Songs for the Struggling Artist


Millay and Kerouac Rejections
February 9, 2016, 10:50 pm
Filed under: Rejections, writing | Tags: , ,

I learned a lot about Edna St. Vincent Millay on the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. She was one kick-ass lady and her unconventional extraordinary life is an inspiration for us unconventional artists. So I decided to apply for the residency at her house because I could use that sort of inspiration, to get a little closer to her kind of quiet crazy.

I didn’t get in, though – so I’ll have to make my own unconventional life, I guess.

*

Meanwhile, Jack Kerouac had a house in Orlando, of all places, which they give to writers to write in sometimes.

I have a hard time imagining Kerouac in Orlando so I applied for the residency because I wanted to experience that for myself.

I’m not very Kerouacy though, so I’m not surprised that I didn’t get it. I’m much more Joyce Johnson than Kerouac – though I definitely got a big dose of inspiration from him in my early years.

*

EdnaStVincentMillay

Edna St Vincent Millay

*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

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“I’m encouraging her, actually.”

In a round table discussion featured in The Hollywood Reporter last year, – five white male directors (Richard Linklater, Bennett Miller,  Christopher Nolan, Morten Tyldum and Mike Leigh) and one white female director (Angelina Jolie) discussed their trade. When someone asked Mike Leigh why he was picking on Angelina Jolie, he said, “I’m encouraging her, actually.”

This phrase blew my mind. Because it seemed to me (and probably, also, to the guy who asked the question) that Leigh had been particularly condescending and rude to her. It seemed like a case of the playground phenomena of boys hitting the girls they liked. Mike Leigh’s idea that he was being encouraging was baffling.
This made me question all the times I’ve been condescended to and (seemingly) discouraged over the course of my career. It’s possible that all of those men in power genuinely thought they were being encouraging by being assholes.

This also made me think of all the ways this develops over time. If there’s a whole swath of the population that genuinely thinks they’re encouraging and does it again and again – they must be so baffled by why so many women leave the business or fail to go on to become directors or leaders or whatever it is. Because this kind of “encouragement” is actually incredibly discouraging for almost every woman I know. And if you endure enough of it – it can be enough to get you to quit.

It makes me think of a concept in psychology I just heard about – a sort of cultural bias. That is – the field of psychology has found itself to be culturally biased – that it has a very Western point of view. As an example, the You Are Not So Smart podcast reported that a child in the West will do better when told what he or she has done well. A child in the East will do better when she’s told where she can improve.

In a way, I wonder if we have as big a divide culturally when it comes to gender norms – maybe a male protege of Mike Leigh’s would be encouraged by his condescension. I know I wouldn’t be. Jolie, however, handled it all with grace. She’s experienced enough as a performer to not be thrown by a condescending director. I’m sure she’s received all kinds of “encouragement” over the years.

But – I was struck, too, by the set up of this panel. They put 5 highly experienced male directors – ones who’d been directing their whole lives – in a room with a former actor who had only directed two films so far. In a way, Joile was set up by the panel to be condescended to and “encouraged.” Why not put some true female peer on that panel? Like a Jill Solloway, Julie Taymor and Kathryn Bigelow? I was not encouraged by that set up. But it did all make me think about encouragement – the word itself suggests the putting of courage into someone. Maybe, for some people, they think this means pushing someone until they snap and suddenly fight back. It’s a giving of courage by instilling fear.

But for me and most women I know, this aggressive approach is terribly discouraging – and only makes the challenging work we do against all the odds all the more challenging. In a world with so little gender parity it just feels like an attack on the most vulnerable member of a group. It feels like an assertion of the already implied idea that you don’t belong. You’re the outsider. And all this “encouragement” just serves to remind you how outside you are. I’d love to understand just exactly how Leigh thought he was encouraging Jolie – it might help me understand what’s happening when I experience such “encouragement” myself.

