Hello from Chicago

A handful of months have passed since my last update to this page–pandemic fatigue and an 800-mile move are hefty distractions. Here’s the latest:

The production of True West that I began work on in the spring finished rehearsals in October and we were able to record the production, edit the video, and post it online. There were all sorts of exciting hiccups along the way, including neighbors who were somewhat alarmed by the sounds of Sam Shepard coming through their walls via raised voices, but we put together a show we’re very proud of. Our two leads, Justin Walker and Logan Schmucker, were able to work together in the same space (Logan’s apartment kitchen), while our two supporting actors, Joanie Schumacher and James Bascomb, participated remotely. Rehearsals and our performance recording happened via Zoom, Facebook messenger, and Google hangouts. In addition to directing remotely (essentially being a floating head in the room during rehearsals), I taught myself a little film editing to make the final product possible. True West is a play that’s resonated with me since the first time I read it, back at CTY in 2002 (Hooray for Crafting Drama with Bo Wilson!). I feel truly lucky that this opportunity came along–or, more accurately, that we made this opportunity come to be. Theater as we know it isn’t possible right now, but for the past several months, these four actors, one fight choreographer, and I got just about as close as possible to the real thing. And it felt great.

Here’s the link to the show. Take a look. Enjoy.

In other news, I had a preliminary reading of my newest play, All the Things We’re Supposed to Be. It was my first time hearing the piece out loud. I put together a truly exceptional cast and the reading was wonderful, moving, and enlightening. The discussion with the cast gave me genuinely helpful guideposts for how to move forward with rewrites, so watch this space for more news about this play. It’s a special one and I think it’s going to go places.

Finally (for now), The Workshop Theater is continuing its tradition of producing the Out of the Hat festival, where writers are given a prompt and asked to write a short play on that theme for a randomly assigned group of actors. The theme this year is “Luck” and I was fortunate enough to be assigned three fantastic actors–Joe Franchini, Kevin Stanfa, and Annemarie Hagenaars. Inspired by my conversations with them about the characters they love to play/are sick of playing/have always wanted to play, and our combined thoughts on the subject of luck, I came up with Coin Flip–a fun little play I’m really looking forward to sharing with audiences soon! The Workshop has assembled a knockout group of writers and actors, and the festival will feature more than a dozen wildly different plays, all on this fantastic theme. We’re filming the readings next week, and they’ll be available for viewing in late November. Stay tuned!

Watch Parties on the Horizon

The Estrogenius Festival is gearing up for its next phase of quarantined theatrical content!  The Extro from Estro site is up and running and will soon be home to on-demand videos of a few of our shows from this year’s virtual festival.  So, if you missed our livestreams earlier this month, you can catch them via Extro starting next week.  The ticket price to view these shows will be pleasantly petite, and proceeds go to the artists, so please do tune in!

The Beach, written and directed by yours truly, will be premiering May 28th at 7:30pm.

A Project, written by Tawny Sorensen and directed by me, will be premiering June 4th at 7:30pm.

After those premieres, tune in anytime!

Virtual Adventures in Writing and Directing

It’s been a few weeks since the first Zoom/Facebook Live readings of my work.  Theater continues to be a resilient, adaptable creature, and we’re all figuring out how to navigate this new frontier.  And while it’s still strange to think about how many cast members and audience members have now been introduced to a sliver of my childhood bedroom via webcam… I’m very proud of the work we’ve been doing so far!  Verona Walls and The Beach both had wonderfully successful readings last month.  Audiences were appreciative and responsive, and, most importantly, the stories and characters came across beautifully, even as we were all stuck in our respective virtual bubbles.  Actors were able to connect to each other and the audience.  And the texts, while not necessarily ideally served by this medium, still landed with people (a great testament to the directors and actors involved, but also… a pretty good sign when it comes to the words themselves!).  These readings also gave everyone involved at least a little taste of that thing we’ve all been missing: Community.  Communal experience.  It’s very odd being together while being apart, but these performances were a lovely reminder that none of us are alone–connection is possible.  Of course, somewhat paradoxically, these experiences also serve to vividly remind us of what we’re missing.  My god, I can’t wait to be back in a cheap rehearsal studio with folding chairs and mediocre sound proofing, or my living room with all the furniture pushed into the kitchen, just working on a play with a bunch of people I care about who can breathe the same air, feel the same rhythms, and hold each other’s hands.

