National Theatre

Greetings from the National Theatre Studio in London, where I'm in the midst of a 6-week attachment. Cranking out a new play, doing a reading of #bros, and reconnecting with collaborators in the UK. 

ALSO -- trying to remain calm about this thing happening in America.

Turtle in Chicago

Redtwist, a storefront in Chicago, will produce my play Turtle this November. Very excited to reunite with Damon Kiely on this one. We were supposed to be part of the 2015 season at Next Theatre before they went under. We're back and even more culturally relevant as America wrestles with its white male fragility and the splintering of the Republican party.

Info and Tix

(particularly excited that the play follows Lucy Thurber's Scarcity. Love Lucy Thurber and that play!)

Branded Content

Dramaturgical insights + 90's nostalgia + copywriting = Snackstreet.

This spring, I wrote for a series of branded content videos about a 90's boy band. Check out the first vid below...

#bros, #bros, #bros

The start of 2016 has been about workshopping my play #bros. 

There've been readings in London, Kent, and Sarasota, Florida at Asolo Rep as part of their Unplugged Festival of new work. Different actors, different points of view expressed. Hard work -- investigating male privilege. 

In Florida, subscribers in their 70's and 80's stuck with the 90 minute barrage of Twitter references and misogyny. Some hated it, but others engaged with the ideas in the play. In one of those "I'll never forget this" moments, an 80 yr old man said he felt his generation let others down by not taking more responsibility for their relationship to male privilege. It was powerful and arresting.

Meanwhile, people just keep talking about bros in culture. Bernie Bros are ripping away at HRC in comments sections and on Twitter. Wesley Morris wrote about Broliferation in the NYT Magazine. Reggie Yates, the BBC presenter, interviewed members of the Mens Rights Movement. 

Some friends are doing living room readings of the play just to have it heard and help spark conversation about privilege. If you're interested in doing that, please be in touch. We have to get messy and talk about this stuff. As one character in the play says: "it's an imperative that grabs at my skins and my bones."

JJ

On December 7, 2011 Newt Gingrich led most polls for the GOP primaries at 32%. Over the next month, Gingrich said Palestine was a made-up country and that its children were taught terrorism in classrooms. His opponents went after him in attack ads and the Republican establishment poured money into Iowa in part to undo his momentum. He sparred with moderator John King during a debate about marital infidelity. He called for a US-operated moon base by 2020. A Super PAC produced a slanderous 30 minute "documentary" about Mitt Romney that was then discredited by every reputable news source.

Gingrich won the South Carolina primary on Jan 21, 2012. It was his high water mark. He was already bleeding in national polls by then, down to about 13%. Gingrich still found support in Southern states (he won Georgia's primary and finished 2nd in Alabama and Mississippi), but by then Romney was on his way to securing the nomination. Gingrich finally suspended his campaign in late April.

The refrain repeats four years later: a larger than life political personality with sizable hair and a penchant for saying inflammatory things excites a radical portion of his party. 

(By the way, remember Herman Cain? He was an African-American who claimed outsider status and briefly led polls in October before crumbling under media scrutiny. See: Ben Carson.) 

On a dare, I just typed "Trump is Right" into Twitter and read thousands of tweets from people supporting the Donald. In parts of America, reservoirs of fear and pain ferment into hate and violence. Some men tap into the hate in order to promote their own power. 

In 2016, though the names are different and circumstances have changed, I hope history repeats itself. I hope that the rancor that is being released right now eventually corrodes the candidacy of an extremist instead of eating away at our national credibility, safety, and identity.

#Bros news

My new play #bros was a finalist for the Relentless Award, the first year of this amazing new prize in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The script made it from a pool of 2,000 to the top four. 

Additionally, the play was long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize in the UK. The Bruntwood is the UK's biggest playwriting competition. They also receive about 2,000 submissions.

Both contests were blind, which means readers didn't know the name of the author. I was eligible for both because we moved between the US and the UK during the submission window.

While the money from winning would have been a substantial boost to this writer's livelihood, knowing that the script resonates with readers on both sides of the pond helps renew my energy as I dive into another round of rewrites.

Up next for the play is a workshop at Soho Theatre in early December.

