I retired some years ago from the work a day world. My husband has more recently done so. We hoped for time to do our creative season – my writing and theater, his visual artwork. We lived modestly at the edge of a national park. We traveled once or twice a year, lunched and dinnered with friends, and went to selective concerts or plays. Rarely did we answer the phone. Even more rarely did we talk of joining clubs and organizations. To some people we might have seemed halfway to quarantine. Time was draining away now. We were officially “elderly.” The coronavirus reminded us of our mortality. We wanted solitude, not solitary.
In the medieval world epidemics and pandemics must have been more frightening. There was no easy way to know what was going on beyond your immediate life. In this pandemic we could be both well-versed and well-informed. When it struck our state, our county, our township we did not have to take it personally. Is the virus punishing us? Are we confined to solitary or endowed with a time of solitude in which to reflect?
Although I love my home and my husband, I see the pitfalls of having no safety valves when tensions are ready to blow. I see the longing to travel without getting into a car or train or airplane. I see what the Buddhist called Impermanence. I see the possibility of death without warning. This is what real solitude offers me. Doesn’t matter if I want it. I am pinned in place by the invisible handof a virus that did not exist in my vocabulary six months ago. I cannot move away. I am detained by solitude.
Christine works as a freelance writer and educator in addition to her theatre credits. She has been published and performed throughout the English speaking world. Most recently she was premiered on Cape Cod this summer in PETER PAN'S MOTHER. Her play, FROM OUT THE FIERY FURNACE, has been touring the last four years for the National Park Service. She recently published THE NUN'S DRAGON, a novel, on Amazon Kindle.
by Patricia Milton (USA)
Our Toolkit Exchange chats are virtual sharing sessions where ICWP members share practices, tools, books, apps, and more, that aid them in their craft. It’s a fascinating process to tune in to others’ artistic journeys, and it’s a pleasure to offer this recap of our latest Toolkit Exchange session.
Dale Griffith Stamos (USA)
says that she uses focus music on iTunes. “I put on headphones for a specified writing time, and as I become immersed, it enhances my writing.” She recommends Lajos Egros’ book, “The Art of Dramatic Writing.” Dale says, “Sometimes completing the character profiles (in the book) seems arbitrary, but as you go forward, they start to actually dimensionalize your characters.”
Dale is a writing teacher and leads workshops on Story Structure for all genres. She urges, “Fill the notebook. Before I ever put anything into a form, I fill a notebook with character bios, structure questions, the inciting incident, notes, and dialogue. If I follow my protagonist down one path, and I don’t like it, I choose another path.
When I get stuck, I write down the reasons I think I’m stuck.” Dale also recommends the book by Buzz McLaughlin, The Playwrights Process. “It’s a nice framework to use when starting work. Write what you know, and write what you can imagine. Plot is story, story is plot; you have to externalize the internal.”
Mayura Baweja (India)
came to writing after being an actor and director. “These other aspects of the craft can be obstructions, as I tend to overthink the writing,” Mayura says.
“To overcome that, I use a box of wooden children’s blocks. I set them up like a stage, or a space where I can create a structure.
This gives me a sense of the world of the play. I create the space and ask, ‘Where could this action happen? What could happen here? Who could be standing here? Where can it lead?’
It’s exciting to think that anything can happen in that space.”
Tavi Juarez (USA)
devotes one hour every day to creative practice – which can be writing, painting, or dancing. “I listen to people on the train, eavesdropping, letting my imagination go wild. It’s giving myself time devoted entirely to the creative process.”
Tavi also utilizes NYCPlaywrights.org, a useful board with production and publication opportunities for playwrights. When writing dialogue, Tavi says she writes the people she knows. “I try to hear their voices and use their words. How would Steven say this? It’s a great tool for authenticity.”
Vivienne Glance ( Australia)
reports that, “All theater is Theater of the Mind, and what happens on stage is an illusion. Our minds ask ‘What’s the story?’
There is a moment when the audience is there, in silence, in the dark, and what do we as playwrights offer in that moment? ” Vivienne continues, “At the beginning of a project, I turn off spell check and grammar check and change the font to white, so I can’t see what I’m typing.
Trust yourself, you will misspell things, but don’t look, don’t edit.” As a former actor, Vivienne writes character sketches. “I need to know who they are. Character is action, as Aristotle says. I need to understand what choices they’ll make. I believe if you write about something that only you can write about, it becomes universal.”
