Songs for the Struggling Artist


I Am a (Partially) Vaccinated Puppy
April 6, 2021, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Healthcare, pandemic | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I AM DOSED UP! I got a shot in the arm and I am feeling good. Feels good! Feels good! Just like Lionel Richie exclaimed on the radio in the waiting area as I waited for the man with the megaphone to call my number so I could book the appointment for the next dose.

After hearing the podcast where Sherry Turkle described her feeling of overwhelm in being with so many people at her vaccination center after all the months of isolation, I was worried I’d be a nervous wreck. But I was more like an excited puppy, truth be told.

I was excited like I was going to Disney World. And truthfully, I’ve been to Disney World and I was much more excited to get my vaccine than I was to see Mickey and Minnie.

I feel like, historically, I’ve thought of myself as an introvert but the way I perked up with all those people is making me reconsider. I was like a thirsty person who just came in to a bar from the desert. Yes I will drink that pitcher of water, thank you very much. And the pitcher of water is this group of people making it possible to get so many New Yorkers vaccinated. I will drink them ALL up.

I mean. To GET OUT OF OUR APARTMENT and go to a shitty high school and talk to MULTIPLE PEOPLE and get to say thank you to each and every one of them. I was giddy as hell to be there and when it was over, I couldn’t put my jacket back on because I was burning with relief. Was it relief? Or just a kind of joy at being with other people even in the most bureaucratic insane situation. Like, they’re all doing this incredibly tedious job of shuttling people from one place to another – and it’s for me, it’s like – I GET TO COME HERE AND GET A SHOT IN MY ARM THAT EVENTUALLY WILL ALLOW ME TO SEE PEOPLE I LOVE, TO DO STUFF AGAIN. HOW CAN I NOT JUST EFFUSE ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE? I TOOK THE SUBWAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OVER A YEAR AND IT WAS SCARY BUT ALSO MAYBE A LITTLE BIT EXCITING! HI EVERYONE! HELLO! I’m just…HELLO!

Yes – we are in a shitty high school with a shitty cafeteria and a shitty gym and a dirty restroom but I have spent many many hours teaching in such places (not the restroom!) so this was like a trip to the old shitty high school homestead. (But this one has planes parked in their yard?! Man, this school is weird.) I have walked in sunny to such rainy day places before and never have I ever valued that experience more. I know the vibes of school secretaries who are tired of everyone’s bullshit – but in this case – they’re not school secretaries, they’re people trying to move large numbers of humans through a complex maze of patient numbers, lines, second appointments and safety precautions. But it’s like – I walked into that school the way I’ve walked into many a school before it – ready to charm the school secretaries into giving me the key to the rest room. But this time – it worked. First, I didn’t need a key to get into the restroom and second no one working the vaccination site is as hardened as a school secretary. So I felt like a hot knife through butter.

But saying I went in there with my school energy makes it sound like I was doing an act at the vaccine center – and it was nothing of the sort. It was all a surprise to me. I came in fully prepared to freak out about all the people after so long in isolation. I thought I’d be shaking and huddled up in a corner and instead found myself radiating sunshine like a damn solar lantern. Did I fall in love with the nurse who gave me the vaccine? A little bit, yes. I was just so happy to be there and she got such a kick out of me being happy to be there, it was a really nice time. Sure, she stuck a needle in my arm – but she did it with love, man.

I keep hearing people being worried about what it will be like to see people in person again and I honestly have not for a moment worried about that, though I understand the feeling. (“Will I know how to small talk anymore? How do we hang out?”) I’ve been pretty sure I’ll be mostly just delighted to see all the humans I know and from what I’ve seen today, it seems likely that I’ll be an enthusiastic puppy. I mean, I know not to jump on people and I will do my best not to lick any faces but I will be ready to play.

Actual footage of me at my vaccination

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I’m Mad About Kiss Me, Kate

Look, I know they made Kiss Me, Kate over 70 years ago but I am mad about it today. I’m sorry. Sometimes my rage is not on time.

Did you know that a woman wrote the book for this musical? I did not. I work in theatre, fanatically listened to the Broadway cast album in my youth, have seen at least two productions, I care about women’s achievements in this field and I did not know that a woman wrote Kiss Me, Kate. How did I miss that?

Turns out that even though she wrote it, the production team persuaded her to let them bill her with her husband, so it is credited to Bella and Samuel Spewack instead of just Bella Spewack. Even though they were in the middle of a divorce and Sam Spewack’s only contribution was that he punched up a few of the Tough Guys’ lines, he still got the credit as a full writer on the show. And in a pair like this, it is, of course the man’s name that is important. Apparently even for a feminist musical theatre lover like myself. Her name might as well not have even been there. Gets me all worked up!

And I can totally see how this happened. I think it could probably even happen today. The producers think a show about a married theatre couple will sell better if it’s written by a married theatre couple and so, because the writer wants the show to sell, she is persuaded to add her husband’s credit to her own. But the fact is, if Sam Spewack had been the sole writer of a show, they would never have asked him to share the credit with his wife, and if they had, he’d very likely have said no, especially during the time they were going through a divorce. And that would have been the end of it. Surely Bella Spewack also said no at first. And at a certain point, she had to yield. And decades later, I discover that a woman wrote a foundational Broadway musical. And while I understand why she felt like she had to yield to this request to share her credit, I feel like I’m the reason why she shouldn’t have let it go. Not me specifically of course – but all the theatre women who came after her, desperate for a role model.

Listen, I know that the Book Writer is the least sexy writer on a musical. No one chooses to go to a musical because of the person who wrote the text. I know that. But STILL. I think if I’d realized that there was a woman behind one of the great foundational works of American Musical Theatre, in any capacity, I think I’d have gotten a little more spring in my step. I’d have known that, even in the 1940s, a woman accomplished a really extraordinary thing.

