Tag Archives: theater

Now for Kindle! Mousewings: a post-apocalyptic urban fairy tale

“If you were three mice in a cage, one of you would be the weakest mouse. When the other two mice got hungry enough they would eat the weakest mouse. Eat it until its tumors were lying exposed on its back, or till someone from the lab came in and gave it a shot. Put it out of its misery. We’d do it for a mouse…”

It’s the end of the world. A disease decimates the population. A cancer-researcher’s home is invaded by two escapees from a housing project, making their way to the coast. A giant bird-turned-man haunts her memories. Mice turn cannibal under pressure; are human beings any different?

Over the last two years, I’ve uploaded my produced plays to Amazon. First POST, then Playing it Cool, then Stuck Up A Tree.

Now it’s time for Mousewings.

Bird behind Rin

Rob Flett and Catriona Grozier in Mousewings.

Mousewings was produced in Edinburgh during the 2007 Fringe – my last Fringe in Scotland (for the time being). Written in response to a call for work from the Bedlam theater, a venue run by Edinburgh University, it was also the first play I wrote for a specific commission. As part of the Traverse Young Writer’s Group, I received an email letting me know about the opportunity, and a short while later was sat opposite the venue manager and publicity manager in a pub near Edinburgh Uni, describing two possible plays they might be interested in staging. When I finished, the venue manager nodded and asked, “Which one are you more interested in writing?”

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Alastair Gillies and Rachel O’Conner in Mousewings.

Thus began production work on Mousewings. I contacted Emma Taylor, the director I’d worked with on Stuck Up A Tree, and asked if she’d be interested in working on this one. We held a casting call and found our Bird, Sylvie, Rin and Kyle, and the adventure began in earnest. I reached out to graphic design companies, and Definitely Red created a creepy, haunting graphic for our posters, postcards and program. Rehearsals were held in the Edinburgh Playhouse’s event space, discussions of the play’s relationship to pop culture introduced me to The Walking Dead (the graphic novels) for the first time, and I got to watch Emma and the cast bring this eerie twilight horror tale to life. It was nothing short of thrilling. The play hit its mark, earning reviews that proved it from a number of publications during the Fringe.

After many months and a few false starts, I’m thrilled to announce that Mousewings is now available on Amazon, exclusively for Kindle.

I hope you enjoy the play.

Buy or borrow Mousewings on Amazon.

DraftCover2 copy

NYC Theater Review: GORILLA by Rhea Leman (Scandanavian American Theater Company)

In the Scandanavian American Theater Company’s production of Rhea Leman’s Gorilla, five businessmen and their HR director navigate a weekend seminar on expression and trust. In what is revealed to be an evaluation that could cost them their jobs (and in some cases, far more), the characters’ relationships, personalities, histories and sex lives are laid bare, pride is chucked out the window, more than a few punches are thrown and questions are asked about the role of masculinity in the modern professional world.

We never get a solid sense of what Owen (Albert Bendix), Stephen (Oliver Burns), Robert (L.J. Ganser), Ernest (Alfred Gingold) and Lawrence (Khris Lewin) do for a living, only that for the past year they’ve been doing it rather badly. Their team has had the poorest performance in the company in a year of economic distress (the play is set in 2009), and now they’re at the last of a series of teamwork workshops designed to help them work with more trust and intimacy.

Dragging them down this path of corporate and personal enlightenment is Lillian (Jennifer Dorr White), from the company’s HR department; midway through the play, they are joined by their boss, Thrasher (Tullan Holmqvist), who makes it clear their suspicions of future firings are well-founded. Some murmurs of the role played by sexuality and gender make their way through the blend of analyses and posturing, and it’s in her sexual and animal metaphors that Leman’s play shows both strength and depth.

Gorilla never breaks the fourth wall, maintaining a setting within the walls of a single conference room in sanitized, businesslike shades (to call the pale tones “colors” seems over-ambitious). There are moments, such as one where Owen and Stephen negotiate a possible transaction, where the characters show how deeply imperfect they are – in one particularly insightful speech, Stephen describes his wife and her lack of confidence and her need for affection in a way that makes one wonder if he isn’t, in fact, projecting his issues onto her.