Social distancing has made me slightly ramble-y… so onto the news!

A Project by Tawny Sorensen, a short play I directed for the Estrogenius Festival, had it’s Zoom/Facebook premiere last week.  We adapted the text to be a bit more suited to these Zoom-y times and the play went very well!  Both actresses (Sarah Elizabeth Grace and Kate Russo) had a lot of fun with the medium and delivered honest, engaging performances.   A Project and The Beach will both be available to view on demand via the Estrogenius website by the end of May.

My pirate play, Heart of Oak, has been selected by two festivals (both of which have shifted online) and I’m really pumped to revisit this piece and to see what magic people make of it in these weird circumstances.  First up is The Femme Fatale Festival (based in West Virginia), which will be presenting the play on June 5th.  Then, shockingly soon after, we’ve got Babycastles–an NYC-based, multimedia art collective–broadcasting on June 10th.  Big week for lady pirates!  Just about a month away!

And rehearsals have just begun for a production of True West I’m directing, featuring a really excellent quartet of actors, some of whom I’ve known for a decade and some of whom I’ve met and become a huge fan of during these past few crazy months!  We’ve had a read-through and our first blocking rehearsal and it’s strange and thrilling to be digging into the text with this ensemble.  Performance dates are still TBD, but it’s gonna be good, folks.

The Show Must Go On

Thanks to the indomitable spirits of many a good actor and director, and the sheer resilience of theater even in these super weird times… I’ve actually got play readings of all sorts this week!  Three different plays have been/will be sent out into cyberspace via Zoom and Facebook Live.

First, we had a lovely Zoom/Facebook performance of my short sci-fi play, The Beach on 4/15/20 via The Estrogenius Festival.  Justin Walker and Emily MaRee knocked it out of the park with their performances, delivered from their respective apartments straight to audience members all over the country!  The video is still available on Estrogenius’s facebook page, and next week it will be available to view for a small fee on the Extro from Estro website.

Tomorrow, 4/17, at 8pm, my full-length Romeo and Juliet prequel, Verona Walls, will be having its Zoom premiere.  We’re doing a virtual staged reading–really exploring the medium and celebrating the text–featuring an astonishing group of exceptional actors, directed by Ania Upstill (sending their notes all the way from New Zealand!).

And Saturday, 4/18, at 5pm, my Western, Long Time Gone, will be featured by Play Readings with Friends via Zoom.  This will be the first public reading of the latest version of Long Time Gone.  I’m really looking forward to seeing it with fresh eyes!

Strange Days…

Well, this is an odd time we’re living in.  And that’s an understatement, of course.  But here we are, variously unemployed, trying to determine (among other things) what theater is at the moment.  Or what it can be… should be…  My various upcoming gigs have been canceled, postponed, turned into Zoom readings, etc.  But we’re figuring it out!  And I’ve written a couple of little things, one of which I’ll share below.  The other (a monologue) will be part of Reign or Shine’s Love Drunk: Quarantine Edition in a few days, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay connected, and be well.

Here’s a little play:

CHEEK TO CHEEK

By Laura Hirschberg     ©2020

CHARACTERS:

OLIVIA: Female, 30, owner of a small grocery store.

MARCUS: Male, 55, her father.

SETTING:

A small grocery store. Night. The shelves are practically empty. A bag of flour has been ripped open and dropped on the floor. It’s not quite a war zone, but it is the end of a very long day. Outside, the streets are more or less deserted.

(At rise, OLIVIA is alone at the checkout counter, trying to reconcile the day’s receipts. She’s making decent headway when MARCUS tries to open the store’s locked front door. The door rattles, but holds. OLIVIA ignores it. MARCUS knocks.)

