Actor-Director-Playwright Michael Wright and I explore risky venues. We chat about finding your creative voice. We also talk about taking a chance with your writing and staging your original work.
Michael and I discuss how to draw an audience into your world.
University of Tulsa professor Michael Wright is a theatre director, actor, teacher, and playwright. His theatrical work plays with form, audience interaction, and uncommon theatre venues. Michael authored Playwriting in Process, Playwriting Master Class, and Sensory Writing for Stage and Screen. He received awards for his work as a teacher of playwriting from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and the Kennedy Center.
During the podcast, you’ll hear us talk about the Tulsa Artists’ Coalition Gallery. We also mention Playwright David Blakely. David currently serves as the Playwright in Residence for Tulsa’s Heller Theatre. I’ll feature David in a later episode.
Michael and I reminisced about Sam Shepherd and his play True West (which he saw at Steppenwolf). Michael also mentioned the WomenWorks program for female playwrights in graduate school. I didn’t include links to that program as you must be selected for it. If you are a woman in grad school, talk to your playwriting professor. Mention the University of Tulsa playwriting competition for graduate women playwrights, WomenWorks.
Be sure to listen until the end of the interview for Concise Advice from the Interview. Stay until the end for Words of Wisdom from George. I sometimes even include my bloopers.
SallyPAL can now be found on Acast, Blubrry, GooglePlay, and iTunes. I’m also on Overcast, PlayerFM, Pocketcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, and, of course, my host platform, Podbean. Check out Podbean the week of November 27 when Podbean features the SallyPAL podcast!
If you sign up for the mailing list, you’ll get a free insert for your creator’s notebook. It’s a list of people you’ll need to help you produce your show along with some great links to more in-depth information.
In Episode 12, I enlist my husband George (the coolest guy on the planet) to ask questions about stage direction. I cover how to approach work when you are a beginning director, how to collaborate without giving away your job to enthusiastic performers and staff, and how a director can make an impact on an audience.
What’s the most important advice for a successful collaboration? Communicate with your stage direction team. They can keep you on point while they lighten the load.
What’s the best way for a beginning director to approach stage direction? Start small and keep it simple. We used to say, “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or K.I.S.S. Now we say, “Keep It Simple, Simon.” It’s nicer.
What’s the most important thing for a director to remember? The Story, The Story, The Story. Everything we do must serve the story. That truly is all there is. We are, after all, story tellers.
What does it mean to create a safe space in terms of stage direction. Andhow would you do that? It’s about maintaining a rehearsal environment where actors feel free to collaborate. It doesn’t serve anyone if your team is afraid to express their ideas in what is, essentially, a creative space.
What do the most successful directors do that we can emulate?Collaborate while maintaining the vision. For the director, the vision is what holds the whole together; set, lighting, costumes, performances, script. Without vision, these are a jumble of pieces that don’t necessarily go together.
What is the unseen work in stage direction? A good director will spend a lot of time with the script. They will also talk to designers and other staff before performers are selected. Do your stage direction homework. Solid front end work saves time and creates confidence in your performers.
How can directors make an impact on an audience? Have a clear visual notion of the story you are telling. Design cohesion in stage direction means paying attention to details and honoring the work of collaborators. Everyone’s contribution counts as long as everyone is building the same world.
Birthing the Crone
You will often hear women (and men) bemoaning the lack of meaty roles for women in film, TV, and on stage. I agree, yet I do so with a caveat: Meaty roles for women written by women are different from the meaty women’s roles written by men. This is not to suggest in any way that men are unable to write for women. My son is a damned good playwright who writes women’s roles with great sensitivity and insight. Yet, much as an elevator stop in the sub basement, performing your own work written from your unique perspective reveals new mysteries.
