Category Archives: Playwriting

I’m Rich! I’m Wealthy! I’m an American Playwright!

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Good Evening:

I received an email this weekend from the Helen-Jean Play Contest, to which I had submitted a one-act play:

Congratulations, your submission “The Land of Hope and Dreams”, has won first prize in our contest.  Your will receive a nominal check and a certificate in the mail shortly.

Yes! Not my first win in a competition by any means, but quite welcome all the same! Now the theater company involved will not actually produce LOHAD, as I call it, but they will send me $50.00. So I have fifty bucks!

Ah, not quite. The reading fee for this particular competition equalled five dollars. So I have forty-five bucks!

Ah, not quite. I promptly purchased $40.17 worth of underwear. So I now have $4.83!

Ah, not quite. At a theater event on Saturday night, I spend $3.00 dollars on a soda.

So I now have $1.83.

Which puts me approximately $1.83 ahead of 90% of every playwright in the United States of America for the year 2015.

But I still have $1.83. Not only that, I have a lot of clean new undies.

Perhaps that’s what really matters.

Vonn Scott Bair

Sunday Night, Fun Day Done Right Day.

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Good Evening:

Sunday night in downtown San Francisco could not have gone much better for culture vultures. The Playwrights Center of San Francisco sponsored a fund raiser in which 8 groups of playwrights, directors and actors wrote, directed and acted in 8 short plays. I happened to play a role in this project: aside from providing breakfast for everyone on Sunday morning, I contributed 2 of the 3 required elements for each play.

The required theme for each play was “Surprisingly Unexpected.” Didn’t come up with that one (my offering: “This Is the End of the World As We Know It”), but I did contribute the required noun and the required line of dialogue. The noun: “Escape Vehicle.” The line of dialogue: “But what about the strawberries?” Thought the poor playwrights would suffer. Thought very wrong. The show was great.

Think for a moment of what kind of play you might write with the theme “Surprisingly Unexpected,” the noun “Escape Vehicle,” and the dialogue, “But what about the strawberries?” Offhand, I can recall these:

  • An extraterrestrial crash-lands her UFO in a male Earthling’s strawberry patch.
  • Two zombie cheerleaders try to cash a check.
  • A mother accidentally reveals that she has lied to her daughter for 21 years–she does know her father’s name.
  • An Elizabethan woman asks William Shakespeare to pretend that he wrote her plays.
  • A nice elderly Jewish couple, both wizards, discover that their new human customer used to be their pet hamster. Not a misprint.

Surprisingly unexpected, aren’t they? And yes, they all included escape vehicles and strawberries.

San Francisco playwrights have excellent imaginations.

After an excellent show, maybe the best 24-hour playfest the PCSF has done, I wandered down to the cable car turnaround on Powell Street, where a gentleman with what appeared to be a 4.5 inch reflector telescope hosted a “Saturn Party,” wherein he offered free viewings of the planet. A little different, even by San Francisco standards.

Just around the corner, in front of the Gap store, stood Clare Means. Who? Clare is a tall woman with Pre-Raphaelite hair, an acoustic guitar, and quite a gift for songwriting in the genre some might call Americana. She currently has a curious sort of nationwide tour in progress: she travels from city to city, busking on the streets with her guitar and portable amp, performing songs from her two current CD collections, collecting dollars to pay for gas and food–basically trying to make a name for herself without a record deal and with an advertising budget of zero. Dropped a dollar in her guitar case and listened to “Look Who’s Lucky Now,” a great intro to her music, which you can find on iTunes. Have heard a lot of musicians and bands that deserved only the greatest success never came anywhere close. Clare Means is just the latest of the bunch, but it would feel pretty darn good some day to see her name on a Top 20. I mean, come on, Pre-Rephaelite hair. Dang.

I even found two dimes on the sidewalk.

Sunday night was that kind of night.

Vonn Scott Bair

Intervention at Disneyland.

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Good Afternoon:

Every second Saturday of the month, San Francisco’s Exit Theatre hosts something called Saturday Write Fever, a fun little event of instant theater creation. I attended last night’s get-together.

The idea is simple: create a one-person monologue in 30 minutes. The overall theme for last night’s event: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Each playwright drew a piece of paper from an urn (not a chalice, an urn) that contained a line that he or she had to include in the monologue. Since I don’t swear, I can’t tell you exactly what mine was, but it was very close to “Who holds a f@#$king intervention at Disneyland?!”

Keep in mind that the writers have no idea which actors will read their material.

And yes, that does make things interesting.

After the writers returned to the cafe in which the performance would take place, we drew slips of from a chalice (not an urn, a chalice) with the names of the actors. I worked with the actor Rob Stern, who could not have looked or acted more well-suited for my little rant of a piece. Good thing, too: the quality of the writing and acting was the best I’ve seen at these Saturday Write Fever events, with not even one weak monologue or performer.

And so, I present “Intervention at Disneyland.” I have slightly edited the piece, adding <> to bracket and identify the new material. Incidentally, I was the only writer who not only included his/her line, I included the Theme as well.

INTERVENTION AT DISNEYLAND

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” You know what I say, Terry? “Today is the last day of the rest of your life!”

