Friday, January 4, 2013

If it walks like a duck... (or living like a playwright)

I'm not normally one for New Year resolutions (I tend to set goals all year round), but then I saw a facebook post from Life Coach Andrew Poretz, that said: "Here are just a few of my big, audacious goals for 2013", followed by some very big and audacious goals.  I like big and audacious.  I was inspired.  So as I picked up my journal to write my morning pages today, I mused about what my own big and audacious goals might be.  They all coalesced into one, over-arching goal:

I want to live like a playwright.

I don't mean I want to sit in a corner, drinking, smoking and not talking to anyone for days on end as I stare at a blinking curser on a laptop. I mean I want to make decisions about how I spend my time as a playwright would. I want the choices I make and the things I do to be the sorts of things someone who is trying to have a career as a playwright would do.
Now, I'm not as well-versed (yet) as to what a playwright's life looks like as I am what an actor's or singer's life looks like.  But here are the specifics I have laid out for myself as a good start, and I assume I will learn more along the way as I more fully become the playwright I have started to be:

1. Write.  Every day.  Every single goddamn day.  Even if it's for 30 minutes, but pick up the pen or the laptop or iPad and WRITE.  Whatever it is, even if it isn't a play, just WRITE.

2. See plays.  One a week.  And one of those per month has to be put on by one of the smaller, play-developing type of companies with which I want to get familiar.

3. Be in a writing group. (This one is easy, it's already lined up and starts Jan 28!)

4. Write short plays.  There are tons of submission opportunities for these and a great way to get a little recognition.  Since I need something measurable and I like prompts, I am going to walk myself through Stuart Spencer's 11 exercises in The Playwright's Guidebook again. So, essentially one a month (I'll give myself the month of my wedding and honeymoon off).

5. Network. Go to one networking event per month.  A panel discussion, a reading of a new work, a class, workshop, etc.

6.  Get produced.  This is the one goal that is out of my control, so it's not the kind of goal I like to set, but since I *want* to get produced, there are steps I need to take. This means writing those short plays, reading through submission opportunities and sending my stuff out.

So there.  Those are my goals.  I am going to revisit them every 6 weeks to see how they are working for me and will report back!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Dazzling Moment of Synchronicity

Goodness but I have so much news!  So many things to write blog posts about, that I haven't sat down to write in the last month!  But I know I can't possibly write about them all at once, so I'll start with the one that is the most apropos to this blog: a dazzling moment of synchronicity.

You might be asking, what is synchronicity?  I think the best way to explain it is to give my example:

The sister-in-law of a fellow actor in my current scene study class made the documentary about the International Sweethearts of Rhythm -- the band on which much of my play is based!  I now have her phone number and email and am in the process of setting up a meeting!

There are two things that make this small-world-coincidence feel particularly magical:

One, I have not been going around asking "hey, does anyone know these people?" Mike (the actor in my class) just happened to know I was writing a play because he is acting in some of the other plays being presented by my writing class, so he just happened to ask me what my play was about as we were walking out from class together.  Thus the connection was made.

Two, the night before that class, I was feeling especially stressed, frustrated and unprepared, and bemoaned to my fiance that I really wished I had not taken the class (now that I have decided to focus, for the time-being at least, on writing).  When I told my fiance about this wonderful coincidence, he texted back: "still wish you hadn't taken the class?" (smart-ass).

When I told my collaborator Kat about it, she giddily texted back "SYNCHRONICITY!!!!! AAAAAHHHHH!!!"  When I told my mother, she said "I think that's what god is."  And Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way) would say that they are one and the same.  Ms. Cameron uses the term synchronicity for these happy coincidences, and describes it as "the hand of God, or good, activated by our own hand when we act in behalf of our truest dreams, when we commit to our own soul”.

