Molly's Desk: Why We Write ... Right?
w/ Molly McFadden
“Why did you write a play and where did you find the courage to have it read out loud for others to hear?”
We recently had guests visiting from Michigan over the Easter Holiday and out of the blue our guest asked me this question. I was stunned and also honored that he thought well enough of my project to take the time and give it some thought which brought about the question. Looking at him for a few moments I told him that I believed I have always wanted to write, but because of the events in the past few years I now had to write.
“Why?” he asked.
“I have a deep desire and need to make sense of my life and time is of the essence.” I continued, “I felt deeply connected with people when we had the bistro back in Michigan and I miss that connection which our bistro brought about. Now living here in Cleveland all I feel that I have left are my words to tell my story.”
“So why not open another bistro?” he said with a gleeful smile to which I told him, “they lose too much money.”
He continued asking me if the courage is different from writing to performing. “I believe it is,” I answered. “I have performed most of my life and for the most part have always had the necessary courage because I love to entertain. I love to be on the stage and I love to move people to another dimension and I know I have talent. Now, however with writing it is a new playing field and I believe I am finding my courage to continue”.
“Well... what exactly do you have to say and why do you think others will be interested,” he continued.
Taking another gulp of wine I realized this was not going to be easy.
“Ah yes, therein lies the truth doesn’t it?” I answered.
Our guest continued with his insight that, being an architect, he learned early in his career that when others reviewed his drawings they were not focusing or criticizing him, it was the work and the drawings on the wall which were separate from him, so he never took it personally. However writing, he felt, is personal and he wondered how we both could have the courage to have it read or heard by others. I nodded and thinking to myself I have been searching for the answer to that very question and one we go over all the time in StageWrights. In fact, I thought with my recent play that it was important enough for others to see and hear and that they would care.
It was important to write it and perhaps to go back and work on it, but for now I am to move forward and write something else. “Well” he said, still not having an adequate answer I kept thinking to myself.
My question now is what do I have to say? Do we proceed ahead and evaluate what we think others want to hear and then write about that in order to obtain success? Or do we write about what is close to our heart and perhaps a connection will be made? I always go back to what it is I achieve best and thought that with the Bistro I never cooked a meal or designed a dish because of what others in the industry said we should serve – I always prepared a dish from inspiration and creativity and we were always sold out and booked.
I finally answered to him, “I believe writers write for many reasons. For me it is to connect with others and to tell my story, so we are none of us alone on our journey.” I recently came across an interview Toni Morrison said with Oprah Magazine: "There are all sorts of ways people try to stay connected, try not to live in hate. Religion may be one of them, but for me the central thing is the writing. The art itself. Putting my intelligence and my humanity to the best possible use ..." I like what she said, and it resonated with me.
He liked what I had to say and gave me a toast to which I gladly finished off my wine.
“So, what is next on the agenda for the McFaddens,” to which I answered that we both were going to continue writing and that we look forward to getting back to our StageWrights group at Ensemble Theatre.
I for one am happy that we are getting back together because I need to connect with these writers and have my work read and discussed. We comment on each other's work, never criticized, and I find their voices soothing. In fact they provide the necessary courage to continue on this journey.
Tyler recently sent us a quote from a Twitter thread from screenwriter Paul Guyot and the one that really spoke to me was this one. “I know it sounds hippie dippie, but I believe you must get to a place where you are writing and writing and writing for no other reason than you love the process in order to give yourself the best shot at the outcome.”
So, the holidays are over, and we are all back together, so it is back to work.
Molly's Desk: When it's all Said and Done ...
w/ Molly McFadden
I am back.
I have been offline so to speak as I was working on my play, Fish Feel Pain, and preparing for the first reading of my life and it has been daunting to say the least.
First and foremost the cast I was fortunate enough to work with was wonderful. I want to thank them for their talent, support and insightful suggestions through this process! So blessed to be living in Cleveland and surrounded by such talent; as well as a nurturing environment Celeste and Tyler provide with Ensemble Theatre and the StageWrights group – thank you again.
So ... how am I doing? I started this blog last October in 2017 with the words, “I can do this, I have to do this and tell my story!” OK I did it. I put pen to paper and created the characters and wrote the play ... now what? Is there life after a reading? Of course there is and it ranges from going back to work on the script, or putting it away for a while to marinate and write something else.
WHAT? What if I don’t have anything else within me to write about? This is the thought that echoes through my being and causes me to stop dead in my tracks for now.
OK, slow down.
The main take away from this process and these last few months is the fact that I can pretty safely say I can write. I have received validation that I have a talent to write and that is quite an important first step. Take a breath and feel that warm glow that you have something.
Did I succeed in saying what it was I wanted to share with people with this play? I think so, but remember this is a play for the theatre and it requires more than just going down a reflective journey about one’s life, which is what I realize is what I was writing. That is certainly nice, but is it drama? Not at the moment. Could it be made into a drama? Yes, I believe so but what is the point? What is the one sentence that can summarize Fish Feel Pain that I have poured myself into?
Playwrights need instinct and heart but must also be pragmatic. I believe we learn from the masters and I for one love Arthur Miller and the play Death of A Salesman on many levels and would often go to the script for inspiration and guidance as I worked on Fish. Salesman addresses loss of identity and a man's inability to accept change within himself and society. The play is a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments, all of which make up the last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life. The three major themes within the play are denial, contradiction, and order versus disorder.
Right now Fish Feel Pain is all over the place and until I can surgically identify what it is I am trying to say with these characters and their relationships to one another, my play will just be a warm aroma of a soup too full of spices and ingredients for anybody to smell or taste. In other words ... way too much is going on and I need to step back and rethink the whole play and process. I can do that now because I had to throw it up on the wall and write it from my very inner soul, but now I need to step back and take a look at what it is I am trying to, not only say ... but more importantly ... dramatize! This is why it is so daunting and that writing for the theatre is not for the fainthearted. I can write prose, come up with delightful imagery, paint a pretty picture and offer up sentiments that make us feel warm and fuzzy ... but that is not theatre. What will it take to truly step into the ring and swing with the best of them.
