Friday, February 18, 2011

Fun With Theater Reviews

Meanwhile, halfway across the country...

My play about gay marriage, "But Not For Love," is currently running out in Los Angeles in a little blackbox space courtesy of Renegade Theatre.

This actually came about because of a random Fringe connection, and facebook.

In going through old Fringe reviews while cleaning up my website for a major reboot, I made note of names that cropped up, and started looking them up and electronically befriending them on facebook. One such electronic pal was Chadbourne Hamblin. He noticed I wrote plays. This new theater group he'd linked up with out in LA was looking to mount more regular productions. He asked for suggestions, I fielded a couple. Because of the whole Proposition 8 battle over gay marriage out in California, the group gravitated to "But Not For Love." And before I knew it, they were moving full-speed ahead on an early 2011 production timetable. They had previews the last week in January, then opened out there a week before "Leave" opened here in Minneapolis. And they'll be running for two weeks after "Leave" closes. So I thought to myself, "I have friends in California, when the heck do I have a better excuse to go out there?" Out comes the credit card, plane ticket is purchased.

In the meantime, I have to content myself with learning about the production long distance. Thankfully, the Renegade troupe is very efficient at self-promotion and got not one, not two, but four reviewers out there to see the thing and post their thoughts. They were not shy about sharing their opinions, which varied wildly.

Here's the basic plot...

Eleanor (in this production, Krystal Kennedy) and Ephram (John Croshaw), sister and brother, are both getting married on the same day. And they’re each getting married to a man. With protesters, policemen and a TV news crew outside the church, inside the couples are split over what their day and their ceremony should mean, to themselves or anyone else.

Patrick (Andrew Loviska), Ephram’s groom, agrees with Eleanor that they all need to make a statement by getting married. But Roland (Chadbourne Hamblin), Eleanor’s groom, and Ephram both just want a simple ceremony and a quiet day.

Another attraction begins to blossom between the female minister, known as the Duchess (Natasha St. Clair-Johnson), and one of the policemen standing guard over the church, Duke (Patrick Tiller). But a secret from the Duchess’ past may prove more of an obstacle than the two of them can overcome.

Meanwhile, outside among the protesters, Patrick’s younger brother Jacob (Nick Sousa) hurls a rock through the stained glass window in an effort to keep the wedding from taking place. When the rock draws blood, one couple may not end up getting married today, or any other day.

"Men have died from time to time,
And worms have eaten them,
But not for love."
- As You Like It, William Shakespeare

The reviews covered the full spectrum. I probably should have known better when I stumbled upon the 5-star review from Ron Irwin in the Burbank Examiner that started...

"Absolutely every element of the current Renegade Theatre production of the play, 'But Not For Love' is pure genius."

...that anything after that review was gonna be slightly less effusive.

The funny thing is that the reviewer for Backstage West, Les Spindle, also reviewed my only previous theater production in LA, 14 years ago, for Frontiers Magazine. Les loved my play "Heaven and Home" so much it ended up on his top ten list for the year, in addition to nabbing three Drama-Logue Awards, and a nomination for a GLAAD Award. As much as Les loved "Heaven and Home," he hated "But Not For Love." For example, in his opening paragraph, we have the following...

"Opponents of the Proposition 8 legislation might have found a new weapon: Courtesy of... the circuitous debates that dominate the script, it seems the controversial proposition could face the prospect of being bludgeoned to death by this series of protracted shouting matches."


But I have to admit, also damn funny.

I now have the image of someone swatting an anti-gay protester with a copy of my script, and it's most amusing.

Not that it probably matters but I also find it amusing that the straight reviewer raved about it and the gay reviewer was repulsed. (This also seems to have a direct correlation to my social life, but we won't belabor that here...)

I admitted to the director Richard Warren Baker via email that I felt a little bad for all of them having to take hits on behalf of my script.

Richard didn't want me to take that on. He was just as willing to take the blame as director. Again, opinions in print logged in at both extremes. Irwin wanted to give Richard a Tony, but Spindle called the direction "generally flaccid."

Double ouch. (and not funny)

As a writer, though, you never want someone to regret doing your script. I don't think Renegade does. I just wanted Richard and company to know that I feel their pain. It's a big leap of faith for a theater to put on a new play. Established titles and authors are always safer. After that, even a local name would be a safer bet. I admire a group that's just trying to make a name for itself grabbing onto a new play to be their vehicle. After all, if no theaters did that, new, living playwrights wouldn't have any outlet for their work.

(Yes, I know there's self-production, yes, I know there's the Fringe, but face it, we all live in the theatrical sweet spot here in Minnesota. There's tons of theater, a big audience to support it, philanthropy out the wazoo, and costs here are a fraction of what they'd be in a place like New York, LA, or even Chicago. Imagine trying to live anywhere else, and trying to do art you love, and how much harder that would be. Not impossible, but harder. I have friends in New York, LA and Chicago, and their tireless pursuit of their art in the face of odds far greater than those I face here really amazes me. I moved here after grad school for a reason. I stayed here for a reason.)

Anyway, to pick a play of mine, go to the trouble of mounting a production of it because it's about an issue you really care about, and you like the script, and then to have your production get dinged in three out of four reviews for things that have to be laid at the feet of the script, not the production, I can understand why that might be frustrating. And why it might make you think twice about doing any new play, not just mine.

I understand Spindle's very different reaction to "But Not For Love." "Heaven and Home" couldn't be more different as a script. It's a full-length, non-linear, character-based piece. "Love" was commissioned to be a one-act, and even at 90 minutes, it's crammed a little too full of plot and characters for its own good. For better or worse (no pun intended), it's linear and full of overlapping two person scenes, with the occasional big ensemble scene where all hell breaks loose. It was also commissioned to be an issue play, and in one-act form, the characters sometimes take a back seat to the issue at hand. Like "Leave" before Urban Samurai got ahold of it, "Love" probably needs more room for the characters to breathe. "Heaven" had AIDS as a backdrop, but the word was never spoken, only inferred. A critic once described it as a "post-AIDS" play, more about the survivors than the dying. I'm looking forward to revisiting "But Not For Love" with the Urban Samurai crew in the near future - opening it up and digging into the characters. Right now, the script is asking the actors to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

And from the sound of things, the actors in LA are doing just that.

Even the reviewers who had the biggest problems with the script, laud the actors, as a group and by name.

Spindle thinks "the young ensemble cast deserves points for their valiant efforts..." and that in particular, "Following their characters' meet-cute encounter, St. Clair-Johnson and Tiller [as the minister called the Duchess, and Duke the cop] share amusing moments. The subtlest approach comes across best, namely Croshaw's smitten young man [Ephram] who wishes his wedding ceremony was more intimate and less like a shrill political grandstanding stunt."

Neal Weaver with LA Weekly thinks "The production, helmed by director Richard Warren Baker, is most successful in its quieter, more human moments than in its strident political declarations, when it topples over into melodrama. The events are not always credible, but there are strong performances from Sousa [anti-gay rally leader Jacob], St. Clair-Johnson [Duchess], and Tiller [Duke]."

And blogger Keisha7 for LA Splash "found the performances of Chadbourne Hamblin [reluctant straight groom Roland] and Nick Sousa [Jacob] to be both truthful and engaging."

Irwin has all sorts of great things to say about the cast...

