Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Martha Patterson

If there is one word to describe unknown playwright Martha Patterson, that word would be versatile. She works in a variety of genres and deals in everything from based-on-fact monologues to fun one-acts as well as full-lengths, covering all sorts of topics.

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Martha Patterson, probably envisioning her next play combining comedy, classical stories and revenge.

Martha kinda has theatre in her blood. Her aunt Elizabeth Patterson had a massive acting career in Chicago, on Broadway and on film and TV. Audiences might remember her from a few episodes of I Love Lucy she appeared on.

Her great-uncle was Sturgis Elleno Leavitt, who was a long-time professor and translator of Spanish, particularly Spanish plays of the Golden Age.

But we’re not here to talk about them. We’re here to talk about Martha and what she’s up to.

She received her BA in Theatre Arts from Mount Holyoke College and an MA in Performing Arts Education from Emerson College.

After several years of acting and teaching, Martha turned to playwriting and hasn’t looked back.

Covering all 140+ plays Martha has written would present it’s own year of blog posts (not that I’m opposed to it, it’s just I wanted to cover her work in a timely manner).

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Advert for a Scottish production of Martha’s play A Constant Man, one of over 140 plays she’s written.

The first play we’ll look at is a short parody of Shakespeare’s venerated Hamlet. Basically, Hamlet’s dad’s ghost shows up, but Hamlet can’t be bothered:

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The play is full of jokes like this…

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In addition to being funny, these lines upend the incest motif in Hamlet.

The play itself is 3.5 pages. Let’s take a look at some of the other bits:

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The answer to his dad’s question qould be “With Gertrude, Hamlet’s mom whom he secretly wants to bone.”

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The Ghost is starting to get it. As is the dorky Danish prince –

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Spoiler alert: Hamlet falls for whatever lines his dead dad tells him, just like in the original.

This play is pretty funny and also quite silly, thus making it highly entertaining. And it’s an appropriate shortened alternative to that behemoth Hamlet, which seems to run 3 hours, minimum.

Hamlet’s Revenge has been performed in Korea by The Seoul Players in 2010 and has an upcoming production in the Phoenix area.

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The next short play of Martha’s that we’ll take a look at is Richard Gerstl, a serious monologue illuminating the life and sad death of the Viennese artist.

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When your self-portraits [the dong-free ones, at least] are this nuts, you know Martha’s gonna write an awesome monologue about you. He’s probably laughing because he was shtupping a famous composer’s wife.
Martha uses a very traditional and classical technique when setting up her plays –

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This certainly gives us a particular moment in time.

Richard introduces himself…in a way.

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Mathilde Schönberg  wasn’t repulsed. Anyways, this is interesting because so much is made of the male gaze, that it’s quite a relief when a different perspective is offered.

For those who don’t know the term, it’s kinda like when you can tell the heterosexual male director of a film is in love with the female star – then extrapolate that to how our culture tells stories. This is still endemic in theatre. You can read more about the male gaze here.

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Sounds like Richard has a bit of the male gaze himself. And he is not the most pleasent character…

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Like this, but on Mathilde Schönberg’s breasts. From here.

Did I mention he’s coiling a noose as he’s talking?

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This is a good play about a difficult topic. I don’t know if the real Richard Gerstl sought help. The play adequately summarizes the conflicts and crises in his short life…now you’re getting a brief lecture. Anytime this blog mentions a work dealing with suicide, we need to mention this…

SUICIDE STUFF FOLLOWS….

A former classmate of mine has had 5 (FIVE) of her brothers commit suicide, including 4 (FOUR) since last year. The last one was less than a month ago. She is absolutely one of the nicest people I know. This has brought suicide to the forefront of my mind.

If you’re in the US and are thinking about suicide, the hotline is here. Or simply text CONNECT to 741741.

In the UK the info is here or you can email jo@samaritans.org.

In Canada, a database of info is here or you can text 686868.

Every day I think about what my friend is going through.

If those don’t work, you can always message me at this blog. I WILL get back to you as soon as I see it.

END OF SUICIDE STUFF

Now back to Martha and a very funny play of hers…

Do y’all know steampunk? Our friends at the Oxford Dictionary say: A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.

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This is what steampunk looks like and we know this because it’s from a government website explaining steampunk.

This is a very bare-bones definition and for further enlightenment, one should look here.

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This is what steampunk looks like onstage, namely in Daniel Guyton‘s Art:Official Intelligence. Photo by Cathy Seith. Actors: Jeremy Clarke and Bob Smith.
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And this is what steampunk looks like in my fantasies. Just kidding, your fantasies. Photo by Bryan York. Model: GiGi.

Martha has cooked up a comedic steampunk revenge based around a fairy tale – Cinderella’s Revenge.

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Nice female-to-male ratio. Did you know Shakespeare wrote less than 16% of his roles for little boys women?
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Again, Martha provides us with that classical introduction.

Drizella and Jeremiah carry on like a couple of rich idiots for the first bit of the play.

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This dude sounds cool.

Jeremiah and Drizella argue and bicker until Cindy shows up with Prunella, who takes no guff from hyper-misogynist Jeremiah. Oh, and CIndy had previously married a prince who “ruined” her –

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Let’s analyze this exchange.

  1. Setting up Cindy’s bad treatment earlier in life. Check.
  2. Some down-home misogyny from Jer. Check.
  3. Steampunk sex joke. Check.
  4. Useless male. Check.

This being Steampunk times and all, Jeremiah doesn’t quite approve of Cindy’s choice of life partner. He hectors Cindy and Prunella until something cool happens.

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Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for Jerry Douchepunk.

Now we’ll turn to another monologue by Patterson: Amarilis. 

A little background info. Haïti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, Hispaniola. They often do not get along. Vox was kind enough to make an entire video about it:

In 1937, soldiers of the Dominican Republic, under orders from dictator Rafael Trujillo, commited the Parsley Massacre. This was a massacre of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

Trujillo used the excuse that Haitians were criminals, which is a tactic certain other leaders are using even now.

It is called the Parsley Massacre in English because the pronunciation of perejil – “parsley” in Spanish – was used to distinguish Dominicans from Haitians.

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Wait, a quality role for a senior???? Good thing I was sitting down when I read this.

 

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When an elderly person asks “Are you sure you want to hear this?” you must think about it carefully. There’s a reason they ask it.

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That’s your reason, right there.

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Yeah. This.

The play ends with Amarilis focusing again on the present.

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The final play of Martha’s we’ll take a look at is the wondrous and wonderfully horrific short play A Doll’s Life. Let’s see what that’s about:

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This sounds fun.

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Not while her doll is bugging her.

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Because grilled cheese sandwiches totally own evil dolls.

 

 

This video could be retitled “How to kill Satanic dolls” – she uses enough butter to kill 13 Satans precisely. Geez.

So dad doesn’t really get it. But Amelia bugs him enough that he decides to inspect the closet, while complaining 100%.

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Whoops.

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Womp womp. We’re lucky enough to have a real live production of A Doll’s Life.