You see in Death of a Salesman each member of the Loman family is living in denial or perpetuating a cycle of denial for others. This is important as to what the characters are doing to one another and what is at stake. Currently I don’t have that right now with my members of the family in my play. Willy Loman, unlike my Maggie, is incapable of accepting the fact that he is a mediocre salesman. Instead Willy strives for his version of the American dream — success and notoriety — even if he is forced to deny reality in order to achieve it. Instead of acknowledging that he is not a well-known success, Willy retreats into the past and chooses to relive past memories and events in which he is perceived as successful.
I stand in awe of how Arthur Miller was able to write a play about denial, contradiction, and the quest for order versus disorder; the three major themes of Salesman. All three themes work together creating a dreamlike atmosphere in which the audience watches a man's identity and mental stability slip away. What is so important is that this play continues to affect audiences because it allows them to hold a mirror up to themselves. That is something I am trying to do with Fish Feel Pain. Willy's self-deprecation, sense of failure, and overwhelming regret are emotions that an audience can relate to because everyone has experienced them at one time or another. Individuals continue to react to Death of a Salesman because Willy's situation is not unique: He made a mistake — a mistake that irrevocably changed his relationship with the people he loves most — and when all of his attempts to eradicate his mistake fail, he makes one grand attempt to correct the mistake. Willy vehemently denies Biff's claim that they are both common ordinary people, but ironically, it is the universality of the play which makes it so enduring. Biff's statement, "I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you," is true after all.
So, after last night’s reading I realize too many words and not enough action. My universal theme I was attempting to dramatize is that we all have pain similar to what the fish feel and what we do with that pain is what identifies who we are in the end. SO what? Well … I go back to the recipe for my soup and start all over again ... or not.
I want to leave you with one final thought that occurred to me. Remember how I wrote that I not only love to cook, but knit as well. I worked on a sweater for two years for my husband and he wore it last night. I had the pattern, beautiful yarn and glorious buttons. When all was said and done I had succeeded in finishing this project. But looking at this sweater on my husband I realized one thing ... after all the hard work over the last two years, I have to start all over because it doesn’t really fit him and just doesn’t work. Such is life and we go back to the drawing board be it the play or a sweater. I shall keep you posted. I leave you with this quote from Death of a Salesman:
WILLY: You wait, kid, before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens.
Molly's Desk: Writing is Seeing
w/ Molly McFadden
Tyler has encouraged those of us who participate in the StageWrights group to see as many plays as we can. I have tried to live up to the task at hand and quite frankly have loved every minute of it. I saw American Dreamer’s at the Cleveland Public Theatre, Angels in America at Ensemble, and most recently, Jelly Belly at Ensemble Theatre.
All three of these productions were powerful. They were stunning in production value, acting and ensemble work. How did they impact me as someone who wants to write? Well ... I have so far to go but to keep trying and stay the course with my commitment to my writing. Which is what exactly? To tell my story as they told theirs.
Theatergoing is a crucial element in any playwright’s work. How else will you know what works and what doesn’t onstage, what other writers are thinking about, how audiences are responding?
Write about what inspires the singular person you are.
What makes me want to put pen to paper? I continually ask myself, “What is my purpose? What am I committed to giving to the world? What service do I want to provide with my talent—whether that’s as an actor or writer—that comes from something that is essentially me but is also greater than me?”
With the recent productions I recently saw, all of the playwrights did in fact have an investment in their plays as well as a passionate voice writing about what they know.
Most recently, Jelly Belly we see a powerful story of a convict returning from a brief prison stay to resume his position as the neighborhood kingpin. The front porch in Jelly Belly makes a ripe neutral ground for the confrontation in Charles Smith's naturalistic morality play. Halfway between the cold street and a warm home, the set offers an apt battleground for a test of wills that becomes a struggle between evil and good. The Chicago Defender wrote “Employing gritty poetry of the streets, Smith introduces us to Jelly Belly, who attempts to regain the service of Kenny, a former drug runner who has gone straight. Kenny is torn between the hope of prosperity through hard work shared with his friend Mike, or the opportunistic life of a drug pusher Jelly Belly offers.”
With American Dreamer’s at the Cleveland Public Theatre, you participate in the passion of this young female playwright, Leila Buck. She has been quoted with her experiences, “I’ve been in war zones, I’ve been under Israeli bombs, under ISIL bombs, under Iranian bombs. So, I know there are reasons we have security and borders and questions about who we let in. And I also know there are real issues and problems with the assumptions and questions that go into how we decide who gets let in. And those conversations are more complex than they often appear in the media, and even in some of our own living rooms.”
With American Dreamers you are invited into the live studio audience of “American Dreams,” where you will decide which of three contestants will receive the ultimate prize: citizenship in “the greatest nation on earth.” Weaving playful audience engagement with up-to-the-moment questions about immigration and more, this participatory performance explores how we navigate between fear, security, and freedom; who and what we choose to believe—and how those choices come to shape who we are.
Finally with Angels in America at Ensemble, “Any debate about what this play means or does not mean for Broadway seems, in the face of the work itself, completely beside the point. Angels in America speaks so powerfully because something far larger and more urgent than the future of the theater is at stake. It really is history that Mr. Kushner intends to crack open.”
Tony Kushner wanted it to be about gay men, the AIDS crisis, and Mormonism … and he knew there was an angel in it. He was also choosing to write about what was then the very recent past. AIDS was so horrible, it was so horrible, it was a lethal diagnosis. You went from lesions to death and people were afraid to sit on toilet seats, and people with AIDS were so vilified.
In a word, what were these plays about?
Jelly Belly - battleground for a test of wills that becomes a struggle between evil and good.
American Dreamer’s - exploring how we navigate between fear, security, and freedom; who and what we choose to believe—and how those choices come to shape who we are.
Angels in America - why is democracy succeeding in America ... or is it?
When I feel I have gotten off course I go back to my artistic statement I composed for this play and evaluate if I am holding true to the statement and commitment through the writing and rewriting of Fish Feel Pain.