T

 

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What I Wish the American Theatre Would Learn from the Brits #10

# 10 – Creating Welcoming Theatre Spaces

On my last trip to London, I revisited some theatre institutions I’d spent a lot of time in back when I lived there. I hung out at both the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) and the National Theatre. Funny thing was, I didn’t see a show at either one during this trip. I walked in and out of the front doors of both places dozens of times – sometimes to meet friends, sometimes to write in the cafe, sometimes to see what was playing. I felt welcome.
At the BAC cafe, for example, I saw new mothers with their babies.It made me think about how those babies would grow up with the theatre – how that theatre would always be part of the fabric of their lives. Not just the shows they saw but the hours they spent in its walls. I saw design meetings for shows both at the BAC and elsewhere. I saw people of all ages from all ends of the neighborhood. You can feel how these are PUBLIC institutions. Like a library. Everyone is welcome.
There is no American Institution (that I know) that has this kind of atmosphere. American Theatre Institutions are consumption experiences. You come in, you watch the show, you maybe get a quick drink at intermission and you’re out the door.
You can’t just walk into Lincoln Center and feed your baby. You need to be there to buy a ticket for a show. There are cafes in Lincoln Center but you will need to purchase something (expensive) to sit in one. At BAM, where I used to work, there is a restaurant (an expensive one) but it only opens before certain shows and closes by the time the show is over. Furthermore, if you wanted to try and walk into the building, to say, visit someone in an office, you would need to get written or verbal permission from someone upstairs who would have to either come down and get you or call the security desk to let you in and then you would need to show your id. I worked at BAM for over 10 years before I had an ID that actually got me in without having someone come escort me to the office.
Having a truly public theatre spaces means that more people are likely to feel comfortable in them and that only benefits the work – even if someone never actually buys a ticket for a show. If we find ways to make our institutions more welcoming, we increase our audiences, we diversify our audiences, we probably even sell more tickets.

Battersea Arts Centre Cafe - where you can just hang out

Battersea Arts Centre Cafe – where you can just hang out

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Princess Grace Award Rejection
January 4, 2016, 12:29 am
Filed under: Rejections, writing | Tags: , ,

Every year I apply. Every year I am rejected. But that is almost everyone. It’s one of those awards that is actually quite useful in that there’s real money at stake – so even though EVERYONE applies for it and almost NO ONE stands a chance – you sort of feel like you have to try anyway. It’s a little futile dance almost every playwright does every year – because they do have to give it to SOMEONE. Someone does have to win it. It’s just never been anyone I know. And I know a lot of playwrights.

But it would be weird if it were someone I knew, right?

Like – what would it be like if you knew the winner of the Nobel prize?

Actually the odds are better of knowing someone with a Nobel as they give out a lot more of those.

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*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help me weather the storms of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Transforming Victim Theatre

The show was a series of monologues, of testimonials really, of women who’d experienced violence. I’d seen many shows like it before. You might know the genre. It’s a collection of narratives from an ensemble, a catalogue of horror stories. This particular show was well dressed. The aesthetics of the storytelling were well crafted. It was a little different than the usual monologue show in that it would seem that the actors were telling their own stories – which made them particularly hard to hear. For the kind of show it was it was very well done. But if made me long for a new kind of show – one I haven’t seen the likes of before.

At the end of the show, after the catalogue of atrocities committed against these women, the performers showed us a march, the protest in the streets. We finally got to see the women empowered, walking with strength and fury. I wished the show had started there.

I’ve seen women victimized on stage again and again and I’m not so interested in seeing these stories anymore. It’s important for us to tell them, of course, and important for them to be heard but – do we have to stage them, too? Maybe there are people who still need to see them, for whom the atrocities are a surprise and call to action.

However, I realized as I watched the show, that the stories I need to see and hear now are the ones about women who took the shitty things that happened to them and did something about it – or did something great in response to it.

I want to see the story of the student who carried her mattress with her everywhere in protest. I want to see the story of the organizers of Black Lives Matter. I want to see how Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony got us the vote. I want to see the story of Victoria Woodhull, a Gilded Age candidate for president. (Did you know a woman ran for president in 1872? And that she was an advocate for Free Love? I only learned it this year. That’s ridiculous.)

The victim stories are dramatic, I know. Sometimes it’s the only genre that can give women a taste of success and women ARE disproportionately the victims of violence. I’m sure we’ll continue to tell them for as long this shit continues. But I want to see the part of the story where they kicked ass, took names and helped other women.

If we have to tell victim stories, let’s tell them in a new context – as background, perhaps, as the backstory for the awesome power of what these are doing women now.

