Friday, May 9, 2014

Heading to Ireland again...under a different name!

But it's still me... years into it, going to Dublin in May. To quote myself: "Once I like something, I like it."

So with a different company, a different cast of characters, a different job, a different life than when I started, I'm returning to the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival again. As the Ambassador of Love for North America, I feel it is my duty.

So here I am in the lounge at T5 at JFK (flying Aer Lingus, same as last year), flying solo to Dublin, while the rest of our crew prepares to depart from Austin and Boston.

I'm not the lead producer this year...I'm following closely behind the aegis of CTEK Arts and its artistic director, Margaret Van Sant, and passing along all that I've learned from my previous four festival productions.

It's less stressful except in the way that I'm not in charge anymore. BE GRATEFUL, Kathleen!

Other people making decisions, going ahead with plans, calling the shots, getting others on board. I couldn't be a slightly OCD micromanager, could I? (Really? But I'm a Gemini!)

All I know is that it's going to be good to wait in the next line to board the plane, to wedge myself into the economy seat, and land, quite groggy at 5 in the morning their time, just past midnight mine, and do it all again.

My landing card is filled out, my boarding pass is already slightly crumpled. I dug out my burner phone (aka cheap plastic Tesco model) and fired it up to make sure it still worked. Got my converter, my camera, my notebook. I'm good to go.

See you over there!

Kathleen W.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

After the dancers' leaving, after the stars are gone...

The clothes are scattered round the apartment waiting to be stuffed back into suitcases, and I’ve been making calls to confirm what time and where the Aircoach leaves from (and pondering just grabbing a cab tomorrow at 6am).

We’re winding down and winding up, and I’ve got memories jostling in my head for space, and new people I now know and mean to keep in touch with (some of whom I actually will!) and tomorrow at this time, we’ll be high as a kite by then (or around 30,000 feet).

It seems like we’ve packed 4 or 5 days’ worth of stuff into the weekend.

On Friday, J. and I had a nice lunch at Avoca Café, where we talked about our writing, and the plays we want to work on and how the hell an artist can find the time, the place, the energy and the money. Of course, this discussion was tempered with a beautiful piece of haddock, and some fresh-brewed tea in a gorgeous café in Dublin where we’re doing my play. So there was some perspective.

Then there were more errands to run, and postcards to buy, and the fridge to stock again, and back to write out the postcards. Penmanship: a lost art, brought back to life single-handedly (so to speak) on the backs of several dozen pretty cards that are winging their way to America even as we speak.

Friday was another two-show night, and I headed over to the James Joyce Centre, which was our venue last year. Inside, the carpeted staircase and walls decorated with old playbills and photos Joyce-related were like old friends. I started chatting with a mother & daughter from the US as we waited to get in; the daughter had just graduated from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and said she’d majored in Ancient Studies because it wasn’t likely she was going to get a job anyway for awhile at least, so she might as well major in something she was interested in. I couldn’t disagree, and told her I’d been an Ancient Studies major myself, and had had many careers.

The first show was “Brown & Out” from Los Angeles…a series of short plays presented by Latino/a LGBTQ actors that contrasted beautifully with the staid drawing room space at the Georgian home of the Joyce. Latino work hasn’t turned up a lot in the festival (I got to see Moe Pumo in David Bertran’s “Love Scenes” a few years ago, and Moe came back in Chris Weikel’s “Pig Tale” the following year).

The short plays of Brown & Out ranged from in-your-face satire, leading off with “The Foundation for a Better Gay Brown Life,” set in the recent past, in which a representative of the Romney campaign is sent to find a gay Latino to be a spokesperson…hijinks ensue. And the Republican comes out in a burst of glitter.

Another winner was “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: the Untold Story,” in which pretty much all of the Peanuts gang is gay (except Charlie Brown, of course, and Sally who is Linus’s hag)…all of which was accomplished pretty much by playing the subtext of the classic comic strip.

“The Gay Ghost Whisperer” was a clash of camp and drama that shouldn’t have worked…but did, to great success, as the Ghost Whisperer and his papi kept attempting to get down to it, but were interrupted by ghosts, usually of gay men who’d killed themselves because their families had not accepted them.

It was a sharp, talented group, and their energy and craft was such that the audience got it…even with the cultural references they didn’t know. Same thing happened with our play. An Irish/international crowd “got” Purity, South Carolina, and identified with the characters, and took them in.

I stayed at the Joyce for the second show, which I’d been looking forward to all week. I’ve long been a fan of the book “February House,” by Sherill Tippins, the story of the house on Middagh Street in Brooklyn where in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, editor George Davis created a great gathering of artists, many of them gay, living in a sort of creative boarding house. Carson McCullers, W.H. Auden,  Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, Gypsy Rose Lee (!) and a cast of many other artists, activists and friends created an amazing melting pot of talent and ideas that’s a house I would have loved to live in…that helped define its artistic era a bit like the Algonquin Round Table, with very different artists, but still the epicenter of great work and wit and fun. I saw the musical version of “February House” last year at the Public Theater in NYC, and fell in love with it all over again.

All this is by way of saying that when I heard there was a play about Benjamin Britten, W.H. Auden and Peter Pears on for the final 2 nights of the first week, I knew I had to be there. And this was a play that belonged perfectly in the drawing room. A tight, poetic, intense, emotional chamber piece with Auden, Pears & Britten, and two of the women in their lives: Britten’s sister Beth, and Beata, who was Pears & Britten’s landlord when they lived on Long Island, far away from their country, already in a war. A young, good cast showed the particulars of being in love with an artist, and what artists can’t say to each other, even with their wealth of words. It’s about as British as you can get (even with an American character), but I suspect the people out there like me, who are in love with times & places in the past, would come see it, wherever it is done.