A Writer Observes
Writing a play about someone else’s life experience seems like a tough job. It’s especially hard when writing for more than one character. Consequently, the writer’s own experience gets spread like peanut butter over every character. This character speaks from your high school point of view. And this character says things you wanted to say to your grandmother but didn’t get the chance. And this character speaks from the feelings wrapped around a moment of deep embarrassment, or grief, or shock. The payoff comes because we improve our skills of observation. Lisa Wilson embodies this skill.
Birthing the Crone
I interview actor, director, playwright, and University of Tulsa Women’s Studies professor, Lisa Wilson. Lisa acts as playwright, performer, director, and producer of her own work. As a result, she shares her observations with a live audience. It sets her work apart from the performances of actors depicting lives written by other playwrights. Because Lisa so richly embodies the character based on her own life, you forget you’re watching a play.
Lisa Wilson – Old Crone with a New Voice
Furthermore, Lisa is a recipient of the prestigious Jingle Feldman Individual Artist Award for her original one-woman show, “Only Four People Know About This”. “Birthing the Crone” is the second play in a series titled, “The Crone Chronicles”. Lisa based the series on her experiences of aging and loss with some hilarious and vulnerable insights. Finally, we talk about women’s voices and the effect of life’s changes on the artistic process.
Listen to Episode 4 – Producing a New Play with Emile Adams
Taking on a big project has pitfalls. When the big project is an original play you wrote, the pitfalls include emotional exposure, frustration, and maybe even some embarrassment. But anybody who’s given birth to a work of art knows there are big payoffs. Emile Adams is a study in therapeutic writing. Emile claims to get some emotional benefit from her writing. She also happens to have been recognized many times over for her humor, pathos, insight, and dynamism as an actor, director, and playwright. When an individual takes on the task of producing an original work, they must be prepared to grow. The desire to produce a letter-perfect production may give way, as it often has for Emile, to a higher ideal; artistic growth. From her early Tulsa City-County Library play to her most recent Summerstage production, Emile pushes past obstacles including bipolar disorder. The willingness to grapple with a common truth is one of the most important things an artist brings to the process of staging an original work. Emile brings this with her every time, even if she is doing it kicking and screaming in an attempt to bring the creation fully alive. Listen to Episode 4 – Producing a New Play with Emile Adams
Listen to Episode 4 – Producing a New Play with Emile Adams
Listen to Episode 3 – Student Performers with Daniel Bowers
Shakespearean Moments As the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) comes under fire and the conversation for saving the arts in schools pops up on social media yet again, I want to introduce you to Daniel Bowers. Daniel is a well-rounded kid with a hunger for performing. He sings in choir, he acts on the stage. It would not surprise me to see him take up tap dancing. Despite being a 6’4” 15-year-old football player, Daniel speaks as eloquently on acting as any acting coach. He credits his stage experience with building confidence, making friends, learning how to solve problems under pressure, and developing an appetite for working with a diverse group of people creating a big collaborative work from the ground up. These all seem like the things we would want kids to learn to succeed in life, never mind having a career as an actor. I met Daniel when he entered 6th grade at the school where I taught theater arts. He seemed to be a quiet kid but there was a lot going on in that busy brain. In addition to being an avid reader, Daniel is interested in history, languages, and making people laugh with the cast of characters living in his head. He auditioned for Alice in Wonderland. After landing a small role, he set about creating a character that stole the show. Without mugging, or ad libbing, Daniel did something adult actors occasionally miss. He took what was on the page along with a small bit of directing, and he created a memorable moment within the context of a story. I have directed Daniel in two other plays and it has always been a joy. The last show, Juliet Rescue, was a new piece written by my son, Will Inman (episode 2) and me. Daniel played “Young Will Shakespeare”. He eagerly took on the role and, while speaking in the Bard’s style, he created several hilarious moments that added warmth to the play. When I retired from teaching a year ago, I told him to come visit me in Virginia and I would take him to the Folger Library in Washington DC. It is the foremost Shakespearean library in the world. Daniel and his mom took me up on my offer and we spent quite some time learning about the collection at the Folger. I can imagine Daniel on stage there one day. But for now, I am thrilled to have seen him savor another kind of Shakespearean moment. There are lots of kids who benefit from performance experience. They are girls and boys, shy and outspoken, theatre nerds and athletes, straight-A students and strugglers, and everyone in between. They are a generation of leaders and innovators. And we want them all to have Daniel’s confidence. I hope you will enjoy Episode 3 of SallyPAL with Daniel Bowers.
