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As I type this I am in the process of reading script submissions. As we near the point where the final decisions have to be made about our 2012 season I feel the need to go through a marathon of reading to feel certain we haven't missed out on the next brillaint opportunity. This process frequently leaves me shouting random expletives at the empty room in frustration.
I adore reading new plays. When I find something strikingly interesting or poignant or even better - thought provoking it makes me squeal in excitement. I champion that play, personally taking it to every member of our team radiating excitement I hope will be contagious. But, and this is a big but, let's be honest here - reading through scripts can be uttering draining and infuriating. Sure, we have submission requirements and requests to make it more successful for everyone involved, but not everyone follows them. In additon there are some concepts so simple they're not part of our guidelines until we realize there are people out there who don't know them.
So, ladies and gents, here are a few of my greivances:
- Do not send me only a synopsis or a portion of your play. Submit the full play or nothing at all. It takes you no more time, but it saves me both time and effort. It is your job to sell me on your product and I cannot do that without the complete product. Once I have decided I would like to produce your script I will chase you down, not before.
- Number your pages! Such a small thing, but page numbers helps me determine an approximate runtime. Also, should we produce your script, we'll need those numbers for rehearsals in a big bad way.
- Give me a list of characters with basic descriptions. I don't care what you call it, but this should be in your script, right after the title page. I need to know male/female ratio, ages, cast size, and if applicable race or other details to know if we could have a reasonable expectation of casting your play.
- I love google docs, but don't send me your script in that format if you at all help it. Google docs are living documents, meaning that I could reading as you are making changes. I think its fabulous you want to keep working on your play, but I need to know that the script I am signing a contract to produce is the same script I read and loved. If you have an updated version you prefer we use, let me know when I contact you, I'll be happy to read the changes.
- Know how long your play is. If your script is 63 pages of dialogue, chances are it is not a full length - especially if you have it divided into two acts. If you're unsure how long your script really is find some people and have them sit down and read it out loud, that will give you an idea. Then think about how a theatre would put that script into an evening. My general rule of thumb is: 1 page of dialogue = 1 minute of stage time:
1-20 minutes = short play
21-75 minutes = one act play
76+ minutes = full length play
There's a lot of wiggle room in that, but if I am specifically looking for a full length and your cover letter and/or title page misrepresent the actual length of your play I will have wasted my time.
- Please think carefully before using the following: excessive foul language, violence, nudity, rape, or incest. These things can make for amazing stories if used properly, but used carelessly they can cheapen your script or make it impossible to stage.
- Do not provide casting, scenic/costume/tech design, or directing advice/suggestions unless you feel they are absolutely integral to telling the story.
That said, sometimes breaking these rules is what sets you apart, just be certain you know you trust your decision to be the one for your script before submitting. One script won me over to its oddities with ridiculously long stage directions that were cleverly written with a lot of humor.
Happy writing! And here's hoping your script will be the one to cause my next little giddy campaign.
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About year ago, to be honest maybe a year and a half I read on a good friend's blog something to the effect of "I guess I'm a runner now." It struck me as kind of funny - this friend had been training for and successfully ran a half marathon. At the time I was training for a 5k. Neither of us were "runners" to me, this was just a goal. In a way it was like acting - the constant focus and determination to push yourself to find the moments like building muscle and layering on distance.
I started running because it was a challenge I had mentioned once. I knew I would hate it, but as soon as it was in my head I was gonna have to do it sometime. I stopped because I was rehearsing a show and I just didn't make the time. I had a million excuses, including the fact that I didn't want to run in the heat of summer.
When that show closed and the doldrums set in I realized I need both physical activity and human companionship to be consistent forces in my life. I still didn't make myself head for the path though - I chose wii fit plus.
Now, with my mental faculties fresh after having opened our current show, and with a new (to us) car which Gatsby is allowed to ride in I knew I needed to get out there. Together we pushed through 4 miles. It took forever - an hour! We had to do intervals of walking, we both looked a ragged, sweaty mess upon completion, and we were both pretty sore afterwards...
Yet today as I walked across the parking lot to my car after work I found myself thinking, "Man. I wish I had time for a run tonight! I'd REALLY like to get out there." So yeah, apparently I'm a runner - a very slow runner. And somehow it doesn't seem all that silly to me anymore.
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Earlier this year a friend asked me if I would be willing to accept any role in a show he will be directing - knowing that I had acted in the same show in college. I told him yes. At the time I was being honest. I was so excited that we were taking on the challenge of this particular script I had been not truly thought through what "any role" might mean... until I was cast. I accepted the role, but even as I did I recalled how of my two roles in this show, one was exhilarating and creatively challenging, while the other was simply challenging in every possible way. Thinking back on the two roles here is how I remember them:
Role A: As the show began I would wait each night behind the curtains itching with excitement. I'd step out proclaiming my lines, dazzled by the texture of the elements of this environment and drink in the audience. I felt both empowered and free.