Saturday was a bittersweet day, because it was the last one where we’d be playing the show.

I went to see a rehearsal of Vickey Curtis’s piece, which she’s opening Monday night in the short play series, and I gave her the kind of feedback I thought would be useful to a person opening a show in 2 days (that is, micro & focused, rather than stuff that can’t be fixed). It’s a good piece, about two peoples’ relationship to their queer bodies…proving that “out” is a longtime process, and sometimes the insides don’t match the outsides without more work (both inside and outside).

Then I did my other business and mailed the final postcards, and had a bit of the afternoon to myself, and I did what I like to do: I wandered in a city not my own, and looked at things and let my feet go where they’d take me.

After awhile, I went into a pub and had a beer and a beef & Guinness pie with a huge pile of mashed potatoes and read my copy of Joyce’s “Dubliners.” Cliché, yet satisfying.

I headed over to the Teacher’s Club to catch the first show, a musical version of Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince,” done by a family from England. I’d enjoyed chatting with them through the week, and wondered what it would be like to be in a show business family, where you might find yourself touring to Edinborough and sharing the stage with a sister or parent. I love that short story…it’s so beautiful. And the production was simple and clever and drew attention to its narrative devices in a way that was Wildean.

It didn’t draw well, because, Brian thought, people couldn’t grasp the concept of both “gay” and “children” in the same festival. So lots of kids didn’t get to see a sweet show, and the adults who showed up did.

We’d had trouble drawing an audience as well. Every night there were people; but not nearly as many as we would have liked. Each night I asked myself: what can I do to sell this show? It’s not even a traditionally gay show…but one that I like to think has an appeal to anyone who’s ever had to leave someone they love behind. That covers a lot of folks.

Brian’s opinion is that the lesbian audience supports the Irish plays/playwrights, or if there’s an Irish heroine involved (as in Carolyn Gage’s “The Countess and the Lesbians.”) And we’ve always done well with the short pieces, because they’re programmed with new Irish short plays, and they tend to play to full houses.

One of these years I will crack the mystery and bring an American play, written by a woman, to Ireland, and be able to sell it.

We had our best house of the run on Saturday; one of the friends we met last year came, and brought a whole bunch of her friends, and several other locals who knew/remembered us also came in, and one of the volunteers told us he’d asked for our venue because he’d seen the show already, but he really wanted to see it again.

And they played a beautiful show, and there was no time to savor the moment, because the next show was due to start in a few minutes, and we had to pack up the props and costumes and take the dish & glasses back to the apartment, and get everything cleared up & away and boom. Out on the street in 10 minutes with the vestiges of our show in a rolling suitcase. Short sharp shock.

Then I went over to the box office to settle up with the festival, and while I was waiting, grabbed a bite with Menno, who is becoming one of my favorite people of this season, and we talked about spirituality and computer apps. Then down to Pantibar, where there was time for a few shouted words in ears, and hellos to the folks we’d met, and wish we’d met, and looking for the ones we needed to say goodbye to (some of whom were already packing and getting ready to leave).

They turned the lights up on us, and pulled down the shades and it was last call. The party threatened to move on to The George, and we walked over there and I found it was LOUDER AND MORE CROWDED THAN A RUSH HOUR SUBWAY and Danielle & J. I looked at each other and cabbed it back to the apartment.

And we’re almost back to where we started. But I’m exhausted. I want to write about the panels, and our last day (and evening, which is upon us), but it may have to wait until tomorrow, when we head out to the airport to check in THREE AND A HALF hours before our flight. Or maybe I’ll compose the final entry in this year’s blog on the plane on the way home, and post it when I’m back in Queens. Still one foot in the old country, one in the new.

As always.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Catching up with the boys & girls in Dublin

It's early afternoon here with light streaming in the shiny apartment (interspersed with brief, violent showers), and actors getting ready…vocal exercises, keys tapping on the computer, a leisurely breakfast and signing many dozen postcards (look for them sometime next week).

And tonight is our last performance. How did that happen? I ask that question each year, and the answer is: how the heck do I know?

With the show running well by Tuesday, I stepped out the rest of the nights to see some of the other offerings; I’ve done that the other years (except last year, when “Outlook” was clearly a work in progress, and I needed to see it on its feet…stay tuned for the next version of it in a reading in Philadelphia in August).

But this year I felt I could leave “That’s Her Way” in the capable hands of J., Danielle & David, and see what else was on. I’ve managed to make it to seven other shows, and today am stopping by a rehearsal for a show I won’t be able to see next week, and one more show this evening, and then the final performance of ours. And then I’m having a drink.

Wednesday night actually began sharing a meal at The Larder just off Temple Bar with festival founder Brian Merriman; over steak and lamb burger, we talked about the festival, our lives, and everything that had gone on, by, and over our heads since the last time we had a good sitdown, in a little coffee shop in Ballsbridge last May.

It’s funny how you can get to be great friends with someone that you only see in person every few years, but when you finally sit down to a meal, the conversation continues as if you’d just left off. We have a lot of the same thoughts on what an artist’s role is, and how you get stuff done, and why we should do the crazy things we are doing, and how a true reward is generally not about cash, but satisfaction.

And we both love Downton Abbey, and agree that Lady Edith is the Crawley with the most potential to be someone who actually effects change in the world around her.

