Monday, January 24, 2011

Kafka Finds a Good Margarita in the Second Act

We've invited Jeff Seeman, currently taking Anthony Clarvoe’s playwriting class, to write a little something about trying to write a full-length play in ten weeks:

There’s just one more meeting left in the fall session of Anthony Clarvoe’s ten-week playwriting class and people are already clamoring to sign up for the next session.  It’s been a fascinating ride over the past few months, spending Wednesday evenings in a roomful of fellow writers—feeding off each other’s enthusiasm, supporting each other’s creativity, and occasionally spilling coffee on each other’s scripts. 

I started the class back in November with a clear idea of what I wanted to write—a musical version of Spider-Man with a huge cast, a bloated budget, overblown special effects, and a strained relationship with OSHA.  Imagine my surprise during the first week when Anthony pointed out someone was already doing that.  Who knew? 

Quickly shifting gears, I settled on my other idea, an Ionesco-Goes-To-Work-At-A-High-Tech-Company tragicomedy, which Anthony dubbed “Kafkasoft.”  We all spent the first few weeks of class exploring fundamental questions about our respective plays:  What’s the play really about?  Who’s the protagonist?  Does the play fit into a genre?  What will the structure be?  What are the story and character arcs?  Did anyone bring snacks?  Are you going to eat that?

After a few sessions, the writing began in earnest, with Anthony firmly but gently nudging us all towards fulfilling our playwriting goals.  Part critic, part coach, part Jewish mother, Anthony shared with us his wisdom and enthusiasm for the writing process.  Drawing on examples from Shakespeare to J. K. Rowling, he somehow managed to impart his ample expertise without ever becoming dogmatic.

By the time we came back from the holiday break, two of us were working from complete drafts of our plays and several others were close behind.  Then came the next round of questions:  Does the play work as a whole?  Does it hold up in Act II?  Does it fulfill the promises made in Act I?  Have you tried the margaritas at that place across the street?  Are they any good?     

Like a skilled dramaturg, Anthony then asked insightful, provocative questions about our respective works-in-progress.  As someone who used to live in L.A. and wrote screenplays for several years, I was delighted to receive such useful feedback.  (In the movie industry, most of the notes writers receive are more along the lines of, “Hey, that movie with the elephant did great box office last weekend.  Can you stick an elephant in the second act?”)  

As the class comes to a close, I’m now immersed in rewriting.  Then I’m off to my next project, a comedy about two mismatched roommates, one neat and the other sloppy, who are separated from their wives.  No one’s done that, right?

Jeff Seeman is a writer, director, producer, and author of two novels, Political Science and Guns and Butter.  He likes cheese.

Guess what? If you are jealous and want to try to write a full-length play of your own, Anthony has a new section beginning March 2nd on Wednesday evenings. A possible East Bay section on Monday evenings is also in the works – more details soon! Please visit our New Play Institute page on our website for more info!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rajiv Joseph gets "Gruesome"

It's quite the start of a year for Playwrights Foundation alumnus, Rajiv Joseph.  Now we all know about his Broadway debut and Pulitzer finalist Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, but we cannot forget his other works!  Currently running at the Second Stage Theatre, also in lovely New York City, is Gruesome Playground Injuries, a play where two lovers compare their lives in the form of their physical scars. has the scoop:

Courtesy of Second Stage Theatre
In the case of Gruesome Playground Injuries, now playing at New York City's Second Stage Theatre, Joseph came up with the title before the story had taken shape. "I was having drinks with an old friend of mine," recalls the playwright, who recently had Gruesome produced at Houston's Alley Theatre and at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC. "He was telling me stories about the many bizarre mishaps that have left scars all over his body, and I realized that if you were like him, you could mark the chapters of your life with injuries. As soon as he got up to get us more drinks, I took out a piece of paper and wrote down the title of the play."
Read the rest, get to know the playwright, and go out and see Gruesome Playground Injuries before it leaves, if you're in the area!  Don't forget Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo opens in March with Robin Williams in the eponymous role, and will be THE play to see this year.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year, New Plan by Marisela Treviño Orta

Meet our Resident Playwright Marisela Treviño Orta as she attempts to declare Victory in the New Year!
“Without a plan, there’s no attack. With no attack, no victory.”—Ack Ack, One Crazy Summer 

George (Joel Murray), Ack Ack (Curtis Armstrong) and Hoops (John Cusack) dive for cover under artillery fire in One Crazy Summer.
That’s what popped into my head yesterday. Just a little bit of 80’s movie trivia and levity, exactly the kind of inspiration I needed to keep my resolution to write my 2011 plan. What plan, you ask? 

Well, it’s a new year. And along with breaking in my new calendar, this year I’ve decided to write a 2011 plan for my playwriting career. 

That’s right, a plan. 

I got the idea from recent Theatre Bay Area article “The Titan Award” by Dale Albright. Two of the actors featured in the piece mentioned writing career plans each year to help them map out their goals.

That got me thinking.  

At my day job we write a yearly work plan (a very extensive one) that includes goals, activities and measures. What if, this year, I write out my own personal work plan. I mean, I’ve made plans before, or rather lists of goals and lists of places I’d like to send my work to. But a work plan would be one document that I could use throughout the year to guide my progress in various writing projects and help me keep tabs on deadlines (both personal and for competitions).

Here’s what my playwriting plan includes: 1) writing goals and 2) professional/business goals. 

The writing goals. That’s easy enough. I have several plays all in various states of development. I have one play that’s ready for me to start sending out, one play that I need to finish some rewrites on, another that needs a second draft, one that needs to be finished, and an idea begging to be written.  

My plan will help me juggle all these plays. I’ll set specific timelines for when I’ll work on each play in order to make the progress I’ve outlined for myself this year.

Here are a few of my writing goals: 
  • Blog at least three times a week  
  •  Finish American Triage rewrites by January 14th 
  •  Finish second draft of Heart Shaped Nebula by end of January  
  •  Finish first draft of Wolf at the Door by end of April 

Then there are the professional/business goals. These include sending work out to theatres, submitting plays to competitions and festivals, going to see plays, reading plays. Here are a few of my professional/business goals: 

I’ve already finished a first draft of my playwriting plan, complete with goals outlined for each month so that I’m continually writing, learning and putting my work out there. And since this plan is written down, I’ll be able to track how I’m doing throughout 2011.

Ack Ack is right. Having a plan gives you a clear sense for how to move forward, how to attack your work. And victory? She is mine.