"The cast was as close to perfect as the human condition allows." He brought his daughter along to the show and "In the words of my teen daughter Kari also an actress of some skill, 'Daddy, those actors were all very good.' You have that right kid – indeed magnificent." He calls Andy Loviska's work as activist gay groom Patrick "compellingly played," and says "Krystal Kennedy is magnificent as [straight ally and activist bride] Eleanor... And last but by no means least there is the amazing Natasha St.Clair-Johnson as the Duchess, a female cleric with a fairly mind blowing little secret."

So, everyone in the cast gets a little love, which makes me happy. A seven week run is a wonderful marathon for any show, and it's nice that the actors are all getting a nod for their efforts.

The director isn't left out of the lovefest. Though Spindle isn't a fan, Irwin is joined in his praise of the director by LA Splash blogger Keisha7,

"I particularly like the direction. Baker uses the limited black box space quite well. His staging makes great use of set design that is more about defining location than it is about utility to the performers. Every actor felt accessible and physically open, despite the places on stage that received no practical use at all.

Near the top of the show, there is a soundbite montage that reminds the audience of the innumerable voices and opinions starting with Sarah Palin, ending with Keith Olbermann. Director Richard Warren Baker touched on a very interesting motif for the piece. It would have been nice to have more of it – invisible voices in the dark, all feeling free to comment on an issue that does not directly affect them."

Ron Irwin in the Examiner goes further...

"Director Richard Warren Baker also deserves mega kudos for the amazing skill with which he assembled and directed this truly beautiful production. One area in which I was amazed is the way in which every resource of this rather intimate venue was masterfully used to give maximum impact. The lighting, placement and set design all gave a sense and feel of a much larger stage. I sadly lack the authority to confer upon you a Tony, so I hereby award you with a 'Ronnie' for best Director 2011."

Let's rip off the band-aid quickly in terms of script feedback, shall we?

Spindle in Backstage West says "But Not For Love" is a "politically correct dramedy [which] comes across as more polemic than play. It's populated by characters who generally seem like mouthpieces of the playwright's views rather than multidimensional humans."

He also calls it a "wannabe crowd pleaser" full of "predictable showdowns," tags Eleanor's groom Roland as "homophobic" and says that Jacob's rallying of the crowd is "a repetitive fire-and-brimstone speech." His compliment for the actor playing Ephram moves into this final assessment of the script, when he notes that Ephram "wishes his wedding ceremony was more intimate and less like a shrill political grandstanding stunt. The same could be said about this admirably intended play."

("I'm just a boy whose intentions are good. Please Lord don't let be misunderstood," just popped into my head)

Ron Irwin in the Examiner apparently couldn't disagree more with Les (sorry, I just couldn't resist that one)...

"The story line is fascinating as it peels back the thoughts and emotions of seven very unique and thoroughly compelling characters. It was brilliantly written by Mathew A. Everett as he addresses the still simmering public debate over gay marriage. It would be easy to passionately present one side of this complex debate, but Matthew Everett gives the audience a far more intriguing and balanced view, leaving little doubt about his position and yet remaining I believe respectful of the broader community.

The story all centers on a double wedding, a double wedding in which one couple is straight and the other is gay. As the two couples prepare for the event tension grows and violence briefly erupts and becomes the catalyst for an out pouring of both passion and thought that takes the entire event to an amazing new level of awareness and understanding and ultimately brings the day to a joyful conclusion.

As you can imagine given the subject matter there is a great deal of passion and more than a little conflict, but it is perfectly balanced with a steady injection of brilliant humor. It is a play that provokes thought and teaches without being in anyway preachy. To make this clear, the character Jacob is indeed preachy in the extreme, but the overall play is not."

He recommends it "without reservation" and clarifies, in case people were wondering, "I am actually a life long and very proud flaming heterosexual. Such a condition does not in any way interfere with my ability to thoroughly enjoy this play."

And while I'm loving the fact that this guy loved it so much, I find that LA Splash blogger Keisha7 gives a really telling critique of the script when she says,

"The premise Matthew A. Everett’s play is great, but it could be stronger. Each person within each couple wants the same thing, just in varying degrees. There is never a real question about if these couples will get married. The questions are how and when. Without a credible threat of someone completely calling the whole thing off, the stakes can only get so high."

It's a very valid point, and one I'll have to look at going forward.

The use of multiple viewpoints doesn't work for her the same way it worked for Irwin...

"Everett seems to be trying to make all the valid arguments - trying to present every pro and con of the situation. However, these arguments just don’t ring true when coming from the characters that ultimately make them."

She also thinks the final scenes contain "two one-eighties... that feel contrived. In reality, change takes time. But Not For Love would better be served ending with the residue of something real."

The bit of extra time a full-length vs. a one-act structure would give the audience to process and the characters to evolve might make some of the shifts seem less abrupt, but I still need to watch how the characters choose to make peace with one another so the story remains tethered to our reality.

Speaking of reality, Irwin also gives me a little peek at the theater space before I get out there to see it myself...

"The physical elements of the theatre are rather amazing. It is truly intimate with seats for no more than 50 people. Yet the place seems larger. You enter off of Gardner Street just off of Sunset Boulevard into a brightly lit and spacious area. The whole feel is comfortable and friendly. When you enter the theatre area the seats are comfortable and positioned such that everyone enjoys a good view. Under the mastery of Founding Director Chick Vennera the Renegade Theatre is rapidly become a place where you can thoroughly enjoy genuinely professional productions that vastly exceed their physical realm."

I know Sunset Boulevard is enormous, and thus all sorts of things could be described as "just off Sunset Boulevard" but it still feels like of cool to be able to say that about a play of mine.

I'll be out there to see the show March 4, 5 and 6, but go the weekends before or after, too, if you can. I'd like anyone I know out that way to help out a new theater company producing a new play. The fact that it's also my new play just makes me root for them all the more. Show info below...

The Renegade Theatre Group’s production of But Not For Love is currently running through March 13, 2011 at:
The Renegade Theatre
1514 North Gardner Street
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 6:00 PM
Tickets are $20.00
May be purchased at the location or in advance at
or call for reservations (323) 960-4443

Links to the Full Reviews

Ron Irwin - Burbank Examiner

Keisha7 - LA Splash

Les Spindle - Backstage West

Neal Weaver - LA Weekly

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My play "Leave" - The Audience Completes The Production

(photo by George M. Calger)

When my first play was produced in Minneapolis, the whole family flew out from the east coast to see it. As we sat waiting for the show to start, my dad noticed I had a weird look on my face.

"What's the matter, son?"
"I'm just looking at the audience. I don't recognize most of these people. I don't know them."
"Son, that's a good thing."

When a good friend and his daughter came to see the opening night of my current play "Leave," he looked around and asked me,

"So who are all these people? Do you know them?"
"No, except for you, an actress friend, and the theater critic here tonight, I don't know a soul."

My friend got an enormous grin on his face and jabbed me in the ribs, "That's fantastic, man!"

The play "Leave" has a cast of five. But the production actually has a cast of seven. The design elements (set by Erica Zaffarano, costumes by Marcia Svaleson, lights by Grant Merges, and sound by Kevin Springer) have a personality all their own, inform the actors and help create a world around them - guided, as the actors were, by the director Matt Greseth. So they all count as cast member number six. But the all-important final cast member didn't show up until opening night. The audience.