After a coffee, we ran over the Liffey to Pantibar, where we got to see “The Undutchable” by Menno, a solo show by the Dutch writer/performer that follows his journey from being a little Dutch boy, who did not stick a finger in the dike, to London, where his search for love (or a good shag) leads him into some pretty strange places, and sometimes on his own. An absolutely engaging performer, Menno’s wide-eyed, almost innocent style is built on a bedrock of great intelligence, and also compassion. He calls it as he sees it, but with wisdom and style. He’s slight and small, but maintains a powerful presence; and he looks like a Renaissance prince.

We’ve run into each other over the course of the festival, and discussed where our work comes from, and how sometimes dreams inspire what we do…he told me about a project he’s been working on that was inspired by a dream he had about the devil…and it’s become a film and a series of talks, and an exploration of the insistence that so many have on connecting being gay with the devil…his research has led him to Jungian experts, and the cultural resonance of the Devil in his own culture and his adopted one.

The conversations you have on the streets of Dublin on the way to the party after…

I managed to make it to the show that runs after ours at The Teachers Club after Menno's show (I am pretty sure I’ve increased the pace of my walking by a good clip here, and that’s saying a lot for a New Yorker). I also had a phone interview scheduled for a radio show, and the interviewer had requested I find  a quiet place to talk, and do a phoner (on my tiny Tesco phone).

So I booked back to our place (as I think of the Teacher’s Club), and in search of a room where I wouldn’t be disturbed, locked myself in the loo on the third floor. It turned out to be just right for our interview, and I was on the RTE. From a bathroom in the Teacher’s Club.

Then back downstairs in time for the curtain of the 9:30 show, “I Run, I Sing, I Swim, I Dive,” a solo show about Eva Gore Booth, an amazing woman who’s been pretty much pinkwashed out of Irish (and British) history, where she made a difference in such diverse events as organizing labor (and ruining her lungs for life when she went to work in a mine), founding one of the first lesbian magazines, and helping defend the leaders of the 1916 Irish Rebellion, including her sister, Countess Constance Markewicz, and Sir Roger Casement, who was executed, it would seem, almost as much for being gay as for being an organizer of the rebellion. Gore Booth and her lifelong partner, Esther Roper, supported and loved each other for over 30 years.

I first came across the story here at the festival in 2008, when Carolyn Gage’s “The Countess and the Lesbians” was produced to great attention and notoriety. Carolyn had been at the festival the year before, and her own research, and Brian’s urging led her to write the play, which we read in New York City at TOSOS, and which still needs a production in NY by a smart company with some talented women.

Annette Flanagan gave an outstanding performance in this one, literally popping out of a mine cart at the start of the play, and finally shouting down God by the end; working different areas of the stage to interact with her lover, her sister, and the doomed Sir Roger. Alan Flanagan wrote it, and Cillian O’ Donnachadha directed; I’d like to see it again, like to see where they go with it, and what changes they feel should be made. (I always have my own ideas about that, but I don’t offer unless asked).

On Thursday, it was another dual-identity day for me, as I worked on the other non-Ireland projects that are still due even if I’m several time zones away and in another frame of mind.  I pounded away on the other task, and got enough done that I felt like I could walk away for the evening to see two more shows in good conscience.

Then it was up to the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, which is a mall in a grand Georgian house built in the 18th century. Just like the ones you have in your town.

Up on the top floor, where once perhaps they stored their goods, or where the servants slept, is a theatre, and why not? Walking on those old, wide, floorboards, and looking up at the roof that’s kept out the rain since the 1700s, I took a seat for “SHOUT: the Mod Musical.” The space reminded me a bit of The Duplex in Manhattan, which may be the only time that venue has been compared to a Georgian mansion.

And I was swept away by a confection built around girl Britpop from Swinging London, ca. 1962-70. It was right up my alley and I adored it. Five women powered through an almost all-sung revue of great hits from the likes of Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey et al. They sang it straight up, with no American Idol pyrotechnics and let the songs show through. Simple, snappy choreography, and interspersed bits with both an unseen narrator and an advice columnist depicted the traditional, expected role of women coming into the ‘60s, and how the girls realized that wasn’t exactly what they needed, or wanted to be, going into the ‘70s.

It was one of the best things I’ve seen on either side of the ocean recently, and I resolved to look it up online later and discovered that it had made its debut in NYC at The Duplex (!) and later in NYMF, and then moved Off-Broadway in 2006 (and I really must not have been paying attention, because I just don’t remember it. What was I doing in 2006?) And the reviews were awful! Though it looks as though they attempted to Americanize the show for New York, adding an American character and some US hits of the time.

I’m glad I sure the pure Britpop version, because that’s what made it work. They didn’t have to pander to me, and I expect they really didn’t have to do it for a NYC audience. But the show’s been running in productions all around the world ever since, so in this case in was NYC’s loss.

I stayed put at the Powerscourt for a very different second show, “Strip Search,” which drew a very different crowd as well. The show was notorious for its structure: in which a male stripper does his routine while stripping down emotionally as well.  British actor Damola Onadeko has both an amazing craft as an actor, and an amazing body. (NB: the management at the Powerscourt removed some of the posters for this show, which showed Damola’s uncovered shoulders and arms, while leaving up the “Shout” posters).

The piece is one that resonates for an American (not surprisingly). Squaddie (British slang for an enlisted man in the army) grows up rough in Wales, with little education, learns to sell his body and throws his money away gambling, gets sent to Borstal (aka juvie), builds his body and acquires a sidekick in Christian a little Irish boy. He enlists in the Army for lack of a better opportunity, and gets sent to Iraq again and again and again, where he sees, and commits, brutal, violent acts.

