My first staged reading

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I want to write down what this experience left me before I forget.

In august 2009 I took a month-long play writing course which culminated in a 30 minute staged reading at a professional theater. The class was very fun and the process was hard but eye-opening.

The play turned out rather well. It was a farce, and even though the speed and timing could have used more polish, I was happy with the result and the audience reaction was pretty great. I wasn't able to video tape it (no camera!) and my attempt to record the audio failed as well (damn battery!). After both readings, several people walked up to me and congratulated me on the play, actors as well as audience members. It was thrilling. The director came in pretty late, but handled everything really well. Loved the approach he took, read-through, tackle physical comedy first, then block everything else. Do character work as we go. Great for a 6 hour rehearsal period. The actors were also really good.

I got to hold a 5 minute feedback session with each audience. It was fun holding court at the theater, I'm a total attention whore so this was like crack for me, haha. I asked if people had felt the outlandish and improbable plot twists had been too much and if any of them had taken them out of the play. The consensus was "No" (only one person had a minor quibble). The other question was how the thought the play turned out (after the final scene). Some people had completely different predictions, which was kind of neat. My ambiguous ending proved more effective than I had imagined.

During the sessions, some people just gave me outright praise for making them laugh, which was wonderful to hear. Among the quirkier feedback, a friend's seventy-year old mom said all the f-bombs coming from the female character was degrading for her (wtf?!?!), and another lady said the play totally resonated with her because she had been a girl scout (WTF!?!?! ROTFL!). This one lady walked up to me and told me what the f-bomb mom comment was BS, that my language seemed authentic for the age of the characters, and given the extreme situations I put them through, it made perfect sense, I shouldn't change a word. I agreed, but told her in a very diplomatic way that it was interesting to hear how this would go over the older generation.

After the second reading (which went better since the female character's script didn't explode mid-performance, saved by yours truly who miraculously had two scripts on hand for reading sound effects and stage directions), the producer of a local theater congratulated me on the piece and asked if I had any full-length pieces. I said no, and he looked a little disappointed. He recommended I write full length pieces to get them produced. This had never really occurred to me. Then, later, a playwright from the audience gave me his contact info because he wanted to mount an evening of one-act plays next spring and wanted to include mine. It would be awesome if this materializes.

OK, what did I learn from the experience:

1. Actors and not that interesting to talk to. Directors certainly are.
2. Getting feedback on my work from experienced professionals was incredibly valuable. The teacher gave me the best advice and the play would not have been successful without their collective guidance. I'm a little nervous that I won't be able to write anything good without their help, but we'll see (the monologue with the three women turned out alright before I took this class, btw...)
3. Every single word in the text has to have a meaning and a purpose. It's just so much better if things connect and make sense all over, it gives the piece a real sense of cohesion. This is incredibly hard to do, and the connecting dots sometimes stare you in the face until someone points them out to you (feedback!)
4. Sometimes writing just for writing's sake works. Not always, but I was surprised it worked at all.
5. Great plot ideas don't just fall from the sky. It takes hard work (and a little inspiration). But mainly hard work.
6. People don't go to the theater to see plots, they want interesting characters. This is much harder to do than good plots. A couple of the playwrights did an excellent job with their characters.
7. Shit has to happen in the play, stuff has to move things along. Characters need an ACTION. If they don't have one, people will be snoozing.
8. Don't go full speed ahead with a project until it excites you. If in the middle it stops exciting you, STOP and rethink it. WARNING: I haven't fully wrapped my head around this one yet. I spent about a month writing the first version of the work I presented. Changed the structure quite a few times. Then during the lab I basically rewrote it. Three times. It was crazy. People were really wowed by how fast I rewrote the entire thing. And that I improved it. After doing my homework (Frayn, Orton, Coward) farce was surprisingly easy to write for me. Maybe my voice as a writer is comedy? I loved exploring the darker aspects of my characters, so dark comedy definitely seems appealing. I guess I'll just have to write some more plays to find out.
9. You want the director to like you. You want to get along with them. And you want them to be in sync with what you want to present and say.
10. Use TPS for all future auditions. Add character details: Male, Hispanic, 20s. Make sure your play's name is HUGE on the sides, with character descriptions, and if there is more than one version, make the difference HUGE also.
11. We make problems! Don't solve them, make them deeper! Make your problems work for you. If something is hard to solve, try using as is. It will make the play more interesting. We're not here to solve problems, we're here to USE them.
12. Usually, the less explained the better. Audiences are pretty smart, trust them. They can do the math and figure stuff out. Exposition is nasty.
13. Mamet's golden rule: push the beginning of the play as far as you can. Push till it hurts.
14. Cut, cut, cut. First assignment was to cut our stuff down to 66%.
15. Make stage directions part of the plot, otherwise the actors/director will ignore them.
16. Meeting the audience' expectation, not necessarily a good thing. (Surpass them!)
17. Careful with direct address to the audience. Use it wisely. If it's for exposition, try including it in the dialogue.

