Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A play with 140 characters

As you're filling out your application to this MFA program, you may be wondering about my pedagogical style. I'll tell you: it's rigorous. People come staggering out going "My God, what a rigorous pedagogical style!"

In keeping with this rigorous (and deeply serious) pedagogical style, I am thinking of requiring all students to submit to the New York Neo-Futurists' weekly challenge to write a Twitter play according to an assigned constraint. A recent assignment posted on their Twitter feed was "write a 1-tweet play that has a MONSTER." Some of the results:
A: Welcome to the neighborhood. B: I’m required to inform you that I’m a registered… A: Sex offender? B: No. Werewolf. A: Oh my.

(Lights on Charlize Theron’s Oscar) HE: What’s this doing h--? (Oscar lunges, bites HE’s face off, disposes body, lies in wait. Bows)

jamse: i’ve got a monster crush on you. Mac Wellman: i’ve got a monster crush on you, jamse. [j wakes up] j: damn [goes back to sleep]

Waiter:Take y’order, sir? Mothman:The Silver Bridge. West Virginia, many die. Bring me bread. Waiter:Right, and to drink?

P.S. for Pittsburghers: I am thrilled to learn that the original (Chicago) Neo-Futurists will be in Pittsburgh to perform at First Night.

Monday, December 27, 2010

write about big things

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Write all the time. Write about big things. A hundred years from now no one will give a damn about conversations you overheard about the 7 train in New York City. 

Adam Szymokowicz interviews Carnegie Mellon alum James McManus (includes shout-out to 13P member Lucy Thurber) 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winning things: plays on stages and in boxes

Campus is quiet and covered with snow, but the playwrights of Carnegie Mellon are busy winning things.

Some graduate writing programs require students to refrain from script submission while they're in school. My philosophy is the opposite. The expectation is that you are daily beating your work into shape and sending it out to find collaborators beyond the walls of the School of Drama.

Some of these opportunities come from invitations extended specifically to this program, while others come via our participation in the Playwrights' Center's "New Plays on Campus" membership program.

  • Liz Ellison (MFA '11) will be traveling to Aspen in January with her play Ten Minutes to Boston as part of Theatre Masters, a program dedicated to advancing emerging playwrights at select schools. Theatre Masters will subsequently remount the play in New York. 
  • CMU will be represented by no less than three plays at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival regional festival at Towson University: Quick and in My Arms by Peter J. Roth (MFA '12), The Insect Fear by Liza Birkenmeier (MFA '12), and Shrouds by Julie Tosh (MFA '09).
  • In March, Time Bomb Play by R.N. Healey (MFA '12) will be included in the 32nd Annual Mid-America Theatre Conference in Minneapolis. It was picked from a field of 70 submissions.
  • Dan O'Neil (MFA '11) has been commissioned by the fascinating Articulture program. Inspired by the Community Supported Agriculture movement, where consumers buy a share in the output of a local farm, interested collectors/consumers will receive three "share boxes" of locally-produced artwork at three winter pick-up events.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

To say nothing of the possibility of finding true love

Choosing to be a playwright comes with few perks (oh, you noticed?) — so being accepted for a residency at an artists' colony can be hugely rejuvenating. It's more than an opportunity to run away from your scrappy existence of staying late at work to steal postage from the copy room and get dinner from the vending machine. Suddenly the universe seems to be affirming your identity as an artist: you have a right to be here, having someone bring you your lunch in a basket and leave it quietly outside your door so as not to disturb your work.

Not only do you find a supportive community of other artists, but chances are they will be from disciplines foreign to you. Believe me, nothing can make you feel better about being a playwright than hearing a little about the career struggles of a composer or sculptor.

Cheers to Carolyn Kras (MFA '10), who will be in residence at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois in March.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

National New Play Network commissions Peter Sinn Nachtrieb

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb is one of the funniest Americans; wrote one of its most widely-produced plays; and has nabbed the first fruits of a fantastic program from New Dramatists. As if that weren't enough, Peter will be coming in as guest faculty to teach a playwriting workshop at Carnegie Mellon this spring.


NNPN proudly announces the selection of playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (Boom, Hunter Gatherers, BOB) for the first of five Full Stage USA commissions sponsored by New York's New Dramatists.  This aggressive commission-through-development-to-production grant provides $25,000 to the selected playwright, travel and development resources at New Dramatists, and $40,000 in subsidies for eventual production.

Funded by a gift from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Full Stage USA will provide a total of five grants over the next several years.  New Dramatists playwrights selected NNPN and four other producing partners for the program over the summer; New Dramatists will announce the other four producing partners in the next few months.  In each case, a New Dramatists playwright will be selected to receive a commission award of $25,000, and the partner will receive a subsidy of up to $50,000 upon commitment to production.

Nachtrieb's proposal for a play about lying in contemporary America was evaluated alongside fourteen others submitted by New Dramatists writers.  NNPN's 26 member theaters voted on the projects and ultimately selected Nachtrieb, a writer familiar to many of them through previous work developing scripts.  The playwright has developed or premiered scripts with NNPN member theaters Marin Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth.  NNPN's Full Stage project aims to ultimately produce the commission via the Continued Life of New Plays Fund, which creates Rolling World Premieres across a minimum of three theaters within a single year.