When he gets out…there’s still no place for him, and even less for Christian, whose injuries are serious, but who gets little support from the government that sent him to fight. (Does any of this sound familiar to American veterans?)

Squaddie falls into stripping, where he’s becoming a star, and Christian sinks further into addiction and depression. And as each piece of clothing goes away, Squaddie delves deeper into himself. And the last number is a cheeky (pun-intended) bit in which he literally wraps himself in the flag and uses it to wipe his butt.

Thank you for your service, indeed.

I had a two-show day on Friday as well, and a good long hang at the Front Lounge after (complete with a decent Manhattan), but the clock tells me it’s time to head out again…so I will continue tonight or tomorrow, or at least before we leave.

Because I have promises to keep and kilometres to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Third time is the charm? But this is my fourth time!

It’s raining in Dublin, after two beautiful days. That’s good when you’re in the theatre, because beautiful, long days mean that people want to stay out, instead of going indoors to see a show.

So here’s to full houses tonight…we’ve had small but appreciative audiences thus far, and Tuesday night’s performance was strong and well, lit. (As opposed to well-lit).

There was a last-minute scramble on Monday (Opening Night) when we arrived for a runthough, when we discovered that the lighting plot we’d used to set lights/levels during our tech on Sunday had been changed (which is a cardinal sin at a festival!), and suddenly the actors were sitting in the dark, rather than in the past. And there was another show before ours (which had also done its tech with the original plot, and was similarly stunned) that had to go up at 7:30.

We made up something, and I was rude to people, which I instantly regretted and which will be something I think about late at night, added to the catalogue of evil I have done to others in my life, dating back to the previous century, starting around the time I tripped Lisa H. in the hall when I was about 6, then ran away after she fell and split her chin and then had to get stitches.

I won’t run through the litany…it extends nearly half a century.

Oh, the mistakes you can make, even in your fourth try! Each year, I find new ways to screw up.

I can’t actually remember what I did between our second tech and the show. I know I got the programs and gave them to our venue manager, I distributed presents.

I waited upstairs as the first show finished; it’s a musical, and I heard the singing and the flute and piano, then the applause. Then downstairs to the theatre, to take a spot toward the back of house and hope for the best.

They played the show well, the audience loved it, and got it, and I wished I could SEE the actors better. We’d made plans for yet another tech at 5 on Tuesday, and I let it go for the night. We wandered out to grab a bite before the opening night party…and should have remembered from last year that there wasn’t going to be anything open. Because it was Monday night. After 9pm. In Dublin.

We settled on a slice of pizza in a little storefront just off Temple Bar, where there were black & white art photos on the wall, including one of Lady Bunny, and it was like a little glimpse of a guardian angel from NYC watching over us. I’m sure Bunny’s been called that before.

Then up to the Arlington Hotel for the festival’s opening night reception. Because of our start time (8:30), it looks as though we’re always going to be among the first arrivals to the after-show gatherings (show times range from 7:30, 8, 8:30 and 9:30). So we grabbed some free wine, and soon the other folk started trickling in. And pretty soon it was a real, full-on party.

Meeting the folks from the other shows is always a joy; with some, it’s the start of a friendship will go the distance (I still see & talk to people I met the first time we came in 2008). We started putting names and faces to titles of shows, and tried to figure out how to see all of them, and talked about touring, and NYC & Edinburgh Fringe, and getting from places like LA to Dublin.

The volunteers were there in force. This is a DIY festival, completely volunteer-run and administered. And every year, you see someone get hit hard with the “I must be in theater” stick, and if you keep coming back, you can see them become working theater pros: writers, directors, actors, stage managers. I got into a conversation with one guy who was over the moon with the realization that HE was part of this, and that it was important for there to be gay theatre. And he could help it keep going on, AND he had a heritage to learn about. He was grinning from ear to ear and talking about all the shows he had to see, and the people he needed to know about, and I told him to friend Robert Patrick on Facebook for a start.

And it was long past the last tram, so we hopped in a taxi, and fell into bed after what felt like 2 or 3 long days instead of one.

We began again the next day, and I felt myself falling into the routine that guides me when I’m here, except that I no longer pack my bag, enjoy a hotel breakfast, and move on to the next one. In the previous professional iteration, I used to have to get to the next night’s lodging, unpack and get resettled, and set up the computer to do the morning’s work: whether it’s something for the dayjob, or another project, or publicity for this one.

In the Spencer Dock apartment, we worked out who was going to keep the keys, and who was going out and who was coming back, and I set out late morning on various efforts. The apartment might be too far out for getting to the theater easily, but it is in a neighborhood I’ve never explored. The actors have been out & about, running and looking at things, and joining the gym, and I have been the curled over the computer screen drone, because that’s my job here (and well, because I’m just like that). I used to get fussy about not being able to go out and about, but a few epiphanies ago, I realized that I’m here to work, not visit, and if I get some time in outside the room, the apartment, the laptop, then I enjoy it…but I need to keep TCB, to quote Elvis and Bachman Turner Overdrive.

So I walked down to the Google office across the gorgeous Samuel Beckett Bridge, and through a neighborhood that isn’t touristy at all, but turning from industrial (along with little houses cheek-by-jowl), sticking out amid the shiny glass buildings along the river. And when you’re in the middle of the bridge, you can look out and see the huge ocean tankers outside the mouth of the river, and maybe hear a blast of their horn.