Because we don't know if we're doing our job properly if there isn't someone out there responding. A production without an audience is just a bunch of people standing around talking to themselves. A story needs a storyteller, but it also needs someone to hear the story. Stories are told to be shared. If a theater production is a living, breathing thing, the audience is oxygen. Cast member number seven. And the last member of the cast so far has been very good, and giving, to us.

Every audience is different, of course. The first night was a more quiet, contemplative bunch. The second night was a bunch of people more in a mood to laugh, both approrpriately and nervously (both of which were a lot of fun to hear). The third night was our biggest crowd yet and they seemed to feed each other as much as the actors. 30, 40, 60, the numbers keep growing, which is nice to see. Word of mouth and a couple of reviews will hopefully keep that trend going.

It's an atypical audience set-up for that performance space. Instead of being down in the auditorium (you know, where the theater seats are), chairs have been arranged on three sides of the playing space, up on stage. The first night, the first person in the door actually went out to the regular seats until they were redirected. No, really, this isn't special VIP seating up on stage, you're all supposed to be up here with the actors. And you're all going to see each other across the playing space.

At first I wondered about the configuration, until the director explained at first rehearsal, "I don't want a proscenium between the audience and this story. We want it to be an intimate experience. No fourth wall." Oh, I get it. Makes perfect sense. (Playwrights can be slow sometimes, what can I say? We write the big picture, but we don't always see the big picture.)

Though my friends (particularly those in my writing group) are already very familiar with my stories and the reasons I'm telling them, I have to admit it's always nice to see at least one or two familiar faces in the crowd each night. Opening, it was a writer and an actress who have been through the development of this script and many others with me. Nice to share the finished product. Theater being a teeny tiny world, the actress also knew several members of the company, so that made it doubly fun for her.

"It's such a sensual production. I don't remember the last time I saw a production this sensual."
"Well, yeah, in writing group reading the script, we're a little more restrained."

Second night, two more dear writer friends came out. Again, the script wasn't a total surprise to them, so when the performances elicited a meaningful "hmmm" of acknowledgement of a particular moment out of them, I counted that as a big victory for the cast. One friend runs a theater company and she was so impressed with the sound design, I made sure to introduce her to Kevin, our designer.

Another delightful surprise was the director of the previous incarnation of "Leave," Justin Latt, showing up unannounced. From Bismarck. He just really wanted to see the characters and the story again. What an amazing guy.

Also, a number of the actors who auditioned but weren't cast have been coming to see the show, alone or with their significant others, which makes me happy. We did our job right in auditions. They know we want to work with them, the right role just hasn't come along yet. And apparently they still want to work with us, and see how that thing they auditioned for turned out in the end. They often make some of the most engaged audience members. A nodding head, a body bent forward in rapt attention, a big bright infectious smile. Me, I start already wondering where we could use them in the next script.

Pay-what-you-can Monday nights are fun because that's when most of the cast's theater friends in other shows can come and see them. It's a boisterous kind of energy. Plus, this Monday was Valentine's Day. At intermission a friend of mine was already congratulating me, saying what a romantic show it was, perfect for Valentine's Day.

"You think it's romantic now, wait til you see act two."

A bunch of friends from my second day job at the Guthrie box office came to see the show that night, too. It was great to share it with all of them.

"Now you know what I'm doing when I'm not working at the box office."
"And sometimes even when you are working at the box office," one of them rightfully teased me.

In my defense, we can sometimes spend large stretches of time waiting for the phone to ring or for the next person to walk up the counter. So I make use of the time, and the Guthrie is fostering still more new theater.

My cover frequently gets blown - the writer in the house. I try to sit in the audience, unknown, so I can take in the audience response without them looking over their shoulder thinking, "Uh oh, the guy who wrote it is right over there." But just like I'm overhearing their conversations without even trying to eavesdrop, they're hearing my friends talking to me, so they quickly figure it out. This results in some interesting exchanges...

I try to never sit in the front row. During rehearsal, it was useful, just to have a body there, for the actors to remember how close the audience was going to be to the action, what the sightlines were like, etc. Since I was there all the time, I became kind of like furniture. I ceased to freak them out. I don't know why, but I think in performance it would just be weird to see me up there now. First of all, I can see just fine a row or two back, I'm not missing anything. Second, I've had my time in the front row. Third, like I said before, I'm trying to keep a low profile. But I want to be sure that front row is filled with other people, so I try to encourage it.

A group of men in the front row ahead of us on the second night seemed from their conversation to be ex-military. Throughout the play, there were moments they wiped their eyes. At the end of the evening, a friend of mine tapped me on the shoulder to disengage me from a conversation. Someone wanted to talk to me. I turned around and it was one of the ex-military group. His eyes were red. He smiled. He extended his hand.

"Thank you."

Damn. These moments always throw me. But I've learned the best thing to do, when you and an audience member are both overwhelmed, is to respond in kind.

I took his hand and smiled. I think I nodded, maybe even bowed slightly. Audience members who connect with the work that personally always humble the hell out of me.

"Thank you. For coming."

Show days always find me giddy and distracted. And it's mostly about one question...

What's the seventh cast member going to look like tonight?

"Leave," from Urbran Samurai Productions and yours truly, runs at the Sabes Jewish Community Center on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, February 17 through 19; (there's a talkback with gay vet Jesse Berglund after the show on Friday 2/18); Monday (pay what you can), February 21; and Thursday, Friday, Saturday, February 24 through 26. You can find all the pertinent information you might need at

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My play "Leave" - The Unrelenting Power of a Mother's Love

(photo by George M. Galger)

I was at the Fringe Lottery last week, rather than at the first night of tech for my play "Leave," and yet, the play followed me there.

Of course, this was partly due to the fact I was carrying a stack of postcards with me and handing them out, and leaving a stash in the two places one can put cards on display for people to take at the Bryant Lake Bowl.

But when a fellow Fringer flipped over the card and read the cast list, he said, "Tina Sigel is wonderful."

Believe me, I know.

The wonderful and terrifying thing about good actors is, you can't relax. Good actors make a better playwright. One, because you live in fear of wasting their time by not writing a good role for them to dig into. Two, because they can do anything, so you have no limits on where you can go with a character.

The character of Anne, mother of Seth the Marine in "Leave," is a relatively new creation. She only came along in the previous draft, which means she's only been walking and talking and telling me who she is since 2008. Seth and his civilian husband Nicholas have been my regular companions since 1997. They still surprise me, but I know most of their tricks already. I knew when we dove into this new, expanded version of the script, that Anne would be key. How she grew would influence the direction of the show.

The danger was that she just turn into some kind of sounding board, listening to the problems of the other characters like a good mother would, and not having any stakes of her own in the story.

I had a friend of mine who is the mother of a Marine say, "Well, she wouldn't do that." And I allowed that kind of thing to hang me up for a while. Until I remembered that I wasn't writing a character based on my friend, I was writing someone diametrically opposed to the views of my friend. Marines have all kinds of mothers. Anne is just a different variety.

She's proud of her son. She supports her son. She writes him daily. And more importantly she makes it possible for her son's husband to write him daily as well, by copying over his letters in a woman's handwriting. So it looks like he has a girlfriend back home, rather than a boyfriend.

But she hates his job.

Maybe she'd hate it less if the military wasn't using the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to make his life harder, to force him to lie, to cut him off from the love and support he needs most.

But she'd probably hate it anyway.

