Last year I had the pleasure of writing a web series for the lovely Paten Hughes, an actor slash tomato farmer, about, well, an actor slash tomato farmer, who tries to find a new life purpose when she inherits a relative’s farm, HENCE THE TITLE HEIRLOOM AS IN THE FARM SHE INHERITED, AND ALSO THE TOMATO VARIETAL, KEEP UP PEOPLE. LAYERS. It’s sweet and optimistic and charming and I can’t wait to see how abruptly it makes people abandon all things and run desperately to the nearest grocery store in search of tomatoes and burrata and basil and a pinch of sea salt, which would be the only thing I wanted to eat while writing the show. Episodes go up on Vimeo September 9th. More info Here! IT REALLY MATERS TO ME THAT YOU WATCH IT.
Press is starting to drop for the new show I’ve been writing for, This is Us! I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it here yet, because whether or not I’m eating cheese this week and whether or not Unicorn dresses surely takes precedence over career announcements. I won’t spoil it much, but let’s say that if NBC’s gift to viewers at the screening of the pilot, these personalized packs of tissues, are any indication:
THE SHOW WILL BE WEEKLY BURROWING INTO YOUR HEART AND PRESSING ON YOUR TEAR BUTTON.
You’re in Ojai for a conference. You’d like to stay in shape, but there are no gyms or spin studios or gym spin studios or studio spins in sight, because, well, Ojai. Ojai is your gym. Its hills are your elliptical. Stroll up them, casually contemplating big questions. Happen upon a local, who asks you if you’ve seen the bear. Stop strolling. What bear? Oh, apparently there’s been a bear in the area. You know, just like, a bear. Smile at the local. Turn around. RUN. RUN BACK DOWN THE HILL AS FAST AS YOU HUMANLY CAN AWAY FROM THE THE BEAR. CURL UP IN THE YOGA MAT IN YOUR TRUNK AND WEEP.
Say, did you want to make plays AND hang out with animals AND help harvest vegetables and pretend like you are a person who is capable of doing more than just making plays? SPACE ON RYDER FARM IS THE PLACE FOR YOU! COMMERCIAL VOICE! My friend Emily founded it six years ago. She took over her family’s 200 year old farm and has gradually converted it for artists’ housing and workspace. I got to come up in the very first season where there was barely plumbing and we huddled around candles and told ghost stories. Six years later, I’m back, and it now houses twice as many people, has wifi, even more workspaces, a full staff and chef, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY THE BABY DONKEY PICTURED ABOVE AND THAT’S REALLY ALL I CARE ABOUT BECAUSE DONKEY BABY.
I’ve been watching a bunch of TV lately in which characters are constantly waging small to epic battles against their own tears. After a few episodes of this, the tears lose their impact, and the characters become wet messes who are moved to tears basically just by saying or hearing words, or sometimes just because they thought of a word, or maybe just because they walked into a room and saw someone they loved folding their underwear, or maybe just because they realized they had hands and / or that the sun had come up, once again. But I don’t fault the writers or the actors. It’s a common mistake. I am 100% guilty of over-using the parenthetical, ‘fighting tears.’ I think it’s because I don’t always trust my own writing. I don’t trust that I’ve done enough of the emotional work that’s necessary to ensure that at that point in the story, clearly the character would be fighting tears while revealing their truth / acknowledging how amazing it is, that we have Hands. It’s a cop-out. It’s a cheat. It’s a cloth over a table covered in dirt and wax. And so, going forward, I hereby vow (fighting tears) to forgo the parenthetical, and to trust my own work, or rather, to let it stand on its own, tears or none.
I am technically off work right now, and yet my life looks like this:
Because somehow, without the structure of a place to go at an appointed time / a lunch break / work til six / structure that I lament when I have it — I COMPLETELY LOOSE ALL OF MY MIND AND ALSO FORGET HOW TO WRITE WORDS DOWN AND INSTEAD JUST SHOUT AT MYSELF IN RED INK LIKE A SERIAL KILLER.