Donna Gordon (USA)
recommends a book by Jeffrey Sweet, “The Dramatists Toolkit”: the author writes about the shape of the story, how to work out a plot, and more. She says she always creates an outline, though she doesn’t always follow it.
Donna says, “I’m a bits and pieces writer. I put together plays like a quilt. I tie the pieces together – things I’m passionate about. I take topics from the news, too, and develop those.”
Camille Worrell (USA)
notes, “Physical activity rejuvenates me: running, or working out. And there’s something about taking a shower, or a bubble bath, that motivates me. Attention to the writing space is also helpful. I set up a space, with the right lighting, and classical music or light jazz. I have a writing partner; we write together and it’s motivating. I meet with another friend who is a poet, and we critique each other’s work.”
My own contribution to the group session was my use of a tomato timer. It’s a little plastic wind-up timer that ticks down the minutes. It helps encourage me to contain the time in which I am writing, although often I reset it and go for more. There is a technique called the Pomodoro Method that I often use to create intense short bursts of concentration, punctuated by “intermissions,” or breaks.
As I learn from these generous artists in our virtual Chats, my own craft grows and flourishes. Heartfelt thanks to all who have joined me in these Toolkit exchanges.
If you missed the first post in this tool sharing series read it here
To join in future online chats with ICWP Members, become a member here:
Damn, it’s getting f*ing weird out there! Agent Orange is singing the praises of guzzling bleach, Etsy’s hawking hot COVID jewelry, and today’s headline, “Lobbyists and strip clubs fighting to get PPP Loans,” is a shoe-in for a Lifetime TV movie. Girl, I SO need a dose of your appassionato for the absurd and your demonic sweet smile - like a big carnival sign flashing “Welcome to Beverle’s Funhouse!”
Hell, no, we didn’t use Zo(o)m-bie to catch up a few weeks back, just the good ol’ fashioned phone (thank you, Mr. Bell). We exchanged our theatre ‘what’s up’ news; you finally got to see Hamilton ‘Before the Pandemic’ (B.P.) and I bitched about the fate of my new play, Little ♀. Can you believe I finally summon the chutzpah to write about my less than merry childhood and the blasted drama gets Covid Coitus Interruptus at dress (yeah, I can muster a wry smile at my play’s doomed fate).
I don’t want to go all Now Voyager on you - but your faith in and support of my work these many years have meant more than you’ll ever know.
There’s a scene in Little ♀ where three sisters (Jo, Marge and Aimee) discover the headstone of Beth, the sister they never knew they had. Aimee movingly recites El Maley Rachamin (the Jewish prayer of loss) at her sister’s grave.
At your funeral last week, when the cantor chanted El Maley Rachamim, my gut spilled out. NO, I’m sorry, I can’t follow those orderly six stages of grief, and yes, I’m still angry at you for leaving. If ever there was a time this world needed your enlightened, Theatre Shaman spirit, it’s now.
Theatre and life, Bev…such a thin line.
It would be great to hear a few of those macabre theatre tidbits you always had waiting in the wings. Maybe the one about Shakespeare performing Lady Macbeth when the boy playing the role suddenly died - or how about the permanently bolted seats at the Palace Theatre left empty for ghosts (ostensibly to spook bad actors)?
“You were intellectual – but common,” the cantor told us. For anyone who didn’t know you, that would sound like a putdown. But when I knocked on your college door for advice on how to create a neon Vegas effect on stage (with zero moolah), you took me to the five and dime for Christmas light tubing. Brilliant! Yeah, you were erudite - but you also knew how to make a purse from a sow’s ear (or a sword from a garbage can lid).
You would have gotten a kick out of the costumes, singing and stories at your funeral. But the cantor wore dayglow-green gloves and a mask, and most of us were far away, watching as they lowered your coffin into the ground. Dying during a pandemic – well – you know.
At a virtual “Theatre on Zoom” workshop I barely survived last night, you would have gone ape shit (hell, it was all I could do to not bludgeon my laptop to Microsoft Kingdom Come). Disembodied heads can never replace live theatre! It’s the blood, sweat and tears, bodies listening, laughing and crying TOGETHER, that make theatre powerful and transformational (along with the spit flying from an actor’s mouth on lines like “to be or not to be,” projecting what it means to be a human being on this crazy, spinning planet we call home).
One thing I’m glad you missed - the fifty plus page PACC Guide to Reopening Theatrical Venues I forced myself to read this morning before my head imploded.
Dozens of red, yellow and green charts blinked one message– live theatre is up shit’s creek until this virus has a vaccine. Although the image conjured in my mind of socially distanced audience members dressed in clothing fashioned from garbage bags, sporting ancient Greek tragedy masks painted on their N-95’s, is something I would pay money to see. Masque for a Pandemic, methinks?