Role B: Throughout the rehearsal process I was constantly striving to meet the lowest expectations of my director/admired professor. I could feel I was simply not breaking the barriers he'd hoped. I pushed and pushed until I felt emotionally raw. I pushed and pushed physically, as I'd been asked to race through the raked house while shaking a cane high in the air. I wore a sports bra. I ignored the sweat which made my layered costume unpleasantly damp. I struggled to keep control of my breathing - and tried not to be frustrated as I received the criticism "How can you be so out of shape? You're 21!"
So, as I discussed this casting with my friend and fellow theatre-junkie I explained not only this, but that I hadn't quite realized there was a role I really wanted until I was not offered a chance to read for it. I knew fell well I could ask to be considered, but I convinced myself there was no point as the director clearly had a vision in his head which I did not fit.
Never mind the fact that I make a point of telling actors auditioning for me I want them to try to surprise me, to convince me they are right for a role I wouldn't have considered appropriate for them - like say casting a gal who'd be 8 months pregnant as a girl scout.
So, tonight after all this surfaced and I was told strongly that I should read for this role... and that I should always feel like I can tell him these things... well let's just say I felt a bit silly.
RTC: Current Town?
EL: This is a play I wrote as my thesis for grad school. I worked on it with a lot of great help and support.
EL: There were two initial germs. #1 is a little watercolor I did. My aim was to develop a play visually. So painting a bit helped get me going.
EL: It was based upon an experience I had hearing a speaker through a Western Fairs Association.
EL:I knew I wanted a chorus. The three nuns from John Guare's, The House of Blue Leaves were a big inspiration. There's a company out of Cornwall called KneeHigh and they do these great choruses. If you notice - the Girl Scouts really act as one. #1 only asks questions. #2 only says statements, and #3 eats. I thought it was a worthwhile challenge. And I wanted big stakes - life or death. And no one does over dramatic like the Greeks.
EL: Oh who knows...I'll leave the why up to audiences and actors.
EL: Odd morality and self-sufficiency.
EL: My goal was to have a very visual play. It was between three girl scouts or three ballerinas. I wanted young girls with a very unsentimental world view - and I wanted that communicated loud and clear. Rather than having them explain their bottom-line sensibility I felt the uniforms would say it all. The new Girl Scouts of America are so damned watered down I could just weep - so I looked to the past.
EL: I think half-swearing is very funny.
EL: Well, I just die when an audience laughs. So that was exciting.
EL: Guys, this is a great show.
EL: When I was three, in preschool, we sang The 12 Days of Christmas and each kid was chosen to depict one of the days. I was desperate to be 7 Swans, 6 Geese, 11 Pipers -- anyway, long story short, I got stuck with 3 French Hens and I thought, "this is how the rest of my effing life is gonna be."
EL: John Patrick Shanley and John Guare
EL: I love when someone says the truth and it costs them a whole hell of a lot.
EL: Savage in Limbo. It really guts me in the best way. Let me include an excerpt to persuade you to it (please read the whole play some time): "As I have told you, this is the very drink that killed my mother. My father died of nothin at all, which is maybe the saddest thing a person can pass on from. But my mother, who was the only one ever stupid enough to love me, my mother died from this drink that Murk is making me now. I have always taken consolation where I could find it, even when it caused me grief." (April, Savage in Limbo - by John Patrick Shanley)
EL: Quite truthfully, I don't always want to be in it. It can really get me down. I like it a lot though. There's no better feeling than watching your play and seeing it done well. It's pretty great, and I think you should try it some time. Just take care of your heart, if you can.
EL: I wrote a play about The Creature from the Black Lagoon writing for Oprah's Book Club, a monologue play about a Romanian gymnast discovering Diet Dr. Pepper and a play that sounds very boring but is a crowd favorite (4 friends - coming of age [Sounds riveting, I know]).
EL: At the moment I'm working on some narratives without words (animations, of all things). I'm taking a short break from plays because words are failing me. Or I'm failing words.
RTC:What is your favorite word?
I am firmly convinced that every person who has ever written their own bio for something has complained about how much they hate writing it. I certainly have and loads of people I know.
Somehow program notes seem about 15,000 times worse than a bio. When a write a bio people have a limited amount of surface details to judge me on. But with program notes I am expected to inspire, entertain, intrigue, or at least sound kinda smart. So really, is it any wonder I have "the fear"?
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So, it has been kinda weirding me out that I keep changing my effing mind about the music for this show! Originally I wanted all addiction/addictive substance related songs, then materialism, now it's become this odd mishmash... And I have become hellbent to find the curtain call song. I keep thinking it should be pop-y and upbeat, but nothing seems to fit because all the songs that really resonate are much more low key. C'est la vie.
