<![CDATA[Rita Anderson - Blog]]>Thu, 29 Mar 2018 16:57:23 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Curse or Invest]]>Wed, 12 Jul 2017 18:07:34 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/curse-or-invest​Interview with ScriptWorks, newsletter by Max Langert  (July 11, 2017)

Some Insight into our Local Theater Scene:
 
Recently I noticed on social media that member Rita Anderson had hosted a couple of play readings at her home. I wanted to ask her how that went for her, and what she thought of the Austin theater scene in general…
 
I understand you've hosted a few readings and events at your house. What inspired you to go this route?
Need (to hear new work out loud). Interest(ed in closed readings in a private setting while work is “under construction”). Desperation (for expediency. NOTHING moves quickly in theatre.)?
 
What's been the most challenging aspect of hosting an event at your home?
It takes considerable prep work to host anything, if you do it well. Also, at this juncture, I’m operating as a one-woman band in prepping.
 
What's your process of getting actors like? 
Luckily, I’m pretty aware (and getting more aware as time progresses) of local talent. [I also have the secret weapon of a few veteran Austinites whom I trust for recommendations, if I get stuck or am on the fence.] I read a script and picture who might best embody a role—then I just ask the actors if they’re interested/available to participate. The response has been overwhelmingly positive! For the last two events (April and June), I approached directors and they assembled the casts. That ingredient not only took off some of the burden but also I learned a lot about casting, primarily that, as a playwright, I cast differently than directors do. They seem to have a knack for essence, and I tend to cast more stereotypically, I guess.
 
Do you provide snacks?
Absolutely. It’s the least I can do to thank the actors/directors for their time. Plus, it gives us a little time to relax and be social. I’m also super-relational by nature, and relationship-building is critical for the trust needed to create good art.
 
You and I have talked about the lack of theatrical space in Austin. Do you think this problem will get worse? Or do you see it improving at some point? 
It is a bit terrifying, yes—especially because I moved to Austin from San Antonio a year and a half ago FOR theatre/new works. My bottom line is, I like where we live and I don’t want to “flee” to NYC or Chicago in order to do it. A wiser person than me recently said, basically, in all troublesome issues, you have two choices—to CURSE or to INVEST. So, I’m investing. I want to stay here and to help fight to find and/or create new venues for art, if that’s where we are as a community.
 
Is there any significant piece of advice you'd give to other playwrights who might be considering hosting his or her own in-home reading? 
Just that (a) you are not alone: try to connect with other, like-minded artists you want to work with and admire, (b) don’t ask too much or be “production-only” focused straight out of the gate: Let the readings be their own things, and (c) there is nothing new, really, about these intimate gatherings as stand-alone artistic experiences. In playwriting travels, I’ve participated in many such theatrical events from conferences (ATHE, ASTR, CDC) to writing retreats that culminated in Chamber Readings (Creede, CO, etc.).

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<![CDATA[FEATUREDPOET.COM INTERVIEW (Q & A)]]>Wed, 21 Sep 2016 00:13:46 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/featuredpoetcom-interview-q-aFEATUREDPOET.COM                         RITA ANDERSON    SEPTEMBER 17, 2016
What are your passions—for whom/what do you write? I write from a female perspective for the underrepresented voices who should not have been silenced or missing from the cultural lexicon and literary canons. I grew up in an exhausted industrial city, lost within a large, working class family where poetry was a luxury for the rich and elite so I hid what I wrote. I write for all those who turn to writing for identity, self-preservation, expression, and survival.
 
What advice would you give to a poet trying to find a voice?
Be true to yourself but know that this isn’t an easy path, trying to make a career of it. As an English teacher, I realized that everyone can learn to write (to some degree of efficiency) but few will ever “become” writers. In the 14 years I spent in a classroom teaching literature and creative writing, I happened upon maybe two students who had what it takes to make it as a professional writer—and I had many bright, talented students. But neither “bright” nor “talented” are enough. No, a writer has to have this whole, magic package in order to make a dent in one of the toughest fields: professional creative writing. And somewhere tucked deep within that enigmatic, magical package that a writer must have is the most unique ingredient that we call a “voice.”
 
Skills can be learned that improve storytelling, and suggestions or techniques may amplify the impact a poem or an exploded moment has on the reader, but “talent” either is or it isn’t. And “voice” is that mandatory element that is both hard to define but impossible to miss when you’ve heard it. I think of it as the “soul” of the writing, the heart, mind, and innerworkings that beat underneath the words. For example, a writer whose work has “style” can learn the mechanics of good writing and how to edit, but a wooden writer will almost never develop that something that makes writing feel alive, no matter how good their organizational tools are.
 
There are no shortcuts, no recipes for “making it big”—and, if there were, I wouldn’t trust them. Having said that, however, I think the best “hack” to learn to identify “voice” is to read. Read everything and read all the time. From classics to contemporary literary fiction. You may not be able to imitate the “masters of the craft” but the only way to improve your “game” is to run hard with writers who are better than you and whose work has been used to establish the foundation of what you’re up against. The standards are set so learn them—if only to get good enough one day to break all the rules and to do it well.

