Saturday, September 27, 2008

What's Next?

“Are you going to be at the cast party?”

Everybody dreads that final goodbye. So it’s nice to be able to postpone it for a few more days.

Since everyone but myself involved in “Leave” is actually based in Morris, they all needed to get on the road back to where they came from when the house lights came up in the Bryant Lake Bowl and the set was dismantled and the costumes and props were bundled into cars and vans for the trip. We hung out for a bit, but there was a time clock on how long they could afford to be social and still drive safely back.

So it’s a relief that the director decided to host a little gathering at his home in the coming days so we could all get together and enjoy each other’s company as a unit one last time. The production may be shuttered, but we’ll get to relax a bit in the post-show buzz this way.

“We’ll play beer pong,” one of them said. “You’ll have fun.”

And off into the night he went with some friends.

“You’ve never played beer pong?” the director asked incredulously.

Internally I thought, “I was an uptight closet case in college. I’m pretty sure that’s how I missed beer pong.”

Apparently I’ll get to correct that soon.

I saw the last of them off in their cars. Hugs all around seemed to be the order of the day since we weren’t *sure* we’d see each other soon again, we only hoped.

It had been a good night. The house was not only sold out, a couple of extra seats were put in, every one of them filled, and still people were waiting and had to be turned away. We had some people in the crowd who will write reviews to document the production after the fact. Some representatives of theaters large and small got to see a good example of what it is I do. The laughs were generous, the applause enthusiastic. The multitude of snifflers in the crowd during the play’s closing moments audibly told me the actors had them in the palm of their hands. A bunch of people even stood at the end. You couldn’t ask for a better way to close out a run.

I cocooned myself after waving the Morris crew off on the road again. It was after 10pm. The day was essentially over anyway. Stay in the moment. Don’t turn on the TV. Don’t turn on the computer. Don’t go online. You don’t have to do “normal” everyday stuff again quite yet. The night belongs to the show. You’re going to the gym tomorrow morning so don’t even bother to shower. Just crawl into bed and get some sleep.

The company was apparently determined to make me cry last night. The cast and crew had made their own gift for me – a miniature of the show poster, which all of them signed, and framed. The director/producer had worked with the lighting designer, who was also our production photographer, and compiled what someone jokingly called “The Men of ‘Leave’ Calendar.” It was in fact a gorgeous picture book of the entire show, images of every scene from first to last, plus some cast, crew and company shots at the back. They had forbid me to come into the green room earlier so they all had a chance to sign it.

I flipped through the picture book a couple of times before setting it aside and turning off the light for the night.

What do you do after one of the best nights of your life?

You start trying to build the next one.

If the one of the best nights of your life happens to be on a Thursday night, you resist the urge to call in sick to both of your day jobs on Friday (or rather, the day, and the evening job). You resist the urge to lie in bed and hit the snooze button. But you also resist the urge to allow your body to tell you to get up too early. For some reason, I woke up at 3:30am, and again at 4:30am. Roll over, sleep more, wait for the alarm. Don’t start a hard day already exhausted, or run out of energy too soon.

You resist the urge to give in to being weepy, and you get your butt down to the gym. Nice thing about this time of year, summer’s over and the days are darker sooner on either end. Walking down to the gym at 5:30, and back again at 6, it’s still dark now. I could pretend a little longer that I was still connected to the night before, rather than rolling into a new day.

You make your lunch, you eat your breakfast. You listen to a DVD commentary track on an episode of “Mad Men” season 1. You resist TV and the internet a little longer. You resist the urge to start putting the production of the play in the past tense.

