Below are some shots from rehearsals, to give an idea of what the finished staged reading looked like:
This week's DarkRoom performances of Lively Stones were incredibly enlightening. For the first time in the play's history, I feel like I know what it is about, thematically, and I have a good sense of how I can make Anne Hutchinson's journey more powerful than ever. Thanks to the lovely ladies at 20% Theatre Company, I had the opportunity to discuss and hear the play with audiences, and I received invaluable feedback about the script's structure and the impressions it leaves on a viewer. I was lucky to work with creative and energetic directors and actors -- by name: Alyssa Vera Ramos, Mariana Green, Jess Palmert, Dionne Addai, Tony Garcia, JP Thomas, and Emilio Tirri -- and I have exciting new plans for the next draft! Hint: more female characters and a conceptual question about whether it's better to work in secret than out in the open.
Below are some shots from rehearsals, to give an idea of what the finished staged reading looked like:
Hot on the heels of what turned out to be a lovely and informative reading of Tin Noses with the Trellis, I have a developmental workshop reading scheduled for my full-length Lively Stones, this time as part of the 20% Theatre Company's DarkRoom Series. My script is being rehearsed and developed with an exciting group of actors (and a cool director in Alyssa Vera Ramos) over the course of January, and will be read on two evenings at Mrs. Murphy & Son's Irish Bistro, on January 27th and 29th. 20% is dedicated to showcasing up-and-coming female playwrights, and I think my play about furious Puritans, reproductive rights, and talking to God, fits their mission pretty perfectly.
More information about the series can be found via 20% Theatre's website, or their Facebook event. One of the coolest things about the multiple workshop readings is that my play will rotate evenings with playwright Rachel Bykowski's play Tight End. Rachel is a current OU playwriting grad student, and the lit manager of 20%, and so you know you will have a great evening of theatre ahead of you, whichever -- or both -- plays you see!
Tonight is the night! After months of waiting and casting and rewriting, my full-length Tin Noses will be receive a sit-down reading as part of the Greenhouse Theater Center's Trellis Reading Series. The reading starts at 7 pm tonight, and I would love to see as many Chicagoans as possible there. There will be a bar available to all patrons and a short and sweet talkback after the play. Below is the play blurb and my list of totally awesome collaborators:
"When movie star Max is cast as a wounded World War I vet in an upcoming prestige pic, he must learn how to perform disability for the camera. Who better to help shape his physicality than ex-flame and hotshot choreographer Hannah? And her colleague Austin, who lost the role to Max, and who lives with a disability. Nope, this won't get awkward at all."
Directed by Scot West and assisted by Evelyn Gaynor.
MAX: Luke Daigle
HANNAH: Kat Evans
AUSTIN: Michael Carten
Come and rap with me about this script! It examines matters near and dear to my heart, including identity, visibility, perception, and how much I miss being in a rehearsal room on the regular.
I am proud to announce I will have my work featured in "Spooky Old Lou," a collection of short plays that will be performed by the Actors Theatre of Louisville Apprentice company on October 19th. This walk-through theatre event will contain a mix of current and past OU playwrights, and I couldn't be happier to be in their company. My short play, "Dungeons & Dragons -- A Tragedy" is being helmed by director and actress Glenna Brucken, who starred in the original incarnation of the piece at Ohio University. Anybody who wants to waltz through the haunted halls of Old Lou's house should clear their schedule for next Monday! More information about the event and tickets can be found at OU's playwriting website, or at the Apprentice company's Facebook page.
At the inaugural episode of OMNIBUS tonight, I learned a lot about the first issues of comics people read, I learned what might be some good jumping on points for manga, and I learned that origin stories may have both good and bad points. I was pumped to be asked to write and read a piece about the theme of "first issues." Thanks to Stephen Winchell and Shawn Bowers for the opportunity! Below is the piece I read about my first comics hero, posted here because everyone needs to know how awesome they are:
When I was nine years old, I fell in love for the first time. The object of my affection had black-jet wavy hair, a penchant for form-fitting blue suits, and worked as a crusading reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper. My hero wasn’t someone you’d notice in a crowd, but when a job called out to be done, they leapt into action. They served truth and justice and, maybe, sometimes, even the American Way. I’m speaking, of course, about Lois Lane.