What advice would you give to a poet trying to gain exposure?
Yes, “exposure”. . . Well, I’m not going to pretend to tell this upcoming youth culture about “exposure.” They were born with computers in their laps and smart phones in their hands. This is the age that brought us “selfies” and a preponderance of social media options, channels which are clogged with YouTube videos of everything from stupid pet tricks, to you doing your cover of a Beyoncé or a Florence and the Machine song, while sitting on your unmade bed with the disaster of your room on camera all around you.
All I can say is, The internet is forever, and “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” Everyone is in a rush to promote, promote, promote. I’m more a fan of, Get good, first. Find a writing group and help each other. Listen to feedback and let your work simmer. Let the ideas ripen and mature. I wrote, privately, in journals for years. [I still journal!] And now I know that not everything is ready for primetime. Not everything we write is “gold,” but you’ll always know when you’ve written something amazing, that’s a cut above your previous work.
When I started grad school for poetry, I was turned down by many programs and I was the weakest writer in my MFA, at first. So I went to the library (because I couldn’t afford to buy the books I wanted) and I read and I read and I read. Then I wrote and I threw poems away, every day for two years. –I remember my first, breakthrough poem, “Dandelion,” and when I finally shared it with the writers in workshop, it was nominated for an Intro Award. I went on to become Poetry Editor of the university’s literary publication, Ellipsis, the last year of my MFA.

What are your preferred writing conditions?
I believe writing is a muscle and talent requires discipline. So, I write every day. Every. Day. If I’m not feeling “inspired” (and woe be the author who waits on that fickle entity alone!), then I will read. Reading has what I call the “popcorn effect”: reading someone else’s work stimulates my senses and my mind starts responding or talking back to the poem, etc. Often, my own ideas will launch from reading good writing. [This is not an excuse to plagiarize or to steal or riff off of someone else’s idea. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m talking more about using reading to preheat your own mental oven.] And, you should be interested in a wide range of topics. I am naturally curious and I’ve found metaphors from biology, psychology, and economics.
 
Finally, you have to approach writing like you want to qualify for the Olympics. Those athletes are out there putting in unbelievable hours to prepare themselves. Greatness is never an accident and a lazy talent is a waste of talent. And on days when I just don’t feel “creative,” I do editorial work like configuring a Table of Contents or assembling the Acknowledgements page. I also submit then, since I’m feeling “unartistic.” That way I’m working at my craft whether or not I feel “ready.” I write best when I’m alone with no distractions (so no phone)—unless I’m doing the mindless paperwork of submittals, in which case I work with the music on up high! I also like to stand up to write sometimes because I get tired of sitting.

Name one poet who inspired you.
Can’t do one but let’s see. Ai taught me the dramatic monologue. Jorie Graham and Jon Ashbery, the exotic weirdness of what happens in the air between words. Sylvia Plath, Ann Sexton, and Sharon Olds, the pain and beauty that it is to be a woman born at a certain place and time. Sappho just for being Sappho. And Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” destroyed me for weeks after I read it. But Wislawa Szymborska is my all-around favorite! Others include Pablo Neruda, Robert Hass, C.K. Williams, and Audrey Lorde.

What do you think makes a poem memorable?
It can be an elegant expression but normally it’s heart. Voice. Style. Someone is moved by a passionate moment and they express it so well that I am also moved. But not with adjectives or adverbs—or even the shock value that some words have. Put away the thesaurus and paint for me with words how it feels to be you. Natalie Diaz’s, When My Brother Was an Aztec does this beautifully.
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<![CDATA[Why it May Be Time to Hang the Slang]]>Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:09:01 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/why-it-may-be-time-to-hang-the-slangDuring this, the busiest theatre season of my so-far life, I posted a FB status that set off a riot inside of me, one I didn’t have the time or presence of mind to sort through and, now, here I am with a mental flat tire on the side of the road with it. --How did I think I could “casually” talk about WORDS: what they mean to me, how I look at them, and how many of them make me feel, and not get lost in expressing their weight in a fitting manner? Truth is, there can be no “drive-by” with words, not for me.

Here’s my post: Writer's Pet Peeve #437 (or For Anyone Who is Word-Sensitive): Please refrain from anachronisms like referring to yourself (or anyone else who ever scribbles down a thought) as a "scribe" . . . It gives me chills, in a bad way. On the other end of the spectrum, no slang--unless you can truly keep up with how quickly it changes. (I think "peeps" expired from the lexicon 6 years ago.)

The responses that came in made me think more about what I meant, but when someone teased I must be an “English teacher” (which I was, for the record), I tried to explain with this: “Writing a poem, you spend so much time looking for the perfect word or turn of phrase that words begin to exist on a different level than most experience. (I have a physical reaction to how certain words sound or the way they make me feel. The closest most can come to understanding this is when they hear the word ‘moist.’)”

