Kabuki Theatre and Oiwa #theatre

I am a theatre junkie. Kabuki is at least as old as Shakespeare.  It’s one of THE drama traditions I heard about as soon as I decided theatre was my life. Going to a kabuki play was on my must-do list while I was in Tokyo, but it was also felt, for me, like going to a cathedral and I hadn’t been to confession.

The Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginzu, Tokyo, the largest in Japan.

The Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginzu, Tokyo, the largest in Japan.

Billboard for the show outside the theatre. Of course no photos were allowed during the show.

Billboard for the show outside the theatre. Of course no photos were allowed during the show.

It was utterly amazing. It was actually four short pieces I saw, which — with intervals when you could get full meals and beer to have at your seat! — was three and half hours long. The style of acting and the men playing women (I’ll need to post about that separately—because) took some getting used to, because it’s so utterly different from any show I’ve ever seen before, and that’s part of the reason it was enthralling.

One of MANY screens hiding the stage over the performance.

One of MANY screens hiding the stage over the performance.

Everything I felt seeing my first kabuki was wrapped up in what I’d felt earlier that day while trying to track down Oiwa…the main character in one of Japan’s creepiest ghost stories, most famous kabuki plays (I didn’t see that one, sadly), and many of the country’s successful horror films.

There are a few different versions of Oiwa’s story: here’s one of the shortest, yet best and scariest. Horror and/or Japanese film fans will recognise her likeness from the Ringu series.

I have presumed to put her into one of my stories…the short film I started work on in France over the summer, and the related feature-length screenplay I just drafted. They both concern domestic violence, culture clashes, racism, sexism, revenge, and guilt.

Theatre people are, put mildly, superstitious. We call it “The Scottish Play” or “McBoo”. We leave a “ghost light” on in the middle of the stage when the theatre is otherwise empty and dark. And in Japan, whenever an actor onstage, or an actress on film, takes the role of Oiwa, they go to her shrine in Tokyo and ask Oiwa’s permission to play her.

And that’s what I did too.

The shrine in Yotsuya, Tokyo.

The shrine in Yotsuya, Tokyo.

The trope of the Maiden Ghost, based on Oiwa, has appeared in so many incarnations now that she’s thrown the first pitch in a baseball game. Which sounds silly, but I find it actually shows that Japan takes her as seriously as kabuki; she is embedded in Japanese culture — everyone knows her, and everyone, in a strange way, loves her. She embodies something genuinely wrong — vengeance — but it’s something everyone understands and has, at some point, wanted against someone else. I’m frightened by and enthralled by her.

I hope it’s not cultural appropriation — Gore Verbinski’s remade Ringu, quite well, I thought. Yes, I went to visit Tokyo to see the city, yes I met up with an old friend who’s been in Japan 14 years. However…I also went to Tokyo specifically to visit Oiwa’s shrine and ask “is this okay?” I hope it is.

A closer look at one grave.

A closer look at one grave.

Cemetery behind the shrine.

Cemetery behind the shrine.

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.

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.

The Ugly Princess….revealed! In August.

At last, I have a smidgen of theatre news to share: my play The Ugly Princess will have a public reading as part of Script Salon, a new reading series starting in April!

The Salon is the brainchild of David Belke, and will take place the first Sunday of every month, 7:30 pm, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

The Ugly Princess will have her day on 3 August 2014…so it will be ever-so-slightly in the Fringe after all.

Who’d like to pick a name that will live FOREVER??

Mwa ha ha.

The Writeathon is in T minus 2 hours. I’ve been tasked with keeping YOU glued to the internet for the duration, so here’s my carrot:

I will be auctioning off the FOLLOWING NAMES of characters and places IN MY PLAY, The Ugly Princess, as I write it. Click HERE to donate.

For $50, you could pick the name of —

The mad king
The handsome prince
The smarmy manservant
The pretty – but mean villianess.

For $100, you could pick the name of —

The country the ugly princess rules, or
The country the handsome prince is from.

I’ll announce the names, and the donors who’ve picked them, as they come up. The ugly princess herself has already been named, thanks to a donation from Dale Lee Kwong! But I’m keeping that under wraps until just before the Writeathon ends, tomorrow at 7pm!

