Creativity #50 - The State of the Art

Times are changing, and like everything else, theatre is changing along with it. Where theatre is going, I am not sure, but I do know the stories that I need to tell, and I will tell these tales no matter what the STATE OF THE ART is.

But I might format them differently.

What am I talking about?
Because of TV, and the digital revolution, the attention span of the human being is changing.  It seems harder for many people to stay focused for over 90 minutes  (sometimes it is 60 minutes.) This change is evident for we now live our lives with our SMART phones and they are a constant distraction which has become THE NORM. It is what we do. We go out into life and then, 9, 10, 20 times an hour, we step out of the real world and journey into a screen filled world with information, images, text and digital stories (written word or acted out on video or film.)  And man, is it great. Crazy fun to connect with "friends," super cool to view silly YouTube videos, and emails can now be returned from almost anywhere. And then we pop back into the REAL WORLD.

So the popping out and the popping back in, has become the normal, commonplace way our brains and emotions respond to the universe. So what happens to someone who does this all day long for years, and then goes into the theater and has to sit, without a screen, without information and digital CRACK for two hours? It becomes really really difficult.

We, as humans, have programmed ourselves to change focus constantly, and it is a very hard NEW behavior to change or even modify. (Even at Rock Concerts, the screens are part of the event as people take videos, and pictures of the event.)

So what has to happen to a play in order for a play to survive the ADD Smart phone addiction?

1. Make your story crazy compelling. Make the stakes big and novel.  Unique somehow. But UP THE ANTE and write a powerful plot with compelling characters.

2. Limit your play to 90 minutes or less.  (Yes, even for your Epic Tale of Love and Eternal Damnation.)  Make it 90 minutes  (with a compelling story) and leave it at that. Cut ruthlessly if it goes over 90. 90 minutes is the longest a play should ever be in this NEW A.D.D. MILLENNIUM.

3. (This one is wild and not mandatory but it really works. I see it all the time at Manhattan Rep.) Let your characters use their smart phones and IPADS in your play.  Add Text messages and other social media items to the PLOT of your play. For some crazy reason, seeing SCREEN behavior on stage actually creates focus for this A.D.D. generation. Crazy huh? But in my experience it is true!

4. Write RAW. Be crazy honest and open in your work. Writing RAW is scary to the playwright, but done correctly it is compelling to an audience. Even an A.D.D. audience. Dare to write about that issue which is scary, dangerous or downright nutty.  

Theatre is intrinsic to our nature.  Don't ever stop writing plays! Human interaction without screens is paramount to our culture, heritage, and as I have mentioned on other occasions, to our survival as loving, compassionate citizens of Planet Earth.  

Don't give up on theatre. Adapt to the times and tell some amazing stories!

Posted on October 19, 2015 .

Creativity #49 - Tell your REAL TIME STORIES!

Lately, I feel like a THEATRE EVANGELIST!   I feel like now more than ever I need to be preaching the importance of STORIES and how THEATRE is so intrinsic to our humanity and to our survival! Times are changing. Because of TECHNOLOGY, the world is different, and because of that, theatre is now more important than ever!

About a year ago, I attended my 13 year old nephew's Birthday party at a big, crazy amazing restaurant out on Long Island. His mother must have spent thousands of dollars for this party -there were maybe 60 people total, and the food was friggin' amazing. The "adults" sat at two very long tables and my nephew and his friends sat at another long table along side the "adult" tables.

I was chatting with my "Father- In-Law" about how amazing the Gnocchi was, when I glanced over at my nephew and this friends at the "kid" table, ...and I was stunned. The entire table was silent. They were sitting around as if they were hypnotized, or newly indoctrinated into a Cult or something, staring into their IPADS and their IPHONES. Every single last one of them! Not one was eating. They just sat there staring, almost Zombie-like into their SCREENS. 

If it were 40 years ago and I was 13, I would be running around getting into trouble and then EATING UP A STORM! It was MIND-BOGGLING!

Now, I love my IPHONE and my IPAD.  I actually sleep with my Iphone. (Did you know that 70% of people with Smart Phones sleep with them?) But to forsake human interaction at a crazy, wonderful party for digital interaction is frightening. Are we becoming so detached from human interaction because of FACEBOOK, and texting, and FACE TIME?  Do we see people more as their AVATARS, as opposed to who they really are? What is happening to HUMAN face to face in the same room interaction? If the next generation totally embraces this digital world, will some of our humanity get left behind?

Of course.

I just heard about a study on Smart Phone digital communication. The study concluded that people are becoming less emphatic to others because of so much digital "connection."  People actually are starting to view and deal with People as if they are just AVATARS, not real, living breathing humans.  And who really cares about an AVATAR? That's just a digital snapshot.

Is this just me? Or is this really scary?

That is where theatre comes in. Especially OFF OFF BROADWAY INDIE Theatre like at a place like Manhattan Rep. There is nothing digital here (except the way that I run TECH rehearsals.) It is about people telling other people stories in REAL TIME. Not a story or a game on a digital device, but honest real time stories. And there is something magical that happens when human beings share stories in real time in the same space. There is an energy exchange that happens that is real world MAGIC. And that energy exchange can be transformation and profound. There is nothing like it. Even the best movie can't compare to a great performance of a well put together play. It can be life-changing, but it is ALWAYS life-nurturing for theatre is almost always about connecting - Real people in real time with real people. Humans connecting with humans. In the same place, same time. Telling and experiencing stories.

So if you find most of your connecting in life is online, come back to the theatre. Come tell a personal story or just experience one. Come celebrate human connection again.

And help save Humanity!  

Posted on October 4, 2015 .

Creativity #48 - Best Practices to Deal with DISTRACTIONS!

