Please don’t tell anyone I owe any sort of script to, but by ‘going to hotel to write’ I actually mean ‘hiding in hotel room with room service watching cheerleading competitions wishing I could go back in time and be either a strong or portable person who cheered competitively in college.’
There are plays you read in undergrad and grad school and watch scenes from and do scenes from, to the point where watching the play actually staged feels like a very long, hazy moment of deja vu. O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night is definitely one of those plays, and I even though I spent a summer at the O’Neill conference, did a three-night long, all playwright reading of it, visited the very house in which the play was set — I did not actually see the play until last night, at the Geffen (staring Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek, who were both magnificent.) Even though I’ve read it so many times, last night it revealed itself to me as something new — not a play about brothers, about fathers, about grudges you can’t let go of — but a play about a very poetic addiction. It’s really Mary Tyrone’s play, the mother’s play. It’s actually about her withdrawing from and indulging in morphine, hiding it from her family. When she’s on morphine, she just talks and talks and talks, and says the saddest and most beautiful things:
None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.
The past is the present. It’s the future, too.
Her addiction allows the playwright to speak through her. We have things we want our characters to say. They are the things that we want to say, but can’t. But you can’t just insert the things into the mouth of a character. You have to give them some profound reason to say them, a reason that ideally creates a story. This is something I already knew, but must be reminded of, every time I write a scene. A character is not a robot for your poetry. A character is a human being who must be cared for, who must be motivated, who is usually based on your mom (not really.) (but sometimes.) (HI MOM!)
Looking at my schedule for next week, I realize I’m meeting with four different people so that they might ‘pick my brain.’ As a classic Gemini, I’m of two minds about this. Mind Pt. 1: I am happy to do it, especially in honor of those who did it for me when I was just starting out. If I can offer any insight that might help a person get to where they want to be, then good on me, good on them, and good on kindness. Mind. Pt. 2: my brain is currently in a million places. It’s held together by frayed bits of old friendship bracelet and sour punch straws and the subpar bobby pins that really don’t hold any hair in place at all. If anyone were to, at this point, ‘pick my brain,’ it actually might lose its structure entirely.
At some point, I decided to stick these words at the end of the The Cake script:
END OF PLAY.
NOTE: This is the end of the play part of the play. Ideally, upon exiting the theater, the audience is surprised with an actual CAKE, waiting for them. The wonderfully terrible grocery store cake that you never let yourself eat. Ideally, everyone then stands around together, eating cake.
And I will NEVER. REGRET IT.
Say, are you in a city you’ve never been to, surrounded by other theater people all wearing lanyards? You just might be at a New Play Festival! But don’t panic because they’re super fun. First let’s just confirm that you are, in fact, at a New Play Festival. Please label the following statements as True or False.
1.) You don’t fully understand where you are, where you’re supposed to be, even though it’s all been printed out and put in a nice folder for you. You’ve studied it many times, and yet you still don’t really get it it, and so you just wander around hoping someone will lead you to where you are supposed to go.
2.) You don’t fully understand where or when your next meal is coming from, and there doesn’t appear to be food anywhere, so when you spot a bowl of sad bananas on display at your hotel you take one and carry it around in your backpack and forget it’s there and only remember when everything starts to smell vaguely of banana.
3.) You see three to five plays a day, one of them which is usually a mind blowing hip hop musical that makes you question everything.
4.) Your own play that you are there to develop switches from being the best thing you have ever written to the worst thing you have ever written WITHIN SECONDS.
5.) You are making a lot of eye contact with strangers and learning a lot of life stories.
6.) You are uncharacteristically sweaty at all times.
7.) You allow your life to look like this:
ALL TRUE? HEY WAY TO GO, YOU’RE AT A NEW PLAY FESTIVAL! NOW GO HAVE SOME FUN! (Howdy from Houston / TX / Alley New Play Festival and also from my sad banana!)
In this week’s New Yorker!
I wish I didn’t need it, but I do, so Big it’s Sad. I know I care too much about how I’m seen. But it really only takes one subtle compliment, like just a non-negative thing, in a sea of ‘Brunstetter is annoying’ to make me think and feel, Onward! There is something There. If nothing else, I have affection.
