Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘Boulder

According to Hollywood folklore, the words in the title of this post are what a studio functionary is supposed to have written about Fred Astaire’s screen test for RKO Pictures in the early 1930s.

That quotation comes more and more to mind as Shakespeare Incorporated and several of my other plays begin having some success.  Each of these plays was  rejected — occasionally quite rudely — by quite a number of the theaters and contests to which I submitted them.  I’m also reminded of another Hollywood executive who had an option on the screenplay for ET and sold it to Steven Spielberg.  And of the guy from Decca Records who turned down the Beatles.

OK, so I may not be in the Beatles’ class in terms of recognition any time soon, and Shakespeare Incorporated may never rival ET for commercial success.   But  just in case, I’ve decided to follow the lead of the Lord High Executioner in The Mikado, and I’m compiling a little list (they’d none of them be missed).   If Shakespeare Incorporated ever wins a Tony or a Pulitzer, I’ll be ready to look up each and every person who rejected the play and make them eat their words.  Preferably, I’ll force them to ingest the rejection letters they sent me.   (If they ignored me and didn’t even have the decency to send a rejection letter, I’ve saved up some old scripts that should be particularly appetizing.)

Yes, I do take all this very personally.  But hey, I’m a crusty old fart; that’s my job.

I know it’s not the Boulder way.  Instead of being bitter and twisted and savoring thoughts of revenge, I should be grateful for whatever success I achieve, and we should all hold hands and hum and frolic semi-naked in the snow of a Colorado January.  Screw that!  You must be mistaking me with someone else.

Those of you in Boulder, don’t expect to see me any time soon.  No doubt when this post becomes public, they’ll rescind my visa to the People’s Republic.  Again.

“The Code,” the first of the 5 short plays in Senior Moments, will be performed live on Boulder’s Channel 54 Community Television, Wednesday, January 27th, at 7 pm.  After the play, they’ll be interviewing me.  You can watch the program live at http://www.cctv54.org.

A few weeks ago, my 10-minute play “The Code” won first prize in the 2009 Front Range Playwrights’ Showcase at Coal Creek Community Theater in Louisville, Colorado.  “The Code” is the first play in Senior Moments, a series of 5 short plays I’ve written for Tim Englert and Ellen Ranson, two actor friends of mine, to present at senior residences.

Tim and Ellen — they’re “well-seasoned” adults — call themselves the “Silver Circuit” when they tour performing plays for older audiences.  Earlier this year, they told me that they were having difficulty finding two-person plays for one older male and one older female actor to present at senior residences.  They asked me if I’d be interested in writing something specifically for them. I jumped at the chance.

The last two plays I’d written were Shakespeare Incorporated and Postville. Both are large cast, large set, full-length plays and, frankly, I was burned out.  So the prospect of working on short, comedic plays was particularly appealing.  Especially something with strict requirements — one elderly male and one elderly female actor, minimal set and production requirements — and one which would have have more or less guaranteed productions when I was finished.

Senior Moments is now finished and Tim, Ellen and I are scheduled to present it in a dramatic reading at Golden West, a large senior residence in Boulder, on September 24th.  After that, they’ll start to perform it at homes for the elderly up and down the Front Range in Colorado.

Today there was a wonderful article in the Boulder Camera newspaper about Tim, Ellen, Silver Circuit, and “The Code.”  Take a look.

Well, this past Monday was April 20th.  That may not be significant to those of you who don’t live in the Boulder area, but 4/20 at 4:20 p.m. is the traditional Smoke Out on the University of Colorado campus.  And what that means is that somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people show up to smoke the evil weed.  (Ostensibly to lobby for a change in marijuana laws.  Yeah, right!).

boulder-smoke-outOver the past several years the University administration and the police have tried a number of creative means of discouraging the festivities.  These have included blocking off the entrances to the chosen location and turning on the sprinklers.  Last year they filmed the crowd, posted photos on the Internet, and offered a reward for anyone who would identify a “perpetrator.”

In the run-up to this year, the administration simply asked students and the public nicely to stay home.  That didn’t work any better than previous years’ strategies had.

I had a meeting in the front lobby of the University Theater building at 5 p.m. on Monday, and as I approached the area where on-street parking is usually plentiful, I realized that Monday wasn’t a usual day.  20 minutes of searching and about a mile and a half further, I found a place to park and walked back to the campus.  I haven’t seen crowds like that — both in terms of numbers or appearance — since Woodstock.  (Which, by the way, I got within 14 miles of and then said “Screw it” and left.)

Immediately after the end of my run as Darwin in “The Debate” I shaved my beard and got a hair cut.  So instead of looking like a sympathetic and possibly participating overaged hippie, I look like an overaged suburban voyeur.

