Playwrights Week at the Lark and…

I return to Mars next week, working on Small Steps at Playwrights Week at the Lark.

That’s the big news I hinted at last time.

Look at this fabulous poster they built for it:

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It’s coming upon me/us rapidly. I’m excited that I get to work once again with director Scott Ebersold, though we have a completely different team in NY.

And I did an interview for The Lark. 

Incidentally, I was asked a question about space, and this gave me the opportunity to talk about my father. Time after time, my characters have fraught relationships with parents – or their folks are dead, as is the case for Skip in Small Steps – but my own relationship with my folks is great. So I’m pleased I had the chance to talk about Dad a bit:

LF: I totally don’t get space. I understand it exists, but I don’t understand the fascination. Are you a space person? Can you explain the intense desire to spend billions of dollars on space instead of fixing stuff here? I’d love someone to help me get it.   

BO: Let’s put aside the practical benefits of supporting NASA’s engagement with climate science for a moment. I ask the same question about space science as I do about art. Why do art when there are hungry people? Why make theater in these big buildings when there’s homelessness?

My dad just retired from years and years of public service. He worked for California at the Air Resources Board and then the Energy Commission. He passed good legislation, killed bad bills. And he was good at it. He made California a cleaner place to live, a better place to breathe. I like to think he added a little to humanity’s time on earth, pushed the doomsday clock back a few seconds.

When he was young and still Republican, he met an astronaut, someone who’d told him about looking back at the earth and seeing it entirely. I imagine the scene was like the opening of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. My dad told me how the astronaut became an environmentalist from seeing the earth so small and whole. That’s it, you know. That little blue marble is what we have.

I also like to think that this meeting was how Dad became an environmentalist.

I think we pursue space science and exploration because it gives us a chance to reach for something great, but I also think it brings a perspective on how small and fragile and human we are.

Five years ago, I went to the Lark with one of my first full-length plays, Halfway, NebraskaI’d been at UT for a year. This was my first time in New York. It feels like I was just there, but half a decade has passed. In those five years, I’ve gotten, well, a couple years older, and I’ve written many, many more plays.

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Ground and Field at UC Davis was a dream. I have never hidden my love for the Sacramento area and my deep belief in making work for the people you care about, so returning home to work on a play in a professional capacity scratches off a line from my bucket list. The local paper had an article about it that I was uncomfortable with at first; the headline is “Playwright returns home for UCD production of his work,” and I was worried that people would head into staged reading expecting something far more produced than what stage readings customarily are.

I needn’t have worried. The group of young actors, led by an energetic and awesome director with a team of tech folks, created a miraculous production of a staged reading. Take a look at these pictures.

(All photos by Tom Burmester.)

Again, this is for a staged reading. Granted, the play’s frenetic energy made the theatricality necessary. After all, I could hold a reading in my living room to figure out if a line needs to be punched up; this staging helped me understand the larger shape of the show.

Anywho, more info on The Briars by clicking the title.

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Finally, this semester’s high school production is tentatively title Bones of the Saints. In it, a demon cat-fishes a group of young people in a small town.

This semester, I have a very small group of mostly juniors and seniors, so the play is essentially for adults, but with a few words turned from “fuck” to “F” in case we have middle school students see the thing. Future drafts will be tweaked and land more directly in the space of plays for adults.

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September Update

I’ve tried to hide away to write my play for the high school students. One thing I notice about being a writer is I only get the most important things and the least important things done when I’m under deadline.

  • Bathing – check
  • Eating – check
  • Grocery shopping – not check
  • Steam cleaning the rugs – check
  • Responding to Mom – not check
  • Updating website – not check
  • Figuring out car insurance before the deadline – not check
  • Figuring out car insurance on the deadline – check
  • Dish-washing – check
  • Emailing a playwright about his work with teens – not check
  • Shaving when I’m going to see people I need to impress – not check
  • Shaving when I’m not going to see people for two days – check
  • Floors sweeping – check
  • Heartburn medication purchasing – not check
  • Lessons planning – check

And so on.

Next week, I’ll be in Davis at the Ground and Field Festival, working on The Briars.

I’ve been trying to Skype into rehearsals when possible.

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If you’re in the area, come on out – next Friday and Saturday (we’re Program B)

Working as a playwright at UC Davis has been a quiet dream I’ve had for many years.  I’ve been explicit about my mission – to be the best damn writer and teacher I can be, and to have a career that allows me to return home to work without having to live there. And so developing a play with folks at UCD is right smack in the center of that goal.

More news soon.

As for that play I’m distracting myself from, well, it’s a tough-as-nails play to write. It stabs. The elevator pitch is, “There’s a group of teenagers in a town getting catfished by a demon.” So, yeah.

Now, B, back to work.

 

 

August Updates

The JAW Festival was magical for this emerging playwright. I worked with a fabulous director, electric cast, and professional team. I thought I’d be taking an axe to Small Steps, but ended up worrying it with a scalpel, whittling it hour after hour, often in the cafe of Powell’s book or the hotel lobby.

