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July-September 2014

In my last missive, I predicted the dog-days of summer. Better described as the puppy-dog-days of summer. Not too hot, not too humid, by comparison with so many years before. Fortunately or unfortunately, however, depending upon what I was missing in Manhattan, I spent many of them on the west coast, happily atop my motorcycle, in view of the ocean on most days, and wrapped in the perpetual sunshine that is a big part of the southern California draw. In-law duties and my wife’s business obligations made it necessary, but the moment I kicked into first gear on the 1200RT, regrets faded fast.

Other than for writing new work, which I’ll describe below, it has been a slow summer for me. I have been in contact with the folks in Oregon, as that date draws nearer – a February opening. The Camelot Theatre in Talent, Oregon (yes, the town is named “Talent”), is not far from Ashland, so many of the fans of my work there have already written to ask for some time together and to say they’ll be at the opening. One of the men on the Play Festival Board has stepped up to put a cottage of his at my disposal while I’m there. Can’t say enough good things about the people connected to the Ashland Festival and the ways they embrace and support playwrights. I’ve been to Ashland three times in the past three years (Quietus, The Truth Quotient, A Question of Words) and, without exaggeration, they all make me believe I’m part of their family.

For new writing, as I mention above, it was an interesting time. Mid-summer, I discovered the existence of a new playwriting contest, called the Milken Prize. It has just come on the scene, and is a reflection of the quality (or lack thereof) of serious theater available to young adults, both for the chance to perform as well as to see themselves credibly portrayed. Some say that it’s a neglected audience on purpose. They aren’t “theater-going people,” that is, with an interest in the medium, other than for ensemble musicals and comedies. On the other hand, you might say that’s because they don’t have much to choose from that reflects their concerns.
That was my conclusion after spending several hours with my teenage nieces and nephew. So I sat down to write a serious drama about modern high school kids. After more time with my relatives, my perspective turned out to be that “young” adults are in many ways just like older adults who haven’t had a lot of practice at the trials and tribulations. I found the contest late – with only a month to the deadline – so I was writing, revising, and consulting (the kids) non-stop for that month. I e-mailed the script on the afternoon of the deadline day. I loved the process, however, and found the subject matter new and exciting. I think it’s an audience worth pursuing seriously.

We’re back in New York again as I write this (tardy, as usual) and ready to take on the faster pace of the fall. Hope to see some of you in Oregon.

April-June 2014

As the temperature now edges 90 and the humidity tries to match that number, the memories of ice and snow in my last quarter’s tale barely linger. Welcome to a New York summer, the only season to match a New York winter (at least the last one) punch for punch. One exchanges the loveliness of sleet and sludge for sweat. Before I’m able to write my name on my forehead in one morning’s accumulation of grime, however, let me recap the brief but delightful spring that just passed.

To start, being back in our own home helps a lot. There is comfort in the rituals that are attached to and associated with one’s own stuff. For one thing, all of my books are back in reach and, almost as important, in sight. Each title is a mnemonic device, evoking the pleasure of that particular read and confirming the power of words.

In my last wrap-up, I mentioned the fun I had fun in Florida, attending the Studio@620 production of A Question of Words. They have since requested other scripts and are now considering Life is Mostly Straws for next spring.

The Oregon production of A Question of Words in February is confirmed and the contract is signed. In addition, an advance on the gate was put in the mail eight months ahead of the production. That kind of solid commitment on the part of the theater bodes well for the relationship between the two of us. I look forward to that production (I’ll be there) with a lot of excitement.

Two weeks ago, the public reading of Life is Mostly Straws took place at the lower east side theater of the International Theatrical Arts Institute. It went very well. Perceptive direction by Eric Parness (Artistic Director of Resonance Ensemble – NY), and a very strong cast, which included Callie Frisell (Sydney), Christine Verleny (Joanna), Grant Varjas (David), and Jarel Davidow (Noah).

The Actors Studio scene readings of my newest play (now entitled Maybe You Die Happier) have just concluded – along with their season. I’ve reworked the script several times as a result, and have now begun to send it out to theaters and interested readers. One of the latter is Maggie Grace (Google her if you don’t recognize the name), who read the lead part of Anna during an informal reading at my apartment at the end of last year. She was so good in the role that I asked her if I could forward the recently completed script for an opinion. She is currently in Paris shooting a film, but offered to take a look while there. Hoping she likes it.

That’s all folks. Now it’s time to clean the A/C filter and brace for the dog days to come.

January-March 2014 

Let us all who live in the northeast raise our glasses in a toast to spring, ever so slowly shoveling its way out of the worst winter most of us can remember.

Much of my time this first quarter has been devoted to all of the people (contractor, interior designer, appliance and fixture retailers, insurance adjustors, and many more) necessary to bring our kitchen back to life from scratch. While I was away in Ashland (October) and my wife in California, an upstairs neighbor let a sink overflow – for hours.  Hours, how can that be? It’s a long and frustrating story, but suffice it to say that the leak gutted our kitchen and part of our living room, much of the living space in the apartment beneath ours, and a part of the one below that. Fortunately, the owner of that last apartment was home, and able to alert the building super. Six months later, we’re still living in a rental apartment, all of our furniture is in storage, and we’re hoping to be back in our place by the spring. To say the least, it’s been a distraction from the writing.

Putting that aside, Florida was great. The Studio@620 put on a full production of A Question of Words at an interesting little theater in St. Petersburg, Florida. They flew me down for the opening night, which had a standing-room-only crowd. Although I couldn’t stay beyond that weekend, it finished its run (Feb/Mar) with a full house as well.

And shortly after returning from that production, I received a note from the artistic director of a well-respected theater in Oregon, who had seen the Ashland performance of A Question of Words, and loved it. She asked to open their next season with it (spring, 2015). More fun. Although not in Ashland, the theater is close by, so I’ll go early and jockey back and forth. Meeting and making new friends in Talent (the name of the town where the theater is located) and spending time with old friends in Ashland. ‘Old’ is a relative term in this case. I’ve only been going to Ashland for a year-and-a-half, but the people almost feel like family.

It’s been an interesting few weeks meeting with the staff and nine fellow playwrights who won the Theatrical Arts Institute’s Play Development Program. That organization recently moved into a renovated old building in the lower east side. Three New York theater companies each own and occupy a full floor for rehearsals, development and administration. And they share two small but state-of-the-art theater spaces on the ground and basement floors. For the past two and a half months, all the winning playwrights gathered weekly for a discussion of our scripts, one per week, until all had gotten feedback. The international winners would generally join us by Skype (Spain, Canada, Uruguay). The playwright explained his or her vision, while colleagues offered suggestions. Taking all that into account, the playwright and director then “develop” the play over the next few weeks, in preparation for a public reading. Mine – Life is Mostly Straws – will be in June.

Meanwhile, the director at the Actors Studio who showed interest my newest play, The Errant Gene, has jumped into its development with both feet. Over the past 90 days, she and I have been doing scene readings from the play (1-2 scenes each time, with Equity actors) in front of the Studio membership. We have two more scene sessions to go in April, in preparation for a full read in May. Repeated audience feedback and the concentration of two scenes at a time has brought the play along much faster than would normally be the case. An added bonus to these sessions is the potential clout of the membership who attend. At Monday’s reading (not my play, unfortunately), Al Pacino sat two seats to my right. One never knows.

And thrown in between was a reading of that same play at Brooklyn College, using students for most of the roles.  It was a class project, designed by their teacher, who is a fan of my work.

All for now. See you next quarter.

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