At first, I felt defensive, as if my time as an “English teacher” somehow dismissed me from having a valid opinion on the topic because it stigmatized me as “too picky,” an expert with unobtainable standards, but the responder, a recently-retired speech therapist, completely understood what I meant. She explained that she had spent hours as a child repeating multi-syllabic words because she “loved how they sounded,” and that she thought of most language in terms of male and female words. Hearing this I smiled from the inside out, yes! She got it.

I caught myself before writing back to others who had commented because I had to get my feelings together. –For me, most words are purely functional but some are seductive or repulsive, and I’ve had love affairs with certain words, and then bad break-ups. So how can I watch others who are now love-drunk with these same words? That is how I feel about, “Scribe,” old-fashioned as the damn word is. I was entranced by it when I was twelve, writing every thought in my diary, and going around telling everyone I was the “Scribe for My Tribe,” a phrase I was shamefully proud of having produced. I know. I had found my calling, but it’s grating, isn’t it?

Because the word “scribe” is archaic (and none of us is a medieval monk) there’s a pomposity built into it, and that arch now makes me queasy when someone uses it in 2014, but I was twelve and twelve means “relatively new to the planet.” Soon after, I removed the word from my toolbox in the way that a famous athlete’s number is retired into the gym floor tiles, and it’s hard now to watch others fall under its spell. I’m over the word. It’s a spice I no longer keep in the cabinet. Not only won’t I cook with it, but also I'm not eating anyone’s recipe if they’ve used it. I’ve had my fling, learned my lesson, and moved on. I just can’t go back there. [The lesson here: Clean out your cupboard often and keep the contents current. Mind expiration dates.]

Slang, on the other extreme, is language that’s as dead as anachronisms—but it’s as low brow as words get. The allure of slang is its immediacy. There is a creativity in reinventing how we express common things, but slang has the shelf-life of a house fly. It lives—or should—for about a day, but how it gets used and abused in its brief blip of a life! By the time your father’s absorbed an expression and allows it to slip into conversation, the word has become an embarrassment. (Let me just say, “Do you want to come with--?,” “#Hashtag,” “I can’t even,” and “That is all,” and you’ll be right along with me here.) While Grandpa uses it to show he’s relevant, it proves the opposite.

I picture slang as the lady who keeps her hair style from the era she felt most alive. That trends move on and there she is affixed to a telltale sign of the past—her prime—is less irritating than is the speaker who (still and/or ever) uses gang-slang from a handful of years ago to express her upscale white existence, un-ironically talking about her “littles in the hizzy.” (My physical reaction to this is overwhelming. . .)

I don’t know how else to explain it, except to say that, I work with words and can’t help but see the patterns that develop. It is my trade, and I know my inventory. Being a lover of language, however, isn’t about having a big vocabulary, but about being more conscious of choices and the signals they send. Language defines where we’re from, in time and place, and lots of it is out of our control. Words reveal our education, who we may wish to be, and even what we’re trying to hide.]]>
<![CDATA[TCG BLOG "On Gender Parity in Theatre, Part II--Fighting for a Female Sentence"]]>Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:03:08 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/tcg-blog-on-gender-parity-in-theatre-part-ii-fighting-for-a-female-sentencePicture
On Gender Parity in Theatre and What Might Be Broken, Part II:

Fighting for a Female Sentence, by Rita Anderson

Recently, I ran a theatre salon in Cincinnati where one of the participants—an academic and an aspiring playwright—told me a disturbing experience she had had in a writing class. “One of the gentlemen, mind you, wrote about women who had been left behind by their fishermen husbands and brothers. The instructor told him (and the class), ‘You’ve missed the boat. The story’s out there,’” pointing, I assume, to where the men-of-action lived offstage.

This story now comes to mind when I hear women who select plays for theater seasons and competitions criticize female playwrights for “not writing like their male counterparts” or for “failing” to create female characters that are “active,” only “reactionary.” It’s not that these female artistic directors are trying to pick all male writers—but they are trying to pick a “solid” season that comes together in a thematic or unified way. This approach will, yes, identify and reward women writers who are good mimics, amongst other things, writers who have perfected the male sound, the male play, the male sentence.

In the first part of this discussion on why achieving gender parity in theatre continues to be so problematic, I argued that women have been conditioned to adopt male patterns of thinking, reading (i.e. the world as well as texts), and writing. Assuming a male writer’s primary crisis is a tendency to emulate his favorites and that women writers search for such heroes in her own likeness but don’t find them and so suffer an “anxiety of authorship,” with so little women’s writing preserved or cherished as literary legacies who could her heroes be and where might they be found?

If a woman traditionally “surrenders” her natural forms to comply with institutional male models (and by this, I mean the metaphors, language, and structure women might have used instinctively to shape her stories), then how does “she” recover that, after assimilation? Can she? Having learned how to codify: to decode her female nature and encode male logic, language, and strategies, can she return to an informed innocence—in order to re-shape her experience? [As girls, we had to code through the universal “he” to share in much of the written word.]