Loved this process for feedback:
1. Affirmations - Statements of meaning (What did you like?)
2. Questions from artists/playwright
3. Neutral questions from us.
4. Observations ("I have an observation about... would you like to hear it?")

Doing actor exercises to get in sync with everyone was also wonderful to try out. Felt closer to others, more confidence to speak out.
1. Counting collectively to 20. At random. Without interrupting. Have tostart over if we interrupt.
2. Pink tarantula game. Saying one part of a two-part name (color and animal) and if you're called, do the same for another. If you mess up, you're out.

-Take acting class. Someday... after my masters degree I rekon...
-Get my one-act produced!
-Write a full length play
-Polish my ten-minute plays
-Attend a play writing studio/lab/group. Try out a few, see which one fits.

It's time for a few small repairs

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When I switched jobs last April y became part of a team that had much better people than my old job. They were younger, more dynamic, had better skills; in general they were better engineers. It really has made a difference in my everyday work. I feel the bar is higher, so I have risen to the occasion (or at least that's how I feel).

I think this is something I should do with my immediate social circle also. I feel stagnant. I feel I should seek out people who are smarter and wiser than myself and hang out, hoping something will rub off. In the end, isn't that what social interaction is all about?

I want to:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Finish my masters degree
Become a playwright
Become an activist
Volunteer in my community
Be politically involved
Maintain a long-distance relationship
Mentor students in middle school and in college
Goof around
Raise money for worthy causes!
See good movies
Watch a very occasional TV show
Read Newsweek, every week
Read good plays
Read more novels
Maintain a healthy relationship with my close and extended family
Hang out with my friends and have fun
Experience nature
Be there for when a friend needs me
Get a promotion at work
Save money!

... are any of these mutually exclusive?


Germy, playwright

Monday, April 28, 2008

Yesterday was an amazing day. It was enough to make me write in this blog again.

A play of mine has been chosen to be presented at a theater festival in Canada, how cool is that??? :-)

Ok, it's not as good as it sounds. It's in a suburb of Toronto and the play in question lasts less than 10 minutes, haha.

Let me explain. A few weeks ago, on an impulse, I decided to submit some short plays to a contest near Toronto, Canada. It was a simple short play festival and it seemed fun. I submitted two short works, one a short seduction scene at a bus stop. The other, a weird, shorter little duel between two people; it was more of an actor's exercise than anything, and it just seemed like a fun idea. I didn't hear back from the organizers, so I figured that was that.

Anyhow, yesterday I received a glorious email telling me my play, the shorter, weird one, had been selected to be part of the festival. I couldn't believe it. I was overjoyed! I ran downstairs and told my brother (I live with him and his wife now). He was somewhat dumbstruck because I hadn't told a soul that I had entered the contest (you know, just in case nothing came of it). I told my boyfriend and he was so proud! :-D

In any case, the email told me that I would actually be getting royalties from the production (WOW!) and that I had to send them a short bio and a picture. I felt sooooo professional. I sent both things along promptly and they responded telling me that my picture was great (it was one of a little Daschund practically liking my eye out, hehe) and that they had used my little play for auditions the night before and that it had been great fun.