And I’m sorry – but a husband-wife team just doesn’t do the same thing. It was Bella Spewack, on her own, who collaborated with Cole Porter to create this piece. It was Bella Spewack, alone, who made the decisions about how to create these characters, how to engage with the Shakespearean source material. It was Bella Spewack, by herself, who negotiated with the producer about the gig. All while her husband was wooing the ballerina he’d left her for. And sure – they did eventually get back together again and wrote more things as a team so maybe for them, it didn’t matter at all. Maybe it was nice for Bella Spewack to think of the work she’d done on her own as part of a continuum with her creative work with her husband. But it’s not nice at all for the women who came after her. I should have KNOWN Bella Spewack’s name. I should have heard of her work, even outside of Kiss Me, Kate. She was a successful writer BEFORE she was asked to write this show. Her male contemporaries names are canonized. I did not know her name before reading about this in James Shapiro’s book Shakespeare in a Divided America.

I know I’m late to the party on this. I wish I’d been celebrating Bella Spewack all along, along with the only other foundational Broadway Musical woman I can think of, Betty Comden.

The American theatre has an incredibly short memory. We have a few white guys we remember and the rest disappear into history – or into their husband’s credits. I’m so furious that her team convinced Bella Spewack that her credit wasn’t important, when surely none of them would have shared credit with their wives. It was another time, sure – but we needed Bella Spewack’s actual credit for history. For us now.

And I know somebody out there is saying, “How could you not know Bella Spewack? That’s ridiculous! I know all about Bella Spewack!” To which I say, “Good! I’m glad you know her. That’s good. But the problem is that I did not.” And I absolutely should have. If I know Oscar Hammerstein’s name or Alan Lerner or Adolph Green or Noel Coward’s name, I should ALSO know Bella Spewack’s. And I did not. It was not even familiar. Cole Porter, I know. I even recognize the names of some of the 1940s theatre actors. But not Bella Spewack. And I should have. Now I do. And so do you, in case you missed it, like me.

Bella Spewack. By herself.

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WTF with Jake Gyllenhaal

Granted, I’m a little wound up. Theatre’s been on (really stinky) mothballs for a year and I’m really tired of my tiny apartment. So. Forgive me if this response to a little podcast episode I listened to is a little overblown. But – WTF! Actually the name of the podcast is WTF and that is also literally how I felt after listening to the episode with Jake Gyllenhaal.

It’s not Gyllenhaal’s fault – or Maron’s fault. (Marc Maron is the host. It’s his podcast.) It’s just that their talk about theatre made me feel a lot of things and most of them weren’t good.

First, a couple of people who spend most of their time in the Film and TV worlds waxing rhapsodic about theatre is always a little triggering. Like – Yes. You’re right. There is magic in a theatre with an audience. It is the greatest. Damn it. Ouch. Now go back to making your money.

Second, and this is the bit that is getting me all itchy and twisted, Gyllenhaal was describing how the show Sea Wall/A Life came about – and on one hand, it is a super sweet story about how a collaboration became a show that a lot of people really liked. (I did not see it.) On the other hand, it is an infuriating journey through the fame-hungry annals of American theatre. I mean. Listen, Gyllenhaal is a movie star. I like a lot of things he’s done. I got no beef with him. He seems nice and he’s fun to look at on a screen. It’s charming that people fall asleep next to him on the subway.

But lord have mercy. This movie star loved a little personal piece by a writer he worked with and wanted to perform it, even though it was not written to be performed. But the movie star wanted to do it so he eventually persuaded the writer to let him do it and that writer was buddies with another writer who also had a short monologue that wasn’t really for the stage and so they put the two pieces together and voila! Play! Which – you know – cool! That’s cool. Put on whatever you want!

But. Then there’s the part where the movie star gets a year’s worth of development of this piece at the Public Theater. He got to fuck around for a YEAR at the Public, with all its resources at his disposal, discovering what this piece could be.

And FLAMES. FLAMES on the side of my face!

Why, Emily? Do you not WANT to go see Jake Gyllenhaal on the stage? I mean, I’d go if someone gave me a ticket. I can’t afford those prices! But that’s not it. I don’t object to a movie star getting to put on a play. I don’t object to him taking all the time he needs to make something he loves. But what I DO object to are our non-profit institutions giving time and space to movie stars when there are so many worthy, unsupported theatre folk out there who would take a year residency at the Public and absolutely murder it. I know that’s not how the Pubic works. I know that it will give space to celebrities because they’ll bring in audiences later and it’s all very logical.

But it does rather feel like if a movie star read a cereal box that they thought might be a fun show, the Public would give over all its resources so we could all see the story of Honey Nut Cheerios or whatever. Maybe we got lucky and Jake Gyllenhaal’s buddy’s piece was really the best thing seen on a stage and so yay! (Again, I don’t know. I did not see Sea Wall/A Life.) But it is indicative of how stuff goes on. Or went on. I don’t know what sort of theatre we’ll get back when we get back.

I don’t expect the Public to let me come develop a show there. It’s not about me. (Though, give me space in a major institution with their resources behind me and watch the fuck out!) But what it IS about are all the resources that artists need to be able to get a leg up in this theatre world being given over to celebrities and corporate interests and more and more narrow pipelines. The Public wants to be seen as an inclusive diverse bastion of creativity – but when it comes down to it, their choicest reserves are for a group of a white movie star guys. Also, the guy who runs the place is a white guy whose compensation adds up to a million dollars a year. He gets paid that money to give space to movie stars.

And it’s not even about the Public. Any theatre in the country would have given Jake Gyllenhaal space to develop his little idea. But anyone who’s not a movie star will probably have to go to Yale Drama School first and even then no one will give them a year to develop something.