“Herstory,” then, is really about trying to un-imagine the damage of that impact and, as stories are made of smaller units called “sentences,” this re-imagining must include a valuing of a female sentence. Not only must the culture deem “her” stories important, but also it has to recognize her way of telling a story--the words she chooses and how rhythmically or circuitously she strings them together to form meaning. What if her style isn’t linear?

What, then, might her sentence look like—had it lived freely to spawn female libraries and literary canons to influence us? This is what I’m asking. This is the sentence I am after, hers. What is her sentence and how is it different from the standard stock and trade? Will you recognize it, if and when you hear it? Is it a welcome addition to what should be a growing lexicon, syntax, and pallet of voices, voices and words, words and ways of speaking and storytelling? Or will the Otherness irritate because it goes against all that training, consciously or unwillingly, you’ve internalized?

If we’ve debunked the myth that female playwrights are rare and if women comprise 52% of the world’s population, then why aren’t women’s plays, naturally, selected at least half of the time, even now? Are her stories consistently subpar—or could it be her sentence or storytelling blueprint that is different? Will her content and the structure she comes up with to carry her message alienate you, if she deviates from the “norm”? They may—but couldn’t you learn to “hear” it her way, adjusting to her storytelling methods? Her style may not be simple or clearly straightforward but comprised of sentences that curl into a story that circles. Curling sentences and circling stories that repeat to redefine and reinforce through repetition.

We love to discuss diversity (over uniformity) and a multiverse (instead of a universe) but, seriously, what if her sentence isn’t his economy of words? Or if her style “fails” to replicate his focus on action—making her stance a “reactive” posture, which thereby “reduces her characters to inert followers”? And if her concerns for community aren’t things the standard models value?

Who hasn’t memorized--into the fiber of our consciousness--what that aesthetic is in literature? Perhaps not the novices, emerging playwrights who aren’t yet expert impersonators. This notion is confirmed when “Bitter Gertrude,” whose posts I enjoy, blogs that 75% of the playwrights her theatre produces are men and how hard it is to find new, female playwrights who don’t make the same “beginner’s mistake. Their characters suffer a lethal passivity and don’t have active desires. This is only a problem [with] emerging female playwrights. [V]eteran, more established women writers write active main characters, just like their male counterparts.” There is no incentive then for women to try and think outside this box so how will “she” find more organic ways to produce meaning? Will we ever achieve accepted and esteemed “alternative discourses”?

More Than a Room, We Need a Sentence of Our Own

Virginia Woolf wrote, “However much we may go to the work of male artists for pleasure, it is difficult to go to them for finding a voice,” and I’m not sure how much has truly changed on this front in the century since. I’ll need to write my dissertation, however, to develop this argument into its truest potential, but I will finish here with these thoughts. My frame of reference changed 20 years ago when I read Luce Irigaray (“This Sex Which is Not One”), Ann Rosalind Jones (“Writing the Body”), Helene Cixous (“Why so few texts? Because so few women have as yet won back their body”) and others. Ideas about “renversement” as a process and as a worthwhile, final product. That it’s important to keep blowing up an idea with questions, not always aiming to answer them—and I don’t mean that dismissively or to suggest that art can just be a hot mess with no craft involved.

My argument for learning to identify what a woman’s sentence might look like isn’t one in support of an anything-goes approach devoid of merit, artistic method, or a stylized talent. It is about multiplicity, building up, including. How? I don’t have those answers. Why? Because we can’t just release young women back into the wild and tell them that, after years of acculturated evisceration, “It’s okay to throw like a girl now. Take it back. Reclaim those words and what they mean.” We have to show her the ways she can #FightLikeAGirl and #WriteLikeAGirl. But first? First, we must help her find her sentence. Why? Because to cure rot you must diagnose it from its point of origin. Culturally, we can slap down new linoleum but the floorboards will groan until we rip them up and replace them—maybe even go so far as to reconfigure the floor plan. In a less-linear fashion.


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<![CDATA[TCG BLOG:"On Gender Parity and What May Be Broken, Part I"]]>Wed, 10 Dec 2014 19:59:46 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/tcg-blogon-gender-parity-and-what-may-be-broken-part-iPicture
On Gender Parity in Theater and What May Be Broken, by Rita Anderson

This year I bought an anthology of Contemporary Plays by Women: Outstanding Winners and Runners up (1978-1990) for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (prize deadline was September 15th). In its preface, Editor Emilie S. Gilgore wrote what is now a damning statistic: “We got in touch with Lillian Hellman and asked her to join us as a director. . . At that time, in 1978, only 7% of the plays presented across the United States were written by women. A similar situation existed in the UK. Today, 12 years later, that figure has approximately tripled.” In 2014, women playwrights only experience 17% representation, but in 1990 women’s plays were produced almost 21%. How have we lost ground in 24 years, in this, the fourth wave of feminism?

