that’s what makes it work – the human element. You mentioned something in a previous interview when you were asked, “What do you think art is?” You said, “I suppose art is an expression of human emotion.” Why do you think we have this need to examine our emotional connection and reaction to other people, the world, and ourselves?
I think that there are so many unanswered questions that we have. You know I took first year philosophy when I was at University and it was all Plato’s Republic and you couldn’t make me read that book – it was like painful. If it had been a survey course of all the philosophers I think I would have really gotten into it with different perspectives and stuff.
Maybe theatre is philosophy on stage?
Yeah, kind of. It’s trying to explain what it means to be a person, because we don’t know what happens after we die. As artists I think we’re always trying to reflect back, and sometimes it’s a fun house mirror reflection, but you know it’s also a compulsion. And I think the ADD is part of it too. I just started doing collage work with my photography. A few years ago we were in Paris for my wife’s 50th birthday and I saw all these numbers every where, and I just started taking pictures of numbers – like address numbers and here and there, and I bought one of those big cheap print things for ten bucks form Homesense or whatever, and I pasted all of these photographs over top of it as a present for my wife, and here’s our entire Paris trip on one canvas, and you could see us in some of them, and some of the pictures were tiny, and I have no idea the compulsion that drove me to do that, but it felt like something I needed to do.
It tells a story.
Yeah, for sure and it’s something you can spend some time with it’s not just like, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that.” You can really sort of dive in and look at all those little details
Do you think that’s what your plays are like? Like in terms of your process it reflects what you’re doing with your photography, because you’ve got all these different ideas, all these little bits, and now you’re putting them together, and the play itself when the audience comes to it is the experience of all these little pieces.
Yes, and the take away will be different for everyone, you know, I think. Especially with this. There’s so much crazy content in this play. There’s an artistic epiphany in my play John Doe Jack Rabbit. There’s a moment where the TV’s broken and they’re stuck in this cabin they’re on the lam and this one guy Gordy is reading a book – it’s this trashy horrible romance novel called Ravaged at Rush Hour. But then he gets so sucked into this book – as if he’s never read a book before – and he has this moment where he’s like, the person who wrote this book wrote it down so I would know what it feels like to be Jessica in the cab or whatever it was, right? And that was one of those things. That’s what playwriting is about. What art is about. This is what it’s like to feel like I feel, and I put it into this painting for you to grasp that concept, or I put it in this play for you to go – wow that’s what’s going on in your head.
Spare Parts is one of eight new plays being developed through The Stage One Festival of New Canadian Work at Lunchbox Theatre from May 25th to June 9th.
2018 Stage One Festival of New Canadian Work Free Reading Schedule
- Spare Parts by Neil Fleming – Friday May 25, 12:00PM
- The Happiness Equation by Peter Fenton & Scott White – Friday May 25, 6:00 PM
- The Art of Kneading by Helen Knight – Saturday May 26, 12:00 PM
- Paul’s Grace by Anna Cummer – Friday June 1, 12:00 PM
- Candemic by Arun Lakra – Friday June 1, 6:00 PM
- Wo De Ming Shi Zhang Xin En by Kris Vanessa Teo – Saturday June 2, 12:00 PM
- Go for Gold, Audrey Pham by Camille Pavlenko – Friday June 8, 12:00 PM
- Reprise by Mike Czuba – Saturday June 9, 12:00 PM
If you enjoyed this interview with Playwright Neil Fleming you might also enjoy the following interviews:
- An Interview with Playwright Wendy Froberg – A Woman of a Certain Age
- An Interview with Playwright Dale Lee Kwong – Hi Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets
- An Interview with Playwright Maria Crooks – The Mary Mink Story
- An Interview with Playwright Meredith Taylor-Parry – Book Club II
- An Interview with Playwright Meredith Taylor-Parry – Part Two: Book Club
- An Interview with Playwright Meredith Taylor-Parry – Part One: Survival Skills
This Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sometimes when you get feedback the people who give you the feedback are trying to change what you’ve created so that it will appeal to the masses. They want your story to reach as many people as possible. Well, that’s good from a mass marketing point of view and that’s the way things used to be done but that’s no longer the case today.
