VOTE. You have to Vote. Part 3 – media

Quebec City mosque shooting victims include businessman, professor and fathers of young children
6 men were shot in the back as they gathered for evening prayer, mosque’s vice-president says

FIRST.

Now.

I wanted to know who did it. I was so anxious to know I was on Twitter all day. Which, we should know, is a BAD place to get up-to-date news.

I realized yesterday afternoon I was contributing to the bile by even looking at it, and made myself log out.

In the end, one person was arrested.

From now on, BE PATIENT. Police have a job to do, LET THEM do it.

STOP getting your news off Twitter. STOP. I know that’s hard, given the possible forced deportations which no one can find out anything about. BUT, this happened in CANADA. For right now, we do still have some reliable media outlets. Here they are.

Vote with your money: Start PAYING for news again. We have to. News has gone downhill, and Part of the reason is likely because ad revenue has cratered, so they feel compelled to take “native advertising” and pander to customers instead of sticking to journalistic integrity. PAY FOR reliable news so they can pay reporters and researchers to do the work.

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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.

THE WHEATLEYS KNOW WHO I AM.

In the great sea of the internet, anyway.

This is what happened on Twitter today:

iPhone capture from Twitter.

iPhone capture from Twitter.

I have been waiting to see this film since last July. I tweeted this musing randomly (what else is Twitter but random musing?) on my lunch break from my day job. And get a reply from what I incredulously assumed was a spambot, or a fan who tweets under Mr Wheatley’s name. But on looking at the profile of @mr_wheatley (followed by Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss, among others), and looking at the website

It could be Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s staff, managing their blog, who look for any mention of their films. BUT WHO CARES?

So, yeah. Tonight, I have an APN phone meeting, and then I need to renew some artist memberships — because I’m a card-carrying artist. And then, instead of doing dishes OR watching A Field in England, I’m going to write. Because Mr and Mrs Wheatley told me to!

“So you want to be a writer?”

For various reasons, I haven’t been writing lately. I have a new(ish) day job, which I go in to early and sometimes stay late at…and occasionally, it’s going into the weekends. I’m enjoying it. It’s a lot of responsibility, and at 39, I’m beginning to feel like an… adult. I’ve rearranged a number of other things in my life, and that’s making me feel more adult as well (Note: NOT “grownup”). I have been genuinely busy, and when I get home, I’m content to have dinner and do laundry and go to bed. All of this has kept me off Twitter, and the web…and from going to shows recently. And…I’m finding I don’t miss any of those things.

Yet I’m also feeling very cut off.

I’ve signed up for the upcoming Playwrights Circle myself, to work on The Ugly Princess, and I’m entering Marathon/Sprint (from Skirts Afire last year) into the Act One program of APN. It seems odd to me that I feel I need to force myself to make time to write – after all, if I need to do that, maybe I don’t want to. I do want to, however, but I had another scary moment this week…the thought entered my head: “what’s the point?”

My wonderful Take a Bite director Amy had agreed to direct The Ugly Princess at the Edmonton Fringe this year…should we get in, which we didn’t. I (briefly) entertained the idea of doing a BYOV anyway – which I swore I would never do again – because the idea of going a year without a show was galling. But in the end it just didn’t pan out. I think “what’s the point?” snowballed from “not enough audience cares for what you write – no one is interested in doing your shows themselves…if people aren’t interested in what you do… you can’t force them.”

I convinced myself I don’t have time to write just now anyway – which I don’t. But it makes me feel hollow that I don’t. Even if no one watches, even if no one else wants to produce my work…I still have ideas and I still want to write them.

Right before I left for Scotland ten (yikes) years ago, I ran across a book of Charles Bukowski’s poetry, Sifting Through the Madness for the Word the Line the Way. The very first poem was titled: “So you want to be a writer?” It was harsh. And honest. Even though I was leaving the country with only a backpack, I spent $40 on that book and brought it with me for that one poem. The basic idea I got from it was: “will you do it anyway? If no one listens, if you’re never published, if you die with this never being heard, will you write anyway?”

Yes. So, I am still a writer. Just writing that makes me feel a bit less hollow.

Take Pains. Be Perfect.

