to Mars

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This is my dad.

With Bill Nye.

At JPL Mission Control for the InSight Mars mission.

I have no idea how this happened.

But I get to post this picture here because I wrote a play about going to Mars.

Small Steps

 

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So Many Projects

Since I last posted, I’ve been in perpetual ‘generating of writing’ mode… No time for anything other than an occasional tweet.

First up: Knitted

In the ten-minute version I penned for ScriptWork’s Out of Ink Festival last year, after a one-night stand Piper turns a pair of abandoned underwear into a puppet. This puppet comes to life, and then Piper must raise it.

This is becoming a full-length play.

I liked the conceit. It’s present for me. Many of my heterosexual friends are reproducing, and some of my gay friends have also managed to figure out how to become parents, an intentional and expensive process. If you make the money a playwright/teaching artist makes and you’re single and gay and in your mid-thirties, you’re not going to accidentally end up raising a child. I don’t think that the solution to the epidemic of queer loneliness is to distribute random magical children, but I will say this: I am interested in making a story that is unique to the gay community that isn’t just about coming out or making jokes about bears and twinks. And a gay man having the issues of a single mother, well, that’s interesting to me.

I spent the latter part of the summer pushing out a rough draft. It needs a better title and scads of revision – and a workshop with people and puppets — but it’s on its way.

 

Icarus Livingstone Falls into the Sea

In the fall, I write a play for high school students. I knew that I wanted to do an adaptation this year, and so I presented a number of possible cultural products we could turn into theatre. We worked through various possibilities, and what had heat was the story of Icarus / Theseus / the Minotaur. It makes sense – these characters were necessarily young folks, as are my collaborators. I’ve already worked with this material via Fallout of the Sky; when I re-examined it with my students, I found that focusing on the stories of the young people made the most sense.

So Icarus’s father designed the labyrinth, and also helped the Minotaur come into existence. The Minotaur’s father – King Minos – is essentially rejecting his son when he locks up the Minotaur. Theseus, the guy who kills the Minotaur, learns how to do this from Ariadne, Minos’s daughter (and thus the Minotaur’s sister). Naturally, the world of the play is about examining these relationships. There’s a quasi-queer reading of the story here – the ideas of transformation and parental rejection and feeling ‘different’ from your parents metaphorically echoes the LGBTQ+ experience in the same way that The X-Men is a story about gay people. My staging isn’t leaning into these themes directly any more than the X-Men does. Future iterations could. In the meantime, I love both the script and the potential for it.

I finished the production draft three weeks ago now. More soon.

[More] Deleted Scenes From Fairy Tales

I usually commission a high school student to write the middle school play in the fall while I focus on the high school. I didn’t have the perfect budding TYA playwright this year, so I decided to return to the Deleted Scenes concept. It’s a robust creative container and allows for A LOT of student input, which I needed while I was writing the HS play.  I managed to finish this play in a week and a half – holy crap – based on weeks and weeks of student devising. While I usually have a fair amount of student imagination in all of my theatre-for-teens, this is by far the most student-co-authored play I’ve had.

 

Further Notes

A few weeks ago, a woman who teaches theatre in a public school in a small Texas town contacted me for advice on getting work-for-teens out into the world. She had LGBTQ+ themes in her work, and a good deal of my work is with LGBTQ+ youth. I gave her my thoughts, but what made me livid was she told me that her bosses force her to cast her trans kids according to the gender the child was assigned at birth – not their identities.

Professional theatre world would find this atrocious. College theatre students would be in an uproar.

Theatre is one arena where a student could, theoretically, represent their identity without outing themselves. It could be a refuge for young people. It should be.

Twelve Huntsmen on NPX

The post-Acme production draft of The Twelve Huntsmen has been uploaded to The New Play Exchange 

There are a handful of tweaks from the previous draft. The major change is actually in the introduction, where I discuss the importance of the improvised bits that create the backbone of the play. I use the phrase, “The energy is sleepover, but with, like, pirates.”

(A cast member of a northern California production of The Wolves saw it and described the play as perfect for preparing her to be in that play, so that’s cool. Constant motion is key.)

The 12 Huntsmen

In a few days, Acme will open the world premier of THE TWELVE HUNTSMEN

Twelve Huntsmen

Like The Briars, it’s being produced in The Wyatt Pavilion Theatre.

Three years ago, Artistic Director Emily Henderson commissioned me to write an adaptation of fairy tales that had to do with food. They did not elect to produce The Twelve Huntsmen that year; I was fortunate that they hired a director this year, the fabulous Miriam Eusebio,  to whom the play appealed.

The Twelve Huntsmen is a massive undertaking. It needs at least seventeen actors, and can take on up to something like 70. We have 25 in the Acme show, and then another 10 or so doing backstage work. It’s designed so that every night can be different. While the core play of The Twelve Huntsmen is produced every night, the number and order of the rest of the plays are picked randomly.  Acme decided that they would pre-determine which plays would be performed each night (so that they could let families know if their kid would have a major role), but the order would be by chance. Even so, it’s a massive feat for the stage management, not to mention the actors who have to keep track of all their props and costumes.

I wrote the play for high schools or community theatres who want large casts. I wrote it to challenge everyone involved – to be a show that would be its own form of boot camp.