OLIVIA: (mostly to herself) We’re closed.  (Knocking continues. Insistently. OLIVIA responds more audibly:) We’re closed! (To herself:) Asshole.  (Knocking continues. OLIVIA puts down her receipts, crosses to the door, muttering:) Why even invest in a “closed” sign if they’re not gonna read the “closed” sign? Paid good money for the “closed” sign…  (More knocking. OLIVIA is at the door.) We’re— (She stops, recognizing who’s knocking.)  Oh.

MARCUS: (from the other side of the door)  Liv, it’s me.

OLIVIA: I can see that.

MARCUS: What?

OLIVIA: (A little louder) It’s a glass door. I can see that it’s you.

MARCUS: Oh. Yeah. (Beat) You gonna let me in?

OLIVIA: We’re closed.

MARCUS: Yeah, I—I saw the sign. The sign on the door. I know you’re—Look this is kinda silly.

OLIVIA: You need something?  (Beat. No response.)  Cuz we’re out. Of pretty much everything.

(MARCUS holds up a full grocery bag.)

MARCUS: I don’t—I came to see you.  (OLIVIA gestures to herself, does a little turn. Ta da. She begins to walk back to the counter. MARCUS rattles the door again.)  I just wanted to… check up on you. See if you’re all right. Come on, kiddo.

(OLIVIA crosses back to the door.)

OLIVIA: Don’t try to pull the “aw shucks” dad routine with me. You were never really an “aw shucks” kind of dad.

MARCUS: Is that what you wanted me to be?

(Beat. OLIVIA opens the door.)

OLIVIA: Can I help you?

(MARCUS steps over the threshold, towards Olivia. OLIVIA steps back. MARCUS stops. Puts down his bag, reaches into it, and pulls out a single large daisy. He holds it out to Olivia.)

MARCUS: Had to fight somebody for this. Well, not fight, but uh… it was kind of a battle. Weird. Everybody’s going crazy for toilet paper and white bread and I almost get punched in the face over a daisy. Said it was for my daughter. Guy did not care. Meanwhile, he’s holding a whole bouquet of… I dunno. Mums? Is that what they’re—? Anyway, we’re screaming over this—people are just going nuts out there, you notice? And I’m about to stand on an apple box and do five minutes on “give me liberty or give me death” or something and a security guard comes over and basically shoves the flower into my hand and gives me to the count of ten to get out of the store.

OLIVIA: (Gesturing to the bag of groceries)  So you didn’t pay for those?

MARCUS: (slightly surprised) Huh. I guess not. Hey, not for lack of trying. Or anyway, I wasn’t gonna beg the security to let me back inside to pay for my shit.

OLIVIA: Yeah. (Beat) How much of that story was bullshit?

(MARCUS looks at her for a beat.)

MARCUS: Only about 25%. Asshole guy was definitely holding onto a bouquet of mums though. (Holds up daisy again.) And this is for you. Really.

(OLIVIA looks at the flower for a moment. Takes it. Steps back.)

OLIVIA: Thanks.

(She takes the flower back to the counter, where she looks for a cup or water bottle to put it in—as good an excuse as any to keep a little distance from Marcus, who stays put in the middle of the store floor. OLIVIA finds a large empty hand sanitizer bottle and sticks the flower into it. She places the makeshift vase next to her pile of receipts and stays behind the counter.)

MARCUS: So you doin’ all right?

OLIVIA: I mean… (She gestures around the store.)

MARCUS: Hey, it looks like business is good.

OLIVIA: Yeah. Yeah. Business is mayhem. I basically sent everyone home. The stock boy, the cashiers. They’ve got people at home, so I figured they should do the whole quarantine thing. Speaking of—what are you doing out?

MARCUS: We’re allowed to go out. It’s not like Outbreak out there or anything.

OLIVIA: It kind of is.

MARCUS: I’m fine. This’ll all blow over. It’s like the flu.

OLIVIA: Yeah. The flu kills people, Dad.

MARCUS: You’re out.

OLIVIA: I already said—I can handle the store. We’ve gotta stay open, so—

MARCUS: Nah, I mean. You asked what I’m doing out. I knew you’d be out here. Figured you’d be on your own.