I first encountered the woman primarily identified as Superman’s girlfriend during the series of action-packed Fleischer cartoons produced in the early 1940’s. Though the Big Blue Boy Scout was obviously the main draw in those shorts – they feature volcanoes erupting, buildings falling, and robots wailing on the Man of Steel, and were first screened in movie theaters, though I caught them in reruns on the Disney Channel as a kid – still, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Lois. In her first appearance, she looms large over her editor’s desk, as he recommends that she allow Clark Kent to accompany her on a fact-finding mission involving a series of threatening letters sent to the Daily Planet. “But Chief,” Lois protests, “I’d like a chance to crack the story on my own.” As Perry White rubs his chin and considers her request, she simply jets out the door, with a zippy, “Thanks, Chief!” trailing behind her. Now you may ask, why would I worship someone who willingly hops in a plane and flies unprotected to a deserted rocky island, from which a mad scientist is using a particle beam death ray to destroy downtown Metropolis? Because Lois Lane doesn’t run away from trouble. She always, exclusively, inevitably hurtles toward it. No permission or male escort needed.
And let’s be clear. If anyone looks like a chump in that scene, it’s Clark Kent. Rather than running after his secret crush and suiting up as Lois’ second-in-command fly boy, or even quickly donning his tights and cape, Clark just shakes his head and remarks to Perry White, “But Chief, don’t you think that’s an awfully dangerous mission?” Gee, Clark, how’d you figure that one out? You’ve only got x-ray vision and super-hearing, and in case you forgot the opening narration to your own series, you’re more powerful than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. If you want to protect Lois, you have plenty of resources at your disposal. But no. You choose to sit in the newsroom and worry instead, only jumping to Lois’ aid once a nearby radio declares buildings are melting all around the city.
In optimistic moods, I tend to hope that Superman’s reactive attitude stems from Clark’s intrinsic understanding of Lois’ nature. He knows Lois will do whatever she wants, regardless of a superhero’s grim forecasts. But I also know that without Lois rushing headfirst into peril, time and again, there would be no plot to cartoons like this. She needs to be kidnapped by the villain, in order to motivate Superman to come to her rescue and right all wrongs. At age nine, I’d consumed enough media to know this turn of events was coming. Every episode of “Inspector Gadget” I watched, every Nancy Drew novel I devoured, every comic book I flipped through at the grocery store – they all told me competent women eventually wind end up helpless at the mercy of bigger, stronger, mentally unbalanced men. It’s a tale as old as Popeye the Sailor Man, not to mention hundreds of Robin Hood ballads written long before that. What makes Superman stories different – or at least distinct – is Lois. Sure, she runs towards jeopardy armed with only a reporter’s pad and a pen, and that could seem foolish. But her unapologetic nature and drive to prioritize her own needs are traits to admire. They are, in fact, part of Lois’ original DNA.
Pick up Action Comics number one, and the first thing you’ll see on the cover is a hulking Superman shattering a Studebaker against a boulder, while civilians scatter in terror. It’s an impressive debut for the character; Joe Shuster knew his way around an iconic image. But once you peek at the pages inside, you get a fuller sense of his life from script-writer Jerry Siegel. As Superman, he thwarts an evil plot to execute an innocent man on Death Row; then he turns around as Clark Kent, and promises to be a bulldog on a political corruption story for Perry White. As originally rendered, Clark is confident and cool in both identities; the audience is never meant to question which is the real man behind the cape, because both personalities fight for truth and the little guy. It’s only when he sidles up to Lois Lane’s desk that the scared simpleton version of Clark appears. “W-what do you say to a – er – date tonight, Lois?” he asks, a shaking hand shoved in his jacket pocket. Turns out the one person Superman fears is his potential girlfriend, and that revelation actively defines Clark for the audience. Turns out Lois Lane is his kryptonite.
And why shouldn’t she be? Even in the first issue of Action, she’s a firecracker. In the back half of Superman’s initial adventures, Lois gives Clark a break and goes dancing with our hero, only to be accosted by a meathead who interrupts their waltz and insists she’d prefer to cut a rug with him. When Clark refuses to stand up for himself, or for her, Lois declares she’s leaving and slaps the interloper across the face. She informs Clark that he’s a spineless coward, and refuses to talk to him back at the office. Hey, I never claimed Lois was cuddly. After all, she’s a damsel-in-distress who never actually cries out for Superman in those Fleischer shorts. Her most fervent desire is always, always to get the scoop. She may tell her fellow muckrakers that any tale she telegraphs is thanks to Superman, but what’s more notable is how often she remarks, “What a story this is going to be!” as she straps herself on a jewel-stealing robot, or runs underfoot of a two-ton Godzilla while the Man Of Tomorrow tries to subdue the creature. Really, every story is a job for Lois Lane, and Superman just happens to be there at the same time.