 

 

Martha was kind enough to take some time out of her busy writing schedule and answer a few questions:

1. How did you start playwriting? 

I’d always been a writer – of stories and poetry, as a kid – but I started writing plays in my late 30s, while in grad school studying Performing Arts Education.  I had thought I’d teach drama to high school students, after being an actress in California and New York, but discovered I didn’t really like teaching.  However, if I hadn’t gone to grad school I probably wouldn’t have become a playwright.  My acting training definitely informs my writing, in terms of characterization and knowing what kinds of parts are fun to play.

2. What are your influences?
In college as a Theatre student, I had to read lots of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, Chekhov, so I’m influenced by them.  Interestingly, when I started writing plays I wrote lots of long monologues into my scripts, partly because those writers did, but as time’s gone on, I keep my dialogue more clipped.  I’m told that audiences have short attention spans and prefer not to listen to long speeches. 
 
3. What is your most memorable production and why? 
Of my own work?  Probably a production of my political monologue AMARILIS, about the conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the early 1900s.  It was produced by the Border of Lights Festival in NYC, and they had an space in a church, served wine and cheese, and had a musician playing before and after the show.  I went to New York to see it and was really glad to meet the producer, who’s still a penpal, and the woman who played the elderly lady I wrote about.  The whole affair was elegant, and I always love being in NYC again. 
Of other people’s work, I really liked Caryl Churchill’s CLOUD NINE, which I saw Off-Broadway.  Clever mixing up of sexes and ages in the cast, and I don’t remember the plot well now – this was years ago – but I certainly enjoyed the play.
4. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
There was a production of mine in Hawaii and they sent me a DVD of the performance because I couldn’t go, and one of the actors fluffed his lines, and the lighting was too dim, and the show wasn’t very well staged.  I guess that’s my least favorite.
 
5. What’s your funniest theatre story?  
I started writing my first play in grad school, and the guy I asked to read the man’s part out loud to the class was so good, I kept writing the play and finished it with him in mind.  He wasn’t even really an actor.  I’ve never seen anyone play the role as well as he read it.  He had a quiet, deadpan delivery and it’s funny because it was an accident that I “cast” him.
 
6. What are your writing habits like?  
I usually have a vodka-and-tonic next to me, even if all the ice melts and it gets watered down before I drink it, and I often write late at night into the wee hours of the morning.  
 
7. What advice do you have for new playwrights? 
Don’t be afraid to try it, and do have your work read out loud, preferably by people who’ve done some acting.  You’ll find out where the dialogue lags. Share your work with other playwrights – they’ll often give good feedback, which you can take or leave, as you choose, but don’t be defensive – often after thinking about someone’s critique you’ll find they had valid comments.
 
8. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention? 
Shakespeare.  (Kidding.)  Actually, among the writers I’m friends with, they’re all doing as well or better than I am, production-wise.  Dan Guyton is a pen-friend from Georgia who’s a really strong writer, has lots of funny plays but also wrote a full-length drama in verse, set in Hell – I don’t know how he managed to complete such a piece of work, all in verse.  Evan Guilford-Blake is another playwright from Georgia – lately he’s focused on fiction, though – but he’s excellent, and I recently read a beautiful, elegiac short story he wrote that he’s trying to get published.  

9. What are common themes in your work? 
Relationships are something I focus on – marriages or families with conflict.  But I also have political plays, and recently wrote one about the workplace, and I have a few plays for youth, and I can’t really say I have themes.  I will tell you I’ve written for themes requested by theatres, and even if they didn’t choose my play, I’ve usually gotten it done elsewhere.  So writing for themes has been very productive for me – it gets my creativity going, when otherwise I’d be at a loss as to what to write about.  AMARILIS was written for a themed event.  I think HAMLET’S REVENGE was, too.

10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out? 
Keep lots of your lines short, a rapid-fire back-and-forth.  Seems to work for me these days; as I’ve already said, long monologues can be dull.
11. How has the playwriting market changed since your first production in ’97? 
It’s more competitive.  I got three long one-acts produced right off the bat as a writer, Off-Off-Broadway, but this past year has a been deadly – only three productions and a few publications, which is less than my average.  I belong to the Playwrights’ Binge, an international listserv, and I share lots of opportunities with those people, but it’s been suggested to me to be less generous, just because I’m up against so many other authors!  There are 1000s of playwrights out there.
12. Please tell us about the process behind writing Amarilis.
First I had to do research, which I did online by reading brief histories of Haiti and the Dominican.  Then, I had to write the speech.  I came up with the character of a little old lady, I don’t know why, except that she had to be old because she’s recounting the conflict between those nations and it happened decades ago.  I imagined her talking to her neighbor, who is unseen, and the whole thing unfolded from there.
13. You have Hamlet’s Revenge and Cinderella’s Revenge – both comedies. How does one make revenge as hilarious as possible?
By using the unexpected.  I’ve read that there are two reasons why people laugh: 1) because the same thing’s happened to them (like slipping on the proverbial banana peel), or 2) because what happens is unexpected – the audience isn’t anticipating that action or line.  In HAMLET’S REVENGE I have Hamlet idly eating a sandwich while his father chews him out, and Hamlet is very unconcerned about avenging his Dad’s murder.  That’s an innately funny situation and you’re not expecting him to be so blase.
14. Multipart question: Have you faced ageism and/or sexism in your career? If yes, what advice or tips would you give fellow writers coming up against those obstacles?  
No, I don’t think I’ve faced ageism or sexism.  Most of the playwrights I know are over 45 or 50 anyway, and I don’t think it’s a hindrance, except when you find an opportunity to submit that’s only for under-30s, but that’s the theatre’s choice.
Much has been made of the need for gender parity in the theatre, especially among writers, but I’ve gotten my fair share of productions and publications, so I’m not complaining.
15. What is a question you’d like to be asked? Please go ahead and answer that question.
I suppose one question I’d like to be asked – do I attend the theatre often? – has a surprising answer: No, I don’t.  I saw so much theatre in my youth, and appeared as a leading lady in lots of productions, that I don’t feel the need to go very often these days, and it really is an expense.  I probably should get out and see what’s going on in theatre right now.  But often I’d rather read a play than actually see it, which I can do in half the time it takes to watch a performance.  And sometimes when I go to the theatre I get bored and restless.  I’d rather be at home writing!
Thanks so much Martha for sharing your talent and knowledge with us!
For a list of ALL our playwrights, please click here.
Everyone, please check the following links:
Martha’s website with a list of her productions.
The script for A Constant Man.
Listing for Brotherly Love in Texas.
Production of Amirilis.
Video of Girl Before the Mirror, a play about Picasso’s girlfriend.
Current Playwrights, Dude Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Asher Wyndham

Mr. Monologue Man AKA Asher Wyndham is a prolific playwright capable of approaching his craft through a multitude of perspectives.

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Our dashing playwright hero and crusader against fascism, Asher Wyndham.

The first monologue/character of Asher’s we’ll check out is “Barsha Badal” which focuses on an Indian American motel owner. For those readers who haven’t been to the US, Indian Americans own half of the motels in America. A fact that impressed National Geographic so much they wrote an article about it. And the New York Times did like 20 years ago. That writer gets the article title rhyming award for 1999.