"I am honored and excited to receive this opportunity from NNPN and New Dramatists," said Nachtrieb.  "I love how this commission not only offers substantial financial support, but also provides abundant resources for the development, collaboration and production of the play. I think it's going to help me create something really awesome."

"The thought of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb collaborating on a new play with the 26 NNPN theaters, who are together remapping the American theatre, is terrifically exciting," said New Dramatists Artistic Director Todd London.  "Because Peter is a national member of New Dramatists (from San Francisco), we're also delighted to offer him, through Full Stage USA, two years of enhanced developmental time while he's readying the play for production.  We can't wait to see which three of the NNPN theaters step forward to produce his work once he's written it."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What happens on Mondays

17 months after leaving New York, the list of things I miss about living there is not terribly long. It does include being there on Monday night once a month for Little Theatre @ Dixon Place, which is like going to church if your church is downtown theatre. Let's see what the reverend has prepared for this week:

Little Theatre, Vol XI, No. 4 - December, 2010

created by Jenny Seastone Stern
performed by Brett Beyer and C. Star.

The piece is a myth.  It is a dance and has some words.

written and directed by Trish Harnetiaux
with Emily Davis, Matt Korahias, Richard Toth, Greg Zuccolo

A short mysterious play wherein Cassiopeia has swallowed a triangle and only 911 can help.  Or can he..

by Lizzie Olesker

a new excerpt from inside an old suitcase

lyrics by Sonya Sobieski, music by Frederick Alden Terry

followed almost immediately by:

HAPPY HOUR (a short musical about cheap drinks)
book & lyrics by Sonya Sobieski, music by Jana Zielonka
directed by Danny Erdberg
performed by Jessica Howell, Sarah Levine, Donovan Sanders, and Jim Stanek
with musical accompaniment by Jay Mack and Jana Zielonka

(an excerpt from) THE LOCK AND DOOR
written and directed by Ariel Stess
with Lucy Kaminsky and Christopher Baker
a waiting for a first love play

Monday, December 13, 2010 — 7:30 pm @ the new Dixon Place
161A Chrystie btw. Delancey & Rivington (F/V 2nd Ave; 6 Bleecker; JMZ Bowery)
Tickets $15.00 @ the door or online — but just $12.00 with a printout of this message

Tickets and info here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The saddest music in the world

Alec Duffy writes plays, directs, acts, sings, composes, runs a theatre company, and I'm probably forgetting something but in any case you should go see Three Pianos, which the creators describe as "Schubert's Wintereisse exploded." The mad band of collaborators on this piece includes Rachel Chavkin, one of our most important directors.

Alec directed the Lincoln Center Director's Lab workshop of my errant comedy Green Zone, and has been known to play Paul, a sensitive rock star (all sensitive rock stars are named Paul), in A Maze. But I'm primarily just a fan of his. All great artists are obsessives, as we know, and Three Pianos is at least Alec's third Schubert-related play.

He has created works of surprising stillness, like Dysphoria and The Less We Talk, but this stillness may be deceptive. To be Zen also means to be inquiring, and it might turn out that he is not so much this era's John Cage as its Kurt Vonnegut.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Do not write a play until you read this, or, Why you need an MFA from Carnegie Mellon.

Here's the annual pitch:

The Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama
Dramatic Writing Program

As a writer for theatre or film, you’re not writing to be read; you’re making a blueprint that contains all the information your future collaborators will need to create an event.

Carnegie Mellon is uniquely positioned to offer an intense experience that combines training in playwriting, screenwriting, television writing, and new theatrical forms. As an integral part of the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, the oldest degree-granting theatre program in the United States, the Dramatic Writing program provides ongoing collaboration with the next generation of important actors, directors, and designers. Writers collaborate with these colleagues every week of the semester in Theatre Lab, as well as working on a television project twice a year.

Dramatic Writing MFA candidates have the opportunity to see their plays fully produced in the New Works Series. These productions are helmed by emerging directors under the supervision of Marianne Weems, and industry guests are brought in to respond to the plays.

The program is one of only six leading institutions chosen to participate in the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film School Awards, which awards $35,000 in screenplay prizes annually to two students within the Carnegie Mellon Dramatic Writing program.

The Dramatic Writing program is headed by Rob Handel, a founding member and managing director of the Obie-winning playwrights’ collective 13P, and a resident playwright at New Dramatists. The curriculum fosters leadership through a unit called “Envisioning a Theatre,” in which students examine revolutionary movements in theatre; write manifestos of their own; and build a plan for starting a theater company.

Recent and upcoming guest faculty include Mac Wellman, Jeffrey M. Jones, Sherry Kramer, Richard Nelson, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Madeleine George, and Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

Carnegie Mellon is dedicated to equipping writers to enter a highly competitive industry at the highest level. MFA candidates have met recently with directors Daniella Topol, Leigh Silverman, and John Collins, as well as decisionmakers from Woolly Mammoth, The Gersh Agency, Pixar, Legendary Pictures, and Fox Filmed Entertainment. Students benefit from the strong support of School of Drama alumni in the field, including Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked), Stephen Bochco (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law), and John Wells (ER, Third Watch). Recent alumni include Jonathan Larson Award winners Chris Dimond and Michael Kooman, James McManus (Princess Grace Award), Jason Williamson (Dramatists Guild Fellowship), and Kevin Christopher Snipes (SPF).