So awesome. I'm overjoyed and can hardly describe the exhilaration I feel. Hopefully, this won't be the last production of my work...

If you're going to be in the Toronto area at the end of May, let me know so I can fill you in on the details. :-)

A new life

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My boyfriend just left for London. Again. He came to visit me for a week, so that means there was a lot of cuddling, sex and talking. Yes, some fighting, but lots of learning too. His departure wasn't as sad as other times, I'm not completely sure why. Maybe it's because I feel the day we are finally living together is much farther off than I'd originally imagined. Maybe it's because it's simply become easier to say goodbye. I dunno. The next six months will be critical in our relationship, so I just have to come to terms with the fact that I have to wait and see.

I've decided to give my blog a new life. I've realized that for the past year my posts have been short or anecdotal, not much content with real substance. I have not written any essays or many comments on current political and social issues. No original fiction. This is unfortunate, I feel. I want to dedicate the little time I have now for writing to creating content that is more meaningful to me. Maybe even samples of work in progress. I do not want this space to turn into a serious content blog, but rather a space for me to mature as a writer. Yes, I do plan to comment on my life, but I will no longer use this blog to just narrate what I did in the week. I felt that was a good way to keep my friends in the loop of what I was doing in my life... but I've since realized that it's so much better to call them up, go out to eat with them, etc, and just plain tell them myself. The human experience comes out on top yet again. Cheers.

A confession

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Yes, another one. I've done way too many theater posts, lol. Ok, here goes: I fell in love. Yikes, scary, huh? It's fading now, which is good. But it hadn't happened in a long time. Weird.

Before the virus takes hold

Yes, that's a lyric sung by Roger, an aspiring songwriter and one of the main characters of Rent. I saw the show last Friday at the Paramount theater and I almost thought that my friends and I had arrived at the wrong venue. The cheers and screams from the audience after almost every number and for some of the unknown actor's entrances made me feel like I was in some sort of rock concert. I'm serious, the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic (for a musical at least, haha).

Contrary to popular belief, I had never seen Rent before. Not even the movie. I know, what a lousy gay man. I own the original cast CD and have listened to it way too many times. But I had yet to be a true Rent-head. And bot did I ever become one. The show is just unforgettable in its energy and meaning, every song is a fantastic melody and inspired lyric-fest (ok, maybe 90%, but that's still really high).

Some moments were so emotional they moved me to tears (yes, even after all these years). The scenes involving the AIDS support groups and the death's of some of the main characters just drove me over the edge. I hadn't fell like crying so hard in a theater since I saw "Wit" back in MTY. Rent is an amazing show, it represents the wonders and horrors of a generation, some of which are no longer here to look back. It's both incredibly meaningful and entertaining, much more so than La Boheme could ever be (the opera it's based on).

I actually went to get my first HIV test in 2 years the day after I saw the show. It came back negative, thank God. I know I only slept with 4 guys since my last test, and it had always been safe sex, but still, it was a little nerve-wracking. I think that's why this show resonates so much with me. Having had more than my fair share of AIDS scares so far, I'm always very keenly aware that I could have wound up a statistic, another silent victim. Seeing the characters in Rent face up to destinies much bleaker than any I could have faced, and still have the will and genuine joy to live... it just amazes me. I love having the sense that I've witnessed an important work. And I hope other get the same chance. Viva la vie boheme.

How to stop a show

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sorry I've been absent. I've had some wrist pain and have tried to stay away from typing outside of work hours. Anyways, here is a good example of how a musical number can literally stop a show (i.e. interrupt the flow because of the audience's enthusiastic reaction). This is Tony-winner Jane Krakowski, of Ally Mcbeal fame, performing "A call from the Vatican" in the recent revival of Nine. What an entrance and what an exit, the audience eats it up. And, yeah, she's singing this sultry song to Antonio Banderas... enjoy...