But while the NYT and National Geographic suck at writing plays, Mr. Wyndham does not. The monologue details immigrant Barsha’s perspective on her lot in life after living in America.

This monologue starts off with one heckuva BANG:

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Niraj is her husband, BTW.

Let’s take this apart for a second. Wyndham just drew a line between a Native American, Sacagawea (who by the way, was purchased by her husband) aka an American Indian and an Indian American. Two Americans connected by location, both physical (the US of A) and grammatical.

The beauty of this exists in the overload of “famous stuff to visit in America” – places that somehow imply greatness, despite the fact that the  bigger place they belong to (America) may not be so great. Even Wall Drug is there. Out of that list, only the Black Hills and the Great Salt Lake are worth checking out.  Just my opinion, though.

Don’t you just love Barsha’s sense of urgency???? She really goes out of her way to convince herself that life in Nebraska has meaning.  And she’s ever-so-patriotic.

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As if it weren’t political enough, Wyndham tosses the GOP under the proverbial bus in the form of a fly…and Barsha has already adapted America’s culture of looting food from immigrants (the chimichanga/pudding combo).

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I googled “chimichanga pudding” and this came up. You can buy it here.

If you could not guess the setting, it is here:

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I grew up in a somewhere that doubled as a nowhere. Apt description.

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Miland is her coincidentally-named son. Between popcorn, daiquiris, Loretta Lynn and Missy Elliott Barsha’s get pop-culture America down, minus a few years and pounds.

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I love this postmodern experimentalism Wyndham has going on here. The room numbers look like…room numbers!!!

Again, America and all the culture references: Magnum condoms, dead rats, dogs, marijuana and popcorn. And bloody Shrek.

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Finally, the real America shines through Barsha’s self-imposed blinders. Xenophobia is sadly one of those tropes that exist in real-life as well. For depressing news stories about American hatred towards Indians and Indian Americans, look here, here and here.

What can you do to help? Be like Asher. Write something. Make something. Be the change. And be tough like Barsha, once your blinders are removed.

Up next is a similar, yet distinct monologue, FAWZIE, which concerns an Iraqi immigrant who must clean the hotel some evil douchepunk Nazis are having a wankfest convention at. And just who is Fawzie?

 

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PAY ATTENTION TO THE BLACK EYE! It’s gonna come up later.

Fawzie is hosting a fake game show – to herself…Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 1.10.58 PM

Hmm. Two plays, two dead rats and two condoms and zero G-strings.

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BUT this time it’s a grand set up for a brassard/armband/Nazi cosplay regalia… Again Wyndham points out the absurdities of the social sciences and pop culture by reminding everyone Nazi armbands appear in beloved Hollywood musicals.

And the comedy kicks in with the bad restaurant, tomato sauce and food babies. She then explains where she seeks peace: the supply room.

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I’ve never thought about Conan O’Brien in a yummy sort of way, but I imagine when it comes time to anoint Conan king make a Conan stamp there should be two like the Elvis  stamp.

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Can this be a stamp, please???
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Wait, wait, this one too!

Don’t worry, not gonna link you to any racist websites. WARNING: I’m not saying that website is racist, I’m just saying racists really like it.

So Fawzie has learned about pudding, Conan and Nazis. Let’s see…Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 1.18.54 PM

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Like this, except Iraqi and female.

Here is where Wyndham breaks Brechtian and shows us how things should be. Immigrant Iraqi maids should be able to defeat American Nazi hordes.

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I am pleased…and I love my cigar.”

“Godless ugly men with mini blueberry muffins and mini oranges.”  Alright kiddos, that’s Imagery 101 for ya. Fawzie continues her reign of awesomeness:

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Let’s digest the above selection (mentally). What can Fawzie teach us???

  1. Syrup based on stereotypes can still burn Nazis’ eyes.
  2. America is for everyone (wait, already knew this – more like a review)
  3. Krav Maga is a very effective martial art. (knew this)
  4. Fantasy worlds can be interesting as Hell. (review)

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Now we know who gave her the black eye. And we also know she interacts with Satan on a personal basis [probably because he’s jealous of her awesomeness] –

And people throw profanity and slurs at her.

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God is greater than your hate. Deal with it. 

Since we’re dealing with an Iraqi in America, let’s see the cause of her violent removal from her motherland – the whole Iraq War personified by YOUNG VETERAN ADAM AMERSON, whom Wyndham has also chosen to write about.

Young Veteran Adam Amerson aka this guy:

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This dude served his country, ruining another country in the process. He’s back home now where he’s trying to sell his home in a limp economy where nobody gives a damn about him. He drinks a bit. “Connie” is the realtor.

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“Like tattoos on the eyeballs.” Gotta love it. By the way, that’s a real(ly painful) thing.

Wyndham varies his style between pieces and this is no different, containing some rather fun directions:

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And there you have it. The Word of God. Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 1.28.34 PM

Did you notice something??? The play comes with visusals/illustrations/enhancers/incredibleness —

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Pella windows you say? I need a cold shower…yesterday. From here.

Again Wyndham’s characters are turning the American Nightmare upside down and all around on its stupid little head. I weep for the person whose determining factor in buying a home would be plasticized windows. They’re not even stained glass.

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Let’s see Pella do this.

Wyndham takes these illustrations to an inventively absurd degree when stuff like this happens:

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Yep, the script contains wrinkled children’s drawings of the main character. But it’s not all razzle-dazzle in Amerson’s homefront battle against evil realtors:

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He’s gotta go shoot stuff for Thanksgiving.

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He spills beer and doesn’t clean it up. Like his style.

Similar to other Wyndham plays, the monologue devolves (or is it “hyper-evolves”?) into a burning indictment of the land of the free graft and home of the brave slave. Check it:

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True to his smashing-of-Americana roots, Wyndham references Dr. Suess, Hurricane Gustav, Nazis, Adam Sandler, Netflix , the Klan and even himself.

Wyndham provides a useful glossary:

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Walmart hunters.” Hehe.

Asher’s next monologue is short (and good) enough to post in its entirety. Let’s check it out:

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There’s not much I can add here except that if you’re unfamiliar with US politics, what these horrible young lads are saying came right out of our current president’s mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the play, the school could be America and the dad American men, oblivious to what’s happening to their daughters/mothers/sisters/aunts/coworkers/friends/wives/girlfriends/favorite playwrights.

Let’s see what Asher has next:

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Oh this looks exciting! Again, this one we can post in its entirety. Here’s the first bit:

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Phoebe isn’t happy. 

Now as a little project, let’s illustrate everything pop-culturish that Wyndham throws at us:

  1. “Get the selfie stick away from me!”

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These dopes.

2.

“I will snap it–and chuck it into the Grand Canyon!”

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In 1914, the parking was good.

3. “Y’know, I’m in cheerleading,”

 

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Ferriday Junior High has three cheerleaders apparently.

 

4.

“I’m jacked for a thirteen year-old”

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Made the mistake of doing a “jacked” image search. The article that accompanies this is entitled “How Do You Know When You Are Jacked?” Errr…maybe when you’re not Jilled? It all goes downhill from there.

5.

“down, down, down like Wile E. Coyote”

 

 

6. “a friggin’ mini blueberry muffin”

 

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Via another WordPress blog. GASP!!!

