Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 254: Monday progress report - 2nd draft

(Exciting news: my play shower is now a featured project on's home page!  Visit and you'll see it there.  If you don't see it at first, just hit refresh once or twice and it will appear.  This is very exciting because it means that thousands of strangers will see my project!  Thank you to everyone who made a contribution, wrote a comment, made a testimonial, or referred it to a friend -- all of that activity is what inspired them to feature it!)

Last week I had a table reading of the second draft of the play, with my director Steven Yuhasz present.  It was a chance for him to hear the play out loud for the first time, and for me to hear if the rewrites held together and accomplished what I wanted.  I also invited a couple of people who had never heard it before, as I have found in the past that asking for feedback on rewrites from people who heard the original version isn't always productive.  (Having heard the story before, it is hard to assess whether their impression is left over from the first time they heard it or if it is truly what they heard in the new version.)

The feedback was tremendous.  The two guests, as well as my boyfriend, were crying at the end.  One of them said "that was so satisfying".  The actors loved the script and felt the rewrites made it much tighter and set up the story better.   Several of them mentioned how much I had rewritten, how much work I did -- but to me, hearing it, it didn't feel that way.  Don't get me wrong, it was a lot of work and it wasn't easy, but it just sounds like that was the way it was always supposed to be.  I imagine that by the time I get to the final version, whatever that looks like, it will feel that way as well.  I've used this analogy before - it's like the sculptor who says they aren't creating the statue, they are merely revealing the statue that already exists in the marble.  I feel like this play, this story, already exists and I'm discovering, or uncovering, it. 

This week my director and I will be making some important decisions about November's reading.  I'm very excited about the prospects, and will keep you all posted!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 248: I have a birthdate!!

It is official: my little play, All in the Shuffle, is going to be introduced to the world on Tuesday, November 2nd at 7pm.  The reading will be held in a most auspicious location: the Frederick Lowe Room at the Dramatists' Guild on Broadway and 43rd.  So, in the very literal sense, my play will be born on Broadway. (If you'd like to come, send me an email!)

I realize November 2nd makes my play 25 days overdue.  But the delay is not because my play won't be ready by my initial due date of October 8th -- it is merely when I could get everything to come together the best possible way, which is what my play deserves after all this work.  The right space, the right director, the right actors.  November 2nd is the date all those things came together, so that is the date my play is going to be born.

I can scarcely comprehend that this is happening.  9 months ago I didn't have any idea if I could write a full-length play.  A year and a half ago, I had no idea what it meant to write a 10-minute play.  2 years ago, I had never even written a single line of dialogue.  Now, I have written a full-length play, and it's going to be performed.  Not in a full-out Broadway production, just as a staged reading, but still.  A really good director loves my script.  Really great actors love my script.  People who have heard or read it so far love my script.  I wrote a play, and it's good.

Like any expectant mother rapidly approaching giving birth (I imagine), I am filled with a combination of excitement, fear, and hope.  I am excited for a larger audience to hear my play, a little nervous as to what their reactions will be, and hopeful for the play's future.  I don't know what will come of this reading -- I almost don't even know what to dare hope for.  I am going to invite some producers I know -- will any of them come?  Will any of them want to sign on to help make it happen?  Will this reading take me straight on into another opportunity, or will I begin pursuing another path of submitting it to festivals?  How does one get a play produced?  I really don't know.  I have been so focused on the pregnancy part of this journey, that I haven't really begun investigating where I'm going to send the little tyke to school. 

Fortunately, there is time to figure that out.  This is not a play with a shelf life -- while I'd like it to become a smash hit in the next couple of years, it'll still be meaningful if it takes 10.  So for now, I'm going to enjoy the process, of hearing actors bring my characters to life, of watching a director shape my vision into something more concrete. I'll worry about the rest later.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 241: The art of writing vs. rewriting

First a quick blurb: There is a very exciting new addition to my play shower page: a movie trailer-style preview! The 3-minute video clip features audio and still photos from the first reading. This will give you a feel for what the play is about, for my writing style, and for how talented my actors are. There is also a great new video testimonial about my play from a fellow writer/director (look under "updates"), with more to come.  Stop by and check it out!  If you like what you see, please leave a comment on the indiegogo page and forward on to your friends. The more comments and referrals my page receives, the more likely indiegogo is to feature my play on its home page - meaning thousands of strangers would see it!