As luck would have it, the center of the Smoke Out was in Norlin Quad, right in front of the University Theater.  Talk about a contact high!  From a quarter of a mile away the smell was noticeable — not that I would recognize what MJ smells like, you understand.  From 200 yards away, the clouds were visible.

boulder-smoke-out-2I’m afraid I don’t remember much about the meeting.  I do remember being terribly hungry and going out for pizza afterward.

What was I writing about?

I heard yesterday that my “Postville” play was selected as one of the winners in the 2009 Playwrights Showcase of the Western Region playwrighting competition.  The competition was open to writers from the 23 states west of the Mississippi River.  During the Showcase (some time from August 5th – 8th), “Postville” will have a staged reading at the Curious Theatre in Denver.

The award is certainly comforting after the flagellation I got from the activists and superannuated playwriting professors at the reading at StageWest in Des Moines.  From the audience reaction I knew the play was better than that, but it’s still nice to get some recognition like this.

The other good news is that “Shakespeare Incorporated” is going to be produced in London, either this Autumn or early next Spring.

Last summer, when “(Not) At Home” was being produced at the Boulder International Fringe Festival, the Fringe folks contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to house some out-of-town artists.  I looked at the list and noticed that some of them were from the U.K.  Maybe I’ll make a contact that will help in marketing my work in the U.K, I thought.  So I agreed to house a Brit.

Sure enough, I made contact with Andy McQuade, a wonderful actor and the Artistic Director of the Second Skin Theatre Company in London.  I gave him a copy of “Shakespeare Incorporated,” and he loved it.  About 6 weeks ago he contacted me, and we’ve signed a deal for him to produce “SI” in London.  He’s looking for a suitable theater venue now.  I’ll post more when things are finalized.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

In case you didn’t recognize it, this is my happy face.smileyface

turtlesThis morning there was quite a nice little piece in the Boulder Camera about all my theater activities and the book launch and reading coming up next Sunday for “Ups & Downs: The (Mis)Adventures of a Crusty Old Fart and His Bouncy Son as they Trek Through the Alps.”

Good news, right?  But half-way into the piece, it says, “He’s also involved in Rising Stage, a local troupe devoted to new plays.”  Which was true the last time I spoke to the columnist, but since my acrimonious break-up with the Boulder Chapter of Colorado Dramatists is no longer the case.

Now I’m sitting here absolutely certain that my former colleagues at Rising Stage have already convened a meeting and (having finally stopped holding hands and humming and opened their eyes — and in the few minutes they can spare not talking about what a big, cruel world it is and how much they’re going to do to save it, very little of which they actually do)  are talking about how I intentionally falsified the truth in my mania for self-aggrandizement and what an asshole I am!

I’m bracing for a scathing email to come winging over the wires any minute.  I’ll reply and explain what happened, but it won’t do any good.  Once you reject the true touchy-feeliness, you will be consummately evil.  In fact, you will always have been consummately evil, no matter how long before the breakup you had a cordial relationship.

Am I being paranoid?  Of course.  But it’s not like it’s not justified.  And it’s not like it’s something I can stop.  When will I ever stop agonizing about the fact that not everyone is going to love me?  Probably never.

I’m resolved to the fact that there will always be an ample supply of people who are angry at me.  Because the one thing I will never do is to stop sticking my turtle-head out of its shell and making progress.  And seeing my little turtle backside in front of them is one thing that a lot of turtles in the world just can’t stand.

500-pound-gorilla3When I was a kid, I was so focused on what I was doing and what I wanted, that I tended to ignore everyone who I didn’t think would be of immediate use to me. All too frequently, that resulted in my footprints being on people’s foreheads. Yeah, I was a self-centered jerk!

Now I spend a lot more time trying to be nice – or at least helpful – to everyone. Mind you, I’m still not what most Boulderites would define as a nice (read “enlightened”) person. I’m not nearly enthusiastic enough holding hands and singing Kumbaya for that. It’s just that the older I get, the more evidence I see that “What goes around comes around.”

Don’t get the idea that I believe in divine justice, either. But if there are lots of people who “owe you one” then sooner or later, some of it is going to be repaid. And since it’s a mighty complex world out there, you never know who it is who can do something nice for you, so you’d better be nice to everyone.

And the converse is true. If you are an asshole to enough people, it’s bound to come back to haunt you. (See my gloating post, “May they all get halitosis . . .”)

What brings this to mind today is a column by John Moore, the theater columnist of the Denver Post. He came to see Friday night’s performance of “Separated at Birth: The Lincoln/Darwin Plays. (My play, “The Debate” is one of the works in “Separated at Birth” and I’m acting the part of Darwin in it.) I’d expected to see a review of the plays in the Sunday paper, but instead there was a piece about the fact that at the recent Colorado New Play Summit, a panel of theater leaders from throughout the U.S. had spoken with such delight about the impending fall from power of theater critics in traditional print news media. (“Death of Criticism: Careful What You Wish For”)  Moore calls it “grave-stomping,” and part of the piece details the many benefits that critics provide the theater community.