 

7. “thank-you Economy Lodge”

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The microwave at a crappy Econolodge in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

8. “I hate outlet malls”

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Hopefully Asher can write a monologue about Stanley the Big Red Moose with a Scarf and a Tote Bag in his Mouth at an Outlet Mall. He’s in Park City, kids.

9.

“(I don’t wear Aeropostale or Old Navy anymore)”

 

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No wonder. I’d look like a bigger douchnozzle than I already do.

For a second I thought it said “find magic IN the Old Navy surplus pants” – does that make  me a bad person? We miss Eartha Kitt.

10.

“I hate railway museums (they’re borrring)”

“Traffic’s never bad out here” << because nobody wants to see your national historic site. (As Phoebe would say).

11.

“I don’t want to see Laura Ingalls Wilder house-wagon-whatever,”

There are SIX different Laura Ingalls Wilder houses, take your pick…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finally got to use the “insert all your pictures at once” function on WordPress.

I wonder if she moved so much because her neighbors got tired of her wholesome stories about her youth. Pictures and article here.

12.

“I’ve seen every friggin’ episode of Little House on the Prairie”

13.

“sucking on a Fudgsicle”

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Meanwhile, back in 1959….

14.

“I’m some Kardashian wannabe in a thong bikini”

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E Online. Where’s Ray J???

15.

“this fake smile doesn’t have to be on Facebook and Instagram every day!”

You know how Thailand is “The Land of Smiles“? Maybe America can be the Land of Fake Smiles.

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Pretty much every shopper’s experience in the US.

If you’re reading this, you probably know about Facebook and Instagram.

16.

“You don’t have to take a pic of me in front of Waffle House”

 

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Amazingly, I’ve never eaten there.

17.

“I will call a lawyer like that celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and sue your ass for millions!”

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1977. Gloria Allred and Jerry Brown.

From the above, we can see that Wyndham is a master manipulator of American kitsch, pop culture and general Americana, speaking of which we should finish that monologue:

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“A boner as big as my forearm”

Yeah, you’re gonna have to go private-browse that one yourselves…

Last but not least, we’ll take a look at a monologue that should stand near and dear in our hearts:

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Yes, yes, yes. We all know this person! In fact, we may be this person!!!! (GASP)

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Okay, so it’s not me. Whew!!!

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Ahh, yes. Theatre, the realm of the cell phone.

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Well, the Theatregoer certainly has a valid point on this one.

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I didn’t steal your popcorn. Popcorn is disgusting. But the Theatregoer has deeper issues to work out.

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And then there’s pulling the wool AWAY from the audience’s eyes and exposing them for the naked, needy and desperate people they apparently are.

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Tell ya what, this character will be stuck in whatever comes before “friendzone” – maybe “creepy coworker zone.”

And there you have it, a small sampling of the hundreds of monologues Wyndham has produced.

Asher was kind enough to answer a few questions….

1. How did you start playwriting?

I would say the start, the beginning of my playwriting, happened over a period of time, over two years or so. So I hope the following answers your question…

Playwriting started shortly after I graduated from the University of Sioux Falls, SD. My experiences as an openly gay student facing bullying and dealing with homophobia didn’t give me much confidence after graduation. I was depressed, so one way of dealing with that was escaping reality through reading. I spent much of my time in my bedroom which was also my library. (This personal library wasn’t in Sioux Falls, it was in Arizona.) I started buying more dramatic literature from library book sales — all that you can fit into a grocery bag for a dollar – why not? I would spend hours reading play after play — Ibsen, Pinter, O’Neill, Kushner, all the classics, and one day I started imitating some playwrights by writing plays of various lengths. After almost two years of reading dramatic literature and writing crappy pays, I came across a notice on a library bulletin board advertising a local playwriting group — Old Pueblo Playwrights. Joining that Tucson group, having my work read by other playwrights, learning the craft from professional playwrights, changed my life!

I think playwriting appealed to me in two ways:

(1) It connected me to a community of playwrights and other artists. It gave me a sense of belonging which was difficult to *feel* in a community/city where bullying and homophobia wasn’t a big concern and where you didn’t feel equal.

(2) It was a creative and liberating way for me, mostly through the immediacy and intimacy of the monologue form, to address some personal issues, fears, hopes, anger, dreams, political concerns, questions about Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness, and the American Dream through voices of different people.

2. What are your influences?

Theatre– The complicated women of Ibsen’s plays have had a profound impact on my writing of my character Allegra in my full length THE PLAYTPODES. Tony Kushner and Luis Valdez continue to remind me that all theatre is political. Caryl Churchill and Suzan Lori-Park’s plays encourage me to think outside the box in respects to structure. The language of Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams, James Purdy, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Sheila Callaghan have had a profound influence on me. Lanford Wilson, who was a teacher of mine at the Edward Albee New Playwrights Workshop at the University of

Houston, gave me some pointers. Young Jean Lee’s work reminds me to not censor myself and embrace wacky ideas.

Monologue/solo writers such as Danny Hoch, Nilaja Sun, Alan Bennett and Dael Orlandersmith. The monologues written by Donald Margulies, included in his collection MISADVENTURE AND OTHER SHORT PIECES has been one of the biggest influences on my monologue writing. (The monologue Lola is AHMAZING!)

Poems that are really monologues written by Robert Browning and Ai (read her collection Vice). I read Browning in undergraduate college and I was immediately intrigued by the poet using a persona and writing from that character’s perspective.

The multiplicity of voices and perspectives in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the ancient Greek manual on rhetoric Progymnasmata by Theophratus, and Aristotle’s Rhetoric(read that before Poetics).

Playmobil.

Novelists and short story writers that play with text, structure, including pictures, dream maps, doodles, different fonts and font sizes: Ann Quinn, BS Johnson, Donald Barthelme, and Kathy Acker. I like to include pictures and doodles and other artwork into some of my plays. My monologue Young Veteran Adam Amerson includes a large black square and my niece’s doodle.

Overheard conversations at bus stops, coffeehouses, the park, wherever! Every week someone is delivering a monologue for more than two minutes! One time a guy was setting up his drum kit in a park while talking on and on about his girlfriend. Strangers love opening up to me, for some reason, they speak uninterrupted for a long time.

Different ways people of various backgrounds, life experiences, cultures, jobs, regions of the United States use American English. I pay attention to diction, sentence length, fragments, tone, etc. I enjoy learning slang.

3. What is your most memorable production and why?

My most memorable production was the New York City production of my monologue Barsha Badal at Shetler Studios, part of the spork Festival in February 2008, produced

by Theatre 54. It was memorable because of the professionalism of its producers and the incredible collaboration with actor Shetal Shah. It was my first professional production of a one-act monologue, and it’s one of my first monologues ever written (from 2007) and one of my favorites. It was a bare bones production — and a smashing success!

4. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]

If you’re meaning awful production, then I wouldn’t consider it “least memorable.” Even an awful production or certain aspects of a collaboration could be memorable.