In fact, the internet has finally made it possible for you to create content that doesn’t appeal to a mass audience. You can write a book or create music that won’t make it onto the local top 40 radio station or be listed on the New York Times best seller list. But that’s okay. Being a mass market product is only one measure of success. If what you create reaches a specific audience – write for that audience – create music for that audience. Don’t change what you’re doing just to broaden the appeal.
Not everyone has to get the joke or like your book or listen to your music. And that’s okay. Don’t let it bother you. Measure your success by what you create not by how many people buy what you create.
The work matters not the sales figures.
Olive Kitteridge is a hard woman to love. But she’s one of the most interesting and complex characters you’re ever going to see or read.
I stumbled across the mini-series Olive Kitteridge last year. I hadn’t heard about it. Apparently I’ve been living under a rock. I mean it won a lot of Emmy’s and a whole sack full of other awards so it’s not like nobody knew about it. But in my defense I don’t tend to watch award shows. Actually the last awards show I sat down and watched – commercials and all – was the 1978 Oscars. I was disappointed Citizen Kane didn’t win Best Picture. I wonder if it will win this year? Probably not. I’m guessing it won’t even get nominated.
Olive Kitteridege is 25 years in the life of someone who makes other people’s lives miserable. And yet, this person is not a villain – they have a heart – they’ve felt pain – they’ve been hurt – and they do good and help others but are often blind to their own destructive behaviours and actions. [Read more…]
You know I don’t get why playwriting festivals ask for blind submissions when they don’t accept braille as a submission format.
Bad joke? Yes. Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few thoughts about festivals and their submission requirements.
But before I get to those here is the list of the playwriting festivals and opportunities I have included in this week’s blog:
- Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum: Botanicum Seedlings – A Development Series for Playwrights
- Tree City Playhouse: 10-Minute Play Competition
- Sanguine Theatre Company: Project Playwright Festival
- id Theater: Seven Devils Playwrights Conference
- Ruby Slippers Theatre, the Vancouver Fringe Festival and Equity in Theatre present: Advance Theatre: New Works by Diverse Women
Further details and links to each festival can be found by scrolling down. In the meantime here are some of my thoughts about entry fees and having to submit never produced work.
Elvis is Dead, my ten minute comedy about time travel, man’s dependence on technology, and Elvis, is being produced along with five other plays at this year’s Red EYE 10s International Play Festival on Saturday September 17th.
Elvis is Dead is about time travelers Dr. Fred Bunson and Commander Robert Frump who travel back in time to retrieve a lost book and save mankind. But with no library card and the book already signed out things look dim for our intrepid time travelers until librarian Sally Knowlton comes to the rescue.
- You can download a free copy of Elvis is Dead by clicking on this link: Elvis is Dead
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
Have you read blogging advice that says you should write lists because lists get shared and generate traffic?
I think a lot of bloggers have because I’ve seen an explosion of lists over the last couple of years about everything from how to determine if your spouse is an alien to the top five things you should do in order to cook the perfect Christmas turkey.
I have no problem with lists. For the right topic lists are a great way to present information. Just ask Rick Perry.
And if you want to write a list – great – do it! David Letterman and his writers did it for years.
But if it’s not your style: don’t do it.
A list is a particular way of presenting information and if that’s not the way you write don’t do it. We come to your blog to hear your voice.
If you write 2000 word rants without punctuation or paragraph breaks because that’s how you see the world and that’s how you convey your information and it’s just how you think and you think that’s the best way to say what you have to say and that’s your style: don’t do a list.
Stay true to your voice.
Whether you’re writing a blog, a play, a novel, a short story, a song, a poem – stay true to your voice. You see the world in a particular way. That’s your unique vision. If you like to write comedy – write comedy. If you love rock and roll play rock and roll. The worst thing you can do is try to be something you’re not.
And, so here’s my list of the Top Five Reasons not to Write Blog Post Lists.
- If it’s not the way you write: don’t do it.
- If it’s not the way you write: don’t do it.
- If it’s not the way you write: don’t do it.
- If it’s not the way you write: don’t do it.
- If it’s not the way you write: don’t do it.
Okay so, I really only had one thing to say but I listed it five times. Which is another reason I’m not a big fan of lists.
Have you ever read a list of things and the first item is good and insightful but the rest of the list is a bit lame and you just know they’re reaching because they really just have one point they want to make.
Well, if that’s the case, as it is here, just write about one thing. Better to say one thing well that ten things poorly.