The sad but true nature of this fast-paced life that most of us live now is that it's very hard not to get distracted. We are living with roommates, spouses and significant others. Some of us have children, plus we have these things called phones which we have with us all the time that ring, ping, whistle and tweet, distracting us any given moment in time. Plus we have life worries like: How can I pay the rent? How can I get out of this terrible job? and, How can I really get my writing OUT INTO the world? Life is just one big distraction and if you have mild ADD like me, distractions are literally ALL THE TIME.

So how do you limit distractions so you can finally finish that play?

1. Set up distraction free time to work.

I know it's hard but find and schedule an hour a day or an hour every two days to write. Shut off your phone, close the door turn on your computer or break out your yellow legal pad and start to write. Mark this appointment down in your calendar and make it a big must of an event - an hour every day or every two days and then write, write, write. Know that this appointment to write is UNBREAKABLE (and if you do break it - you have to pay me $100 - HA HA!!) PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR AND MAKE IT A MUST DO!!!

Another idea might be to tell everyone you know you will be unavailable for the weekend - and then take the whole weekend to give yourself a writing retreat. Get up early. Write. Nap, then write. Go for a run, then write but set up a timetable for your retreat and stick to it. If you are living with someone and they don't understand - go away for the weekend - just say you are going on a writer's retreat and rent a nice hotel somewhere and dive into your work. Give it a whirl!

2. Use Technology to help you out.

Use a "Pomodoro Timer" on you computer or phone to keep you on track. A "Pomodoro Timer" is an application that rings every 25 minutes, then rings 5 minutes later, and the repeats 25,5,25,5 and on and on. The technique is this: You set the timer and you work for 25 minutes straight with no distractions. Then you stop and rest for five minutes. You go to the bathroom and get something to drink. You stretch. Then "DING" you start again - 25 minutes and then you rest for five and on and on and on. This is a great way to keep you focused on your writing.

Use the FIRST THING application. (If you have a Mac, you can get it on the Mac App store.)

This is a little application that puts the FIRST THING you need to do in a corner of your computer desktop so it keeps reminding you to get it done. You can also just put a word doc open on your desktop with that ONE THING on it. I know this sounds SOPHOMORIC but if you are distracted easily, it works! You are constantly reminded to get that one thing done.

3. Learn to Meditate.

What? How will this help me and my distractions?

The nature of most meditation - be it "Transcendental" or a "Walking" meditation, is to focus on ONE THING - a chant, a mantra, your breath, or your walking. The more you do it - honestly, believe me on this one,THE MORE YOU WILL BE ABLE TO FOCUS COMPLETELY ON YOUR WRITING. Try it.

Find a meditation class or a good teacher and get focused!

4. Give yourself a crazy deadline with SEVERE consequences if you don't make it.

One of the best ways to get so focused and UNDISTRACTED on a writing project is to have a BIG REASON WHY!

The better the reason and the bigger the deadline consequences are, the more focused you will be. Tell 5 friends if you don't finish the first draft of your play by X date, you will give them each $100! And put it in writing! That will keep you focused!

Hope all this helps!

I want to see your next play submitted here soon at Manhattan Rep!

Posted on August 29, 2015 .

Creativity #47 - The Joy of Cutting

Now you may find this hard to believe. Really hard to believe. But in my humble opinion, 90% of the plays I see and read today, (I see and read a lot of plays) whether they are short plays 10 - 20 minutes or full-length plays, 90% of all the plays can be cut at least 15% if not more.  Even short plays. Yes, in a nut shell, most plays today need to be cut. And often, drastically.

Cutting dialogue and even whole scenes from your play is like giving birth.  It can be painful, long and arduous, but then the cutting process is over, often, you will have a better play. But to be honest, it is really hard to do, because often, WE LIKE WHAT WE WRITE, and when WE LIKE WHAT WE WRITE, it is really hard to cut it, even if it doesn't serve your play or your creative intention.

So how do you know what serves your play?  

Start with these two questions: 

What is the story you are telling? (Write it out in 30 words or less.) 

and

What do you want the audience to do after they see your play? (Again write it out.)

If you get clear on the story you are telling, clear on the core of your piece, you will easily see dialogue, and even whole scenes that don't serve your intention.  I have read so many plays that are ALL OVER THE PLACE - yes, they are often clever, or funny, or heart-wrenching, but they are just TOO MUCH. (Like the Christopher Nolan Batman movies - come on Christopher just tell one story really well. Let's really do that Joker story!)  Get clear on the core, on, as they say, the THROUGH-LINE of your story, and you will easily see what needs to be shredded.

Also if you get clear on what you want the audience to do after seeing your play, you will easily see what in your play is not leading towards that intention. Maybe you want the audience to stop being so self-centered, and become self-aware and more spiritual.  Or maybe you want the audience to begin accepting others and to love more unconditionally. Or maybe you want them to start taking chances in their lives, but whatever it is, the clearer you are on what you want the audience to do, the easier it will be for you to CUT all that doesn't serve your creative intention.

When you start writing a new play, just let the creative juices fly. Knowing that you will be cutting a play drastically will let your creative imagination go wild which is what you want. Then get clear on the story and your audience intention and CUT CUT CUT.

Learning how to cut whole scenes and internal dialogue is, in my humble opinion, the most important skill you need to be a great playwright. CUT CUT CUT so that your play is concise, succinct, clear, focused and on point.  You can always add stuff back in if you want, but dare to rip, shred, and CUT CUT CUT your play to uncover the amazing butterfly within.

Creativity #47 - Two Versions of the Same Play!

 

(For those of you who have not read my last post, please check it out before you read this.)

