Monday, December 31, 2012

"The N I Love" (With Apologies to the Gershwins)

This is what happens when you let me out of work two hours early on New Year's Eve, and I get bored on the subway platform, and think about how much time I've spent waiting for the N-Judah in the four years I have lived in my apartment:
Some days it comes along
The N I love
It's made of steel so strong
The N I love
And when it comes my way
It's only after long delay 
It runs for seven miles
From Bay to sand
And it takes quite a while
To cross this land
I know it seems absurd
But MUNI's as slow as you've heard 
And it's even slower Sunday
Then on Monday
It breaks down
Yeah, they're sure to fix it one day
But on Wednesday?
That's an "it depends" day 
But still, it takes me home
And downtown too
From east to west I roam
It pulls me through
And so all else above
I'm waiting for the N I love.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gone in 60 Seconds: The 2012 SF One-Minute Play Festival Video

I hope you are having a great holiday season!

Here is a gift for you from the San Francisco theater community: the video of the 3rd Annual San Francisco One-Minute Play Festival. 72 plays, 40 writers, 40 actors, innumerable acts of creativity.

Watch live streaming video from newplay at

This year, the video has title cards to identify each play and playwright. But if you just want to know what my plays are, they're "Welcome Home," at 19:40 on the video, and "Those Americans" at 1:21:45. "Welcome Home" was in the group of plays directed by Jill McLean; "Those Americans," by Desdemona Chiang.

Discussing Chiang's clump of plays, festival artistic director Dominic D'Andrea said "They are all like little kicks in the pants: each one hurts a little bit." Which is one of my favorite things anyone has ever said about my work.

Some other personal faves this year:
  • Geetha Reddy's hilarious play about yoga might have been the best thing in last year's festival. This year, she continues to prove a master of the one-minute form with two very different, but excellent, plays.
  • My friend Tim Bauer got primo placement: one of his comedies kicks off each act of the show!
  • Christopher Chen proves that his knack for writing odd, haunting, messed-up plays extends even to the one-minute form.
  • I don't know who David Perez is, but "Cackle" is hilarious (with a great performance by Kate Jones).
Thanks to Playwrights Foundation for sponsoring the festival, and to Dominic D'Andrea for organizing the logistics and generously supporting all of the artists.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Feminism & Other Frustrations @ SF Theater Pub Blog

Just popping in to post links to some of my SF Theater Pub columns that have been sparking lively discussions.

This week, I used my column to come out as a feminist (well, in case you didn't know), inspired by the larger conversation about feminism in theater that seems to be going on everywhere this month.

Having neglected to do so at the time, I also wanted to link to my November 1 column, "Community Theater vs. Indie Theater," which has proven one of my most popular columns with readers & commenters.

In his intro to the earlier column, Stuart Bousel wrote that I was "tackling that mixture of love-hate, pride-frustration, glory-despair that characterizes a life in the Indie Theater world."

And I think that life as a feminist in the 21st century is also characterized by a mixture of love/hate, pride/frustration, and glory/despair. My column is, perhaps, an attempt to make sense of that tangle of emotions.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Month to Wear a Crown

So, this happened:

That is, I appeared on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle's December 6 arts section wearing a bedsheet toga, a crown, and a goofy expression. Flanked by my friends and fellow playwrights Stuart Bousel and Claire Rice (both working different variants on a "Who does that bitch with the crown think she is?" attitude).

Inside, the Chron published a lovely article about the Olympians Festival, as well as another photo. The most delightful surprise was that I got name-checked in the article as an "established playwright." The first time that the Chron prints my name, and they already consider me an established playwright! This, in an era when any playwright whose work hasn't appeared on Broadway is typically referred to as an "emerging playwright"! Many playwrights chafe against the "emerging" label, finding it condescending. So there is something deeply satisfying about seeing a major national newspaper refer to me, in print, as "established."

I had worried that appearing on the cover of a newspaper arts section while crowning myself (like Napoleon) is an act of overweening hubris, and surely the gods would see fit to punish me for my pride and vanity. But instead, December has been kind of a charmed month for me. The reading of my Aphrodite screenplay was a success, and won the audience vote at the end of the night. I'm as busy as I've ever been, seeing great new work at the Olympians Festival, meeting interesting new people, running into people I used to know, winning raffles, experiencing all kinds of fortuitously karmic moments.

And with that, I'm off to see the final performance of this year's San Francisco One-Minute Play Festival, which includes two plays of mine. That's another delightful surprise. I must've gotten left off an email thread somewhere, because I had been led to believe that only one of the two plays I'd submitted had been chosen for production. It was only this afternoon that I found out that both of my plays are in the festival!

I know I'm a lucky girl, and I'm trying to be grateful for all of the overwhelming-in-a-good-way things that are happening to me.

Photos by Russell Yip for the S.F. Chronicle.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

69 Reasons to See "Aphrodite, or The Love Goddess"

The staged reading of my screenplay Aphrodite, or the Love Goddess is taking place on Friday, December 7, and I would love to see you all there! (if you can make it to the Exit Theater in downtown San Francisco at 8 PM.) Still need convincing? Here are 69 reasons to show up.