I studied and worked on a lot of Marsha Norman plays in undergrad (Getting Out / Night, Mother). One night in grad school, I ended up hiding in a corner of her massive west village loft apartment with some other writers from the program, staring in awe at her shelves and shelves of floor to ceiling books complete with sliding ladder, watching Edward Albee eat shrimp, imagining what it might be like to write a play that then bought you a whole apartment. We have never spoken I don’t think, but I’ve called her my friend in my head, in that way that you do if you’ve been in someone’s house but never called each other by each other’s Names. Today, she’s written a PHENOMENAL ESSAY ON HOW / WHY TO WRITE PLAYS, for Stage and Candor. Excerpt from my brilliant friend here:
If you know a story about a brave human in big trouble, write that. Write how the trouble started, what the person did, and how it turned out. Little troubles, for example, troubles that will solve themselves just by the person growing up, you don’t need to waste your time on those. Write about greed, revenge, rage, betrayal, guilt, adultery, and murder. When writing about softer troubles such as injustice, loss, humiliation, incapacity, aging, sadness and being misunderstood, just be sure to attach them to one of the more active troubles. Attach betrayal to loss and you have a play. Attach adultery to aging and you have a play. And let fear drive the whole thing. An aging woman is afraid her husband is having an affair, so she plots to kill him. Just kidding, but you see what I mean. We know we would watch that story, as stupid as it is in sentence form. Then you just add your great dialogue and your fabulous scenes and you’re done. Haha.
Seriously, what we are doing when we write for the stage is telling stories people need to see. We do it for the same reason we put up stop signs, because it is important, for some reason, for people to stop at this place and look around. Our place at the playwrights’ table is determined by how many people remember the stories we tell, and people remember the stories they feel they will need someday. Just like life. Urgency is the key to a good story, fear is the force that keeps it moving. The good news is that humans are so hungry for stories that our brains invent them even when we are asleep. So they need us. It is a great privilege to be a storyteller. And if it hurts, it hurts. We can take it.
In trying to find the perfect image to match my earth day thought, which was simply that the Earth is probably REAL mad at Prince for bogarting it’s One Day, I stumbled across these BEAUTIFUL IMAGES THAT I AM OBSESSED WITH.
They’re by an artist named Beth Hoeckel. She collages retro art with the cosmos. I could just look at it for days.
Nope, still not done.
I gotta give props to the Alliance Theater here in Atlanta, if giving props is still a thing that people do. WE ALL STILL PLAY WITH POGS, RIGHT? Some way too many years ago, something like nine years ago? When I was just out of grad school, the Alliance was the first regional theater to say hey, we like you! And they flew me down for a reading, as part of the Kendeda Graduate playwriting competition. I’m now back for an alumni reading of my new play about Cake and same sex marriage, and props are very much do. For one, they have an incredible network of actors — Atlanta attracts some good ones with all of the TV and Film being made here — and they are ACTUALLY SOUTHERN. Which is to say they don’t overplay the accent, and know what it means to feel split in two between Northern and Southern, liberal and conservative, as my characters oftentimes are. Second set of props: the diversity of their audience. I saw their magnificent new show last night — a GOSPEL MUSICAL, I MEAN, COME ON — Born for this: The Bebe Winans story. I found myself enveloped in a house that was nearly fifty percent African American. And it felt great. They were so vocal and responsive and engaged that I left wondering: how can we put gospel music into every single play? Of course we can’t literally. There are some plays, some, that do not need gospel music. And of course, some plays are plays, not musicals. But might each play have its own gospel music, a thing that draws people in, not just theater students, but everyone, that forces people to their feet?
Manfriend can do some pretty incredible things with his voice, and so he set out to build himself a Booth in which to do such things. Sans booth, his work is subject to interruption by helicopter or girlfriend or plane or girlfriend or nearby construction or girlfriend. And so, he designed and built his very own voiceover booth with his own brain and hands! I am in awe of how hard he worked on it, and how sleek the product is. Now he can do audiobooks / podcasts / commercial auditions / hide from the world / hide from earthquakes / panic in silence / cry in private! I AM SO VERY PROUD.