A few minutes later, I went back to the familiar, by flashing my company ID at a turnstile, and introducing myself to a colleague I’d never met, and walking down to the cafeteria where, just as at the home office, people lined up in an eye-catching space and loaded their trays with good, healthy food (and other stuff). There were homemade chocolate chip doughnuts!

I joined a couple of women finishing up their lunch, and chatted with them. Handed out postcards of course. That goes without saying that everyone I meet in Dublin gets a postcard. The clerks in the stores, the bartenders, the guy who rented us the apartment. One hopes it will pay off.

After that, I had a massage; I always have a massage when I travel, because there’s nothing better for the bodyache and tension, not even beer. The touch pulls the bad stuff out and leaves just the resting sinews and bone and soul, and it’s easy to relax when everything is warm and soft and smooth, and even the pressure on spasmed muscles gives way to relief.  

I asked how to get up to Parnell St., and there was a bus right outside that would take me there. I climbed up top, and we rode through neighborhoods South of the Liffey, some I’d seen before, some of which were new.

In the spell of relaxation and panorama of Dublin from above, I realized that some of my favorite moments traveling, anywhere, have been when I’m on a bus or a train or a tram, and I’m looking out the window and seeing the people just living and doing their business, and I’m on my way somewhere to do something good.

Similar moments in Las Vegas, and Hamburg and San Diego and Brisbane, and Paris, and Venice, and London flashed into my head. For a homebody who spends too much time at the computer, I sure like getting around.

The bus dropped me in front of the theatre, and it was time for Tech III: Getting It Done. The actors were backstage rehearsing, and David and I and Liane, our admirable tech director, got down to it. We pulled the set pieces in, and Liane worked with David on what lights were where, the technical complexities of the lightboard (subcues, masters, and various other quasi-BDSM sounding terms). She brought in some pink gels. We pulled Danielle & J. in to see if we could see them.

David in the booth.
I’m not a tech person, not a director, not a stage manager. The realization, rather than being depressing or causing anxiety (as it had the day before) was suddenly freeing. I do not know what I am doing, therefore, all I can do is keep it on a simple yes/no binary. Can you see the actors? Yes. But not there. So change the light so you can see him there. Don’t ask them to find their light. Give them light. And a pink gel.

There is no real subtlety in the new lighting plot. But you can tell when there’s a transition, and you can see their faces and their bodies, and what they have in their hands, and they do not disappear into shadow.

The rest is for the professionals in that field.

After tech, I went shopping to restock the fridge, and got on the tram with milk and bread (just like for a blizzard!) and jam and fruit and yogurt, and the kind of things you like to find when you stumble out of bed and see what’s easy to make. Then dashed right back to the theatre to hang posters and make sure there were enough programs, and pick up the ice tea and juice-that-can-pass-for-wine, and deliver them backstage, and wait for the first show to come down.

On the well, lit stage starting at half-eight(ish), they gave a very strong performance. There were Americans in the audience who got the regionalisms and even laughed at the recurring Walmart reference.

Afterward, we trotted down to the Front Lounge (and were the first arrivals), and watched drag karaoke for awhile, and the eye candy (of the male variety), and had a beer and greeted our fellow festies as they straggled in.

We caught the last LUAS back in a sprinkle of Dublin rain, and finished another post-midnight day, and retired to our chambers. For me, it was another fitful night…filled with the sort of almost-conscious, almost-lucid dreams that replay the day or whatever else you’re worried about in hideous, nonsensical surreal ways. I can’t imagine that’s very deep sleep. And it comes and goes…sometimes here sometimes at home, there’s just times like that.

But today beckons, and I should get dressed and eat some toast & jam, and go out into the sprinkle and sunshine, and keep scheming and dreaming and planning on how to do this right one of these years.

Monday, May 6, 2013

And we're back, 2013-style


And we’re back…in Ireland…2013 style!

The blog that comes to life, like Brigadoon (except in Ireland) when EAT goes to the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, returns with its latest iteration: a production of my play “That’s Her Way,” opening tonight, May 6, at The Teachers Club, at 8:30. Or 20:30, as they say around here.

If you’ve been following the fitful blog, you may remember that we started out at The Teachers Club back in 2008, with a production of my play “Some Are People.” (The link to that post is here:

This is my fourth time at the festival; of Team “That’s Her Way,” it’s the second time for our leading lady, Danielle Quisenberry, and for our leading man, J.Stephen Brantley, whose play “Break” was presented at the IDGTF with my “The Adventures of…” in the Shorts in 2009.

Then the world economy crashed and no one had any money. (Short version.)

We managed to scrape up enough dough & good will and an extremely talented cast to come back last year with “Outlook,” and once again renew my love affair with the city on the Liffey.

This year, Brian Merriman, who founded the festival, announced that 10 was a good round number, and he’d like to make the 10th year of the fest his last, and hand it over to the next generation. Well I wasn’t going to miss that.

The thought of going over as just a spectator seemed not-right; but I didn’t have a play. Except I did have a play…

I did a blog post for the Frigid Festival about how that play came about:

As my sister said: “Wait…you wrote a straight play?” Well, yes. I’m a playwright, and my characters tell me who and what they are. These two arrived straight (and star-crossed). We did it at Frigid, and as we were in rehearsal, I sent the play to Brian, and said: what do you think? Some back and forth about how to present it and he said: go ahead. Bring it.

So we did. Stayed in production, got into fundraising/plane ticket buying/apartment renting/revising the play mode. It’s been six months of this. I’m. So. Tired.