- J xx

On Middle Aged White Americans

Last week the NY Times reported on a new economics study out of Princeton that points to the rising death rate amongst middle aged white Americans, who I think we should call MAWAs.

MAWAs are the only demographic group seeing a rise in death rates. Young white people, old white people, and every other American ethnic group has a declining death rate. The causes of the increased rate appear to be substance abuse and suicide.

The study's authors report that MAWAs are more likely than others to experience chronic physical pain and financial distress. They have a high rate of unemployment due to physical and mental health disabilities,The least educated in the group report the most physical pain. Summing it up, one expert said:

"This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”

But what is that something? 

It's easy to say things like, "this is why we HAVE TO FIX HEALTH CARE IN THIS COUNTRY!" in response to an article like this, but I think we also need to push past the knee-jerk political response and ask -- what (outside of the crazy insurance industry) -- is happening here. 

So, here are some open-ended thoughts that've been circling around my brain in response to this article. Things that will probably find their way into the pages I'm writing:

In the world I touch every day (one of artists and feminists and social media and contemporary thinkers), we talk about bringing about the End of Privilege a lot. We tend to (rightfully, I think), put our collected energy behind advocating for plurality and shaming institutions that knowingly and unknowingly promote outmoded notions. We tend to label these notions White and Male. The advocacy is working and change is coming (sometimes swiftly, sometimes painfully slowly). But as my teacher and friend Ken Prestininzi has said to me, there is a cost to everything. Is this self-harming demise of MAWAs the cost of progress? Is that acceptable?

This week I was also thinking about the presidential election and the repeated refrain in the Republican party that America is not Great, but could be Great again. I imagine being a Middle Aged White American in physical pain and financial distress. Those words must carry significant appeal, right? So, I (imagined MAWA) express myself at the ballot and vote for the candidate who promises to get America back on track. To get me and my people back on track. Only America is never going to get back to being the place it used to be when I (imagined MAWA) was able to get jobs and benefits and stability because of my place in society because of my skin color because of institutional bias, so the promise and hope of my vote turns sour as I watch the privilege that was seemingly inherent to my group erode. What a helpless feeling.

And then there's this:

 

My wife looks at trend reports in her work and recently sent me this research from Nielsen:

The size and influence of the US African-American segment is growing faster than that of non-Hispanic whites, according to a September 2015 Nielsen report. The black population is set to increase to 74 million by 2060, making up 18% of the total US population.
Rising Affluence: The growth rate of African-American income levels exceeds that of non-Hispanic whites at every level above $60,000. The percentage of black households earning more than $200,000 increased by 138% from 2005 to 2013, while the increase for the total population was 74%.
Influential Voice: African-Americans are a force for cultural influence across ethnic groups, forging trends in music, television and film. This is partly because of their youthful demographic profile: the average age of African-Americans is 31.4 years, compared to 39 years for the non-Hispanic white population.
Super-Social: This demographic is 44% more likely to use social networking platforms to show support for their favourite brands than non-Hispanic whites with similar income. Smartphone penetration is 5% higher among African-Americans than the rest of the population.
Learning Fast: African-American consumers are increasingly educated, with 71% of black high school graduates enrolled in college last year – more than both whites and Hispanics.

To which I say, about time.

But this Nielsen report clangs around my brain and meets up with the Times article about MAWAs and now there's a whole bunch of sound that starts to vibrate and resonate when I think about what it means to be sitting in the era of a challenge to Privilege.

I know it's politically treacherous to advocate for empathy because empathy is the luxury of the privileged. "Hey dude, you can afford to look at it from that side because you haven't been oppressed your whole life."  But something is awry in the households of Middle Aged White Americans and I wonder if it warrants our empathic attention even as we push to change things.

The Daily Plays

This week I took part in a 24-hour plays style fundraiser for a company here in London called Etch. They called it The Daily Plays. 6 playwrights responded to 6 newspapers over 6 days and made 6 new plays which were performed last night. Here's how it worked:

I was assigned The Guardian for Thursday, September 17th. I bought the paper at 8 AM, read it, and then had to write a play by 8pm. The play had to be 5 minutes long and be written for one female performer. (Other plays had different lengths and company sizes). 