And listen – I know Gyllenhaal is not unaware of his privilege. He knows theatre is elitist. He explains that that’s why he became a Broadway producer and produced Jeremy O Harris’ Slave Play. And that is a good thing. It is good to see a play by a Black playwright featuring Black people on Broadway. And congrats to Yale grad, Jeremy O Harris for breaking a barrier. But this barrier breaking play took a Yale grad AND a movie star to get there. Also – I was struck by the fact that in the WTF conversation about elitism on Broadway, the extremely unaffordable ticket prices never came up.

Anyway – whatever. It’s fine. It’s really just a silly little reaction to a podcast I listened to and then couldn’t stop thinking about and feeling things about. There might not even be any theatre when this is all over. There’s no reason to get all worked up right now.

But after listening to that podcast, I worry it’s going to be JUST movie stars in our theatre from here on out. They’ll be the only ones who can afford to do it at a certain point. And all the theatres will line up to give them space.

Usually WTF stands for What the F**k and it does here, too – but maybe also Well, Theatre’s F**ked

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Sexy Jobs

What jobs are the sexiest? Like, if you want a character to be appealing and captivating and sexy, what job do you give them? Let’s say you want them to be at the center of a story – what job do they have? If you want to signal to an audience, “This character is sexy,” what do they do?

Apparently, in Spain, if your main character is a woman, the answer is “modista” – a modista is a seamstress, but not just a seamstress or dress maker, she’s also a designer. I am on my second Spanish period drama which features a modista at the center and it made me start to wonder what the sexy jobs are in our culture. Like – some of them are the same. The actor who plays the modista’s love interest in both shows plays a pilot in one and a war journalist in the other. Those are sexy jobs for men. They are just as popular here as I imagine they are in Spain.

But we don’t put seamstresses in our TV shows. I can’t think of a single American TV show that stars a seamstress. But in thinking about it, I realize that we also don’t make a lot of period dramas that place women at the center. I’m having trouble even thinking of one. If women have jobs at the center of a show in American TV, they’re mostly contemporary. They are nurses or lawyers or writers or doctors.

Certainly I don’t know all the shows there are. There are more and more all the time – but I am thinking of every workplace drama set in the past that I can remember and not one of them is American. (For the record, when thinking of women at work shows, I came up with Bletchley Circle, The Mill and Call the Midwife but these are all BBC shows.)

Anyway – I think I may have worked out a factor of why I am so obsessed with Spanish TV. Almost every show I’ve watched features women at work in the early 20th century. Some of those jobs are sexy (see modista, switchboard operator, chambermaid, novelist, hotel matriarch, amateur detective, secretary) and some are less so (housekeeper, innkeeper, the sexy modista’s stern modista mom). I don’t know that it’s the sexiness of the occupations of these women that interest me or just the fact that I get to watch groups of women at work together.

Because women have largely been left out of history books, I long for stories of women in the past. I found this Ms. magazine article about women’s history chilling. An English teacher tells a group of students, “Wouldn’t it be great if history books had as much information about women as men?” and hears her students say, “But women didn’t do anything.” I mean. They said that THIS Century! Something like twenty years IN to this century! This century – when they absolutely should have been exposed to more inclusive history or read things that haven’t actively excluded women’s contributions. So I find TV that highlights women at work in the past almost irresistible, particularly since the stories we’ve all absorbed from the culture have tried to convince us that women working is a new invention.

Watching women at work in the past scratches an itch for me I didn’t know I had. And yes, I know that period drama is not history but it does tend to expand one’s historical perspective. I know a whole heck of a lot more about Franco’s Spain and its relations with Europe and Morocco than I did before my dipping my toes, via Spanish TV, in those worlds. Outlander may feature time travel through fairy stones but I do know a bunch more about the Jacobite Rebellion and the Battle of Culloden in Scotland than I did before I watched it.

Anyway – if sexy jobs are what get us to tune in to stories about women and particularly about women in the past, I am really all for it. I don’t know what American early 20th Century jobs will be sexy enough for our people but I would like to watch one please. A Rosie the Riveter drama maybe? I mean, it’s a gimmee, right? Women in a factory working together? Does this exist and I just don’t know about it? (I know there’s a Canadian show about this. I would like to watch that, too. I’m gonna need a better International streaming platform, please.)

Meanwhile, I am still very curious about what the sexy jobs are. Male romantic leads tend to be architects and female romantic leads do things like run cupcake or pie shops. But are those sexy? I don’t know. Chime in. What are the sexy jobs? And can we have a TV show about them?

Sexy Dummy

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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I Guess I Have to Talk About Cuomo

The governor of New York, where I live, is all over the news again and as much as I’d really rather not think too much about Governor Andrew Cuomo, I’m seeing so many bonehead responses to this story that I think I’m going to have to say something.

I will say, just right off the bat, I am not a fan of him. I have not been a fan. I have voted against him every chance I’ve gotten. I found him tolerable for the first time when he became a voice of reason in the early pandemic times – but even his reassuring statements about what day of the week it was were not enough to turn me into a “CuomoSexual.” I understand why people got crushes on him but his history of throwing women’s reproductive rights under the bus, for example, kept me from any particularly warm feelings. I just didn’t hate him as hard while he was telling me it was Tuesday back in April.

I’ve seen him in person (when the new subway line opened a few years ago) and I will tell you, he was like a bag of oil in a human suit. I’ve never seen anyone oilier. And I was once the person a drunk Kevin Spacey needed help from.

I think Cuomo’s been a lousy governor. It’s not just the absolute disregard for accountability or compassion for the folks living and working in nursing homes during the pandemic, though I find that stomach turningly reprehensible. I am not a fan of his alignment with real estate interests (always – but in the last year especially when he killed all chances for the Cancel Rent movement to give a bit of relief to suffering unemployed and underemployed people). His association with the IDC was another real blot on his leadership. If you need more reasons, I highly suggest this article from Rebecca Traister about the climate in his office and how it prevented actual governing getting done, this article from Teen Vogue last spring about why he shouldn’t be your pandemic crush or this one from The Guardian about why he’s a mini-Trump.

