WELCOME TO FORUM 1 SPRING SESSION!
Continuing: David Epstein, Ted Groll, Adrian Verkouteren, Deryl Davis, Leon Levenson, Barry Weinberg, Molly Schuchat, Mary Lee McIntyre, Kaz Kazanjian, Ron Wood, Susan Kelly, John Tycko, Jack Foley, Thomas Mason, Jr.,Patricia Fitzgerald, Judy Rein, Jonathan Taylor, Paul Handy, Bob Griffin, Joe Talarico.
Returning: Gayle Young, Joan Bellsey, Ann Stingle, Robin Cuddy.
Special Welcome to new members! Lorelei Kornell, Ashley Jerkins, Trish Rudder, Renee Tynan, Julia Mason.
Forum 2 Active Members are: Elizabeth Bruce, Michael Oliver, Tom Stephens, Marilyn Millstone, Diane Ney, Patricia Connelly, Paula Stone, Jason Ford, Art Luby, Jane Ross, Paco Madden, Tom Stephens.
Alexis Clements, our website consultant:
In the past the Playwright’s Forum maintained a web portal for members to post a personal profile listing information about their plays. We found that very few members kept the information up to date and that writer’s personal websites got better traffic on search engines. Now we recommend that our member playwrights create simple websites or take advantage of other sites that offer the ability to maintain a list of plays.
If you’d like to post public information about yourself and your work, there are some great free options.
Doollee – A very comprehensive database of plays in English that any playwright can post to.
New Play Database – (still in development) – Will provide a searchable database of contemporary writing for the theater.
Play Database – A large, searchable database of plays available for production.
Build a Simple, Free Website
WordPress.com – Offers anyone the opportunity to create a simple, free and easy-to-maintain website and has lots of tools to help you figure out the process.
Tumblr – Many people use Tumblr as a simple alternative to a formal website. You can post about yourself and your work.
Google Sites – If you have a Google and/or Gmail account, you can use Google to build a free and simple website.
Webnode – Helps you build free, simple websites.
Forty-four theater companies in the Washington region have signed on to the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival, which will present 44 world premieres by women over an eight-week period in the late summer and early fall of 2015. What follows is the list, as of today, of the companies that have already recruited playwrights and the names of these Forum-related writers:
- Adventure Theatre, Karen Zacarias and Debbie Wicks Lapuma
- Longacre Lea, Kathleen Akerley
- Wait Don’t Leave Productions, Libby Heily
February 4 – Citizen Augustine by Jack Foley. Directed by Catherine Aselford. 7 p.m. Tuesday. St. Mary’s Armenian Church.
March 24 – Fire In Snow by Jonathan Tycko. Directed by Dorothy Neumann. 7 p.m. Monday. Twinbrook Community Recreation Center.
April 28 – Truth on Ice by Paula Stone. Directed by Brian Mac Ian. 7 p.m. Monday. St. John’s Episcopal Church/Norwood Parish.
February 10 – WORKSHOP READING SERIES. Selections from plays by Ron Wood, Patricia Connelly, Deryl Davis. Directed by Sheila Crossley-Cox. 7 p.m. Monday. St. Mary’s Armenian Church.
March 3 – Could Do…. by Joseph Talarico. Directed by Mary Suib. 7 p.m. Monday. St. Mary’s Armenian Church.
April 7 – American Idyll by Tom Stephens. Directed by Stevie Zimmerman. 7 p.m. Monday. Lawton Community Recreation Center.
April 21 – Logan’s Square by Bill Costanza. Directed by Andrew Wasserich. 7 p.m. Monday. Lawton Community Recreation Center.
Frequent addresses for meetings and readings:
St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church, 4125 Fessenden St NW, Washington, DC 20016.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 6701 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.
Iona Senior Services Center, 4125 Albemarle Street NW, Washington, DC 20016.
Round House Theatre’s Education Center. 925 Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
Twinbrook Recreation Center. 12920 Twinbrook Parkway, Rockville, MD 20851.
MetroStage. 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.
Centro Nia. 1420 Columbia Rd., NW, Washington DC 20009.
Lawton Community Recreation Center. 4301 Willow Lane, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.
FORUM 2 SCHEDULE
February 5 – Round table discussions
February 19 – Round table discussions
March 5 – Round table discussions
March 19 – Round table discussions
April 2 – Round table discussions
*All meetings at 6:30 p.m., St. Mary’s Armenian Church, Washington, DC.
SPOTLIGHT ON….. HARRY MICHAEL BAGDASIAN
Interviewed by Forum 2’s Paula Stone
1. Your contribution to the theatre has been enormous: as a playwright; director; producer; pioneer in the DC small theatre movement; co-founder of both the New Playwrights’ Theatre and The League of Washington Theatres; someone who helped launch the Helen Hayes Awards. As you look back over the many changes which have occurred in the DC theatre scene since you began, which one do you feel has most benefitted aspiring playwrights?
Honestly, I think the primary thing that has helped aspiring playwrights is the evolution of the Capital Fringe.
