Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘Denver

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

baggage-claim-2Yesterday morning I flew from Denver to Austin for 4 days of topping up my grandfatherly batteries.  When I got to the baggage claim area in Austin, I went over to monitors to see which carousel my bag would be coming in on.  The second listing on the screen was an arrival for flight 1147 from Austin!

That’s right, Flight 1147 (the name of the airline is being withheld to avoid a lawsuit) was going from Austin to Austin.  (As my old Haverford College classmate Dave Barry says, “I’m not making this up.”)

At first I thought it had to be a mistake.  But then it hit me.  No, it wasn’t a mistake.  It was just another creative attempt by a struggling airline to  BEAT THE RECESSION.

I would love to have been a Japanese tourist taking photos (nobody pays any attention to a Japanese tourist taking photos) at the meeting where they came up with that idea.

“Come on, guys, there must be something else we can do to avoid losing our jobs.”

“Maybe we should schedule more flights.”

“Don’t be silly.  There aren’t enough people on the flights we run now, so we lose money on every one.  The more we schedule, the more we lose.”

“How about if we get more people to fly?”

“We tried that last week.  It didn’t work. ”

“OK, then, let’s run fewer flights.”

“That’s not going to work either.  Then we don’t cover our overhead.”

“You mean like the building?  Maybe we can get a smaller building”

“I mean like your salary.  Maybe we should get you a smaller salary.  The problem is that our costs are too high.”

“I know, let’s cut back on services.”

There’s a stunned silence in the room.

“Wait!  I’ve got it!  Let’s schedule flights from airports to the same airports.”

“Yeah, right.”

“No, I’m serious.  Think about about.  What’s our biggest expense?  Fuel.  How much fuel is it going to take to taxi out onto the runway, sit for 20 minutes, and then come back to the terminal?”

“Maybe you’ve got something there.

“That’d be bound to increase our on-time arrival percentage too.”

“It might.  If — and this is a big if — we could manage to get the planes back to the terminals on time.”

“And we wouldn’t need nearly as many staff checking people in and handling their bags.  Who’s going to bring a suitcase if they’re going to be home in an hour anyway?”

“Practically no one.”

“We could save a lot of money on the planes, too.  I mean the planes wouldn’t even need engines would they?  Just one of those little tractors to pull them away from the gate.”

“We’ve got plenty of those already.”

“And no toilets!  The doors would have to be there, of course, but there wouldn’t need to be anything behind them.  We’d just keep the seat-belt sign on for the whole time.”

By now the ideas would be flying (unlike the planes) fast and furious.  Skip ahead a year — a venture this complex is going to take lots of planning, isn’t it? — and voila, we have a flight from Austin to Austin.

By the way, the arrival listing on the computer monitor in Baggage Claim showed that Flight 1147 was scheduled to arrive 90 minutes late.

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.

Last night, in spite of my well documented antipathy for all things Christmas, I went with some of my fellow-singers from the Rocky Mountain Chorale to a recital by the phenomenal choral group Kantorei in Denver.  The show was in St. John’s Cathedral, which is absolutely gorgeous and has amazing acoustics.

It was exclusively Christmas music (you have to understand, waxing lyrical about Jesus was never particularly big on my side of the synagogue), but once I got over that, I was mesmerized.

Then, when we were leaving, I commented to my friends that I always find vacating the venue after one of those performances DISCONCERTING.

Yes, they groaned too.

I’m off for a hike to North Table Mountain today with the Boulder Outdoor Group.  If I don’t post again tomorrow, you’ll know that my backside is frozen to a rock somewhere up there.  Don’t bother sending help.  It will probably be too late.

no-way-out1It was early December, 2004. I’d had a stressful week of contract negotiations in Peoria with Caterpillar, but now I was headed home. The flight from Chicago to Denver was three-quarters full when I boarded, but I managed to find a window seat with an open middle between me and the man on the aisle.  I settled in for what I hoped would be a peaceful beginning to the weekend.

At the last instant before they closed the doors, she hurried onto the plane, lugging a wheeled carry-on suitcase, a computer bag, and an oversized purse. Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. Wait a minute.  That’s a different curmudgeon story! She surveyed the cabin and took aim at – me! What? Do I have a target on my forehead?

She made her way down the aisle to my row, pausing only to remove several bags and coats from a nearby overhead bin and put her things in. Then, leaving the stewardess to deal with half a dozen irate passengers whose bags were now on the floor, she settled into the middle-seat next to me. I ducked down behind my newspaper.

“Hi, I’m Anne,” she said.

“Uh, I’m Don,” I responded reluctantly.

“It’ll be nice having somebody to talk to for the next couple of hours.”

I pretended to be engrossed in the listing of hog future prices on page 16.

“Look at that headline, she said, reading the side of my paper facing her. “Supreme Disallows Nativity Scene on City Hall Grounds. Those morons!”

I mumbled something about the Constitution and separation of church and state.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she replied. “This is a Christian country. It was founded by Christians and nobody should object to us putting up a nativity scene on the grounds of the Town Hall.”

I abandoned any hope of relaxing, and settled in for a fight. “Actually, I object to it. Put your religious displays in your church, and I’ll do the same with my religious displays in mine.”

She glared at me with animosity, I supposed trying to determine how I had managed to hide my horns under my hair. Then, in an attempt to be civil, she tried what she was sure would be common ground for any sane person. “Well, at least the country is on safe grounds for another four years now that we’ve re-elected Bush.”

“I voted for Kerry,” was my response.

“I’m sorry for you,” she replied.

And on it went. It was like the Sartre play, “No Way Out.” Each thing she said made me want to strangle her. And like an idiot, instead of keeping my mouth shut, I argued with her.

Finally, the pilot came on the PA to announced that we were beginning our descent into Denver. By this time, Ann and I had lapsed into a tense silence. I saw her winding up for one final attempt at conversation.

“There’s one thing that we can certainly agree on. It’ll be great when they make it legal to use your cell phone during the flight, won’t it?”

At that point, I completely lost it. “Are you absolutely out of your mind? It’s bad enough we have to listen to people screaming into their cell phones everywhere else in the world. Look around you. We’re prisoners here. There’s absolutely no escape!  But it’d be worth it if it meant I didn’t have to talk to you!”

We sat in silence for the rest of the trip. And no, I didn’t ask for Ann’s phone number so we could keep in touch.