A lot of the time now I sit at my desk, jabbing at my frozen-in-fear pen, pretending I still know what day it is - and that stupid things, like not having soft toilet paper (heh – I’ve got Crohn’s so cut me some slack) really matters. One bright spot is that my next play has become crystal clear. In 1919, during the Spanish Flu’s second wave, dissenters in San Francisco formed the Anti-Mask League and held a mass public meeting with over two thousand people. A hundred plus years later – ain’t it grand! – some folks haven’t changed. It will be two acts, each taking place during a pandemic a century apart, and death-gallows-laugh-out-loud! (There’s ‘laughter on call’ now, Bev – people are desperate for comedy.) What other response can a writer have to the insane and dangerous stupidity around us? “There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life” (Frank Zappa).
Oooooh, you’d love this – drive-in movies are popular again and they’re showing musicals! “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” (Les Miserables). Merci bien!
You know I love and miss you, right?
“Thou who dwellest on high, grant perfect rest beneath the sheltering wings of Thy presence, among the holy and pure who shine as the brightness of the firmament unto the soul of Beverle Bloch.” (El Maley Rachamim)
I’ll write again soon, dear Bev.
“For the story is not ended
And the play never done …” (The Fantastiks)
June Guralnick has created plays, performance projects, and large-scale community cultural projects for four decades. Her works have been performed throughout the U.S. – and beamed to the Space Station! Awards include the Silver Medal-Pinter Drama Review Prize, Second Place-Judith Royer Award for Playwriting Excellence, North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellowship, Southern Appalachian Repertory New Plays winner, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Writing Fellows, Hambidge Center for the Arts Writer-in-Residence, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar (University of the South). This spring June looks forward to facilitating creative writing workshops for veterans through The Joel Fund as well as serving as program coordinator for the Sally Buckner Emerging Writers’ Fellowship. Her new full-length play, LITTLE ♀, will hopefully receive its postponed premiere staged reading at Burning Coal Theatre in partnership with Justice Theatre in the not too distant future. For more info, visit https://juneguralnick.com/
Bless us oh Lord…
There are some graces in this sheltering time of the quarantine. I am going to lots of online 12 step meetings. I’ve been zooming with a writers group called Watch Me Work. As a writer, I've run out of excuses they anchor me in getting pen to the page.
With no Air BnB guests, I do not have to tip toe about my own home. Some days, I dance.
The kitten, the one that the kids left behind in their exodus from the predator pandemic, the one they call Duck, who I have rechristened Dali (in honor of these surreal times,) is a blessed distraction.
I've been walking every chance I get, a pilgrim on an unchartered path.
I've had some healing time with family.
The times have made my efforts at reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, less daunting. With his prose, he teaches survival, “Life did not stop, and one had to live.” Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
An unexpected grace is that having lived a singular life the isolation is not unfamiliar. My previous 17 medical convalescences serve as apprentice to a skill set that sustains me during the Pandemic.
But much, too much is unbearable. Masks and media, loved ones floating in a vaporous far away land. The individual crosses endured. Loss of home, work or a loved one. The stressors multiply. And me, seeming to live in a gilded cage of comfort yet, like in the lyrics of hotel California, I am a prisoner of my own design. The things that challenge me pre-Co-Vid are magnified. My daughter's fears become a soundtrack of a scratchy record I unable to erase from my minds turntable. On my own, by myself without anyone’s assistance, I've managed, to get in to riffs with loved ones. At the same time, I feel like I'm cleaning out other refuse of my life. Sorting out those that which does not serve me.
The worst days are when my own noise and stressors of my own little life quiets. Overcome with sorrow and powerlessness about the big bad world, I feel as though I'm sitting in one of those elite suites at an arena. Powerless as the gladiators are slayed, dropping to the earth in droves. The lions consume them. On those I seek solace in music to free my tears. Then, I weep. I weep like the hired wailer at a wake. Weeping for my friends who cannot see their grandchildren. Weeping for the healthcare professionals whose lives are on the line. Weeping for the collective, a sirens wail to tragedies of these time.
Collette Cullen is actor/author/educator with a vision to create opportunity for all voices to soar.
Her career as a special educator with differently abled, marginalized children, influenced her writings. These children became her muses for the essential question “How do we access and embrace all voices? “
In a recent Online Chat, ICWP Sisters and a Mister took turns speaking about their favorite useful playwriting tips, techniques, tools, and practices. It’s my pleasure to share an edited version here with the entire ICWP membership, with the intention that we all benefit from one another’s wisdom.
