Let’s not make a big production out of it!

Another intimate production of one of my plays, Exhibit This! will be staged by Fearless Productions at the Union County PAC in Rahway, NJ February 10 and 13.

Sam Gold is an art curator desperate for funding. She meets a post-Soviet business mogul, Wassily Karpov, who spins a tale of political intrigue and art fraud involving Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” As Sam enlists in a Faustian bargain, true motives are revealed, including those of Mussorgsky’s ghost.

Why sit in Row W (at $100) for a show you’ve seen before when you can enjoy every whisper, glance and gesture in six or seven original theatre works from the first or second row? Please come enjoy these many fine one-acts. I’m especially excited about the cast for Exhibit This! and you will be, too.

I’m in Guys & Dolls !

I have always wanted to be a writer, never an actor. But I believe I can’t be a good playwright without considering what actors do. So I spend a lot of time listening to actors as they rehearse my work, and sometimes pretending to be one on stage. This time through the fun-house I’m a bit player in M&M Stage Productions’s presentation of Guys & Dolls. Still running at Kelsey Theater, July 17-19, directed by Mike DiIorio.

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What to do about Charleston? A never-ending inquiry…

From the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization:

In memory of the nine beautiful souls lost to the violence of a man propelled by racist philosophies and a culture of violence that our society as a whole is accountable for, each of us must recommit to ending these evils at their root. Acknowledging the effects of generations of racism and violence on our current condition is a first step. Taking concrete actions to transform our society, institutions, and relationships to end racism and violence is the next.

While the beloved community where all are treated justly feels far off today, we must press forward now more than ever toward that necessary goal.

There is a fascinating literature out there about “white privilege,” by white people for white people. It offers a more productive vehicle for self-examination than “liberal (white) guilt,” that denigrating straw man dating from the 1960s. As a playwright, I feel an obligation to illuminate our inner lives— our subconscious go-to thought processes— as a path to promoting social justice. I want to hold up a mirror and have the viewer say, “Really, is that me?

A very partial list of memorable dramas (and comedies) about racial attitudes that have had an impact on me:

  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  • Trading Places
  • Six Degrees of Separation
  • All in the Family

What films, plays or television shows have most affected your own way of thinking about racism and you?

Gratitude: Reading of “We Pray Together”

The Friends of the Cranford Library sponsors The Theater Project’s new play reading series.  My We Pray Together was the last play of the season, presented on May 16, 2015. Deb Maclean directed an all-star cast: Paul Mantell, Avery Hart, Dennis DaPrile, Joe Zedeny, Michael Aquino and Dania Ramos.

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Shout-out for “Posters for the People”

A healthy, happy, peaceful world is possible. . . we just need to get a little more creative.

This is the slogan for Social Impact Studiosformerly Design for Social Impact, a Philadelphia-based graphic arts company:

We believe good causes should get more attention than anything else. And we believe thoughtful, beautiful and meaningful communication is still the best way to engage and motivate people. Social Impact Studios is a creative hub where groups and creative activists collaborate, learn and do the work.

I first connected with Social Impact founder Ennis Carter when my son was in a high school production of Pirates of Penzance and I was working on publicity. Surfing the web for possible poster images, I found a fascinating archive of digitized posters from the Depression era– Posters for the People. This collection included posters for performing arts events supported by the Works Projects Administration– yes, that WPA. There were also posters about free speech, personal hygiene, and WWII. I emailed Ennis for help with a poster from a Cincinnati  production of Pirates, and she graciously let me have the full digital file (because I had no budget, of course).

I highly recommend the book version of Posters for the People for every progressive coffee table.

Passage Theatre Company in Trenton delivers professional productions both socially conscious and locally sourced.

I have been a subscriber to the Passage Theatre Company since 2012. It has changed my life.

At its best, theater transforms – inspires understanding of the rich diversity of the human experience, gives voice to the silent, and dignity to the dispirited. Through the creation and production of theater, we chart a passage to grace – in ourselves, in others, and throughout our community.

First, there are extremely high-quality main-stage productions about topics people [should] care about: love, identity and the internet; the Little Rock 9; crime and forgiveness. There are modern comedies and whodunnits. Coming up next is a very modern take on families by my playwrighting mentor, Ian August.


Second, Passage is all about Trenton:

Community engagement is central to Passage’s mission, and has been a key focus of Passage’s Artistic Director, June Ballinger, since she re-founded Passage in 1997. Click the links below to find out more about Passage’s Education programs for Trenton’s youth, and community devised theatre productions.

For a few years, there were acting and playwrighting classes for adults, which I hope will return.

Young playwrights in Central Jersey learn the skills of story telling

The Theater Project asked me, as a member of their playwrights workshop, to be a judge in their 2015 Young Playwrights Competition. As a “rising” playwright myself, I was at once eager, intimidated and baffled.

Act I. I was assigned to read fourteen short plays, all struggling with elements of setting, plot and conflict, character development, and THE END. They were about typical teenage concerns: divorce, abandonment, suicide, vampirism, etc. These playwrights, and their instructors, had worked very hard. How to judge the results? I crowd-sourced the question to an adult playwrights group. Most responses to my post unhelpfully substituted nurturing for judging. Unhelpful only because I thought I’d never meet these playwrights. A few responses provided formal rubrics that reminded me how hard it is to competently construct a story, no less for me than for high schoolers.

In the end I distilled all this advice into two dimensions (so Dead Poets Society!)– meaningful stakes and emotional honesty. So at least I could defend the plays I put forward as “winners,” even if I was being totally subjective!

Act II. I went to the contest awards event at the Cranford, NJ Community Center and met one of these young playwrights for a “tutoring session.” I would nurture after all! I had read the play in the judging phase, and I made notes in preparation. First, since the play was about suicide, I must ask did this author have any traumatic association of which I should be respectful? (No, thankfully.) Second, with what did the author want help? (Anything.)

So this delightful, mature high school freshman and I talked for a half hour about the challenges. How did the interaction between her characters in this two-hander advance the story? Was there an inevitable resolution to the conflict she set up? (A lot of these plays ended on cliff-hangers.) Fun for both of us!

That discussion got me rethinking a play I was getting on stage in another month. I couldn’t get my characters to a satisfactory resolution either. Because the wrong character made the first move, and it didn’t make sense. I changed that, and like the result a lot better. Lesson: Go back to the “rules” and you’re likely to revisit the “truth” in your story.

What makes a play good? Stakes and honesty. I’m pretty sure now that young stories is a more helpful category than young playwrights.

A play about post-partum depression, child neglect and justice, seen through the lens of early America.

I am excited to announce a staged reading of my new play, We Pray Together, at the Cranford Library/Community Center on Saturday May 16 at 2:00pm. An event in The Theater Project’s playwrights workshop.

It’s a small village in early America. A young mother suffers from post-partum depression, and suddenly her infant disappears. A frantic search pits a compassionate midwife, a fundamentalist village elder and an idealistic magistrate in a struggle to define the nature of culpability and justice in a new country.

By imagining our past, can we gain some clarity on who we have become?

EMail blasts  MAY Cranford Reading Series