The fact that Clark Kent and Lois Lane start out as rivals, then become partners (and in most continuities, a married couple) is due entirely to Lois’ take on their relationship. Clark may be cut in the classic mold of the pursuer, or the wallflower who was right under her nose all along, but Lois is the one who decides to be with him, and share his secret, rather than expose him – though she’s done just that to protect him in a recent storyline (while in the Silver Age, she tried to trick him into revealing his secret identity every issue). Still, oneupmanship and duplicity lie at the heart of their initial workplace rapport. In the cartoons, Lois steals Clark’s press pass, locks him out of cars, advises him to file a story by phone so she can sneak off to cover a new angle, and at one point, ensures he gets buried under rubble rather than nab the lead. She has to know, and she has to know first. So it only makes sense that she would take part in routinely pulling the wool over society’s eyes when it comes to her husband’s alter ego. Conflict of interest be damned; Lois Lane thrives in the thick of things! And anyway, she has bigger fish to fry, like making sure the gold bullion on the Billion Dollar Limited doesn’t get looted before she finds a way to stop the train from hurtling off a cliff.
Which is not to say Lois always laughs in the face of danger. She feels fear like anybody else. When she first encounters Superman in the comics, he towers over her, as if ready to pounce, barking, “You needn’t be afraid of me.” Lois recoils on panel, the strap of her dress slipping off her left shoulder, suggesting something weird and terrifying could happen at any moment. But a quick flick of the eye tells the reader that she arrives safe and sound at the newsroom the next day, ready for a knock-down, drag-out with her editor over this flying man story. In the shorts, she is often the single person staring down death at the hands of whatever menace Superman must stop. While he can be pushed to the ground by lasers, she can be electrocuted, drowned, and in one odd case, sealed in molten lead by bird people. Because she stubbornly risks her safety, Lois could be viewed as an arrogant, reckless harpy; often, I have seen people respond to her that way. (Those people usually want Superman to date Wonder Woman, which is what’s happening currently in the never-ending brave new world of DC Comics' reboots.) But I’d only agree with the haters if Lois didn’t display fear. Under duress onscreen or on-panel, her eyes draw wide with terror, knowing that she has mere seconds to live and could really use a hand. She may not cry out Superman’s name, but she knows what’s at stake, and that vulnerability makes her human. It makes her just like me.
As I grew older, I left behind my penchant for comics and cartoons. Not only were they kids’ stuff, they were decidedly not girl stuff in my small town high school. I had no one to talk to about my forbidden love. I found life easier if I pretended my obsession didn’t exist. It wasn’t until a rediscovery of Superman comics in my mid-twenties – after a short career in journalism, natch – that my fervor for Lois was renewed. I was pleasantly surprised to see that not much about her has changed between the 1940’s and now. She still argues with colleagues about the best way to break a story; she still finds herself wielding the mightiest weapon during the heat of battle (aka, a pen), and she still has an incredibly complicated relationship with the Man of Steel, whatever the era. What’s more, she’s as bull-headed and fierce as ever. In reacquainting myself with the bustling, busy world of Metropolis, I realized that I needed to follow Lois’ example, and confess my love proudly. Lois would never hide part of herself away. She doesn’t need a secret identity. She never apologizes for who she is or what she wants, and she views headaches as opportunities. That, above all, may be why I fell in love with her. Lois Lane taught me how to run towards trouble, how to evaluate risks, and face my own weaknesses. I suppose she’s not your typical superhero. She doesn’t have a gaudy costume or a bunch of gadgets. But she helped a little girl see the truth: that everyone has potential, no matter their powers, and that all I needed to start my own story was me. And what’s more superheroic than that?
Animation Stills: Fleischer Studios, and maybe one or two from Famous Productions?
Action Comics #1: Joe Shuster, art; Jerry Siegel, words.
On Tuesday September 15th, I will be taking part in the Omnibus reading series at iO. I am very psyched to be writing for such a rad live lit event. The theme for the evening is "first issues," and I will be reading about one of my favorite couples in comics. I'd love to see you there, if you can make it! Details from the Facebook page and ticket purchasing link below:
OMNIBUS is a live-lit comedy show that takes a deep dive into some of your favorite (and not so favorite) comics. Hosted by Stephen Winchell and Shawn Bowers and featuring a cavalcade of guest contributors, the show mixes comics history, business, multimedia and memory into an hour-long rollicking retrospective. And best of all, no comics knowledge is necessary to enjoy!