We did an invited dress rehearsal a week ago Monday, to hear the new version at least once before we left, and then BOOM, it was Friday, and we were at JFK (at least ¾ of us), and surprisingly, there was no one else in my row in the middle aisle of the plane, and I could stretch out across all the seats and, well, not really sleep.

I wondered if the not-full plane had to do with the continuing downward spiral of the world economy or it was just earlier in the season than we usually travel.

I used to wonder these things professionally. Every other time I’ve been to the festival, it’s been as someone whose day job was in publishing. Last year, I didn’t know if I’d come home to a job at all: our imprint was up for sale, and each day, those of us who were left tried to parse the rumors that had us going to new buyers…or worse. I can’t partition my life in a way that the pieces don’t touch. So I was always in Ireland as a travel editor, representing my brand, all my brands.

I brought all of our Ireland books with me on our trips, and gave them as gifts, and marked them up to pass along information to the authors, even when it wasn’t a book I was editing.

The other shoe finally dropped last September and I stopped working in publishing and started working on the Internets. I don’t edit travel guides any more. And ever since, I’ve been realizing what a huge part of my identity that is/was. How it shaped the way I think and present myself, and the end of which became another occasion of reinvention of self in a life that’s been full of them.

I am now the Unlikely Googler, with some of the old cohort coming over as well, thank goodness, so we didn’t venture into the brave new world solo, and the new gig and the new company have provided an amazing shot of energy and possibility, like sticking your finger in an electric socket (in a good way). There has been no throughline, no logic, in an adult working career that began in journalism, veered into off-Broadway theater, typesetting, non-profit literary arts, publishing, and now…content. I’m in content.

Fortunately, there is a throughline in writing. So that’s the constant. I’m still a playwright here in Dublin, but I’m something else as well.

Someone I know well asked me why I was coming again this year, saying: “you’ve done this before, why do you need to go again?” The implication seemed to be: is this a vanity project? Do you do this for yourself? Shouldn’t you be doing something different, something new?

It’s always different…but putting yourself, your own money, your drive, into presenting your own work really does walk a tightrope between being independent, being self-motivated, and being…convinced that the world is interested in what you have to say.

But unless you are doing your work only for yourself, and sharing it isn’t part of what makes you happy about the process of creation, I think all artists have to have that. At its base, it’s ALL a vanity project. What makes us artists is developing a craft, along with a worldview, and hopefully having some talent to go along with it.

I’m here, I’m queer, I’m an egotist, playwright & Googler.

…and a producer. Because there’s always some problem to sort before you actually get there.

View from Spencer Dock apartment.
When we arrived in Dublin, I’d arranged for a driver & taxi to take us to the apartment I’d rented for our stay: a 2-bedroom with a kitchen & washer/dryer around the corner from our venue in a neighborhood we know. The driver pulled into an apartment complex well away from where we were supposed to be headed and I said: this isn’t Parnell St. and the driver said: well, he wants to speak to you (meaning the agent). And I went: uh-oh. And upstairs in spacious, furnished apartment, a very nervous man explained that well, even though I’d booked the apartment on Parnell St. over a month before, and put down a deposit and had a confirmation from them for every night of our stay…the apartment wasn’t actually available. And they didn’t have anything else in the area.

He said he’d gladly refund our money…which was like: and then where do we stay for the next 9 nights? I asked if he knew anyone at the other agencies around town, could he make a call. Not really. He showed me his spreadsheet, which was filled with the green boxes indicating an apartment was rented. There was nothing for us…though maybe he could get us into Parnell Square on Sunday through Thursday, but after that, we were on our own. Or, we could stay in this apartment that was about a half hour’s walk from the venue, in a neighborhood we didn’t know.

J., Danielle and I were too tired & hungry to sort it out just then, so we said we’d call later, and set out to see just how doable the apartment might be. We walked toward the center, and saw stores and bought a coffee, and stopped for breakfast, and wolfed it down and kept walking and got to the theatre, and looked at the building where we were SUPPOSED to be staying, then over to the festival box office and said hello to the gang, and finally decided that well, it was better to stay a bit further out in one place and concentrate on doing the show than move at least twice and not know where we were going to end up. I’m sure that’s symbolic or meta for something.

We retreated back to the apartment, and I bought groceries and cooked dinner while the actors jogged and exercised and explored the new neighborhood, the Docklands. It’s mostly new construction…overlaid on what was once a busy port. On the Liffey…next stop, the ocean. There are canals cut in from the river, and locks, and docks and cranes. That part is rather striking visually. The buildings are tall and glass and sterile. The apartments are meant for people who work for corporations, international types who fly in and do business and then on to the next multi-national assignment. We retired early, because the most valuable thing I’ve learned in 4 trips to the festival is that if you arrive on Saturday, you have the whole day to get settled in and nap.

Locks & docks (and bridge).
The apartment is very light-filled (and the sun is out ‘til 9 pm or later), which is nice, and there are fountains in the courtyard so there’s the sound of running water, and the LUAS (tram) is right outside the front door. So I asked the rental agent to comp us a night (they did), and bought us tram passes.

And the last piece of the puzzle fell into place Sunday morning with the arrival of our stage manager, David BIshop, who’d been working in Japan the whole previous week. His round-the-world journey was worthy of The Amazing Race: he left Tokyo Saturday afternoon, and arrived in New York a day later, that is Saturday afternoon, and then stayed at JFK until it was time to leave for Dublin Saturday night. Between emails and texts, we’d let him know we weren’t going to be at Parnell St., and sure enough, he turned up at our door in plenty of time for tech. Hallucinatory, but well what can you do?