Opportunities for Playwrights
Wildclaw Theatre: Deathscribe 2016
- Deadline: July 31st, 2016
- Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
- Submission Fee: None.
- Type: Short Original Horror Radio Plays.
- Restrictions: Scripts must be no more than ten minutes in length and should follow radio drama format. Scripts must be ready to produce, including directions for sound and music cues. Submissions cannot include the use of any copyrighted music. Writers may submit up to two (2) scripts for Deathscribe consideration in any year.
- Award: Five Scripts will be selected from all submissions. These five pieces will be performed on stage in front of a live audience on stage with Foley artists and a band creating the sound effects and live music. The writer of the winning piece, chosen by a celebrity panel of judges, will receive the coveted Bloody Axe Award, as well as a $100 cash prize.
- Note: Scripts are judged blind. No identifying information should appear anywhere in the document.
- Scripts will be performed by no more than 6 actors, therefore scripts with more characters will require double casting.
For complete submission details and festival information refer to the Wildclaw Theatre: Deathscribe 2016 Web Site.
Alumnae Theatre Company: New Ideas Festival 2017
- Deadline: September 5, 2016
- Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- Submission Fee: None Listed
- Type: One Acts 10 to 40 minutes in length
- Restrictions: Scripts should be submitted electronically in PDF or Word format. Scripts must be original works that have not been previously performed outside of a workshop.
- They may be any genre or style, with a running time of 10 to 40 minutes; one act of a full-length play may also be accepted for production. Submissions longer than 40 minutes will be considered for a reading, which will showcase the script development accomplished during the rehearsal period.
- Each playwright may submit a maximum of two scripts.
- Preference will be given to Canadian Scripts and scripts with challenging roles for women of all ages.
- Award: Production or reading in Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival
- Note: Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival (NIF) is an annual, three-week juried festival of new plays, works-in-progress and experimental theatre.
- No identifying information should be on the script/proposal; please include a cover page providing: play title, list and description of characters, short play synopsis. Send a separate contact page with the play title, playwright’s name and contact information, and a short 75 words or less biography.
- NIF does not provide feedback on submissions.
- The 2017 festival lineup will be announced in early November.
For complete submission details and festival information refer to the Alumnae Theatre Company New Ideas Festival Web site.
- Deadline: November 20, 2016
- Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- Submission Fee: None
- Type: 10 Minute Play
- Restrictions: The theme “Grow Up” must be an integral part of the play. The play must be 10 minutes in length. The contest is open to all regardless of geography or age. Submissions are made on line. Plays must be written in English. The festival accepts any style except musicals. Playwrights may submit one play.
- Award: If selected, winning plays will be performed in Toronto, Canada from June 1 to June 10, 2017. Betweent 18 and 24, ten-minute plays will be selected. 1st prize: $500 Canadian.
- Note: The story can be comedy, drama, a parody, absurd or anything in between.
- Previously produced plays (but not plays that have been produced at InspiraTO before) are accepted.
- The playwright must own the rights to the play up to June 10, 2017. (i.e. the script cannot be owned by a publisher).
For complete submission details and festival information refer to the theatreinspiraTO Web Site.
Ashland New Plays Festival
- Deadline: December 31, 2016 or until 400 scripts have been submitted
- Location: Ashland, Oregon
- Submission Fee: $15.00 US
- Type: Full Length drama or comedy (90 to 150 minutes)
- Restrictions: One submission per author per year. Plays must be previously unproduced. Maximum of eight actors; doubling is allowed provided a doubling plan is included with the cast list.
- Award: Five-day festival in Ashland, Oregon that features professional actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the community. The festival includes rehearsals and two staged readings of each winning play. The winning playwrights receive a $1,000 stipend and local accommodations. The ANPF will take place from October 18-22, 2017.
- Note: The Ashland New Plays Festival is committed to the presentation of new dramatic work that is uniquely theatrical, has literary merit, and appeals to our audience’s emotions and imaginations. Such work invariably reflects an original concept or theme, possesses a clear and cogent structure, and includes characters whose language expresses their individual worldview.
- All submissions are judged blind. No indication of authorship should be on any of the pages of the script.
- ANPF does not accept: Film or television scripts, translations or adaptations, children’s theatre, or musicals.
- Winning playwrights are notified in June 2017 and will be announced publicly in July 2017.