So I’ll acknowledge that I’ve been ready for this bag of oil to go for some time. Then the first story about his sexual harassment of his employee came out. Again. It came out months ago on Twitter but I guess no one cared then. This time, his former employee wrote a piece about it herself and it hit.

It’s the kind of story that is so common that it allows a lot of people to dismiss it. It’s the kind of story that if it happens to you is, it’s a total misery and when you tell people, they’ll either tell you it was no big deal or want you to report it. It’s been so recently normal for dirt bag men to behave that way that scores of people line up to dismiss it. “Who hasn’t been harassed like that?” they say. “What’s the big deal?” And then they say the one that’s been driving me craziest. “If we aren’t going to prosecute Trump for his pussy grabbing, we shouldn’t worry about Cuomo’s harmless flirtations.”

And this, my friends, is why Trump getting away with the 22 rapes and multitudes of sexual assaults should have been prosecuted years ago. The bar is now so low that no one could possibly suffer consequences for any reprehensible behavior.

Is Cuomo as bad as Trump? No. But Trump is REALLY TERRIBLE. You’d have to be really really bad to be as bad as him. (Though I did just listen to a podcast about a guy who was even worse than Trump in this department. I mean. It seems there’s always someone who is worse and got away with something for longer.)

To me it sounds like: “How can we hold this guy accountable for stabbing his buddy when that other serial murderer down in Florida got away with killing so many people? It’s just a little bad behavior.” It’s classic whataboutism, really.

Is this one story about Cuomo being a really terrible horn dog boss enough to take him down?

Unfortunately, no. But the behavior that was described by Lindsey Boylan is such that it was obvious that there would be more. Long before anyone else came forward, we knew there would be more women with similar stories. Because this sort of behavior is a pattern and it reflects a general disregard for women. Also, one brave woman tends to lead to more brave women willing to come forward. So I certainly expected more to appear. And more certainly did. When I wrote this, there were two more. As I type this, there are 5 more. Who knows how many more will emerge by the time I push publish?

But for people who love Cuomo, it doesn’t seem too bad. They’d LIKE for him to flirt with them! They WISH Cuomo would put his hand on THEIR lower back and then grab their faces and ask if he could kiss them. That sounds nice to them! They’d definitely say YES to that request! It’s like if George Clooney slid up to them at a party and offered to take them home. It’s sexy! For them.

But for women who reported these incidents, it was NOT sexy. It was entirely unwanted. And, in at least two cases, it was further complicated by his ability to fire them or ruin their job prospects. For these women, it’s not like their boss is George Clooney and they feel lucky to be the focus of his attentions. It’s like their boss is George Costanza. (Also, I would, for sure, rather be hit on by George Costanza than Andrew Cuomo. I know how to push off the Costanzas of the world. Cuomo would be a lot harder to escape.)

The problem is not that Cuomo just got a little too flirty at some parties or his job. The problem is that he has demonstrated a lack of respect for women, for women’s bodies, for women’s boundaries and their agency. He has demonstrated, by his behavior with the women who have reported, that he has little respect for half the population of the state he governs. This isn’t some leftist plot to treat liberal politicians with more stringent guidelines. And it turns out he’s actually terrible to everyone, not just women. He’s just terrible to women in particularly sexist ways.

This kind of behavior is a clear indication of his lack of ability to govern with discernment and care. That lack of care has been clear to me (and so many others) for some time, but for some, this is the first time they’re getting the picture. In regards to his failures around the nursing homes last year, he said, “But who cares? 33, 28. Died in the hospital. Died in the nursing home. They died.”

Honestly, he should resign off the back of that wretched statement alone but if it’s the sexual harassment that gets him, that’s good, too.

There are reasons to put a check on this behavior, even on politicians we like. If it turns out that Elizabeth Warren, who I admire greatly, was out there abusing her power with her staffers, I’d be very surprised, of course, as it would be very far outside her character – but I’d expect her to resign as well. This isn’t about who we like and don’t like. The thing is, if there are no consequences, then the behavior just continues. And it usually gets worse, since the harasser feels a sense of impunity. If you want to hear a chilling example of this, I recommend listening to the series Women in the Room which explored sexual harassment in New York politics in years previous. The story of Vito Lopez’s office was particularly horrifying. He was once my representative, too, back when I lived in Brooklyn. When he first faced accusations, he was (metaphorically) given a pat on the back and told not to do it anymore. This emboldened him to make even more overt demands of the new women in his employ.  In his wake, a slew of women who had wanted a career in politics but had it harassed out of them by a guy who just enjoyed a little flirtation, who just needed a little “support,” as he put it. A little massage. Some company in his lonely hotel room. No need to worry that saying no will lose you your job and any future in politics you might be looking for! It will definitely do that! And then some!

Cuomo needs to see some consequences to his actions because all of those who are harassing below him need to see those consequences. We need to ensure that Cuomo experiences consequences because he will be the reason someone else won’t be accountable for THEIR terrible behavior. In the same way that Trump not experiencing any consequences from the rapes of 22 women and girls is allowing many a bozo to justify not holding Cuomo accountable for sexual harassment.

A woman is the Lieutenant Governor and would finish out Cuomo’s term. New York has never had a woman governor. If we’d like to show New York’s women some respect, Cuomo should resign. If he won’t resign (which it looks like he won’t) then we need to impeach him. I, for one, would be very relieved not to have a sentient bag of oil for our governor anymore.