With a needed push from the theatre world for changes, “50/50 by 2020” (only 5 ½ years away), it is refreshing, finally, to discuss the obvious: women’s right to be equally represented in contemporary American theatre and her odd absence from it. --For female playwrights the present is critical because historically she’s barely mentioned in the ranks of “classic” theatre, a sacred albeit-male canon. Today, I hope to begin a discussion on why I think parity hasn’t happened and why the issue remains problematic. Through events like Arena Stage’s The Summit, and The Kilroys, we now know women playwrights exist [*wink*] and that there is a waiting “pipeline” of talented women interested—so why aren’t women playwrights playing in theatres near you?

We inherited the culture we inhabit and clues to a deep-seated gender inequality are everywhere. Take, for example, the recent ad which pointed out the perceptual differences between strong men (“BOSS”) and strong women (“BOSSY”). While many of us fight for change, more are invested in maintaining status quo, but these are complex issues for another time. To focus on the topic at hand, suffice to say that, psychologically and socially speaking, men and women may act, speak, and even write differently, but women are not, as Freud suggests, “imperfect men without penises.” [This is not to say that all women are the same, either.]

One tenet of my argument, however, is that, in terms of decision-making styles, men statistically think in “absolutes,” while women are “situational” thinkers (decisions are made on a case by case basis). From here it is no stretch to see how, for self-preservation, a patriarchal system needs uniformity: There is one correct way to run businesses, make laws, love, and to art. This longstanding mindset and patriarchal power structure is our brick wall and it won’t be undone with polite discussion, a wish, or a prayer.

Individual giftedness aside, gender differences aren’t imaginary. In April, The Atlantic Monthly ran an article about “The Confidence Gap,” showing how men and women promote their work and themselves--and asserting that “confidence” is as important as “competence.” Rather than deconstruct Nature vs. Nurture or “why” I think men excel in this area (which the article takes a stab at addressing), I will heap more facts on the fire to show why parity will be an Olympic-sized nut to crack.

Washington D.C. theaters did band together this year to produce 44 female playwrights but, despite industry claims for big changes coming, these heavy-hitting lists still posted showcases with 0 or 1 female playwright, often out of 9 or 10 selected: The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest’s Summerplay 2014 (1 out of 9), Manhattan Theater Club (2 women to 6 men 2013-2014 and 2012-2013), Pipeline PlayLab (last year 1 of 7), Steinberg Trust (“Emerging Playwright Award,” founded in 2009 and runs every two years, first year all males to include Bruce Norris), and Summer Shorts (59E59, NYC), last year 1 woman, this year 0.

The list above fell in my lap and it makes no pretense about being exhaustive. It’s just one of those tip-of-the-iceberg glimpses that makes you despair. I cannot wait for when America becomes a “post-racial” and a “post-gender” society, but that day is not today. Gender parity makes everyone uncomfortable but it’s more than because it’s “the elephant in the room” issue. The real question isn’t, Where are all the female elephants? but Why aren’t they in the room?

The 17% Solution

While the temptation of an “easy solution” for gender parity might entail (a) a mandate that theaters contract 50/50 female/male playwrights, and (b) boycotting or (c) cutting funds for theatres that don’t comply, these measures don’t extinguish the underlying conditions that helped create female invisibility in the arts. Until these “norms” (we’ve been bombarded with and have steeped in for so long they’re absorbed) are brought back to the surface and acknowledged, the cultural lens will remain skewed and inequality will persist. We must learn to look at or “read” plays differently and to see other ways in which to “see.” Otherwise, even with “blind” submissions and with female literary managers at the helm, scripts that fit this ordained writing-style tradition will continue to be selected.

As an undergraduate psychology major, we learned that women use different conversational styles than men: we apologize more, face each other, touch, and rely on eye contact to communicate. Men’s preferred style for communication is side to side—as in from the driver’s and passenger’s seats of a car, or sitting together on the couch. There’ve been controversial studies about differences between the sexes on everything from physical strength, sexual preferences and performance, and intelligence and brain size. What’s important is whose style is being favored. . . Foucault said, “Knowledge is power,” and it follows that whoever runs the board room or classroom (writes the text books, serves as artistic directors and literary managers) dictates what is “good” and sets the agenda for what that looks like.

When feminism began, the most successful women fit in by becoming female men, laughing at jokes which were aimed at their own sex’s expense to assimilate and to show that they were “good sports.” Once inside the golden doors, those women felt privileged to listen to (if not to memorize and to copy the styles of) the sermons and lectures of journalists, novelists, and poets who operated from a foreign set of metaphors and a male-centric way of thinking. “She” learned to read (i.e. decode and encode) the male pronoun “he” as the universal referent for “mankind,” while her models—all male—sponsored phrases like, “Cold as a witch’s tit,” “Take one for the team,” and “Grow a pair.”