It isn’t how you cheat on me with other men. It isn’t how you cheat on me with other women. It isn’t how you steal from your boss, steal from your church, or steal from me.

It isn’t how you lie to EVERYONE, most of all me.

It isn’t how you leave the toilet seat up.

It isn’t even how you drove me to drink.

So what is it that will make me kill you in the next five minutes, <turn myself in to the police, confess, plead justifiable homicide, and get acquitted by a jury of my peers>?

Today you had a doctor, a counselor, a social worker, and a priest AMBUSH me at an amusement part in front of our children because you think I have a drinking problem.

That’s why you die tonight.

WHO HOLDS A F@#$ING INTERVENTION AT DISNEYLAND??

Vonn Scott Bair

The Taming of the Shrew, The Heidi Chronicles, and The Dead Play.

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Good Morning:

Can we please finally agree that The Taming of the Shrew is a dead play? Please?

I probably should backtrack and start over.

Many years ago, I joined a group of aspiring playwrights who liked to attend a play together and then have a few beers afterwards to discuss what they had seen. Not sure which is more important; sometimes it seems humans invented theater as something they could do to provide an excuse to have a few beers afterward. All of the other playwrights were at least a score of years younger than yours truly, a point that will soon become important.

Once and only once during a show, the entire group left at intermission and did not return. The play in question, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, had a fine cast and a good director with an interesting vision for the script. The script itself has held a prominent place in American theater since its Pulitzer Prize winning debut in the late 1980s. And yet we walked out at intermission.

The other playwrights, especially the women, expressed virulent disgust with the writer’s portrayal of women in the script. Those of you who have read or seen the play might feel quite surprised; the cast consists primarily of female characters and traditionally has a cast of five women and three men. I agreed that the women characters were poorly written, focusing on one particular lesbian character who was so one-dimensional that a homophobe would call Wasserstein a compadre. But I had a bigger reservation.

“Let’s face it. The Heidi Chronicles is a dead play.”

“What do you mean?” asked one young woman

“In this particular case, it’s hopelessly dated, it’s stuck in its time, it doesn’t resonate with anyone younger than me, it doesn’t resonate with any of you. I mean, nothing says ‘dated’ quite like a Laura Nyro joke.”

Everyone laughed. Then another young woman said, “Who’s Laura Nyro?”

I don’t know much about theater (even after almost thirty productions of my own plays), so I don’t know if the concept of “the dead play” or perhaps another term with the same meaning has any place in the business. But sometimes plays just don’t work anymore. Almost all of 19th Century American theater is dead, and rightly so; the plays sucked. In The Heidi Chronicles, the problem lies with most of the characters, cliches flatter than the 2 of Clubs in a deck of cards. The play does still resonate with a tiny sliver of the theater-going world; aside from my group, the audience consisted almost entirely of women in their 60s or older. I have serious doubts that anyone will want to see it in a few decades.

And yet people will still want to see Shrew.

I have read the play, a complete primer on the ever-so-splendid art of spousal abuse (please tell me you spotted the sarcasm). It’s all here, and you can check them off, one by one: physical beating, check; starvation, check; sleep deprivation, check; psychological abuse in myriad varieties, check, check and check.

And people want to produce this?!

Modern productions resort to a lot of tricks to try and redeem this garbage. Typically, they will delete scenes which make people uncomfortable, and/or portray Kate a willing participant who thinks the whole thing is a joke. I saw one production last week (a friend played Kate’s father) where they tried to excuse the whole thing as a sham, where the actors played actors playing The Taming of the Shrew as a sort of “play within the play” as part of an elaborate prank played by a rich nobleman on a homeless man.

As if adding practical jokes at the expense of the homeless makes everything better. And to do this in San Francisco?! In a theater on a block that includes among other things a homeless shelter?!

Yes, William Shakespeare was a playwright for our time and for all time; he was also a man of his time, with the prejudices and conventional beliefs of his time. It does nothing to diminish his greatness to state that sometimes he just plain sucked. The closest thing to a virtue this play retains is that it might remind viewers that in our time we have our own prejudices and conventional beliefs and how a few centuries from now they might seem quaint at best and dangerously wrong at worst (he wrote, suddenly thinking of a recent Irish vote).

The Taming of the Shrew is just a creepy (by the standards of our times) misogynist (by the standards of our times) misfire from a guy who–like us–didn’t even know that sometimes he was blind to the prejudices of the era in which he lived, prejudices that he might not have known that he had. No one can do anything to redeem the play short of changing it so drastically that it ceases to be the play that Shakespeare wrote. He wrote a play glorifying spousal abuse because he thought spousal abuse was a good idea. By the standards of his time, William Shakespeare might have been a comparatively good human being. He’s still one of the greatest writers ever.

But he’s still just as human as the rest of us.

And The Taming of the Shrew is just as much garbage as the dust in my vacuum cleaner.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–If you do not know who Laura Nyro is, for heaven’s sake please do yourself a kindness and head on over to the iTunes store and start downloading.