Listen to Episode 3 – Student Performers with Daniel Bowers
Listen to Episode 3 – Student Performers with Daniel Bowers https://sallypal.podbean.com/mf/web/sgeydf/Ep_3_Student_Performers_with_Daniel_Bowers.mp3
The Final Collaborator
No matter how you define it, performing arts are collaborative. “But Sally, what if I have a one-man show I wrote, directed, and produced?” Unless you are performing for the shadows in your basement, even your one-man show will include at least one or two other collaborators. Your audience could be described as ‘the final collaborator’. Unlike stories told in the movies, on tv, or via the internet, a live performance assumes a live audience. Referring to a ‘dead’ audience simply means the audience isn’t noticeably responding to the performance. A live or lively audience is laughing, clapping, gasping, leaning forward, or otherwise exhibiting signs of participating in the moment. When audience members are emotionally engaged for the duration of a performance, they collaborate with performers in subtle ways. The academic term for this is suspension of disbelief. The illusion becomes real so long as the audience allows. A performer, director, or designer who ignores the value an audience brings to a live performance is in real danger of producing a lackluster show. Whether or not your audience members know it, they provide the final collaborative effort of an ever evolving medium. Listen to Episode 2 – Team Building
Listen to Episode 2 – Team Building
Will Inman In 2013, Will Inman’s one-act play, Bad Days, was selected for a staged reading at the Kennedy Center as part of the VSA student playwright competition. Will’s plays have received a variety of writing awards and productions including the Rogers State University Original Recipe retrospective, and the Writopia Labs Comedy Playwriting Festival selected by David Letterman’s writing staff, both in 2014. In 2015 His play, Lesbian Exhibit, was featured as part of his hometown’s Fringe Festival. Lesbian Exhibit also received a staged reading in February at Rogers State University and a portion of that play was performed at Torrent Theatre in New York City in the Fall of 2016. Will starts his senior year in the University of Houston playwriting program in the fall of 2017. Listen to Episode 2 – Team Building
Darian Silvers Darian Silvers is a native Houstonian who comes to directing through his work as a dancer/choreographer. He has performed on stage as an actor/dancer in the Houston area for the last 16 years. He recently directed a staged reading of the new opera, North Pond, at MATCH-Midtown Arts & Theater Center in Houston. Darian will direct Legally Blond and Little Shop of Horrors in the Adirondacks during the summer of 2017. Listen to Episode 2 – Team Building
Blog Post – What’s in Your Way?