The program has longstanding ties to Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, which is devoted to the production and commissioning of new plays. There are unlimited possibilities for collaborating with the many new-media initiatives taking place across the university, recognized as a world headquarters for entertainment technology.

How to apply: Dramatic Writing applicants must submit either one full length play or one full length screenplay in addition to all university and school applications. The application deadline is January 1 annually.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lines posted on an office door at New Dramatists

CALVERO: This is my home. Here.
TERRY: I thought you hated the theatre.
CALVERO: I do. I also hate the sight of blood, but it's in my veins.

— Charlie Chaplin, Limelight

Monday, November 22, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

from the classroom to OOB in five and a half weeks

The Dramatic Writing MFA program is dedicated to preparing playwrights to enter the profession at the highest level. That's why the constant submission of students' scripts to professional production opportunities is integrated into the coursework.

For the 10-minute play assignment in Theatre Lab this fall, first-year MFA student Murphi Cook wrote Nothing Says Happy Like, a post-apocalyptic comedy about a dedicated Spam salesperson. Five and a half weeks later, the play is being produced Off-Off-Broadway as part of a short play festival. Go see it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Kind of Theatre = Performed Participatory Democracy

City Council Meeting is performed participatory democracy -- part play, part social sculpture, part town meeting. Performers and viewers will be the Mayor and Council members, city secretary, citizens and, of course, the misfits like me who hang out at city council meetings and always have something to say. Come early and you might end up in the Mayor's chair.

Go here for more about this project from the fascinating Aaron Landsman (Elevator Repair Service's Gatz, 13P's American Treasure).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A mammoth undertaking

Madeleine George
In this report from, we see some of the wisest minds in the theatre collaborating, and a recognition of the life cycle of a play in the real world.

The New York City theatre companies Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons have teamed up for a new play development program called SuperLab. The first of a series of "collaboratively curated play laboratories" was held Nov. 12, focusing on Madeleine George's Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England. [...]

SuperLab is supported by funds granted to Clubbed Thumb by Metlife/Theatre Communications Group's A-ha! Program ... Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons, who share a commitment to advancing distinctive new voices, will bridge a gap between downtown and uptown theatre sensibilities, methodologies and artist rosters, expanding the range of experience and opportunity for all."

Clubbed Thumb's producing artistic director Maria Striar says, "I proposed this program to TCG out of a desire to do more to get our artists and their work to broader audiences, and to weave some collaborative tissue between Clubbed Thumb and larger organizations for our mutual benefit. I like to think that Clubbed Thumb has been an incubator for some of the most interesting theater careers out there, and Playwrights Horizons has given many of them their next home. Adam Greenfield [Playwrights Horizons' director of new play development] and I have been talking about plays for years, so this is an organic partnership."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

13P is four stories high

Perseverance may the most important quality you can cultivate as a playwright. For example, stick with your dream of being a producing collective long enough, and you may find yourself attracting a spectacular staff of unpaid volunteers who will work 16 straight hours to pull off a gorgeous and glamorous benefit.

It seems like just a few moments ago (though it was actually seven years) that Joy Katz was designing the 13P logo on her laptop. Last week that logo was projected four stories high on the outside of the building across the street from 3LD in downtown Manhattan. (With animated falling leaves, yet.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

No, really.

I'm fond of telling students in the School of Drama that when they are making work at this conservatory, they are also discovering the collaborators they will want to keep with them for the rest of their lives. Not that there is any shortage of evidence, but this really is true. The latest example: Monday afternoon at the New York Theatre Workshop, alumni Jason Williamson (playwright) and Ed Iskandar (director) continue work begun at CMU.

Jason writes: This freely adapted re-imagining is based on the original classic by Friedrich Schiller. An earlier version received its world premiere at Carnegie Mellon in 2008, but has been developed more recently with the help of Lue Douthit, head dramaturg of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Incidentally, Lue Douthit visited CMU this semester as a guest of the dramaturgy program, and spoke inspirationally with the dramatic writing and directing students about her work.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The theory and practice of artistic relationships

Central to the dramatic writing program is Theatre Lab, a class that meets twice a week to practice collaboration between playwrights, directors, actors, and dramaturgs. Throughout the year, a shifting network of teams creates and presents a series of projects, including monologues commissioned by specific actors, ten-minute plays, a role-reversal exercise (in which directors write and writers direct), etc.

In parallel with this process, the playwrights, directors, and dramaturgs meet once a week to discuss how collaboration works, both in the Lab and in "real life." The latter is supported by a discussion of the seminal book Making Plays: The Writer-Director Relationship in the Theatre Today by Richard Nelson and David Jones, as well as by industry guests. This week we were lucky to be visited by artists with a history of working together. As in the Nelson/Jones book, there were times when director Daniella Topol (a CMU alumna) and playwright Willy Holtzman could have easily been talking about the other kind of relationship, not least in finding the right balance between discord and harmony.