- Playwrights are responsible for the cost and arrangement of transportation to and from Ashland.
For complete submission details and festival information refer to the Ashland New Plays Festival Web Site.
“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
King is talking about reading a book but the same principle applies to movies and television and plays. When someone changes the channel or when the rustling and coughing and squirming gets noticeable in the theatre you’ve lost your audience.
You can sense it.
And if you’ve lost your audience it probably means you’re boring them. They’ve lost interest in your story or your characters because the story has become stagnant. They’ve ceased to be entertained because an engaged audience is an entertained audience.
Lets say you want to write about how horrible war is. That’s fine. But we already know wars are horrible. Just telling us war is horrible isn’t anything new. What you have to do is tell us a unique story about how war is horrible. That’s what makes your play or novel or song unique. Theme is an idea. Story is action.
What’s the theme of Casablanca? You could say it’s the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.
What’s the theme of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? You could say it’s the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.
Same theme different story but both stories are about sacrifice. A theme won’t keep us watching. Theme is the controlling idea. Story is your characters taking action in order to achieve their goal and by doing so they illustrate the theme of your work.
A knowledge commons by and for the theatre community.
Are you familiar with HowlRound? HowlRound is an excellent resource for theatre artists. There are hundreds of blog posts, essays, and an archive of livestreamed video events and conferences.
“HowlRound was born five years ago—as a place for artists to provide feedback, learning, expertise, frustration, and vision—in an effort to enliven the fields of theatre and performance to the aspiring and established artist alike.
From the beginning we decided to use the commons as our frame. This idea of a performance commons is new to many. It’s a simple idea really. A commons is a place to share the resources you have and take the resources you need. We believe that making art is more than a money game, that ticket sales for a live performance are just one piece of what it takes to claim success in our art form. Access and engagement are our highest values, and everyone, yes everyone, has something to contribute to the learning, the making, and the sharing of art.”
I’ve shared HowlRound articles on my twitter feed @lifeisanact and on my Facebook page but I thought I’d go deep into the archives of HowlRound and seek out blog posts or articles that I like or that I found interesting and share them here on my own website from time to time. Here are three articles worth checking out:
Are 10 minute plays really plays? Are they a good thing or a bad thing for the audience and the playwright? Barry Martin dives in and discusses whether or not ten minutes provides the necessary time for a fully developed story with a beginning middle and an end or are these short theatre pieces more often than not simply scenes or sketches – and does that matter?
Barry Martin was born and raised in the Ozarks and majored in Theater at Missouri Southern State College and forgot to graduate before stumbling into a 23-year career in radio in four different states. In 2008 he returned to the stage, and shortly after co-founded the Napa-based Lucky Penny Productions with Taylor Bartolucci. Together they produce quality theatre in the hinterlands of the North San Francisco Bay.
What makes an Artistic Home? By Todd London January 12, 2012
Creating a space where artists can feel at home in order to create art is the focus of this piece by Todd London. The series was initiated by Jamie Gahlon at HowlRound who asked theatre artists from around the country to talk about their personal search for an artistic home. As London points out, What makes an Artistic Home? is a great question but one that has yet to be answered precisely and the answer as to what makes an artistic home will differ for each artist.
Todd London became the first recipient of Theatre Communications Group’s (TCG) Visionary Leadership Award in 2009, for “an individual who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to advance the theatre field as a whole, nationally and/or internationally.” He is currently the Executive Director of the University of Washington’s School of Drama, where he holds the newly established Floyd U. Jones Family Endowed Chair in Drama. He came to Seattle in 2014 from 18 seasons as Artistic Director of New York’s New Dramatists, the nation’s oldest center for the support and development of playwrights, where he worked closely with more than a hundred and fifty of America’s leading playwrights and advocated nationally and internationally for hundreds more.
Finding a title for anything is difficult. Once you title a play, a movie, a show, even a band, it automatically becomes a part of the product’s identity. It’s impossible for us not to judge a book by it’s cover, though often we pretend that we are far too sophisticated to pick up a book based on its design—more often that not, we do.
