Monday, January 21, 2008

Performing Arts vs. Entertainment

So I’m a writer, right? It’s want I do, what I want to get paid to do. Right now, I’m heavy into writing plays. It’s just how things are coming together. Of course, I’d like to get into film, and novels and whatnot. But at present, the opportunities are in live theater. I do live in NYC after all.

I just got word of a grant to support It Goes Unsaid, a performance piece I co-authored with Rhonney Greene and Teresa Lasley at Under the Spell Productions. The grant is a very encouraging accomplishment, and I’m thrilled to have been a “winner” in that regard. Of course, it doesn’t really cover the costs in actually mounting the production. But it recognizes the “artistic merit” of what It Goes Unsaid does as a performance piece.

What in the world is a performance piece anyway? Well, as I understand it, a performance piece is a work meant to be observed live. It takes elements of conventional theater, but also samples from other kinds of modes of expression: dance, music, spoken word, photography, film etc. So it is play in the loosest sense of the word, but doesn’t necessarily follow a set dramatic format.

It Goes Unsaid is a very exciting project to be working on. And at the same time, it presents its own set of challenges. Plays are a bit different. There are set avenues of success for them. But a performance piece? Broadway doesn’t really pick those up exactly…sort of, well there are things like Blue Man Group…but I’m not sure that really captures what the breadth a “performance piece” can cover.

It Goes Unsaid is a pretty serious work, dealing directly with race, self-hatred, misogyny, and a whole host of other social issues. It’s pretty engaging, I’d say, and was commissioned to be so. It’s an artsy socially-conscious kind of thing. And I must say I love it. At the same time, I want to take it BIG.

But how?

I’m reaching a bit of a divide that I feel is unfair: performing arts vs. entertainment. Performing arts is what I would call more culturally responsible artistic work—something a like jazz concert or the ballet, or basically anything that Hollywood has trouble with. Entertainment is just the opposite: the stuff that is easy to like by just about everyone.

Of course I want to do both. And I think the best kind of art works in both realms. Right now, It Goes Unsaid is working just fine in the performing arts side of things, and its entertaining. Most definitely. But…is it viable as an entertainment production?

As we speak, my partners and I are wracking are brains on how to take our Performance Piece BIG, as in real big with REAL BIG PROFIT. We have some vested interests in taking it in that direction. But, as any Theater professional will tell you, profit margins in live entertainment are narrow. So I’m looking to “think outside the box,” and use other clich├ęs of creativity as I try to nail down realizing the full potential of my “performance piece.”

That’s all for now. Let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ruminations on a Social Pressure Cooker - The Breaking Point

In the summer of 2007 I reached a breaking point with someone. I don’t think it’s fair, or really that productive, to use my blog as a point to blast someone who isn’t around to defend herself. But suffice it in 2007, I began to internalize a certain unease, a certain dissatisfaction with my relationship with a single individual.

This person is someone I actually have a great deal of respect, even admiration for, but our approaches to life seem worlds apart. And sometime over the summer, due to circumstances that had forced us to cooperate, I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. I remember the conversation. I interrupted her and simply told her this wasn’t working.

It was a break-up. Not a romantic one, but emotional nonetheless, with lasting consequences.

That wasn’t the beginning of the end of that relationship. It was poisoned from the beginning, I would say. I was already stretched to my limit. And she entered the situation not quite aware of what was going on. Once she grasped the magnitude of the situation, stress moved in full time, and what became a tense environment became a distressed, incessant crisis--

--Which seemed to work for her. There was plenty of blame to go around, and I was definitely as much a part of the problem as the possible solution. But it was as if she wasn’t as interested in solving things, making things better, than dwelling on the impossibility of the problem, picking at the scab, infecting the wound. I wouldn’t say this pleased her in any way, but it just seemed to be a prevalent tendency of hers that I found…well bewildering.

I removed myself from the situation. It hurt…both of us (I think.) But it was the right decision. I don’t think either of us could argue about that now. (Although we seemed to be able to argue about everything else.)

Looking at it now, I should have seen the writing on the wall weeks (or even months) before that final argument, that final “civil discussion” where I lost all interest in “working things out.”

It wasn’t a specific word that was said. It wasn’t a look in the eye, or a lack of communication. (at least I think we were communicating.)