OLIVIA: Yeah?

MARCUS: And you’ve got that anxiety thing. You’ve always had—I thought you might be scared. Cuz it’s a lot out there and—Anyway. I came over cuz I thought you might need somebody.

(Beat. OLIVIA doesn’t know how to respond. She briefly goes back to her receipts. MARCUS notices the spilled flour on the floor and attempts to sweep it up with his hands. Suddenly the lights go out.)

OLIVIA: Shit!  (In the dark, she tries to make her way towards the back of the store. She collides with something.)  Ow!

MARCUS: You OK?

OLIVIA: Just trying to get to the fuse box.

MARCUS: You got a light?

OLIVIA: I’ll have plenty of light when I get done with the fuse box.

(OLIVIA continues clattering her way towards the fuse box. MARCUS finds his way to the counter. He takes a lighter out of his pocket and lights it. OLIVIA stops.)

MARCUS: You want an extra set of hands, or do you feel good about basically sticking your fingers into a great big electrical socket?

OLIVIA: That’s not what I’m—(Sighs) Yes. I could use an extra set of hands. Come around.  (MARCUS makes his way to Olivia. They find the fuse box. None of the fuses are blown.)  Dammit.

MARCUS: Must be a blackout.  (OLIVIA takes a few deep breaths)  You OK?  (OLIVIA crosses to the door. She looks through the glass at the dark street, then leans her head against the door.)  Worried about the ice cream melting?

OLIVIA: (A little laugh) Yeah.

MARCUS: What’s it look like out there? Mass panic?

OLIVIA: Not yet.

MARCUS: See? Bright side. Easy to find it if you look.

OLIVIA: OK. Enough.

MARCUS: What?

OLIVIA: You can stop.

MARCUS: What’re you—Ow!  (The lighter goes out.)  Hang on a sec.  (MARCUS finds his grocery bag. Pulls out a battery-powered lamp. Puts it on an empty shelf and lights it. OLIVIA laughs.)  What?

OLIVIA: What, are you like… the Boy Scouts now? Like… a whole troop of Boy Scouts?

MARCUS: I dunno. I was in the store and everyone was in crazy survival mode and I guess I caught a bit of the paranoia. It’s good right? The lamp? I think it’s for hurricanes or something.

OLIVIA: You should go. (Beat) I mean. It was nice of you to come, but… We’re not doing this.

MARCUS: Why not?

OLIVIA: Cuz you’re not taking a global pandemic and turning it into family therapy time. It’s just weird, man. Fucked up and weird. And kind of insulting.

MARCUS: How’s that?

OLIVIA: This is what it takes? To get you through the door?

MARCUS: Hey, I’m here, aren’t I?

OLIVIA: Gold star for participation.

(Loud noise from the street. OLIVIA startles, pulls herself together, and slides down to sit on the floor with her back against the door.)

MARCUS: Are you counting?

OLIVIA: Hmm?

MARCUS: When you were a kid, you’d get panicky and we’d try to settle you down and you’d count by twos. Sometimes… um… do you want to–?

OLIVIA: I’m fine. Really.

MARCUS: Yeah?

OLIVIA: Well no…. Not really. But at least I’m in good company now, right? Like… who’s OK?  (Beat. MARCUS returns to his task of sweeping up the spilled flour.)  You really don’t—Dad, you don’t have to do that.

(MARCUS stops for a moment, looking at the flour in his hand.)

MARCUS: You know what this reminds me of?

OLIVIA: Hmm?

MARCUS: Top Hat.

OLIVIA: What?

MARCUS: Used to be your favorite. Fred Astaire and—

OLIVIA: Yeah. Fred and Ginger. What about it?

MARCUS: Well, you know the scene. He’s been keeping her awake with his tap dancing and he wants to make nice so he throws some sand on the ground and soft-shoes her to sleep.

(MARCUS throws a big handful of flour on the ground and slowly attempts a soft-shoe tap dance on top of the mess. It’s not Fred Astaire, but it’s not bad. He makes an effort for a while, but suddenly he’s self-conscious and stops.)