Diane Rao Harman shared a writing tip that came from a costume design professor. She recommends using photos, images, and pictures… not as literal inspiration, but to examine the raw form and be inspired. View the colors: how are they similar or different? Look at the negative space. Is the image of something anchored and heavy, or light and delicate?
Then, complete these three statements
The visual solution is not literal, but prod to get to something new. For Diane, the visual of a chicken coop nudged her to consider all its aspects: pulling something in, protecting something, and the concept of hope as represented by the eggs. Diane recommends we try using these statements, and visual anchors, to offer inspiration.
Alan Woods shared several ideas. He recommends we consider writing plays specifically for older casts. His own short plays for senior actors have been widely performed. His suggestion to seek inspiration: go to the website meetup.com. You can join different groups representing all kinds of interests.
A book Alan recommends is “The Year of Lear,” the history of British theater in 1606. Alan says he’s learned about other playwrights that were writing at the same time as Shakespeare, and he’s been inspired to write a whole series of sequels and prequels to Shakespeare's plays.
Collette Cullen’s background is in Special Education. She told us, “These are kids who have trouble getting their voices heard, or who have had their voices stolen from them. I'd write with my Special Ed kids. They taught me. I set a timer that makes a noise, a ticking, and we’d write together.”
Collette recommends using Text Edit or Google doc to listen to your work. You can also use Google Translate, which can read your script back to you in the original language. The other members on the call all agreed that listening to one’s work read aloud is important. Most smartphones can record your own voice reading a scene.
Another suggestion of Collette’s is: Create Your Village, and make it a playgroup. She said, “When I steward others; it nourishes my voice. Play make believe. I create a party to read my work: we do a reading with actors.
Let the baby go out into the world.” Collette said she finds writing very hard, so she makes rules and sticks with them. “Sometimes I don't write till 4 pm, but it's my rule that I must write. Suzi Lori Parks’ ‘Watch me Work’ (a regular writing session at publictheater.org) keeps me in the room longer.”
“Put yourself out there. I printed up a card that said I was an actor, author, and educator. So I was. Honor your own voice. When you apply to fellowships and grants, you honor your work. I made an online portfolio of my work on my website. Hold your work in high regard,” Collette said.
Carol Libman described for us her process, very early, before she has even a draft. She reports, “I don't write in sequence, I jot down my ideas. I do research. Sometimes I don’t know the characters; I have to find them and develop them. I write everything that comes out. It’s messy, and that’s fine.
When I go back later, I read it out loud. I use ‘markers’ on the pages I’ve written on the word processor to indicate what I want to keep and what I want to delete, as well as notes for further development. Yellow for deletions, red for what stays. The notes and markings are great when I’m working with a dramaturg.”
Carol recommends that playwrights become affiliated with a development group so that your work gets developed through a number of stages. Writing a play is a long process, and putting your work through multiple stages of a development process will get it in shape to be produced onstage.
Donna Gordon uses journaling. She recommends two books, “Writing down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg, and “Bird by Bird,” by Anne Lamott, that illustrate its value. Donna said, “With journaling, you write every day. Journal prose is more transparent and personal, and you can use the material for monologues, taking out topics that interest you.”
Donna also likes the editing tool in Google docs as a means of sharing your play with someone else. People can read and add comments and questions to your draft, in color. Finally, Donna urged us to make connections between the bits and pieces in our minds, and bits and pieces from our journals. “Write a sentence about x. What interests you about x? Can that be a play?” asked Donna.
Domnica Radulescu writes every day, in several genres. Domnica told us, “It can be hard to find motivation and inspiration these days, so I turn to what I call “Travels through the Darkness to Get to the Light.” I always go to three periods in history. The bubonic plague in Italy and the work of Giovanni Boccaccio (‘The Decameron’). The country was devastated, but wonderful storytelling emerged, including great humor. I also turn to the Holocaust in WWII, and the work of Albert Camus, including ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,’ and ‘The Plague.’
This is motivating me to sit and write. It's what I can do even when the world is collapsing. I also turn to my own strategies of survival growing up during a dictatorship. I believe in the power of creativity: it's my life vest, and it’s what I do best. I give myself permission to explore, and write in all the genres: prose and plays, essays, storytelling, and crossover genres. In March, I started "The Crown Diaries": plays, monologues, essays, short stories, and I’m up to 150 pages. It’s very satisfying, telling the same story in play and story form.