  1. It's the first screenplay ever written for the San Francisco Olympians Festival. History in the making!
  2. It's also the first screenplay I've written since I was a teenager, so it's your chance to see me work in a new medium.
  3. Besides, when was the last time you saw a staged reading of a screenplay?
  4. The "hook" of the piece (what I pitched last year in order to win the commission to write it): "The Aphrodite-Ares-Hephaestus love triangle, re-imagined in 1940s Hollywood."
  5. If you are a 1940s movie buff, you'll have fun playing "spot the reference" to try to figure out which films I am alluding to / stealing from.
  6. In fact, it probably features a lot of what you love about '40s movies, including: a romantic scene set on a train;
  7. scenes of glamorous people enjoying themselves;
  8. roles for character actors straight out of central casting;
  9. wiseacre quips;
  10. shadowy city streets in the wrong part of town;
  11. a love triangle involving a beautiful woman, a sexy bad boy, and a cuckolded sap of a husband;
  12. a cynical and fatalistic p.o.v.;
  13. and other film noir elements.
  14. There are also a few Greek-mythology in-jokes that will amuse people familiar with the lore.
  15. The reading is on December 7 -- Pearl Harbor Day -- and the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor appears at a key moment in the screenplay.  
  16. It's only 55 minutes long,
  17. but it has the most sex scenes of anything I've ever written,
  18. plus some '40s-style innuendo in the vein of "Just put your lips together and blow,"
  19. so it's probably a good choice for a date night?
  20. At the same time, my parents are going to be in the audience, so you can have fun watching me (and them) try not to cringe during the sexy moments.
  21. Our director, Sara Staley, has come up with dynamic but appropriate staging to bring the text to life,
  22. and put together a great cast, which includes:
  23. the beautiful Shay Wisniewski as the starlet Rosalie Seaborne (Aphrodite),
  24. the masterful Dan Kurtz as writer-director Fritz Vollkin (Hephaestus),
  25. the charismatic Paul Jennings as movie mogul Mr. Zusskind (Zeus), and
  26. the debonair Brian Thomen as war hero Lt. Harry Mars (Ares).
  27. Because the character of Fritz is a mild-mannered German-Jewish immigrant, Dan will do a German accent,
  28. and because the character of Harry is an R.A.F. pilot, Brian will do a Scottish accent.
  29. The versatile Patrick Barresi will play all of the other male roles, including a fast-talking studio flack,
  30. a self-absorbed matinee idol,
  31. an adorable little old man,
  32. an aw-shucks hick,
  33. and a ratty-looking hotel clerk;
  34. and the equally versatile Siobhan Doherty plays all of the other female roles, including a snippy secretary,
  35. a little old lady,
  36. and an officious bobby-soxer.
  37. To top it all off, Stacy Sanders Young will guide you through the screenplay by reading all of the camera directions,
  38. including two bravura montage sequences.
  39. Exercise your imagination by picturing the movie in your head as we describe it!
  40. This is the first Olympians Festival experience for my director Sara and many of our cast members. I have so enjoyed working with them and bringing them into the Olympians family.
  41. Unlike many '40s screenplays or even 2010s screenplays, this one passes the Bechdel test (if just barely).
  42. And the team who's putting this together (writer + director + cast + poster artist) is majority-female too.
  43. If you saw my play Pleiades last year, you'll remember how the Zeus character in that is an altogether nasty piece of work. Aphrodite features a much kinder, gentler Zeus.
  44. After the reading is over, I hope to do some blog posts about how I taught myself how to write a screenplay and what I learned from the experience. If you see the staged reading, these posts may make more sense to you.
  45. I'll be at the reading, and I plan to wear an amazing, absurdly appropriate 1940s vintage dress (thanks to the ladies at Ver Unica).
  46. I mentioned my dad will be there. Did I also mention that he'll probably be wearing a bow tie?
  47. And he has a great laugh.
  48. Almost as great as Claire Rice's (who will also be there).
  49. Our Box Office Babe, Tracy Held Potter, will sell you your ticket with a smile,
  50. and you'll want to check out what she's wearing, too, since she's theming her outfit to each show.
  51. Tickets are just $10 at the door,
  52. and for that price, you'll see two shows! Aphrodite, or the Love Goddess will be paired with Amy Clare Tasker's one-act Phoebe & Theia, or How To Get to Tartarus.
  53. This isn't the place to do a full-on pitch for my rival's show, but let me just say that Amy is very cool, and Phoebe & Theia will be very different in tone from Aphrodite, and I look forward to sharing the evening with her.
  54. After seeing both plays, the audience gets to vote for their favorite! So yes, I'm trying to pack the house with friends and supporters.
  55. That's right, you have the ability to award me a glorious victory or shame me with an ignominious defeat!
  56. The writers receive a cut of the box-office proceeds, and so do the actors -- another reason we hope to fill every seat in the house.
  57. Stuart Bousel will provide a brief introduction to the evening's subjects (Phoebe, Theia, and Aphrodite) -- his insights into Greek mythology are always worth hearing.
  58. You'll have the opportunity to buy raffle tickets and win a copy of our beautiful poster, by Kelly Lawrence (above),
  59. or our special "Aphrodite" themed raffle prize, a vintage 1940s art deco hand mirror.
  60. Did you know that if you see 4 Olympians plays, you'll get to see a 5th for free? See my show and you're on your way to taking advantage of this deal.
  61. Food and drink are for sale, and allowed into the theater;
  62. may I recommend the Exit Theater's champagne cocktail as particularly tasty and appropriate for a '40s play?
  63. After the show, we encourage audience members go out drinking with us at the White Horse, on Sutter Street,
  64. which is the perfect chance to share your reactions and feedback with the artists!
  65. This is a one-night-only event -- a unique experience.
  66. Indeed, I sincerely doubt this screenplay will ever be produced as a film, so this may be your only chance ever to experience this project of mine.
  67. Unless you are (or you know) a deep-pocketed film producer who would love to produce a 55-minute, Greek-mythology-based, 1940s period film? If so, please show up!
  68. But most importantly: theater and film are nothing without an audience.
  69. And I'm proud of what I've written, and I want to share it with you.
Once again, this one-night-only event is taking place on Friday, December 7, at 8 PM at the Exit Theatre, at 156 Eddy St, San Francisco. I hope to see you there.