Holtzman and Topol's latest collaboration, The Morini Strad, opens tonight at Pittsburgh's City Theatre.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Still a few bugs in the system

The occasion of Doonesbury's 40th anniversary has reminded me of the extent to which everything I know I learned from comics. Not from superhero comics (like many of my hipper colleagues) but specifically from Garry Trudeau, whose omnibus volumes I started collecting at an age when I didn't yet understand half of what the characters were talking about.

Trudeau is one of the great masters of dialogue in the history of American culture. Observe the fine calibration of his timing, the division of lines through the progression of panels. Many of his best strips feature a pause — a "blank" third panel with no dialogue, followed by a punch line where a character backs off on the position they'd taken in the second panel, realizing the absurdity of their own argument. Or look at the way Mike, the silent observer, is deployed in the example above (larger image), from the "Boopsie Poses for Playboy" sequence, May 23, 1979.

More of the strip's greatest hits at this link.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do Kentuckians Dream of Electric Sheep?

We stand to find out. Anne Washburn's A Devil at Noon, which may or may not have been inspired by the life of a certain science fiction writer whose mental processes were not the same as yours or mine, is part of the lineup for the 35th Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Also on the slate are a whole bunch of the best writers and directors in the country. To say nothing of the casts, e.g. triple threat actor/rock star/food blogger Rebecca Hart.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

chasing after unattainable people

Young Jean Lee writes: Want to be a part of UNTITLED FEMINIST MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGY SHOW? Come to the New Museum this Friday and let me pick your brain in person about femininity, masculinity, monogamy, chasing after unattainable people, attraction (or lack thereof) to "nice" people, and a bunch of other stuff.

A Proposition with Young Jean Lee at the New Museum, Friday at 7PM and Saturday at noon (with special guest Justin Bond). Young Jean Lee will bring the audience into her creative process as she explores the issues and themes in our current work in progress, UNTITLED FEMINIST MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGY SHOW (UFMTS). She will describe the inception and progress of UFMTS and guide a collaborative conversation, engaging the audience in the same style of brainstorming and discussion she uses with the actors of Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company.

Monday, November 8, 2010

PigPen (born in the playground)

The irony of PigPen Theatre's "The Nightmare Story" is that the seven students from Carnegie Mellon University performing the play are living a little bit of their dream. Beating out several thousand other shows, the play won the coveted honor of Best Overall Production at this year's New York City Fringe Festival.

Performance video here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Last chance! Three discount codes for the 13P Fall Formal

The 13P Fall Formal is tomorrow night!

Option 1: Use code THIRTYP for $30 tickets (we will card you)!

Option 2: Buy one ticket, get a second for your date for half the price with code CHPDATE!

Option 3: If you get three friends to buy $30 tickets, you get in for free. (Code: email Sailor Dog the names of your three friends who bought tickets.)

Tickets at

Details on all the cool people who will be there:

Sheila Callaghan • Erin Courtney • Madeleine George • Rob Handel
Ann Marie Healy • Julia Jarcho • Young Jean Lee • Winter Miller 
Sarah Ruhl • Kate E. Ryan • Lucy Thurber • Anne Washburn
Gary Winter • Maria Goyanes, Executive Producer

The faculty and staff of 13P cordially invite you to

Our 2010 Fall Formal

13P is FALLin' for You

an evening of spiked punch, slow dances, limp corsages, and the electric slide, hosted by 
Mr. Murray Hill
He puts the "yes" in polyester!

featuring the crowning of your
Justin Bond

with a special appearance from 
Guidance Counselor
Ms. Lisa Kron

to benefit the 13P Graduating Class
Young Jean Lee (P#11)
Sarah Ruhl (P#12)
Erin Courtney (P#13)

sweet sounds by DJs 
Jo Lampert
and Theo Stockman

Monday, November 8
3LD Art and Technology Center
80 Greenwich Street (at Rector Street)

6PM Prom Committee Cocktail Hour
7PM - 10PM Dancing, entertainment, and refreshments
10PM Mandatory breathalyzer tests

Festively Formal Attire 
(Dress Weird)

$150 - Prom Committee Member 
(access to VIP Cocktail Hour, table seating)

$50 -  General Admission
For tickets, visit 

Friday, November 5, 2010

It begins with the scream of a train whistle...

Of such honors as I have received, none has come with quite the same aura as the Whitfield Cook Prize, which my new play A Maze received this year. The award is the legacy of screenwriter Whitfield Cook, who collaborated with Hitchcock on Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train. I am awed by the idea of having profited... from murder.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

36 Deadlines

By the midpoint of the fall semester, Dramatic Writing MFA students have written an adaptation from Aeschylus, three TV scripts, a screenplay outline, three monologues commissioned by specific actors, and a ten-minute play; revised all of the above projects; presented full-length plays in progress multiple times in workshop; shot a TV script on video; identified a science/technology consultant for the Sloan Competition; and submitted to the Alliance Theatre Kendeda Competition, Theatre Masters, the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, PlayPenn, and the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Now we can get down to work.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boardwalk Empire of the Senseless

Young Jean is ready for the Fall Formal
What do these things have in common? An insider tour of the set of Boardwalk Empire – A pilot script of Showtime's United States of Tara signed by Diablo Cody, Toni Collette, and cast members – VIP tickets to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – Tickets for Shakespeare in the Park opening night and afterparty? You can get them (and help us produce our plays, our way) at the 13P Fall Formal silent auction.

