Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘England

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

When I was still working for a living, I was on the road pretty much Monday through Friday, 40 or more weeks a year.  My job was selling large, multi-national Information Technology Services outsourcing deals,  usually in the $500 million and up value range, and sometimes in the multiple billions of dollars.

Deals like those are not high percentage wins; you win about one in 10, and you work on each deal for an average of  about 18 months.  Do the math.  10% hit rate; 18 months work on each.  Yeah, you’re getting the idea.  (Maybe others are better at it, but that was it for me.)  Because of the size of the deals — one of the deals I worked on that closed was worth $20 billion — the company could afford to keep me around and well paid in between wins.

But that didn’t mean that there was much job satisfaction in working my ass off and constantly getting my hopes up, and then losing one deal after another  Take my word for it, it wasn’t a lot of fun.  And even in the incredibly rare cases where I worked on deals that won, there was always someone else who would manage to make sure that I had moved onto another deal months before and would steal the credit.

Which brings us to today’s really sad story.

One evening when Rhonda, Eric, David and I were still living in England, the four of us sat down to the all-too-infrequent event of eating dinner together.  (I think it was some time around 1994.)  We had a dog at the time, and the dog was in the habit of doing in the back yard what  dogs do in back yards.

“Someone’s got to go out and clean up Sheba’s poop from the back yard,” I announced.dog-pooping1

“Ooh, I hate that job, I hate that job,” shouted David and Eric in chorus.  (Rhonda remained silent, since she was generally exempted from poop-cleaning duties.)

“Really?” I responded.  “I kind of like it.”

The three of them looked at me like I had two heads.  It got me to thinking.  Why would anybody like that job?

And I realized.  I would go out into the back yard with a shovel in one hand and a plastic bag in the other.  The plastic bag was empty and the yard was full.  15 minutes later, the yard was empty and the plastic bag was full.  I’d actually accomplished something! And nobody was going to steal the credit from me.

That was as close as I came to job satisfaction for 30 years.  And that was when it occurred to me that I really needed to get a life. It took me another 12 years to get it.

I told you it was a sad story.

One of the biggest cultural shocks in living overseas was the realization thatrembrandt-portrait I wouldn’t be required to live forever, and to be young and beautiful all that time.

Here in America, the prevailing impression is that everything is under your control.  If you just eat right, take the right vitamins and herbal supplements, exercise right, meditate right, go to the right massage therapist, the right psychiatrist, and the right plastic surgeon, shop at the right stores –you will never get sick or be unattractive or be unhappy or get wrinkled.  If you do, it is ALL YOUR FAULT!  Sounds ridiculous, of course, but think about it.  Deep down, don’t you believe that?  I know I did.

I moved overseas when I was 22 and was exposed to an entirely different philosophy.  Depending on where you are in Europe, you may be expected to have some degree of control or very little.  Germany tends to be close to the U.S. in this regard, while the Brits are generally of the impression that you are  going to get old and sick and ugly soon enough — if you aren’t already — so why bother.

Because I had spent my youth in the U.S. but left when I was young and moved from country to country, I ended up being schizophrenic.  Of course, I knew intellectually that time marches on and eventually destroys what genes hadn’t configured in the womb and bad luck doesn’t take care of in the interim.  But subconsciously, when I got my first grey hair and started needing glasses, I felt guilty.  I must have done something wrong.

But no matter.  I could fix it.  The same when my colesterol got a little high.  No drugs for me.  I’ll just go on a macrobiotic diet, run 30 miles a day and meditate, and everything will go back to where it was when I was 18 years old.  My British doctor’s response was, “Well, OK, if you want to.  But you’ll be exhausted and it probably won’t make much difference.

So eventually, I relaxed and started to go with the flow.  Yes, believe it or not, I have lots of grey hair, a few wrinkles, my feet and knees hurt after I’ve walked 10 miles, and my stomach — well, it isn’t the stomach of an 18 year old either.  What a relief.  Believe me, it’s a lot more relaxing than being responsible for eternal perfection.