The process of writing this second draft -- which is now, thankfully, complete -- has been very, very different from writing the first draft.  Before I started this whole playwriting thing, if someone had asked me which I thought would be harder, writing a first draft from nothing or rewriting that draft to make it better, I'm pretty darn sure I would have thought writing a first draft would be harder.  I mean, how do you pull something out of thin air?  How do you create something from nothing?  How do you even begin on a journey when you don't know where it's going to end?  Surely, it must be much simpler to fix something you already have than to create something completely new.

Boy, is that not true!  While writing a first draft certainly isn't easy, there is a beautiful simplicity to it, an opening of yourself to not judge or try to be perfect.  The biggest struggle is not filtering -- just letting it flow, getting thoughts out on the page and seeing where they go.  That is not at all the case with a second draft.  Rewriting is much more surgical, more precise, more effort.  It requires a delicate, precise tool -- you don't want to lose the good stuff in the process of changing the bad stuff.   There were pieces I wanted to keep, and new pieces I wanted to add, and I had to try to fit them together.  I felt like I was putting together a complex puzzle where I only had some of the puzzle pieces, and had to actually make the other pieces to fit in between.

Of course the great thing about the second draft is that you do already know what you have.  You know that you have a play, and, hopefully, you know that it's good.  So there is a confidence in the work that you don't have when you are writing your first draft -- where all too often, you can write something you think is great, only to have it fall completely flat when you hear it out loud.

I get to hear this second draft out loud next Thursday, where my director will also get to meet all my actors and the real work on bringing this play to life can begin.  I can scarcely believe it's almost here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day 238: The "struggling artist" stereotype and me

I was a bit stumped for a blog topic, so I put out a notice for ideas on facebook.  An old childhood friend of mine, Gina Fraser Hoppa, replied with a couple of great ideas, including "the stereotype behind struggling artists and your personal journey".  It got me wondering, how typical has my experience as an artist been?  Do I wear the mantle of "struggling artist"?

First, what is the stereotype of the struggling artist?  I picture a young kid who comes to New York with big dreams and $20 in her pocket, gets into an arts college of some kind, slaves away taking classes all day and waiting tables all night, and lives in a dingy, cramped, cockroach-infested 2bd apartment in the east village with 5 other roommates.  She graduates school, ready to conquer the world, and now instead of being in class all day and waiting tables all night, she is standing in line for auditions all day and still waiting tables all night.  On top of that, she still must squeeze in dance classes and acting classes and voice classes whenever she can, only now she has to pay for them out of her table waiting money because student loans are over (except for having to pay them off now).  The apartment gets smaller, and she lives on top ramen and peanut butter.  She lands an acting/dancing/singing gig here or there, and sometimes they even pay enough that she can take herself out to dinner or even, if she's really lucky, stop waiting tables for a few weeks til the job is over.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  This goes on indefinitely - possibly for many, many years - until she either can't hack it anymore and gives up the dream to take some kind of soul-sucking corporate job, or she gets lucky and actually gets the kind of break that allows her to change her mantle from "struggling artist" to "working artist".  Sound about right?

My journey has had some similarities to this, certainly, but also a lot of differences.  I was too intimidated by NYC to come here for college (it was a very different city in 1990), so I stayed out west for both college and grad school.  I did work a few stints as a waitress, but I largely paid my way with my computer/admin skills and teaching skills (I was also fortunate to have scholarships, teaching assistantships, and some family help).  I didn't escape student loans altogether though (I am still paying them off, 13 years later).  I still didn't come to New York right after grad school, instead getting married and going back to California, first to San Diego and then to San Francisco.

After school, instead of waitressing, I went right into the soul-sucking corporate day job, squeezing in voice lessons during my lunch hour and dance classes on Saturdays and acting classes at night.  I was eventually able to leave corporate life and teach music instead, both privately and at a college (this is the one leg up that my grad degree gave me).  I auditioned - always, always auditioned -- and I got a lot of small-time gigs, but they rarely paid much more than the gas money it took to commute the long distances to get to them.  I traveled to New York City every couple of months for bigger auditions and to study with teachers and coaches here.  Almost every dime I made teaching went right back into my own lessons, audition fees, and travel expenses to New York.  I could never have done this if I hadn't been married.  Eventually, finally, I was able to relocate myself, my then-husband and our two cats to THE BIG APPLE.

To be an artist in New York, one has to be scrappy.  I've worked a lot of different jobs here, including walking dogs.  Seriously.  Eventually I landed a great part-time office job (as great as an office job can possibly be), which I still have 5 years later.   When I was still singing, a large amount of my income went to private lessons, workshops, and audition costs.  Since I gave up trying to get other people to hire me and started putting on my own shows -- first as a singer and now as a playwright -- that same money now goes to producing those shows. 