To say nothing of emcees Murray Hill, Justin Bond, and Lisa Kron. The party starts Monday night, so hurry.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Angels, Vulcans, and Pittsburghers in America

Don Wadsworth of the School of Drama faculty points out that the Signature Theatre production of Angels in America "features three CMU alums in major roles: Christian Borle ('95), Billy Porter ('91) and Zach Quinto ('99). Christian, Zach and Billy were all from Pittsburgh, all trained at CMU and all were Music Theater students in our program." When we say that the artists you collaborate with at CMU will change your life, we are not just whistling Dixie.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Not exactly Marina Abramović

Extreme theatre from Playground, live from the freight elevator at the CMU School of Drama at this link.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Thomas Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures, met with the dramatic writing students and their colleagues at the School of Drama recently. Working at Carnegie Mellon, where we are reminded daily that you really can achieve your childhood dreams, it was striking to meet a visionary who really has translated his lifelong passion for comic books into a career. Whether you like his blockbusters or not, I think it's hard to deny that they are powered by a genuine love for Batman, Superman, Alan Moore, and Frank Miller in a way that Hollywood's previous attempts to co-opt these characters were not. Whenever powerful film and TV people visit the School of Drama, I am surprised anew at their generosity and willingness to give a thoughtful answer to any question, from the mundane to the argumentative. Mr. Tull (not pictured) was no exception, and it was a delight to moderate a public conversation with him.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The best time to visit the CMU School of Drama

is during Playground, happening now. All School of Drama classes are cancelled for a week so that 50 student-initiated projects can be mounted. These shows, installations, and films are built and rehearsed between Monday and Thursday, and then performed, one after another, from Thursday evening through midnight Saturday. Shows take place in the elevators, in the stairwells, on the lawn, in the basement. It's like a fringe festival, if you can imagine a fringe festival that has access to (a) state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and video equipment, being operated by highly trained young people who actually know what they are doing, and (b) a population of actors who have already made it into one of the most competitive acting programs in the world. To say nothing of the directors, playwrights, designers, dramaturgs...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A play written specifically to open on November 2, 2010.

There are few living playwrights as inspiring as Richard Nelson. Perhaps the only thing more charged and confrontational than his last play at the Public, Conversations in Tusculum, could be his new play at the Public, described below. Note that opening night is election day, no less. Richard Nelson will be guest faculty in the CMU dramatic writing program this December.

Written and Directed by Richard Nelson
October 26 – November 14
Press opening: November 2

“A year later, I gotta ask the supporters of all that: How's that hopey changey thing workin’ for ya?” —Sarah Palin, February 6, 2010.

Election day, November 2, 2010.  Uncle Benjamin’s dog has died and his nieces and nephew have gathered for dinner in Rhinebeck, New York, to surprise him with a new one.  As they anxiously wait for the polls to close, the Apple family discusses memory, manners, and politics. Richard Nelson (Conversations in Tusculum at The Public, James Joyce’s The Dead) returns to The Public with a timely new play that examines the state of the nation at this pivotal moment in our history.

Monday, October 25, 2010

In which Pinter considers a door.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

embarrassing prom photos of the 13P

If you are not on the 13P email list you should join now because you are missing hard-to-believe stuff like this video.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Now available with a suggestive cover.

Aphrodisiac is now available from upstart young publishers Samuel French (founded 1830).

What’s the worst-case scenario? He’s hiding something terrible. He’s done something we never thought he was capable of. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have thought he was capable of having an affair. I would have thought he was too averse to risk.

Like Bill Clinton?

Maybe Dad didn’t see it as a risk. Maybe he saw it as part of the job. He’s a consummate professional.

Like Bill Clinton.

Best-case scenario. Benefit of the doubt. It was an innocent friendship. Here’s this young woman. She and her friend — what’s the friend’s name?


She and Trish are grad students in public administration. They go on what they call “political field trips” where they visit the offices of House members and have their photo taken with them. One day, they visit the representative from Ilona’s home town. Trish talks herself into an internship in the office, but Ilona, Ilona’s already interning at the Bureau of Prisons. But she and Dad get to be friends. They call each other often. Maybe there’s an element of flirtation, maybe not. Then she disappears. He is questioned. He tries, perhaps misguidedly, to protect her reputation, and as a result he is crucified in the media. Anything could have happened to that girl. She could have let herself get picked up by a serial killer in a bar. She went jogging alone at night. This is not a bright girl.

You don’t know that. She was an independent adult.

She was having an affair with a married womanizer congressman.

Have you never been involved in a stupid doomed self-destructive affair? Love, sex, whatever, makes you do stupid things. That doesn’t mean you’re stupid. That doesn’t mean you routinely put your life in danger.

May I answer the question? No, I’ve never been involved in a stupid affair.

Have you ever been involved in a smart affair?

Well, Alma, I’ve not been a perfect man.


(Pause. AVERY sips his beer.)