"Don't ask, don't tell" is just a convenient springboard for her to argue that the Marines aren't good enough to require him to risk his life and possibly die if they won't treat him as a complete human being.

"You're embracing fighting as a way of life."
"I'm not picking a fight. I'm offering to be the one who fights if fighting needs to be done."
"And I'm proud of you for stepping up."
"You just don't want me to actually do it."
"Well, no."

There used to be a scene in the middle of the play where Anne sets Seth's friend and fellow Marine Jonas up as a guest in her house. Jonas has accompanied Seth home on leave. Anne puts him in Seth's old room. Jonas is also gay, but his parents don't accept him the way Anne and her husband accept Seth. Anne becomes something of a surrogate mother to Jonas, and that scene is where it starts.

In script discussions, the director Matt Greseth latched onto a line of Nicholas' in another scene later in the play, "This isn't your first leave."

"What were the other leaves like? Is it possible we could go back in time once or twice, to see Seth before the war and the lies and the secrets started to grind him down? When he was all fired up and excited to become a Marine and serve his country. For instance, what if, when Anne is settling Jonas into Seth's old room, it prompts a memory for Anne of her own son, before he went off to boot camp? Maybe she's even packing Seth's duffel bag as she's helping unpack Jonas' duffel bag."

Damn. That's a great idea.

Well, I quickly found out that Marines don't pack for basic training. The Marines give them everything, rebuilding them from scratch. They just need a driver's license and social security card for ID, banking information so they can get paid, and the clothes on their back. But the idea stuck.

I started calling the scene "2 Marines" for short. On paper, it looked really good. Anne would be the pivot, shifting back and forth in time, from the present with Jonas, to the past with Seth.

But of course, you need an actress who can actually do that without giving herself and the audience emotional whiplash. Someone who can make those transitions smooth and seamless. The other two actors and the director have a lot to do with it, too, but if Anne doesn't work, the scene doesn't work.

Tina makes Anne work. She, like everyone else in this cast, is a joy to watch creating a character in a scene.

Because all I'm providing are words. They're an outline. I can't magically create an emotional connection. That's where actors come in, guided by a director.

The first time I watched Tina as Anne, and Ryan Henderson (as Seth) and James Doyle (as Jonas) dig into the "2 Marines" scene with director Matt Greseth, I knew we were gonna be just fine. "There's a show in that script after all," I thought. You're never sure until you see it start to appear.

This used to be the first scene of the second act, but as I worked on the script in those early days of rehearsal, I realized "2 Marines" was actually the end of the first act.

It's quiet. It's not a literal cliffhanger. To be honest, I was a little worried at first that shifting the act break was the wrong decision.

But as I was watching a week or so later in rehearsal, I found myself writing this note during that sequence...

"Holy s***, this scene..."

After our new last scene in act one had once again wrecked me before we took a break in rehearsal a few days before tech, I turned to the director and said, "Thank you for making me rewrite this scene."

Anne is trying to help a young man in the present feel at home in a strange place, and feel better about himself in general. All this reminds her of the time she tried to persuade her boy not to go to boot camp, to understand his decision if she couldn't change his mind, and to worry about what this was going to do to him, to their family, to his husband.

And the audience knows from the opening scene at a graveyard that somebody is in the ground.

It's probably one of these two Marines.

And you start to feel like, either way it goes, it's going to hurt like hell.

Hurt Anne. Hurt the audience.

And that's when you know you've got them.

When they sort of know how the story ends, but they have to really know how the story ends.

Come back for Act Two.

And see this mother really kick into high gear.

"Leave," from Urbran Samurai Productions and yours truly, runs at the Sabes Jewish Community Center on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, February 17 through 19; (there's a talkback with gay vet Jesse Berglund after the show on Friday 2/18); Monday (pay what you can), February 21; and Thursday, Friday, Saturday, February 24 through 26. You can find all the pertinent information you might need at

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day - I Hope You Like Guys In Their Underwear

(photo by George M. Calger)

Some of my single friends figure that if, like me, they have no one to make out with on Valentine's Day, the next best thing is to come to see my play "Leave" and and watch four other guys make out with each other. Sounds like a reasonable back-up plan.

"I'm not gonna say I love you, 'cause that'd be stupid, right?"
"I don't know. I've fallen in love a lot faster for a lot less. So no, it's not stupid. But we don't have to put a label on it. We can just be, for right now, whatever you need."

Because "Leave" is, on its most basic level, a love story.

About two guys who have been together since they were young, and are struggling to stay together and remain faithful despite all the walls "don't ask, don't tell" throws up between them.

About a guy just figuring out who he is, and a guy who thought he had everything figured out so love couldn't sneak up and surprise him anymore.

About a mother's love for her son, and the lengths to which she'll go to support and protect him.

About love between friends that gets complicated, but ultimately saves them.

About men who love their country, even when their country refuses to love them back.

"Kiss me like you mean it."

I was emailing back and forth with a friend planning to come see the show who was part one of the very first readings of script way back when, telling him the script was very different now...

"...and the cast is just great"
"And as handsome as they come," he replied. "I hope you have added a nice shirtless love scene for us."
"There are, in fact, several. Enjoy!"

As the audience was coming back from intermission, one of the company member ushers told the returning patrons...

"I hope you like guys in their underwear."

"Is there anything they can do to take Nicholas away from you? I don't think so. That guy is welded to you. He will stand by you when everyone else melts away, no matter what they throw at him. You know that, right?"

After one of the "guys in their boxer briefs" scenes in act two, a guy near me was heard to say, "Yummy." Before his friend elbowed him in the side.

Act One includes
- Two guys trying to write love letters to each other in code
- A guy stripping out of his army uniform (aka - guys in their boxer briefs, a prologue)
- Two guys facing off against each other outside the communal showers wearing nothing but towels
- One man resisting temptation while another gives in
- An ethereal three-way in which one man allows another man to touch him, while visualizing the image of his husband who can't be with him
- A transatlantic phone call filled with so much longing and unspoken emotion the two sides of the conversation nearly break down in the weighted silences
- One guy seducing another with words and an ungloved hand on his face
- Two guys on a walk holding hands trying to get through discussion of possible death in the line of duty with a kiss or two and some gentle touches
- An overheated reunion after months apart, featuring what someone in rehearsal called "the kiss above all other kisses, right out of The Princess Bride."
- And enough motherly hugs and reassuring touches to break the resolve of the most hardened stoic

"All this nobility is making my teeth hurt."

Act Two includes
- Guys in their boxer briefs, #1 - in which the stability and intimacy of the relationship help ground a character being dogged by unpleasant memories of war
- A scene in which a guy is comically seduced into his first kiss, and quickly goes back for more
- A post-traumatic stress disorder incident that ends in a hug that makes the guy look like he might drown on dry land if he let go.
- Guys in their boxer briefs, #2 - sexy times, with artful lighting, and a fair helping of comedy
- A non-declaration of love and negotiation of hand-holding in public that is cuter than either of the men involved would like to admit
- Another non-declaration of love that, thanks to our brilliant lighting designer, looks very much like two guys walking off into the sunset together

"Please stop touching my face."
"If you were touching him, he'd wipe your tears."
"If I was touching him, I wouldn't be crying."
"Yeah. You would."

Hanging out after rehearsal one day, an actor was talking about what a challenge the role was, all the things he didn't have in common with his character. One that surprised me was

"I've never loved anyone with all my heart."