There is a list of things to do – long delayed financial updating and bill paying for one. But mostly, it’s all about the marketing. I need to do my homework on the network of gay and lesbian theater companies and festivals around the country, just for starters. It’s been a while since I did a submission blitz, but “Leave” seems like as timely a candidate as anything to get out there in circulation. There’s also the local contacts – people who saw the play, people who weren’t able to see the play but are willing to read the play, people connected to theaters and other artists I very much want to work with (not necessarily on “Leave” but on whatever comes next). There’s the online publication resources I need to punch up some more – starting with covers actually designed for the plays, rather than just out of an image library. There’s the website, which is stalled out right in the middle of redesign again – partly due to the fact that the Fringe and then “Leave” took over the free time I had available to spend on it. The programmers can only do so much without me. The blog, and other arts writing that has languished. Getting started on whatever the next script is – rewrites of “Leave” will be left to simmer, so I can get some distance from it. “Love’s Prick” and the two related one-acts that might pop out of it have been simmering way too long, for the same reasons as the website. “Autumn Roses” my stubborn little riff on “Uncle Vanya” that has refused to flow out of my typing fingers, also sits thumbing its nose at me in my computer files. There’s the ongoing project of taking the published copies of my plays and getting them into the hands of the people that helped me create them – low-impact networking, as I like to call it. There are other scripts that should be in the pipeline for online publication treatment. There’s the whole issue of T-shirt design, which has been resisting solution, and may require some new software to clear the roadblock. There’s also the issue of documentation on video and DVD. Conversion from one to the other has been an ongoing tug of war. Looking into a computer based solution, and a new camera, seems to be on the immediate horizon. Organizing the apartment would also organize my “home office.” So much time could be saved if I just knew where everything was. Including a decent mailing and emailing list. I started to build one the right way this time with “Leave” – now the trick is to funnel all the other failed attempts into this format and really start gathering everyone in one place. Then of course, there’s actually contacting everyone. Reconnecting with friends. Having more of a life and less of a list of endless tasks to do. The tasks will always be there. The people will not. It’s time for a little more balance in my life.

That’s what a great night in your life will do to focus your mind.

The trick is not to let the ridiculous nagging details of everyday life knock me off track again.

My life, like my scripts, is a work in progress.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Couple In The Front Row

In the wake of the closing of my play “Leave” last night, I was holding it together pretty well. A tear or two on the pre-dawn walk to the gym, but dry-eyed there and on the drive in to work. The first two hours of the day went OK. Even managed to talk dispassionately with a couple of co-workers about their experience of seeing the show. Then another co-worker who was there last night told me about the couple in the front row.

I’d seen them arrive at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Two older gentlemen, sixties maybe. One was guiding the other because one of the men was visually impaired. I remember thinking, “Oh damn, I hope they have a reservation, because I really don’t want to be the show that turned away the blind man.” They did, blessedly, have a reservation. They sat down in the very front row, just in front of two of my co-workers.

My co-worker said, “They held hands the entire time.”

“And because the one of them couldn’t see very well, they had all these different ways of touching each other, to let the other one know how they were feeling. When they were sad, they’d just grasp one another on the shoulder. They were very moved by it, sort of in their own private world.”

“One of them must have been in the military at one time, because the way they were reacting to different things in the play, it seemed more personal, like something they’d both lived through.”

“There would be times when there was no dialogue. So the sighted partner would lean over and tell the other what was happening. Very softly, whispering directly in his ear. So gently, it wasn’t distracting. But we were so close to them, I couldn’t help overhearing it all.

“He’s sitting on the bed, wearing…”

“He’s beautiful.”

“The man would often relate it to things the two of them had shared together like…

“This is like that time when we…”

“He looks exactly like…”

“Remember when we had…”

“And certain things really hit them in a way that was different from other audience members…”

“Oh. He’s wearing the uniform.”

“It was fascinating to watch because up there on stage were these incredibly youthful men, and down in the front row were these two men, on the other end of life. They’d been through all these things together that we could only guess at, and they were still sitting there, holding hands. Maybe this was their story.”

And at that point, I was basically a puddle.

Couples like that exist. I’m not just making that up in my head. I write plays like this and somehow they learn about them and come out of the woodwork. All these gay couples I don’t know. People who still go to theater, even if they can’t see it anymore. People real and devoted to one another, with history.

Damn, I hope that’s me someday. Me and someone.

I’m humbled out of all the other things they could have done on a Thursday night, they found my play. It’s a memory for them now, one of many things they share.

Breaks my heart.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How It Started

My friend Paul Wolf joined the Army after college. He was a couple of years ahead of me. Looking back, I’m still kind of clueless why he latched on to me the way he did. I know why I took to him. He didn’t put up with the usual theater department crap. He wasn’t interested in the offstage drama everyone was creating. He just wanted to do theater and have fun. All-nighters toiling over design projects. Mr. Pibb. Bruce Springsteen. Working on a scene for acting class with him as Benvolio to my Romeo - which somehow resulted in us getting drunk, jumping a train, me not knowing how to get off said train, and winding up with in the infirmary overnight with a concussion. When Paul graduated, my world got a lot less interesting.