Otherwise, I am not sure if the changes in the Washington Theatre scene have helped our resident playwrights that much. Yes, there are more theatre companies, but why are they doing so many used plays? … or so many of the British and European playwrights? It would be nice to see one year when no theatre company within a hundred miles of here did a play by Shakespeare with or without his words. Can you imagine all that costume and set budget money going into a year of new play production? And all those actors! A year without Shakespeare but with the same number of actors on the payroll? For once playwrights would not have to limit their casts to 6 or fewer performers! The producers of today are doing a great disservice to our country by not taking more risks. Why are they non-profit organizations if they are so worried about the box office? And don’t tell me they are not worried about the box office because if they were not worried about the box office they would take more risks by producing new plays. Not courageous enough to produce new plays, but great ability to run capital campaigns.
What has benefitted playwrights in the LEAST is the rise of the 10-minute play competition. I am almost alone in this opinion. How do we expect to nurture good dramatists if we only allow them an audience for their very short works? The three-act form still works (note Danai Gurira’s highly engaging THE CONVERT at Woolly Mammoth), the two-act form still works (Christopher Durang’s wonderful comedy VOINYA AND SONYA AND MASHA AND SPIKE) and the one-act form still works. Why endanger the forms by not offering writers of such access to audiences?
Let me make another observation, something I haven’t seen improve since I created New Playwrights’ Theatre in 1972 and we paid everyone who worked with us $1.00 a performance to cover transportation (that increased to an average of $50 a performance by the time I left in 1984). But here’s my complaint: I am appalled that after three decades of incredible growth, the Washington area’s non-profit theatres are still surviving mostly due to the fact that Washington actors will work for poverty wages! Theatres can raise MILLIONS for building campaigns but they pay actors poverty wages? The actors and the techies that have made theatre production possible in our city have put up with this injustice for too long. People give money for buildings so they can see their names over the front door or on a plaque in the lobby. Maybe the solution to getting more money to play actors and techies is to have each character wear a donor’s name on their back during the performance?
2. Your plays have been produced worldwide, published, commissioned, and won numerous awards. You have written videos, infomercials, and now your first comic novel as an eBook. You also have written, directed and staged events of all sizes (from casts of three to 350 plus six horses) and for such diverse audiences and clients as the military, children, celebrities, politicians. What personal attributes have enabled you to be so versatile and prolific? Which attribute have you most needed to cultivate? What has been your greatest personal challenge during your career?
I get bored easily, so I am always working on something and very happy to take on new challenges. At the same time, as a freelance writer/director with a family I learned to never say no. Back in 1989 or thereabouts, a producer needed an idea for a Marriott Hotels Food & Beverage Managers business meeting. I gave her a verbal pitch for a series of scenes that would involve two fictitious food & beverage managers doing seven comic continuity scenes during the course of a three day business meeting. She loved the idea and pitched it to Marriott. She called me after her meeting with the Marriott folks and told me they wanted it. She asked, “How soon can you start writing?” Even though I had never written sketch comedy in my life, I told her I could start as soon as she wanted me to. That’s when I learned that research is everything. I met with a half dozen Marriott managers and learned all the information I needed to create what might be considered a one-act play in seven comic scenes that poked fun of all the things the managers complained about. It worked. Of course having Scott Sedar and Steven LeBlanc as my two actors helped a great deal as did having a Marriott VP for Food & Beverage as a bell hop in the first scene who helped endear us to the audience.
Another thing that drives me? The people in my head are bullies. When I get a germinal idea and start imagining the characters that would populate the play or story, they begin to get real. They pop up in my thoughts almost independently until I finish their story. This is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is when I am unsure about creating an interesting conflict, I can interview them. Sometimes I wind up with pages of monologue material that help me as I carve out story points and, when I am certain of the story and its structure, write their dialogue. What’s the curse? They haunt me when I don’t finish their story or if I let their play sit in the drawer. Not literally, but they’re on my mind. Example … I occasionally think of Travis Edwards and his daughter Myrna Edwards – the key characters in a trilogy of plays I wrote involving nine interwoven stories. A photograph is used as a plot point in each of the stories as they follow three generations of an American family from 1890 to 1984. I often feel like I have abandoned them. It’s projection, actually. They seem unfulfilled when they are never brought to life by actors just as I feel unfulfilled when that whole world I created in OF TIME AND LIGHT remains only on paper. Perhaps like my one-act play, I will someday get the manuscript into the proper hands.
When it comes to putting our work out there and having it ignored, I am sure many writers like me can relate to the wonderful line Goldman wrote for Paul Newman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” –“I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”
3. You have taught comedy writing and performance for many years and are currently the President of The Comedy Academy. Do you believe anyone can write comedy or does a person need to have a certain knack for it? What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students about writing comedy? What is the hardest lesson for students to learn? What has been your hardest lesson to learn as a comedy writer?