In this FANTASTIC FIRST ISSUE, we're exploring the issue of...you guessed it...first issues. Why do we love them? Why do we hate them? How much are they worth? How many holograms should be on the cover? We'll try to answer these questions and many, many more.
FREE for iO students & performers
$12 General Admission
Featuring special guests:
Buy tickets here!
It should come as no surprise that the Americans With Disabilities Act is my favorite triumphant piece of legislation past. This weekend was the act's anniversary, and I was humbled to see that Howlround, the amazing online theatre commons, reposted a piece I wrote for the organization last year in regards to theatricality and accessibility, citing the blog as one of "our favorite articles." The piece can be found here, and please enjoy these other articles about neurodiversity and performance of disability by able-bodied actors.
I was not able to journey to New York and travel back in time with the talented cast and crew of THIS ROUND'S ON US last weekend, but by all accounts, it was a smashing good time. I'd like to thank Nylon Fusion Theatre Company for producing my short "Batter Up: A Play About Baseball Or Baking" as part of the festivities, and I'd like to send a shout-out to my director Ivette Dumeng, along with my actors Molly Collier, Zack Mikio, and Toby MacDonald for creating what looks like a super fun performance! And a final hi-five to the Ohio University Playwriting Program and Catherine Weingarten for advertising the weekend of shows on the OU MFA News blog.
Photos from the production, by Al Foote III (from Nylon's Facebook page), can be seen below.
I return with more information about the upcoming THIS ROUND'S ON US: Time Travel 30's-40's. This weekend of short plays will take place on June 27th and June 28th at 7 and 9 pm, and my short play "Batter Up: A Play About Baseball Or Baking" will be featured at the 7 pm showing, along with several other stellar works. The play is directed by Ivette Dumeng; the little girl will be played by Molly Collier; the baseball players will be played Toby MacDonald and Zach Miko.
Above you can find more information from Nylon Fusion's web presence (along with the evening line-ups), as well as beautiful shots of the actors and event poster. If you are looking for tickets, head to Brown Paper Tickets.
I have an abiding, all-consuming love for Alison Bechdel's tragicomic memoir Fun Home. The book arrived in my life when I was reacquainting myself with comics, and its combination of literary allusions, careful cataloging of memory and identity, as well as its heart-wrenching, ultimately optimistic final image, sold me on the art form. I even managed to sneak a copy of the text into a production of The Magnificent Masked Hearing Aid, my own work about a father-daughter relationship. (To be fair, it was the actress' choice to read the memoir onstage, but it was a choice I heavily endorsed.) So it was with great, increasing interest that I have tracked the journey of the now Tony Award-winning Fun Home from page to stage the last few years, first through massive consumption of book writer/lyricist Lisa Kron's thoughts on the subject of adapting the graphic memoir, and then through repeated listenings to Jeanine Tesori's remarkable score. I have not seen the musical yet -- though I hope to at some point this summer -- but everything I know about it tells me this is one of the more remarkable American musicals to come out in recent years. While Hamilton will wow everyone even more (and again) during its Broadway debut next year, given its highly theatrical and diverse re-imagining of the Founding Fathers, the creators of Fun Home have staged a fairly quiet a revolution in terms of how openly and honestly they explore one gay woman's life onstage.
The song sung during tonight's Tony broadcast, "Ring of Keys," is easily my favorite number from the show, for a multitude of reasons. First, it perfectly captures a single panel from the memoir in gripping detail. A young Alison encounters what is described in Fun Home the musical as "an old-school butch," and her heart and mind receive this person as a kindred spirit. The song acts as an amazing ode to this woman who is often the subject of ridicule in popular culture. I've even listened to interviews with Lisa Kron stating that she resisted writing this song, precisely because she worried it would lead to jokes rather than empathy and understanding. Luckily, Tesori pushed for the song to be included, because not only did it set the tone for their continued writing process, but it showcases the kind of song I don't think I've ever heard of on a Broadway stage, or even on a more local, smaller level: that of a young girl seeing what she identifies with writ large -- an exhilarating and scary experience, given the fact that young Alison expresses (in minor key) at the end of the song that intrinsically knowing this queer woman is a troubling, confusing thing in an uninclusive world.