“Promoting other people's work helps me,” Domnica said. “I created the Play Slam. Focus on others: it's life- affirming to be part of writing communities. Giving themes to the group, I also give myself the same challenge. I enjoy (ICWP member) Emma Goldman's workshop, which offers readings by professional actors. There’s a caveat, though. We may have a tendency to join too many groups right now. It’s a danger to spend a full day in Zoom meetings. Devote one hour a day to write. It doesn't matter when.”
Rahmat Zakari couldn’t join the Chat live, but offered this recommendation by email. “What works for me is having to beat deadlines; like the zoom meeting on (ICWP Chat) Writing from Isolation. Knowing that I need to meet up on a group task inspires me. Being part of a group and doing things together is a strong motivation for me.”
Everyone on the call mentioned gathering in community with other writers, even while isolated, online, by phone, however we can. Rahmat added, “Taking inventory of life or events around me especially when I retired for the night is the best quiet and personal time with myself; that is the time that I listen to myself and form my stories.”
I hope you’ve found something useful from this generous group of ICWP playwrights! If you have something to share, we’re enjoying another Tool Exchange Chat 10-11:30 PM EDT , Thursday, May 28. We’d be delighted if you’d register to join us.
After you register, you will receive a link to the Zoom chat. You can join Zoom chats on a desktop computer, tablet, or phone. You can choose whether or not to have video on or off.
Growing up, everyone in my family was unhealthy, unhappy, AND deranged. Go ahead, laugh. But it’s True. So thanks to our global pandemic, I’m again wrestling with the same issues that plagued me as a kid: loneliness, anxiety, confusion, panic attacks, and eating at 4:30am. Usually, I sneak into the kitchen for yogurt and bananas, instead of Dunkin Donuts. Well, maybe just one little chocolate glazed?
My heart goes out to anyone sick in a hospital, fighting for their lives. And to all the doctors and nurses risking their lives to save others.
I’m blessed that my problems aren’t serious. So here’s a lighthearted list of tips for anyone restless and bored.
HANG OUT WITH OPTIMISTS
My comedic husband Kenny begins every morning with “the funny of the day.” Here’s this morning’s joke: “There will be a Weight Watchers meeting Monday evening at 7pm. Please enter through the Wide Double Doors.”
Ha Ha. And yes, I’ve put on four pounds. But it helps to laugh, yes?
Then there’s my always sunny artist friend Missy Gentile. When her art classes were cancelled, she launched a new business called “Be Well.” She finds and paints river rocks with encouraging statements like “Do Small Things with Great Love,” “Trust the Timing of Your Life,” and my favorite, “Keep your Attitude in the Altitude.” Her day glow pink, turquoise, and lime rocks decorate every room and keep me smiling.
Other friends who uplift me are author Carole Longmeyer and artist Caroline Carpenter, gal pals living in Beaufort, South Carolina. Every Friday, we meet on a gorgeous riverfront bluff, and relax six feet apart in beach chairs. We sip cocktails, share positive happenings from our week, and eat homemade sandwiches. I’ll bring brownies, Carole brings red velvet cake, and Caroline bakes pecan pie. (Why I’ve gained those four pounds.)
Our “Fabulous Friends Friday,” is the only social occasion, and the highlight of my week. But two upbeat hilarious friends are better than fifty “downer” buddies, so find your Optimist Tribe. If you can’t meet in person, there’s Face time and Zoom.
HANG OUT WITH MOTHER NATURE
Having killed hundreds of flowers, I’ve never considered myself a gardener. But Kenny dragged me to a country garden center, where we looked like bank robbers in our masks and rubber gloves.
Next thing I knew, the back seat overflowed with magenta hibiscus, white Mandeville, and the most adorable yellow gerbera daisies. Now I’m mother to needy flowers who beg for expensive fertilizer, water, and endless pruning. But what else am I doing?
Our exquisite flowers attract cardinals, blue birds, emerald hummingbirds, monarch butterflies and double winged dragonflies. I‘ve become quite addicted to my garden and you might too.
The other place I steal away is to the beach. Twenty minutes from my front door, is the soothing Atlantic Ocean. Last Sunday we watched toddlers building ornate sandcastles, willowy teens sporting bikinis, and a grandma flying an orange long tailed kite, next to a squadron of pelicans. Mesmerizing. Hope you’ll discover Mother Nature near you too.