Last night, we closed the "New" Version of THE MATCH GAME and then we had our 10th ANNIVERSARY PARTY after the show. As we were sipping wine and chewing down on CARMINE'S amazing Italian food, I got a chance to chat with some friends and associates who came to see the show. As you know from my previous post, we had an actor leave the show due to a health issue, and we were unable to find an actor who could learn the part in time, so I rewrote the show, basically turning that character into a voiceover on the phone. I added in some kick ass music to help pace the show, and remarkably it worked! Not one person who attended saw that in effect it was a patchworked play, the reason being I actually strengthened the through line of and the pacing of the play by doing it this way. It was more streamlined, more direct, and in a way MORE FUN!

The bottomline is this. In terms of creativity ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, if you let go of what was, what should be, perfection models and more, there is always a creative solution!! 

Always.

Now I have two valid and really fun versions of THE MATCH GAME.  One runs 2 hours and has 5 actors. One version runs 90 minutes and has 4 actors.

And I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THEM BOTH!

 

Posted on August 8, 2015 .

CREATIVITY #46 - WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN, HOW TO MAKE THINGS GOOD!

Please forgive me if it has been a while since I posted here.  I have been in the middle of a really good CREATIVITY LESSON - life does give us the best seminar stories,  so let's hope that my time away from this blog will be useful for you in your theatrical creativity journey.

For our 10th Anniversary Event here at Manhattan Rep, we decided (because it is great fun and we like fun) to bring back my crazy fun play about dating THE MATCH GAME.  Jen Pierro, my partner in life and Manhattan Rep and I actually met during a production of this play so we thought it would be FUN and fitting to bring back THE MATCH GAME to celebrate our Tenth.

Initially, rehearsals went great.  It was awesome to step back into this play and participate in the FUN, and acting with Jenny again was a blast, but suddenly, a week before opening, an original member of the cast had a health issue and had to pull out of the production.  We frantically looked for a replacement who was right for this role who could get it together in time but to no avail.  It looked like we were going to have to cancel THE MATCH GAME.

I hate to give up.  I just do.  Giving up is not in my nature. If I choose to do something, I will do my crazy best to make it happen.  So sitting, here on my computer, a week before the show, I made a crazy choice.  

I would rewrite THE MATCH GAME and make it work.  So I literally pulled this character off the stage and made him a much smaller off stage presence with some creative phone calls.  Phone calls were already a part of THE MATCH GAME but I figured I could use this vehicle to propel the story and still present the true essence of The Match Game. The cast was concerned and ready to call it quits but I convinced them to give my rewrites a chance. I was determined to make this work.

So that weekend, I recorded the off stage voice of BIG BOBBY B and I put together a rocking crazy fun soundtrack that would power The Match Game through to its crazy fun conclusion.  Spending hours and hours putting this all together I just barely got it done in time for our Sunday TECH rehearsal.  Luckily, we were blessed with one of the best Sound Light technicians in the world, Katherine Cartusciello, who took my 95 sound cues and created theatrical magic.  Our tech took only two and a half hours  (The show is 90 minutes.) and when we ended, we all knew it was going to work.  We had our dress after that, and WOW, miracle!  The play was funnier, more concise, and more streamlined than ever before!  And all our hard work was not going to go to waste! Last week , we opened and it was awesome fun!

Choosing to let go of something in this context worked.  We let go of the old way of telling this story and we found another way which actually worked.  I had one of our resident playwrights attend on opening night and he was struck by the dialogue and the acting work in the show, AND he had no idea we had actually taken a character offstage. No idea! Crazy fun!

Do I want this to happen when I open my next play?  Absolutely not. But I  do know that when the going gets tough CREATIVITY is the answer. Accept what is. Get creative with it, and then make it work.

The remaining performances of THE MATCH GAME are:

Thursday July 30 at 7 pm
Wednesday August 5 at 7 pm
Friday August 7 at 7 pm.

Please come and check it out now that you know the inside scoop, and let me know what you think!

Ticket Reservations can be made at: MatchGameTickets@gmail.com


Posted on July 25, 2015 .

Creativity #45 - Let it Cook!

Let it cook.

Some plays just need to cook longer.

What the heck does that mean? 

Sometimes you are just not ready to complete it. It hasn't perked enough in your creative unconscious, the story is somehow incomplete.

So you just need to leave it alone and start work on something else.

Then, maybe in a month, two months or even a year, the idea or inspiration will hit you like lightning, and wham bam boom you will complete this play in a whirlwind of creativity and it will be awesome.  Like a fine wine, you let it ferment, grow richer, fuller, layered.

You let it cook.

The creative spark is moody, unpredictable and untameable.  When it ignites you need to stay with it, let it channel it's magic, write write write, and when it dries up, acknowledge what is, leave it alone, put it under a rock somewhere, and let it cook.  

Let it simmer. 

Trust it will ripen with age without your attention. 

This is one of the hardest things for most writers to do, but from working with a myriad of playwrights, this is such an important skill for every writer to learn!

It is ok to stop work on a project for a while if it isn't happening.

When I work with my Playwriting Mentoring clients, setting the play aside to let it cook is absolutely unfathonable. They are paying me to help them craft their story, and they go bonkers when I suggest that they leave it alone for a bit and then contact me when "lightning strikes."  

"Help me make this happen!" they cry, 

and I reply, "I am.  Just let it cook for a bit."

You see, you can't make a flower blossom.  

You can't make gravy before the Turkey is done.  

You can't squeeze inspiration out of a blank sheet of paper or blank computer screen.

If the well is dry, don't try to drink.  Find another well to hydrate your imagination for a bit while your creative unconscious does its magic.

Let it cook.

Posted on June 3, 2015 .

Creativity #44 - When is an idea a good idea for a play?

So you have an idea for a play? How do you know if it is any good?