A production that I didn’t see? A world famous short play festival chose a ten-minute play. The producer/director emailed me back the Word Doc of my play with changes — text was removed from the play. He cut almost two pages of text. Text was cut to keep it at 10 minutes and the changes came AFTER sound and lighting design were plotted. I can understand suggestions for cutting for time restraints (I am totally open to that!), but to contact me at what seemed like last minute was not OK. The director didn’t want to collaborate. Even if 100s of miles are between the director and the playwright there is still an opportunity to collaborate. I should’ve spoken up, I should’ve said No to some of the changes, but I didn’t know better at the time — I just wanted my play produced at this festival.

4A. Tell us some of your thoughts regarding collaboration? 

One of my earliest experiences with a large group of artists could’ve been more intense. Maybe budget and time constraint resulted in the type of collaboration.” And then after that “Some questions that I had after the collaboration:

Some questions that I asked myself after the production:

How does a playwright collaborate with a prop designer? (That would also include the director!)

How does a playwright collaborate with a lighting designer?
…media designer?

…fight choreographer?
…the person in charge of making the trailer?
…costume designer?
…make-up designer? etc.

What is the beginning, middle, and end to these collaborations?

Where does it happen in the schedule of a production?
What questions, what kind of conversation is possible before first rehearsal?
Are these types of collaborations lacking in some theatres, in college theatre?
Are there study cases, for example, of collaboration between media designers and playwrights?

How can such intense collaborations influence new play development and production?

5. What is your funniest theatre story?

During a production of Heartbreak House by Bernard Shaw there wasn’t enough little slices of lemon poppy-seed cake. Because they were eaten. By me. I was a co-stage manager and I got the munchies. That is a long-ass play. That was the last time I stage managed a play.

6. What are your writing habits like?

I usually write something every day, sometimes a page, sometimes just a few words, sometimes after work until I go to bed.

Usually on Sunday, I wake up with an idea for a monologue or voice of a character in my head and write five to ten pages of a first draft.

I scribble down ideas for monologues on scraps of paper and fold them up and add them to a baseball cap. I select a scrap of paper from the cap and attempt to write the monologue.

I “perform” my monologues. Because for me playwriting, especially monologue writing, is a performative art — it involves the ENTIRE body — the lungs, the legs, the arms, the ass, the ears, etc. — and moving around, crawling, jumping, dancing, etc. Each draft involves me getting on my feet, inhabiting the character, attempting to become this other person in my kitchen or on my living room floor. I am not an actor, I’ve never been trained, I can’t remember many lines — so I basically read a few lines from my computer and act it out, and then move to another section. Sometimes I speak for five or ten-minutes to myself (don’t care if anyone hears me) and then after that try to write down what I remember saying.

7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?

 

Read not just plays: read comic books, philosophy, poetry, novels, short stories from different cultures and viewpoints, message boards, blogs, read from multiple sources of news.

Join New Play Exchange NOW — it will change your life!

Attend play conferences. (If you don’t have the $$$ like me right now, then get your plays read.)

Get out of your pajamas and stop eating cereal three times a day.

Be a fucking amazing human being. Introduce yourself to strangers, go to art galleries, dance until 530 am with beautiful people.

Create art that uses various facets of your personality.

If it seems like a stupid idea for a play, a silly or sick or weird idea for a play — write it! Don’t censor yourself!

8. Who are some other writers you should get more attention?

Ricardo Soltero-Brown, Rachael Carnes, Nelson Diaz-Marcano, Matthew Weaver, Jordan Elizabeth Henry, to name a few.

9. What are common themes in your work?

I generally write from the perspective of people that are marginalized, on the periphery , “othered” in some way. The underdog, those that are disillusioned. The oppressed, the bullied, the misunderstood, the fuck-ups. From their individual perspective, from their need to be heard, from their anger, their dreams and desires, I deal with many themes — the illusion of the American Dream, the difficulty of remaining hopeful, the desire for acceptance and belonging, confronting and questioning traditions/values/beliefs/status quo/history/people in power.

10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

I don’t have an answer for that.

11. Why did you decide to focus on monologues?

 

That’s a great question! The more I think about this question, the more I want to add to this. For now, here’s why I love writing monologues.

I love the challenge of entertaining an audience for one to 25 minutes with one person on stage.

I want to challenge the thought that many have that monologues are anti-theatre, not dramatic. Some may disagree with me, but I think monologues — or solo plays — are one of the most misunderstood forms of American theatre. Many theatres do not want playwrights to submit monologues, many theatres do not produce them as part of their season. I want to help change that, I want to get theatres to think differently about the monologue after reading my work, even if it takes me decades.

I love that monologues, if it’s direct address to the audience, break the fourth wall. The character/speaker of a monologue creates an intimacy, an immediate connection with the audience. Sometimes audience becomes a “stage audience” as opposed to a “theatre audience”: they are part of the world of the play, imagining themselves as a group of people or a character that the character/speaker is addressing. There’s so much in our culture that alienates us from one another, and theatre helps to create an intimacy between different kind of people, a sort of radical empathy happens — and the monologue form, I think, does it better than plays with more than one character.

I am trying to master the monologue form in a way that is an opposition of what I read in book form and see on stage. Many monologues, especially those in audition books, do not excite me. They are not active, there’s no objective, there’s no reason for the character to speak, I am left wondering after the reading, “Why is this character speaking to me?”

I disagree completely with Alan Bennett when he says in his Introduction to The Complete Talking Heads: “The more still (and even static) the speaker is the better the monologue works.” Hogwash! My monologue characters make use of the stage, they do more than just sitting. They’re dancing, jumping, crawling, throwing props. My monologues use a language that is a language of the body. If the audience understands why the character is speaking to them, then there’s no reason to have a static speaker!

I enjoy the challenge of structuring a monologue just like a play with more than one character. But I am also experimenting with structure, so I am not always adhering to Aristotelian structure.

I enjoy the challenge of writing from perspective of people who are not like me. Other playwrights have remarked about my ability to write from the perspective of practically anyone — that is one of my goals. I approach each monologue differently in respects to language.

Monologue writing gets me out of pajamas. It immerses me in my community, gets me in contact with people from different backgrounds, cultures, ages, etc. Are my monologues authentic, accurate, honest representations? To insure that, I need to collaborate with diverse actors and artists.

Monologue writing gives me an opportunity to share my frustrations, hopes, and desires, to question certain perspectives/ideologies, to deal with social issues and problems, to address what it means to be a citizen — through a character that doesn’t shut up!

12. Can you please tell us about the evolution of Barsha Badal, from idea to where it’s at now?

It is one of my earliest monologues, and one of my favorites. I recommend that as a starting point for people new to my work.

It began with an image, as do most of my monologues — a woman leaving a motel room in Tucson, AZ. The woman sighed while holding a heavy load in a laundry basket. With that image, I wrote the one-act monologue in 2007 with that woman being the motel owner in nowhere, Nebraska. Shortly after writing it was staged read by an Indian-American actor in Tucson, and then about a few months later it was professionally produced with an Indian-American actor in New York City, directed by me. With that actor’s feedback, a few tweaks were made to make it accurate. In the fall of 2007 it was read one night to some Indian theatre artists that ran a theatre company, and another night it went up in Washington DC. Over the years, staying in motels, I’ve made observations and they’ve made it into the play. Ever since my focus on submitting my first volume of monologue, SOME AMERICANS: SOME MONOLOGUES, to publishers, I’ve been revising it, tweaking it. That started shortly before Trump got in. After watching news reports about the rise in hate attacks and Neo-Nazism in the U.S., I

knew I needed to dust this monologue off and approach it from a different perspective. After watching videos of the riot in Charlottesville, VA I decided to add the part about Barsha going for a walk for coffee creamer and her encounter with some Nazi-wannabe teenagers.

