Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘humor

1.  Senior Moments is going to be presented at the FronteraFest Long Fringe in Austin, Texas, January 22nd – 30th.  Tim Englert, who has been the male role in all the U.S. productions of Senor Moments so far and who recently moved to Austin, will be joined by fantastic Austin-based actor Lana Dieterich.  The production is being directed by long-time Austin actor/director, Douglas Taylor.

Senior Moments will be presented at the AACT (American Association of Community Theaters) Regional Finals at the Bas Bleu Theatre, Fort Collins, Colorado, March 11th or 12th.

Senior Moments is being published by ArtAge, a publisher that specializes in plays suitable for senior actors and audiences.  It will be available in the next few months.

2.  Getting Betta will be premiering at the Theater Company of Lafayette (Colorado), March 4th – 26th.  It will be performed in repertory with Robots Like Us (6 new plays commissioned by TCL) in the Machines Like Us play festival.

Getting Betta will be performed March 18th – 27th at the Camino Real Playhouse in San Juan Capistrano, California.

3.  Bodice Ripper will have a public reading at the Theater Company of Lafayette April 8th.  The play will be produced by the Second Skin Theatre Company in London, England, some time during 2011.  I’ll be moving to London this summer to work on Bodice Ripper and productions of other of my plays in which Second Skin is interested.  If things work out, I could be there for a couple of years.

Two years ago I couldn’t get anyone to read the scripts of my plays.  (Not even my wife, Rhonda!)  Life just keeps getting betta and betta.

Senior Moments was presented 3 weeks ago as Coal Creek Community Theater’s entry in the Colorado Community Theater Coalition Festival at the Nomad Theater in Boulder.  The production took 3rd Best Production, and Tim Englert won the Best Actor prize.  That’s not bad for a show with 2 actors, a table and 2 chairs; we were up against productions with up to 40 actors and full-stage sets!

Senior Moments will have 6 performances between August 19th and 28th at the Boulder International Fringe Festival.   I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

Each time I finish a play, especially a full length one, I become more or less catatonic.  I can’t bear even the thought of writing anything else; a state that lasts for anywhere from two to four months.

Then, one day, I realize that I’m seeing things, and starting to get annoyed.  Not that I’m not annoyed a good deal of the time every day.  It’s just that now, I find I’m getting annoyed and wanting to tell people about it.  And that’s when I know I’m ready to write again.

I finished the script of “Getting Betta” in mid February.  Fortunately, in this case my catatonia (sounds like a province in northern Spain, doesn’t it?) corresponded with 2 productions of Shakespeare Incorporated, one of Postville, and a gig of Senior Moments.  So at least I appeared to have an excuse for not being productive.

But this past weekend I went to see 3 plays.  One of them had gotten a great review in a local newspaper, and another had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  Frankly, the only one I thought was a particularly good script was the third one, which was presented by a group of recent CU grads I’d taken classes with over the past several years.

But the thing that got me going was the fact that all 3 plays used the same dramatic device — the characters taking turns stepping out of the action of the play and addressing the audience.  I think that device was wonderful for the Stage Manager in Our Town, but that was 80 years ago.  Has it become the hallmark for every worthy contemporary piece of drama?

While I was taking a walk this morning, I started thinking about that and all the other things that annoy me about the playwriting business.  And Whammo!,  a play emerged.  (Actually, it happens in the other direction first, so I guess it “inmerged”.)  The working title for the play is “Catharsis,” and it’s about overuse of hackneyed dramatic devices, people who tell you how to rewrite your plays, writing to formulae for commercial success, not being recognized for your true genius, ….  You get the idea.

“Catharsis” is going to be no more than 10 pages, so it should be finished in a couple of days.

Watch out, world.  I’m annoyed and ready to write!

A couple of weeks ago I crossed an important barrier.  Some time during my working career – I think it was about 1980 — I realized that I was getting a sick feeling in my stomach every time the phone would ring or my boss would call me into his office.  It was almost always bad news.  I’d done something wrong, or somebody else had done something wrong, or something bad had happened without anyone in particular being at fault.  But it usually meant that I’d have to work through the night and, more often than not, it signified that whatever I was involved with was in the process of going down the tubes.