Here is my litmus test for to see if an idea will hold water for the long haul:

1. Are you passionate about this idea? Does it excite you emotionally?  Does it actually make you feel good - raise your adrenaline when you think about it?

Passion will fuel the creation of any play. Make sure you are passionate about your idea so it drives you.

2. Has this idea caused you to envision the entire play? Or major elements or scenes of the play?  Do you find this idea following you around?  Are you thinking about it a lot of the day?

If you idea is causes you to begin to obsess about it - it is a good idea!

3. Were you looking for this idea, or did this idea just fall in your lap?  

Seeking ideas is fun and exciting but I find my best ideas are thrust upon me sometimes in very strange ways. An example of this was when I got the idea for New York City's first One Man One Dog show DAD AND THE DOG that we have produced on two occasions at Manhattan Rep. I was sitting with my mother and sister at a family social gathering eating and chatting with our Dog Roma in my arms. We started to talk about growing up, and somehow, we brought up how when I was 11 my father and mother had a huge fight and she took the five of us and ran away to Willow Grove, PA to live with her parents, and she left my father home in our house with our dog Missy. When we finally returned 6 weeks later, the dog was at least 20 pounds heavier and my father was different, changed somehow. That Summer, alone with Missy, was the beginning of his transformation from being a very troubled man to being incredibly selfless and crazy loving to his five kids. As I was sitting there, it hit me. "I should do a play about that Summer." And then, I looked down into my arms, and Roma stared up at me and smiled, and it hit me again "And Roma and I will star in it!" It was a scary, wonderful discovery, and I knew it was a play that needed to be created. As it turned out, we received some wonderful reviews - Roma's reviews were actually better than mine. And it was the most exciting experience I have ever had on stage. Literally hanging out with Roma, embodying my father's journey was simply amazing.

    4. Is this idea important? How will it affect others? How will it affect you?
    
 This is the diesel fuel of a play. If your play idea is somehow connected to some grand message that YOU NEED TO COMMUNICATE it is a good idea, and it will power you to write it to its conclusion.  DAD AND THE DOG was important for it showed how even in the worst situations, we can persevere with the power of love and the connection to our creator. If your idea can affect people, go in the back door and shake up negative beliefs in people, it is a good idea.

How will it affect YOU is an important question!  How will you feel when you see this play up on stage? Will it make you laugh? Will it help you heal?
    
 Now you will notice in these questions I didn't include, 

"Is the idea commercial?" 
    
 Bad place to start.
      
 For if you start from there, you will be writing a "commercial play" not one from your passion, and most often, IT WILL SUCK. Not the place to start.  
    
And bottomline, any good play written from the heart, dealing with an important issue about life or love or society or belief systems etc etc will probably prove to be commercial too, for a play like that becomes universal!

So is your play idea good?  Start there.

Posted on May 16, 2015 .

Creativity #43 - Collaboration!

Collaboration is a miracle, especially for a playwright. Most playwrights write in the vacuum of their mind, spending hour upon hour staring at a computer screen, until the wee hours of the morning.

But when a playwright brings his work to a director and actors, the magic begins. I know from my experience that MAGIC really actually does happen in rehearsal. Once embodied by actors with a thoughtful director, my characters change, morph and become amazing, complex entities I just barely imagined. In my humble opinion, the creative collaboration of playwright, actors and director is the most important and most exciting part of the playmaking process.

The first thing which is really important in this collaboration process is, to GIVE UP YOUR WORDS! When actors embody a playwright's words, often the words simply don't work, or there are better words. As a playwright you have to remember that 90% of the time, the words don't matter anyway. It is the struggle or the problem to be solved that powers a play, so in the collaboration process, give up your addiction to your words. Write new ones in rehearsal or let you actors make something up when your words suck, and go from there. You will learn so much if you come from this perspective in rehearsal. Give it a try!

The next thing during the collaboration process which is challenging for playwrights is to stop TELLING and simply GIVE IT TO THE ACTORS. Often playwrights, in their attempt to tell the story, make the characters speak too much, literally TELLING the audience about a relationship or character trait, when it could simply be embodied by the actors. Why do we need to be told about a close relationship when we can literally see it on stage? So in rehearsal, see what dialogue you can cut by simply giving it to the actors to embody.

Now this is my favorite magical rehearsal strategy. Don't be afraid to add a character element or a bit, based on the actor's work. If an actor discovers a funny phrase or mannerism, play with it. Have the actor do it again later in the play, and see where you can go with it.

In my play Conversations with Dog, Anthony J. Ribustello (of The Sopranos fame) was playing the lead character (or should I say the lead Dog) and his performance was amazing. During one scene, while another character is rubbing his belly, he responds with a sexy, breathy "LOWER!" Anthony was so funny with this bit, that we added it again in the second act, and then we topped it off again in the third act. It was hysterically funny, but I didn't write it. It came from the actor embodying my character, the merging of my art and his craft, that created those funny moments. I so love that. Two artists collaborated and something neither could have imagined manifested!

Just for fun, collaborate sooner, in your playwriting journey. Find a friend to grab some talented actors and put up a scene in your living room and see how the LIVE work can now inform your writing and your rewriting! Try this and it will change the way you write and create. And it is also nice to hang out with people instead of your computer screen.

So play with your writing workflow! Add in some collaboration and see what happens!

Posted on May 13, 2015 .

Creativity #42 - The Playwright's Halfway House

So I've been crazy busy so I have not had a chance to post, but I have some great news!!! Really great news!  

As you know from this blog and from the work we do at Manhattan Rep, I am a huge proponent of getting plays OFF THE PAGE as a super important part of a play's development process.  So often playwrights get trapped sitting at that computer screen rewriting and tweaking and rewriting and tweaking until their heads explode!