13. What is the relationship between American pop culture and your writing?

Have you seen that Lady Gaga video — Poker Face — with those glasses that read POP CULTURE –? I love pop culture! It has a tremendous impact on my writing. I am not just a citizen, I am a consumer–and so are my characters. Blogs, Instagram, dating apps, comment threads, pop music, products in a superstore, trashy magazines, posts, you name it — it may influence a play. IDGAF if it’s considered low-brow or crass or trashy.

Sometimes the character determines what kind of pop culture inspires me during writing and revising. Sometimes pop culture inspires a character.

I don’t understand the criticism by theatre artists against the use of pop culture in a play. I think such a response is elitist. A few times I have been in a room with some playwrights that encouraged me to not make pop references. I have had a director try to persuade me to remove all my pop references — no M&Ms. Tony Kushner mentioned Burger King in Angels in America, hello. Some have argued that pop culture references dates the play, makes it less universal. Yes it dates the play, but it can still be universal. I let pop culture influence my plays as much as the philosophy of Kierkgaard, a novel, or a poem.

14. So many of your monologues focus on the “other” – minorities, immigrants, poor people, differently-abled, elderly, etc. How can American theatre be more open and welcoming?

Produce less Broadway or off-Broadway plays that do not speak to a variety of audiences.

Produce plays with cheaper ticket prices or Pay-What-You-Can so that people other than rich white old people can see the plays.

Making sure that at least 50 percent of your people involved in a show (that includes crew, cast and other artists) are minority. If you’re a person that donates money, demand change or stop giving the theatre money!

 

Theatres need to do the fucking work and connect with communities/peoples unlike those on the board. If you’re not producing work that mirrors a diverse America, WTF?

Maybe theatres should not be funded by grants if a certain percentage of plays are not written by a minority playwright or produced with minority artists. Maybe those interested advocating for minority voices in theatre should contact people in local government.

15. What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.

What are your top ten monologues on New Play Exchange that you recommend for reading and production?

Barsha Badal, Young Veteran Adam Amerson, Valerie, Don Ponzo!!!, Manny Aquino, Fawzie: A Hotel Chambermaid Monologue, Janey Smith: A Football Fan Monologue, Renata: A Post-Maternity Monologue, Sandy: A Supercenter Monologue, and Fuck Buddy.

Thanks Asher for sharing your talent and insight!!!

For our other playwrights, click here.

Here are couple links for people to keep up with him:

New Play Exchange page.

Website.

 

Current Playwrights, Dude Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Benjamin Gonzales

What happens when iconoclasm and introspection meet? They take the name of Benjamin Gonzales and write plays.

He is a former Associate Clinical Professor who taught Theatre at Washington State University. Benjamin is a theatre generalist with experience in Lighting Design, Set Design, Sound Design, Technical Direction, Production Management, Direction, as well as Playwriting.  

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Benjamin Gonzales and his wife Mary Trotter getting awards for a college program they started but ironically no longer exists. More on this later.

Benjamin is also the current Chair for the Kennedy Center’s National Playwriting Program for Region VII.

The first play we’ll review is possibly the lightest downbeat comedy around.

The set up of Turnabout is a Fair Play is simple, but the payoff immense.  It is a one-act play. 

According to the almighty Wiktionary the definition of “turnabout is fair play” is as follows:

“It is allowable to retaliate against an enemy’s dirty tricks by using the same ones against them.”

The saying is attributed to “British/Irish 1755.”  

This definition, in a way, summarizes the plot.

David and Geoff are playwrights, writing the next subpar Rent and they need money for a production. They owe two months’ rent to their homophobic landlord Mr. Gorski, who assumes they are gay. They decide to act out the part and con some money out of him. What starts out as an (I think) intentionally pedestrian episode of Three’s Company takes a swivel-headed turn at the end, making it a very worthwhile play.

It contains moments familiar to anyone in the arts or anyone who has achieved a goal. Does this scene look familiar?
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The scene contains pretty much all the foreshadowing needed in this one-act. Though that 15 months working on one play made me wonder a bit, because…..

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These guys are funny since they spent 15 months on a play and “a few months” is too far away. And they’re worried about money. It’s not like these guys were getting paid for this play during the 15 months they spent writing it. I know writers who act just like them. The call goes out to Mr. Gorski…

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The situation set-ups and pay-offs are effective. There’s plenty of theatre jokes.

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I won’t give away the twist here but it’s foreshadowed in that first bit of dialogue. So here we have a play that takes some good-natured shots at artists and writers but also hits homophobia on the head. You can view the play in it’s entirety here:

The next play is A Bus Stop Home, not to be confused with Inge’s classic Bus Stop or the vague Hollywood remake. Or the worst public transportation system on God’s Green Earth.

This play features James, a man returning to his hometown under rather unwilling circumstances and Ellie, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who totally isn’t. As expected, the play happens at a bus stop.

Personable Ellie chats up recalcitrant James. She claims to be writing a journal based on conversations with strangers. Getting him to open up is like pulling teeth.

Gonzales’ craftsmanship turns the play into a meta narrative and telegraphs that via the script. Sublime.

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This gives the narrative a concise point of view. Characterization has depth. This exchange shows us who James and Ellie (especially) really are.

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Our heroine throws a mean contraction. During the interrogation/discourse, Ellie thinks she knew James back in school. What follows is a traumatically funny-sad discourse on masturbation:

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Kids, if you only have one takeaway from this blog post, it’s that “masturbation commissioner” is a great job title.

Of course, Ellie gets to the root of James’ dread: an LDS (Mormon) childhood.

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Of course such things never, ever happen in real life and these kids never, ever go on Reddit about it (which, BTW also references our previous topic).

One thing in literature that I feel is underestimated, is the characters’ view of themselves. Gonzales makes Ellie such an insightful, albeit slightly egocentric character.

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That’s the beauty of theatre. I’ve never heard anyone refer to themselves as tumbleweed before. Very poignant. And towards the end Ellie has some Manic Pixie Dream Girl knowledge to share with James:

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Thud. That’s the sound of Ellie dropping knowledge on James. The play doesn’t end here. There’s about a fifth of a page left and that fifth of a page packs more punch than a fifth of vodka – it totally spins everything we’ve seen so far – and thoroughly proves Ellie is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl; She is much, much more.

This is one of the few plays I’d say has an O. Henry-esque ending that isn’t telegraphed with a baseball bat. Gonzales’ craftsmanship really shows through on this play, though both A Bus Stop Home and Turnabout is a Fair Play have twist endings in their own special way.