I want to create art wherein the ultimate goal is to help people feel more empathy, and therefore to feel less alone. As quoted by Roger Ebert on his perspective about film.
Fish Feel Pain is about our society and my personal interpretation of that society and it is worth talking about, it is worth putting in the effort to make better, it is worth my blood, my sweat, my tears, and my soul. I want us all to feel less alone.
This play is about coming to terms with the transitions in life and the American Dream. My goal is to create a play that sits inside the contradictions and paradoxes of life beyond the issues of our time, that wrestles with the fear of death, alienation, loneliness and spirituality – to meditate on these parts of life, and to hopefully, if successful, get closer to sharing The Truth that each of us already knows, and in so doing, become more connected to each other.
I believe this piece draws amazing parallels to the current problems facing older Americans and millennials as the baby boomers get older and more dependent on their children. I also believe this piece addresses the struggles of the artists who are to be produced and hopefully survive in this current culture. With the demise of the middle class, the majority have become the new impoverished minority, regardless of race, creed or color.
As a white woman who recently turned 65, I have had real life, cross-cultural experiences that I wish to share with the writing of this play. I believe theater is the only place where anyone can experience the visceral, gut level wrenching of being an individual in the family unit. It is the only place where we can learn to be more generous and more tolerant, and happier and enriched – not by observing other cultures, but by experiencing ourselves in those changes and transformations.
Writing classes, such as the wonderful StageWrights at Ensemble, are a great way to find and grow our artistic community, and even experienced playwrights keep their skills honed by workshopping new ideas in group settings.
Things to consider ...
• Ask yourself what your story is. You could try summarizing it in a sentence or two and sticking it by your desk, so you can keep it in mind.
• Get into the habit of writing. If you're short on time, try writing little but often.
• Overwrite, then cut. (Don't reveal in the first scene that Oedipus is sleeping with his mother.)
• Women tend to write subconsciously, men tend to plan more. Do whatever works for you.
• Give your main character obstacles to overcome. He/she should have changed by the end of the play, if only fractionally.
• What are your characters' wants and objectives? These might change from scene to scene.
• Make your characters extraordinary or larger than life in some way.
• Think about the subtext of your dialogue and remember that people often don't say what they want to say - or say the opposite of what they think.
• You might find it useful to "hot seat" your characters. Assume the identity of one of your characters and get someone to ask you questions about yourself.
Molly's Desk: On "Angels in America, Part One"
w/ Molly McFadden
Any debate about what this play means or does not mean for Broadway seems, in the face of the work itself, completely beside the point. Angels in America speaks so powerfully because something far larger and more urgent than the future of the theater is at stake. It really is history that Mr. Kushner intends to crack open.
—Frank Rich, the New York Times, May 5, 1993
When you write you can not go quietly into the night and be meek as to what you wish to say. As Tyler has said in StageWright class, “If it were easy everyone would do it.” It is not easy and after seeing this production of Angels in America at Ensemble Theatre I wonder about my journey.
What, of my play I am working on, has anything to do with the realities and struggles of people today? In other words, who cares?
You must not use a small paint brush to outline your vision or translate your tiny whispers. No, you must be bold with your convictions and believe what you have to say is vital. Today we toss around the slogan of encouragement, “OWN IT,” but in the 80s and 90s, I don’t ever remember that terminology being used to encourage those in the arts. This magnificent production of Angels left me enthralled and loving every single moment. I have been thinking about this play and I was humbled. Mr. Kushner does in fact OWN IT.
In 1988, Tony Kushner began writing his play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. He wanted it to be about gay men, the AIDS crisis, and Mormonism … and he knew there was an angel in it. He was also choosing to write about what was then the very recent past. AIDS was so horrible, it was so horrible, it was a lethal diagnosis. You went from lesions to death, and people were afraid to sit on toilet seats, and people with AIDS were so vilified.
The easy thing would have been to turn away and write about a lighter topic, but not Kushner. One of his outstanding talents is his intellect, and he looked at the attacks on his community and set out to write a play that would offer comfort, inspiration, and even hope to a generation of people.
I was interested and intrigued with the beginnings of this project for Mr. Kushner. The play premiered in the tiny Eureka Theatre in San Francisco’s Mission District. Within two years it had won the Pulitzer Prize and began a New York run that would dominate the Tony Awards two years in a row. Revitalizing the nonmusical play on Broadway, Angels in America changed the way gay lives were represented in pop culture. Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, put gay men at the center of American politics, history, and mythology at a time when they were marginalized by the culture at large and dying in waves. Mr. Kushner wrote it—and rewrote it, and rewrote it, and rewrote it again.
Nothing comes easy.
In an interview - Tony Kushner shared his journey and struggle with this epic piece saying, “I got sort of stuck after I finished. All the characters had behaved and obeyed the outline that I had written. I didn’t know what to do next, and for the first time ever I asked one of the characters to explain to me what the play was about. I picked Louis because he was sort of the most like me—at least demographically. “What is this play about?” and then just started writing. And the first thing he said to me was, “Why is democracy succeeding in America?”
My husband and I lived in New York during the 70s and through the 90s, and I recall the syndrome being called the “gay cancer.” Fundamentalist preachers were only too happy to call it a punishment from God; people were calling for quarantines of gay men; people were terrified that you could catch it from public restrooms.
Back in the 80s, William F. Buckley – a tweedy scholarly man considered the leading intellectual of the Right – said that people with AIDS should be tattooed both on the forearm (so needle-sharers would be alerted) and on the ass (so gay men would be alerted during sex). He suggested this seemingly in all seriousness, apparently not realizing that visibly tattooing people would put them at risk of being attacked, and seemingly also blind to the resemblance to the serial numbers tattooed onto the arms of people who had, two generations earlier, been rounded up and thrown into Jewish concentration camps. But are we so different today ... not really when you see what is happening in Washington.
Now that the AIDS crisis has receded, and gay civil rights have become standard in Western countries, perhaps a seven-hour play about gay life in Ronald Reagan’s America might risk looking anachronistic.
