Quick Updates

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The New Play is also the oldest story: The Odyssey

After two weeks of playing around with different texts and old stories, we’ve decided that the next play will be a slightly immersive adaptation of The Odyssey. I am specifically creating it to be produced in those cafetoriums / gymnatoriums and black box and outdoor spaces. I’ll give a more detailed reason as to why in the future.

There are some spectacular re-imaginings of The Odyssey out there. Nicelle Davis’s Circe is a particularly brilliant collection of poems that focuses on the neglected figure, and I have no doubt that there are versions told from Penelope’s POV. I am more interested in figuring out how to tell the original story in a modern theatrical idiom. My actors have this clownish, campy energy, and they’re attracted to the big fight scenes, and you can feel how that element from The Odyssey is one reason it’s been around so long. We’re going to see how to make this thing our own.

Summer Updates

I just returned from the Spark Festival at Amphibian Stage in Fort Worth, which was full of lovely people and great new plays and a staff full of wizards. A friend compared it to summer camp for theatre. Some of the folks there I knew, some I didn’t but still found connections. Theatre is a small town, and that’s one reason I love it. After two summers of pandemic break, being back in that small town felt like home.

LAST HUMAN PERSON ON EARTH

Filmmaker Ryan Hoskins adapted my short play into a film now popping up at festivals. Recently, it appeared at the Dances with Films Festival and Outfest LA. I’ve known Ryan for years, and funny enough, the play drew inspiration from one of his short films. We’re now in the early stages of collaborating on a feature length film.

TWELVE HUNTSMEN

It’s published. And while Stage Partners most does things digitally, I did get a stack of printed versions. And I know there are performances in the works.

DOLCEVITA or…

I still can’t believe we pulled it off, y’all.

Update about an UPdate

I escaped those dark woods I’d previously mentioned, and wrote the artsy middle school play.

It was all-consuming. It’s bonkers. A tragicomic circus carnival of a play.

I had a magical team. Nearly all of my middle school collaborators had worked on multiple plays with me, and I wanted to make something that would match their skills. Hence a challenge: How do you make a play with the weight of a play for mature audiences but for 6-8th graders?

I’ll be posting about the process, which began as a sort of game of theatrical telephone with the designers. We invented theatre games and took creative risks. And that presented another struggle how do you include, honor, and add to these theatrical experiments? “Kill your darlings!” is an old phrase, but these weren’t always mine to kill

I’ll also post about the play itself, which I wanted to feel like a novel – or four.

All this will take me some time.

Twelve Huntsmen – published!

Stage Partners has now published THE TWELVE HUNTSMEN!

Seven years ago, Acme Theatre commissioned me to write a play based on fairy tales and food. Why fairy tales? We wanted to remodel old stories to fit with the living community. Why food? Food is complicated, often a cultural signifier – and more.

(Also, Acme Theatre is based in my hometown, which is surrounded by ag fields. My grandparents were farmworkers so I am conscious I wouldn’t exist without those fields, which I think about when I’m in California. While this idea is entirely invisible in The Twelve Huntsmen, it was a frequent topic of conversation with Emily, the AD who commissioned me.)

But, okay, fairy tales. The very nature of fairy tales is that they are told from generation to generation, so it’s ground that many, many have tread (trod?). What is my take on these?

And, I wanted to make something that would be an experience for the actors and the audience. I wanted something that would be memorable, that would be different. That would challenge them.

And then, as I read hundreds of Grimms’ stories, I found The Twelve Huntsmen. A princess gets eleven women to dress as men so she can get closer to the prince. Proto-feminist. Drag. Woodsy. It’s everything I want in a fairy tale.

Look, y’all. It’s a lightweight story, which is probably why so few have done anything with it. It reads almost like it’s the summary of a longer story that someone misplaced. This is why it’s not as well-known, I think, as Hansel and Gretel or Snow White.

Twelve women. What a random number, I thought. And the commission, it’s to transform many stories into a play… what if each woman has a story?

Okay, I love that. What makes this different from something Mary Zimmerman has written?

Well, what if every night is different? What if the stories are random? What if not every story is told every night?

I wanted to make a play that would be as challenging to produce as a musical, that would need an incredible stage manager to pull off, that needed improv and innovation, that people would see multiple times and get something different every night, and that could only ever be a play.

And thus, The Twelve Huntsmen. A play that can be done hundreds of thousands of ways.

And now Stage Partners has published it.

One thing that I like about Stage Partners is that they provide free perusals of scripts online. I don’t knock any particular business model (well, except for that one publisher that wanted all of my non-LGBTQ+ work) ’cause we all gotta eat, but I do believe that it’s in everyone’s interest to provide perusal scripts from free. The reason that Big Idea Theatre commissioned me to write an adaptation of The Jungle Book was because they couldn’t find a decent adaptation from other publishers, and it must have been obnoxious for them to spend a significant amount of their budget buying the lazy versions out there. Beyond that, consider this: for many schools, the educational theatre budget is pretty small, and if they don’t have money to spend on play scripts, they are going to save money and rely on plays the teacher has seen or plays that are low risk – i.e. well-known playwrights. If you can read the script, you’re not relying on the brand of the publisher or the brand of the playwright or the cute cover – you’re able to decide if you want to produce the play based on the script itself.