I reference the other Daily Plays here, but I think the monologue stands on its own as well. Here it is:

 

Seven thousand years ago

 

From:    “Revealed: how Indigenous Australian storytelling accurately records sea level rises 7,000 years ago” The Guardian, Sept. 17

 

Seven thousand years ago the sea rose.
We know because of geology.
How else do we know?
We know because they told us so.
The stories.
21 of them. 
On this island.
Told across generations.
Re-told to keep them alive.
Nowhere else do they have this kind of record keeping.
Everywhere else the stories got flooded.
But we kept telling them.
That’s how we know the water rose. 
That and geology.

We know people moved in big groups.
We know because we swab the insides of mouths and see where similar genetic traits live: on islands that no longer touch. 
And then we listen to the stories.
Like the one about the girl on a boat. 
That’s how we know people moved in groups.

Seven thousand years ago,
People used their fingers to talk.
We find bodies in ruins. 
Earlier kinds of humans.
You can see the bent shapes of their hands.
That’s how we know they touched.

Seven thousand years ago,
There were politics like today.
We know because we found the places they met.
But also because of the stories of rulers. 
We don’t know if the names of rulers are real or made up but we know rule existed. 
It wasn’t anarchy.

Anarchy came when the water rose.
With the Cataclysm. 
There are no stories from that time.
Some people survived.
But they could only focus on remembering the stories.
Not creating new ones.
They lived in the ruins of buildings. They killed people who tried to kill them. And told the 21 stories. 


Do you know the 21 stories?
The girl on the boat. 
Do you know the one about the tiger?

There was a tiger named Simi.
She was severely beaten to make her behave.
Then she was put in a cage.
For two years she lived in a cage.
A king on our island heard about this tiger.
He decided to save her. 
He brought her here.
She was happy.
Until people who lived in cages somewhere else heard her story.
They said, a tiger can move across borders but not us?
The king didn’t know what to say to them.
So he pretended they weren’t there and played with Simi the tiger.
This was close to the time the water rose.

Do you know what a tiger is?
They don’t exist anymore.
It was big and mean.
It could eat four people at once.
It had two eyes and four feet.
It had huge ears.
With two horns.
It had a nose like an arm.
Every tiger’s name started with the letter S..
We know about tigers because of archaeology.
And stories.

There are 19 other stories.
Every time someone has written them down, the stories get lost or hurt.
We stopped doing that.
They call storytellers Guardians, which is an old word.

There are things we will never know.
After the Cataclysm, nobody made it their job to remember songs.  –

Sometimes I wake in the morning and there is a song in my head.
But I don’t know where it came from.
I wonder if it could be an ancient song.
But how would I know it?

And words. There are words we hear in the stories, but they have no significance to us. Names, mainly.

One story is very short. It goes like this:
“What Sutherland painted was a magnificent ruin. That was not a disrespectful thing to do in 1954. Britain in 1954 was a magnificent ruins, that was its story and magnificence was as important as the ruin.” 

That’s my favourite story.
I do not know what it means, but
It reminds me of the music I have in my head sometimes.
I don’t know why.

 

 

Middlebury Residency

This month I'm headed to Middlebury College to spend a week workshopping my new play, Ubiquitous -- a riff on Hitchcock's thrillers. As part of the Midd Summer Play Lab I'll be writing new pages, in rehearsal, and teaching current students. I graduated from Middlebury in 2006 and haven't been back to campus since. Excited to spend some productive days in the gorgeous Green Mountains, working on this play and reconnecting with the Middlebury community.

More info on the residency here.

July/August: Fringe

Excited for my first trip to the International Fringe Festival, where I'll be working on a new play called Light Boxes, directed by Finn den Hertog. It's an adaptation of a crazy cool book by Shane Jones. There's live music and ensemble-driven work. I'm dramaturging. I'll be back and forth between London and Edinburgh during rehearsals for the next few weeks. If you're coming to the festival, let me know!