Pour some oil in a skin suit and you’ve got yourself a governor!
(Photo by Leandro Callegari via Unsplash)

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Some Invisible Gifts of Theatre Training

A lot of my theatre friends have been working in other fields lately, partly due to not being able to actually work in theatre in these times. I’ve had a fair number of conversations about how weirdly non-theatre people do things. (Apologies to all you non-theatre folk. I know we’re really the weird ones but you’re weird to us in some ways!) This has made me think about some of the things the performing arts train us for, that aren’t just singing high notes and how to do pas de Bourrees.

One thing I’ve really come to value about theatre people (and performing arts people in general but I’m going to let theatre people stand in for everyone since I know them best) is our ability to collaborate. And I know, blah blah, we all know collaboration is a thing. I can’t tell you how many theatre education meetings I’ve sat in where we sell the fact that we teach kids how to collaborate. But what does that really mean? We teach folks how to work together. Okay. Who out there in the work force thinks they didn’t learn that? Everyone thinks they know how to collaborate. The thing is that theatre people know how to collaborate in a very particular way. We know how to work with a group of disparate people with multiple specialties and work together to get something done on time and on budget.  Theatre people are always on time and on budget when it comes to deadlines. This means we not only know how to collaborate, we know how to do it quickly. The curtain is going up at a particular time on a particular day and we are built to make sure that happens to the best of everyone’s ability. Show folk know how to do things quickly. We know how to get on with it. We know how to make it fast and we know how to pivot on a dime.

Example: We can’t afford the orange shoes? Ok. Maybe we get some white ones and dye them or shine an orange light on them and how much do we really need these orange shoes? Can they be purple or can we just do the show without them? And show people will make that call in a few minutes.

One thing I’ve noticed about meetings or collaborations with non-theatre folk is that even the smallest decisions can often take an unholy amount of time. And by unholy I mean infinitely frustrating to a theatre person who is used to working quickly. If you are in a meeting with a theatre person, you should know that they are very likely imagining clapping their hands and thinking, “Go, go, go, go, go!” Sometimes I feel like half of the job of theatre directing is telling everyone to pick up the pace. And I’ve also wanted to say it at every non-theatre meeting I’ve ever been to.

Another thing I’ve come to appreciate about theatre is our understanding of the need for a leader. I think this is related to the awareness of the curtain time. Even the most collaborative of processes, the most communal of groups, recognizes the need for someone to be the voice of leadership even if they’re not the boss. We have stage managers who will make sure we take a break. We have directors who make the final call on a lighting question the designer’s been wrestling with the costume designer about. There is always someone to decide. There is always someone running the show. And if no one is running the show in another context, outside of the performing arts, I can almost guarantee you that the performing artist will step up for that role if they care at all about what the group is doing. Theatre people sense a leadership vacuum and almost everyone will step in to fill it if necessary. If the dance captain is not there to run the rehearsal, someone else will do it. Same goes for the marketing meeting.

Theatre people would almost always prefer to be doing instead of talking about doing. We want to get through a meeting quickly because we need to get back to rehearsal. And we open in three days! Also, moving quickly is a great way to actually make things happen instead of getting stuck in talking about them. Sometimes I think 90% of my work as a theatre educator was just shouting “Five more minutes” even if we actually had ten. I’m sorry I lied to you, students – but it was the best way to get you moving.

Another obstacle my theatre friends are running into in other fields is a lack of creativity, particularly in problem solving. Theatre folk love to solve a problem. Sometimes we make problems just so we can solve them. Ever hear about someone making drama? That’s us. (Though we really do prefer to keep it onstage.) But really, we make problems to solve. Sometimes those problems are relationship or story problems (What will the Prince do when the ghost of his father tells him he was murdered by the current king?) and some are design problems. I used to describe the heart of my theatre making as just problematizing. I’ll give you an example from my real creative life. First day of rehearsal/devising on a project. I brought a bunch of newspapers, tape and string and asked my actors to stage scenes inspired by several highly visual paintings. This is a problem. There isn’t a logical solution. Whatever they invent is not going to look anything like the source material. But results are a study in creativity. That’s exciting stuff for me.

Theatre people are built to find a way. It’s part of the reason we can be kind of annoying when someone tells us something is impossible. We can make the sun rise in a small space using only light and imagination. We’re not inclined to believe that things aren’t possible.

In other fields, when someone says, “Oh, we can’t change that rule because we don’t have the data,” the non-theatre folk will shake their heads and say, “That’s too bad. Oh well.” The theatre person asks, “How do we get the data?” And eventually this leads to a heist movie with six union reps breaking into an administrator’s file cabinet. No, no, it probably doesn’t. But we would entertain it as a possibility! Theatre folks don’t give up when a problem is on the line.

This is part of the reason that I’m convinced that if someone had entrusted the vaccine rollout to theatre people we’d all be vaccinated by now. Seriously, there’s an entire field of people out of work who are used to managing large groups of people, who do things quickly and efficiently and are not daunted by impossible tasks. Let’s get ourselves a new WPA and our first show is The Vaccine Rollout.

Can theatre people be annoying? Yes. The most. We are the worst. But we tell good stories and there are a lot of things we learn to do that are worth every silly penny of our theatre training education.

It might seem like I’m here to pat theatre folk (and therefore myself) on the back – to give out some awards in a year where there definitely won’t be any – but really, it’s a plea to recognize that some of the gifts of an arts education are not obvious and yet also extremely valuable. Arts funding has been gutted. Money for arts education in the city where I live is gone. I understand why that happened. (How do you teach theatre on Zoom? Personally, I don’t know but I know a lot of people who’ve figured it out, so hey – bring it on back!) but the results have an impact on things far beyond the artists who lost their jobs or the students who lost their art class. Every time I hear about my theatre friends’ experience in other fields, I am reminded of the gifts of an arts education that even I hadn’t noticed. Sometimes we try to sell our work as good for collaboration! Or great for teaching empathy and tolerance! Or – I don’t know what we say any more. But maybe we need to get more specific. Maybe we need to lay it on the line. Talk ourselves up. Give ourselves some awards.