We wrote a lot to each other. Then suddenly the letters stopped coming. I was starting to wonder - not if something bad had happened to him, he was stationed in Germany in the 1980s, the world was a different place. I began to wonder if he just wasn’t interested in my friendship anymore. My other friends were agonizing over their complicity at this point because they all knew something I didn’t. Paul was coming to visit, and he wanted it to be a surprise. So when he just sauntered into the scene shop one day while I was working there, my face must have been seven different kinds of hilarious to watch. It was probably the only time in the history of that theater department that everybody managed to keep a secret. I ran over to him, practically leapt at him, and gave him one of the more strenuous hugs I’ve ever given another human being.

It was, without a doubt, one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for me.

I was still closeted at the time, even to myself. Not that I was any good at denial, I just clung to it as a strategy because that’s what I’d always done. My devotion to Paul, and its reciprocation, was an acceptable outlet.

Halfway through the visit, I was already feeling the tug of how it would feel when he’d leave to return to Germany again. My friend K Snodgrass wisely said, “You can miss him when he’s gone. Don’t miss him while he’s here.”

That’s a line that has managed to wend its way through pretty much every incarnation of the script.

Paul served his time, met a German girl, got married, went to medical school. I have no idea where he is now. Or K. Which pains me.

The idea of a surprise visit with co-conspirators as a romantic gesture in a play, with military overtones, made its way into my creative psyche. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military seemed like the perfect obstacle to a relationship. It was only after I started to meld the two, and spend time in the world of these characters, that I began to really feel it, and get angry at the hypocrisy, and the waste.

A Chinese poet from the 8th century, Wang Chien, wrote something I ran across in first developing the script that became “Leave.” Reading it over again recently, I was stunned at how much more timely it was today than the day I first read it. I can only hope some scrap of mine makes this much sense to someone after 1200 or 1300 years...

Wang Chien - "Hearing That His Friend Was Coming Back From The War."

“In old days those who went to fight
In three years had one year's leave.
But in this war the soldiers are never changed;
They must go on fighting till they die on the battlefield.
I thought of you, so weak and indolent,
Hopelessly trying to learn to march and drill.
That a young man should ever come home again
Seemed about as likely as that the sky should fall.
Since I got the news that you were coming back,
Twice I have mounted to the high wall of your home.
I found your brother mending your horse's stall;
I found your mother sewing your new clothes.
I am half afraid; perhaps it is not true;
Yet I never weary of watching for you on the road.
Each day I go out at the City Gate
With a flask of wine, lest you should come thirsty.
Oh that I could shrink the surface of the world,
So that suddenly I might find you standing at my side!”

Something else I ran across at the time, and that also sticks with me, was a quote from the 20th century poet Audre Lorde...

“Your silence will not protect you.”

It’s been a long road for me and the characters of Nicholas and Seth. Another part of the journey reaches an end tonight at the Bryant Lake Bowl. But at this point, I know better than to think it’s over. As long as “don’t ask, don’t tell” remains in effect, the story isn’t the period piece I once hoped it would quickly become. Until then, the story still needs to be told.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Now Comes The Night (aka, Music Is Dangerous)

Music is dangerous. The upside to using music in a production of one of my plays is that it then invariably becomes imprinted with memories of that production.

“And I am coming home to you with my own blood in my mouth,
And I am coming home to you, if it’s the last thing that I do.”
- Mountain Goats

For me this applies whether the music is used within the show itself, or in the quaint little mix CDs I compile as one of my token gestures of thanks to the cast and crew. (I know, mix CDs. Hey, they used to be mix tapes. I’m slowly dragging myself into the latter half of the 20th century at least.)

“I’ll be there to guide you, when trouble walks beside you.”
– Bruce Springsteen

Forever afterward, you hear the song and moments come trickling or flooding back to you. The downside to using music in a production of one of my plays is that it then invariably becomes imprinted with memories of that production.

“I taste and savor your little ways, the colors that you choose to paint your days.”
– Nancy Wilson

I have spent the last week struggling with music. Music not associated with current production of my play “Leave” seems like superfluous noise. It just reminds me of the music I’m not listening to. Music associated with the production has been an emotional minefield. There were days I couldn’t listen to music at all. Mostly because I didn’t have to. The melodies and voices were haunting me, playing in a constant loop inside my head regardless of what I was doing at the day jobs or out on errands. Actually listening to the music I was certain would make me cry. Often, I was right about that.

“Time will come when we know what happened here.”
- Jackson Browne

As a kind of self-preservation tactic, I tried playing the music repeatedly, to see if I could leech some of the power out of it by repetition. Somehow reduce it to a more benevolent background soundtrack. There was some comfort in that. It didn’t always reach up, grab my heart and squeeze. But just as often it did.