So here's the great news: Manhattan Rep will be offering a forum for Playwright's to keep their heads from detonation, to take their play OFF the page, out of that computer, and up in front of a supportive group of creative people, in something we call:

THE PLAYWRIGHT'S HALFWAY HOUSE!  

And it's FREE!  Totally free!

Last month, I was approached by one of our resident playwrights, Sarah Congress, who spearheaded this idea and well,... Let's hear it in her words:

------------------

Playwriting is a solitary sport. You’re alone in a room, thinking, typing, questioning, wondering whether your piece is “going anywhere.” Often our minds turn against us, and in a puddle of loneliness and uncertainty, we let that word document sit neglected in the corner of our screen, gathering dust, until in a fit of “I can’t do it” its sent to the trash bin. Sound familiar?
 
This is why playwrights need a community.
 
New to NYC I was searching for such a community – but coming up empty. I googgled and applied to many “playwright labs,” at theatres – sending out writing samples, resumes, and bios – and I never heard back from a single one.
 
I finally emailed Ken Wolf at Manhattan Rep asking him if he had any suggestions as to where I could join a free playwriting group that actually let some people in. 

He said “Nope – never heard of one....Hey Sarah want to start one here?”
 
The Playwright’s Halfway House is a way to have your new draft read (or even a part of your draft memorized, rehearsed and performed) in front of a supportive group of writers and actors, to receive (if you wish - feedback is optional) positive constructive criticism. (Our goal is to encourage one another, not to rip each other to shreds). Our intention in creating the Playwright’s Halfway House is to support playwrights to finish their drafts (by working with actors and other playwrights) and then submit them for production, or even self-produce them.
 
Why are we doing this? Because production IS an attainable goal. Because a positive COMMUNITY is a right that we are entitled to. Because this is a HARD, COMPETITIVE field and this RESOURCE will make a difference!

------------------

(This is me again.)

And this is really cool...
The participants of The Playwright's Halfway House will get priority acceptance into any of Manhattan Rep's (free for playwright's participating) semi-monthly EVENTS programs. So you can work on your play at the Halfway house, and then bring a scene or a complete short play to life on stage at Manhattan Rep in front of a live audience, if and when you are ready.  

And again, it is FREE.
 
So PLEASE join us for one or all of the First Three Sessions: 
May: 5/30/15 from 10 am to 1pm
June: 6/27/15 from 10 am to 1pm
July: 7/25/15  from 10 am to 1pm

Please RSVP for this event by Sarah.Congress@gmail.com. 

And if it goes well, we will continue! So we need your help and participation. We want this to be an on-going workshop/support group to get your work off the page and out into the world.

So please join us.  

It's time to get away from that computer and bring your work to life!

 


 

Posted on May 7, 2015 .

CREATIVITY #41 - My Favorite Quick Tips for Playwrights!

My favorite quick tips for playwrights:

1. Always give yourself a REAL EMOTIONAL deadline.

Give yourself a deadline, but if you don't make that deadline REAL - meaning that there will be some sort of consequence that will make you FEEL bad if you don't make the deadline, you will never finish your script. (Examples: $1000 to your spouse or significant other if you don't make the deadline or simply book a theatre to put up your play before the script is finished!) Always make a real EMOTIONAL deadline so you have some leverage on yourself to really get the work done. A deadline without an EMOTIONAL consequence is an empty dream.

2. Write. Write. Write. And DON'T EDIT so much!

Get some actors to bring your script to life informally or in a workshop situation. Stop editing so much in the writing phase and edit in rehearsal when you can see and hear what is really working.

3.  Take time off from writing and get into nature.

If you're in your room all day long on your computer or at Starbucks on your computer, eventually your creative juices may get sapped. A good strategy is to go outside into nature to refuel. Go to the park, go to the woods or go to the beach and just hang out. Shut down for a while. And you'll be amazed at the creative inspiration that will happen when you get back to writing, or even as you are just hanging out in nature doing nothing!

4. Write from your gut, your personal experience, and don't pull punches.

If your story is based on truth, change the names and write it. Writing about a real dramatic personal experience will power your play and your writing. Don't pull punches. Go for the KNOCK OUT. Dare to be painfully honest in your storytelling. That is great theatre!

Posted on April 6, 2015 .

CREATIVITY #40 - A Script is NOT a Play!

I know I talk about this all the time but this is so important for you to remember as a playwright. A lot of you won't like it, but suck it up and take it in and it will make you a better PLAY CREATOR.

A SCRIPT IS NOT A PLAY.  A written play is just a script, a map for the playwright, director, creative team and cast to bring it to life.  Never be married to your script for it is TWO DIMENSIONAL.  It needs direction, actor choices, and venue to bring it to the next level.  

The rehearsal process is the most important process in the PLAY CREATION journey.  It is where you discover what works, and what doesn't work.  It is where you discover that your dialogue sucks at times and at other times, that  it is eloquent.  It is where your characters breathe, where you discover real behavior not the made up behavior like you wrote in your script.  It is where your characters discover what they are fighting for and it is where your actors discover BIG FRIGGIN' holes in your play.  It is trial and error time while your director and actors look at scenes in different ways, and sometimes they create something which is so much better than what was in your script!  SO MUCH BETTER - you just gave them a MAP, and they created magic.  

The good news is now you get to take credit for that magic. As if you wrote it, but you didn't,  you just gave them an opportunity to discover it.

Don't be addicted to your play. Anything about it. Often, in most full length plays I read, there are too many characters, too many subplots and lots of silliness. In rehearsal, you can see what is too much, what is silly. Focus on the thru line of the main character/characters and throw the rest away. Also if you have too much LOCAL COLORING in your script, you will see it as soon as the actors start embodying your play. The actors, and the costumes and set will OWN the world - you don't have to color it, or tell us anything so CUT THAT MESS OUT. Admit you wrote too much and CUT, CUT, CUT. When embodied, and developed by good actors and a wise director, you will clearly see what does not serve your play. AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO TELL THE AUDIENCE ANYTHING!

