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“Plays, Pitches and Apologies”

Plays, Pitches and Apologies

Cynthia’s Column July 2007

You remember my column about mocking up a poster for my play “The Book of John” as a positive, creative visualization tool?  The play has been chosen for a reading at Portland Center Stage on Thursday night July 19 as part of the JAW West New Play Festival.  (JAW = Just Add Water.)  And since you all helped hold the vision, you are all invited to come hear the play.  It will be at 8:30 p.m. in the downstairs theatre and admission is free.  Come early and let’s party in the lobby.

I am thrilled.  I love how as writers we can sit down with nothing and create things out of thin air, and then magically they appear in physical reality.  What was nothing more than a rush of thought a few months ago has now become a real play.  Writing is powerful.  Let’s celebrate it.

I loved the Read 30 Plays in 30 Days plan so much that I have kept reading a play a day and have now read 146 since January.  I have decided to make it The Year of the Play and read 365 plays.  This made me feel inspired until I read that Suzan Lori Parks wrote 365 plays in one year, and then I felt like something of a slacker.  And okay, a bit annoyed and thinking some of them have to be lousy, right?  Who has 365 play ideas?  No, no.  I am thrilled for SLP.  Really.  She’s even having them all produced all over America.

Actually, the other day, my friend Marc asked me who my American woman playwright role model was and I don’t have one.  Not only that, I found it annoying.  Why does it have to be a woman?  Why can’t my role model be Tom Stoppard?  Sure he’s taller and a genius and wrote Shakespeare in Love and English is not even his first language.  He was born Tomas Straussler in Czechoslovakia in 1937.  It’s like Samuel Beckett writing in French.  A childhood language is too easy for these guys.

We have a serious shortage of American Women Playwrights at the moment, having lost Wendy Wasserstein.  We still have Marsha Norman (‘night, Mother, Getting Out) but she’s writing screenplays and television and not that many plays.  Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart, Miss Firecracker) is also from my generation, but hasn’t had a new play out in 9 years.  There are many other women playwrights who have written a handful of plays apiece.

Nobody whose career I wish I could grow up to have.  No.  If I have to have an American Playwright Role Model, I choose Tennessee.

After reading all these plays, I have decided that the greatest American playwright of the 20th century was Tennessee Williams.  His body of work is amazing.  His major plays include Glass Menagerie, Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattoo, Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth, Period of Adjustment and Night of the Iguana.

Then it all fell apart right after Iguana in 1961.  Tennessee fell apart as an artist and the later stuff is unreadable.  I know.  I recently read it.  Rumors are that drugs and alcohol were his downfall and some of this later work certainly reads as incoherently as that would imply.  This would be scary except that we are way past the sixties now and Shaw went on to be brilliant up into his 90s.

I was also surprised to find that TW could generate more sexual heat between men and women onstage than any of his cohort.  More than O’Neill or Miller or any of them.  Stanley and Stella.  The Rose TattooNight of the Iguana.  Maggie the Cat and Brick?  Come on.  This guy had sexual sizzle down.  He was white hot.

Non-American?  As I mentioned my favorite contemporary playwright is Stoppard.  Of all time? Shakespeare.  This may be unoriginal, but WS has given great joy over the course of a lifetime to this loyal fan.

In case you have an interest in theatre, you can get some amazing DVDs from the public library, but you may have to request them.  The Glass Menagerie with Katharine Hepburn, Sam Waterston and Michael Moriarty is incredible.  Hepburn is also in the excruciatingly brilliant Long Day’s Journey into Night with Jason Robards and Ralph Richardson.  And someone has created an amazing series called Beckett on Film, which includes 19 plays by 19 directors and it is phenomenal.  Totally explains why the guy won the Nobel Prize for literature.  I always think of SB as kind of a depressing existentialist, but the guy had a lot more heart and warmth than I gave him credit for.

Okay, putting my own current writing obsession aside here, I want to talk to you about a couple of other things.

My pitching workshop is coming up.  We have a great time with this one.  Screenwriters and book writers, both fiction and non-fiction, are invited to come polish, practice and perfect their pitches a week before the Willamette Writers conference.  Cost is $50.  It will be Saturday July 28 at PSU from 9 am to 3 pm. (But I will stay until the last person has his/her pitch down.  You got me, babe.)  To register call the WW office (503)452-1592.

Also I have to put out the word to all screenwriters about last year’s film track.  In addition to some wonderful agents/managers/producers from L.A. last year, we also had the unfortunate experience of having a few young Hollywood bucks come up who were abusive, insulting, party boys.  If you were hurt or insulted or mistreated by any of this small group of jerks, I deeply apologize to you.  None of that group will be invited back to one of our conferences.  So if you were planning not to come because of a bad experience last year, please reconsider.

If you need to de-brief and share your story, please email me at  I care about this and will do what I can to help make sure you have a better experience this year.

I hope you are all planning to come to the Writers Faire and the Conference in August.  I look forward to the chance to see you all in person there.  Love, Cynthia

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