“I wish you had a number where you are.
It’s hard with no one here to help me through it.”
– Mountain Goats

Some of this is tied up in the fact that it’s been such a great production experience, and I’m sorry to see it end.

“There is fiction in the space between you and me.”
– Tracy Chapman

Productions are so rare for playwrights. I’ve been very fortunate, even on a small scale, to get scripts up in front of an audience as often as I do. It seems ungrateful in a way not to relish each and every moment as if it might be the last because, well, you never know. The stories continue to connect with people. Makers of theater find them and want to commit to doing them. Each one that happens is a good sign that perhaps another one may happen after.

“Won’t you wait for me?”
- John Legend

But each production is unique. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. One of
the crew confidently told me, “Oh, someone’s gonna do this again.
Don’t worry.” I hope they’re right. I’ll work to get it out there and prove them right. But this particular production, once over, will not come again.

“Baby, you can sleep while I drive.”
- Melissa Etheridge

There will be a cast party in a couple of days. So this won’t be the last time I see them. There are a couple of productions coming up which people involved in “Leave” will be doing, and I’m tempted to find a way to work those into my schedule and make that road trip out to Morris to see them. Just like a handful of other actors and directors I’ve been blessed with over the years, I have hopes that members of this company will team up with me again and collaborate on something new. But the uncertainty of anything in life means all those vague reassuring thoughts aren’t going to make it any easier to watch everyone pack up the cars and the vans and drive away from the Bryant Lake Bowl tomorrow night. Because they’ve got a two and a half to three hour drive ahead of them, they’ll want to get going sooner rather than later after the applause dies and the house lights come up. The lingering that sometimes happens with a local company won’t be there to help ease me out of it. The rapid evaporation of the experience will be tough. To feel something that deeply is rare, so I should be grateful for the heartache on some level. All I know right now is it’s gonna hurt like a bitch.

“All I want is to be home.”
- Foo Fighters

Some of this is tied up in the fact that the play is about home – being home, finding home, feeling safe in a place, with a person. Long as I’ve been here in Minnesota, my immediate family is all out East in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The extended family is all over the place. None of ‘em here, though. We’ll make tapes and DVDs of the thing, they’ll get copies of the script, but they won’t get to see it live. I won’t get to share that with them. It’s good that I’ve got a task tomorrow night, though. Tucked in the back of the house behind a camera, I’ll be focused on capturing it all just right, and be less swept up in the story itself, or my own internal emotions that closing night brings.

“How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”
- Claude Rains in Casablanca

Some of this is tied up in absent friends – like the friend for whom I originally wrote this story, wherever he is. Like the friends who were all around me, cheering me on, when I got that first grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to workshop the first version of this story. Like the community of writers I used to have in the weekly new play reading series that is no more. Like the writing group, now starting to rebuild itself, which has seen far too many people move on to other genres, projects, parts of the country, or just plain more important family priorities in recent years. With two jobs gobbling up the rest of the time, the reading series and the writing group were often my only social outlets to regularly see and hang out with my friends. I like making new friends, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t like letting the old ones slip through my grasp either. Plus, I feel like with this production, I’ve made a few new friends, and soon they, too, will be out of my daily orbit.

“There is a shipwreck lying at my feet,
Some weary refugee from the rolling deep.
Could you lose it all and fall for me?”
- James Taylor

A lot of it, though, is tied up in something I just haven’t been dealing with, something that writing and helping produce plays like this force me to confront.

The hardest part of doing all this, is doing it alone.

I have collaborators, I have family, I have friends.

My characters have someone to hold their hand.

And I miss that.

Being your own cheerleader and your own support system is possible. I do it all the time. But it’s exhausting.

“Now I’m standing on this empty road where nothing moves but the wind.”
- Bruce Springsteen

The upside of being pointed by my doctors back in the direction of a gym, and getting a trainer, and working out and running over the last six months, is that I can see the results. I need new clothes. I had to get a new belt because I ran out of notches on the old one and it was still loose. I’ve lost a couple of inches off my waist and suddenly all the slacks I own feel like clown pants. I don’t mind having pictures taken of myself anymore. I see that, with a little determination and focus, anything is possible. If I can make thirty pounds vanish, I can get those plays out into the world. I can organize the apartment and my life in general. Maybe the rest of it is possible, too. My body, the plays and the apartment I have a lot more control over, however. Other people need to cooperate for me to pull the rest off, and I’ve been notoriously bad at presenting myself in a way that makes that happen. Or at least possible.