The last two years are when I most keenly felt like a true "struggling artist".  Upon getting divorced, my part-time income was close to impossible to live on.  I took on additional part-time work, reluctant to strap myself into the full-time-soul-sucking corporate job, as it is almost impossible to leave that once you are in it.  At times, I have juggled as many as 3 different jobs, all the while taking classes and writing and performing and producing shows.  Those of you that have followed my blog have heard me bitch and moan about this.

Finally, in just the last few months, I feel I have gone beyond "struggling".  Now that my voice teaching studio is firmly established and growing, I make enough money between that and my office job to actually save money as well as enjoy some meals out and some vacations -- no more buying groceries on credit cards for me.  Soon, soon, I will even have enough students to let go of the part-time job and then I will have that most precious of all commodities -- more time.

But beyond money, I think the main reason I no longer feel like a struggling artist, is that I am no longer trying to make a living from the art I create.  Sure, I would love for that to come to pass, but I know it very well may never happen.  I know that I have to create in order to be happy, so I am finding ways to create that are fulfilling to me regardless of whether or not they make me any money.  I only demand that they make me happy

I think rather than a "struggling artist", I would call myself a "striving artist".  As I described myself on my indiegogo profile for my play shower, I am: "an opera singer - turned cabaret singer - turned producer - turned playwright, a woman forever striving to inspire, touch, and connect with people through her art. 

And that's my story.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Day 233: The art of vacation (or a vacation from art)

Do forgive me for the radio silence the past two weeks.  I was on a John Denver-inspired vacation along the country roads to and from the Shenandoah River and other parts of Virgina, including the quaint Chincoteague Island famous for its wild ponies.  (I guess I'll have to try again to actually make it to the Blue Ridge Mountains and West Virginia).  I embarked on the vacation with thoughts of lots of time to do things like write blog posts and second drafts, but somehow, that isn't what happened.

Vacation is a funny thing.  Before you go, you envision all these endless hours stretching in front of you, free of the encumbrances of work, bills, pet-feeding, etc, giving you limitless time to sleep, eat, read, lounge, take a walk or a swim, and (if you're like me) get lots of creative work done.  And yet, there is a little problem with that equation.  The endless hours of sleeping, eating, lounging, reading, and walking don't also allow for endless time of getting creative work done.  One must still choose between biking to the beach to play in the surf and staying at the condo to work on one's second draft.  A difficult choice.

I'll admit it -- I don't vacation well.  I don't weekend well.  I don't take-a-day-off-well.  I don't relax relax well.  I have a very hard time doing any of those things without feeling conflicted about the creative work that I am not doing.  This is not always true -- and I am getting a bit better, especially with my boyfriend's help -- but it is definitely a large problem of mine.  Because I must take days off and weekends and vacations - from my creative work as well as from the day job and voice teaching work - in order to have the energy to do my creative work at my best.  Not to mention in order to not give myself ulcers or high blood pressure.

My boyfriend always tells me, pick one or the other.  If you decide to work, focus and work.  If you decide to relax, then just do it and don't beat yourself up about it.  (Oddly enough, I often find myself telling him the same thing). Because if you don't, you have the worst of both worlds -- you didn't get work done and you didn't really relax because you were too busy feeling guilty.  I've gotten better at doing that in the moment, but unfortunately the guilt over not working often still comes back to bite me the next day like a bad hangover.

All this is not to say that I didn't enjoy my vacation.  By and large, I really did, and didn't feel guilty for taking it.  But I also had days where I got very frustrated, where I felt like the world was passing me by, that I was losing too much traction on all my important projects by not being able to really work on them on the road.  I found myself wishing there were a cosmic pause button where everything could stop -- not just me -- so that I could relax without losing any time.  And now that I'm back, I have to figure out how I'm going to catch up on everything. 

Yet, I must also admit, I do feel more relaxed and recharged.  I am not dreading going to work tomorrow -- I actually feel ready to dive in and take things on again.  Despite feeling the need to get caught up, I also feel like I now have the inner resources to do that.  So perhaps that is the secret -- vacation isn't the time to get things done, it's the time to recharge your batteries so that you can get things done when you return.

It sounds so bloody simple when I put it that way.  How come it doesn't feel that way in the moment?  I must learn to start managing my expectations.  I need to allow myself not to take a vacation only from my day job work life, but also from my art work life.   Will someone please remind me of this before my next vacation?