But for me, the many subplots of Mr. Kushner’s kaleidoscopic work at Ensemble Theatre, from performative vulnerable masculinity to conflicts within the progressive movement, are still fresh today.
Molly's Desk: It's Paddy
w/ Molly McFadden
I was sitting at my very small desk the pale blue Corona electric typewriter. I was working on the playbill for the Broadway show we were doing press for, “My Fair Lady”. This was a spectacular show on Broadway with the return of Rex Harrison. As I was typing up Mr. Harrison’s bio I felt so honored. I was all alone in the office on 8th Ave. in New York on this particular morning and reading over the corrections I had just made when, all of a sudden, a man comes into the office. Seymour Krawitz Press Agency was right over the famous Carnegie Deli; which was great because, all day you could smell the fresh homemade corn beef; anyway we didn’t lock doors back then ... it was safe.
So, as I am reading and going over my corrections for Mr. Harrison, this chap walks in without saying a word. He had on corduroy pants and a lovely grey cardigan sweater which matched his grey beard and mustache. Not an imposing man and I didn’t feel threatened at all. He was stroking his chin as he walked in. He had his head down and was looking at the black and white tiles on the floor as he was pacing and marking them; and then he saw me.
He looked at me in silence and asked me if “Seymour was in”. Seymour was the press agent for major Broadway shows and my boss. He had worked on Broadway for over 23 years and all Broadway producers, writers, actors and critics adored him. He had graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism and was a real honest to god flack from the old days, meaning he could write and had a command of the English language and grammar. Seymour’s cronies and friends were the likes of Walter and Jean Kerr, Clive Barnes, Robert Whitehead, Elliot Norton, Neil Simon, and the stars like Rex Harrison, Claudette Colbert and Laurence Olivier, plus many more. None would ever work with any other PR agent but Seymour.
So, you can imagine with my being new to New York and this world ... I was in heaven.
But back to this chap asking me for Seymour. I told him he was doing an interview with Mr. Harrison at the Russian Tea Room and wasn’t expected to be back until late afternoon.
“OK, that is fine.”
I thought we were done and silence filled the little office. Then he looked down onto the floor and continued to walk back and forth murmuring to himself and making gestures with his hands and saying disjointed sentences such as, “This is fine, this is not ok ... don’t know about that ... maybe” as he intently gazed upon the black and white tiles.
“Do you mind” he asked me.
“No, go right ahead,” turning and going back to work.
I tried to act nonchalant and he stayed a good 20 minutes stroking his chin, rubbing his head and murmuring to himself. As he departed he thanked me for my help (what help?) and said to say hi to Seymour.
I had no idea who he was and I hadn’t wanted to break his concentration. The door shut behind him and I sat wondering about this strange world I was now a part of. Was he ok or an escaped mental patient?
Upon Seymour’s return I gave him all his phone messages and, of course, loved sitting and hearing his story about the interview with Rex Harrison for Vanity Fair. I was always a good audience for Seymour and I could tell he loved to share his experiences with me, the young blonde blue-eyed actress working hard to get a break on Broadway.
Going back to work I remembered our visitor and told him …”Oh, Seymour – don’t know who this was, but a man with a grey beard and mustache came into the office asking for you.”
“Did you get his name,” asked Seymour.
“No. I didn’t want to break his concentration.”
“His concentration? What do you mean?”
I told him that this chap came in and walked back and forth looking down at the floor murmuring to himself as if he was trying to solve a problem or something.
Seymour leaned in to me and asked, “Did he just come in?”
“Yes, he just came in. No knock, no introduction, no small conversation – and when I told him you wouldn’t be back, he just continued to pace and murmuring to himself”.
Seymour stood over my desk and peering down on me with a smile he quietly said, “Oh ... ok. That was Paddy Chayefsky, and he is working on a new film ,“Network,” and probably was trying to figure out a scene or something. I will check in with him.”
Seymour was about to go into his office when he turned back to me saying, “You do know who he is right?” I said with pure conviction, “Absolutely….Patty Chayefsky” Seymour corrected me, “Paddy, not Patty. When you get home look him up, ok?” “Sure.”
Well fortunately I am married to a talented playwright who knows about everyone involved with the theatre and when I came through the door that evening I couldn’t wait to tell Brian I met Paddy Chayefsky.
Brian was impressed – so that was my first clue this chap was someone of note. Brian, of course, knew I had no idea who was – so he told me all about this wonderful talented playwright and how lucky I was to have met him.
“Well I didn’t really meet him or have an in-depth conversation,” I confessed. More of just watching him. I asked Brian why was he murmuring and pacing the way he did in the office. What did he hope to gain from this?
“Most likely he was trying to figure something out with this new screenplay, and sometimes you just have to step away from the typewriter, or computer and mull it over in your head.”
I asked him, “Is that what you do?”
“No,” continued Brian. “I chop and cook and think about the problem and eventually come up with a solution or an answer. Then I go back to work.”
I didn’t fully understand the process at that time, but now some 25 years later I am writing and I too need to step away from the keyboard and take a break. The other day I was walking our dog and not really paying attention to her, as she pulled me down our street. I was gesturing to the sky and found myself murmuring as to to what I could do in order to create more action and not so much dialogue. I was scolding myself that yet again, too many words and not enough action.
After about a good 20-minute walk and discussion with myself, I was elated because I figured it out and I blurted to the heaven’s, “Of Course! – I got it ... I think.”
The wind was twirling all around me and as Bella patiently waited at the end of the leash, I was looking up above and I thought about Seymour and Paddy Chayefsky. With a nod, I acknowledged the delight and inspiration of pacing and murmuring.
Perhaps I have arrived and I am joining this illustrious talented group of writers ... but I have so far to go. I saw them nod to me and say, “’tis OK – you will have many miles to go before it will all become clear ... just keep pacing and murmuring!”
Molly's Desk: Knit By Knit
with Molly McFadden
Holidays are over ... YES!