Also – if you’re looking for an employee who completes projects on time and on budget, who knows how to take charge in a group and who can problem solve creatively and quickly, might I suggest a theatre person? They’re all out of work right now. You could probably get any one you wanted. And you’re sure to get some good stories to go along with them. Just be prepared to pick up the pace.

When you can’t afford a real dragon, just make one out of lamp shades and hula hoops.
Photo of Research and Development of Messenger Theatre Company’s The Door Was Open by Kacey Anisa Stamats

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This Sucks

Hey everyone – just in case you hadn’t noticed, this whole situation really sucks. I know this seems obvious and it is. But the fact that it’s obvious and that we’re all experiencing it, doesn’t make it suck any less. It sucks. Totally and completely. I just thought it might be important to acknowledge the suckitude.

I’ve been seeing (virtually, of course, not so much IRL because I don’t see much IRL) a lot of people working really hard to be okay, to make a positive out of this giant negative and I’m seeing a lot of folks really suffer because of it. I think the American strategy of thinking positive and putting on a brave face is starting to really crack at the seams. I was in a shop the other day and when I asked the cashier how he was doing, he said, very brightly, “I have no complaints!” I found it very jarring, frankly. No complaints? Really? None? I did not say so, though. I just sputtered something, matching his cheeriness, like, “No complaints? Wow. Well, that’s great!”

I cannot imagine having no complaints. But of course, just below the surface of this very cheery statement of no complaint was a WORLD of complaints. He didn’t share them with me (nor did I expect or want him to) but he then told me that complaints were for home. Here, at his place of work, he must always bring the positive attitude. He told me he could not share such complaints with other people. I asked, “What if someone has the same complaint? Then you could commiserate.” But he did not see the appeal of this strategy.

I think he may not be alone in that thinking. It is very American to try and Positive Think one’s way out of a bad situation. It seems to have pretty much been the only strategy for dealing with Covid 19 that was employed by the Trump Administration. Think Positive! (“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”) It continues to be the strategy a lot of Americans employ. The “I won’t get sick. I’m strong! I don’t need to wear a mask! If I just believe it hard enough, I will be fine!”

But even for those who are taking precautions, who are wearing their masks, who are staying at home, who are maintaining social distance, there’s a whole lot of Staying Positive work happening. (“I’m getting so much time with my family! I made bread! I can learn a new language if I want!”) But it’s getting harder and harder to put a positive shine on this business. I think we may need to find some release valves for everyone.

For me – just acknowledging that it sucks is helpful. Every so often just saying it out loud or texting it to a friend or shouting it while doing an interpretative dance can really make a difference. It SUCKS, y’all! This SUCKS. It sucks to wear a mask. It sucks to not see our friends. It sucks to be stuck in a tiny ass apartment with not one single comfortable place to sit. It sucks to have no theatre.  It sucks not to be able to go to the movies. It sucks not to go to restaurants. It sucks not go to concerts. It sucks, it sucks, it sucks. It sucks not to be able to browse around bookstores. It sucks not to recognize people on the street. It sucks to not know when this madness will actually end. It sucks not to be able to sit in cafés and stare out the window. It sucks not to have any use for the lipstick I found in my coat pocket from last winter and still somehow don’t have the heart to remove. It sucks to have every single meal at the same table sitting on the same stool. It sucks to not really know what day of the week it is because it doesn’t really matter. It sucks to not see our families. There are a multitude of ways that this sucks that are beyond just dealing with the realities of the virus.

I think a lot of the people who are resisting the restrictions, who refuse to wear masks or limit their contacts are largely not used to things sucking that they can’t put a positive spin on, so instead of acknowledging the suck, they just get angry and refuse to participate.

The American way has historically been that when things suck, we just forge ahead, pretend that everything is fine – that there isn’t racism anymore, for example, that we’ve solved inequity and everyone can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they don’t have any boots.

I don’t think this is working anymore. I don’t think we can Positive Think our way out of this. Everyone I know is struggling. We’re hanging in there but it is hard. It sucks. I can’t pretend otherwise. I have complaints and I feel better every time I can share them with someone. What’s that saying? A trouble shared is a trouble halved? I’m not sure it works quite as well as halving a trouble but it does help and if you need to tell someone how much all this sucks, please feel free to share all the suckitude here in the comments.

But what about gratitude? Shouldn’t we practice feeling grateful and lucky? I actually don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have survived. Honestly, I suspect anyone who stayed here in NYC in April feels a profound sense of gratitude for how lucky we are not to be among the dead or hospitalized. I am awash in my good fortune of remaining healthy and in my privilege at being able to protect myself and others by staying home. And it sucks. I’m lucky to be alive! And every day feels almost exactly the same and that sucks.

I suspect that my current willingness (and need) to express the suckage is partly because the worst part of this storm was almost a year ago for me. The storm is surging elsewhere these days so I do have the space and the air to feel something besides relief at my survival. Others in this country are not so lucky right now. That sucks. That sucks for everyone.

Things suck, in varying degrees, and we have to be able to say so. No matter how much more things suck for someone else, they can still suck for you. I’m not a psychologist but I’ve read enough about mental health to know that saying what’s actually happening tends to be a good idea. Pretending that something that sucks doesn’t suck is a surefire way to twist yourself up.

Partly, I think we’re not talking about how much this sucks because it’s so obvious. What is there to talk about? It sucks in the same relentless way, every day the same sort of suckage. People are connecting with one another less because they have so little to report. “What are you up to?” “Oh, you know, exactly what I was up to for the previous eleven months.” And we don’t want to complain, when so many people are sick or dying or managing their job Zooms and children’s Zooms simultaneously. The specifics of our complaints feel so pointless to share. But I think we at least need to acknowledge that it sucks. Or, as we do in our apartment, joke about how great everything is. We swing between saying, “Hey – you know what? This whole thing sucks!” and “Just in case you hadn’t noticed, everything is absolutely great and everyone is having a marvelous time.”