Turns out I may have found it... And it is not at all what I expected: a cover of Gnarles Barkley's Crazy.... maybe I'm crazy? Yeah. Probably.
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Option A means some fierce struggle, but in the end a really nice payoff. Option B gives your actors the comfort they need to explore their characters, until they suddenly have only a couple weeks to learn what it is they don't know... and "Oh crap! What do I do with my hands now that they are suddenly unencumbered??"
For this current show the decision was somewhat taken out of my hands - we have a cast member coming in late and I felt it was especially important for the cast to be very secure in their lines by the time our newbie joined us so she can assimilate as quickly and painlessly as possible. I selected a date halfway through the process and mentally braced myself for the idea that this might not be easy.
Tonight, was the first night off-book for Act One. I'm certain it was hell for my actors. All in all, I thought they did quite good. Yes, there were scenes I wanted to allow them to pick up their scripts, but I steeled myself against this with the knowledge that they now know what they don't know.
Did I make the right choice? I guess that still remains to be seen, but for now.. I think yes.
When I got married, I regained a bit of her while planning. I immersed myself in the details selecting what I liked and what made sense to me rather than what everyone else was doing - the girl with the oddball vendors. It seems when I am operating as part of a we the confidence quietly slips into place.
My mom says she made me afraid of everything because I was her first so she was worried about everything with me and I do think that makes sense. Except that somehow I became that girl and then lost her.
Tonight, we read a script about a relationship. The two are both being unfaithful - he to his wife, she to her sister (who happens to also be his wife). At first the two are strikingly human, but as the story grew I began to see him not as an imperfect soul who made an error in judgement, but a completely flawed person. He was demanding, full of excuses, felt he was blameless for the swath of damage in their lives... every choice he had to make he chose poorly. And while pondering this play, suddenly I knew where she went.
I wouldn't call Lily and Carter's relationship abusive, dysfunctional would be far more appropriate and yet his character called to mind an ex from college I haven't spoken to in several years. In the beginning, I knew dating him was the wrong choice, yet I allowed myself - almost dared myself to make it anyway. I can tell you the exact moment I knew it wasn't a normal, healthy relationship. We'd been out with friends and on our way back into the dorm I gave a friend a quick peck. It was a friendship kiss - as I would tell my now-ex many times over the next several hours ("I mean come on! he's gay!") In the end nothing I could say would win him over.
This was just a few months into our time as a couple and I kept my doubts to myself. Most of the time he was sweet. Sure his side of any debates during meals were simple, egocentric, and often so odd or idiotic they downright baffled me, but to me he said all the right things. There was something there though, unidentifiable that had crept in during that argument. He didn't trust me.
"I'll just break it off'" I thought towards the end of my freshman year, but I made the mistake of telling a friend. "Noooo, you guys are great together! You're my favorite couple." Fine. I gritted my teeth and decided it was in my head... Only it wasn't. I learned to live with him telling me that my make-up wasn't slutty enough (yes, he told me which colors to wear and which perfume), buying me trashy clothes & undergarments, that I didn't apply my make-up quickly enough, constantly comparing me to other girls, coercing me into countless acts I wasn't comfortable with, all while telling me I was "crazy" and a "nerd" (this last one is funny as I was in theatre and he was computer science). I permed my hair thinking he'd like it. I wore low-cut tops and the brand of denim he preferred, but I was never good enough.
One day, over summer break after two whole years of this a coworker who told me everyday to ditch him said something else. I 'd been talking about another friend from school and she pointed out she thought I liked him. Turns out I did - I married him four years later.
In all the times I've thought to myself the reason for my loss of personality, of recklessness was due to my ex I had never realized what exactly had happened... until tonight. It turns out remembering my abusive relationship (no, he never hit me but his words did damage enough) and wondering about how to abandon my "safety" onstage were all it took. That man robbed me of myself, and replaced it with fear. He taught me I would never be good enough for anyone, never pretty enough, never hot enough, never smart enough, or talented enough and replaced it with a deep-seated need, compulsion even, to get people to like me. It's a scary cycle; believing no one likes you or thinks well of you, but constantly trying as hard as possible to get them to like you.
Yet again, theatre has taught me something. Hopefully, this knowledge will be the key I needed to break the glass of this dainty, futile room I've been living in for 12 years.
I am proud to say over the months that followed I managed to get to to shows produced by Actors Theater, Drawing Room Theater, Columbus Civic Theater, Rosebriar Shakespeare, Available Light Theatre and Madlab Theatre. Clearly this is proof that a little effort makes all the difference.
With this in mind I am resolving to get down to blogging. We used to have a blog. You might remember it, we posted, oh every 2-7 weeks. Not the sort of thing one takes any pride in. So here I am admitting our failures in entering the blogosphere... and starting fresh. Expect regularity, expect personality, and expect determination. If I start slipping I look to you to call me on it!