My knee-jerk reaction was, of course, a joke, "Yeah, but you do know these guys are fictional, right?"

But then I thought about it, and I have to admit, this script brings those kind of guys out of the woodwork. People I've never met. Couples who have clearly gone the distance, or are going to go the distance. They need their date plays, too.

They exist, those couples.

I'm not making up as much as I think I am.

It's good to be reminded.

My own Valentine's Day present, a friend flying up from Texas to see the show, is gonna be a little delayed. He doesn't get here til the weekend.

Meantime, I can't think of a better way to enjoy Valentine's Day (and not let it get me down), than to watch a play where love triumphs over most, if not all. And the actors are so committed to the reality of the story and the characters that it doesn't feel like it came from words on a piece of paper anymore.

Most of the plays I write, in one way or another, are love stories.

This is one of my best.

In addition to tonight's Valentine's Day (pay what you can) performance at 7:30pm, "Leave," from Urbran Samurai Productions and yours truly, runs at the Sabes Jewish Community Center on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, February 17 through 19; Monday (pay what you can), February 21; and Thursday, Friday, Saturday, February 24 through 26. You can find all the pertinent information you might need at

Friday, February 11, 2011

My play "Leave" - First Impressions...

(photo by George M. Calger)

Before the one of the runthroughs the other night, one of the actors wandered by wearing only a towel wrapped around his waist. I did a doubletake until I realized, "oh yeah, that's his first costume."

For which the actor could not resist teasing me, "Yeah, the first time the audience sees me, I'm wearing a towel and have to say the word 'faggot.' Great first impression, thanks a lot."

A couple of weeks back, when they first started stringing the scenes together in sequence, I watched the top of the show, thinking about first impressions, and scribbled in my notes, "Wow, I'm really flouting audience expectations the first three scenes of the play."

We don't really get to a "normal" scene, where two people are having a conversation with each other, until the fourth scene in.

The first scene, two people are standing by what they make clear to us is a grave. We don't know their names. We don't know their relationship to each other. We don't know their relationship to the person in the ground, other than it's clear they wish he wasn't down there.

Then one actor leaves and the one who remains turns and begins speaking to the audience.

(Hello, everyone. Not only are you right on top of the action, but there will be no fourth wall sometimes.)

The one actor finishes speaking and leaves.

The other actor returns, this time dressed for desert duty in the army. He carries a box. He sets it down, he opens it up. He strips - boots, pants, T-shirt - stopping only for a moment when it comes time to remove his dog tags. He stands there in his boxer briefs and looks at them. Then he dumps them in the box, closes the box, and carries it away.

(A wordless evocation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - did he leave voluntarily? was he dishonorably discharged? We don't know. He hasn't said a word, we still don't know his name.)

(Will the audience also think this is all the skin they're gonna get? Fear not, more to come. We wouldn't cheat you like that, I swear. But seriously, enjoy the view.)

The actor who spoke to the audience returns, this time in non-funeral clothes.

She sets herself up on a chair in the middle of the stage.

In front of and behind her at opposing entrances on the diagonal, two new actors appear and sit down. They then all proceed to not quite talk to each other, conversing through a screen of coded words in their letters. But we start to get an idea of the memory of who they are vs. who they're pretending to be.

Then that scene clears out and two people finally start talking face to face.

And telling jokes, so we know it's OK to laugh.

It's nervewracking to be a playwright sometimes. Those first 10 minutes or so will be one of them.

The play in general is going to be more a play the audience pays attention to than vocally engages. There will be laughs, but there will also be fights and tears.

Coughing will make me nervous, though you can hardly avoid coughing this time of year.

I have to remind myself that quiet means they're paying attention.

And laughs (and sniffles) mean we got 'em.

It all starts tonight.

The world premiere of this newly expanded and updated version of "Leave," from Urbran Samurai Productions and yours truly, runs February 11 to 26, at the Sabes Jewish Community Center. You can find all the pertinent information you might need at

Thursday, February 10, 2011

All the theater I'm missing...

...or at least a goodly chunk of it.

photo from Maximum Verbosity's Penner vs. The Hydra

The wonderful thing about Minneapolis theater is that there are always so many productions going on at once. The horrible thing about Minneapolis theater is that there are always so many damn shows going on at once.

I've already missed all kinds of theater in January because I was in rehearsals (and heavy-duty rewrite mode) on my play
Leave, which opens this Friday (tomorrow).

The one I probably hated missing the most was Torch Theater's
Glengarry Glen Ross, which got my friend Patrick Coyle back on stage after several years of writing and directing film (if you haven't seen "
Into Temptation" by the way, you need to Netflix that thing right now).

Since, even if you love me like my mother does, you won't be sitting in on every performance of
Leave like I will, I just wanted you to know that you have some amazing options here in February.

The thing that's killing me most right now, it's closing weekend of
Penner vs. Hydra from Maximum Verbosity over at the People's Center. Smart romantic comedy with a mythological twist - very much worth a visit before they draw the curtain.

Starting public performances along with Leave this week are

The new vampire play Drakul from Walking Shadow - absolutely killer cast, no pun intended.

Ten Thousand Things' production of
Doubt with the amazing Sally Wingert and Regina Marie Williams, just to name two in that wonderful cast. Here's
a review if you don't believe me.

Ring Round The Moon at Theatre In The Round Players - directed by my friend (and former Minnesota Fringe Festival Executive Director and current Program Director of the Minnesota Theater Alliance Leah Cooper), and featuring theater pal Bryan Grosso, who was so great in my little play,
Two Left Feet, as well as Nicholas Leeman, Linda Sue Anderson, Maggie Bearmon Pistner, and Muriel J. Bonertz (and that's just the people whose work I already know and like. There's more. Geez.)

Penumbra Theatre is trotting out the latest of their fantastic August Wilson play cycle, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

History Theatre's Adrift on the Mississippi, directed by the wonderful Mr. James A. Williams.

And Nimbus is presenting Jean Genet's The Balcony, with a bunch of folks I know like Ariel Pinkerton, Jesse Corder, and Paul Rutledge (who was so good in the Project 515 piece I worked on with the Flowershop Project)

And then all the other great and/or interesting things that are continuing that I wanted to see but haven't yet (with two exceptions), such as...

Our Town at Yellow Tree Theater

Helen from 20% Theatre Company (closing this weekend)

Little Eyes from Workhaus Collective

The Winter's Tale at the Guthrie

Shirley Valentine at the Jungle

Bill W. and Dr. Bob at Illusion

The Marvelous Wonderettes at Plymouth Playhouse

Jesus Christ Superstar at Chanhassen

Also, if you're looking for theater for kids, there's

Mean at Youth Performance Company

Babe, The Sheep Pig at Children's Theatre

Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963 at SteppingStone

If You Give A Moose A Muffin at Stages (closing this weekend)

Plus, back on the adult side, there's always something going on at HUGE Theater, the Bryant Lake Bowl, and the Brave New Workshop

And, people, that's just the stuff I know about. I'm sure there's more.

Though I'll be a little depressed when my show closes at the end of February, I can take solace in the fact that there's plenty of other theater waiting to fill the void. Til then, back to the JCC for me...

This is the moment I start to wonder if anyone's gonna show up to my play. (Calm your nerves, playwright, and pimp the show...)