And now as they say, back to our knitting; which, in my case, is true. I started knitting when I was in my mid-40’s and I love it. As you know I am new to writing and of late I realize the two have much in common and offer some wonderful respite when you hit a bump in the creative road. I didn’t think the two were related at all, but of late I find they are and the two creative processes help me out as I try to figure out a character in a scene or the interpretation of a pattern.
As a result, my husband is acquiring a wide range of wonderful complex sweaters. Once a sweater is completed I can tell by the small mistakes hidden in the rows what it was I was struggling with in the writing and just conclude; well that is what makes this so special the little hidden inaccuracies, right? In fact, I just completed a gorgeous cable jacket sweater with a shawl collar.
However ... as I was finishing up my draft of the play I am working on ... I just kept knitting the sleeves as I was bouncing back and forth from the play to the sleeves and now they are way too long. I was on a roll and couldn’t stop. I know I can fix it and it will all be fine, I hope!
So ... now it is a new year and I have begun a new play as well as a new sweater! I got the beautiful new silky yarn, pattern and needles and started at the very first row. I also sat at the computer making sense of all the notes I scribbled about for this new play during the holiday. With the knitting I find relief as I step away from the writing and untangle my brain when the dialogue gets too jumbled up or I can’t make any sense from my notes. That is what knitting does for me.
Literally, I feel my brain waves relax and get untangled.
With the yarn in my hand and casting on all the wonderful new stitches I read the pattern, and did exactly as it said, or so I thought. As a side note, I realize I tend to overthink instructions and something didn’t seem right. I also seem to overthink the process of writing and sometimes need to just let go and let it fly. At any rate after I had knitted the first row something didn’t seem right.
I put it down and went back to the play. I got through 23 pages of seemingly good dialogue, wow ... ok, not bad. Now go back to the knitting and see what it was you are missing.
Again, I read the instructions. They certainly seem simple enough, but something is off.
I paused and realized it is just like the first few sentences I write or in this case the 23 pages – are maddening at times. Full of promise of what’s to come, but messy and often confusing … and necessary to get to the good stuff.
I have learned to accept the creative process and realize it is in fact messy and it is going to be fine. The few stitches and rows are not at all the prettiest stitches or the most beautiful prose. But this process is necessary, and it forms the foundation for what is to come.
I kept looking at the rows and reading the instructions and it hit my like a bolt of lightning, dummy. Do it exactly as it says. Knit one, purl one to create the ribbing you need for the collar. Silly me, for some reason I kept thinking I was to knit the whole row and then only purl one stitch and then so forth; which made no sense with knitting a whole row and then doing only a purl, say what? Got it. Word for word, it all came together.
Success. I am not going to fall off the earth.
After a few rows of successful knitting, I kept thinking about the play and realized ... ok something is missing in a scene ... something important. What is it?
Bingo, I wasn’t telling “his” story…. because I was going so fast and in a rush to get the first draft down on paper I had left out the heart of one of the characters.
I have come to realize I feel a low panic to get everything down on paper as fast as I can or somehow it is all – the characters, the play – it is all going to just disappear into thin air and I won't be able to retrieve it. It will have been captured by the universe never to be found by me again, it goes up into the dark hole.
So my first draft is so stilted – so tight and devoid of what it is I am saying with the characters. Well, to tell you the truth I don’t know at the beginning. Unfortunately for me I just want to get it all down as fast as I can. I see the play, the characters and what they are wearing, and blocking and the lights; even the music. I begin by throwing everything up on that stage. If you ask me who is the protagonist in the beginning, I am not at all sure because for me, all of my characters are. I want them all to win; especially with this new play.
But I keep plugging away with both the play and the sweater.
I know a lot of knitters – and writers – who get to this stage and simply stop, but I can’t. They have completed, but not finished sweaters taking up space in their knitting bags. I know of writers who have finished numerous drafts of their works only be leaning against all the other plays on the shelf collecting dust.
I think I have a healthy ego because I can’t wait to see the finished project, and that is what keeps me pushing ahead. I can’t wait to see my sweater worn or the play performed – I live for that.
I am a born producer and no project for me will gather dust on the shelf or be stuffed in a knitting bag. Knitting – such a visual and tactile medium – it has taught me about the more intellectual medium of writing,
DON’T GIVE UP. Believe in yourself – that you can figure out the pattern and that the characters do, in fact, have something you want to say.
Have patience and keep with the process.
Interview with: Actor Craig Joseph of "Angels in America"
w/ Tyler JC Whidden
You play Louis who, like many of the characters in the play, has a lot of inner conflict going on. On the surface, Louis does some things that would make him seem like a less-than-tolerable person, but you've managed to find his heart. What has been the key to finding Louis' humanity? Or, making him sympathetic?
When I was prepping for rehearsals, I found a terrific quote from Tony Kushner that really resonated with me: "Everyone thinks they are Prior, but most people are Louis." This is so true. Louis is deeply human. He's like us. He acts pretty badly, but not because he's cruel or vain or malicious, but because he's afraid. Afraid of death, afraid of trying and failing, afraid of being judged, afraid of his feelings, afraid of change, and on and on and on. A lot of folks think of "hate" as the opposite of "love." I actually think that "fear" is the opposite. Louis' fear keeps him from loving well -- loving others and loving himself.
Who doesn't have that experience? We can clearly see who we want to be, what we want for our future, who we want to be in relationship to others, but our fears get in the way. So that was my starting point: not "Louis is a guy who leaves his lover who's dying of AIDS," but "Louis really wants to be better, and it's killing him that he can't, but he's terribly stuck." That sets me up for a really interesting journey over both parts of AiA, as Louis is pretty dynamic over the course of the six hours.
I think studying the historical context has helped. AIDS was a much more terrifying experience in the 80s, when folks didn't know where it was coming from, how it could be handled. We're a little calmer about it now and it's not -- ipso facto -- a death sentence, so I think we jump to judge Louis from a distance, when his reality was a lot different than our own.
