Tuesday, October 28, 2008

is the Word


Me. 18 years old. Danny.

My friend. John Walker. 17 years old. Kenickie.

Caught during pre-show warm-ups in the greenroom. I hope I remembered to take that watch off!

Seems to be the season for folks sending me old pictures of my past. I guess I should own it. I mean really - how cool were WE? And we put the songs in from the movie - long before this recent revival on Broadway...Grease is the word...is the word....is the word...is the word...

Lordy I need a drink.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Five Nuggets

Random and Scattered Offerings...

1. Blitz opens next week. October 30th to be exact. It's the 5th Annual New Plays Festival at Lincoln High School here in Portland, OR. And this is proving to be one of the most challenging productions I've ever attempted to mount. It may also be one of the most satisfying. Eighteen new pieces all in one three-act evening. I finally got to see the whole thing in one sitting last Thursday before giving these high school kids a three-day weekend. It's a show of extremes. There's brilliant writing. There's greener-than-green writing. There are acting moments that rival the best in the business. There are acting moments that feel like...well...teenage acting moments. But what is not divided is the feeling of unapologetic expression. These kids know how to use their imaginations. And this year I allowed a more "messy" exploration. I am often accused of reigning in my productions to the point of sanitizing them out of being interesting. Not this show. These plays are all over the place - and I think the title is appropriate. A blitz indeed. And I hope a very entertaining one.

2. I want to set up an education retreat for high school kids. One month. And the camp is simple. Everything goes back to 1980 technology. No cell phones. No Internet. No personal computers. No personal videogame devices. No MP3 players. Etc etc etc. I came to this while trying to reinvent my syllabus once again for my various teaching contracts in the high schools. You see, one of the organizations I work for likes to encourage an extremely kinetic teaching style. "Keep the kids moving. Keep them jumping from one thing to another. Use many, many prompts." And for years, I did this. One exercise I developed in 2005 - one so popular I actually got paid to teach it to other educators - involves passing photographs of people around so quickly that in less than fifteen minutes, a writer has over thirty characters to develop for a potential play. Crazy! Fun! Fast! Woohoo! But what the fuck does it have to do with being an artist? NOTHING. It is simply a way to surrender to the pace of the times - a pace that is destroying the ability to observe. And observation is the key to any artist's success. We must use an artist's lens through which to view the world. And this requires being still. So this year I have gone against all the people telling me to go fast and furious. I'm slowing down. And instead of 30 photos in 15 minutes...they looked at 2 for almost 45 minutes. I am teaching kids how to observe and be still. And though there was a lot of shuffling, talking, distractions - the kids also seemed...relieved. Don't we all want to slow down?

3. I saw Religulous with Michael. We had a day date. And it wasn't the best date. We have no idea how to "not be working" right now. Two neurotic Nellies fighting anxiety attacks all day. Between my ridiculous October and his full time school with two jobs - we are a wreck. All we seem to know how to do is eat nervously and drink coffee - and that is really helping our waistlines let me tell you. But we tried to have a date. And we did enjoy Bill Maher's expose on religion. It was incredibly thoughtful. And hilarious. His meeting with an "ex gay" Christian - a man so coiffed he looked like he was about to go compete on some Bravo show - was HILARIOUS. Bill was downright dirty with him - and I loved it. I tried to feel sympathy for this poor 'mo with guilt over the Lord - but no...I just thought he was an idiot who needed to go jump in a sling and admit how much he likes it.

4. Yesterday I had a scary impulse moment. In the midst of trying to clean out the mountain-high "in box" I jumped from my computer and said out loud, "I must go to Bath and Body Works." And I did. Because they sell the best stress-relief candle on the market. It is a mix of spearmint and eucalyptus oils, and it tends to calm my nerves. So I bought one. It is burning now. It makes the air crisp and clean. I alternate this with my more seasonal apple cinnamon spice candles. Because you must understand. I AM a Candle Queen.