“Don’t leave me alone in the twilight. The twilight is the loneliest time of day.”
- Shawn Colvin

A friend recently had the same lament and we agreed on one thing – we’re not looking for anyone to “complete us” or save us or do the heavy lifting for us. We can do our own heavy lifting, thank you very much. We’re not looking for anyone to take on our burdens. Our lives are pretty great as is. We just want someone to share the good stuff with. We’re not looking for a superhero or a knight on a horse. We’re just looking for someone to walk down the street with. We’re looking for someone who’s there at the beginning of the day, or at the end, or both. Right now, I never feel lonelier than when something is going really well, like this production has gone. Is going. Will be gone.

“I don’t regret where life has taken me.
But it’s fall.
Autumn is burning.
And I do miss those woods.”
- Wonder Dave Crady

Just like death onstage, just like intimacy onstage, some well-chosen music can elicit great emotion, earned or unearned. My director on this one seems to have chosen just the right mood and pace-setters for the beginning middle and end. I feel kind of good about having a hand in steering him toward the three closers for the end of the evening.

“No, you will not be forgotten.
And you will not be alone.”
- Rob Thomas

When he played the three options, all out of my library, I had to grin. I liked them all enormously. Two would be post-show to see the audience out, but only one could take us in the darkness at the final moment of the play. One started too slow and quiet to be the cue we needed. One started so bouncy and upbeat it seemed jarring, though the sentiment in the song was perfect. That left the third, to which I first responded, “Well, yeah, if we want them sloshing through a puddle of their own tears on the way out the door.” The song used to make me cry even though I had no person associations with it. The voice, the words, the lush sweep of the plaintive melody backed by ever more imposing orchestral accompaniment. The thing was designed to push every weepy button I’ve got. Now, even more so.

“Fare thee well, my own true love.”
- Mary-Chapin Carpenter

After that had been settled on, the director turned to me and smiled and said, “I’d really like to do a show someday though, where I could use this one as the final cue…”

And he played that bouncy number. Jackson Browne, covering Little Steven Van Zandt’s song “I Am A Patriot” which begins with a drum sting and then the insistent chant…

“And the river opens for the righteous,
And the river opens for the righteous,
And the river opens for the righteous,
And the river opens for the righteous,
And the river opens for the righteous,

And I got that little tingle on the back of neck that goes with the little voice in my head that whispers, “Hell, you could write that story.”

Music is dangerous.


If you want to hear for yourself what I’m talking about, stop by the Bryant Lake Bowl tomorrow night Thursday, September 25, 2008. We’ve got one more performance of “Leave” before we close up shop. Show starts at 7pm. Doors open at 6pm. The production lasts 90 minutes – one act, no intermission. Tickets are pay what you can on a scale of $12 to $15, or $10 with a Fringe button. You can make reservations by calling 612-825-8949 or visiting or

You can find more about the production at, and you can find sample scenes and monologues from the script over at my site,

If you do come, and I’m a little weepy, you’ll know why. As Rufus Wainwright would say…

“So please be kind, if I’m a mess.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Intimacy Onstage Is a Slippery Thing

(Hmmm… on further consideration, forgive the title. Nothing untoward is implied, I swear…)

If the cast of my play “Leave” had consisted for four gay guys, one of the things I might have said at opening rehearsal would have been, “You’re four good-looking young men who, because of the way your characters are written, all get to make out with each other a lot. You’re welcome.”

However, the cast is four heterosexual young men, one of whom had recently gotten married. I resisted my kneejerk response as a writer whenever I realize I’ve presented an actor with a potentially awkward situation, which is to meekly apologize. They all knew what they were getting into. They had the script shared with them by the director as I fed him the evolving set of rewrites. Even the previous draft wasn’t shy about the contact the male characters were going to have with one another. None of this was a surprise to anyone.

Let’s just think of it as really special blocking.

One of the things that put me at ease about the whole scenario was, first, the director. He had confidence in all of them, and I had confidence in him, so it was all going to be fine. Another thing was most of the guys had a background in improv comedy. Yes, “Leave” is a drama, though not without its frequent moments of laughter. But the reason improv set me at ease is, well, improv performers are up for anything. Their cardinal rule when presented with a situation is, “Yes, and…” They don’t try and change the circumstances or weasel out of them. They accept what they’re handed and build on it. Heck, a couple of these guys have even done drag – so they’ve got a gay merit badge even I don’t have.

But a kiss is not just a kiss, and there’s an emotional component involved. Plus, audiences can always tell when you’re faking it.