I also think Louis is "like us" in that his worst behavior manifests itself in his relationship with the person he cares about most. I look at my own life, and it's certainly true that my immediate family and closest friends have to deal with a "messier" version of me. The stakes are higher there, there's more history, and I'm more easily thrown off by people in whom I'm invested. It's sometimes much easier to be patient, empathic, kind, courageous, and forgiving with people who aren't so close. Objectivity enables us to be "better." This, I think, is what we observe in his dynamic with Joe -- moments where Louis is freer, calmer, more truthful, funnier, steadier, and all that. Wildly different from who he is with Prior.
I'm not going to ask you how you remember all those lines. But, you do have the most/longest monologues in the play. What do you think is the correlation between Louis' inner-angst and his need to express himself? Also, how do you remember all those lines?
Louis loves words and loves language. So do I. That's one of the things that drew me to the role.
I think it's pretty easy for Louis to get stuck in his head, navel gazing and feeling guilty; he's too introspective for his own good -- to the point of paralysis. So I think that talking and self-expression -- the way he verbally processes everything -- is how he "works out" his demons. More importantly, though, talking is the way he connects with people. It helps him feel a little less lonely. I imagine this began in his big Jewish family, where love and relationship were communicated through stories, anecdotes, and long conversations. It's true of his relationship with Prior. And it fuels his confessions / attraction to Joe.
The danger, though, is that words also let Louis disconnect. In some moments, I think his talking is like running or fleeing. If he stops for a moment to actually consider or feel the full weight of how badly he's screwed up, it'll destroy him. So he keeps prattling on. What's ironic and endearing is that he's too smart and too big-hearted to actually win this race. The self-deception only works for so long. He usually ends up talking himself -- three paragraphs later -- into the very truth of the situation he was hoping to avoid.
That's the fun tension of Louis. Words give him life, but can also be the death of him.
And the secret of remembering the lines? A healthy streak of perfectionism with a tiny dose of self-loathing and self-flagellation.
What can audiences expect when they come see Angels?
It's longer than your traditional play or movie, so buy snacks and be prepared to concentrate. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner and a seminal work of American theater, so ready yourself to be challenged and provoked by the language, while also being moved and inspired by the theatricality of the piece. And our production features a stellar ensemble cast of Cleveland actors, so expect to see skilled craftspeople delving into complex and layered characters, trying to bring them authentically to life.
Beyond that, though, I'd encourage folks to check their expectations at the door. The play is so rich and chock-full of ideas that it's probably wise to just let it take you wherever it leads. My guess is that each audience member will have a different experience: some will leave with questions; others will leave with new perspectives; some will be angry with one character, while others will sympathize with the plight of another. This play can effect all those responses, which is why it's a modern classic and epic. Come join us and see what it does in you. And don't forget: there's a Part Two in May.
This is your 2nd of 3 shows you'll be in this season including the previous Well. Should our season be renamed, "We the Craig Joseph"?
Well, I'm not sure it's as catchy as "We the People," but the various voices in my head would certainly appreciate being acknowledged in that way. Neurotic never gets top billing.
You can learn more about Craig and the rest of the Angels in America cast on our website at EnsembleTheatreCLE.org.
Interview with: Actress Derdriu Ring of "Angels in America"
w/ Tyler Whidden
You play the Rabbi, Hannah, and Ethel Rosenberg in Angels - how do you see these characters connected to each other, if at all?
I believe that the Rabbi and Ethel are connected by their religion and their proximity to death.The Doctor is also a harbinger of death. Rabbi Chemolwitz and Ethel both represent the Jewish Immigrant, first and second generation.
Hannah does not feel connected to any of the other characters I play, although, she does go on a very long journey across America to reach her son and, is in a way, lost in NYC, much like an immigrant. Her journey has just begun unlike Ethel and The Rabbi who are nearing their journey's end.
What themes within the play do you find yourself attracted to?
Love. Fear. Tradition. Faith. Death. Immigration.
What is it about Angels that makes it still relevant and such an important work?
Roy Cohen could be Harvey Weinstein. His abuse of power with his staff sounds very familiar. Both he and Weinstein have boasted about having the president's wife on speed dial.
The Rabbi speaks of the 3rd and 4th generations losing their sense of struggle, their ancestral struggle. This seems relevant to me, being an immigrant, and seeing how little my own children have to struggle in comparison to those of us who have crossed the ocean. That loss of identity in our "melting pot" can allow for a disregard for the present sufferings of immigrants trying to reach our shores from Syria, Mexico, Northern Africa etc. The hatred towards immigrants from the current administration is alarming and this play serves as a wake up call for us to be vigilant with regards to tolerance, empathy, decency and for us to pay attention.
This play also serves as a reminder that, although there is a way to prevent someone with AIDS from dying, it is still here and has not gone away. Safe sexual practices are still imperative.
You can learn more about Derdriu and the rest of the Angels in America cast on our website at EnsembleTheatreCLE.org.
Molly's Desk: As it Happened ... or Not
with Molly McFadden
When I last left you with my 2nd Blog, I had a beautiful tomato stew on the stove cooking away with steam filling the air. That was a couple of weeks ago, and I have since then been working on my play having consumed the stew and wine with my husband.
Handing in my 10 pages from the script for the Wednesday gathering, I was excited to have them read and of course applaud my dramatic efforts. I was a good girl. I had written the scene as it happened; exactly as it took place. Every step the characters made, every nuance, expletive and expression. I was a camera and I had taken the snapshot and put it down on paper. I should get an A for accuracy.
After the reading, there was, of course, the pause ... the everlasting pause and then the ... ”Molly what did you want to succeed with this scene, and how does it move the story and plot along?”
I wanted to shout it from the rooftops that I captured exactly what had happened in this scene dramatizing our family drama and got it down word for word. I want the audience to feel the emotion unfolding as I reported it. Tyler has the kindest eyes and, yet he does not hold back and always says what needs to be said and heard. “No one gets emotional over a report, Molly. They do get emotional when they're invested in the character's journey. That allows them a greater opportunity to experience what the character is experiencing. ”
He continued; “Yes you did report the scene accurately, but that is just it ... you gave a report. No action. So again, I ask you...what do you, the playwright, want to do with this scene and character to move your story along?”