Credits: Aphrodite poster art by Kelly Lawrence.  I also need to credit the inspirations for this post, which are twofold:
  • Evidently, the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs was originally going to be 100 Love Songs, but that sounded excessive, so they dropped it to 69. Similarly, this post was originally going to be 100 Reasons to See Aphrodite, but...
  • The other inspiration is my friend Megan Cohen and her habit of going on creativity blitzes. Sitting down and thinking up 50 or 100 ideas at a time, even if you only need one. I decided I would try doing the same.

Monday, December 3, 2012

White Magic: "The White Snake" at Berkeley Rep

Mary Zimmerman has to have one of the most passionately devoted fanbases in the American theater. At least, in the circles I move in, we've been anticipating her newest play The White Snake for over a year, ever since the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced it for their 2012 season. There were hastily planned road trips to Ashland to see The White Snake ASAP; there was much rejoicing when Berkeley Rep announced The White Snake as their 2012 holiday show; there was me deciding to become a Berkeley Rep subscriber for fear that the show would sell out otherwise; there were my non-"theater geek" friends getting just as excited about the show as I was. Finally, after all these months of anticipating, I saw the show at the end of Thanksgiving weekend. It was worth the wait!

The White Snake is a 100-minute adaptation of a Chinese folktale about a learned snake who takes human form, marries a mortal, becomes a loyal wife and respected citizen, but arouses the suspicions of a fanatical Buddhist monk. This story is very popular in China and, although it is not so well-known in the West, it echoes other folktales about animal-women who marry mortal men, like John Keats' "Lamia" or the Japanese folktale of the Crane Wife.

Zimmerman's adaptation features a multi-ethnic cast (most of whom did the show in Ashland), Chinese-inspired music, beautifully crafted costumes and props, and her trademark innovation in staging and imagery. For instance, at the beginning of the show, the snake characters are represented by some completely adorable puppets -- snake-phobics have nothing to fear from this show -- as well as by having the ensemble, carrying painted umbrellas, form one big "snake."

In its final moments, the play does that thing that every Zimmerman show seems to do: it reaches for transcendence, for a moment of painful beauty, and achieves it. As all good folklore-based theater must, it also resonates in ways that go beyond mere narrative. The protagonist's struggle whether to tell her husband that she is really a snake in disguise echoes the fear that we all have when starting a new relationship: will my partner accept me once he knows who I really am, deep down? Or will I frighten him away?

The White Snake is a kickass heroine: a scholar, magician and herbalist who goes on a quest to save her husband's life and engages in an epic battle with the monk -- and does it all while pregnant. She also has a sidekick, her stubborn, outspoken, and fiercely devoted friend the Green Snake, who takes human form as servant "Greenie." Indeed, The White Snake might be an excellent show for getting girls interested in theater. They'll initially be attracted to the romance and magic of the folktale, and along the way they'll hear a story of strong female characters told by a beloved female writer-director. Take your daughters/nieces/pre-teen friends! (When I saw the show on Sunday the 25th, the audience was mostly full of Berkeley retirees. I wish there'd been more young people and children there!)

Unlike the other Zimmerman works that I'm familiar with, The Arabian Nights (which I saw in Berkeley in 2009) and Metamorphoses (which I've read), The White Snake tells just one story, rather than a collection of them. Yes, it's a story with several twists and turns -- like a snake! -- but there were a few moments where the pace seemed to slacken or my interest flagged, which is something that I never felt in The Arabian Nights. For this reason, and also because my first encounter with the theatrical magic of Mary Zimmerman will forever have a place in my heart, I probably would rank The Arabian Nights slightly higher than the new show. Nonetheless, The White Snake is a beautiful piece of theater that will surely expand the Zimmerman fanbase even more.

The White Snake plays at Berkeley Rep until December 30. Top photo by Alessandra Mello. Bottom photo by Jenny Graham. Featuring Amy Kim Waschke as White Snake and Tanya Thai McBride as Green Snake.