One nitpicky point regarding the translation: midway through Gorilla, Owen explains the meaning of the word to Stephen. Something – I’m not sure what – is missing in the exchange that takes place around the translation of “Gorilla” itself; maybe translation from Danish to English has dulled the comparison’s point? It’s frustrating that it isn’t clearer, since Leman can be assumed to have been making the connection to her play’s title in that moment. Addressing this point more clearly could have heightened the title’s impact for English-speaking audiences.

The individual characters are as specifically drawn as their roles require; while Ernest and Thrasher seem to have limited arcs, the others are more active. One feels as if there should be more weight to Lillian’s inability to make a tough choice, near the end of the play, particularly given the knowledge we’ve already attained via audience privilege.

This is a satisfying eighty minutes of theater, a naturalistic play with a story that gets you somewhere – even if, as the lights fade to black, you’re not exactly sure where you’ve ended up.

 

Rhea Leman’s Gorilla is playing at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, www.theatrerow.org. For the curious, here’s the production company’s page on IndieGoGo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gorilla.

THEATER REVIEW: “The Play About The Coach” by Paden Fallis

Watching Paden Fallis (writer and director) perform this one-man show about a basketball coach whose team is moments from either victory or defeat is a staggering experience in the tension felt on the sidelines of a major game, even though we already know that the big question post-game is whether the Coach’s decisive call was the right one.

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With this central tension already in place, then, we are waiting to see which call it is that’s wrong – what’s the losing move – rather than being held in a state of suspense over the outcome of the game. That the play still contains tension and movement is a credit both to Fallis and his subject matter. Not being a basketball fan, I have to rely on my plus-one’s assessment of the accuracy of the game’s portrayal. The show passed this test without reservation.

It’s the small details that make The Play About The Coach such an authentic experience: the set, papered with templates depicting possible plays, the way Fallis contorts himself around his character’s experience and the specifics about his players – each of whom grows a personality and temperament before our eyes. Clearly a skilled performer, Fallis takes a one-man show about a single character and stretches its reality to encompass the personalities of everyone in that character’s life at the moment being portrayed.

There are elements of The Play About The Coach that indicate a longer version might be in the works: small plot spurs like the increasingly-frantic phone calls the Coach receives throughout this major game in his career, which present then fade away without real impact. The calls, as well as the Coach’s conflicts with his assistant could benefit from further elaboration, and in the play’s present form are something of a red herring, given their lack of resolution

Of particular interest is the fact that this production raised its funding through Kickstarter, perhaps offering a template for other plays needing to raise money for runs in NYC.

Playing at the 4th street theater until March 17, 2013.

Getting paid to write.

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In today’s blog, and in light of the issues I’ve read about online and e-published authors have had in getting paid, I wanted to say a few things about writing and getting paid for it.

I hope you’ll excuse me if I meander around a bit. Money for the fruit of my soul is an emotional subject.

I got paid on Thursday for a job I did last fall.

Due to a miscommunication, I never realized they’d requested an invoice.

Within days of raising a question about payment (uh…Monday?)…the money hit my account.

I’ve been wondering what was going on since at least October; I remember having a conversation with a friend who was part of the same project around then. And now I’m kicking myself – why didn’t I just ask the producer at the time, why did I step back and not bring up this question of payment earlier?

I didn’t want to seem pushy or petty. But asking “Hey, what’s up?” at a point sooner than four months after the fact would have saved a lot of time, and that would have been nice. As evidenced by how quickly we figured out what was up once I opened my mouth.

Anyway, I’m meandering.

What I wanted to say was this: it felt SO GOOD to get paid for something I’d written because I *felt* it. The piece I was paid for landed in my lap like a flash of inspiration, and having it produced (even abroad, even when I couldn’t go to see it) gave me the most wonderful, settled feeling in the world.

Getting paid for it today, seeing the money land in my account – that gave me a whole different kind of good feeling.

In our society, money is a potent type of validation. I remember the first time I got paid for writing something. A friend bought a short story I’d written. Later, I felt this kind of validation again when I earned money on my Fringe shows (most notably, “Stuck Up A Tree,” which is now *ahemavailableonKindle*). At the same time, we’re told not to ask about it – to the point where I put off a polite inquiry for four months! How crazy is that?

As a freelancer, a self-owned business, you – much like reporters – are advised to follow (up) the money. Nobody is going to think less of you for asking a question.

And trust me. Getting paid for a passion project? The best feeling ever.