One thing you can say: now everyone in the 18th district knows who their congressman is.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

13P in the house (in the next room, of course).

13P onstage at Joe's Pub. Ruhl above head standing in way of camera. (Photo: Jim Baldassare)
Are there any young writers that you are particularly interested in? Maybe anybody you've mentored or whose work you just enjoy watching and following?
SARAH RUHL: Yes. I just did a panel yesterday with Annie Baker, who I think is really something. I thought Circle Mirror Transformation was really lovely. And all my colleagues at 13P — a group of writers. There are 13 of us, and we're our own artistic directors of our own plays. The group came about because we were all sick of [the endless development of our plays], so here, we don't just develop our plays but can throw them up without a huge budget. Young Jean Lee is in the group. Rob Handel, Winter Miller, Anne Washburn. I'm really fascinated by everything that that group does.

(Complete interview at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010


It has come to the present writer's attention that his mother reads this blog. Sadly, this makes it impossible for him to promote the work of his esteemed colleague Michael R. Jackson, whose cabaret at Joe's Pub tonight is called So Fucking Gay.

Michael is the author of the best musical you have never seen, Only Children, which is an adaptation of Wedekind's play Spring Awakening and can be distinguished from that other musical by two distinguishing factors:

(A) It actually adapts the play, by resetting it in the present time, and therefore a world in which teenagers are not shielded from the facts of life but are assaulted by them every moment, treading water in a sea of internet pornography from before they can read.

(B) It is a courageous act of art and social analysis.

Cabaret performance clips here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

As Samuel Johnson might have said

 It's the city of the world. It's a city where every place, every culture, seems to have a nook. If you're interested in the world, as most artists tend to be, you're going to be interested in New York.

Junot Díaz, from the video Do Playwrights Love New York? (via Jorge Cortiñas)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On not shooting yourself in the foot

This may be the best blog post ever from David Bower. Read the whole thing.

Only submit worksamples that represent you well. Does it have your spirit? Does it have your voice? Does it match the level of thought that you put into the work you put on stage or on the page? A worksample that seems out of synch with the company will confuse the panel. A worksample that seems out of synch with the application will create distrust. A worksample that is poorly chosen, produced, or executed will irrevocably turn them off. No matter how much we talk on these panels about the challenges of getting good documenation of work in this sector, people ARE figuring out effective ways to represent themselves and those people remain standing at the end of the worksample reviews. The rest fall off the list.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Report: Government Science Funders Less Chicken Than Government Art Funders

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $700,000 grant to the Civilians, a New York theater company, to finance the production of a show about climate change. (NYTimes, via

A great opportunity - New Dramatists seeks spring interns

Bernard B. Jacobs Internship Program 

New Dramatists seeks interns to assist in all areas of administration in supporting a company of resident playwrights. The New Dramatists internship experience offers a unique opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a professional, non-profit arts organization in New York City. As essential members of the New Dramatists staff, the interns provide administrative, maintenance, creative, and clerical support. They serve as the first face of New Dramatists, staffing our front office and serving as liaisons to the many professionals who seek out our resident playwrights’ work. In addition to stage managing for play readings and workshops, the interns work as full-time assistants in our Literary, Casting, Development and Administrative offices. While the interns are not hired within a specific department, their professional aspirations often guide their experience to be focused on a particular discipline.

The New Dramatists internship program provides crucial early-career training to theatrical professionals and has proven to be a reliable stepping stone to careers both within the field as well as at New Dramatists specifically. Two of our current staff members previously held internships here: Morgan Allen (General Manager) and Erin Detrick (Artistic Programs Administrator). Several of our current resident playwrights also once held New Dramatists internships: David Adjmi, Zakiyyah Alexander, Jason Grote, Deborah Stein, and Anne Washburn.

An internship with New Dramatists provides great exposure to the playwright’s process, and serious involvement in the many workshops and readings that happen in the building. Our interns are invited to all of New Dramatists’ public events and are given access to complimentary tickets to Broadway and Off- Broadway productions. Throughout the season, we offer several intern workshops led by our resident playwrights and staff. These workshops focus on the craft of playwriting, on issues affecting the industry, on careers in the theatre, or on topics of interest specifically voiced by the interns. Recent workshops include sessions with Daniel Alexander Jones, David Grimm, Adam Bock, Sarah Ruhl, Anne Washburn & Dominic Taylor.

The best candidates will thrive in a fast-paced environment, have strong written communication skills, computer and general office skills, work well independently, and be incredibly organized. Self-motivated, enthusiastic individuals excel in such an environment, because an internship at New Dramatists is truly what you make of it.

Application Details: A complete application should include: 1) the application form; 2) a statement of interest; 3) two letters of recommendation from theatre professionals; and 4) your resume. Visit our website to fill out an application. The application deadline for the spring internship (January 3 – May 27) is December 1. (There are also internship periods in the summer and fall.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

the drama of extremely small situations

I recommend this great interview with new-play director Sam Gold.

“I’m interested in the drama of extremely small situations,” he said. “So the questions that Kim’s play asks — like ‘Can I get out of bed in the morning?’ — to me are really interesting dramatic questions, as opposed to whether or not I’m going to fulfill the prophecy of sleeping with my mother.”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I think of him as a modern-day Virgil, if Virgil was homeless in New York.