As an atheist, I reject the god hypothesis as well as the "it was meant to be"/fate/guiding-hand-of-the-universe hypothesis.  Which isn't to say that I don't think we can make our own luck, to some extent.  I do believe that by "putting it out there", by committing oneself to a goal, and setting clear intentions, we set ourselves up to maximize opportunities like this.  We have awareness that goes far far deeper than that which we can consciously recognize, and those "spider senses" can help us make the thousand tiny choices every day that can lead us to things that seem magical because we weren't even conscious we were making those choices.  So, am I saying that some part of me know that I should take that class because there would be someone in it related to Greta Schiller?  Impossible.  But my choices to constantly strive to improve my craft, to put my work out there, and to develop artistic connections as often as possible put me in both those classes at once, allowing me to make a connection that could prove to be very helpful to the development of this piece.  This piece that is so important to me, that is my greatest artistic achievement to date.

Regardless of where this connection will lead -- perhaps just an interesting conversation, perhaps a connection to any possible still-leaving Sweethearts (though there may not be any) or perhaps to something I can't even predict yet -- I cannot wait to meet with her!  For what I do believe in is trying, always trying.  In the words of Goethe:

“Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What volunteering *really* looks like (and how you can too)

I received quite a response from my last blog post; apparently people were touched by it.  And while I was touched by the people who applauded me for my efforts, I care less about the accolades than about the people who asked how they could chip in too.  After spending another day out in the field today, I wanted to share some of my experience, and the wide array of opportunities there are out there to help.  You do NOT have to climb 67 flights of stairs to help people.  You don't even have to lift heavy things.  No matter who you are or what you do, there is something you can do to help, I promise you.

Today I spent 5 hours at one of Occupy Sandy's two main hubs volunteer/distribution hubs (520 Clinton Ave in Brooklyn).  I arrived at 9:30; I had to leave by 2:30 to get back to teach.  Even though I didn't have all day, I figured there must be *something* I could do to help for a few hours.  There sure was.  Here is just a sampling of the opportunities available: 

communication jobs (can be done sitting down):

- be part of the communications team taking calls from people in the field about what is needed and where, and feeding the information to the dispatch team (bring your laptop and cellphone)

- be part of the dispatch team, sending drivers and volunteers out with supplies to those in need (bring your laptop)

- welcome new volunteers, find out their skill set/interests, and direct them to where help is most needed

This is but a *tiny* portion of one
UPS delivery that was received just today.

organizing/sorting stuff jobs (requires some physical exertion):

- help unload boxes* from the UPS truck -- assembly line style

- open, unpack, and/or break down those boxes*

- sort the contents of the boxes* into their designated aisles

The boxes* after they have been organized
* There are literally thousands of boxes coming into the center every day from the Amazon "wedding registry" set up by Occupy Sandy, ordered by generous souls all over the globe.  So if anyone had doubts about those boxes ending up in the right hands, I have witnessed that they are. 

- load up cars and trucks that a taking those supplies out to the people who need them

- fill shopping bags for people who have come in person needing donations

be out in the hard-hit neighborhoods jobs

- if you have a car, you can drive other volunteers and supplies out to those who need them

- even if you don't have a car, you can be a volunteer who gets driven to a location to deliver supplies

- be part of a team canvassing a neighborhood to find out what people need and report back, so that other folks can be sent out with specifically requested supplies

food jobs

- if you like to cook (or just to be around food), you can work in the kitchen, preparing and packing up some of the 20,000 hot meals the kitchen might prepare in a day to be delivered to people who haven't had hot food in over a week

- even if you can't stay, you can be like one person I saw and bring over a pot of homemade pasta to help feed the volunteers lunch (and I enjoyed her pasta very much!)

In short, even if being outside all day is not appealing; or if knocking on strangers' doors is intimidating; or if climbing endless flights of stairs is not in your exercise profile; or if you only have a couple of hours to spare:  THERE IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO.  

Go to 520 Clinton Ave.  It is half a block from a C train stop.  Lend an hour, lend two, lend five, lend ten.  Get your exercise in carrying boxes, or exercise your spreadsheet skills dispatching volunteers.  I met people who took a half day off work, people who stopped in on their way to work, people who had the day off.  Come on the weekend.  Come when you can.  Just COME.   I have never felt more hopeful about the future of the human race than I did today.  You owe it to yourself. You owe it to the people devastated by Sandy.  JUST DO IT.

