A good start in a new direction – #film pre-production

I didn’t expect to be accepted to this residency in Vallauris, AT ALL. It’s primarily for ceramicists, because that’s what the town has been known for, for centuries. But, it sounded interesting, and I’d never been to France, and well…I had ideas for movies, after having written plays since high school, and this seemed like a good way to kick my own butt into doing some work on “PRE-pre-production.” So I applied. And got it.

So I had to come up with a script for my idea, Am I Beautiful, Yes or No?, and having written that, I figured out how to break it down into shots. And, not having DRAWN in YEARS, I now had to create 38 pictures for those shots. Friends who’ve worked in film wisely advised that often, storyboards consist of stick people. This was my first one, and — if like my plays, I was doing it myself — I wanted them to be pretty clear. So, PANIC. I had 28 days to hand draw 38 images.

A fellow writer recently told me that the magic of residencies is that they turn on the taps. My first day of drawing, I did NINE pictures. I was DONE with that initial project in the first 2 weeks! So…I did the script and storyboard for another, which I’ve called Monster Cat! 

I leave for Paris tomorrow. I’m going home the next day, for the first time in a year. Yet I’ll be very sorry to leave here. Exposition photos here.

Today, I’m out of love with #playwriting. It’s like a bad day in a long term #relationship.

I realised something this morning, on a sunny day in the south of France. It’s a bit of a whinge. But it’s also a bit scary for me, and makes me sad.

I just sent off an application for a playwriting venture. One should keep track of how many competitions, initiatives, etc, one enters…but I’ve given up. Yes, everyone gets rejected, and I admit, tracking the number of things I entered and got rejected for became too much.

My FB and Twitter feeds have recently been filled with invitations to the Fringe shows of friends, as well as previews and reviews. I posted that I was a bit sad I didn’t have a show this year. That’s true…but not quite accurate. I’m also relieved I’m not doing a stage production, and THAT feeling makes me sad. I used to live for the insanity of putting on a show. Even when things went wrong, the result was a show I was proud of. I got the festival’s Artist Badge. I got reviews — good ones — and I could say “Yep, that’s me.” Audiences have told me how much they liked what I did.

Last year, I got my first ever 5-star review for It Started with an Allergy. I leveraged that, I promoted that show every hour of every day, and my houses still never got very big. The spectators who came loved it — there just weren’t very many of them. There’s a prestigious award given to theatre productions every year in Edmonton, and I really, REALLY hoped I might get nominated for Allergy. I didn’t. It’s occurred to me since that I don’t remember if I, or my director, invited the jury to the show! How can I not remember that? But I was also writing, producing, acting, flyering, doing the show. And I just…don’t… recall. That’s bad.

I submitted this play to yet another contest, out of resignation. I couldn’t muster anything to say in my cover letter: “yes, my play’s really good, these other industry people have said so, here’s my amazing CV of other amazing plays which nonetheless didn’t take off, PLEASE GIVE THIS TO ME.”

I wonder if that’s why I’m doing pre-production on a short film. Because it feels like I’ve done everything I possibly can in theatre, and I’m tapped. I’m on the French Riviera, on a writer’s retreat (which I paid for, didn’t get paid for, again). And still, today, I’m discouraged.

“Someone’s going to blow that place up soon.”

Said to me, in 2004, by a friend I hadn’t seen in ages. It was a few days before I flew to London, England, United Kingdom.  I answered him, “That’s why I have to go see it now.”  I got to see Big Ben, and Southbank, and the Inns of Chancery.  The next year, London was bombed.

As I write this, I am in Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey.  Forty-five people were killed here two weeks ago, by terrorists who apparently believed the same things as those who attacked New York City, London, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Baghdad, THREE cities in Saudi Arabia, and as of TODAY, Nice, in the south of France.

I am in Istanbul waiting to catch a plane.  To Nice.

I have been teaching English for the last ten months in Southern China. Almost without exception, all of my students are from very wealthy families (and, obviously, because I’m teaching them, they’re learning a foreign language). Yet almost NONE of them has ever been outside of China, for a vacation, or to hear English. For Chinese citizens, visiting other countries is extremely difficult. My students are in awe when I’ve told them I have visited NINE places: Canada, the United States, England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Italy, Iceland, and China.

I’m not going to see Istanbul beyond the airport today, but I WILL. And I am scheduled to be in France for a month. I’m not changing that.

I speak English and Spanish. I’m learning Mandarin. One of my favourite books growing up, Mischief in Fez, was about Morocco. I adapted it into a play because I wanted kids to know more about Islam, because I think Islam, and Muslim people, and the places where they live, are cool.

And YOU will not change that. You don’t get to tell ME or ANYONE else what they are allowed to be.

Why I love theatre technicians.

Having sent out what I believe to be a pretty kick-butt play, I’m now at the hard part: waiting. Waiting to see if anyone else with any pull to put the play onstage thinks it’s remotely as good as I think it is.