What most resonates with me about this song and this musical, though, are its unfinished lines. Tesori and Kron have talked about how hard it was to find an opening number for the show, one that delivered necessary exposition about how Bechdel grew up in a family that ran a funeral home, that she came out in college, and soon after, her father's homosexuality was discovered, and he killed himself. They provide a lot of details in a technically smart way in the first scene (the family is cleaning their historically restored home for a visit from a VIP, fearful of the patriarch's response), but what I was more interested in was this repeated line in reference to Bechdel's father, "He wants/He wants/He wants," with the line unfinished until towards the close of the opening number: "He wants more." A lot of times, musicals start with an "I wish" or "I want" song. Certainly, Disney movies are famous for that tack. "I want" songs let the audience know what the protagonist cares about, so hopefully, we will follow the story, happy to be informed of whose arc and goal we're following. Fun Home has an "I want" song hidden in its opening number, but no one ever says what the father wants, he's not the protagonist, and the closest he gets to naming his desire is singing, "Sometimes the fire/it burns so hot/I don't know what I'll do." This unspoken motif continues throughout the musical.
Think again of "Ring of Keys," Tony viewers. Upon seeing this woman at a diner, Small Alison (remarkably performed by Sydney Lucas) sings: "Someone just came in the door/Like no one I ever saw before/I feel .../I feel ..." Again and again through the song, Alison sings about how she wants or feels, without ever finishing her thoughts, having no language for them yet, at such a young age. Each time, she reverts to describing the "just right" clothes the woman wears, i.e., lace-up boots, dungarees, a ring of keys. The song is joyous, on the cusp of something, even as it catalogs what Alison yearns for without naming it in stereotypical fashion. It is important to note that Kron wrote "lace-up boots," not "combat boots," or anything else that could make this butch woman a generalization or a joke. We are forced to see her as Alison sees her, and we are forced to deal with the unspoken realizations Alison is having, due to the lack of and specific use of words.
In a later spoken letter in the show, Medium Alison (the college-aged version) attempts to write her parents about coming out, singing, "I want/I want/I want," before finally blurting out, "Dear Mom and Dad, I'm a lesbian." She is more successful than her father in speaking the truth. He frames his potential new life as a single gay man within the metaphor of restoring an old house, and his haunting choice of words about cracking floors and bad pipes preface the terrible choice he makes at song's end. Alison ultimately has the language to come out and be herself onstage. How often does this happen in the theatre? Few dramas dare to explore what it is like to live one's truth in the way that Fun Home does, at least to my reckoning or in my experience. I am used to seeing gay characters play back-up to straight heroes, or to have their tawdry inclinations lead to a life of ruin or tragedy, a la The Children's Hour, or even later works, like Next Fall.
How many shows have a song like "Changing My Major," in which Medium Alison describes her first night with a fellow college student and eventual girlfriend, Joan. Kron has stated that this particular song needed not to be only about love, but more importantly, about sex. Kron does not want the audience to shy away from a lesbian's experience of the world, and that very much includes who one is having sex with, or the act of sex, at least. So again, we are put in Alison's shoes, and celebrate as she celebrates. As well, I think it's stunning that the "I feel" or "I want" statement in "Changing My Major" is actually completed by Medium Alison (as opposed to Small Alison, or the 43 year-old Alison, who is narrating this play, and at this point in the story, hasn't made peace with her father's memory yet). "Look, she's drooled on the pillow, so sweet," Alison sings, "All sweaty and tangled up in my bedsheets./And my heart feels complete." In the actual singing of the song, there is a meaningful pause between "heart" and "complete." The audience has been waiting for this sentence to be finished, and with Alison living her truth, it can be. In fact, it may be one of the reasons she is able to eventually see both the good and the bad that came from her family, because she is willing to be honest about who she is, and honest about her father, too.
In many ways, Fun Home the musical sounds as nuanced as Fun Home the memoir reads. Phrases keep repeating and building to some sort of breakthrough, as the literature Alison shares with her dad in the memoir begin to echo her experience as a gay woman and his experiences as a closeted man. Such rich material would of course have resulted in a rich show, but it's remarkable to think that Kron and Tesori have accomplished a lot simply by allowing Alison Bechdel to be onstage.
Playwright News & Musings on Comic Book Culture
Check this page for updates on Sarah's writing and thoughts on a great many topics, including but not limited to superheroes and disability.