A Bus Stop Home has references to Idaho and Washington and represents a type of local color that was popular in Bret Harte (California) and Charles W. Chesnutt (the American South) stories as well as Eugene O’Neill (New England) and Tennessee Williams (the American South) plays. It would be nice to see more local color in American theatre.

The play contains a strong role for both characters, especially Ellie, something that American theatre sorely lacks.

The final play we’ll look at is a very meaningful one, entitled Las Memorias (2017). This play was born out of a program run by Mr. Gonzales and Mary Trotter.

“The program focuses on building skills that help students prepare for college, including writing, public speaking, working in teams and setting priorities.” according to this article.

As part of a summer-long process, students from underrepresented university programs (first generation, multicultural, low-income, etc.) share their stories. The process also encourages them to believe a university education is obtainable for them.

Here’s a link to a PBS video about this fascinating program, featuring Mr. Gonzales: 

https://www.pbs.org/video/nwptv-american-graduate-las-memorias/ 

Each summer Gonzales weaves a story based on the teens’ actual words. Plus a touch of magical realism.

Due to the seasonal nature of the program, every Las Memorias is different. Mr. Gonzales was kind enough to share the latest play with us.

Here is Yessica. She’s talking about an object (a framed photo of her as a baby) that is precious to her and the memories involved:

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These words are so descriptive – “A picture, that looked and felt rusty.”

And Claudia has a special rosary:
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Again, we have such descriptive language here. “It smells old. Like a bookstore.” And she uses the word “tome.” Awesome. The ending… “But…I have my faith…my armor.” So poetic, so true.

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If Quetzalcoatl appeared to me in the form of my grandmother, that would be just about the most awesome thing that ever happened. Abuela does guide her…

Next, we have Mari talking about her headphones.
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“The strike of lightning, the sudden and persistent shock of being told to pack.”

“My headphones helped me survive the tempests of change.”

There are many, many teens profiled here and I’m just giving you a sampling. Here’s the final example –

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This takes the idea of the security blanket beyond Linus and into humanity. Being the only one of anything can be taxing, at best (anyone remember Jodie Landon?). Again, here is a real person’s voice. 

The play wraps up with a nice chorus of everyone and how and why they did what they did.
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And thus ends Las Memorias (2017). Mr. Gonzales was kind enough to answer some questions:

  1. How did you start playwriting?

I was very young when I began writing. My first serious play I wrote, however, was never intended to be anything. “Seeing the Obvious” was more of a catharsis for me as I had been struggling to figure out what I was going to do now that I was in college.-The summer after I wrote it, I was working at a store/coffee hut at a state park, and during one of the down times read in the local paper about a playwriting competition. I decided I’d give it a go, and took 2nd place in the Port Townsend Arts Commission One Act Playwriting contest. Nearly simultaneously, my peers at my University wanted to produce it on their Stage as well. By the time I was 19, I had a play being produced on both sides of the state and I was $200 richer for it. With the encouragement that came with it, I thought I found what I was going to do. The second play was harder, and it took an awfully long time to create it. I almost didn’t go back to it. I kept my playwriting bug to my classroom where I was able to dramaturg and mentor young playwrights who I felt might have a better chance. I’ve taught some wonderful playwrights over the years, and I still have some who are still working hard in the craft. It wasn’t until 2012 when I volunteered to write a verbatim script for a group on campus, that I found my voice again.  I started a long time ago.

  1. What are your influences?

This could possibly be a very long response. As far as playwrights go, I have loved Tennessee Williams for as long as I can remember. The personal nature of his plays has always influenced the way I write. Marsha Norman is also amazing. ‘Night Mother and Getting Out are two amazing pieces of literature. I love the stories her characters share. I think Sarah Ruhl is brilliant. She makes me want to stretch what I think would be a “normal” play.

My students, however, have always been influential. As writers often working on their first play, they never seemed to be confined to the box of “proper” playwriting. Their stories, often raw, combine the vulnerabilities of their youth and the imagination of those who have their ideal dreams still intact. Sometimes when I would leave my class, hoping that my students would take the inspiration and enthusiasm of the class and write, I too would race home to spend time with my characters. This is my first year outside of academia (I’m now a stay-at-home dad of twin 3 year olds) and I miss the interactions with my students dearly.

I also draw influence from my own life. I’ve hit some bumps along the way that have made things challenging. For instance, I’m a two time cancer survivor. My latest play “Up Chimacum Creek” is a semi-autobiographical look at that journey I went on.

  1. What is your most memorable production and why?

All of the productions I’ve had are memorable. Hearing my own words on a stage in front of an audience makes me feel more vulnerable, more naked, than actually being naked. “Seeing the Obvious”, my first play, probably resonates with me still today. It was the first, and I don’t think anyone forgets their first. Laughing with the audience, cringing at those lines I should have edited… It was a roller-coaster of emotions. I remember on one of the nights, after a power outage that afternoon, the lead actor didn’t show. He was asleep, as his alarm didn’t go off to wake him up from his afternoon nap. I was about to go on in his place, as the director said, “You know the lines, right? You wrote ‘em”. I didn’t. But I was going to go on anyway. Fortunately, 10 before curtain he showed up and saved me from what was sure to be my most embarrassing moment on stage.

  1. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]

Believe it or not, the least memorable might be the commissioned verbatim works. I write them so rapidly, and the stories aren’t necessarily my stories. That sounds horrible, because those plays clearly change lives. I love doing them, and their effect, but I’ve done so many, that sometimes those memories bleed into one another.

  1. What’s your funniest theatre story?

20 years in theatre, I’m not sure I can filter it down to a single memory, but I’ll at least try to tell you a funny one. I was responding (for the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival) to Much Ado About Nothing at North Idaho College, where a dear friend of mine teaches. In the lobby he asks if I can keep my phone on when the play starts. I of course oblige, knowing he’s probably got some pre-show stunt during the announcement. I felt a little uncomfortable, but knowing it would be turned off after, I was fine to play the foil. He walks up to me 5 minutes before curtain with a dummy phone and the advise to not let his actor grab my real phone. Knowing exactly what the stunt was, I relaxed. The pre-show announcement happened, and no phone. The plays starts. I turn to my wife who was with me, and asked her if I should turn it off. Clearly they didn’t get the timing right. She shrugged. Act 1 scene 1 passes. Still nothing. I looked at her, she shrugged. The next scene passes. Now, clearly they don’t need my phone anymore. Just as the next scene started, and I was fishing out my phone, my phone rings. I almost forgot to hand the guards… yes, the guards in the scene the dummy phone. They broke the dummy in half and made a big to-do. After they go about the scene. Everyone in the audience turned off their phone.

Carrying my phone turned on during a live performance made me so anxious, even though I knew it was a bit. It may have well been a bomb and I would have been that anxious.

  1. What are your writing habits like?

I am currently reshaping my writing habits around being a father. That is, around naps, and when my wife is home.I am currently getting a 2nd Master’s Degree (in Dramatic Writing) for the F (MFA). I’ve learned a lot about getting myself into the writing focus by working on the commissioned verbatim plays. I can no longer wait for a eureka moment. I’ve got to put myself into my writing environment as much as possible, and accept that I might stare at the blinking cursor of untitled document for as long as I have the time to write. I used to ask my students all the time how much time do they put themselves in their writing environment, how much time do they try to write, and often they say half an hour. That’s all fine and good if you’re properly inspired, but not if you’re trying to produce on a regular basis.