“We will meet, and there we may rehearse most obscenely and courageously. Take pains. Be perfect. Adieu.” A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This morning, I ordered The Hollow Crown. I have, I admit, already seen it, and pre-ordered the DVD I could play in Canada the moment it became available. That’s for another post. (It’s excellent. All four parts. Buy it. Buy it buy it buy it.)

It will be clear to anyone who knows me, and any regular readers I have, that I’ve been going through a bit of a funk. This site is my professional face, so I won’t go on about the other facets of my existence not going right, but my professional playwriting facet hasn’t been going the way I wish either, which has compounded things.

About a month ago, I asked myself, “Why am I still doing this?” And for the first time in my life…I couldn’t answer myself right away.

I chose to devote my brain, my every moment really, to writing for theatre. I chose it because I love doing it. But WHY did I love it?

I couldn’t remember.

The wonderful Mr Simkins’ Guardian article gives one reason the majority of us (yes, I’m saying US) keep at it: “it’s a drug – and once it gets in your system, it’s difficult to break the habit”. When you do get a role, when a show you’re doing goes well, it is very like a shot of adrenaline. You feel great.

It’s the bite of the theatre bug. At the end of high school, where I’d been called one of the best actors they’d seen in a long time and an excellent writer, I asked my drama teachers if they honestly thought I could hack it in drama school. They said no. I wasn’t thick-skinned enough, I’d be eaten alive. Good, I thought, that’s that. So I did my English degree, intending to become…a journalist? …a teacher? Lying to yourself is futile, ladies and gentlemen. Halfway through my third year, I won a playwriting contest. I had been infected by the theatre bug when I was FOUR. No escape.

Take Pains. Be Perfect.

So. Apparently this is what I’m meant to do. I’ve worked my tail off at it. Other theatre professionals have told me I am good and should keep at it. And here I was, about a month ago, questioning at age 38 what the hell I’ve been doing. Ultimately I chose to write and keep writing because I love it…

But without remembering, even for myself, why I love it, I had my worst anxiety attack in years.

There were some shows in the last month I wanted to see. I didn’t go. One night I tried watching a movie at home, a movie I’d seen before and enjoyed, just to take my mind off things, and stopped it in a panic when I saw the boom mike in frame. I’m not watching the movie anymore, why is the mike…! I went to the house of my best friends, while they were feeding their kids dinner, and had a breakdown with them.

Now…we come to Shakespeare.

I was at home after a long day at my day job, watching cat videos on YouTube. I happened upon a review of The Hollow Crown series, and although I’d seen them already…I watched it.

A very brief prelude for all who haven’t seen it: the review contained a clip of the scene in Henry IV part 2, where King Henry — played by Jeremy Irons — is awake in the dead of night, wandering into the throne room of his blue-moonlit-castle, saying “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Stendhal’s Syndrome. I am not exaggerating.

Take Pains. Be Perfect.

Perfect script. Perfect adaptation of a perfect script. Perfect actor in that part. Perfect setting. Perfectly set. Perfect perfect PERFECT.

And when the last bit of The Hollow Crown was broadcast in Britain last year, and was pre-empted by Wimbledon…there was an outcry from the public. Over Shakespeare.

These films had the very best actors cast in exactly the right roles, and exactly the right crew making them, from the costumes to the swords to the direction. They were perfect, and the audience agreed.

I am still learning, in this, my long, rarely-paying playwriting career. Some tidbits I’ve learned:

– when to admit that a script I have worked diligently on is still not ready to be seen.
– when to leave the director and cast to get on with it, and when–because I’m the producer and coming up with the money–to step in.
– that the perfect actor may not always be cast in their role, sometimes for the stupidest of reasons, and so that show will not be perfect — and one must get on with life, and the next show.
– that audiences and critics are seeing your show with NEW EYES. Listen and weigh what they say…they may be right.
– that striving for the perfect show means getting hurt. Badly.

My fellow playwright Kim McCaw told me once about a good friend of his who’s been an actor in London for years. He’s been in too many shows to count, and after every show, his friends and family have come backstage and said “Well done, we really enjoyed that.” Then he was in War Horse. And everyone came backstage screaming “OH MY GOD! That was AMAZING!”

Many shows turn out badly. Some shows are good. A few are perfect.

I am taking pains to be perfect. I am hurting because I want my work not to be good, but perfect. Whenever I have written the best script, and gotten the perfect director for it, and the perfect actors in each part AND for each other, the show has been perfect. And on those few occasions, the audience, no matter how small, has loved it. I am selling only the scripts of Crushed and Take a Bite because I am that proud of them. They are, I daresay, perfect.