I tend do agree with him, but I can certainly understand the reaction of the panelists. Theater critics are renowned for being frequently brutal in their reviews of plays and the people who create them. Either they have had so little regard for those people that they just don’t care, or they thought that this is the way to sell more newspapers and magazines. Probably both.

Contrast this with a critic who has reviewed several of my plays (to avoid being accused of pandering, I won’t mention his name). That critic always manages to be gently even-handed in his reviews, pointing out the good along with the bad. The audience gets the idea, but even when a review of my play was less than glowing, I couldn’t help but feel fairly treated and supportive of the columnist.  That’s just to show that there is an alternative to brutality in theater criticism.

But that’s the exception, rather than the rule, and now that print media is in crisis, there are seems to be an inexhaustible supply of people lining up in gleeful anticipation of stomping on the graves of the theater critics.

So let that be a lesson to all you 500 pound gorillas, you muscle-bound beach bullies. All the rest of us may be 98 pound weaklings today. But you may not 500 pounds and muscle-bound forever.

bulldozerFor a couple of months I helped start up a Boulder chapter of a Denver-based playwright’s club that I’m a member of.  I’ve now parted company with that group.  It was either that, or we were going to come to blows.  Part of the reason is that  I’m not enlightened enough to breathe the same tantric air that they do.   (See “If you’re not as caring and sensitive as I am, I’ll smash your face in”).  Even worse is the fact that I’m not willing to flagellate myself publicly and admit that my refusal to accept the “true way” is a catastrophic personal failure on my part.

In actuality, though, a lot of the conflict is based on my aggressiveness in marketing myself and my writing.  What a lot of beginning writers don’t realize — I certainly didn’t — is that a large part of getting started in this business is making a name for yourself.  There are countless stories of great works of literature that were turned down by the first 40 publishers they were submitted to.  How many more are out there molding in drawers (does an unread manuscript mold on a computer disk?) or already decaying in landfills?

I submitted the first plays I wrote to dozens of theaters, and got turned down nearly as often as I got ignored.  I realized that there must be some key difference between me and Tennessee Williams.  Other than the fact that he was a great playwright and I was writing crap, I mean.  A press agent!  Of course!

Being naturally frugal, I decided to become my own press agent and went on a concerted campaign to market myself.  As my writing improved and I started to get  productions, I took responsibility for letting everyone — local theaters, newspaper columnists, radio hosts, people I sat next to on the shuttle bus to the airport —  know who I was and what I was up to.

And lo and behold, it started to work.  In the past year there have been quite a number of newspaper articles and radio interviews about me and my work.  And more importantly, when I submit plays to theaters, especially in the Denver area, instead of always getting rejected or ignored, sometimes people want to talk to me.  And those discussions sometimes turn into productions.

I went to a play at the University of Colorado the weekend before last and afterward went up to congratulate the graduate student who had directed the production.  When I introduced myself, she immediately said, “Oh, you’re the playwright, aren’t you?”

But as nice as it is to have some recognition, that’s not why I do it.  I have no intention of writing for the next 20 years and then dying, either for my work to disappear without a trace or to be discovered after I’m gone.  Instead, I’m going to see my plays produced and my books published.  I’m willing to take responsibility to make that happen, and marketing myself and my work is a critical part.

So it’s too bad if there are people who think I’m a shameless self-promoter. I am.  It even says so on the banner at the top of this page.  And I’m not going to stop.

And it’s too bad if those people don’t want to play with me because of it.  I’ll see them on Broadway. Oh, wait!  I won’t see them there, because they’ll still be in Boulder.  With their eyes closed, breathing meaningfully into significant parts of  their bodies, and complaining about the fact that they’re not getting anywhere with their writing careers, but that aggressively promoting themselves isn’t the true, touchy-feely way.

hippiesI’ve written before in my blog about how Boulder is one of the world centers of new-age sensitivity and touchy-feelihood and the fact that I frequently get into hot water here.  Well, I think I may have really put my foot in it this time.

Last Wednesday I had a reading of the first draft of my “Postville” play at a little playwrights’ self-help group that I’ve been helping to start up in Boulder.  Boy, was that a bad idea.  I guess I should have realized that I wasn’t going to fit into this new group when, at the organizational meeting, a large part of the discussion by the other attendees was about how sensitive and caring they all were.

“I’m just so concerned about the injustice in the world I could cry.”

“I’m twice as concerned as you are, and I’m in touch with my inner-self and the cosmos as well.”

“How could you even think that you are as concerned and active as I am?  I keep my thermostat at 46 degrees all winter and eat only things which have fallen off of trees, and my carbon-use footprint is lower than that of a Kalahari bushman.”