I will often dedicate an entire day to writing now, if I can get it. My wife know that if I make a vapor trail to my desk after a shower, that she’s got the girls that day, or we need to find childcare coverage. I don’t allow myself to pull away from writing if it’s coming out of me. I also know to not accidentally derail  a clear train of thought by drinking more than a couple whiskeys.

I have learned to take victory in the days I write not by quantity of lines created, but the quality anything of that moves the story forward. Sometimes that is research. Sometimes that is reading plays. And sometimes that is writing in another medium for a day.

  1. What advice do you have for new playwrights?

I have lots of advice for beginning writers, some of which might not necessarily be original to me, but things I picked up along the way.

  • Know the environment that you write best in. Put yourself there frequently, and don’t let yourself leave until you have accomplished your thought.
  • Read.
  • Don’t write just for money. You’ve got to love it.
  • Get to know your characters. If you know them well enough, they’ll surprise you.
  • Dare to fail gloriously. If you don’t, you’ll never get out a first draft.
  • Read.

That’s just a few. I know I’ve got a whole bunch more, but I’ll leave it here… for now.

  1. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with some talented young writers across the Pacific Northwest, whose words may never leave the region.

Again, I know there are more, but I’ve had the pleasure of seeing work from each of these artists, and they’re all very good.

  1. What are common themes in your work?

I’ve noticed recently, that I have a lot of death and religion in my plays. While I’m not a religious person myself, I had the fortune of going to a lot of different churches growing up. (I played basketball for a year in Junior High with a Mormon Church) My parents wanted me to choose my religious beliefs for myself. I decided pretty early church was not for me. I don’t know why I find myself talking about religion so much, as I feel very much like an outsider looking in.

As for death, I’ve almost died more than a few times. My cancer was pretty bad, and there were a few times with that alone that I almost shuffled off the mortal coil. My dad was an EMT and Firefighter as well, so I ended up seeing plenty of death when I was with him on aid calls.

  1. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

I wish I knew that playwriting isn’t easy. My first play seemed to come out so quick, and I got so much acknowledgement for it, that I assumed plays would just flow out of me as easily as the first did. That is not how it works. It gave me an arrogant attitude, and when the next play didn’t come out for years, I thought I was bad at it. I didn’t learn to work hard at it until I started teaching, and by that time, I was so involved with my students I didn’t allow myself the time to write.

  1. Where did the idea for Turnabout is a Fair Play come from?

I wrote Turnabout is a Fair Play very quickly after A Bus Stop Home. I wanted to have fun and experience writing fast paced comedy. I also knew that I wanted to Ubu Roi my beginning, as well as show the ending. It started with the three characters, and I just started writing. So I suppose the play is the closest thing to freestyle writing that I’ve done. I let the characters lead me to the ending. I still think I need to tweak the bad musical section. I may get more nervous about this play than the others.

  1. Why did you choose an LDS/Mormon background for James’ character in A Bus Stop Home?

I truthfully do not recall the specific reason. I’ve always been curious about religion, even though I’ve held it at arm’s length. I guess I’m very critical of the hypocrisies of the church (and not just Mormons). In this case, James’ family chooses religious belief and disengage from their son until he admits the error of his ways. I’ve seen this happen to my LGBTQ students, and those actions, under religious justifications, is hypocritical. I find the theatre does a better job demonstrating what it is to be a good human being. The theatre is my type of congregation because it is open to all.

  1. What advice do you have for writers who want a strong twist ending?

Justify everything. A twist is only effective if you play by your own rules. The seeds for any twist should be scattered across the pages. A twist as a Deus Ex Machina is lazy.

  1. What is your writing process for the “Las Memorias” plays?  

It starts with the prompts that I send out to the schools. These are typically open ended questions that lead them to write stories about themselves. We’ll select as many as we have money to support, and I’ll read their stories over and over. We’ll bring them in for a theatre training weekend, where I’ll interview them a little bit. I’ll send them home with another prompt, which will leave me with about 3 weeks to write the script. Each one is different, and I’ll search for the connected tissues of the stories to find the themes. The 2017 Memorias script had a lot of items in their stories, so the script ended up having a museum theme to it. I also want them to have an opportunity for direct address for their stories, but to give them an interactive theatrical feel to it as well. That’s why the ‘17 script had a one act in 3 parts tying them all together. The one act took shape from the themes of their stories. We then bring the students in, and they have a week to rehearse before the performance.

  1. What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.

Good One! I suppose I’d ask myself if I will delve back into academia, as that is the question I have been asking myself.

I loved being a professor. Not for the title, but for the mentorship relationships that have formed. I am still in contact with many of my former students. I read their work still, I give them advise, and I attend their weddings. I will never be done mentoring, but it may not be in a university setting. The bureaucracy of universities today are combative and not so friendly to the arts. I found myself defending the existence of the theatre more than I should have. I wish I could write, and freelance design and direct on my own terms.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Now, to the eternal sadness of all things sacred, Gonzales lost his job last year when The Great Satan known as Washington State University decided to out-Satan all other Satans and cut the performing arts classes. Gonzales gave 15 years to Washington State University. Never mind that he and his wife just won an award from the Kennedy Center, you know, for being great teachers.

No more Las Memorias.

Benjamin is currently a student seeking a MFA in Dramatic Writing from the University of Idaho. He has survived cancer twice, I’m sure he’ll be taking care of this new turn.

His page at the New Play Exchange.

His life

Benjamin talking about kicking cancer’s ass.

A piece Gonzales wrote based on survivors of sexual violence.

Playbill for same project.

Here’s a list of all of our playwrights.

 

 

Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: Madge and Millie from Picnic (Inge)

Another Monday and more monologues. This time they’re from a favorite play of mine: Picnic.

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Korean college production from 2014.

The plot concerns Madge, a well-liked young woman stuck in the confines of small-town Kansas in small-minded 1950s America. She’s judged pretty much for her looks and nobody seems to appreciate her intelligence, sometimes including herself.

Meanwhile, her brainy younger sister Millie has problems of her own like growing up in the shadow of her popular sister.

Then along rolls in stud-hobo and eternal screw-up Hal. He’s looking for a former college friend (and a job). Hal is the catalyst that sets everything into motion. Nothing is the same once he arrives.

Trivia: Ralph Meeker played Hal in the original play and William Holden played him in the film.

Janice Rule played Madge in the original play and Kim Novak played her in the film.

Kim Stanley played Millie in the play and Susan Strasberg played her in the movie.

The molten pit of acting Hell known as Youtube has vomited up both Madge and Millie monologues. Monday’s Madge and Millie Monologues.

Here, Madge is telling Hal what a wonderful dancer he is.

A

Her Youtube channel.

B

C

Her Youtube channel.

Who do you think brought it best? Please comment below.

Finally, we have Millie trying to learn about boys from her sister.

A

 

B

Stay tuned for Thursday when our next unknown playwright makes an appearence…

For complete list of monologues please check here.