I’ve got Banff-playwright squidgies

I don’t know how else to describe it.

Oh, there’s been a lack of time, certainly. Partly it’s procrastination – never had I felt a stronger need to wash and sanitize my rubbish bins and change my cat’s litter than this past weekend.

But the greatest enemy is SELF-DOUBT. Never doubt that. And it took a large Second Cup holiday tea, nanaimo bar and 4 HOURS to conquer it enough to get out my scene for Playworks Ink.

You see, besides seeing Mr Christopher Plummer (I can’t stop thinking that), Playworks is also going to have workshops. Classes. Classes which mundane me gets to take, from people who really, REALLY know what they’re doing. Chris Craddock is doing Solo Creation. If your life’s being is meant to be alone, onstage, JUST YOU, this is the man you need to show you how. He’s amazing. Classes with Sharon Pollock, who is among the best playwrights in Canada ever, and planet earth, and wrote Doc one of the plays which made me think “Oh God, let me write something 10 per cent as good as that one day…” I once met her, at another APN event, years ago. I hope she’s forgotten, because on hearing her name I squealed. Dignified.

I myself am taking Facing the Rewrite, with a playwright named Robert O’Hara, from New. York. City. Who has won an Obie Award. These facts would be enough to make my brain melt, but I’m also going to be taking a session with him called Don’t F*ck up my Play! This makes me weep with happiness.

Until this past weekend, on realizing, f*ck, I had to write something new, to rewrite during Facing the Rewrite, with an Obie-winning-playwright from NYC at the BANFF CENTRE. I knew exactly the scene from the new play I wanted to write…it just wouldn’t come out.

In this situation, it doesn’t work to say – “I’ve already paid, they’re not going to NOT let me in.” I’m going because I want to learn and I want to be GOOD because it’s Banff and this writer is good, and I can’t bring…mediocre.

It’s hard to explain the relief, when it did come out. It frightens me a bit that it took so long, that it felt so hard to start…and how relieved I am that once I got going, it was fine.

So. I’m excited again. I’ve heard today there is still a bit of room left in both Facing the Rewrite and Sharon’s course The Playwright as Storyteller. Really, you should sign up. Soon. Because…Don’t F*ck up my Play is full. (And Christopher Plummer is coming.)

Why I dislike being a “woman writer”.

Besides the fact that “woman” in this case is used as an adjective when it’s a NOUN. I HATE THAT.

This post may seem like I’m looking the gift horse in the mouth, and I genuinely don’t know why this occurred to me today, but it has, so here we go:

This morning, I received an e-mail saying “I’m pleased to inform you that Crushed has made a sale.” I get that same e-mail about every six weeks or so.

I wrote Crushed in 1997. It had its premiere at the Walterdale Playhouse, during their Evening of One-Acts program — it’s now called Cradle to Stage (now accepting submissions…do it!). This program did — and does — get some heavyweight dramaturges to assist the playwrights. Mine was Vern Thiessen. And here it is, my little two-hander one-act, doing quite well in the fledgling world of online publishing. And a sliver of me wonders why.

It’s very short, 18 pages, though its playing time has always been not less than 30 minutes. It’s about two sisters…the younger is an abusive relationship, and she in turn is rather abusive to her older sister. It’s a very, VERY cheerful story.

Does it still have legs because there are still too few really good scripts out there for actresses? Is it because I happened to get it right — how an abused woman thinks, and how she might in turn end up hurting the people around her? Because — very unfortunately — domestic abuse is happening?

I’ve been very lucky. I have never been physically abused by a man — I wouldn’t stand for it. I have never been turned down for a job because I’m female. But maybe it’s because I’m older, and still on my own, or because there does appear to be a true movement to belittle women lately, that I’m pondering how little progress we’re actually making. I’d like to believe there are more men like these in my own sphere, who not only don’t believe I’m lesser, but would step up when another man says I am. I wish Suzanne Moore of The Guardian wasn’t right…but she is.

I hate being a “woman writer” because that implies what I’ve written about couldn’t possibly matter to anyone but other women. So I put it out there, brothers: if your sister is being beaten up by her boyfriend, isn’t that your problem? What about your daughter, or niece, or your best friend’s daughter? If that boyfriend said “She was asking for it,” would you really say “Yeah man. Women“?