Things suck right now and while there are reasons to believe they will get better, they still suck for the moment and I think it’s important to say so. At least for me. For my buddy at the shop, he may need to insist on a world of no complaints and if it helps him get through this moment, then that is good. I am not here to take away anyone’s crutch if it’s helping them move forward. But for me, though, this all sucks and I gotta say so.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Men Crying

Disculpe, pero – I cannot stop watching Spanish television shows during this pandemic. This is the third time, I know, but I’m on my fourth Bambú show and watching it (and the others) has made me think about something I had never really considered before.

It was during the finale of Season 2 of Velvet (a show about a high fashion couture store in Madrid in the 50s) that I thought, “watching that character cry is one of my favorite things onscreen. I could watch that guy cry for five more hours.” And that reminded me of how much I enjoyed the crying of another man in another show by the same production company, Gran Hotel. These creators show men crying in a way I have never seen in American media.

I’ll start with my favorite crying man and the one who inspired me to think about this. On Velvet, Pedro is often the comic relief of the show. He’s a man who cannot stop talking, especially about the woman he loves, to absolutely everyone – strangers on the train, his boss, anyone who will listen. It’s very funny and a little ridiculous, but heartfelt. And this character also cries fairly often – almost always from joy. We don’t really see him crying from sadness or despair.  He cries, tears streaming down his face, from love and affection. He cries with love for his son, for his friends and for the woman for whom he pines. I find it quite beautiful and I do not think I’ve ever seen such a thing on American TV. I’ve seen it in real life, I’m grateful to say. But on screen? Never before.

Anyway – the tears that really made me think about this were not Pedro’s love-sick tears. They were his tears of empathy. Pedro (played by Adrián Lastra, by the way. I shouldn’t ignore the extraordinary skill of this actor in this.) expressed his sympathy to an older man who had lost the woman he loved and Pedro’s eyes filled with tears and so did mine and damned if we didn’t all cry together. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. Two men crying together is apparently my jam. Attn. American media producers: I think you can start to make a dent in your toxic masculinity machine by putting more crying men on your screens!

Which brings me to the other crying man – the one from Gran Hotel. Unlike Pedro on Velvet who is pure clumsy goodness, Diego on Gran Hotel is the bad guy. We know he’s bad from the minute we meet him. He’s manipulative and dangerous and from the start we are worried about the female lead who is being compelled to marry him. He is trouble with a capital T. And, as the show goes on, he turns out to be a crier. He cries about genuinely difficult stuff. He cries over his troubled personal history and over his feelings for Alicia, the female lead. In fact, I think it is only when he is with Alicia that we see him cry. He sometimes seems to be genuinely distressed and sometimes seems to be using his emotions to manipulate her. I found it really extraordinary to watch a villain authentically cry. I feel like I’ve seen villains perform tears before – usually in a mocking way like, “Boo hoo hoo, Batman. I’ll get you later.” But I have never seen a bad guy use his own real tears as a weapon in his arsenal. I found it extraordinarily compelling. Because Diego’s tears are successful at shifting the tone of the room he’s in, in the fiction – but also in my response as an audience member. He evokes my sympathy, too, even though I’ve seen all the bad things he’s done. He shifts the needle, if only for a moment and makes us sympathize with him. I’ve heard about women weaponizing tears (and seen it demonstrated in Amy Cooper) but I’m not sure (again except with Amy Cooper) I ever really saw how that worked. But with Diego, I understand how he’s weaponized his tears, just like he’s weaponizing everything else. I’ve never felt such a contradictory set of responses to a (really terrible) villain getting their just deserts before. I was mostly cheering but also feeling sorry for him. It is masterful both from a writing side – and from a performance perspective. (Again, the actor should get so much applause. Thank you, Pedro Alonso.)

Thinking about this range of men crying within a small sample size of Spanish TV produced by Bambú Productions, I realized how limited my experience of this in American performance has been. We fetishize tears here, of course. Actors who cry (and snot!) win awards – so it’s not that we never see men cry. But the context is so much wider for crying than what ends up on American screens. I feel like there’s a door to open here. There’s a way to both expand our emotional vocabulary onscreen and, because things that happen on our screens impact our lives, it might spread out into our world, too.

I feel like a world where more men might be allowed to be like Pedro and cry for joy and for love and for empathy would be a better world, one in which I might be able to stop watching Spanish TV exclusively.

Pedro (Adrián Lastra) hugging Don Emilio (José Sacristán) on Velvet * I could watch these guys crying for days.

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“You Can’t Live in Fear.”
February 16, 2021, 12:35 am
Filed under: pandemic | Tags: , , , , ,

I overheard this old school New York guy talking with an old school Eastern European lady at my local bagel shop. He said to her, “You can’t live in fear,” after she expressed her concern about the virus. He was telling her how he went inside for a dinner party and she expressed her disapproval. She doesn’t see her friends. She doesn’t go out. What is he doing? He tells her she can’t live in fear.

Oh no? She can’t live in fear? Yes, she can. So can I.

I lived in fear for the last five years, actually. And I was nowhere near as at risk as many people. How about all those who had to go into sanctuary because of predatory ICE raids? How about those who had to worry about every knock on the door? Or those who could be shot at the whim of a police officer who would never be held accountable for your murder? You think those folks weren’t/aren’t living in fear? Believe me, you CAN live in fear. It sucks but you can do it. Fear can keep you alive in dangerous conditions. That is its prime benefit. You ignore it at your peril.