First things first, we had to get the script locked down. After the readthrough, a couple of days later, dozens of pages of cuts and changes to streamline the script and clean it up. Oddly enough, there wasn’t a lot that needed to be added. All the beats were there, they just needed trimming and tidying up. Meanwhile, they got the whole thing blocked. Then they memorized their lines.

The one long-term couple, Seth the Marine and his civilian husband Nicholas, had the most intimate material. The director told the actors he wasn’t going to set a date for when they’d start incorporating the kissing. The touching and hand-holding and such was the easy stuff. Took some getting used to, of course, but still, the kissing was going to be the big hurdle. If they set a date ahead of time, the director figured that’s all they’d think about, obsess about, and then potentially get so distracted that nothing else would get done in the meantime. He joked on the night he brought in brownies, that would be kissing night in rehearsal. And then proceeded to bring donuts, bagels, pretty much anything except brownies, to rehearsal. Treats were looked upon with suspicion. One jest was that whatever was served was laced with latent homosexual tendencies.

In the interim, the guys would just get up really close to one another, look like they might do it, and then wave their hands on the sides of one another’s faces making an extended fake “Mmmwwwaaaahhhh” kissing noise. Silly, yes, but they marked every one of the spots it was going to happen. They weren’t always in the script. Sometimes the dialogue would indicate one was required, but the director would also make notes, “We need a kiss here. Your characters would kiss here.” This strategy of hand signals came in handy later in rehearsal when one of them got sick, passed it to the other one, and they had to take a few days off from kissing just to get the germs out of their systems again. “Mmmwwwaaaahhhh”

There were questions about intimacy at the first readthrough and I’m not sure I was terribly helpful, but I said, “Basically, anything you would do with a woman who you liked and wanted to be physically closer to, and attentive to, and considerate of – that’s what you’d do with your acting partner. There’s no secret code. It all translates directly.”

The kiss happened, so the story goes, by accident. The director almost missed it, making notes on a runthrough one night. The one actor thought the other actor seemed like he was going for it. The other actor thought the first actor was going for it. So they met in the middle, and went for it. After that, it all got easier.

The two actors are friends who live together in a house with some other guys, so they had a natural chemistry already. And since they were never going to sleep together in real life, the sexual tension remains unabated. When the director asked one night on a smoke break whether they hung out more often at home now, one of the actors admitted, “No, we actually have taken to avoiding each other a little. Averting the eyes. ‘So, you want to go do some hunting, or maybe sit around and drink, watch some sports, not call some girls back?’”

All four of the actors, particularly in their pairs, have gotten much more physically comfortable with one another. The natural barriers that straight guys sometimes put up between one another have sort of melted away. Certain sequences, it started out when they were holding one another there was a space down below between their hips that you could drive a truck through.

“Gay men don’t worry about bumping pelvises. They’re not looking to avoid it. It’s kind of the point of most physical contact. You want to get closer to one another. It’s not a high school dance in the 1940s. You don’t have to leave enough room between the two of you for the Holy Ghost.”

Every production of one of my scripts I’ve ever worked on, the guys start out keeping their usual distance, and slowly just fall into a familiarity with one another that’s really kind of touching to watch. It’s conditioning. We all feel we’re not allowed to do so many things. When you relax a little, it’s really not that frightening. Definitions and labels aren’t quite as rigid as we’re all trained to think they are. It just depends on what you’re comfortable with. Nobody’s looking. Nobody cares.

One actor on my first production in Minneapolis was nervous even telling people he’d have to kiss another guy. When he finally told his girlfriend, she laughed. “What’s the big deal?” When he told some co-workers, “I have to kiss a guy,” one female co-worker just rolled her eyes and said, “Trust me. You’ll get over it.”

Even the one actor in this cast who’s least comfortable with kissing, when he’s acting any other time, you wouldn’t know it. You believe he wants the person in front of him. Sometimes the yearning in his voice and on his face kind of takes my breath away. Some of the physical elements may not be present, but the emotional honesty is always there. And that’s just as difficult as the physical to get right, and just as hard to fake.

Unusual conversations in public places make for unintended moments of comedy. When discussing the kissing sequences, someone commented on how great they were on what this other person thought was just the first night. “Oh, this isn’t the first time. I’ve been kissing Nick James since Monday…” Just at that moment a group of people wanders past. “Wait, I need to give you context for that last remark…”

These guys are dealing with a lot more than I’ve thrown at any other college-based production. My first commissioned play for a college, the whole point of the script and the production was to get the audience to the point where they’d accept one kiss, at the end, with the lights fading out. We’re a long way from that in “Leave.” So I’ve got to hand it to them for stepping up and taking on the challenge. I believe I’m seeing Nicholas and Seth’s story on stage, and that’s huge. I actually have to remind myself now that those two actors aren’t gay.