2012 was a weighted year. When I got my 1099s for my self-published work in the mail the other day, the amounts added up to a very small sum. Even smaller, once I sit down, do the math, and send money to the writers, illustrators, designers, co-editors and charities owed for the last quarter or two. Having made a somewhat significant sum a few years ago thanks to commercial freelancing, I appreciate the difference between getting paid to write, and getting paid to write what you love.

But what’s left will still be more more than I made on my creative writing in 2011. Which isn’t a bad trend to be following.

Addendum: I asked for some advice re: photography for this entry, because I stress about things like that, and here’s the best response I got.

THEATER REVIEW: Midsummer [a play with songs] by David Greig at the Clurman Theater, NYC

David Greig’s protagonists sit on a park bench in his play Midsummer [a play with words], drinking and aligning themselves with a ragtag group of teenage Goths. It’s an example of how this play captures the strange, free-forming social constellations I will always associate with Edinburgh in the summer.

Helena (Cora Bissett) and Bob (Matthew Pidgeon), who started their association as participants in a raucous one-night stand, are now spending a wad of cash that’s fallen into their laps – a recurring theme, in Scottish drama, now that I think of it (Danny Boyle’s Millions and Trainspotting come immediately to mind). As their bender progresses, the audience is brought into the experience of the festival city’s summertime discombobulation, always maintaining sight of the wider beauty and spirit Edinburgh offers both residents and visitors when the weather is warm.

Midsummer premiered in 2007 – coincidentally, my last summer in the city where it takes place – and is therefore dislocated from its context in three ways during its current NYC run: in time, in distance and in theatrical context. To see a breathtaking production during the Edinburgh Fringe’s unceasing barrage of plays is a singular experience, particularly if one has already seen dozens of shows. Measures of quality warp over the course of three weeks spent viewing productions back-to-back, and to see a show that found success there performed outside of the Fringe is more like tasting whisky after cleansing your palate than not.

Midsummer is an example of modern Scottish theater in many ways. In its opening, Greig’s language is rich and rhythmic, poetic and intense. This eases somewhat as the production continues, and it’s missed, but perhaps appropriate that as we learn the characters of Helena and Bob, they and Greig rely less on words and more on the knowledge we’ve gained throughout the production.

Under Greig’s direction, Bissett and Pidgeon’s depiction of the physical nature of the production and the visceral emotion of connecting with someone else blend into one. The set – resembling a bed, though at times Georgia McGuiness’ design seems more of a jungle gym (Japanese rope bondage!) – features panels and flip-out sections that enrich the specifics of each of the play’s settings; since the set itself is featured throughout the production it’s no small feat to transport the audience with each of its iterations.

As a “play with songs,” Midsummer features interwoven verses and small choruses that lift the audience from the immediate action and into a space that contemplates the individual experiences of the two characters, as well as the nostalgia it brings to anybody who’s resided there through an Edinburgh summer. While the play may not offer deep social commentary or revolutionize theater, it’s a fair representation of professional Scottish theatre – and a high-quality one, to boot. It may not be Black Watch, but Midsummer highlights a far less flashy tradition of Scottish storytelling in a way that’s accessible to audiences in both Scotland and abroad.

“Midsummer [a play with songs]” can be seen at the Clurman Theatre, New York, NY, from January 9-26, 2013.

Happy New Year! Where I’ve been, and where I’m going in 2013.

Photo Credit: Leah Alconcel

Photo Credit: Leah Alconcel

I hope you and yours had a wonderful end of 2012 and rang in the new year with more enthusiasm than I did – I conked out a little after 11pm EST and didn’t manage to greet 2013 until about 9am this morning.

Time for a quick look back, and a longer look ahead.

2012 was a packed year. I published HOT MESS, had short stories featured on blogs and in Amazon E-Book collections, put together a collection of Zombie Haiku, talked a lot about feminism and vaginas (both here and in public), organized readings, took major artists to task over unethical business practices (with results!) and more.

It was a year of both excitement and disappointment, of keeping things in perspective, of working on myself and how I relate to the world. My cousin and his girlfriend got married, and I fell off the Low Sodium wagon hardcore shortly after (funny how having a size 14 dress to fit into can motivate a girl!).

I wrote about physics, I wrote about politics, I wrote about gun control, I broke 100K tweets (don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed about that), I edited a novel, contributed to a round-robin short story, got some help prettying up the blog, shared my self-publishing experience, interviewed innovative theatre producers

In other words, it’s been a busy year.