It felt cumulative. I was holding in, internalizing problems that existed prior to my relationship with this woman, but her presence, our method of interaction seemed to…

To what? Highlight the absurdity of the situation? Exacerbate what was already a wounded world I let myself live in?

I’m just not sure. And I want to know more about what we mean when we say “this is the last straw.” Is it really? How?

So I have to wonder, what is a breaking point?
What is your breaking point?

Friday, January 11, 2008

2008 Goals: Gotta Get It Together a Bit Better

I am tasking myself with some key objectives for my writing career this year.
For 2008 I will pursue the following:



• Teena Keeper
She resists---what is the proper method to pursue her resistance?
• The Lattice Crashes – Draft II

• The Apocalyptist Episodes

• Nightqueen Re-exploration Ghaljun MUSIC

• Musical _The engenue, the diva, the other one.


• Princess Grace Playwriting Award 3/15/08
• Scriptapalooza 4/05/08
• Nicholl Fellowship 4/15/08
• Sundance Screenwriters Lab 4/15/08
• Walt Disney Studios/ABC Fellowship 5/15/08
• Final Draft Big Break 5/15/08
• Yale Drama Series 8/10/08
• New Dramatists 8/15/08
• ASA International Screenplay Competition 10/01/08
• Script Magazine 9/15/08

Summer 2008 The Public Theater Emerging Playwrights

Spring 2008 New York Theater Workshop Playwrights of Color

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

2007 in Review: Creative Writing Goals

So 2007 is over. I set some pretty lofty creative writing goals last year, building off of some minor breakthroughs in 2006. But how far did I get this past year? Let’s have a look:

January 2007

Goal: Nightqueen - 2nd Draft Moonrise

Well... I did do a new draft of NightQueen (In May!). I’m almost ready to get a staged
reading going to see how all this fantasy, urban wilderness, epic would really work on the stage…
Getting there. Getting there.

Feb. 2007
Goal: It Goes Unsaid - New Draft:

Hey! I worked on a new draft of that too, with my creative partners. We even put up a show in July, and…well, I’m not going to get into all of that right here. Yeah a new draft was completed, but is it all we hoped and dreamed for...we're still working.

March 2007
Goal: Finish Stardate Version 2 - Single Alien

Result: Hmmm. Well I did come up with something. I mean doesn’t a mock reality show depicting aliens on blind dates appeal to you? It sounded like a good idea to me, but…well I’ve always thought comedy was the hardest thing to write. I put this baby on hold in April.

July 2007
Goal: Revisit Teena Keeper character

Result: Ahhh, Teena Keeper. Who is she? Ever since I wrote that first story about her back in college, she has lurked in the shadows of my imagination. Her story is…immense and intense, and, well, I have to say I didn’t get back to writing it in 07. I thought about though, an awful lot. Yeah. I worked it I guess...yeah! SHAME ON ME!!!


Hmm. Looks like I slacked a bit creatively here. But in my own defense I did write some other stuff. Theater has really began to take over my life. I landed a job at the Apollo in July, and I’ve been soaking up all I can about how a Theater really works. At the same time, I’ve really been putting my time into some new scripts. In 2007, I wrote the first draft of a new full-length play, The Lattice Crashes. And I have a loose collection of some sci-fi vignettes that, eventually, will get me back to Teena.

But, really, I got away from all the writing. And I have no one to blame but myself. I’m giving myself a "C" creatively in 2007.

Yes, it’s hard to stay focused. Yes, it’s hard to stay motivated. But excuses do not a career as a writer make.

What does that mean? It means for 2008, I have to get it together!

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

2008: Online Writing Headquarters - Reimagined and Invigorated

Well here I am on my very own googles blogspot. I intend to dedicate this webspace to the development of my career as a writer, specifically a creative writer of dramatic material.

I have to say that I think blogging is really neat, but I don't feel compelled to post my opinions and whatnot on every little thing. I've never really had a problem with sharing my opinions on this or that. I think there are enough people doing that.

This blog is my public portal to advance my long-standing aspirations as a creative writer. I'm writing here for your feedback, encouragement, support, and advice. That's what I'm after.

-Derek Lee McPhatter