Until recently, women were the sole object of the gaze—and everything fell in around that worldview. It is mindboggling how all-encompassing a worldview can be, and how nearly impossible it is to change the sights on that rifle, male habits “she” accommodated and forms “she” learned, after surrendering her own, more natural way of expressing herself to blend in and feel less foreign. If unfettered, what might “her” writing style look and sound like?

(Stay tuned for Part II: “Fighting for a Female Sentence”)


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<![CDATA[Dear [Prospective] Theatre Company,]]>Tue, 26 Aug 2014 18:31:09 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/dear-prospective-theatre-company Dear [Prospective] Theatre Company,
“Thank you for the notification—even if it is a rejection. As laptop playwrights in an electronic submission age, it is amazing how few notices we actually receive, even of the mass email variety. Although I am disappointed that my work wasn’t selected, I wish you the best of luck with your picks, and I will, indeed, keep your venue in mind for next year.”

With that established, our connection terminates. We have nothing left to say beyond this--that your reader(s) preferred another kind of writing than what I submitted, if my script was, in fact, read. But here are some of the things I wish that playwrights could say from our end without being blackballed for life in the theatre universe.

If your company charges a submission fee, I delete your information. Who do I think I am? I know, I know. . . What I really do know in today’s economy is that writers are pretty powerless and we’re definitely not in the position to do any rejecting of our own, but I also know that there’s a higher truth. The truth that we make no money, and it is nothing but a vanity venue if we do “pay to play.” These “fee” kinds of calls are not opportunities so much as they are distractions. No rants, no arguments, end of story. 

Let me also share that I am horrifically, utterly aware of my own anonymity. I am. And, even if it’s true—and I know it is (as one of 7,000 members of the Official Playwrights of FB, which is neither official nor comprised of just playwrights, I’m daily reminded how many SELF-IDENTIFYING PLAYWRIGHTS are out there)—it does not stop the bleeding to hear how “overwhelming” your response was in the “quality” or the “quantity” of plays you forded to make your final decisions. It is a numbers’ game so when you detail that mine was just one of ten billion plays received, you box my ears unnecessarily roughly. I’m just saying.

Afterwards when I go to these venues—which I still support if I can get to them, even if the favor isn’t returned, I’m surprised to see the shows that were picked. I am often disillusioned that such and such a script could have been chosen when the competition was as fierce as keeps getting reported. Art is subjective and “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and I just may need another pair of eyeballs all together. And perhaps a lobotomy, not to mention money refunded for both of my Masters’ degrees.

I love theatre! I love being onstage and I love creating characters and stories for the stage. I love everything about theatre, except for the submission process which honestly feels not just like you are on a neverending job interview, but one that has all the charm of a cattle call, where the line snakes down the stairs, out the door, down the street, and around the corner to circle NYC twice. Seriously, it’s soul-crushing.

The reality of trying to get your work produced is harsh and, yet, I wake every morning, padding over to the coffee pot with one eye open, and then I sit and write. To write, I have to shut out these obstacles: the idea of a commercial theatre career, the competition, and the clatter of those trying to be heard. I walk into the world of my play, letting the forest or the beach, a bedroom take me—away from the noise and into where my art needs me to go.
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<![CDATA["WE PREFER COMEDIES"]]>Thu, 21 Aug 2014 18:35:34 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/we-prefer-comedies It’s Thursday already and August is ending. I returned to San Antonio from Cincinnati on Sunday—but it was 1 a.m. so I guess that makes it Monday! My suitcase arrived late Tuesday, and I got back to the routine of writing/submitting yesterday. (As a rule, writing professionally, I write 8-10 hours a day, at least 4 days a week. Thursdays I update my submissions’ log and do various writerly paperwork to track what I’m doing and where my work has been.)

As I waded through the submission opportunities that had mounted in my absence, I sighed again at the preponderance of ten-minute play festivals, all of which boldly reminded us writers that these theatres (and the audience body at large?) “PREFERRED COMEDIES.” Why did this single sentence, “WE PREFER COMEDIES,” irk me to the marrow? Let me see. Oh, shit. To hell with itemizing my grievances about it. Suffice to say, I’m bored stupid with skit plays, which is all you can get out of ten-minutes’ playing time. There can be no character development, no deep relationships or conflict. You just set up your gimmick, you introduce zany characters who enter to drop their zingers, and you’re out of there (“keep them doggies rollin’”). 

That this is the current state of affairs for the dramatic arts wounds me. The most condemning thing I can say about this new play trend is it reminds me of the difference between the art the Greeks created, and the paratheatricals that the Romans ingested--until they died off as a culture. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want “Mrs. Boodles Trained Poodles” or He-men setting themselves on fire while mid-trapeze to set the tone for what can be expected out of a night at the “theatre.” Nothing personal, because escapism has its place, but it’s like it’s become our only staple, and it’s all you can find on most menus anymore. –What’s even more condemning is most people won’t even know what I’m referring to, that Greek vs. Roman comparison is lost to modernity. Having to argue against this imbalance makes me feel like a goofy parent trying to remind their children that they must work a little spinach into their sugar diet. It’ll rot your teeth!