HANG OUT WITH MYSELF
Too much time during the day, gave me the courage to throw away a bad one-act play and revise it into a two-act comedy called “Birthday Party at the Dalai Lama’s Palace.” I’m submitting this play via all the playwriting websites. I also wrote a 10-minute play about teenagers addicted to social media, because I’m addicted to social media. And a radio play about two women who find healing at the beach, because that’s my healing place too. That play is called “And Now for Some Good News from Pollyanna” because well, you know my nickname is Pollyanna.
I’ve found a new best friend: YouTube. I can watch documentaries on everything from where to dive with manta rays to how to paint like Matisse.
I’m also practicing self-care: giving myself bad manicures, and blow-drying my Diana Ross curls into a strange grey rooted hairdo. And just because it’s 2pm, can’t I luxuriate in a lavender bath? Some days I throw on a bit of eyeliner and lip-gloss so I don’t scare myself in the mirror.
Yesterday, I tried on my favorite lace cocktail dress, added pearls, and sparkly pink flip-flops. As I waltzed into the living room, Kenny asked: “Well, pretty lady, just where do you think you’re going?”
“Over to Dunkin Donuts,” I flirted. “ Picking up one little chocolate glazed.”
“Bring two,” he smiled.
Stay sane, my Friends.
Sharon Baker lives in Bluffton, South Carolina with her golfer husband Kenny Baker, their white cat Sage, and a ridiculous number of flowers.
She’s writing new plays and glad to be alive.
Email her: email@example.com
Here we are living day to day in this strange, upside-down world that we all thought at one time we knew...We had all figured out a certain level of comfort or at least familiarity with it to be...well, ok.
I used to look forward to Friday and Saturday nights. Once I got the girls tucked away in their beds, and the kitchen cleaned, I would sit down at the living room table to step into whatever world I was writing about at the time. It was my escape, my reward, my vice. I looked forward to a couple of drinks and a date with the characters I was creating on this keyboard in the quiet comfort of candle light. You see, I was very unhappy in my marriage. He would walk off to the pub and I would walk into my imagination. It was a sane and easy way to cope with things that I wasn’t satisfied with. No one needed to know. It was just my way.
Before this pandemic smacked us all right in the face I got out. The details are messy and unnecessary for you to know...but I moved myself and my children (fifty percent of the time) out into a beautiful little house with a pool. There’s something lovely about a new home that is not bogged down with years of memories, clutter, and piles of unnecessary stuff. So here I am, in my new home with lots of storage but not too much stuff to fill it with...and I get to enjoy a clean break. During a pandemic when we are all forced to remain at home, my home is a beautiful new space that allows me to be...me.
I have to admit, that because of my own personal circumstances, I find myself rather grateful for this forced break of reality. I have been able to use this time to rediscover, to reconnect with ME. And I’ve written many blogs, and I’ve drawn many portraits and written a couple of songs...but I’m not yet ready to step into another world. I’m consciously avoiding it. Perhaps it’s because I’m already living an alternative life right now...or maybe it’s because I no longer require the escape the way I used to...or maybe I’m just not yet ready to open myself up to meeting and developing new characters and worlds outside of what I find comfortable within my new home. Whatever the reason, it is what it is. I’m accepting this play writing dry spell for what it is. In fact, I have put together a fantastic idea for my next play. I’ve laid it out, and solidified the characters, and even some of what the characters do...but I can’t bring myself to write it. Not yet. And I think that that is ok.
We can’t lay pressure on ourselves to produce during this very confusing and alien time. Although we may find ourselves with more available time to create, it doesn’t mean that we are ready or able. And that is ok. I‘m not a big supporter of self-care. I find it to be hokey...and maybe that’s my own problem because I was always brought up to just ‘buck up’ and deal with crap as I needed to. But in this particular situation...I don’t believe that any of us should push ourselves, put pressure upon ourselves, or feel forced to produce in a time in which even the intelligent, balanced adults are struggling.
If it flows for you...then relish and enjoy. If it doesn’t...then be patient and understanding. These are strange times for all of us and as much as I want to take advantage of the time and space I am privileged with, I am not ready yet to write my next play. And I’m ok with that. I am restless and probably drinking more than I should...but I’m ok. I’m getting through these days one day at a time...my ideas are flowing at their own pace, my creating is welcomed when it comes...but I refuse to force anything.
Although we don’t have all the time in the world...we still all have time.
Former Presidents of ICWP, Jenni Munday and Paddy Gillard-Bentley, launch the ICWP Centre Stage Podcast .
Jenni ( pictured left) Interviewed Paddy about her play " Accidental Fish" (subtitled Coping With Life Badly).