These Healeys are what Ezra Pound would have called a "darned clever bunch." You may or may not be able to follow this link to a September 17 New York Times article about Cruel Puppet Collective, which is building a Dante Inferno from real-life stories of New York City Public Transit.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Musicals are crazy. And wonderful. And strange.

Doesn't it sometimes seem that every press release about a new musical sounds like (a) a terrible idea for a musical that might turn out to be brilliant, (b) a terrible idea for a musical that will, in fact, turn out to be terrible, or (c) an adaptation of a property that should almost certainly be left in its original form? (Were I not so determined to avoid whining – even though this is a blog about writing plays – I would complain here about the way the producers of Leap of Faith: The Musical refer to the fifty-bloody-third most popular movie of 1992 as "the hit film of the same name.")

The truth is, it is nearly impossible to predict which harebrained scheme will work and which won't. Which is as good a reason to love theatre as any.

These thoughts are prompted by We Have Always Lived in the Castle, now playing at Yale Rep and based on a cult novel so beloved and flawless that you'd have to be nuts to touch it. Luckily, the nuts in this case (Adam Bock, Anne Kauffman) are the kind who invariably have a method to their madness.

Now available in blood red

Millicent Scowlworthy is now available from Samuel French. (Aphrodisiac is coming soon.)

PORTER: Remember when you’re a kid, and you get in trouble for fighting? You know the other kid started it. You know you’re innocent. You try to explain this, but the adult never wants to know who started it. Never cares who’s to blame. Everyone gets in trouble equally. So one of the first things you learn about civilization is that there’s no justice.

7M, 5F. Perfect for extremely violent high schools.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My kind of gimmick (and title): Panic! Euphoria! Blackout

When you buy a ticket to Talking Band's upcoming show, Panic! Euphoria! Blackout, you become a shareholder of the performance you're attending. The more people who buy a ticket to that performance, the greater the dividend. So do your part and reap the rewards.

This is how it works:

Purchase a ticket online at or call 212.352.3101. 
You will receive an email confirming your purchase and you can then track the current value of your shares. Bring your reservation confirmation to the theatre where you will receive your stock certificate and cash dividend.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What do the men see?

I was going to blog about Gatz, but it has so much buzz that you don't need me to tell you that this is one of those theatrical events that in 20 years everyone will be claiming they saw. So instead: you should also check out Zoetrope at Prelude. I have no idea how the collaborators – Alec Duffy (whose production of Murder in the Cathedral opened five seconds ago), Sylvan Oswald (who seems to be winning every award available to playwrights this year, bless her little heart), and Mimi Lien (The Zero Hour and a million other designs) – found the time to create a song cycle of an invented town, but here's a song from it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

faked geography

Now playing and soon touring: The Builders Association's Jet Lag, based on two barely believable true stories of travel obsession. The Obie-winning production is directed by Marianne Weems (head of the CMU graduate directing program) and the new cast includes Nick Bonnar (CMU '10).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

as Gertrude Stein was fond of saying

Let us think of three different kinds of things that are exciting
and that make or do not make one nervous.

richard TOTH
catherine WAGNER

The Twenty-Five Cent Opera of San Francisco theater | performance | entertainments
Eighth Installment
Sunday | September 26 | 7 PM | $7 suggested donation
Barbès |
376 9th Street | Brooklyn

Twenty-Five Cent Opera is brought to you by THE PLAYWRITING FIRM


(All the above is the text of a promo email ---Sailor Dog)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In which I propose a moratorium.

Followers of this blog know that I consider Adam Szymkowicz's blog essential reading. However, reading an interview with a different playwright every single day, answering generally the same questions, makes we wonder about the question "What kind of theatre excites you?" It seems many of the interviewees (smart writers, all of them!) feel their answer must include some variation on "I get bored by plays that are just TV dramas or sitcoms put on stage."

Is it time for a moratorium on this particular complaint? Better: let it be allowed, but only if the speaker is willing to name names. Who are these evil playwrights shrinking our stages into TV screens? Let us out them and destroy them!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

First candidate for September title of the month

Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, by CMU Dramatic Writing alumna Tammy Ryan, is getting some nice press. If you can get to Union, New Jersey, see it.

The play followed a typically winding road to production: it received a Seed Award from The Sprout Fund in support of its development at Bricolage’s In The Raw series, and was further developed at The New Harmony Project, Premiere Stages Playwriting Festival, Playwrights Theater of New Jersey, The Lark, and was a featured play at the National Network of New Plays 2009 National Showcase.

Monday, September 13, 2010

murder in the cathedral in the cathedral

Many remain skeptical as to whether Murder in the Cathedral is actually a great play, but if anyone can convert the doubters it's probably Alec Duffy, whose site-specific production begins Thursday. And look, he snagged the URL

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Self-selection at work on Governors Island

Winter Miller
The Sundance Institute is offering free (really? yes, apparently) playwriting classes with four distinguished dramatists including Winter Miller (no stranger to 13P) and Cori Thomas (no stranger to Pittsburgh). I expect a self-selecting group of playwrights who actually enjoy interacting with other human beings, because you have to actually make a phone call to get the information.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

we're here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff

I'm so glad I heeded Golamco's tweet and saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on the big screen. While it seems constantly in danger of being stolen by every single actor in it, you probably remember Kieran Culkin as the hero's roommate. I don't know if he'll ever be enticed back to Off-Broadway after this, but not long ago he won an Obie for his role in Gina Gionfriddo's fascinating play After Ashley. Here's an article I wrote at the time for The Brooklyn Rail.