And I want people to read The Twelve Huntsmen.

I believe

I believe theatre for teens can be art…

The consequences of this belief is that it’s really f*****’ hard to write this play. I am lost in these dark woods.

Been there before. Been there so many times, I know it’s the right metaphor.

I’ll drop a long post sometime when I can see light. As it is, wish me luck.

Forever Christmastown Post 2

Oh come all ye faithful /

Joyful and, like, triumphant….

Or something?

I’ve done my post show revisions to Forever Christmastown, and it’s up on the New Play Exchange. Check it out. Read/review/produce it.

The page is here.

Forever Christmastown started with a few days of improv, a reading from Noises Off, some dusty decorations I took down from the shelf, and a loose concept, and it became a beautiful, tinsel-eating monster of a play. Act I is fairly traditional as the crew attempts to put on a show to save Forever Christmastown, whereas Act II goes off the rails when they accidentally start a cult. This is shortly followed by them declaring the theme park a sovereign nation. It’s very Texas. And it’s very me.

In the end, while a few of the characters do have full arcs, there’s only one character who truly changes. Everyone else doubles down. Although a big reveal waves away some of the negativity, I wondered if the cynical elements that live beneath this comedy would make this too dark, and would impact our experience or the message to our audience. Instead, we found that it was joy to produce and perform. The play finds common ground between people who are jaded by commercial Christmas and people who love the holiday season. I drink black coffee, but this play is also for our Pumpkin Spice Latte-drinking friends.

Forever Christmastown POst 1

I’ll post again once I’ve gotten pictures and have done my post-show revision of Forever Christmastown, my newest play.

Before I get into the summary, I want to take a moment to honor Bill Jacox. Bill was my boss when I was in undergrad, when I tried my hand at team building on a ropes’ course at UC Irvine. The funny thing is that, although what we did often involved dangling from a climbing harness 30 feet in the air, I owe him more of my pedagogy and dramaturgy than he ever knew. He died recently.

I mention him because one of the many things I learned from him was how to productively reflect: Pros, Lows, and Grows. The things that worked, the things that didn’t work, how to get better. Thank you, Bill.

PROS

  • As it’s set at a ren-faire-like theme park, the play works well outdoors. It becomes immersive. Saturday night was our final performance for a public audience. It was cold, though the lack of wind made it tolerable. (Incidentally, if we’d performed at the times and dates I’d thought we’d perform instead of what the kids wanted, we would have been SCREWED by the weather.) Although it’s set in Bastrop County, Texas, in June, the play has a strong Christmas aesthetic running through it, so as we kept the audience warm with blankets, hand warmers, heaters, and hot chocolate, it still felt right in the cold.
  • Y’all, it’s a Christmas play that can be done any time of the year. If it’s done ‘off season,’ borrowing decorations will be incredibly easy – and fun. Our production was, of course, during the holiday season, which meant we ended up buying stuff that we’d otherwise find in dusty garages. That did mean we had plenty of twinkle lights fresh from HEB, making the evenings spectacular.
  • Although what makes it a comedy is that it prioritizes the escalation and absurdity of the story, there are moments of heart and desire and sadness. I wanted to make something in the key of Noises Off, and I don’t think I achieved this; however, I think that I do manage to say some things I want to say about toxic nostalgia, the privilege of chasing dreams when most people are trying to survive, the play Everybody, Texas mythos, and Elon Musk.
  • My goal for any play is to make sure that every actor has something *interesting* to do. I think I achieved this with this play. I had an actor who was disappointed in their part, but put everything into the role they had, including my favorite fight scene I’ve directed.
  • The world is a joy to create. Although we’re making fun of Forever Christmastown, I’d totally visit a theme park based on Christmas in all its dorky glory.

LOWS

  • Forever Christmastown is a comedy before it’s anything else. Although I go for the story before I go for the joke, I certainly go for the joke before I go for the thematic message. I love the play, but it’s never going to become the high school / college / community theatre Angels in America. Most characters simply do not have an arc – where they land is where they started.
  • The characters have simple objectives, so theoretically the plot is easy to follow. That said, so many turns happen that if the actors miss a line, a chunk of the story is lost. For example, when the Forever Christmastown becomes a cult, which then declares itself a sovereign nation, an FBI agent disguises themself as an elf. The reveal happens so quickly that the line was swallowed for two performances, which made it so confusing when the character was fed to wild boars.
  • I’ll have to cut a couple of the funniest jokes. For example, one of them works only because one of the leads is white, and I hate things that limit casting that much.

GROWS

  • This is a play we produced with thirteen actors (including a chorus of middle schoolers who joined us late in the process). As is, it could easily include a much larger cast, but I think I can get a couple more named characters in there.
  • There’s a piss-poor monologue (or two) at the end that I know how to make work now.
  • If I were to do this again, I would luxuriate in all of the merchandise we could create. There are so many design elements that could have been fun to build.