So stop writing. Get you play into some sort of low budget workshop production and get it off its feet. There are a myriad of possibilites for this in any urban area in the world with play festivals, development programs and more.  (Check out the possibilities here at MRT on this site.)

So stop.  

Get off your computer.  

GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD, 
and bring your PLAY to life!

"nuff said!"

Posted on March 29, 2015 .

CREATIVITY #39 - It is a Process!

One of the stumbling blocks of new playwrights is that new playwrights often don't understand that creating a play is a process.  It doesn't manifest overnight.  Play creation is an on-going process.

You write and write and write and sometimes it just sucks.
That is part of the process.
You feel like you will never finish your play.
That is part of the process.
You find yourself on Facebook, when you should be writing.
That is part of the process.
AND YOU QUESTION YOUR TALENT.
That is part of the process.

A big distinction that I think is important to GROK is that a finished script is not important.  WHAT?  Yes, it is not important.  You have to remember that you will continue to be in process on the script once your play is in rehearsal.  If you worry about FINISHING your one great play, you will drive yourself crazy.  THERE IS NO PERFECT REHEARSAL DRAFT.  Know that.  Own it and you will have more fun in the writing phase of play creation.  And it will limit self-imposed stress.  So limit EDITING again and again and again!

Once in rehearsal, you should be there watching, listening and experiencing the process. You will learn about your characters from your actors. Take what you learn and put it in your script.  

Make sure you have good director on the same page as you, if not you are in for trouble. Set up chain of command where you have the last word on changes and choices about your play.  Most directors will not like this, but you should not EVER give up control of your play in its first production.  So have that conversation with your director and even get it in writing setting up the Chain of Command. It will make a world of difference in the process.

At a certain point in the play creation process, usually about 2 weeks to opening, you should stop rewriting so that the actors can get comfortable with the script and the show.  Many productions will change stuff up until opening night, and little things are fine, but big scene rewrites the day before opening is probably not a good idea, unless it HAS to be done for the play is a mess and you are opening!  It is a fine line to walk.  Changes sometimes need to be made, but you can't throw too much at your actors late in the game for they won't be able to own it and it may hurt the overall production.

You will hate your play.  You will love your play.  That is part of the process. You will never want to work with a director ever again.  That is part of the process. You will love colaborating with your director.  That is part of the process. You will develop a love/hate relationship with your actors and you will feel like the actors are your FAMILY.  

And all that is part of the process.

So when things are crazy, frustrating, nutty, bad, dramatic offstage and more, just remember that it is part of the process.  

And finally, when your play opens, and it is amazing, it is so worth it.

Posted on March 20, 2015 .

CREATIVITY #38 - What's Different about The 10 Minute Play? And the best way to write one!

So 10 minute plays are in!  There are a myriad of theatres that are hosting 10 minute play festivals or 10 minute play competitions, and it is a great way to get your work out there and have some awesome theatrical fun without spending a lot of time and money.

But you have to realized that the 10 minute play is very different from your average One Act or Full-Length play. And because 10 minute plays are different, you can actually do things with a 10 minute play that you can't do with a longer play.

So what is the difference?

This is a no-brainer:  THE 10 MINUTE PLAY IS SHORTER.  

It is 10 minutes.
You have very little time to develop your characters.
You have no time for back story.
And you have very little time to set up and develop your storyline.

And because your 10 minute play is short the classic model of Playwriting (Problem to be solved, leading to climax and resolution) doesn't necessarily apply.  There are other unique play models that work for the 10 minute play.

MODELS OF THE TEN MINUTE PLAY:

Classic Model: Problem to be solved leading to a climax and resolution.

Example: A depressed divorced man down on his luck, longing to be in a relationship, goes on a horrible blind date and realizes he would be happier alone.  

Situational Model: The play is driven by an odd, strange or unique situation - it doesn't necessarily have a character resolution.

Example: Two guys meet at a health clinic to get tested for stds and they discover that they are dating the same woman.

Character Driven Model: The fun and through line of this type of play is the unique and interesting characters depicted and their interaction. 

Example: Two over the top flaming drag queens who live together make Sunday moring pancakes together. 

All of these models are viable for the 10 Minute Play.

But the best model is to use ALL THREE AT THE SAME TIME.

Create a 10 minute play with a problem to be solved, leading to a climax and a resolution, with a really interesting situation, and with interesting and unique characters!

Example: A lonely depressed woman with Tourettes Syndrome who is desperate to find a mate and a lonely depressed one legged deaf man, also desperate, go on a blind date at an ultra high end restaurant where they encounter an angry New York waiter, and through a series of comedic events, they finally connect and fall in love.

Yeah, I know this example is pretty nutty, but do you understand what I mean?


Problem to be solved leading to a climax and resolution, interesting unique situation, and interesting unique characters are the key to a GREAT 10 Minute Play.

Yes, each model alone can work, but why not triple down and use all three?

You will be amazed!

 

 

Posted on March 12, 2015 .

Creativity #37 - Kill your Pretty Darlings! And your play will Rock!

So we have all been there.  You are writing, and this amazing, lyrical, poetic, gorgeous writing spews forth from your consciousness, and you are excited out of your mind how you created such amazing work!  You feel like you are the writer you always believed yourself to be! Your time has come!

"Oh my God, I am a genius!"