(Mr. Culkin and I, as it happens, were both handed Obie awards by Stockard Channing on the same evening. Macaulay was there too. Wearing lipstick.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CMU zombies in Australia

Should you happen to be in North Queensland, Dean Poynor (Dramatic Writing MFA '10) is bringing the zombie apocalypse. His play Homo apocalyptus, set one hundred years in the future, is playing the Cairns Festival. The collaborative team includes outstanding CMU colleagues Katie Wieland and Sarah Krohn.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

His fists hit hard, and his rage runs red-hot.

Now playing in Washington, D.C.: Cherry Smoke by CMU Dramatic Writing alum James McManus, a Princess Grace Award winner and a brand-new resident playwright of New Dramatists. Cherry Smoke was first produced in the New Works Series at CMU as Jim's thesis production. He was one of six guests we brought in to advise the Class of 2010 on their careers when the class traveled to NYC for their graduate showcase last spring.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I can't act and hate performing, so it should be interesting to see what happens.

Career advice from Young Jean Lee on Adam's blog: Don't fall into the trap of feeling entitled to career success solely on account of your talent. There's a huge market for mediocre art, and the less-talented wipe the floor with the more-talented every day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The new needs friends.

I urge you to read screenwriter/playwright Michael Golamco on "When I Really Like Something, There are Two Things I Need to Do." (Also starring Mickey Mouse.)

Vote for Title of the Month

Candidate #1:
We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915
Last week at Victory Gardens's Ignition Festival.

Candidate #2:
Aw Keats, Keats Motherfucker!
Sept 2-4 at Incubator Arts Project. I assume this is based on Shelley's words upon hearing that Keats had died.

Candidate #3:
Brandywine Distillery Project 
Sept 9-18 at Incubator.

Send your vote for the best title (or additional suggestions) to Sailor Dog.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

with or without Vocoder

You will want to see this. Rebecca Hart is the most interesting singer-songwriter-actor-writer-foodblogger in the Northeast. For a taste, check out the Vocoder Outtake.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I have no idea what this blurb means

Matthew Maher with the company of 13P's production of Have You Seen Steve Steven.

"ORANGE, HAT & GRACE is a funny, fierce and provocative inquiry into our relationship with the natural world."

Nor do I care what this blurb means, because I would hasten to see Matthew Maher in anything.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Top Earners in Nonprofit Theater

This chart is being widely linked for good reason. It's worth bearing in mind that some of these names may be the artistic directors who are quoted in Outrageous Fortune (and in articles about the Outrageous Fortune backlash) as saying that American playwrights are a bunch of whiners.

I think Outrageous Fortune is widely misinterpreted. It's not actually a book about plays being messed up by the theatre system. It's a book about money. It's a book about who gets a salary.

By the same token, I've always felt that 13P is a project about money. It's an attempt to show what it looks like when money is used to advance new American plays — by the radical method of actually producing them.


Can we please stop pretending this is a legitimate system of thought?  @jasongrote

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Unproducibility, Brothels, and Pirates

Studio 42's Unproducible! series is mounting "such plays are those in which the cast size, subject matter, potential depravity, complexity of staging, or scale of spectacle take them out of consideration for most other companies." As part of their mission, they are mounting these plays for one night only.

I'm not sure I understand this model, in terms of the work and the artists having the opportunity to grow, but I'm curious. And for those familiar with the long-running pirate puppet rock musical serial Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, all that needs to be said to recommend Studio 42's This Sporting Life is that one of the writers is Nick Jones. (Also, the fabulous Greg Keller is in it.) See it September 10.

P.S. Free beer.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Whose career do you want?

A good question to ask yourself, no matter what part of the arts you work in: whose career would you like? It's a useful exercise, because to respond you not only have to be specific about your own goals, but you have to know who in your field has paved the way. (Or — thinking about it another way — who your competition is.)

Here's someone whose career I'd take — and it's available, because she just died at the age of 96. One of the writers on The Bicycle Thief among many other triumphs, Suso Cecchi d'Amico has 118 writing credits on IMDb, the first in 1946 and the last sixty years later. As I say, I'd take that.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hint on starting your theatre company

If your name begins with a number, you'll often come first in an alphabetical list of companies. Like this one announcing 13P's grant from the never-boring MAP Fund. Mazel tov to Erin Courtney and Ken Rus Schmoll, who will collaborate on our 13th and final production in 2012.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Young Jean Lee's new book

THE SHIPMENT and LEAR now available from TCG. Buy it at the Young Jean Lee's Theater Company Store. You can also find news there of her upcoming residency at the New Museum and tour dates to Boston, Williams College (hello), Budapest, and Dartmouth.