I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Brave Magic, a book on ‘Creative Living Beyond Fear,’ which makes me feel like the like the largest white girl cliche there ever was, like I’m covered in greek yogurt and surrounded by moleskin journals, but still, it’s got some fantastic nuggets about how a creative person ought to view their creativity. She stresses that we must hold this paradox in our heads: that what we’re creating is the single most important thing in the world, and also, the least. It has meaning, but also, it does not. The stakes are high, but also low. What we do is beautifully unnecessary. She pulls this quote from Tom Waits: “I realized that, as a songwriter, the only thing I really do is make jewelry for the inside of other people’s minds.” Is that not the most wonderful description of a piece of art that you have ever heard? For me, it is. OKAY, OFF TO MAKE SOME BRAIN BRACELETS!
I’ve been playing this drama play writing game for some time now, and have, at this point, received a fair number of reviews. I’ve never been much of a critical darling, so I figured that I’d share some advice on how to read and process reviews of ones own work.
1.) A review is one person’s attempt to interpret and assign meaning to a piece of art, which is basically impossible. It’s a moving target. There is no one answer. So it’s all an attempt. Your work is an attempt, as is theirs.
2.) Even if the review is unfavorable, you cannot let it detract from how YOU feel about your work. You have to approach your work with at least SOME confidence, some solid command of what you are intending to say. It can’t be fragile, or a review will easily knock it down. If this happens — revisit what you meant to do in the first place, and think about how to make it stronger.
3.) A reviewer is a human being engaged in their own life, stepping into your life, just for a minute. You must take whatever they have to say in the context of their own life, which again, is not yours.
4.) A review should not affect how you perceive your own work.
5.) JUST KIDDING THEY ARE EVERYTHING EVERYTHING THEY SAY ABOUT YOU IS RIGHT AND SHOULD BE INTERNALIZED AND THOUGHT ABOUT OVER AND OVER UNTIL YOU FIGURE OUT EXACTLY HOW TO FIX THE FLAWS IN YOUR OWN WORK TO THE LIKING OF AFOREMENTIONED CRITIC AND IF YOU CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT WELL YOU SHOULD PROBABLY JUST QUIT AND WORK AT A YOGURT STORE
6.) I would actually really enjoy working at a yogurt store
I always wondered when I might have a day that I am actually so engaged in my actual life that I COMPLETELY FORGET TO BLOG. It’s embarrassing to admit but it truly shoots through my brain as soon as I wake up, what to blog about today? Today that did not happen. I joined a gazillion other Americans in a beautiful, peaceful march up to Trump Towers, I saw a beautiful, life-affirming musical with two of my favorite gals, and then saw a performance of a play that I wrote. I was, in fact, so engaged in my own life, that I had nothing to say. And I still don’t. Happy, today, to be alive, and able to march and watch and write things at all.
The Kilroys went on a retreat this weekend to a giant golf resort / conference center in the City of Industry, which is an actual name of a place about 20 miles outside of LA. We picked it at random, but little did we know that it was the perfect place for gathering and scheming up plans for the coming years (hot tub / chocolate fountain / two weddings / one child’s math competition). What do thirteen lady theater nerds need nightly? A safe place to sing, by which I mean, a DEEPLY SERIOUS KARAOKE NIGHT HELD IN A CONFERENCE ROOM FEATURING PEOPLE IN THEIR 60S WITH STUNNING VOICES THAT CLEARLY COME TO THIS CONFERENCE ROOM EVERY WEEKEND TO BELT OUT UNCHAINED MELODY AND ALSO THE THEME TO LOVE BOAT. We sang not one, not two, but approximately thirty songs, a decent split between musical theater, Alanis, and completely unrecognizable but very personal numbers. We were at first met with trepidation, but eventually welcomed into the fold of regulars, until that time Sheila accidentally scratched one of them with her shoe while line dancing, at which point we could have been kicked out, but then someone revealed we were TV writers, and suddenly, we were heroes, not activists, per se, just girls who used to sing in closets, and then cars, and now, in conference rooms. Also we made plans for the future. That, too. We need movements for gender parity now more than ever. STAY TUNED…..