The world premiere of this newly expanded and updated version of "Leave," from Urbran Samurai Productions and yours truly, opens this Friday at the Sabes Jewish Community Center. You can find all the pertinent information you might need at

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Fringe 2011 - Happy Birthday to my Fringe sidekick!

I suppose most people wouldn't call their Mom their sidekick, but for as long as I've been blogging about the Fringe, Mom's been seeing Fringe shows with me. This will be Fringe #9 for Mom, and she has seen a lot of shows in the previous eight years.

And she's looking forward to seeing a lot more.

She was already asking me about the dates of the Minnesota Fringe Festival at Christmas. I kid you not. She wanted to make sure she had the dates on her calendar, so she could start planning the visits to her friends along her travel route when she drives out here, and then drives back again.

And, of course, without her, I and my plays and my blog would not exist.

(Not to mention she was carrying me to community theater in utero, so I was getting a prenatal indoctrination into the performing arts.)

So it seems only right to wish her a happy birthday this week as the Fringe blog kicks into gear. The lottery was the day before her birthday.

(For those who are curious, I will only say that she has completed seven decades and is working her way through yet another. No, she doesn't look it, I agree.)

Who knows what strange things the Fringe will subject her to this year?

We are, of course, taking suggestions, even at this early juncture, so don't be shy.

Someone already pimped a show to me, with "Your Mom would like it" as a selling point, at the Fringe Lottery earlier this week. So it's already begun.

Of course, after eight years of Fringe-ing, Mom does have her favorites. So we'll be cramming in as many of those as we can. But she also likes to see new stuff, and trusts me to steer her in the right direction. Our ration of good or great shows versus unfortunate shows is pretty good.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Thanks for giving me a birthday!

My play "Leave" - Things That Make It Real

photo by George M. Calger

Seeing the set for my play for the first time always blows my mind.

This world inside my head that I scribbled down on paper suddenly gets extremely real. Even if, as with this play "Leave," the setting is more metaphorical than literal.

Same thing happens when people say the lines for the first time.

And when they start moving around saying the lines for the first time.

And when they set their scripts aside and slowly start assimilating all the lines into their brains and making the words seem like no one wrote them at all.

The director mentioned that an American flag would be painted over the platform that we'd been working on in rehearsal.

I was thinking, "Oh, a flag as part of some desert tableau or something."

No, not just the entire platform, but the entire floor of the playing space, is painted as one large, billowing, slightly tattered American flag.


It sort of hails you when you first walk in and see it, "This is America. This is what America does to its gay and lesbian military personnel. This is what happens in America."

And the platform, formerly just a basic 4 by 8 platform up on legs, is now covered, top and sides right down to the floor.

For certain scenes, in a certain light, it looks like a coffin.

With an American flag draped over it.


"Remember, it's not actually an American flag."
"Yeah, but we're still walking on it."
"I think it's not so much the walking on it, as the gay sex happening on it."
"I think the kind of people that might be offended by this, aren't going to be the people coming to see the show anyway."
"Well, it may deter audience members from stretching their legs out into the playing space."
"It just makes the play seem twice as edgy as it actually is."

Across the back wall are three evenly spaced white bolts of fabric that hang down from high above the audience, down to the floor.

The lighting designer occasionally hits two of them with red and blue light. Red, white, and blue.

The sound designer has taking traditional tunes like taps, and "America The Beautiful" and elongated them out into haunting, sometimes dissonant, compositions.

The two actor Marines have gotten their hair cut now.

"The haircut makes me walk differently. You don't see a lot of guys with this haircut walking around slumped forward with stooped shoulders. It's 'shoulders back, chest out, head held high.'"

The first time the actor playing the Marine's mother saw her acting partner, she looked like she might cry. Heck, I almost cried. "My boy's going off to boot camp. My boy's going off to war." It gives a strange new electric current of urgency to the scenes where she's trying to get him not to go, not to subject himself to "don't ask, don't tell," not to go back for another tour of duty.

We took pictures of Seth the Marine and Nicholas his civilian husband during rehearsals a week ago to help fill their photo album. That prop is used way too close to the audience not to be real. Now we have pictures of Seth with hair in a book, and a Seth with very little hair in reality.

When the stage manager took the pictures to get developed, the dear old lady at the photo counter told her, "You have very handsome sons."

(Who are very affectionate with each other. She either didn't look at the photos too closely, or felt it impolite to mention it.)

All the chairs are arranged on three sides of the playing space.

They just need an audience.

The world premiere of this newly expanded and updated version of "Leave," from Urbran Samurai Productions and yours truly, opens this Friday at the Sabes Jewish Community Center. You can find all the pertinent information you might need at

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Fringe 2011 - Apparently Size Does Matter

photo from Joking Envelope

Are Minnesotans, or Fringers in general, just shy?

"Oh no, we're good and we're popular, but we're not so popular we'd need a large venue. Medium will be just fine, thanks."

The speediest part of the 3-part Minnesota Fringe Festival lottery the other day was the Large Venue category.


Well, they had two large venues lined up (names still to be released, they said the Fringe wanted to make it all about the producers this week, and the big unveiling of the locations will come later)

Each venue has 11 shows, so that's 22 slots for Large Venue shows.

21 artists applied for large venues.

An artist behind me cried out, "I just did math in my head! All we need now is $600!"

Yes, everyone who labeled themselves Large automatically got in, and they still had one slot to spare on the schedule.

So the plan was for the Fringe to contact via email all the Medium and Small companies who made the cut, and whoever wanted to pay for the upgrade to a large venue and got back to the Fringe staff first, well, they move up a notch.

Which moves everyone in their previous category up a notch.

Which pulls #1 off of one of those wait lists.

Upwardly mobile already. And it was only the day after the lottery.

A friend of mine wondered if this meant that next year more people would apply for the Large Venue category.

I'm of two minds on that.

One mind says, well, the odds right now are great for the Large Venue artists. Both a couple of people in front of me and behind me were able to just put on their coats at the break and leave. "Best. Lottery. Ever." for them.

The other mind says, well, the application fee is more expensive, you've got more seats to fill, and if you don't, the place seems cavernous, and you have a harder time making your money back. Sure, your payout is 70 percent rather than the 65 percent in the medium and small categories. But 70 percent of nothing is still nothing.

However, the odds argument may win for some.

There were 9 medium size venues - 99 slots - for 217 applicants

There were 4 small size venues - 44 slots - for 118 applicants

That's 335 artists waiting, some of them til the bitter end of the waiting list, for their number to be drawn.

But that automatic "you're all in" for the Large venue folk sure did speed the evening along.

And in the large category we have a lot of old favorites - not surprisingly - both jokers (Joking Envelope and Joking Apart), both Fotii projects (Ferrari McSpeedy, and the Importance of Being Fotis), Buckets & Tap Shoes, Tedious Brief (who brought us "Bard Fiction" two years ago), Third Rabbit Dance, Top Hat Theatre, Dead Composers Society, and Theatre Arlo (the next incarnation of Matthew Foster theater)

And that's less than half of them.

Good things come in large packages, too.

My play "Leave" - "Just take me however you need to."

(Leave logo by Justin S. Latt)

I'm spoiled.

The actors in my play "Leave" are game for anything.

(I orignally wrote "my actors." It's weird how proprietary you get. I wonder if they think of me as "our playwright.")

Game for Anything - Exhibit #1 - The kissing.