Now that I’ve laid that platform, one of my favorite things about our GLIDERS week, was that the actors found the funny lines in the script—and they made these characters not just funny but more sympathetic. By genre, GLIDERS is a drama, but it’s meant to reflect our lives so there is humor in it, as there should be. As I said, it’s about finding a balance, and with drama, a spoonful of sugar does help the “medicine go down.” It also gives the audience breathing room. The comic relief enables us to return to the story with renewed interest, and it helps us relate to the characters, to recognize certain traits, and to be able to laugh at ourselves. Thank God.

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<![CDATA[TABLE WORK]]>Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:59:29 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/table-work As the GLIDERS cast, the director, and I gathered around the table last Monday night for our first rehearsal, we were a bit nervous, strangers who were embarking upon a joint venture.  

All plays start this way, with table work. It’s a necessary building block to discuss the plot, conflicts, and arc of a play before adding movement and blocking—or how the director places actors onstage, often to create stage pictures. A full-production is in rehearsal a standard six weeks. We had five days so tonight was “it” for our table work time. We had to get the script on its feet by Tuesday if we were going to be ready for an audience and Saturday’s performance.

The director, Donna, also sews and does needlepoint. (Talent often works like that: the more talent you may, the more talents you have.) So, I’d borrowed a ball of string from her for a table exercise, an ice breaker that would give the group a chance to relax, while getting to know one another, but it also revealed the character work that the actors had done on their own time. 

“When I throw you the string, tell me something about your character in relation to others in the play, what you know about a certain relationship.” One by one, Liberty, Adrienne, Judy, Peggy, and Dennis talked about how their characters--LESLIE (DAWN), DEBORAH, MADGE, CHRISTINE, and CURTIS--got along. Each held onto the string and then passed it to another character. After our first go around, it was easy to see how entangled the string was. “That’s how intertwined these characters’ lives are. It’s a messy web. And we’re one big, unhappy family!”

Then, since we were warmed up, we read through the entire play without interruption. (We didn’t have a full cast present so we had volunteers that were there for the salon read, and I read stage directions.)

Afterwards, we discussed what GLIDERS was about, using the givens. –Givens are the details stated in a play through dialogue or exposition. They’re facts about a character’s backstory, the setting, or the nature of relationships, but there are still spaces and gray areas where actors can—and should—fill in the blanks, gaps left to an actor’s imagination. Sometimes this interpretation is evidenced in the way a line is read or mannerisms that seem to spring naturally from a character.  

Another way an actor conveys choice is through the words they emphasize or key. This was particularly helpful for me, as the playwright, because it let me see how clearly I’d written the dialogue and used it to nail down those familial relationships. Questions on passages from Donna, the actors, and even our salon spectators also pointed out areas or lines that may need clarification. (Luckily, there were only three sentences I had to change throughout the entire process.)

After the cast was released for the night, Donna and I went back to her house where I stayed for the week. We sat, downloading the night’s events, on her back porch where we could count on a constant, cooling breeze. We laughed, strategized, corrected, and plotted out the next day’s rehearsal. What I didn’t know that first night was that this would become our pattern, and that one-on-one time with my director became one of my favorite things about this theater week and my time in Cincinnati. Donna and I were on the same page with the play’s desired impact and our vision for what could be accomplished and how.
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<![CDATA[SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING DIRTY PANTS LOCKED IN LOST LUGGAGE]]>Tue, 19 Aug 2014 19:36:04 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/sisterhood-of-the-traveling-dirty-pants-locked-in-lost-luggage “When I return, I’ll need the lube,” the dentist told his assistant, who was already juggling a tray of drilling tools and the irrigation and suction hose. Although I had a mouth full of cotton and few motor skills due to the novocaine, I smiled, wondering why I was the only one who found that comically disturbing. –That’s okay because the distraction helped me forget how vulnerable I must look in that chair with my mouth as wide open as a fish on a hook.

As I weaved through Part II of this Dental Adventure (RE: “PULPECTOMY and Jesus on the Beach”), my new friend, Donna Hoffman, was having shoulder surgery in Northern Kentucky. And I was still waiting for my suitcase to arrive, after bouncing around the universe. [That piece of luggage was full of dirty clothes but, since you can’t carry liquids aboard an aircraft, it also had my shampoo, lotions, make up, razor, and shoes in it. Suddenly, I needed some item or another that was lost in suitcase “space” somewhere.]

This morning, instead of having Jesus brush my hair to take my mind off of the literal drilling that was going on inside my head, I thought of Donna and the fun we had this week, preparing my full-length play, GLIDERS (Copyright © 2013), for the Saturday performance (7:30 p.m. August 16th at Women Writing for (a) Change in Ohio). Here’s the logline (one-sentence synopsis) of the play: “A family secret explodes when a mother realizes that the sins of the father have spread to the next generation and she’s finally threatened enough to break the silence.” In essence, it’s a story of “She who doesn’t know history is condemned to repeat it.”