 

Victoria Woodhull, Presidential Candiate & Bad-Ass

 

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“Shakespeare Sucks”
December 16, 2015, 12:04 am
Filed under: education, Shakespeare | Tags: , ,

Every few months or so, my social media channels light up with outrage about the latest article or blog in which someone declares that s/he hates Shakespeare or thinks Shakespeare is over-rated or that they just don’t want to teach him anymore. The first of these that I read made a little angry, I confess. It was a pretty bone-headed look at work that is complex and intelligent. But the subsequent ones have barely registered with me. I had to check the dates on each new post. Was this the same one or some new one? They all sound the same.

I think sometimes with these sorts of essays, people feel like they’re saying something revolutionary and edgy when they declare their dis-allegiance with Shakespeare. Like when Ira Glass declared that Shakespeare sucks. To me it just seems silly. It‘s like someone writing a post every few months declaring that pizza is no good and we should not have to eat it anymore.

I feel about Shakespeare like I do about pizza. They’re both delicious, classic constructions full of infinite possibility. If you don’t like pizza, that’s fine. You don’t have to eat it. If you haven’t had it, though, you should try it. Try it maybe more than once. If you just have school pizza or frozen pizza, it’s probably not gonna be terrific. Get yourself to a high quality pizzeria that uses fresh ingredients and it will be hard not to find SOMETHING you like.

I realize that, in schools, people sometimes forcefeed folks their Shakespeare – that in that context, it’s a little like that cardboard stuff they call pizza in school cafeterias. Of course people don’t want to eat or teach that. . .but there are dozens of ways to approach teaching Shakespeare that don’t require swallowing it like medicine. (If you need help finding those ways, I know many organizations who could help, not to mention a Shakespeare Consultant who’d be glad to be of assistance – full disclosure – it’s me.)

There are a million pedagogical reasons to teach Shakespeare in schools. Working with Shakespeare can teach you such educationally valuable skills as close reading, text analysis, poetic devices, narrative structures, empathy, motifs, themes and so on. It is rigorous, complex and interesting text. Engaging with it can expand your view of the world. But for me, all of that is beside the point. I teach it because it tastes good to me. It’s the best pizza. And people have continued to teach it for centuries, not because it’s their medicine and they have to take it, but because it gives back when you engage with it.

I have, on occasion, started my residencies with students by asking them to tell me why they think people are still reading and performing these plays 450 years after the writer’s death. Their answers (once they get a taste for it) are never “because it’s part of the canon” or “because we have to.” They point to the richness of expression, the power of the words. Those things work across the centuries.

Are there other plays, other writers, other stories we could be and should be exploring? Absolutely. Explore them too. No one needs to eat ONLY pizza every day. But a world without pizza would be emptier – and less delicious.

I will say, though, that if pizza doesn’t float your boat, then maybe you don’t need to be the one to introduce it to people. Let someone who loves pizza take a newbie to their first pizzeria. And if you honestly hate Shakespeare, it’s fine with me if you don’t teach it. It’s probably better for everyone involved if you don’t have to force something you don’t like down the throats of your students.

But, if you’re an English teacher, it’s hard to imagine you won’t find something to love in it, too. Its basic ingredients include some of the most exciting uses of words in the language. If you love words and hate Shakespeare, it’s a little like loving dough, tomato sauce and cheese but hating pizza. But anything’s possible. If you were forced to eat pizza as a child or there’s just something about it that doesn’t suit you, there’s no need to feel like you have to have it. I’ll be happy to bring your students the Shakespeare. And we can all have pizza together.

margherita-pizza-993274_1280

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Flattering Rejection

I got a nicely written rejection from the Leah Ryan FEWW award. It would be nice if they wrote it especially for me – if it was my work specifically that was (SOME NICE FLATTERING WORDS – I meant to put the actual words here but the rejection letter has now gone missing so just imagine some nice flattering playwright-y words) but I sincerely doubt that they wrote multiple rejection letters.

Rejection letters are tricky because you want them to be somehow palliative but if they’re too complimentary, like this one, they can seem insincere. Surely not EVERY play they read was (MORE FLATTERING WORDS.) It makes me appreciate anew how great the theatres in the UK were at their rejection letters. You knew when they said something about your play that they were actually responding to YOUR work, whether they liked it or not. There were sufficient references to the work at hand to be sure that a human being had read it, processed it and went to the trouble to tell you about their response.

robot-916284_1280

*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help me weather the storms of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page




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