Because they're not all gay in this cast. In fact, it's actually half and half. OK, that makes it sound like they're all bisexual. What I mean is, two are openly straight and two are openly gay. Actually, both the major couples are split right down the middle. But you wouldn't know it. These guys are so committed to the realism of these characters, it sort of breaks my heart.

Right up front the director told them he wasn't worried about the intimacy. He wasn't going to push it. It happens when it happens. We were all for it just evolving naturally. Now, if we got to tech week or something and they still hadn't touched each other, then he'd have to force the issue, but other than that he was leaving it up to them.

First rehearsal on our feet, a straight actor approaches his gay counterpart at the end of a break and just says the best thing to do is to dive right in. We're only going to get used to it if we do it and it's no big deal. The other straight actor just let it be known, "I have very few boundaries, so don't be afraid to approach me." (Which is useful, because that guy is tall, and can be more than a little intimidating til you get to know him.) Conveniently, the two gay actors took turns being sick and shaking off colds the first week, so everybody had some time to get to know each other, and wait til they were germ-free.

The touching started right away. Awkward, at first, like the first time you start touching anybody. Hand on the shoulder, the small of the back. A hug here. Hand-holding that has actually never lost its sweetness. You know things have progressed to the next comfort level when they start placing a hand on the back of one another's necks, or touch someone's face, or run a hand through their hair. They're ridiculously comfortable with one another now. Right before or after a scene, it's like sports teams, bucking each other up - "Here we go" or "OK, buddy. No worries, we'll get it next time" or "Great job! That was amazing." And its almost never verbal, it's how they physically interact.

You can write about writing the script, or you can actually write the script. In this process, the latter was more important. Hence the blogging silence these last several weeks. But I've been taking notes like crazy at every rehearsal, learning from what the actors do with the script, learning from what the director says about the script, learning from how they pick it all apart and put it back together. It's like a master class, and even though it's my script that's the subject matter, they help me see it with fresh eyes. They all make me a better storyteller.

And tucked away in my notes somewhere is the phrase

"the first kiss"

All downhill from there.

It's the tenderness and playfulness they have with each other, the bedrock of the relationship always showing through, that regularly takes my breath away. Watching them sometimes, you'd think they'd known each other forever, and not just a couple of weeks.

There's a big homecoming scene, the Marines coming back on leave. The one Marine Seth and his civilian husband Nicholas haven't seen each other in months. Communication has been coded and strained. When they finally see each other, well... The one actor told the other actor before they arrived at rehearsing that scene, "Just take me however you need to."

Of course, there's the tension release of humor right in the middle of it. While Seth and Nicholas start making up for lost time, their two friends Tyson and Jonas are stuck looking on, not having been introduced to each other. After it looks like Seth and Nicholas aren't coming up for air any time soon, Tyson decides he should probably introduce himself to Jonas. Apparently our Tyson is a bit mischievous. He decided he'd let the kissing go on for a while and see how long they could get away with it. His fellow actors, very committed to the scene. (Basically, we're not stopping til we get our cue, and that's in your hands, buddy.) Knowing that, he will be milking that comedic pause for all its worth with the audience.

You know how when you're really going at it kissing someone and you take a break for a second, you can see it on your face and the other person's face? The area around your mouth gets all red? That's what's going on in that moment. First time I saw that in rehearsal I thought to myself, "Damn. That's acting."

The actors playing Tyson and Jonas were debating the merits of tongue recently. I don't know where they came down on that issue, because honestly every time I'm close enough to look, I'm a little embarrassed. I mean, they're my characters, I wrote the thing, but there are moments that are so personal, I don't feel like I should be watching.

"Tongue? Really?"
"Well, c'mon. The audience is really close. And you know if we were sitting that close to the action, we'd be looking for tongue. Be honest."

And you'd think you'd know which actor would be on which side of that discussion, but you'd be wrong.

One of the straight actors has a girlfriend, the other is engaged to be married.

"It's a good thing I'm comfortable in my sexuality, or I'd be coming offstage sort of bewildered. 'Wow, kissing this guy is actually kind of fun. What does that mean?!'"

How does girlfriend/fiancee feel about this?

"If it ever gets weird, just remind her that the other guy is only renting out your lips for a limited time and express purpose, she on the other hand has ownership rights."

It's not all about the kissing, it's really not. But it's a part of the whole picture. I make it a point to try and thank all the actors every rehearsal, even if only in passing. It's hard to adequately convey in words what it means to be able to see this, actual relationships between gay men on stage. Not wise-cracking sidekicks or people dying of AIDS but just gay men living their lives. Struggling, yes, but the way everyone else does, not just because they're gay.

The director was talking about the big fight scene between Nicholas and Seth, and the power of watching it. Just two guys, an unpainted platform and a bunch of words. No lights or costumes or props yet. No audience but us. "Even though there's a brick wall between you two (metaphorically speaking), you can still sense the love the two of you have for each other. It's like it's coming off of you in waves."

Gay men don't get to see that very often in popular culture. Certainly more now that we used to by a mile, but it's still a 90 percent vs. 10 percent kind of thing. The world is largely straight. Entertainment is largely straight. Doesn't mean we don't appreciate it. But when you see yourself reflecting back to you from the stage or a TV or movie screen, it means something. Maybe you only know that if you don't have it on a regular basis. It's easy to take for granted if it's always there. It wasn't always there for me. It still isn't. It's why I write the stories I write.

But writing them doesn't get them in front of people. Producers and directors and actors do. I'm just drawing the blueprint. They're building the house and inviting people in.

Sometimes there are things actors aren't willing to do. And you have to respect that. Hopefully, if it's an issue, you don't have to cast them. Hopefully, if they know up front, they save themselves and everyone else the time and just don't audition. Not every role is right for every actor, and vice versa. You do the things you're comfortable with, you do the things you feel you need to, and the rest, you take a pass.

We were lucky in auditions and callbacks. We had a bunch of great people show up, and they were all aware of what they were signing up for. Sign up they did.

But I am amazed, and grateful, on a daily basis, that these guys are as committed to this story and these characters as they are.

They're building a hell of a house. You should come visit.

The world premiere of this newly expanded and updated version of "Leave," from Urbran Samurai Productions and yours truly, opens this Friday at the Sabes Jewish Community Center. You can find all the pertinent information you might need at

Monday, February 07, 2011

Fringe 2011 - Wait Listed

(photo from Thirst rehearsal by Eric G.Y. Petersen)

Well, we didn't get in outright, but we got the next best thing.

Urban Samurai Productions is #5 on the medium-size venue waiting list for the 2011 Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Those of you (like myself) who have languished in various spots on the wait list in the past know that anything inside the first 10 spots on the wait list is almost a guarantee of getting in.

Just need to be patient.

And wait for five other medium-size venue acts to drop out.

The cut off for pulling out of the Fringe and getting your money back is March 15, a little over a month. Most of the big shifts happen by then.

As my friend said to me, "Write that play."

Already on the way.

This time last year, courtesy of Thirst Theater, "Lonesome, Wild & Blue: or, How To Date A Werewolf" was getting a dry run in front of audiences at Joe's Garage. That first sequence seemed to go over really well.

"Terry has recently been diagnosed with latent lycanthropy - a carrier of the werewolf virus, which can be spread through sexual contact. In a restaurant, Terry’s date, Robin, reminds them of Terry’s doctor, and a memory of a recent medical appointment. When Robin steps off to the restroom, the waiter arrives. The waiter turns out to be Glenn, the zombie remains of Terry’s former lover, who has some unfinished personal business with Terry. But then, Terry has unfinished personal business with Glenn as well."