What’s up for 2013?

For the first time in years, I’m kicking off with a more-or-less clean slate. The writing projects I had planned to carry into this year are either at good resting points, or they’re not going forward due to external circumstances. I have an idea for a feature I’d like to play with, and I’d like to do more theatre work this year (last year, my short play MILLENNIAL EX was performed as part of Glasgay UK in a program of short works on marriage equality, and that’s re-whet my appetite for playwriting after a small break for other formats). I’m going to continue publishing my produced plays, which will join POST and Playing It Cool over on Amazon, just as soon as I lock down cover art for the new pieces (and by the way, if you’re interested in doing cover art for my plays, please let me know).

As I normally do around this time of year, I’m moving diet and health back to center stage: went grocery shopping yesterday and have gone back to only buying low sodium foods and healthy, nutritious snacks. We’ll see if that lasts much beyond my first day at work.

I spent a lot of time in 2012 on my mental health and well-being, and plan to keep moving forward with that in 2013.  I’d like to travel more, and have started trying to reconfigure finances so this is more than a pipe dream. I’d like to get more involved in activism and political issues – something I did more of in 2012 than I had in 2011, but still an area where I want to contribute in the future.

Thanks to everyone who helped make 2012 a memorable year – here’s to making new memories in 2013.

 

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An Interview with Kevin Kerr: TEAR THE CURTAIN in Toronto

Jonathan Young and Dawn Petten in Tear the Curtain. Photo by David Cooper.

If you’re interested in boundary-pushing multi-media theater, Toronto is the place to be this October. Why? Because Vancouver’s Electric Company has pitched up to open Canadian Stage’s 2012-2013 season with their multi-media extravaganza, Tear the Curtain.

I’m looking forward to seeing the production later this month, and was able to interview Artistic Director and co-creator Kevin Kerr in advance of their opening.

From the show’s press release:

“…the production follows Alex Braithwaite (played by [Jonathon] Young), a jaded theatre critic in a gritty film noir rendition of Vancouver in the 1930s, as the advent and popularity of the “Talkies” threatens the existence of theatre. When Alex falls for the screen siren Mila, he’s caught dangerously between two warring mob families: one controlling the city’s playhouses, the other, its cinemas. Alex tries to tear through the artifice and war between these art forms without selling his soul – or losing his mind. Devised as a detective story, the plot unravels on stage in a seamless blend of filmed and live performance, leaving the audience to decipher which medium they are seeing.”

Below, Kevin Kerr discusses the changes the show will undergo as it moves to Toronto, how social media has affected the marketing of productions like Tear the Curtain, the play as a site-specific piece, and more.

RLBrody.com: How is the show changing as it moves to Toronto?

Kerr: We love the opportunity to revisit, tune, and improve upon a work when we have a chance like this, so started by going back to the script and revised, tweak, found cuts, and in some cases entirely re-wrote scenes we weren’t satisfied with. There were then some adjustments to the film with some new edits and trimming. And that meant some changes in sound and the score. The new venue also required some adjustments in the set design to deal with different dimensions. And because the precision required in the relationship between the film projection and the set there was some strategizing around the technical aspects of the projection in the Bluma. The result, we feel is a tighter, stronger piece overall.

RLB:  How well do you feel the video trailers communicate the feelings, moods and experiences your audiences undergo during a performance of Tear the Curtain? Do you feel there’s a risk in trying to communicate the feeling of a live performance through the 2D medium of a computer monitor?

Kerr: I think the trailer communicates fairly well the tone and style of the piece. Of course the filmic component of the piece is particularly well represented and the trailer feels a lot like a contemporary feature film trailer and it showcases nicely the quality and success of the film-making and Brian Johnson’s beautiful cinematography and Kim’s brilliant direction.

But it’s really impossible to authentically capture the effect of the show in performance — video is never satisfying in the its representation of theatre, and in this case I feel it’s even harder to understand the exact nature of what you’ll see and its effect on you. But I think because the trailer draws exclusively from the film, but watching it you know it’s for a piece of theatre, I hope that it teases at least with a promise of something really exciting and perhaps prompts the viewer to question, “how exactly are they going to do this? What will it look like in performance?”

RLB: Can you talk a little about the social media outreach that’s gone into producing and then touring Tear the Curtain? How did the rise of social media (Twitter, Vimeo, etc) change the process of marketing the play from what it might have been if the production was taking place ten years ago?