And if you don't live near NYC, you can contribute to another day's UPS shipment here.  Or just send them money, they need that too.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane tragedy pulls focus

Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it has wrought on New York and surrounding areas has left me mentally and emotionally paralyzed this week.  I haven't been able to focus on any work outside of listening to the news and trying to figure out ways to help.  I postponed a class I was teaching, I haven't worked on my play or my acting class scene, I haven't posted on here.  While certainly all of this trauma and all of the horrible and beautiful things I have scene are good potential creativity fodder, my heart isn't in it -- it is solidly lodged up in my throat and I imagine will stay there for some time.

On Friday morning, I delivered three bags of groceries to someone who was delivering donations out to the Rockaways in Queens -- one of the most devastated areas from the storm (if you saw the pictures of Queens on fire, that was the Rockaways).  On Friday afternoon, between students, I rode my bike down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan (the only way to get there with the power still out in Lower Manhattan) with all the batteries, flashlights and non-perishable food I could fit in my backpack and dropped it off to people who were delivering it to those stranded in buildings with no power or water.  I wanted to stay and help, but had to get back to teach.  But on Saturday, I was able to help -- I rode my bike down again (at only 48 degrees out, it was a chilly ride) and spent the afternoon hiking up to the top floors of two 37 story buildings that still don't have power (even though most of Manhattan is back up).  I met disabled people and seniors who can't possibly get down the stairs (let alone back up again), whose supplies are dwindling and who must spend 12+ hours alone in complete darkness and silence every night.  The cold and the dark were their biggest fears, more than food or water.  Volunteers like us could bring them food and water, but we couldn't bring them heat or light.

I wanted to go out to the Rockaways myself today, but have to teach a class this afternoon.  I am filled with guilt and despair -- temperatures are dropping to freezing now at night and it may be weeks before some of these people have power.  I am hoping to clear one of my teaching days midweek to go out there -- I imagine there will be fewer people who can make it out during the week.

Please, wherever you are, if you are reading this, donate whatever you can whether it be time, money or goods to help these relief efforts.   For a comprehensive list of places to donate/volunteer, please visit the Occupy Sandy relief page.  You can even mail supplies in if you'd rather mail stuff than money! (while the Red Cross doesn't take donations of supplies, other groups do).

Want to mail in supplies?

Send it here ...
The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew
520 Clinton Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Needs List (not clothing at this point):
- blankets
- batteries (Cs and Ds)
- flashlights
- candles and matches
- non-perishable food
- bottled water
- diapers

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I do declare, I am a playwright

Standing in my (postage-stamp-sized) kitchen the other night, talking with my best-boyfriend-ever as I prepared dinner, I declared:

I am a playwright.

This may seem like an overly obvious thing to declare, when I have been labeling myself as a playwright for a few years now.  But it was a recognition of where I see myself right now, and, most importantly, where I want my priorities to lie.  

I have been musing lately (silently and aloud) that I fear that, by pursuing all these different creative avenues I love at once (acting, writing, singing), I risk doing none of them well.  But then I meet people who manage to do more than one thing - to be both successful actors and writers, for example - so I keep trudging forward, hoping that i can be one of those people who does it all.

And one could argue that I am one of those people, I *am* doing it all.  BUT.  But i am not doing any of these things - acting, singing, writing - at a professional level.  I speak not of the quality of my work (I'll let others determine that) but in the literal sense that I am not making money from my endeavors.  I am not achieving any level of commercial success.

I'm ok with that as an actor and a singer at this point in my life.  I'd like to be on Broadway, sure, but I'm not really interested in doing all the work it takes - the endless slogging to auditions and networking with casting directors and such - to get there.  I'm content to do readings, and little shows at ESPA, and hope for the occasional opportunity like I had last year when a writer friend asked me to perform her piece.  