But then I moved back to the U.S., to Boulder.   While Boulder doesn’t have the mania for artificially induced beauty and youth of much of the rest of the U.S. (yes, you occasionally encounter old, ugly people here), it is one of the world’s touchy-feely centers of endless happiness.  And, of course, I get ample exposure to the rest of the American ethos through the media.

So it’s back on the treadmill for me.  Age 25, here I come!

Some people are born to curmudgeonhood (curmudgeonness? curmudgeonity?), some people achieve curmudgeonhood, and some have curmudgeonhood thrust upon them.  While it now all seems to have come so easily, I suppose I’ve worked hard to achieve my current position atop the Curmudgeon Pantheon.

When I was a kid, way back in the middle of the last century, I guess I kind of enjoyed the “Holiday Season.”   I remember first being profoundly annoyed at all things Christmas in my second year at Haverford College.  I lived in a suite with 3 other guys, and one of them, Ned, took out a tape of Christmas carols and started playing it a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.

What’s so bad about that, I can hear you asking.  Everybody starts playing  Christmas carols (and putting up Christmas lights, and ringing bells at you outside of stores,  and sending you letters asking for money, . . .) around Thanksgiving.  But Ned had a single, 60 minute tape of Christmas carols, and he played it continuously, over and over again, more or less around the clock.

How many times can you be expected to listen to Gene Autrey singing “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer” before you start to lose it?  So after the first few days, I very politely suggested to Ned that he take his f*^%ing tape and shove it up his f*^%ing a^%#.   (As you can see, I’ve always been a patient person, sensitive to the feelings of others.)

Ned was, and I’m sure still is, one of the world’s professional sweet guys, and patiently explained to me that Christmas carols are something deep and meaningful that he grew up with, and not being a Christian, I just couldn’t understand.  I got no support from my other two roommates, one of whom had disappeared into the library in early September and didn’t emerge until graduation 3 years later, and the other of whom was another professional sweet guy who had grown up with Christmas carols, and why couldn’t I understand just how important it was for both of them, anyway?

The tape continued to play 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, and by the time school closed for the holidays, I’m not sure whether I was closer to suicide or homicide.  But I was certainly relieved that my ordeal was over.  Right!  On our return to school in January, out came the tape again, and Ned played every waking hour for another two weeks.  He was just so sorry to see the Christmas season end, he  had to listen to those wonderful, nostalgic songs another 3,000 times!  Even then, he couldn’t bear to stop cold-turkey, but tailed off gradually, playing the damn thing off and on until Easter.

Is it any wonder I’ve never been the same since?  Believe me, the steps were deceptively small and easy to take from carol-terror to decoration-angst to “You know what you can do with your ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ you red-suited weirdo!”

Sinterklaas.  Looks different from the other red-suited dude, doesnt he?

Sinterklaas. Looks different from the other red-suited dude, doesn't he?

As you may know by now, I left the U.S. in 1974 and didn’t return for good until 2004.  During those 30 years, my mania was mostly dormant.  Christmas celebrations just weren’t all that big in Iran or Israel.   And Western Europeans take a much less overt, less time-consuming  approach to the holidays.   In Holland,  preparations start about December 4th, and the whole thing is over on the 6th, the day after Sinterklaas comes riding through from Spain on his white horse.  That’s right, there’s nothing universal about celebrating the 25th.  In the U.K., nearly nobody puts up Christmas lights.  You see a few decorations in the stores for about a week, and on Boxing Day, the 26th, everything mercifully disappears.

But after I moved to Colorado in 2004, all that anxiety came rushing back.  Two weeks before Thanksgiving that first year, my new favorite radio station — a country music station, for crying out loud — started playing Christmas carols 24/7.   A week later, 11 of the 13 houses in my cul-de-sac put up Christmas lights, and didn’t take them down until mid January.

Fortunately, I seem to be getting over my little problem.  Last January, I even volunteered to help my next door neighbor take her lights down.

“Here, you shouldn’t be doing that alone.  Let me get it for you.  Oh, that’s too bad, I seem to have broken that string.  And there, I’ve broken another.  I’m so sorry.  How clumsy of me to step on those bulbs like that.  I’ll just get those strands now.  Oops!”

Heh, heh.  Sometimes, it’s all worth it.