So as you continue writing your play, you keep referring back to this amazing, lyrical, poetic, gorgeous writing, hoping it will give you inspiration to continue to write amazing, lyrical, poetic, gorgeous dialogue, characters and more! You love these pages so much. They are the essence of who you are as a writer. You hope that reading these pages over again will give you more divine inspiration to continue to be the writer you always believed yourself to be.

Ay, there's the rub.

When I was writing THE PEOPLE IN MY HIPS, my one man show about how I developed PTSD and more from training in Yoga, I had a number of pages, passages, narrations that I thought were profound.  They were amazing, lyrical, poetic, and gorgeous!  I loved them them so much!! In my mind, they were the essence of the best that I can write.

But as we got into production of THE PEOPLE IN MY HIPS, I realized that in order for the show to work, it needed to race faster and faster towards it's dramatic conclusion, and it needed to run under 90 minutes.  Much of my amazing, lyrical, poetic, gorgeous writing was in the latter half of my play... 

So, with great pain..... I CUT MOST OF IT.

I cut my best writing right out of my play!

Why? Because it didn't fit into the overall through line and direction of the PRODUCTION!

You always have to go back to the fact that your play is written to be ALIVE!  And in that aliveness, there are some elements like pacing, through line and run time that don't apply on or don't show up on paper.

Sometimes in order to produce a great play, you need to KILL YOUR PRETTY DARLINGS - those pages which you love that don't serve the overall production.  

And it hurts.  

It hurts bad.

But when you get a review like this, it makes it feel a whole lot better!

“THE PEOPLE IN MY HIPS is one of the most extraordinary pieces of theatre I have seen on or Off-Broadway in years. Mr. Wolf’s script is nearly flawless in its eloquence and is one of those rare pieces of work that reminds us of our common humanity. Mr. Wolf’s one-man performance is exquisite, inspiring, courageous and beautifully constructed. I laughed even as I was moved to tears. See THE PEOPLE IN MY HIPS soon. Because you will want to see it again.”

- Lise Avery, Anything Goes!!  Internationally Syndicated Radio - 

But my PRETTY DARLINGS weren't lost to the world. I did something fun to save them! After the first production of THE PEOPLE IN MY HIPS, I took the play, and put all of the cut passages and pages I loved back into it, and turned it into a self-published book! And people loved it!

In story-telling of any kind, you have to remember that plays are different from short stories which are different from novels.

If you are developing a play, when in production develop the courage, if necessary, to KILL YOUR PRETTY DARLINGS!  And your play will ROCK!

 

 

 

Posted on March 1, 2015 .

Creativity #36 - Your One Great Play!

If you could write one great play, what would it be?

That's a good question.

If you could write that one GREAT play, what would that play be?

Would it be a play that could actually make a difference in the world? That could help sway social consciousness or educate people about some issue so they might feel the need to take action on? Or even more powerful, could your play help change a person's CHARACTER?

A number of years ago, I saw the play LOBBY HERO by Kenneth Lonergan, and it changed my life. No, I didn't go out and try to save the homeless afterwards or fight for World Peace. (How do you FIGHT for World Peace?) But that play, LOBBY HERO did change me! 

LOBBY HERO is about a dooman in a luxury apartment building who betrays a confidence with one of the tenants, and because of this betrayal, a series of events occurs that is really not fun at all. All because the doorman told someone something he was asked not to tell to anyone. 

Ever since I saw this play many many years ago, I have never, ever, ever, betrayed a confidence. I walked out of that theatre and I knew if someone asked me to keep a secret a secret, I would. TOTALLY. ABSOLUTELY. COMPLETELY. 

And I have kept that promise to myself all these years!

Now that is powerful theatre.

Yeah, I didn't save the homeless after seeing it, or march for World Peace, but LOBBY HERO changed me, for the better.

So maybe your one great play might help change personal beliefs? 

Now that's powerful!

 
Posted on February 22, 2015 .

Creativity #35 - My 7 Most Profound Writing Tips

So just for fun I recently went through my posts to this creativity journal to see what I could learn. (What? I WROTE this? LEARN?) AND I found it really interesting.

I saw tips that I currently use and I saw some tips which I currently avoid, which are super useful. So just for fun, I thought I would go back and list my personal 7 most profound tips, the tips which truly make a difference for me in my writing process.

Here we go:

1. WRITE WRITE WRITE WAIT WAIT MAYBE SLEEP THEN EDIT.  Writing and editing are two different things. My best practice is to write and then sleep and then edit. I write, then take some time away from writing and go back fresh with a new brain and I edit. This is my most profound writing practice. Been doing it for years and it works.

2. MAKE A PLAN. Plot out your play. Yes, take the time to make an outline from beginning to end. Know in advance what you are going to write about, and your writing will flow like never before. I just started implementing this practice and my God, does it work.  When you have a plan, you don't fall down rabbit holes and get lost in undirected creativity, and you complete your first draft faster. There is nothing wrong with undirected creativity, but once you get your ideas and plot, you need to focus to complete your work. And the best way to do that is to have a plan, a map of your play. THIS REALLY WORKS.

3. KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS. Write about people you know, people in your life, just change the names or the occupation, or the context. When you make your characters people you know the dialogue flows like never before for you know your characters!

4. GET OFF YOUR COMPUTER AND WRITE ON A PAD. There is something amazing about writing by hand, especially when you feel stuck. There is some sort of physical connection - hand to braIn to creative consciousness that often jump starts your creativity. So bag the computer when the creative flow dries up, and try writing by hand with pen and paper.

5. USE TECHNOLOGY TO WRITE EVERYWHERE. Write on your PHONE. Dictate your play into your PHONE and watch it magically type it for you. Write in short intervals on the Subway on your PHONE, or when you have 10 minutes in a coffee shop. Know that you can ALWAYS imput your play wherever you are.  I have written full length plays in 10 minute intervals on my Phone. It is awesome.