Hardest lesson for them to learn? Punctuation. (No they don’t use it. They disregard capitalization and the use of periods, and they have never met a comma they couldn’t ignore.) Second hardest thing? … when typing a script you are not typing a tweet or a text message. You must write real words! (The issue here: R u kdng me? Adultz wud haf trubl translating their lines so they can be understood… and “yur” is not supposed to replace “you’re!” Geez, am I being an old fuddy-duddy?) My hardest lesson to learn? To be open to suggestions and to collaborate. I used to avoid collaboration. Working with Lisa Itté on over 100 comedy sketches taught me to collaborate and to stop thinking I was the smartest writer in the room. Most often I am not the smartest writer in the room. Years ago I was hired to write a comedy one-act for a big fund-raising event. I was not happy with my script, so I gave 10% of my fee to Bari Biern to punch it up. I learned that hiring a gag writer is a good thing. I also learned that I could collaborate very well with Bari who is an incredible writer.
Writing comedy is something you can do or you can’t. You can learn to get better, but if you don’t have a knack for it, I don’t think you have a future writing it. Young writers are impatient for gratification, for approval. The most difficult thing to teach them is patience and that rewriting is a good thing. It’s also important that they learn to listen to the audience. If they think something is hysterical but the audience doesn’t maybe some rewriting is necessary. Young comedy writers need to understand there are possibilities and that the set up is vital – sometimes more vital than the punchline in a comic progression or the closing line of a sketch. The most difficult thing for young writers is for them to get over the idea that if it doesn’t work in the first draft they should ditch it. Additionally they need to understand that the way Seth McFarland constructs stories for FAMILY GUY, with so many random cutaways and sidebars, does not necessarily work when writing for the stage.
4. Can you describe your creative process, for example, how you “get” ideas for scripts, set pen to blank page, develop and edit scripts? Also, many of your works are collaborations, including four plays for youth with Ernie — what are the key ingredients for a successful collaborative process?
Once I have a germinal idea for a new work I begin with scraps of paper with scribbled notes. The notes soon find their way onto a story board. (This is a great use of old business cards.) Sometimes the notes become a prose narrative (as they did with my collaborations with Ernie). Sometimes the notes are reformed into a story chart. The chart gives each character a column. The top of the column gives their goal and the last space in the column is their result. Then I fill in everything in between for each character so as story points are aligned up and down and across the chart, the conflict can be carefully examined and the story flow given a proper balance.
THE KEY to the collaborative process is trust and to never get ahead of your partner. It’s not easy. Bottom line – talk honestly, challenge each other in a positive way and LISTEN.
5. What has most surprised you about your career? What is the single-most valuable piece of advice you can give aspiring playwrights?
What most surprised me about my career? … that Washington, DC playwrights that I know and love have not received the wide acclaim and numerous productions their works deserve. I am continually frustrated when I attend a reading of a very good play and hear later that no one has optioned it for production. Personally, what surprised me the most is how often I was able to stand at the edge of an area and without being nervous, supervise a production involving a 46 piece orchestra and a cast of about 250 people and two horses.
The best advice I can give is if you truly believe in something you have written, NEVER give up on it. NEVER. Because you never know when the manuscript is going to get into the hands of someone with whom it connects. Let’s face it – from the producer’s point of view, getting a play from page to stage is a major task so if you’re going to produce something it is most likely a play with a story and/or characters that touch your head and your heart otherwise you wouldn’t put in all the work and risk potential heartache that play production can bring. For a literary manager, same thing applies. If you are going to “go to bat” for a play and push it to your artistic director, that play must be worth your time and energy. What makes it so? The play “grabs” you.
That is the bottom line. It’s not enough to have a good story and well-drawn characters speaking wonderful dialogue. When all is said and done I honestly believe that the play either grabs them or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t there is no way whatsoever a producer is going to put their theatre’s resources and their staff’s time behind what you have written. Won’t happen.
So the trick for us playwrights is to keep pitching the manuscripts out there until they find that person. It happened for my one-act play CRRRYIN ON when Kerr Lordygan at the Eclectic Company Theatre in Los Angeles read it last year. Now it is being published and it has a good chance for a life. I have to be optimistic that it will eventually happen with my other plays that I still believe in. There’s another challenge for a writer … being honest with myself about what is good and what isn’t. Some plays belong in a drawer. I have several.
THE LONG STORY OF CRRRYIN ON: Last year I took this play out of the drawer and sent it off to a theatre in LA for their “new works festival of one-acts.” It was produced and it was nicely reviewed and I am now preparing the mss for publication by Dramatic Publishing. Here’s the fun part … I wrote the play and it had its first reading at New Playwrights’ Theatre in 1984. Over the past 29 years I have polished it, sent it around and have seen it rejected by dozens of theatres. My little play went through that cycle three times: sent to several theatres, rejected by many, produced by someone’s small company then sent around further and it received more rejections so it got tossed in the drawer and ignored … again. Several years would pass and I would find the courage to send it out again. It won a small cash prize and production at one theatre 15 or so years ago then the play became ineligible for consideration at many possible theatres. But every so often I would remember the play and send it to a theatre that would do second step productions … and get rejected. My belief that I had honed it to a sturdy story would waver and more rejections would send it back into the drawer. Then it was produced in LA by The Eclectic Company Theatre and after 29 years it is finally getting a chance at a “life outside the drawer” now that it will be published. Can I be sure it will get more productions? There are no guarantees that it will “have legs”. But it certainly is nice to know that my belief in the work paid off.