In the month prior to my arrival—and after email correspondence with me—Donna had cast the show, arranged the venue, and met twice with the actors to read through and discuss the script.

Initially, we had planned to present the play in classic staged reading style: the actors would dress in black and speak from the script behind music stands, standing and sitting only to show entrances and exits, but the cast responded so well that Donna and I were able to add more dimension. The final product was more of a hybrid Readers’ Theatre performance with some props, blocking, and costumes—all of which had been accomplished in five rehearsals! 

Performing GLIDERS through WIT was a perfect fit. As Donna Hoffman explains it, the mission of WIT (Women In Theatre) is to create art “by, for, and about women,” and GLIDERS, which has a cast of 6 (5W, 1M), follows three generations of women who are trapped by time and space. Set in 1969 during the nine days of the Apollo moon landing mission, the play uses the historical event as a backdrop for what it feels like to be lost in space as the women glide into and out of reality and the present. [So, I guess it makes sense that my suitcase would get lost, in similar fashion, after a project about this topic.]

Creating theatre is always fun, but it is that much more enjoyable when actors bring lots of talent and no attitude to the table, or as the actor who played our play’s matriarch, “MADGE,” said in her post-performance correspondence with the cast, “It is so nice to work with a cast where there is NO DIVA.” Yes, Judy, No Divas Allowed! It is a pleasure to work with professionals and those who have strong work ethics and dedication.

(Doorbell.) 

                                                                        RITA

Who is it?

                                                                        DELIVERYMAN

Your luggage is here. 

Halleluiah! The suitcase made it home, and it doesn’t look too banged up, despite its added, solo adventures. Time to empty it and start laundry, ugh, a woman’s life! Warm thoughts and prayers for Donna as she heals.

(Stay tuned to tomorrow’s tale: “TABLE WORK”)


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<![CDATA[TRAVELING MERCIES, OR NOT]]>Mon, 18 Aug 2014 19:15:46 GMThttp://rita-anderson.com/blog/traveling-mercies-or-not Well, I finally made it home last night at 1 a.m., but my suitcase didn’t. According to the tracking device—that we got in motion after visiting the United “Baggage Claim” department, and then the American “Baggage Claim” department, and back to the United Airlines’ “Baggage Claim” counter—it’s in after-hours lock up in Chicago, despite my 3-hour layover there.

“Aren’t you leaving again, tomorrow morning?” the American counter worker asked.

No. San Antonio is home. I’m home,” and for good measure I added. “I’ve been gone all week.”

“So, how long were you in Cleveland?” she asked.

Cleveland? Never. I flew to Cincinnati for the week and home again.”

“Says here your bag is on its way to ‘CVG.’ That’s Cleveland. –What about LAX?”

I handed her my itinerary to prove my points of arrival and departure as if I were a student with a hall pass who was trying to get out of a detention. She continued to ask about other flights that I was “booked” for, last night and today—all of which I won’t detail further because yesterday was just another bizarre travel day full of unbelievable detours, cancellations, rude employees who made clerical errors on one end and then wouldn’t/couldn’t fix them for me on the other. 

My husband says things happen to me like he’s never heard of, and I rebuke the idea of an airport curse because I think these snafoos—which occur more and more frequently—point to a failure in the overwhelmed system, and anyone who travels regularly sees that modern airports are a bureaucratic nightmare. What was strangest, though, about yesterday is that there was no inclement weather or laborers’ strike or even a bomb threat to “blame” all of these mistakes on. Suffice to say, if I had the time and patience to drive to my appointed destinations I would.

As Steve and I drove home without my suitcase and belongings, sadness and exhaustion settled in, but this was more than a weariness from fighting with the airlines. I had been in Cincinnati all week putting together a theatre salon with new collaborators, and the experience had been exciting and fulfilling. Every night I couldn’t wait to get to rehearsal, and the 3-4 hours that we were there flew by—because this is what happens when you are DOING WHAT YOU LOVE! Now that the performance and our time together was over I had that emptiness that every theatre practitioner knows follows the journey of a play. Moving on to the next project always feels anticlimactic.

This morning as I returned to routine, I tried to write, to open and answer a bulging INBOX of email that I’d put off for seven days, but I couldn’t concentrate. It’s like I had emotional jetlag, wishing I could remain in the company of the theatre relationships we’d forged, deep connections that are only made through such an intense week of rehearsal, and character and scene work. I know this listlessness will pass—and perhaps writing about our successes at the salon this last week will help work through the fog—but I think the business of making living art like theatre deserves at least a dark stage and a moment of silence after the work is done. What we have raised, together, from the dust lives on in our memories and hearts but losing the immediacy of that contact with one another is a loss I can’t help but mourn at first.

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