Paddy reads an excerpt from the play and talks about what inspired her to write it.
Listen now - click the arrow to play the Podcast.
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I strive to create plays to find the commonality as much as the distinctiveness, inherent in all of our “life detours” – finding that universality is what makes me “tick!” The community aspect of theatre has always been tremendously important to me. A month after being discharged from the Columbia Presbyterian Surgical ICU, I joined a local theatre’s production of Oliver, to once again immerse myself experience of being part of a community ensemble, and creating theatre together - a driving passion that anchored my childhood.
When I was a child, the arts were my passion and identity. Later, when my traumas occurred, they became my lifeline. I grew up all my life in theatre. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. I read scripts like they were novels. I would play with my playbills from various shows I had seen like they were my Barbie dolls. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality. Theatre was my language I could access to truly know who I was, no matter what was going on in my life, and I was singing, dancing, acting and creating from the time I could talk. I lived my life believing I would carve a beautiful career out for myself in the world of musical theatre, be on Broadway, and conquer the world.
My community experience as a playwright would come years later through an unexpected detour, which started as purposeful isolation. For years, I was seeking to find that universality within the confines of my bedroom, barricaded from the outside world, while I waited six years for my digestive system to be reconstructed. My creativity was spawned from an abnormal period of medical isolation. Only after I regained my health, and ability to digest food, could I re-experience the magic that comes from working with others. Playwriting granted me creative ownership, launching me back into society as a storyteller, rather than a victim, and storytellers thrive in community. I realized that creating theatre could facilitate healing for both the artist and audience, as they engage with the story. Theatre was a “great equalizer” which created a common language, and bridged divides.
Because of my coma, I ended up attending college as a 25-year-old, and just graduated at age 30. My senior year at Hampshire College, I had the opportunity to apply to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theatre Institute, where I studied devising performance, playwriting, stagecraft, puppetry, composition, and a range of skills that were new to me. But the greatest new exposure was devising theatre with other artists, from a range of backgrounds, passions and perspectives to create theatre based in found objects, reimagined texts, collaboratively generated themes and other group-formulated prompts, given a steady focus through a shared love of creativity and theatremaking.
Studying through the National Theater Institute, forming comraderies and connections through this guiding passion which aligned all of us, made me feel more connected to myself, my world, and theatre’s possibilities. Our company told stories through mixed media art, movement, music, and text to make reimagined meaning from our own personal detours.
Being part of this community was an extraordinary opportunity to bring ideas to fruition, generate new ones, and collaborate in a risk-taking, supportive environment. I’ve lived and breathed theatre as my own life force through the ups and downs of my traumas– but this air was richer and much easier breathed when with others! Becoming a part of NTI, where I could develop this passion in the company of like-minded artists, was the greatest gift. Never had I felt so part of the world.
Now, I’m passionate about creating theatre that keeps this channel of communication open, challenging ideas, and cultivating compassion. I’ve learned that, just as healing, and cultivating this compassion, cannot take place in a vacuum, neither can true theatre, and that I could greatly benefit from the chance to both give and receive feedback on new work, as I did at National Theater Institute. It became a privilege to share and hear excerpts of work with peers, and to learn from the O’Neill staff and guest artists. With no end to my overflow of ideas, the months spent at the prolific theatre-making hub provided the time and support to not only cement them, but fuse them with the ideas of others, creating a final theatrical product that none of us could have anticipated. Coming away from this experience, I gained connection, collaborative tools to further focus my vision, and the diversity to add perspective to my artistic intentions.
Within this group of passionate young artists, I felt comfortable taking the risks needed, to discover that theatre must be lived and worked through, not lying dormant on a laptop. I witnessed firsthand how theatre can challenge ideas, create compassion and bring out the stories that unite us all. Through the transformative power of writing and theatre, we feel heard, gain clarity and can problem-solve. As creators and audience members choose to create and interact with the space and one another through theatre, they engage in a vital conversation on how we view obstacles.
I learned that, just as Patty sings in my play, LEFTOVERS, “The Only Time That I’m Real is When I’m Singing,” the only time that I’m real, is when I am creating in the presence of others.
I got to be surrounded by this unfathomable creative energy I’ve never felt with such intensity. At the O’Neill, we did everything, literally all day long and sometimes through the night – playwriting, composing, directing, acting, singing, devising, sharing, moving, feeling, and creating some more. It’s amazing how collaboration, and connecting with the hearts, minds, souls, and passions of others can make you feel like you’ll never run out of creativity, energy, stimulation or time. My favorite part of being at NTI was participating in a theatre lab every week. Every week, we would be assigned an excerpt from a play or musical, new, old, or in between. Although eventually our schedule became too jam-packed to keep it going, upon arriving, I tried to journal as much as I could.