I had an enlightening conversation today with my friend Sheila about how I have been avoiding putting my podcast out into the world. I already had the first episode fully produced. But I have been second guessing myself daily until I finally went back and listened with people whose opinions I trust. That’s all it took. They didn’t even have to say anything. Just the act of listening to the podcast with my husband and daughter gave me fresh ears to hear what was missing. That is not to say Episode 1 is the most fabulous podcast ever made. I assure you, it is not. It is, however, the start of something I anticipate will improve as I learn and grow with your suggestions. It’s like that with original work, isn’t it? When you first write an idea into a document, or try dance steps alone in your kitchen, or sing some song phrase into your phone, you are not quite ready to share it. Or you struggle to make your partner or your mom (or your kid) understand what you’re creating. A few key strokes, dance steps, or musical notes later you might be ready to share. When you share, if you want your work to grow, you must start by finding someone who a) validates you as an artist, b) understands the value of constructive criticism, and c) is given the go-ahead (by you) to give an honest reaction. Most of the time you don’t even need to hear what they think, it will become clear what needs to be done as soon as you reveal this early draft. But your audience of one or two may still want to talk about what they noticed. When you allow people to express opinions about a work of art you are never suggesting that every idea expressed will be incorporated into your work. That would be silly. Allowing another person to share an opinion about something precious to you is the beginning of collaboration. To be able to hear what other people think about the work, your ego must step out of the way. Take what you can use, disregard the rest and thank all your critics for their opinions. Thank them with genuine gratitude. I promise, this gets easier to do after some practice. Don’t be confused about comments made about your art. A person commenting on your work is not critiquing your character. Listen for the contribution to the art. Sometimes, the most ridiculous ideas can lead to sublime finished work. Listen to Episode 1 of SallyPAL the Podcast
Ayah Bdeir at TED: Building blocks that blink, beep and teach How does approaching a complex problem with the mind of a child elicit fresh, creative, accessible new things? Ayah Bdeir, an artist/engineer looked at Legos and was inspired to consider transistors in a new way. I have often told my students that art is a unique expression of a universal idea. This broadens the concept of art significantly. If we want to inspire creative thinking, we must be willing to encourage and celebrate differentness and its contribution to the creative process. Diversity, a buzzword for racial and gender integration, takes on powerful meaning in the world of art and education. Diversity is a necessity for artists. But children who are different often feel at odds with a system that rewards sameness. I look at a classroom full of middle school kids and I sometimes wonder if teaching them how to work to a standard is one way to let them off the hook. Kids do the minimum required rather than push for greater understanding, deeper knowledge, and personal best skill development. Once a student recognizes the objectives of the academic game, he or she is free to play at any level. If good grades are the goal, many savvy learners do what is required to get to the goal, but no more. For those not interested in the game, playing at academics is boring, annoying, or off the radar. For those who have been trained to believe their grades have some connection to an individual’s character quality, the game of school can produce paralyzing anxiety.
How do we, as educators, provide the assessments kids want without attaching them to a child’s self-worth? This non-judgmental assessment feature is no fantasy. Children who play video games live in a world of action assessment. When a character dies on a video screen as a result of a lack of skill or knowledge, there is rarely a response like some I have seen in school when children do poorly on tests. The gamer’s reaction to a lack of skill is to get better at the game whether through repetition, research, or online cheats (don’t be fooled by the name; cheats have their own learning curve). When the expectations for schoolwork reach beyond skill building and touch the sensitive nerves around a student’s developing sense of self, there is room for reassessment of our assessment tools.
Rather than push for homogeny, we could reward new ways of thinking. The weird girl who thinks differently will be included at lunch because the school’s environment embraces and rewards her contributions. The weird boy who daydreams will be lured into conversations to mine his mind for unique ideas that cause an upward spiral of abstract thought in the classroom. We have a role to play as teachers in creating an environment where divergence is no longer frowned upon but encouraged. In fact, we now know it is this divergent thinking that creates great ideas such as Legos and littleBits. It’s about time we stop rewarding imitation. Let’s celebrate the weird kids and give everyone permission to reveal his or her diversity.
This is a terrific article written last May for the Washington Post online magazine. My friend and fellow arts instructor, Jan, sent it to me today. It reiterates what I have been saying to anyone who will listen: Improved test scores are not an adequate reason to include or exclude a subject area. Arts have intrinsic value not specifically related and yet foundational to learning in core subject areas.
This post from TheArtsRoom (in Rhode Island) preaches to the choir but I think you will enjoy many of the quotes. The book mentioned in the post, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire by Rafe Esquith, is one of my favorite teacher resources. I have a copy in my bookshelf and I ordered one for our school’s library. Enjoy the rest of the reblog!
“I soon learned a basic truth about the arts: students involved in arts education are learning about things far beyond the art they study.” -Rafe Esquith, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire This weekend marks the midpoint of summer vacation for those of us with school-age children in the house. So, while I will continue to set aside the back-to-school Lands End catalogs and ignore the Staples ads in my inbox, there are some reminders of the fast-app … Read More