6.  WHEN YOU FEEL STUCK WITH "WRITER'S BLOCK"... RESEARCH! When you feel like the words are not flowing on the page, take your writing time and research your play. Research info on the setting, the time period, the genre. Watch movies that relate to what you are writing. See and read other plays of the same genre that are set in the same time period, or location. Become a sponge of information about the world of your play. And when you get back to writing, you will be surprised what manifests.

7. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND YOUR INNATE CREATIVITY. Get out of your own way. Make the choice to believe that you have a unique voice and can write an amazing play. Stop listening to the negative voices in your head, and focus on that still strong voice inside your heart, that KNOWS you are a great writer. 

AND GET TO WORK!!

Posted on February 14, 2015 .

Creativity #34 - when it is not flowing... SHIFT!

There are 10 Gazillion ways to create, but often we find ourselves using a workflow that has worked well in the past, even if it isn't creating good results in the present. Sometimes your creativity needs a jolt of new to get things flowing in a new way.

Here are some fun ideas to SHIFT and get your creativity flowing when all seems to have dried up.

1. Change your writing application. 

If you normally write in word or Final Draft, try using s simple text editor with minimal distractions. My favorite simple text editor on the MAC and IOS devices is BYWORD. It is a simple, easy to use, minimalistic text editor that can really get your writing done. It has no bells and whistles, but it is simple and gets the job done and it syncs to ICLOUD abd DROPBOX beautifully, so you can use it on all of your writing devices. Give it a try!

2. Change your writing device. 

If you always work on your mac, try writing on your phone or your IPad, or pull out the trusty old yellow legal pad and write longhand. Shifting a habitual method of writing intake to another can, all of a sudden, power up new ideas and perspectives.

3. Change your environment. 

Yeah, get out of your bedroom and even get out of your apartment. Take your laptop and write in the Park, or Grand Central Station, or yes, even Starbucks. Changing your location will change your focus and good stuff might start manifesting.

Bottomline is this:

If your writing is not flowing, don't just sit and stare at your computer screen. SHIFT something!  Application, device or location, and you just might discover a brand new geyser of creativity.

 

Posted on February 6, 2015 .

CREATIVITY #33 - A.D.D. and the ART OF WRITING!

I'm a geek. I love software programs. I could tweak software and my MAC until the end of time. 

But if I do that I get nothing done.

Sometimes in the writing process it's a good idea to take a moratorium from technology. (It's funny right now I'm writing this on my phone.) Often when you get caught up in tweaking technology again and again it becomes just a way to avoid doing the work.

So, just for fun, write on paper (I have written about this before - paper writing can be magical for there is something special about using your hand to write that can stimulate creativity) or set up your computer so it is just in a text editor mode and commit to not tweaking or changing or doing anything to the program or the computer and just write for an hour or two. Shut off Facebook, Twitter and just write. 

And see what happens.

I have never been diagnosed as having ADD but I am pretty sure I am a good candidate for the letters. I am so easily distracted, it is silly. Out of nowhere I will be down a Rabbit Hole of distraction, way off from my appointed task. Sometimes I don't even know how I got to where I get to, and sometimes I even forget what I was originally doing! But I am working on it, because I have WATCHED myself over the last couple of months in the quest to discover all the ways that I become distracted, so now, I am beginning to see the Rabbit Holes before I fall into them. Technology for me is a huge Rabbit Hole, yet it is also one of the best ways for me to be productive, so most days I am walking a fine line. But because I have WATCHED myself, been WITNESS to my never diagnosed LETTER behavior, I am getting much more productive with my time.

I firmly believe you will get your best work done when you simply commit to doing the work and leave all the mechanics and distractions to the side.  Find a distraction free place, focus on your writing and be relentless!

So let me put this phone down now and start writing my next play!

Posted on February 2, 2015 .

Creativity #32 - THE LAW OF COMEDY and how to use it in DRAMA too!

So you probably all know the Law of Comedy but for those of you who don't, here it is in a nutshell:

THE LAW OF COMEDY
1. Make a good joke.
2. Make the same good joke again.
3. Make the same good joke again but this time have a twist to it, or flip it around somehow.

That is the Law of Comedy and it works. Beautifully.

But did you know you can also apply this law to DRAMA or any type of play, and that it is a great way to tie things together in a really cool way?  

Well, it is!

Here's an example:

In my therapy play, THE EYES OF LOVE, which is about disfunction in therapy, relationships and more, I used a Joke metaphor to link up what was happening to the main character.  Early on in the play, the crazy client Annalisa, (who was played stunningly by the great actor Jennifer Pierro,) is running around crying, screaming, and basically going nuts in therapy. Trying to calm her down, the therapist Mark Ryan, asks her if she would like to hear a joke which he had originally heard earlier in the play from his therapist.  
Annalisa replies" OK." 
So he delivers his joke:
"How many therapist's does it take to change a light bulb?
"I don't know. How many?"
Mark replies, "One, but the lightbulb has to want to change."

Yes it is an old tired joke, but then at the very end of the play, after a wild crazy group session where Mark and his therapist really step over the line in terms of what is ethically correct, Mark turns to his therapist and says:

"How many therapist's does it take to change a light bulb?
"I don't know. How many?"
Mark replies, "One, but the therapist has to want to change."

Bing. Bing. Bing. In some weird and wonderful way, it completed things.

I do this all the time in my writing. I take an early element, or phrase from the play, and I link it up again a bit later and then I do it again at or near the end with a little twist.  IT JUST WORKS.  It somehow completes things in an awesome, fun and sometimes miraculous way.

So explore the LAW OF COMEDY even in your DRAMAS, and see what happens!

Posted on February 1, 2015 .