So we walked over to the theatre, and it was good to be in the Teacher’s Club again, meeting the other companies and tech staff. Our venue TD proved to be completely on top of things, and the volunteer tech staff were ready to help. Everything we’d asked for was there: chairs, bench, table, cubes, hat racks. (I purposely wrote a play that can be staged with scrounged set pieces and very few props).

The first show is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” and as they worked through their tech, I realized again how beautiful the story is, and what a great writer Wilde was. The ending choked me up a bit. And that was just tech.

Let us entertain you...
Our tech went like gangbusters because we rock. Actually, because David knows what he’s doing, and Danielle & J. are unflappable onstage. We didn’t have time for me not to be a director/lighting designer, so I pretended I was, and said: that’s a good level, bring that up, do we have something more for stage left, etc. We powered through it, arranged to have a runthrough on the stage today and got out of there to scatter our respective ways (and David to go facedown in the apartment).

Then I had to hustle to a part of town I hadn’t been in before with another of the participants, Peter Scott-Presland, who wrote/directed “Strip Search,” which is definitely on my list to see. We appeared on a radio show, Pride Time, and talked about the festival, and our plays, and I tried to communicate just how much the festival means to me, and what it’s done for Dublin, and the queer theatre scene. There’s a recording of it here: with some other great features. We start about 30 minutes in.

And back again in a taxi downtown where I dropped Peter at Pantibar and went in to leave postcards and pay homage to Panti, whom I adore.

Took the LUAS back to the apartment, and realized that the distance might actually work out in my favor in a mature adult sort of way, because I’m less inclined to stay out late and head in for a drink or three after I’m back in the apt. And ate another home-cooked, well, home heated-up dinner, and planned and thought and made lists and notes, and was just pretty happy doing all of that, and Danielle got back (with a bottle of wine) and David woke up and we all touched base a little.

And tonight we open…it feels different, but then they all feel different, they have their own particular energy and anxiety and joyfulness that is peculiar to each one.

I’m here as a playwright and producer and many other things, and I have work to do this week; some of it for the show, some of it for my other tributaries, and maybe I’ll even get to be a little touristy this time. But I realize that part of being back is feeling less like a visitor and more like someone who lives here for a week at a time, with a bed and a kitchen and a routine shaped by the connections left at home, and ideas for the future, and a way of working that is always changing, evolving and rarely, if ever, predictable.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

(…and yes I said yes I will Yes)

A few seconds ago, it was last Saturday and we were stumbling off the plane, and in the blink of an eye, I was (not) stumbling in at 3am Sunday. In between we opened the show, played to enthusiastic houses, ran lines, did makeup, bought props, stuck together, explored solo, sang songs, drank pints, climbed cliffs, ate fish, walked, swam, rode trains, and started packing again. Sigh.

There are wives, boyfriends and kids, cats, guinea pigs and a dragon named Steve at home, but for a week we were Outlook, a new play. This is Outlook:

The Director
Mark Finley’s been on board since the beginning. Though we’ve known and worked with each other many years on many plays, it’s only the second play of mine he’s directed (people are always surprised to hear that). It’s just that when we work on a play, we work on it for a LONG time. (The evolution of “Off-Season” to “Some Are People,” to “End of Land” took about 4 years).

One of the secrets of our successful collaboration is that we both work in the same building, for the same company (for now). We chat from the 2nd to the 9th floor. We spot each other across the cafeteria and I interrupt his Sudoku time. We meet for a blast of caffeine just before the coffee bar closes. And we run our concurrent theatrical lives over my latest editing deadline and his planning of the huge international event he runs.

We are not getting too old for this shit. We are getting better at it: The Secretaries, And Sophie Comes Too, readings of Careful, Slipping, I Know My Own Heart (all found in Dublin), Street Theater at the Center. Doric’s Celebration of Life.

What he’s taught me is about letting go and trusting… when you KNOW you can let go and trust. This script, this version, came in at 83 pages. We had a 70-minute window. We’d sit in nooks and crannies at work and before rehearsal, slimming it down, line by line, exchange by exchange, and 9 times out of 10, when he said: can we cut this? I said: you’re right. (Though we ARE putting some of it back next time, right Mark?)

It wasn’t so much a negotiation as a passing back and forth, holding up and examining, taking it into the rehearsal room and: yes you’re right…no that does belong there. And we ended up with a play.

Mark is my half-Gemini brother from another mother. And he’s very handsome.

My play is about what happens when a magic wand comes into the picture and changes everyone’s lives. Jen Russo makes the magic happen. Our paths first crossed at the APAC reading of my play “End of Land,” in which she ran a wonderful, efficient gig, and soon after, I noticed that she & Mark Finley were joined at the hip (theatrically speaking) Good call, Mark! After coveting her for many shows, and watching her kick it without breaking a sweat, I finally got to work with her on one of my plays, and I have to say if she weren’t “married” to Mark, (and I weren’t happily married myself) I might have to fight him for her.

We knew the production would be low-tech, and when Mark and I were discussing how to indicate the magic wand was working, I suggested using a xylophone. Jen went down to Toys ‘R’ Us and picked up one of those Fisher-Price models on wheels, with a plastic hammer attached by a string, and each rehearsal, she’d produce a TZINGGGGGG when Susan waved the wand.

Each night as we set up, Jen said: “Sound check!” We’d pause and she’d run the hammer up the notes. Then: “Sound check finished.” The xylophone goes home with her.