But I am not content with that when it comes to my writing.  Especially not this play.  I quite honestly feel that this play is the greatest achievement of my life to date, and I want it to live.  Out there, in the world, on stages, maybe even in movie houses.  This baby I have created deserves every bit of attention and focus and drive I can devote to it and more.  It deserves to run and play in the sunlight, to be known by the world.  Like many parents do with their flesh-and-blood children, I will give up my own ambitions for success to allow my baby to flourish.

Oh how I can't wait to share this baby with you all as she grows up. She is going to be beautiful.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rosie's first talent show

I sent my new baby off to its first competition today.  I was so nervous walking to the post office - I can only imagine that it might be something like what a mother feels when sending her daughter out on stage for her first talent competition.  After having prepared her as best you can, once she leaves your hands, there is nothing more you can do.  And while you, of course, think that she is the most wonderful, talented, perfect thing in the whole universe, other people will be judging her now.  And they may or may not feel the same way.

Does this make me like one of those mom’s on Toddlers and Tiaras?  God, I hope not.  

The preparation leading up to today’s submission was intense and challenging.  As with most every submission, I had to include a synopsis along with the script.  "What’s the big deal?", you might be thinking, "it’s only a couple of paragraphs, you just wrote a whole play, how hard can it be?"

The writers amongst you know just how hard it is.  Summarizing the plot points isn’t so hard, but summarizing them in a way that doesn’t read like a list of “this happens, then this happens, then this happens, then this...” is hard.  All the while giving a sense of the tone of the piece, of your skill as a writer, conveying the theme(s) of the work, and telling them just enough but not too much so that they are compelled to go on and read the whole work.  It is an incredibly tall order.

I think I nailed it though.  But only thanks to some masterful input from another playwright, Sheri Wilner*, with whom I consulted.  She pointed out that I needed to hit all the points I mentioned above, and also had some great ideas as to how to do it.  It was like I hired a coach to help little Rosie prepare for her interview questions. 

And now, off she goes.  She is on that stage, waiting for the curtain to rise (i.e. the envelop to be opened), so she can deliver her song to the judges.  I hope they find her as enthralling as I do.

*If you are a writer looking for a mentor to consult with you on a project, I heartily recommend Sheri for one-on-one consultations!  Insightful, nurturing, and affordable. Let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How much history and how much fiction?

My play is a piece of historical fiction. Meaning, I am taking a piece of history and telling a fictionalized account of it, rather than attempting to make a completely factual documentary.  (The phrase "inspired by true events" would be appropriate.)  Though historical fiction is my favorite literary form, I have never before attempted to write such a work.  It has its challenges. Mainly, how much history and how much fiction do I put into the story?

When I am reading a work of historical fiction, I like to believe when I am reading it that pretty much everything that I am reading is true.  And I do believe it is true, unless it is a about an aspect of history I know particularly well (like the movies Amadeus and Immortal Beloved), and can easily spot when creative license is taken. Since very few people will be experts in the piece of history I am telling, this could either absolve me -- who will know? -- or it could mean I have a greater responsibility to tell the story as accurately as I can, since this play (movie?) may be the only exposure most people will ever have to the subject.

My decisions fall into two categories: the events of the play vs. the world of the play.  I have decided that the events of the play can be fictitious -- in fact, they should be, otherwise I would be dealing with rights issues -- while the world should be as factual as possible.  The details must be accurate so that the audience feels that "that could have happened" (even if it didn't).   If the details of the world make people raise their eyebrows -- that city didn't exist then, people didn't talk like that then, a black band couldn't have played in that club then -- then the whole story will be unbelievable.

Thus I found myself in the library this week, looking at issues of Down Beat magazine from 1943 on microfilm.  MICROFILM.  Yes, it still exists.  No, everything in the universe has not been scanned into google.  Alas, because there is no "search" button on a microfilm machine.  All you can do is go through one issue after another, page by page, hoping to find the little tidbit you are looking for.  But this play deserves every bit of time and effort and energy I can put into and more, so I'll be back there next week, going through more microfilm so that the world of my play can have as much history in it as possible.