When told they’d be getting a small stipend, one quipped, “Great, I’ll have enough to buy myself some Jameson and get the taste of Tim out of my mouth.”

To which Tim replied, “Unfortunately for you, you will discover that I also taste like Jameson.”


If you want to see for yourself what I’m talking about, stop by the Bryant Lake Bowl this Thursday, September 25, 2008. We’ve got one more performance of “Leave” before we close up shop. Show starts at 7pm. Doors open at 6pm. The production lasts 90 minutes – one act, no intermission. Tickets are pay what you can on a scale of $12 to $15, or $10 with a Fringe button. You can make reservations by calling 612-825-8949 or visiting or

You can find more about the production at, and you can find sample scenes and monologues from the script over at my site,

Monday, September 22, 2008

Killing Off A Character Is Tricky Business

In my writing, I'm not big on killing characters. Ghosts, literal and metaphorical, turn up a lot. I'm obsessed with mortality. But if a character is dies in one my plays, chances are when the curtain goes up they're already dead. Then their lingering spirit, or their palpable absence, is the thing that drives the survivors. "Leave," the current play of mine that's running, is different. There's a gravestone on stage from the beginning of the play, so again, they're already dead. We just don't know who. Instead, we spend time getting to know the five characters, and then we find out at the end who's underground.

It's a play, in part, about war. People die. People are dying. If everyone in a play that deals with war gets off without so much as a scratch, that's dishonest.

But killing characters is almost too easy. It's practically cheating. On the one hand, if a character dies, the audience is conditioned to know they should feel bad. Even if the character has led a long, full life, you're sorry to see them go. If the character dies young, that's worse. If, God forbid, it's a child or a baby, well, go ahead and grab my tear ducts and yank, why don't you? And that's why it's too easy. Bad plays go for the death scene because it's easy sentiment – you're not required to earn it. That's why it's cheating. (Brilliant plays that incorporate death, however, leave me in a puddle of my own tears and I don't feel the least bit manipulated. That's good theater. But rare.)

Plus, dying onstage is easy – on the actors, on the writer, on everybody. Living, that's hard. A problem gets a bit knotty, a character dies, well, phew, thank God, problem solved, we don't have to deal with the consequences anymore. We narrowly escaped that one. We almost had to think. We almost had to find a way to continue living with, maybe solving, that problem.

People die. Characters die. But these days, it seems like the people who go through the wars we're fighting, finding a way to live in the real world again is the hardest thing. Some of them can't do it. Those that can, it comes at a price – for themselves, for the ones who love them. They may come out on the other side of it, or at least make their peace with it. But they're never the same as they were before they saw the things they saw, and did the things they did.

Trying to wrap my head around all that while writing, and rewriting, and rewriting "Leave," has been the biggest hurdle, and the thing I was most concerned about getting right. It was the same for the people involved in the production. That's part of the reason why, when they're finished with a performance, they're all completely wrung out. There's laughter along with the tears, certainly, but it's an emotional marathon these actors are running, living the lives of the characters they've taken on.

On top of all this, the characters have to deal with the hypocrisy of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from serving openly in the U.S. military. They can't be supportive of one another. They can't take comfort from one another. Half the time, they can't even see or speak to one another. One of them wants to serve their country, the other stays back home, and waits. I can't tell you the number of times that people told me, "They should just break up. Why would you stay with someone who denies you and your relationship in order to do their job?" But just like death of a character, on a certain level, breaking up is easy. Everyone involved in a relationship with a gay member of the military does not break up with them. Even if they're in the minority, some of them must stay together. How do they do it? What holds them together? What kind of a bond must that be between two people that nothing, absolutely nothing, can break it? And how do you portray that honestly without making it seem like a complete fairy tale? They must have to make compromises. They must have to give up something of themselves to make it work. How do they do it? Why do they do it?

So I don't kill characters lightly. Because living is much messier, and more interesting, and has a lot more potential for drama, and comedy.

I resisted writing the last scene of the play, even though I knew the shape of it long before I knew the shape or content of a lot of stuff in the middle of the play. It was all mapped out in my head, what they'd say, how they'd say it. But I didn't want to put my fingers to the keyboard. Because I didn't want to kill them.