Here’s what I wrote the first day:
“This is going to be amazing. It took nearly three hours to introduce everyone, because everyone is so amazing and wonderful to get to know. These were passionate, connected, present, truthful stories of why theatre was so important to all of these people – and all for extremely diverse reasons. Who knew this would be a spiritual experience. The grounds are so gorgeous here, and we’re surrounded by a quaint, New England town. I see the pianos hooked up to composition software, and I immediately get roused with that spark in me that wants to try composing again...and everything else! I feel home, with a family I’ve always sensed, somehow, but have never actually experienced.”
Collaboration forced me to surrender my preconceived notions of what I felt my play “should be about.” Community brought clarity to my work, and let others into a play that started out as “dense fruitcake.” I learned that I didn’t have to always be the “lone survivor” that made it through unimaginable hardship. It was okay to collaborate – in theatre and in life. This community experience ended as the greatest lesson of all: Theatre grants us the clear space to spark new ideas with others.
Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking. As the creator of "Gutless & Grateful," her BroadwayWorld-nominated one-woman autobiographical musical, she's toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences.
By Amy Drake
You’ve worked really hard to hone your craft and set your sites on reaching the next level. Now what? You need a game plan. Even when we playwrights have gotten a play accepted at a theater we often find ourselves cast in the role of producer. My play, SOMEWHERE I CAN SCREAM, is going up at The Players Theatre in April 2020. It is now late December and I have many things to do before opening night, but I will share with you my steps to getting there, current tasks, and work to be done.
Ask yourself if your script is really ready. Even if your play has already been produced you may want to look for ways to improve the script before submitting it to the theater you really, really want to have stage it. SOMEWHERE had a successful run in Ohio, where it is set, but I had my sights set on a New York run. So, I sent the script to trusted colleagues, script doctors if you will, Clifford Lee Johnson III before the Ohio run, and Eric Webb before submitting the play to The Players Theatre in New York. The critique and suggestions of both improved the play significantly, and as I work with the director it is still undergoing changes.
Look to your contacts to make a connection with the theater of your choice. Who do you know who could arrange an introduction for you with the artistic director? Set a meeting for coffee to find out what types of plays the theater is looking for and consider how your play might be a good fit before making a pitch. Another approach is to contact an ally at the theater who could read your play and make a recommendation to the artistic director. A third approach is to get involved with the theater and let them know that you have plays available for production. What all of these methods have in common is a personal connection. Theater, like any other business, is about people working with people.
Go within your professional networks to build your creative team. I am in the early stages of this process, but have already found a wonderful director, Kevin Davis, through mutual membership in Ken Davenport’s Producer’s PRO Inner Circle, now called The Theater Makers Studio. Think of the recommendations of your colleagues as testimonials of professionalism for those who could work together harmoniously. I believe it is a good idea to work collaboratively: when professionals come together on a project, the project improves, often in unexpected ways.
Marketing is essential to building your audience and now there are so many ways of promoting a show. Begin with creating a Facebook page and building a website. Not a graphic designer? Hire someone to build the web site for you. It is your online business card and essential for professionals in today’s business world. Build an email list, post on Facebook and Instagram, which has a substantial user base.
Create content to take your followers on the journey of producing your show through videos, blogs, articles, and posts. Get the buy-in of everyone on the project to taps into their own social media platforms to promote the show: the reach to potential ticket buyers grows rapidly. Consider buying Facebook ads. Don’t forget traditional methods, such as print ads, distribution of hot cards, and cross promotion with related businesses, such as dinner packages with restaurants including tickets for your show.
Coordinate efforts with the theater: Michael Sgouros and Brenda Bell at The Players Theatre have been enormously helpful and supportive. Look for promotion opportunities such as writing guest articles and blogs for theater groups with a large following, give interviews and do podcasts. Consider radio and television advertising. When you’ve gotten your show to this level and need some help with bookings you may consider it worthwhile to hire a press agent or marketing agency to arrange bookings for you.
As we look toward holding auditions in a few weeks, there is much work to be done and we only just getting started. It’s very exciting. Position yourself for success by putting together the right team to bring your play to life.
Amy Drake is a playwright and author. Please join her arts marketing Facebook group, Toot Your Own Horn, to share your ideas and suggestions for promoting plays and musicals.
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