So where does an idea like that come from?

Well, to be honest, I wanted to write a romantic comedy about herpes and suicide that wasn't about herpes and suicide.

Yeah, the marketing campaign needs work.

Hence the werewolf. Hence the zombie.

If anyone can get "romantic and bittersweet" out of a werewolf and their now-zombie ex-lover, I'm guessing it's gonna be me.

Also, because it was for Thirst, I wrote it gender neutral. So once there's a director, and auditions, they can just choose the three best actors - all women, all men, or some combo of the two.

The werewolf's the werewolf. The zombie's the zombie. The third actor will play all the other roles swirling around them. It should be fun.

And in many ways a tribute to my late friend, Joe, who laughed at all sorts of inappropriate stuff, and got me to laugh along, and left us way too early.

My first Fringe show in three years (wait list permitting).

But hey, no pressure.

Actually, it's good to be in the thick of it all again. I spend so much time writing about other people's Fringe offerings, only seems fair to put myself out there, subject to the public gaze and judgments, too.

The seed of it started right after the 2009 Fringe. Right now, it starts with this scene, and this scene. There's a little video of it as part of a 3-Minute Egg profile on the Thirst site.

It's already gone to some other interesting places in other scenes I've been noodling around with over the past year or so. Time to start putting the pieces together.

Even if the Fringe wait list somehow doesn't come through, I'll still get a play out of it. Which is always a good thing.

Leave - No, It's Not About Pedophilia

photo by George M. Calger

This is a challenge of a slightly nebulous title. Sometimes it's a little too open to interpretation.

My play "Leave" - about the emotional fallout of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the US military that was recently (finally) repealed - has a one word title that could be a noun or a verb or a command or all three, and could have to do with any number of things.

So advertising can get a bit dicey sometimes.

The one-act version back in 2008, the advertising featured just the word, in a fairly distressed looking font, and a couple of dog tags. The military subject matter was pretty clear.

The previous marketing image for this production had a couple of guys with short hair, wrapped up in an American flag. So, again, the military aspect was inferred if not explicit. (It's still on all the postcards we have floating around.)

Naturally, the company wanted to use an image with actual cast members in it when it came time for the big marketing push after rehearsals began.

And given the natural beauty and attractiveness of the guys in our cast, it's a no-brainer to want to couple them up in a shot in order to draw the attention of potential gay audience members.

You can see the image here.

Neither of the guys had short hair, but they weren't playing the military characters, so why would they? One was former Army, so he was dressed up in desert camouflage gear and they had a rifle between them.

Trouble was, when you make the image black and white, the camo element isn't obvious anymore. The rifle is down low in the shot so it can be a little hard to make out.

The two guys are embracing, but given the subject matter of the play, they look a little distant and angsty.

And the one actor is shorter than the other, perhaps looks a little younger, too.

So somebody, seeing the poster, asked if it was about pedophilia.

Hoo boy.


Since they're not in an unconditionally loving embrace, and the title is "Leave," I also started to wonder if people would think it was about spousal abuse, too.

Bottom line, though, it's a poster with two attractive guys with their arms around each other. For some people, that's all they need to know.

Come for the cute. Stay for the story.

Whatever gets the meat in the seats, as they say.

And I do like the poster. I'm just wondering if my title is a little too withholding for its own good sometimes.

The world premiere of this newly expanded and updated version of "Leave," from Urbran Samurai Productions and yours truly, opens this Friday at the Sabes Jewish Community Center. You can find all the pertinent information you might need at

If you see me there, even if I look a little nervous, come on over and say hello.

Fringe 2011 - The New Fringe Lottery

The Minnesota Fringe Festival is trying something new for the lottery this year.

Instead of mini-lotteries for kids, teens, national, international and artists of color, and then a big ol' general lottery as in recent years, the Fringe will simply break the artists down into three sizes - small, medium and large.

Small, medium and large venues, that is.

Applicants chose which category they wanted to be in, based on the size theater they wanted to fill. Small, medium and large application fees applied, of course.

Each size will have its own waiting list.

Which seems like it's going to be much more manageable, at least for the wait listers. In the past, if a slot opened up, in addition to deciding whether you still had enough time to pull your show together, you also had to decide if you could do your show in the space that had just opened up. The original folks pulled in the lottery got assigned to specific slots in specific theaters. If someone pulled out, the wait lister who got the call would have to consider - can I do my large ensemble dance show on that tiny postage stamp of a stage? how weird will it be to do my one-person show in the enormous cavern of an auditorium?

This way, if a smaller-scale show drops out, another smaller-scale one can take its place. Square peg, square hole.

But what about diversity, you say?

Well, some numbers/probability geek friends of mine like these sort of experiments and did their own shadow lottery one year, without categories, and the random selection of ping pong balls just kept coming up with an equally diverse selection of acts - kids, artists of color, teens, national, international, local - without any sub-groupings necessary.

Plus the Fringe has some new scholarships set up, aimed primarily at artists of color and Minnesota newbie Fringe producers - to help defray the costs of application and production fees, plus some additional marketing support - all to help lower the financial barriers for entering the Fringe and the ultimate production itself.

They're still locking down the venues but, looking at last year's festival and the category descriptions on this year's Fringe application, it looks something like this...

There will be 2 or 3 large venues, defined as those having 250 seats or more. (That'd be something like the Rarig Proscenium (284 seats) or Rarig Thrust (259 seats) spaces last year - we'll call that your basic Scrimshaw or Walking Shadow venue - big space for an act that can draw in big numbers)

There will be 3 or 4 small venues, defined as having 100 seats or less. (That'd be something like last year's black box venues - the Bryant Lake Bowl (82 seats), Playwrights' Center (73), Rarig X (70), or Ritz Studio (60) - where, frankly, I saw some of my favorite stuff last year, perfect for those fun little one person shows)

There will be 8 or 9 venues in the medium size category - where most of the shows, and I imagine most of the applications - live, with between 101 and 249 seats. On the more intimate end last year, that was places like Intermedia Arts and Gremlin (115 seats each. Slightly bigger last year were the Theatre Garage (136) and Jungle (148). Creeping still higher last year Mixed Blood (197) and the Rarig Arena (199, which always surprises me, it seems so intimate). Then in the 200 realm are the Southern (200), the Ritz mainstage (225), and TRP (236, which again, always surprises me).

So I'm guessing the big lottery pull for the night, and the bigger wait list, will be in the medium size category. And the large and small pulls will have less names and take less time.

But I guess we won't know til we get there.

There's over 350 applications for about 160 slots.

2-plus Fringes worth of acts for only one Fringe schedule.

The elation, disappointment, and hovering in limbo all begin tonight.

And yes, I have a ping pong ball in that chicken-wire cage.

#285 - Urban Samurai Productions - "Lonesome, Wild & Blue: or, How To Date A Werewolf"

I'll be sweating it with the rest of you tonight.

Meanwhile, across town, they're doing a cue to cue for the first night of tech on my show "Leave," which opens this Friday.

I'm torn. But I'll be at the bowling alley, and rejoin my show tomorrow.

After all, I may be finding out about my next show tonight.

(I'm sure 350 of you can relate, right?)