The Actors
Back at the turn of the century in a hotel in Seattle where the participants in the ROCKRGRL conference were congregating, I spotted two tall women I’d seen play in and went over to introduce myself (again). They were Chapter in Verse, and they were hanging with a much shorter woman, who introduced herself as Meghan Cary from Hershey, PA. “Oh…do you know Shakeys?” I asked. “I went to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts play there.” Long story. Meghan said that she did know where it was…and asked me to her show.

When she strode onto the stage at a Starbucks a night or two later, she planted her feet and took charge of the audience in such a way I said: ACTOR. Then she started playing and singing and that was it for me. A keeper. And someone I must work with. And later I asked where she’d trained. She seemed surprised, and told me she had both undergrad and grad degrees in acting. When we started En Avant playwrights, she was in “A Bushel of Crabs.” And I’ve summarized elsewhere our long history of short plays, readings, her stepping in to save the day in “Grieving for Genevieve,” and getting married having 2 kids in there (and 3 albums). And now after 12 years, I got to see Meghan originate a part in one of my full-length plays. Because when I see something, I try to make it happen. Sometimes it just takes a REALLY REALLY long time.

Donnetta has been keeping me honest as a playwright this whole time. Each of the characters has a throughline, and we see what she wants. But Brown, the character Donnetta plays, is more mysterious; some have suggested she’s an entity of some kind. (And generally I leave that sort of thing up to the actor). But as a writer, I know we aren’t quite…THERE…yet with Brown’s sweet spot. And having someone both as smart and grounded as Donnetta helps me as the playwright figure out what’s missing (and until then, she fills in the gaps, beautifully). We talk about the character, and Donnetta tells me what she feels is going on; and what isn’t there for her to find as an actor. And as I said sometime last night, after not one, but two conversations with people who’d seen the show and said: what does Brown REALLY want, I said I can’t decide that in my top brain. I have to put it down in my reptile brain and let it rise to the surface, probably between sleep and waking, or in a dream (which is what I have in common with Brown: she dreams things and tries to capture them and make them happen. It’s what she does). And what Donnetta does. My fleet-footed Palmetto state messenger of the gods, our Thespis.

Ironically, Irene is our junior member, but she’s the one who plans, organizes, and cajoles the rest of the gang into getting from here to there, knows about train tickets and has a list of “must dos” that she checks off with alarming efficiency. She’s our ingénue who could run a small country. Or a slightly larger one. Don’t be deceived by her slight appearance, her blonde hair and bubbly laugh. I didn’t know it when we first cast her, but she is so like Ella, her character, that in many ways, all she had to do was bring her essence as she is onto the stage, and we GOT it. But there is a serious craft at work here; and Mark pushed her hard: and she took it all in, and claimed her own space on the stage with a powerful group of fellow players. This is the best work I’ve seen her do. And we have nicknamed her boyfriend Serious Ron (the name of her boyfriend in the play).

The thing about Danielle is that she seems to transform every time you look at her. At any angle, you say: I didn’t see that before about her eyes, the tilt of her head, the way she’s holding her hands. We’d passed through each others’ orbits at EAT, and the first time we got her in the rehearsal room…then saw her at the Chesley/Chambers reading of “Outlook” (many drafts ago), Mark and I looked at each other and just said: oh yeah. She’s a dancer and you can tell. And as an actor she is just as rigorous on herself as you know she is on her students…though there’s a clear leavening of kindness and wisdom as well. Someone told her last night: you know if the Abbey had seen you do this play, you'd be hired on the spot. Everyone pulls me aside and says: Where did you get her? How did you find someone so right for this part?

And I ask myself the same question about all of them: how did we find these people who are so right for the parts/the parts are so right for them? How did they find us?

I addressed the troops yesterday (Saturday) in my capacity as producer. I said we needed to spend the day on ourselves and the play. Stay close to home, tend to ourselves. We still had two more full days of work (including the Gala). We’re representing EAT and New York companies, and yes, Americans. We have a job and we’re not finished with it yet.

Among the Epiphanies (and that’s the title of a memoir if ever I heard one) I had this week was that I’m not here to play. I’m here to work. Of course I was always here to work, but since I came out publicly (as a producer), I have had to remind myself that these are producer shoes and hat I’m wearing, not the playwright’s wardrobe. Though I’m constantly diving in and out of phonebooths changing costume.

I look at the actors each time I’m here and think “where do they get the TIME to do tourist stuff?” I’ve got meetings and press releases, and emails and blogs and I look at things on my way places, and talk to people, and listen to their stories, but this is my…fourth or fifth trip here and the list of must-sees I must not have seen is long.

My imaginary assistant missed some things, and I would have fired her or at least docked her pay if she existed. Epiphany: next time bring an assistant. I usually see many shows when I’m here but was torn between that and wanting/needing to see our show. Epiphany: I brought finished shows here before; this is a work-in-progress. I DO need to see it as many times as possible so I know what to work on next.

And there is still work to be done (epiphany) and I know what we need to do and what we need to ask for to take the play to its apogee.

We did not have the houses I would have liked, though the audiences were enthusiastic. I actually didn’t have much of an epiphany about that one. It keeps me up at night in Ireland and in New York. I’m getting better at this, not so much because it’s a natural skill, but because I like the people I work with, and want to take care of them. Whether they’re the American family or the Irish one, it’s my job to keep them all safe.

Unlike the character of Patience in the play (whose nighttime mutterings I just quoted), I don’t have as much of a problem saying “I love you” to the people I love.

I love them, individually and as a group. They are the ones who said: What’s the big dream…yours? And then said: “Of course.”