I also wanted to make a large cast play where everyone would get a substantial part with something interesting to do. The show has 25 actors, but no one disappears to become spear carrier #2.

As a side note, I want to say that, as a gay writer, I yearn to create worlds where I have a place. I often go to theatre where I have no place in the world onstage. Our Town comes to mind. In The Twelve Huntsmen, there are many kinds of love in the narratives. The current generation of Acme sports a rich diversity and includes members of the LGBTQ+ community, so they’ve chosen to represent this in the production, and I am quite pleased.

On the invisibility of LGBTQ+ Stories

I’ll have an update on B Street, Barnyard, and Acme soon, but I’m posting this separately. It bothers me.

About two months ago, someone running a website that licenses playscripts to drama teachers emailed me to say she was interested in my work. Importantly, although teachers subscribe to use the scripts at $10/month, the website does not pay the writers. Which is pretty bullshit, of course, but that debate is for another time. When I asked which plays interested her, I could have predicted the list – she wanted the ones that were adaptations of fairy tales and The Untitled Pirate Play. The glaring omission from this list was my work for young people that has overt LGBT themes – specifically, [a different] Romeo & Juliet.

On the one hand, this surprised me. The plays she asked for all share a campy, joyous aesthetic, one that the Romeo and Juliet adaptation fits squarely in the center.

On the other, there’s no surprise. Frustration, yes; but surprise, no. It’s a pretty stark, quantifiable reminder of how LGBTQ stories (especially those for young people) are edited out of the mainstream. It is how we are non-entities.

Let me be clear: young people know LGBTQ+ folks. They generally see their gay peers as normal variations in the human experience, no more deserving of censorship than left-handed people or red-heads or the lactose intolerant. Young LGBTQ+ folks are increasingly understanding, accepting, and identifying themselves. Many seek out these stories. Many want to tell the stories about people like them or their friends.

My students put forth the idea and VOTED for us to make that play.

I emailed her the following: “I will have to discuss this with my agent, but I have a few more question: How often are plays produced where the playwrights are compensated?(…)

“Finally, I must admit that I was surprised that [a different] Romeo & Juliet was not included on this list. It’s by far the most pedagogically interesting play, and one of the benefits of being a playwright who also teaches is that I get to make plays that fill a void; while there are many plays about fairy tales, I don’t think there are many LGBT stories for middle school students.”

It’s been two months and…

No response.

No surprise.

JMU and B Street

Playing catch up…

Two weeks ago I flew out to James Madison University in Virginia to work on what’s now titled Basement Demons and Trailer Saints. I’d written the play for my high school students as Bones of Saints, and I’d felt that the play was itching for more mature material. I wanted to revise it with adults, and JMU’s inaugural new play development lab accepted it for workshop. It fit.

 

The first few nights brought me very little sleep as I chiseled away at the script with the new actor’s voices and feedback. Pages were printed, reprinted, reprinted. I hit it with an axe, a hacksaw, a machete, a scalpel. I’ve done new play development before, but nothing that remotely approached what felt like this overhaul. Something broke through. The play is where I want it to be.

I had six fabulous actors, a good team, and a director who seemed like she was psychic. I loved this team. The play broke open…

Who could ask for anything more?

Oh, and look – more…

 

Next Up

Small Steps is part of B Street Theatre’s New Comedies Festival!

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Tickets are available here.

And I’ve been lucky enough that The Davis Enterprise has picked up the story. 

Working with B Street has been on my bucket list.

It’s the perfect time. B Street upped their game in NNPN, and this Festival will help the new play ecosystem in Sacramento. What makes a ‘Theatre City’ – Chicago, New York, Austin, SF, Philly, LA, etc – is that each place has new work coming out of it, and a culture of support for new work. There’s something of an identity or aesthetic that emerges. There is, after all, a “Chicago play” (gritty realism / ensemble / Steppenwolf / Mamet) and an “Austin play” (Rude Mechs / devised / weird) and a “New York play” (two to four people in a single set, usually an apartment); this doesn’t necessarily mean that plays outside of the aesthetic can’t launch from those cities, as Lookingglass in Chicago with Mary Zimmerman proves, but it does demonstrate that a critical mass creates a sensibility towards an aesthetic. I wonder if this will help propel a Sacramento aesthetic? Regardless, I’m excited about the growing new play ecosystem. Onward, Sacramento!

A few pictures from And then, she picks up the sword, the new play for middle school students. I’m editing the current draft after the production – tweaking the pieces that I realize I wanted tweaked. It runs about 70-75 minutes. I plan to document the process that built this play, though I don’t know the best place to publish such a thing.

 

Announcements

I mentioned recently that I’ll be working on a new play at James Madison University this summer. Stoked to bring this quirky bit of theatre to Virginia, and thrilled to work with undergraduates on it.

My friends at Acme Theatre Company in Davis are producing The 12 Huntsmen, which they’d commissioned a few years ago.

Small Steps was selected for B Street Theatre’s New Comedy Festival. It will be read sometime between June 26 and July 1 in Sacramento, and will be considered for full production for next season. As a native of the Sacramento area, I’ve very much wanted my work produced professionally at the local companies; if Small Steps has a world premier at B Street Theatre, I’ll do a death drop at the state capitol.