5. Finally...I was watching a documentary yesterday - one I've seen many, many times. I will perhaps talk more about this film in later posts, but for now it will go unnamed. There is a line in it - and I may not have the quote exactly right - but the concept is this: "There is something really seductive and euphoric about giving up." The person who says this is talking about being diagnosed with a deadly illness and deciding not to fight. Many people talk about this in the film - the relief of giving up. Stopping the fight. Stopping hitting one's head against the wall. And I began to weep very suddenly. Hard. Not for them - but for a longing I so often have to do just that. To give up. Not in terms of living - please, people, don't read into this. But just to "stop the fight". And as I wept, I thought about how I have framed almost everything in my entire life...as a fight. I thrive in conflict and in overcoming it. It has defined almost everything about me...at least in how I see myself. And I'm so, so very tired. That framework must change. But I simply don't know how to do it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


<--------------Scary huh? Indeed.
I sit here this morning writing this as I listen to the delightful new Joan Osborne CD, Little Wild One. I also have a nice cup of coffee. I have my comfy green hoody on and thick brown socks. I am burning a rich, clove and cinnamon candle. And I just put down the book, The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron.

These are ingredients for survival.

You see...this October is what I have come to label a "collision month". As a private contractor, I must track no less than five projects at all times - often more. They criss and cross on my day planner, dancing in a frenetic and acrobatic ballet. And this month, these dancers, carrying my energy and time are ever so close to tripping - to leaping in the wrong direction - to falling into each other in a dangerous explosion where my creative blood will drain out altogether, resulting in quite the failure.

--200 students...this means roughly 600 pages of text per week to read and comment on...
--A high school new plays festival with 11 student writers, 3 adult writers, 17 plays, 1 musical, 15 students actors, 15 student crew members, 4 adult designers...it opens the 30th. I'm directing it, scoring it, writing vocal arrangements, and doing things like organizing T-shirts and potlucks with parents...
--facing playwriting deadlines...yes, I'm still trying to write...a new play...a play I'm extremely excited about, but I think has no marketing potential, so why do I bother...because I have to get it out...but will it be finished...

Okay, writing the above list is NOT one of the ingredients for survival - it sort of makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. So back to the ingredients...

Joan Osborne:
She defies genre definition. She is soulful. Her lyrics are truthful. She soothes me. She is, in my opinion, one of the top artists in the past decade. It's a shame her "God is One of Us" song made her famous in the 90s...it may be her weakest track.

Actually, it's coffee mixed with milk and dark chocolate. And I love it. I give up coffee all the time, going months without it. As someone with anxiety attacks, it seems coffee would be lethal. But actually, caffeine has often helped my anxiety, which indicates a hyperactive disorder - speed helps hyperactivity. But I don't really care about the "whys". It's tasty, and it helps me focus. I will counter it this evening when I have my evening ingredient for survival: Tazo Calm Tea.

Comfy Green Hoody and Thick Brown Socks:
I would live my entire life in loose jeans, tennis shoes, and comfy big hoodies if it were appropriate. It's why I love fall and winter so much. And why I can never again live in a place without months of cool weather. Sorry Texas. I also admit, it covers my chubby gut - the perpetual chubby gut. Only in 1992 was I truly slim. But I was also anorexic. Another story. Anyway...I love my fall comfies. OH - and the socks...well who doesn't like warm fuzzy socks?

Clove and Cinnamon and Candles:
Like a sweet grandma cooking me goodies, this candle brings on the fall with a fragrant kiss. It also covers the smell of mildew and recently poisoned mice in my basement studio.

Pema Chodron:
A Buddhist nun, Sister Chodron has written many books on practical spiritual practices and philosophy. The passage this morning dealt with the ego and our obsession with not changing - with ferociously holding onto the "characters" we have created for ourselves. This hits close to home - I always determine the mask I am to wear for a given project - and I am determined to play that role with perfection...and this is ultimately my downfall. But God, what would happen if I were just myself? Who IS that?

Okay - today I must go write 200 sound cues, read a few hundred pages of student writing, re-stage four short plays, do some laundry, vacuum, mentor a young composer, check in at the theatre on set and lighting load-in, design the back of a T-shirt, go to the gym, and prep for classes that I teach tomorrow...

There may not be enough ingredients in the world this month.