Act II of Small Steps requires a kind of theatricality my other plays do not. As Skip sails to Mars in his ship Atlantis, he is without gravity. To make this part of our reading, we included a scene or two like this: https://www.instagram.com/p/BXEnuQBlQFM/?taken-by=uniqueid

I followed this with a trip to Chicago, a city of thin brick buildings and wooden fire escapes and surprising homages to Austin.

My first time. Sans vehicle, I relied on the subway. You do give yourself to a big city, don’t you? Can’t escape a big city.

Everywhere I went this summer, I met with the lovely folks that make TheatreWorld their home. From a playwright for teens to the lit managers of major theatres, there are so many wonderful theatrecreatures out there.

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About Small Steps 

I once asked Doug Wright, “What advice do you have for a playwright at this stage (in my career)?” Gracious Doug Wright told me, to paraphrase words that my brain copied inexactly, “Don’t worry about getting an agent. The blank page is the scariest thing. Focus on the blank page. Write a play with the humor of the funniest joke you know, the heart of a love poem, and the urgency of a suicide note.” He admitted that he’d said this before. Playwrights rehearse, after all. I found a few versions of this, but the quote from this article stands out. 

He says:

We write to save our own lives: to render tomorrow less terrifying, to assure ourselves that we are not alone. The best plays, I think, have all the ardor and passion of a love poem, and all the unresolved pain of a suicide note.

Small Steps is my attempt at this. The comedy is built out of jokes that I find funny. (GUY ON APP THAT’S BASED ON GRINDR: What are you looking for? SKIP: Genuine human connection. GUY ON APP: *Blocked.) It is, in fact, a love note for someone, a sliver of an inconvenient heartache. And it’s about Skip’s desire to do something great before he dies, to write his name in the book of history – an ache I share. I follow Caitlyn Doughty who runs the Order of the Good Death, and she postulates that our culture generates from the fear of death; we build monuments to ourselves in the form of having children, of writing books, of making things. This is my trip to Mars.

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News:

The Briars will be developed at UC Davis’s Ground and Field Theatre Festival. Info forthcoming.

 

Portland adventure begins…

Heading to Portland tomorrow for the JAW Festival.

Sometimes, writing feels like trying to make sand castles for a living. There’s a tip jar on the beach, and I’m hoping someone puts money into the tip jar and maybe asks me to make a sand castle for them, and there are lots of people around making sand castles, and if you’re lucky people will take pictures of your castle or at least stop to look at it before it disappears into the ocean.

“Look here,” I say, to passers by on the beach. “I built it for you.”

Tomorrow, I get to work on a sandcastle with a group of folks. I’m so lucky.

See you in Portland

Dun dun

Dun dun

Dun dun

JAW!

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The JAW Festival is a preparin’, and here I am scrambling to finish all the submissions for things that have deadlines looming before August. I’m at war with some gnarly sciatica, too.

Don’t neglect your core exercises, kids, and always use lumbar support. That shit will come and bite you in the lower back.

The director is this cat: Scott Ebersold, who recently directed this musical. So that’s wicked. The day I first chatted with him, my roommate talked about an upcoming project with Scott’s collaborator, because theatre world is tiny.

Here’s some screenshots of JAW’s website, so I can keep them in my digital memory book:

 

In the meantime, this anti-gay motherfucker is posting shit about going to Mars, which is messing with my head…

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And not just because he used the word “reorient” when referencing making the space program abut humans more than machines, but also because he is making the story of Mars much more present.

Do I factor this into the play?

I’m selfish. I want Mars.

Oh god, and there’s more:

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That’s the cray-cray Mike Pence we know and love.

The final installment of my blog series on last year’s [a different] Romeo & Juliet is now live. Read it here. 

There are some fightin’ words:

We did not publicize this show to the locals because we anticipated blowback, and we felt that would be unfair to the students, who already had to decide whether to “out” the play to relatives. Would my (progressive Austin) community have come if we’d drawn criticism? I’ve seen bad plays get awards because they pissed off conservatives. Why is the liberal impulse only to show up where conservatives have started fires?

Worse, was this turnout because theatre performed by teens is not seen as legitimate, or interesting art? How can I prove to you that theatre made by teens can be amazing if you don’t give it the chance?

I wrote this article before conservatives started to attack The Public for their depiction of a Trump-like Julius Ceasar. And, despite my antipathy toward Bardolatry, and my own desire for Theatreworld to take a break from producing Shakespeare for year or two, I’m glad that we’re rallying to the defense of The Public.

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Spent the last week visiting the land of fairy tales and food, revising The Twelve Huntsmen. It’s a massive play, a huge feat to produce, and the kind that needs proof-of-concept (and collaboration) for its first full production.

Much more info will be forthcoming, but I will say that the details are coming together for the JAW Festival.