PPS–The Merchant of Venice is also dead. Come on, people, stop trying to pretend that Shylock is a tragic figure, a sympathetic character. So what if he speaks eloquently on his behalf? So does Richard III. So do all of Bill’s villains.

The Aristeia of Clarence Clemons @ 3:12 a.m., and a New Puzzle!

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Good Morning:

Did you know that Clarence Clemons’ legendary saxophone solo during “Jungleland” on the Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 album runs exactly two minutes, twenty-three seconds?

In simple English, I have taken part in another 24-hour “play in a day” festival and at 3:12 a.m., determining the exact length of The Solo was the most important thing I could do. The Playwrights Center of San Francisco runs two of these events each as fundraisers, and they conduct business by picking slips of paper from a hat. I was selected as a writer by a software version of the same, assigned my director by drawing his name from a hat, assigned the cast size by drawing a number from a hat (3), and assigned the specific actors by the same process.

Finally, the theme. “The Devil Made Me Do It.”

Assignment was the same as ever: write an entire play in 9 hours for a production the following night.

Usually, writing a short play under these circumstances proves surprisingly easy, but for some reason, the theme made this the most difficult 24-hour project I’ve undertaken in 15 years, since the night our theme was a Rene Magritte painting. Oddly, the final script is only 8 pages long, but the theme still made the project tough. However, I can proudly proclaim that I wrote the line “Niccolo Machiavelli. Dear Nicky–always in a class by himself,” and it actually makes sense in the context of the play.

In slightly over 14 hours, “The Latest Small Triumph of Levia Stand” receives its world premiere. I have never worked with the director or any of the actors before, but feel cautiously optimistic that they can wring something decent from what I dump upon their poor heads. If the show turns out well, I will publish the script here. If not, I shall do the right thing and spare you the agony.

Meanwhile, if you like anagrams, I have a fun new puzzle for you! “Levia Stand” is an anagram containing two names used for one of the great characters in all of literature, theater, and musical comedy. What are the two names?

Vonn Scott Bair

The Genuine Show! Rehearsal, 12 March 2015.

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Good Evening:

Load-In Day. A phrase that frequently evokes terror in the theater world, Load-In Day refers to one of the physical events in theater, when the entire cast and crew combine to move all of their costumes, props, special equipment, cases of 8 oz. bottles of water, and other sundry heavy items into the theater they will call home during the show’s run. Fortunately, we have an excellent director in Wesley Cayabyab, whose organization worked so well we only needed an hour to get everything done.

So we had our first full run-through.

And all I can say is “Wow.”

The Cast of The Genuine Show! Listening to Instructions from Their Director

The Six Actors of The Genuine Show! Listening to Instructions from Their Director

“Wow” has become one of our inside jokes (from one of the plays, “Jack & John & Jackie & Joanie”), but here it means that I am ab-so-lute-ly THRILLED with the work the cast has done. They bring more than creativity to their acting; they always surprise me with interpretations that I would never imagine in a hundred years, yet whatever they do remains true to the script.

Incidentally, I took all of these shots with my iPhone 6 Plus, which has done surprisingly well in low-light conditions, requiring only a few adjustments in iPhoto.

Sarah Galarneau & Philip Goleman in "Yes Maybe No."

Sarah Galarneau & Philip Goleman in “Yes Maybe No.”

Playwrights become pretty darn useless at this point in the production; seriously, the best help we verbose critters can provide consists of silence. At the end of the run-through, I kept it simple: “I have just one word to add, no, two. Thank you.” OK, that’s eleven words, but still really, really reticent by playwright standards.

Rehearsing "Keeping You Man in Line on the 21-Hayes." Left to right: Sarah Leight, Jocelyn Truitt, Philip Goleman, Colin Hussey (standing), Sarah Galarneau, Richard Wenzel.

Rehearsing “Keeping You Man in Line on the 21-Hayes.” Left to right: Sarah Leight, Jocelyn Truitt, Philip Goleman, Colin Hussey (standing), Sarah Galarneau, Richard Wenzel.

Keeping You Man in Line of the 21-Hayes has two unique distinctions among the plays–the only one with no dialogue and the only one inspired by one of my own blog posts! Please see this post (one of my very earliest!) for the story.

Can’t wait for Opening Night on Thursday. No jitters, just good old-fashioned excitement. If you can’t wait, either, tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets.

Vonn Scott Bair

Photos from The Genuine Show! Rehearsals.

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Good Evening:

The search for a reasonably priced trombone goes on, but so have the rehearsals, and The Genuine Show! has come together very well. Here are some shots from a recent rehearsal. Tickets for the show available at Brown Paper Tickets, brownpapertickets.com/event/1409569.

Director Wesley Cayabyab did a great job directing The Duck last year, and is bringing all of his energy to the new show.

Director Wesley Cayabyab did a great job directing The Duck last year, and is bringing all of his energy to the new show.

Jocelyn Truitt, Ric Wenzel, Sarah Galarneau, Sarah Leight and Colin Hussey listening to Wesley's instructions.

Jocelyn Truitt, Ric Wenzel, Sarah Galarneau, Sarah Leight and Colin Hussey listening to Wesley’s instructions.

Vonn Scott Bair