OK, that’s not an exact transcript of the discussion, but believe me, it gives you the general idea.

At the reading of my play there were 10 people, 3 of whom had been to at least one of the meetings before, 6 acquaintances of mine that I had invited to listen to the play, and me.

There had been some talk at the organizational session about doing a short writing exercise at the beginnings of the meetings, but I had asked the regular members to skip it this time because there were so many outsiders and because reading my play was going to take over 2 hours.  No, they were going to do it anyway.

So the facilitator had us spend 5 minutes (it seemed like hours) with our eyes closed, breathing meaningfully into various parts of our bodies.

“Breathe into your toes.  Breathe into your feet.  Breathe into your thyamus glands.”

Then we were allowed to open our eyes and were instructed to write whatever came into our minds, without letting our “inner editors” interfere.  I’ve heard from several of my friends who were there that they were absolutely appalled at being invited in under false pretenses and forced to participate in a sensitivity ritual like that.  I agreed with them and could only apologize.

What is it with so many touchy-feelyers that they are so oblivious to the fact that others may not be interested in being subjected interminably to rituals like that?  It’s like being accosted by a religious fanatic who harangues you interminably and won’t take no for an answer.

And even worse with the “sensitive and concerned” of the world is that so many of them are bullies!  If you don’t believe as they believe, and do exactly as they do, you are clearly an inferior human being and you deserve to be tied to a stake in blazing sun on an anthill.  Or at least ostracized until you publicly admit the error of your ways and demonstrate that you have reformed.

I’ve let the other members of the playwriting club know just what I thought of what went on.  I don’t think they’re going to invite me back any time soon.  That’s just as well, because they’ve managed to get my entry visa into the People’s Republic of Boulder rescinded.

“Wanted: actor to play homeless man for 2 hours Saturday morning. No pay, but you can eat lunch with us afterward.”  That’s what the email read. It was sent to everybody on the mailing list for the University of Colorado’s Department of Theatre & Dance.

With the beard that I’m growing for my upcoming role as Darwin, I realized that I certainly looked the part. As a sometime actor, being convincing as a homeless person sounded like an interesting challenge.  And as a playwright and author, I find it useful to experience as many different situations as possible. So I emailed back. “I’m a 57 year old actor, with grey hair and a scraggly grey beard. Attached is a JPEG. Let me know if you want me.”

A few hours later, back came a response. “We’re a Christian student group on campus and we’re doing a series of exercises that we’re hoping will help our students get a better understanding of what it means to be a man.  (Not that any of us organizing the event have it all figured out, but hey you have to start somewhere, right?)  The exercise I want your help with is about ‘accepting responsibility.’  Normally this means accepting responsibility for living a “moral” life and looking out for your friends, and that’s good, but I want to expand that idea.  The participants are going to have a short time to get from on place to another.  I’ll also give them a “hindrance,” like tying two guys’ ankles together.  I’d like you to dress as a homeless person and position yourself somewhere on their route. Make up a compelling story, and when they come by, ask for their help in taking you somewhere out of their way.”

At 10:30 the next morning I was sitting on a low concrete wall on the appointed route. I was dressed in some ratty old clothes that I normally use for painting around the house, and had my cover story devised and rehearsed. Along came four students, two of them with their ankles tied together. I kept my eyes down until they were opposite me.

“Hey, could you guys help me for a second?” I asked, half looking up. With barely a glance, they walked past. Strike one, but I figured they deserved a second chance. “I could really use some help,” I pleaded after them, my voice cracking. One of them stopped and looked back. The others stopped a few steps further on. “You go on. We’ll catch up” the one who had stopped said to the two tied together.   They hurried on, and he and the fourth student came back to me.

“I’ve been staying at the Homeless Shelter on North Broadway, and I was supposed to meet somebody at a place called Half-Fast Subs to talk about a job painting houses. I walked five miles down here, but someone told me that I’d gone a block too far. Now I’m feeling really bad and I’m afraid I’m going to pass out if try to make it back on my own.

“Do you want us to walk you over there?” asked my benefactor? Bingo! “That would be great,” I responded. “I don’t want to fall and crack my head open.” I put an arm around each of their shoulders, and we set off, followed by the stares of dozens of curious passersby.

They walked me to my destination, about a block and a half away, while I told them the sad story of my life. I used to own a painting contracting business, but I’d had some bad luck and …” We reached Half Fast, where they dropped me off, and they ran off to catch up with their colleagues.

“God bless you,” I called after them.

An hour later, changed into regular clothes, I walked up to the picnic table in a nearby park where the four students and their mentors they were having lunch. They smiled at me without recognition, and then four jaws dropped in unison. I introduced myself, and the event organizer explained what had gone on.   Then we discussed the exercise and all agreed that both missions had been accomplished – theirs and mine.