Turtle and Etch

There's a thing in the UK called scratch nights. We don't really have those in the US. Theatres/companies put up samples of plays. It's a chance for creative teams to try things out and/or generate energy around projects. On July 13th, part of my play Turtle will be part of a scratch night with a company called Etch. 

Info here. 

Overheard.

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. One recent morning I was subjected to a conversation that sent me directly to Facebook for help.


Oh Facebook Timeline, good morning, good morning.

I am working in a coffeeshop. Next to me, a business meeting. A younger woman and an older "mentor" man in their sharp Monday attire. Complicated dynamic to observe: she's here to get advice, but he's feeding off that dynamic and gaining mansplaining momentum as he goes. He loves the sound of his voice more and more. I can't decipher all the words -- it's a loud shop -- but I find his tone so problematic I might leave. One bit of dialogue: 

She: I felt like I was sneaking around in the office.
He: You call it sneaking around, I call it taking control.

She's mentioned a Women in Leadership conference she attended. He interrupts her with a story about one time when he was "asking questions nobody would be brave enough to ask." ‪#‎CRINGE‬

Oh Facebook Timeline, ethereal dumping ground of ideas, here is a ‪#‎PARADOX‬. For my instinct is to somehow interrupt them and call him out on his pontification. (Right now, he's leaning across the table towards her, literally entering her space.) And yet, Facebook Timeline, if I were to intervene it would be socially inappropriate, and more significantly, would be another example of a man interfering with this young woman's agency. Wouldn't it?

Maybe, Facebook Timeline, I should spill a coffee, though the physical configuration of the space would make an "accident" challenging to engineer and thus pointedly obvious as an attack.

He's noticed me looking at him! Now he's dropped his voice down particularly low as he imparts significant advice, Facebook Timeline! 

But also, Facebook Timeline, is writing about this online an opportunity to activate change and rally support or is it simply the easy electronic piling on we've come to know in this blue-framed world? Am I part of the nameless mob Jon Ronson's been writing about lately? Did you read that Jon Ronson book or maybe the excerpt in the Times? Did you share it here? 

They've left now, thank Mark Z'berg. Back to their offices. The incident is complete. The mansplaining uninterrupted. The status quo perseveres. Another day in London town.

What are we going to do, Facebook Timeline? he asks rhetorically. 

What in the bloody hell are we going to do?

Rewrites on #BROS

I'm deep in rewrites on my new comedy #BROS after a great reading/notes from Soho Theatre. The play is about male privilege and the internet, anger and shame.

Here are some of the things I'm looking at:

Jon Ronson's amazing new book on public shaming and Twitter. A page-turning must read that explores internet mobs and the history of shame-based punishment.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit -- the inspiration for the phrase "mansplaining". Upsetting truths/stats in this book. For research, I'm inspired by this haunting passage about the need to enact violence:

It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you... the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.

Charlie Pierce, he of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me fame, let this scythe of a sentence fly in a recent article on Grantland about American sports star Curt Schilling dealing with internet trolls:

B_vyrNkUIAATALw.png-large.png

Finally there are notes from my meeting with the AD and AAD of Soho. mask recognition of culpability.


NTI Visit: Theatre Bootcamp

Just wrapped 12 days working with 24 students, who were visiting London from the National Theatre Institute in America. NTI students engage in a 14-week intensive 'theatre bootcamp' in which they train as actors, movers, writers, designers, directors, singers, etc. Hyphenates.

They also spend two weeks in London seeing plays, meeting professionals, and training with Complicite. As a regular teacher with NTI and former student, I escort them around the city, and teach them some playwriting whilst they're here. We saw 11 plays in 11 days: Behind the Beautiful Forevers (The National), Othello (Lyric), Dara (National), How To Hold Your Breath (Royal Court), Kim Noble's You're Not Alone (Soho), The Nether, The Scottsboro Boys, Bull (Young Vic), Once, Ultima Vez (Sadler's Wells), and A View From the Bridge (Young Vic transfer).

Here are some photos I took during the two weeks.


How To Start

My essay on the challenge of starting to write just went up on the Playwrights' Center website. I think you have to be a member to read it -- but really, you should be anyway. They've rebooted their site and it's full of awesome opportunities, resources, etc. 

https://pwcenter.org/article/how-start