I took a moment and asked him, “Well isn’t that enough? To get it word for word? I thought that was part of what writing a play is all about to write & create realistic characters in a realistic scene which brings about the drama. To create what I know so well with how they feel and talk.”
“Absolutely that is key,” responded Tyler. “Because that tells me where they come from and where they live and how old they are and all that is necessary. But where is the action and the movement toward the goal?”
Tyler continued that the correction police are not going to barnstorm my creative process with what was accurately reported. I realized that I captured a moment in time and reported it, but I didn’t dramatize it.
OK, got it. Class ended and I walked to my car turning the advice in my head.
I recalled a book I had read many years ago written by Richard Hornby titled Drama, Metadrama and Perceptions, and immediately retrieved it from my bookshelf to review it and hopefully find inspiration.
Flipping through the pages and looking for a place to land I found these words.
Drama has an operative function similar to that of language. Rather than mirroring life passively, drama is instead a means of thinking about life, a way of organizing and categorizing it. Drama as a whole, both serious and conventional, in all its media (stage, film, television, etc.) generates archetypal categories of events, characters, situation, and themes, which we then apply to real life in order to understand and deal with it. The notion of creative passivity leads to questions about artistic value. If a knowledge of archetypes is all that is required to write a good play why are more good plays not written? Why is it that when I, a critic who has read more widely than either Shakespeare or Ibsen, sit down and intransitively, to write a play based on the archetypes that I know extremely well that my results are so paltry? Under realistic doctrine, one could say that Shakespeare and Ibsen were better observers of life than myself, but under structuretualism it will not do to say that they were better observers of literature. They were not. Shakespeare with “small Latin and less Greek,” was well read in the popular literature of his day, but in little else; Ibsen, during the time of his greatest creativity, read little except newspapers. It is inadequate to try to understand drama entirely in terms of literary archetypes.
So, one must be an observer of life, right? OK I believe that is exactly what it is I am trying to accomplish with my play. I sat down and wrote many versions of what it is I want to accomplish with my play and I finally concluded with these words giving myself permission.
My play is about coming to terms with the transitions in life and the American Dream. My goal is to create a play that sits inside the contradictions and paradoxes of life beyond the issues of our time; that wrestles with the fear of death, alienation, loneliness and spirituality – to meditate on these parts of life, and to hopefully, if successful, get closer to sharing The Truth that each of us already knows. And in so doing, become more connected to each other.
I leave you with the paraphrase of a famous writer, “It is the best of times; it is the worst of times.” The holiday season is a magical period, filled with bright lights, shopping trips for loved ones, cherished family traditions, and elaborate meal preparations and plans. SO, writing during these next few weeks and spending quality time with my loved ones will be an “either or proposition”. I hope to carve out a piece of time and put my pen to pad with my thoughts and inspirations as we continue forth.
Molly's Desk: On Cooking and Writing
with Molly McFadden
After my first gathering with Tyler and Stage Wrights, you know what I did? I came home and I cooked.
My ten pages from my completed play were well received and I felt good, very good at the response. BUT – yes, the inevitable “BUT” we receive on any given creative project, I needed to answer some very important questions:
What is this play about?
I pulled out the onion to peel and poured a very large helping of Bordeaux.
Brian asked me how it went and I just nodded murmuring it was fine … and then opened up a cookbook. It was 10 in the evening. Brian knew then and there to give me my space and encouraged me to not burn anything as he departed.
You see, together we use to own a bistro in Midland, Michigan before we moved to Cleveland. In fact, it was called Molly’s Bistro and, in 2006, was voted best small business in the state. We had a delightful array of culinary farm-fresh-to-table entrees along with nightly music and jazz on the weekends. We did this for eight glorious years before we had to close.
The experience was an array of success and labor of love even though we felt we were constantly clutched by a huge octopus who never loosened its grip. But it allowed us expression of our creativity. As tears streamed down my cheeks with the diced onion I recalled what my husband had shared with me when I told him of my feelings and fear about writing and the struggle and how do you begin.
He quoted Picasso: “To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”
It may be tempting to dismiss his insight with an “Easy for him to say!” sigh, but anyone who has endeavored in a creative field has felt first-hand this yin-yang of action and ideation. Well, right now I landed on the lily pad of my creative comfort zone and I continued my therapy with sautéing and chopping and dicing.
I allowed the questions from the evening's gathering to slowly come back to my mind and realized it was not enough to be satisfied with what I finished, but to find the answers to the questions in order to give reason and depth. Then I could continue knowing what is was I, as a writer, wanted to say.
I never truly had asked myself what it was I personally wanted to say with this play. I had just wanted to write for the sake of writing. And it was good, but not good enough without those important questions and answers. With the aroma of sautéed onions and garlic filling the kitchen, I kept turning the question over in my brain as I was reading the recipe and cooking up a storm.
Scanning the copy, I realized it was so much easier to cook then to write anything, much less a play. I had newfound respect for my husband who had written plays and I fondly recall the way he would come into the kitchen to do just what it was I was doing, chopping and sautéing as he would think through a scene. I had been in his shoes of sitting at a computer and facing a blank – very blank – sheet of paper with nothing on it.
That was us -- is us, two peas in a pod.
Someone had taken the time to write down their experience with ingredients, measurements and suggestions; and all I had to do now was to FOLLOW. As though the numbers were already on the blank canvas for a painter and I just had to connect the dots and fill in the glorious colors. I mean you don’t pick up a blank piece of paper with the suggested verbs at the beginning of the paragraph to fill in and help you compose what it is you wish to say; far be it. NO! You have to have something you want to say and then it is up to you to put the words down.
So now I was left with the dangling conversation to fill in the answers as to what it is my play was really about, and what am I wishing to convey to the world. With this new found insight, and feeling ever so clever at my astute observation on life, I stirred in the diced tomatoes and parsley.