I used to wonder if writing is what I should be doing, if maybe I just really was not that good. For a while now, I’ve had a different problem: knowing that my writing is good, and still not having got one professional-level — PACT, Equity, etc — production, nor enough of a hit from one of my self-produced shows to keep working on theatre regularly.

Here is where technicians have been my saving grace.

Theatre techs — lighting, sound, set-building, the ones who do everything — are all utterly professional. They are there to make your show the absolute best it can be in the time given, and will bend over backwards, given the equipment and time they have, to give your show what it needs. And given that they work in theatre…they put up with a lot of crap.

Here’s the wonderful Henry Rollins on backstage crews. Maybe this is the reason technicians tend to be detached — I’ve never worked with one who didn’t love their work, but also maintained a very professional yet clear distance from whatever show they were working on.

And here’s the thing of which I am envious: technicians have skills. I was acquainted with a guy in Edinburgh, who produced a show at his own site-specific venue the same year we did Take a Bite.  We made a bit of money.  This fellow ended the Fringe £6,000 in debt.  The understanding among everyone involved in the show was that they were working on spec: if they show made money, they would get paid. But the producer made a terrible mistake: he assumed this included their technician. In the middle of their tech rehearsal, the tech walked out for another venue, because that’s when the producer made it clear he had no intention of paying the tech anything until and unless the show recouped its costs. He had to find and hire a new tech with one day’s notice before the start of the Edinburgh Fringe.

The technicians don’t have to like your show. They will get paid, whether your show is good or not. They will work their butts off for your show because that’s their job and they take pride in their job, but they don’t need to be invested in any show.

How do I know I’m good? Because the techs have not been able to stop themselves from saying my show is good.  When I doubt, I remember that, and grin.

I must be a writer, because I can’t stop…

…even when I try.

I haven’t posted a thing about writing, theatrical or otherwise, in months, for several reasons. The biggest, of course, is that I’m currently in southern China, teaching English. Having never been to Asia, or taught anyone under university age, those took priority, by default.

My internal jury about whether this was the best thing for me to do is still out. I am glad, however, I shook up my life, because I needed to dwell on something other than writing/theatre/drama at all for a while. Any regular followers of mine may have noticed I said basically nothing about doing my long-gestating show It Started With an Allergy at the Edmonton Fringe last summer. And I’m flummoxed to say I’m still not ready to write about it. You always hope that any show you work on will provide great experiences, memories, and fodder for further work…for now, in short, that show provided me none of that.

Over the last year or so, I had (I thought) accepted that theatre would never be my bread-and-butter, and to take a new approach. I genuinely felt ready, at last, to dive back into academia and do a PhD in drama. Imagine my dismay when, after two years of trying, I wasn’t accepted to any of the programs I wanted. Rejection is not something I’m willing to take right now, so all of my well-meaning well-wishers, offering me other possible literary programs to apply for, didn’t hear back from me.

So I spent a miserable few weeks this past fall wondering, at 41 years old, where the heck my life is going next. And bugger if the answer didn’t, I swear, just ARRIVE.

I was asleep. And woke up at 3 am thinking “Oh…that’s, that’s an idea, I have one two three complete scenes in my head, that’s a whole story beginning to end, it can wait till I get up. And have to eat breakfast. And then teach all day.” Nope. I had my laptop beside me, and, without putting my glasses on, banged out one page of the most utter nonsense one could see. It made just enough sense that in the morning, I could retype it as an outline, in actual sentences. And the following weekend, I wrote the whole play out, except for the last scene, all in one go.

It’s good. It’s REALLY good, I don’t say this often. It’s so good, I felt so good writing it, that I’m still twitchy. The last time I remotely felt this way was on finishing Take a Bite. I polished up this new play, formatted it, and I’ve made a list of places to send it.

That’s what happens to me. Whenever the doubt surfaces — am I actually a writer anyway? — it eventually appears again. I know I’m a writer because even when I try to stop, it won’t go away.

I’m writing a play in 18 hours or less!

I can’t do it in 24 hours, because I work until 5 pm.

Yes, the 2nd Annual Writeathon begins at noon tomorrow!  Last year’s was…bonkers.  Fellow writers made velcro out of their beards and resorted to lacing of warm drinks (and then just tossing the mix altogether and drinking straight out of the mickey).  Oh, and we all did some writing and raised some (a crapload) of money to keep Alberta Playwrights Network ticking.

I haven’t been flogging the Writeathon at all.  With this two months ago, and flareups of this, I’ve been lying low. Now, however, I’m going to write out the beast that is endometriosis and kick it across the room.  I am re-writing It Started With an Allergy from beginning to end, and one way or another, I’m performing it (me!) at next summer’s Edmonton Fringe.  If you’d like to see it, feel free to visit HERE.

I’ll see you when I come down from the caffeine high.