THAT is what I love.

The day a dozen firemen rescued me!

Sort of.

Once again, we can thank Twitter:

Here’s what happened:

Back in the late fall of 2001, after the attacks on New York City and Washington DC, came the anthrax. I worked at The Edmonton Journal at the time. One day, I came home to find my electric bill in my mailbox, and this written on the back in thick, black, greasepen:

9/11

Now. I’m working at a newspaper. Canadian soldiers were walking around in fatigues and driving around in tanks. In Edmonton. I decided to be cautious and brought the (unopened) bill to the electric company’s main office downtown and asked a customer service representative about it. His advice: it was probably nothing, but don’t open it anyway. Thanks.

This was just down the block from work. So, I brought the envelope to show my boss. This is where the teasing began.

“OH, so you decided to bring it to work and share it with us?”

No. Not serious at all. Which is why one of the paper’s photographers later took a photo of the (still unopened) envelope lying on my desk while the firemen walked in.

Because: after my boss had a look at the envelope, another co-worker suggested I call 311 (the city’s helpline), and just ask about it. So I did. And got transferred to 911. And was told there would be a big bunch of people there in just a moment.

FREEZE ON: Me realizing I’ve just accidentally called the fire department.

So a dozen (or so) firemen come in, approach my desk, have a look at the envelope, and bring it into an empty boardroom to open. EVERYONE in the newsroom has gathered round, staring into the glassed-off room, partly because they’re newshounds, partly because they want to know what the HELL is happening?!

Finally, the firemen came out…envelope safely opened, nothing but my innocuous statement inside. And then the jokes started:

“You’re turning as red as your hair!”

“The good news is they owe YOU money!”

Telling my friends about this afterward:

“Your life is so much more interesting than ours.”

“So? Were any of them single?”

My friend Jessie gave a copy of the book The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want to each of her bridesmaids. It contains advice on how to meet firemen. It’s funny how closely I unintentionally followed it.

How much is too much?

So. It seems we are all, consistently, every day, being spied upon. By posting this, I’m exposing my nefarious interest in writing, theatre, and all things artsy. By reading this, you are exposing your interest in said topics. But…we all knew this. NO social media platform is supplying us with tools to use the internet out of charity — every piece of information about you (“Tried honeybush tea today. Didn’t like it”) is valuable to someone out there (cue the web-ad for $12 rooibos instead!).

I’m on the communications committee of Alberta Playwrights Network. One of the goals is to get the word out more, better, and further, about what we do, and what our members — playwrights — do. I use every means I can to promote myself, and particularly my work. I’m on this very blogging site, and Twitter, FB, Pinterest, and I once had a MySpace (that one is now defunct — a bit sad). A co-worker found me on linkedin, and was a bit surprised to find my whole online profile was about performing arts; he had no idea. Now, he does.

There are so, so many advantages to using these internet means to get the word out about what I’m doing. It’s free. It’s easy. It’s instant. When you’re independently producing your own shows, and barely have a budget to put the show on, free publicity is vital. And it’s not just publicity — when a show catches fire, word of mouth genuinely works…and these days, it works not just by one person telling their friend they liked your play…they tweet about it to everyone they know. This can only be good…

Except when it’s not. Besides the fact that, deep down, we KNOW these services aren’t free (everyone wants something from you, and they will get it), social media can allow you to inflate your own ego. I had a couple of truly fascinating Twitter weeks — almost everything I said was being replied to, retweeted, “favourited”. (The highlight was me simply asking if Joss Whedon’s new version of Much Ado About Nothing was being released in Canada…and @Whedonesque instantly replied with a date. Gloriousness.) I didn’t realize how much…bigger, this was making me feel, until this past week I got yet another, real-life rejection letter, and crashed, hard. How many millions of people tweet? I am, really, in the larger world nobody. I was reminded: nobody.

My Twitter colleague and fellow playwright Gwydion Suilebhan blogged recently in part about how new technologies supplant previous ones: radio by movies, then TV, now very quickly, the digital. And overall the digital has been very good for us, I truly think so. What we need to keep remembering — what I forgot for a bit — is that it’s a TOOL. Always, we must control it, and use it to keep real life purring.