But I did.

The audience cries. Because they've gotten to know the characters, all of them, and don't want bad things to happen to them. Sometimes I sit there and thing, tearing up myself, "It's cathartic, yeah. Particularly at this moment in history, to be allowed to cry. To make a connection with a person, in a uniform, even if they're just pretending under electric lights, and then to lose them." I can't help wondering though, if we all had the same response every time a real soldier, sailor, Marine, or pilot died. If we cried every time we heard that on the news – even if we didn't know their name or see their picture – if just the fact of another person no longer living, could make us cry – would we still be doing what we're doing? I think we've gotten too good and protecting ourselves, at tuning out, at walling it off.

I'm typing this, and people are shooting at each other, bombing each other, bleeding and dying. The lucky ones are just being damaged beyond repair – physically or mentally.

When does it stop being a reasonable, normal thing to go along with that?

When does it stop?

And which people have to die before it does?

As one character says in the play, "I feel this way. And I do nothing."


If you're curious about having this conversation, one that's been dogging me for twelve years now in one form or another, stop by the Bryant Lake Bowl this Thursday, September 25, 2008. We've got one more performance of "Leave" before we close up shop. Show starts at 7pm. Doors open at 6pm. Tickets are pay what you can on a scale of $12 to $15, or $10 with a Fringe button.

You can make reservations by calling 612-825-8949 or visiting or

You can find more about the production at, and you can find sample scenes and monologues of what I'm talking about over at my site,

The production lasts 90 minutes. Then you're out on the street again for the rest of your evening. Plenty of time to think. My characters probably say it all better than I do anyway.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Spend 9/11 with a Gay Marine

We'll be returning you to your regularly scheduled blog in just a day or so. Wrapping up the Fringe, shamelessly plugging scrappy theater offerings of various stripes throughout the year, noodling over random subjects arts-related and otherwise...

But, the reason I ended up doing this kind of thing in the first place is because I'm a playwright. And that lovely rarity, a production of a new script, has happened, and appears to be going quite well at the moment. It's been devouring what might otherwise be blogging time. Our out of town premiere performances went ridiculously well. And now we're bringing our act to the Twin Cities...

This is a story and a pair of characters that have been dogging me for almost ten years. Sadly, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy which prompted the original script is still with us. And the post-9/11 world required the story be rewritten to a new reality.

And so...

Two Performances, Two Standing Ovations

The production that brought audiences in Morris to their feet two nights in a row is now at the Bryant Lake Bowl for two performances

Thursday, September 11 at 7 PM
Thursday, September 25 at 7 PM

afterdark theater company presents


"Don't ask, don't tell... don't love?"

The strains placed on a couple separated by war are further compounded by the need to remain in the closet. Coded messages and secret identities are at the epicenter of the
struggle between love of country and love of a lifetime.

by Matthew A. Everett
(three-time recipient of support from the Minnesota State Arts Board)

Directed by Justin S. Latt

Siobhan Bremer
Alex Carlson
Nick James Parker
Tim Schmidt
Bennett Smith

For tickets call 612.825.8949 or online at

And online at

Tickets $12 - $15, pay what you can / $10 with Fringe button

Mature content - adult language, brief nudity

Gaye at FringeFamous says, "I can't tell you how excited I am to see this show. But I'll try. I'm about as excited as a gay hooker during the Republican National Convention!" (no, I didn't make that up - check the link...)

From Morris to Minneapolis, come see what people are buzzing about.

For more info - including video promo, cast bios and more - see


Seth (Nick James Parker) is a young Marine serving during wartime. Nicholas (Tim Schmidt) is his civilian husband who waits back home. In addition to the strain on their relationship caused by distance and absence, they must hide their love for one another behind code words and secret identities because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the United States military.

Seth's mother Anne (Siobhan Bremer) assists them by providing the cover of a woman's handwriting for Nicholas' daily letters, but Nicholas and Seth's resolve is starting to weaken.

Jonas (Alex Carlson), another young gay Marine in Seth's unit just coming to terms with his identity, forms an intense bond with Seth overseas.

Tyson (Bennett Smith), a former Army soldier who got fed up with "don't ask, don't tell" and didn't reenlist, now works alongside Nicholas, providing temptation as well as a reality check.

When Seth returns home for an unexpected leave, with Jonas at his side, and post-traumatic stress following him from the battlefield, old relationships are tested, and new ones bloom. In the end, the realities of war call on one man to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Sample scenes, monologues, and other details online at