Melisa Annis is a NYC based playwright currently in the middle of the madness of completing an MFA in playwriting in a hybrid program by Fordham and Primary Stages. Her play Pit was produced last year at Theater for The New City, and Keep Calm and Carry On was developed with Primary Stages also in 2013 directed by Dominic D’Andrea. Melisa has just closed a one act at the Fordham Studio Theatre called Fit For A King directed by Kel Haney. Her personal essays/articles have been published in The Western Mail (UK), Clockhouse Literary Journal andThe Fordham Observer. She is originally from Wales, living in NYC for almost a decade now. (This biography is from Melisa Annis’s 2014 profile on Howlround. An updated bio can be found on her personal website which provides a more current list of her plays and accomplishments.)
The Blood of a Thousand Chickens, my ten minute comedy about the classic Greek tale of Oedipus, is being given its world premiere from January 20th to 24th, 2016 at the Short+Sweet Short Play Festival in Sydney Australia.
Now I know it’s not easy to be a world leader, or a king, or a politician. Not in modern times. Not in ancient times. You try and do what’s right for your people, but you’re flawed. Sometimes you do things you shouldn’t.
I mean look at Anthony Weiner – he got caught with his pants down – more than once – but even though we might not approve of his behaviour that’s nothing compared to what poor Oedipus did. I mean Weiner didn’t murder his father and marry his mother and gouge out his eyes as a penalty for his actions. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying just because Weiner’s sins were less than murder that he shouldn’t be held accountable for his Tweets, but I have to wonder if Sophocles were alive today and writing about Anthony Weiner instead of Oedipus the King how much more extreme the penalty might have been for poor Tony.
And so I turn my attention back to the earliest beginnings of theatre and my take on the story of Oedipus. My little tale could not have been written without Sophocles sitting down to tell his tale 2500 years ago. So I suppose, if I was to dedicate my play to anyone, it should be to him – because I owe him a debt of gratitude for telling the tale and helping to set in motion this whole wonderful thing we call the theatre.
And one of the things I love most about live theatre is its ability to respond to the moment. Anyone who has ever been on stage knows that no two nights of a performance are exactly the same. A play responds to the moods and emotions of the audience – just as much as the audience responds to the moods and emotions of the actors.
I wish I could be in Sydney to see the production but even though I can’t be there physically I can be there in spirit and in Tweets and in Facebook updates and blogs. Because in this day and age of social media I think it is the responsibility of every playwright to support those that produce their work.
The Blood of a Thousand Chickens is about Phallus, the son of Oedipus and Jocasta, the King and Queen of Thebes, who wants to marry Clitoris the woman he loves. Unfortunately unknown to Phallus, Clitoris is actually his sister and Oedipus and Jocasta believe that their son’s love for Clitoris is why the Kingdom was cursed by a pox and now faces a terrible drought and possible starvation. And so, in order to save his people from the wrath of Zeus, Oedipus must offer the Gods the blood of a thousand chickens and maybe even the life of his own son.
You see being a leader is tough. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Although most of the time you don’t have to sacrifice your children.
The Blood of a Thousand Chickens by James Hutchison
January 20th to 24th at the Short+Sweet Short Play Festival Sydney
- Directed by Glen Pead
- Nathan Bennett as Oedipus the King
- Keira Bird as Jocasta the Queen
- Sebastian Lopez as Phallus the Son of Oedipus and Jocasta
- Warren Glover as Cretin the Priest and the Oracle
- Nicole Carney as Penurious the Farmer
The Blood of a Thousand Chickens was partly developed and workshopped through the Alberta Playwrights Network Wordshed program in March 2015 with the participation of Trevor Rueger, Laura Parken, Roberta Mauer-Phillips, and Julie Orton. While The Alberta Playwrights’ Network does not produce plays, the organization assists in the development of plays and playwrights with the ultimate goal of production.
Short+Sweet is the world’s largest short play festival with a mission to build the theatre-going audience around the world by presenting theatre, dance, cabaret and song festivals that provide audiences with exciting and contemporary works that challenge and entertain. The 15th edition of Short+Sweet Sydney features 160 scripts from Australian and international writers and will run from January 6 to March 13.
I believe that you should share your work. But don’t ever think that you’re giving it away for free. You’re not.
Even if there is no money being exchanged it certainly isn’t free.
You’re asking for something.
You’re asking for time. And time is life. So appreciate your audience when they take the time to read your novel or see your play or listen to your music. Time is precious and anyone willing to give you their time deserves your best.
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