We are all perfectly capable of living in fear. And honestly, our feelings don’t matter. Whether or not we’re afraid, we should still stay home. Not because of fear but because it’s the way to beat the virus, or at least be one less possible factor in spreading it. It’s such an odd disconnect, this notion that somehow taking care of our fellow humans is living in fear.

A moment after this man told this woman that she couldn’t live in fear, he was telling her to never touch anything to do with electricity. I laughed to myself “Why shouldn’t she try and fix her electrics if she wants to?” I thought, ”She can’t live in fear!”

This guy wouldn’t see why I find his concern for her and electricity a little funny given his lack of concern for the virus. For him, electricity is real, it’s tangible, she could shock herself. But somehow, the virus is not real to him, even though it’s just as dangerous as playing with electricity.

To me, this guy going INDOORS to his friend’s apartment and having dinner parties, where they’re clearly unmasked, is just as risky as having a fraying wire in your electrics. It might not shock you. You might be fine. But it is risky. And not just to you.

Also – staying safe and protecting others is not, actually, living in fear. It’s living in kindness. It’s sacrificing one’s own desire for sociability and normalcy for the greater good. You think the rest of us don’t want to have dinner with our friends? That we’re just hunkering down at home because we’re fraidy cats? No, dude. No.

Personally, I want nothing more than to cozy up with some friends in some tiny apartment where we just eat and drink and sing and hug each other. I don’t really have a fear about doing that but I recognize that anyone involved in that dream dinner party is putting others at risk. To put it in terms you can understand, fella at the bagel shop, we’d be playing with electricity. When you play with electricity, you might get burned. Or you could set your place on fire and the fire spreads. So depending on the circumstances, your whole block could go up in flames.

Living in fear isn’t fun. No one wants to do it. But saying “You can’t live in fear” doesn’t justify taking risks with the lives of the people around you. This guy, who congratulated himself for not living in fear and going to parties, is now having a bagel, face to face, unmasked with a woman who has been taking every precaution. It’s her life he’s risked, really.

Somehow this phrase has become a kind of chant that charms the hearers into silence. All across the country people are congratulating themselves for not living in fear while their neighbors get rushed to the hospital and put on ventilators. You can live in fear. And for those who haven’t yet been afraid, you probably should for a little while. Or at least as long as it takes to actually start wearing masks and keeping your distance.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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A Quarter of the Rejections
February 9, 2021, 12:16 am
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , ,

This year, I’m grateful to say, I’ve gotten some new patrons on Patreon and new subscribers on the blog. It occurs to me that folks who’ve been reading for a while are well acquainted with these rejection posts I do. Usually I paste in the links with explanations for why I do this at the end but I’m putting that up here at the top this time, just to give the new folks some context! Read my initial post about this rejection quandary I had here and my patron’s idea about what to do about it here.

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It’s been such a weird year for applications and rejections. I applied to about a quarter of the things I applied to last year. First, because a lot of what I find to apply to are residencies and if a residency is running it is not likely to be particularly safe and I do not want to be taking those kinds of risks. Second, it’s weird to apply for playwriting things when there is no theatre. Oh, what? You’re going to produce those works on Zoom? Mmmm. That’s just…not for me. But – bright side? Doing a quarter of the applications means I only received a quarter of the rejections I got the year previously.

Anyway – here are some things I did apply for:

Little Island Perform in the Park – It’s a brand new totally constructed structure sort of pier park thing? Anyway – they’re looking to do performances in their theatre space there. I applied for our company to do Very Serious Theatre – which is totally built for public performance space. But they turned me down. Probably for the best. I don’t think we’ll have audiences back, even outdoors by summer. And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to bring a group of people into a rehearsal studio round about now either.

The Shed – Another brand new performance space. What a time to open! Did they have a full year before all performances ceased? I don’t think so. Maybe. Anyway – at the very last minute I applied to do a socially distanced promenade sort of live version of The Dragoning. I learned about it a day before the deadline so I was just making things up as I filled it out. And I said so. Just because I didn’t have answers that I might have been able to craft more coded responses for with more time. So this rejection was not shocking in that a) The Shed is a super high profile new venue and b) that application was like throwing some soup ingredients at the wall and hoping some landed in a pot.

Theatre503 International Playwriting Award – They received 1719 scripts from 45 countries. And they let me know that I did not make it past the first round. Thanks guys. Thanks. How many plays make the first round? 1718? Doesn’t feel great! Thanks!

Center for Fiction’s Emerging Writer Fellows program – This one I feel less bad about because hey, fiction is new for me and I feel like, sure, there are people who’ve been doing it longer with more singularity of focus and what not. And they chose nine out of 870. So no surprise there.

Women’s Project Theater 2020 – 2022 WP Lab – They take 15 women. They didn’t say how many applied. I’m sure it’s a lot. I keep trying with this one but it is a lonnnnnng shot.

Dramatists Guild Playwriting Fellows – Such a long shot. Gotta try though!

The Playwrights Realm – Recommended to me by a playwright buddy. Gave it a shot. No dice. They had “nearly 700” submissions.

Playing on Air James Stevenson Prize – Another long shot. But worth a shot as it was free to apply. They received “nearly 950 plays” but they phrased it better in that my play “unfortunately did not advance to the Final Round this year.” See – they may not have actual rounds. But they make me believe that it somehow got through several rounds before finally being rejected before the final and I appreciate the illusion.

Also – the one Yes I got last year – for the Brooklyn Public Library podcast fair in the spring was postponed until October but of course it did not happen in October either and I never heard from them. I’m pretty sure they just threw up their hands and said, “Maybe another time.” And I do not blame them one bit for that. None of us want to be camped out at a booth or walking around inside a place for an evening right about now.

In quilting, we call these quarters. Depending on how they’re cut, they might even be fat quarters, which is somehow a fun combo of words to say. Speaking of quilting, the quilters of Gee’s Bend are on Etsy now so you should def check those out.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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