Cooking had always been a creative challenge for me – other then performing – something that takes both artistry and practicality. Cooking doesn’t make me feel abused or annoyed or frustrated. As a woman—it’s one of the greatest joys of my life.
Pouring another cup of wine for the sauce and one for me, I continued with my realizations that after a long day there’s something cathartic about chopping vegetables. It gives one the opportunity to experiment with tastes, textures, and flavors. I can make things that remind me of the bistro, our family and friends, home, my heritage. Things like pecan pie, Challah, chicken pot pie and poached pears with blue cheese. It gives me the opportunity to learn the traditions of the people around me, to learn how to make dishes that are important to them. People discount cooking because it takes time are forgetting the joy that can come from doing something creative and communal with our days: something that requires energy and service and love.
OK so why not just pursue this and forget the writing then? Why not be happy with baking my award winning Challah and accept these endeavors as my creative expression?
Because I can’t.
Because I do have something to say beyond a carving board or an expensive sharp knife or rising yeast. It is not enough anymore to feel the dough in my hands and to knead it into the beautiful elastic dough all shiny and silky. Not enough. I need to satisfy what lays deeper inside my soul and share it with others.
Tyler in the opening class put it so aptly as he said we want to write because we want to be part of the universal dialogue.
I recalled what it was Roger Ebert on his perspective about film had quoted which was, “I want to create art wherein the ultimate goal is to help people feel more empathy, and therefore to feel less alone.”
Sipping my wine and standing next to the simmering pot of sauce feeling the heat from the steam I realized I had just taken another important step on my journey.
Not only to get it right ... but not to be alone and be part of the universal dialogue.
The Hairy Ape actor Joe Milan
We talk a lot about this play really being about Cleveland and Clevelanders, how do you feel that Yank represents Cleveland?What has your preparation been like as you work on the play? Does working on O'Neill mean a different approach as an actor?
Yank represents the working men and women of Cleveland and all the other Great Lakes States' former manufacturing powerhouses just before wide spread labor union representation. Once critical players in the creation of cutting edge of technology, the technology they built has now increasingly replaced them. Pay attention to Paddy's first monologue. It says it all. Where would Yank be today? Probably a Big Box cashier, marveling at the new self-checkout machines.
Other than gallons of throat soothing concoctions, you mean?
O'Neill is an exercise in brutalist poetry, a test of your sorting skills, and an ultimate reward to the spirit. Only life can fully prepare you for O'Neill, and as the son and brother of machinists (and the great great grandson of one killed in a Cleveland steel mill,) I have witnessed the cycle from the suburban American dream through decline: from material accumulation measured-as-success, to pack rat-ism and death, to have your power of self determination wind up in the pocket of a CEO.
"Is it to belong to that you're wishing?"What can audiences expect when they go see The Hairy Ape?
All this and an entire cast of incredibly talented actors, crew, and designers!
"So it's ho for the stokehole!"
Molly's Desk: I Can Do This! I Have To Do This
with Molly McFadden
After sipping my coffee, I slipped behind the wheel of my Buick - fog all around me and the quiet of a country setting in the early morning. I sat alone in the car and wondered to myself, “Is it too late to get it right?” This was a question that I recently had been asking myself during my quiet times. Sitting with my coffee in the Buick, I just shook my head because I didn’t have a clue as to what the answer was, or even to get what right?
What was the “what?”
I turned on the car and I steered out onto the country road in Peninsula, OH, heading off to work. This is a drive I had done for the past year to the suburbs of Cleveland where I was working full time as a marketing director.
Driving down the road for the next 30 miles I couldn’t get the dialogue out of my head. I couldn’t stop the images from forming in my head as to what the characters on the stage were saying, and I certainly could not put to rest the conflict raging in this family.
I got to work and before I could even start my daily routine I took all the notes from the seat of the car I had been scribbling on for the last month and just wrote everything into a new document on my laptop and placed it in my personal folder.
There I did it. Finally I put pen to paper (manner of speaking) and began to write my very first play on my very own.
Fall turned into Spring and then Summer, and every morning on my drive to and from work I had my pen in hand and took notes on a notepad as the play unfolded before my eyes.
I was elated.
I could see the characters, feel the dialogue and movements, see the staging and I even knew what music should be played before and during a scene.
During this creative outburst of writing, numerous emotions and reflections resurrected on a continual basis. I soon realized the writing was a form of therapy for the last 15 years of my family's life. There was no stopping it, nor should I, as I knew this was cathartic and needed to be done, especially as I needed the answer to that burning question, “is it too late to get it right?”
I also stopped the voices in my head asking, “Who cares” - “is it theatrical” - “ will it sell” - “will it stand up to other plays and dramas?”
I didn’t give a damn about any of that.
You see I had lived and worked in the theatre for the past 30 years and knew well the arena and all the stamina, skills, talents and tools one needs in order to proceed ahead. I was (still am) a performer and only recently had I come to writing. I did not dare to even enter into those conversations in my head as it was important for me to just get everything down on paper as I saw it and felt it.
Come Fall, the play was finished.
Now I needed to step out of my silo and be brave enough to enter into a community where it could be read and discussed. It wasn’t enough that I finished the play – I needed to continue my journey and share this story and have it be heard by others.
In fact, I was surprised at how much I wanted to have the story heard. Taking this leap of faith, I fortunately was led to Ensemble Theatre and two classes led by Tyler Whidden, Associate Artistic Director.
Script Analysis on Tuesday; which gets to the heart of the art form of playwriting.
The other one is StageWrights on Wednesdays. In this you have a FREE series of staged readings, allowing all of the local playwrights a platform to display and hear their work.
I knew then and there ... I was home.
After my first class I slipped behind the wheel of my faithful Buick -- dark of night surrounding me. It was quiet and I looked at the full moon - tears flowing down my cheeks. I knew I was right where I was suppose to be and I had come a long way from that early morning on a country road in Peninsula to now Cleveland Heights.
Finally, the answer to my question: No….no not at all. It is never too late to get it right ... if you know what it is you are trying to get right.
This is my journey.