Kerr: For starters, it allows a more active dialogue between audience and the company, with our audience being able to follow and share and inject their enthusiasm into our process. It makes promoting or marketing a show much more personal, even with something as simple as the act of commenting on our facebook wall, or twitter account, not to mention the capacity for audience members to engage each other in a dialogue around the work this way.

And visually oriented platforms like vimeo, youtube, flickr, etc. are ideal arenas to share this project (and our other works) as the play is so visually spectacular. The film component of the piece makes for great footage to share on video hosting sites (as seen with the trailer) and production stills are easy to share this way as well on our website and via facebook and twitter, etc. And we’ve worked hard collaborating with our partners at Actors Equity to rethink some of the old models and restrictions around use of imagery or video footage from a work, as the developments in social media have really provided a great way to promote not only the show, but the artists who are literally irreplaceable in the piece.

RLB: From what I’ve read, there’s an interesting relationship about duality between the space and the content of Tear The Curtain in Vancouver. GayVancouver.net talks about how “Vancouver’s Stanley Theatre was transformed into its dual historical personality, as both a venue for film and theatre.” Can you talk about the piece as a site-specific production?

Kerr: The play began with a commission from the Arts Club Theatre, which has a few venues including the Stanley. When we were imagining what we might pitch as a project, we started talking about the Stanley as favourite venue of ours and as we chatted about its interesting dual identity in the city as a once grand old cinema from the golden age of movies, and now this beautifully restored live theatre, with all of that vintage charm, the spark ignited. It felt like a perfect opportunity to take our ongoing exploration of a tension between mediated and immediate performance to a new level with a pitch to create a true film/theatre hybrid where both mediums shared equally the weight of telling the story.

So the Stanley became a sort of character in its own right as we started with the space in our early explorations of possible content. And research into its history and certain specific details (like that it was supposedly originally envisaged as a vaudeville theatre, but quickly rethought as a movie theatre before construction began; or that its first movie was Lillian Gish’s first “talkie” called “One Romantic Night” adapted from a stage play called The Swan; etc.) began to give us clues or touchstones as we started to develop the story.

So the dual identity of the building was a departure point to the dual identity of the form of the piece (film/theatre), which itself reflects the content: a character who is faced with a crisis of a fractured sense of self and caught between the forces of the avant garde and the mainstream — each one dangerously seductive in their own way.

RLB: When someone talks about “pushing the boundaries of conventional theatre”, what do you think those boundaries are? In what ways is pushing those boundaries a conscious choice, and in what ways is it something that happens because of the subject matter? (Particularly in relation to immersive theater experiences, such as Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More.)

Kerr: I suppose conventional theatre (as we understand it in Canada) assumes such things as the primacy of the text (or the spoken word or the playwright); the separation of the audience from the aesthetic of the production; the narrative neutrality of the venue; the adherence to a unified genre, form, or style; the notion of a packaged “season of plays”; the actor as some sort of shape shifter, channeler, or avatar that becomes the character; the design as embellishment or illustration; the director as interpreter (over creator) among other conventions.

 

None of these conventions is inherently wrong, and we’ve exemplified them all at various times in our works. But I think we’ve also deliberately challenged them all regularly. Often it is primarily because the piece demands a break from convention, but it also conscious choice — a recognition that theatre is a living changing organism that suffers when stuck looking back; that many of those conventions can exclude the audience, or maybe worse pacify, and they can also oppress the creative process and limit the artistic conversation which wants to keep up with an accelerating world. Most importantly, we want theatre to be something that celebrates and manifests our connection between each other, that excites and provokes our active imagination, that recognizes our the beauty of our living and temporary physical forms, and that acknowledges us all as the constant inventors of the world we live in, moment to moment.

 

Thank you to Kevin Kerr for an interview that sheds a lot of light on the process and product associated with Tear the Curtain’s Toronto production. The show runs from October 7-20th, opening the 2012-2013 season at Canadian Stage; the production will take place at the Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St. E). Tickets range from $24 to $99 and are available by phone at 416.368.3110, online at www.canadianstage.com, or in person at the box office.

Look forward to my review of Tear the Curtain, coming later this month. Subscribe to the blog to make sure you don’t miss it, and check out the show’s video trailer on Vimeo.

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