Hope may spring eternal in the human breast, but by the time I retired, it no longer did in mine.  Which was just as well, because when I started writing, the trend continued.  Nobody was interested in my work, and most letters, emails and phone calls were to inform me that another one of my plays had been rejected.

Not that this was all bad.  Viewing the world through mud-colored glasses is a good thing for a playwright.  Being a curmudgeon makes for drama, and drama makes for – well – drama.

But then one morning about two weeks ago, the phone rang and I realized as I went to pick it up that I was saying to myself, “Maybe it’s someone who wants to produce Senior Moments.  And it was!  Good things had started happening often enough that, without realizing it, I’d crossed over from the Vale of Pessimism to the Hills of Positivity.  That was a good thing, right?

Not quite.  Crusty Old Fart-hood dies hard.  My first reaction was to bemoan the loss of one of the driving forces of my artistic inspiration.  If I’m not constantly pissed off at the world and everything in it, how am I going to come up with ideas for plays in which pissed off people overcome their problems.

Well, I needn’t have worried.  I’m in London at the moment for the opening of rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare Incorporated.  As soon as the plane from Denver took off, the woman in front of me put her seat back in my lap and stayed there for the next 9 hours.  Sweet!  At Heathrow, we landed at the brand new Terminal 5.  Rather than being an improvement on the abysmal Terminals 1 – 4, it’s even worse.  Delightful!  I got onto the Tube to go downtown; we went 5 stations and the train stopped.  After a few minutes, the driver came on and announced that a train following us was delayed, so in order not to have too much of a gap between trains, they were going to have all trains on the line sit in their stations until the faulty train was running again.  Wonderful!

And so it has gone for the past 3 days.  The weather is typical London grotty.   The air bed I was sleeping on in my director’s flat has popped half its seams, so the bed lies at a 30 degree angle,  and so did I all night.  The 5 year old son of the couple I stayed with last night decided that the world would be better if he head-butted me repeatedly in the groin.  Could life possibly get any better?

So I needn’t have worried about losing my inspiration for a world in which things are constantly annoying and going wrong.  I’m so relieved!

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.

Last night we had the 6th of 8 performances of Taste of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.  (I’m in a Renaissance quintet that we formed to sing before and during the play.)

Merchant of Venice has sometimes been tough to swallow.  It’s a great play, but it’s deeply anti-Semitic.  While it’s probable that Shakespeare didn’t have anything personal against Jews — they were expelled from England in 1290 and weren’t officially allowed back in until 1655 — anti-Semitism remained widespread in Britain.  As well read as Shakespeare was, he would have been exposed to it in literature and come to regard it as accepted wisdom.  The play reflects that fact.

Nonetheless, we’ve gotten through 6 performances of Merchant of Venice so far without any picketing.  It is Shakespeare, after all, so people make allowances.

Jump forward 400 years to the readings of my play, Postville, (The Plays, They’re Hijacking My Play) this past week.Postville Reading

When I started talking about writing a play about the events in Postville, my family and friends pleaded with me not to.

“There’s no way you’re going to be able to write this play without it being anti-Semitic,” they told me.

“Sure there is,” I responded, although I have to admit that at the time I wasn’t quite convinced.  Unless the play was going to be too sticky-sweet to say anything, it was going to have to tread through a host of “ism” minefields — anti-Semitism, anti-immigrantism, anti-Midwest farmerism, …

I’m convinced that I’ve achieved the objective of writing a play that deals sensitively and appropriately with a number of difficult issues.  But each time there’s a public reading — this past week were the second and third — I’m concerned that I’m going to get the crap kicked out of me by people who hear individual sentences but miss the point.

“You said that Jews are cheap!”  Kaboom!

“You showed a Hispanic immigrant who couldn’t speak English well!”  Crash!

Some of that happened in Des Moines in March, but I knew it would.  (See Write Your Own Damn Play.)

There was only one instance of it this week.  And that was a woman who beat me up for not following up in the play on the otherwise un-referred-to occupants of a bus that gets clobbered by a train.  Anti-innocent-bystanderism?  (Come on, Lady, even Tolstoy when he was writing War and Peace had to make choices about what to include and what to leave out!)

I’m hugely relieved, but I’ll continue to worry about people who are so burned by their hot buttons that they can’t or won’t see things in context.

So here’s my plea. Just treat me with the same consideration you’d give Shakespeare.  That wouldn’t be so hard, would it?

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?

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.