OLIVIA: Why’d you stop?

MARCUS: Making a mess.

OLIVIA: It was already a mess. (Beat) That was nice. Um. I didn’t think you’d remember that movie.

MARCUS: Of course I do.

OLIVIA: I mostly remember watching it alone.

MARCUS: I mostly remember watching it with you. (Beat) Breathing easier?

OLIVIA: Actually, yeah.

(OLIVIA stands up. MARCUS holds out his hand.)

MARCUS: Dance?

OLIVIA: I don’t think we should. Supposed to keep our distance.  (MARCUS nods. He takes another handful of flour and throws it at the floor near Olivia’s feet. OLIVIA jumps back.)  Hey!

(MARCUS shrugs. He holds his hands out as if he were holding a dancing partner, even though Olivia is at least six feet away.)

MARCUS: Dance?

(Beat. OLIVIA uses her foot to spread out the flour in front of her, then steps onto her patch of dance floor. She lifts her arms to hold her father’s hand and rest on her father’s shoulder. At a distance. MARCUS begins to hum Irving Berlin’s “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” and together he and Olivia dance to the music, always keeping their distance, lit by the glow of the hurricane lamp.

They continue to dance as the lights fade to black. End of play.)

The hits keep coming for “The Beach”

This little play of mine is doing pretty well for itself!  In my previous post, I mentioned that “The Beach” will be published in Applause’s collection of 10-minute plays next year….  I was just informed that “The Beach” has also been selected to be part of The Estrogenius Festival this March!  The festival runs March 26-29 at the Kraine Theatre in NYC.  Tickets available soon!

Additionally, a monologue from the play will be published by Applause in their men’s monologue collection next year.  It’s been a good week for the little sci-fi play that could!

Playwriting News!

January has been a big writing month, with the following news to report:

  • The first draft of my new full-length play, All the Things We’re Supposed to Be, is finished, copyrighted, and mighty good!
  • The in-house reading of my Western, Long Time Gone, was a great success and I’m in the very early stages of planning to mount a small professional production.
  • My short play, The Beach, will be published as part of Applause Theatre & Cinema Books’ collection The Best New Ten-Minute Plays 2021.  This will be the first of my short plays to be published!
  • Next on the docket: Significant rewrites for Fire Thief, my first full-length from way back when.  A project near and dear to my heart.

Back in NY, Back at the North Pole

Turns out that stage managing a national tour doesn’t leave much time for updating one’s website!  To catch up a bit: Black Grace’s US tour was a marvelous experience and a wonderful success.  We played to great houses in Maryland, Boston, NYC, Minneapolis, and LA.  And it was a true privilege to work with such an exceptional company and to put on such high quality, joyful, meaningful shows again and again.  I can’t wait for my next opportunity to work with Black Grace–it can’t come soon enough.  And I’ve certainly been bitten by the touring bug.

Til the next time I head out on the road for an adventure… I’m back for year five as a part of the management team at Macy’s Santaland!  The glitter, snow, elves, mayhem, and, of course, the Man in Red, are back in full force and I’m delighted to be in the mix.

On Tour with Black Grace

I’m in College Park, Maryland–City #1 on the Black Grace dance company national tour.  Tech today, performance tomorrow, then on to Boston, NYC, Minneapolis, and LA.  This company is astounding and the choreography is incredible.  I’m utterly delighted to be stage managing this tour.  Check out the details by following this link!

In other news, The Magic Flute with The Little Orchestra Society was a great success and a very silly romp, especially thanks to the brilliant Craig Shemin.

And Out of the Hat 5 with The Workshop Theater may very well have been our best yet.  My play, The Beach, was very well-received and was in mighty good company, alongside exceptional work by Tracy Newirth, Liz Amberly, Ken Jaworowski, Laurie Graff, and Jane Lincoln Taylor.  The Beach is one of my favorite plays I’ve written, and it has potential for a lot more life further down the road–perhaps as a short film, a pilot, or a full-length sci-fi play–so stay tuned!

Wearing All Three Hats!

Time for a long overdue update!

The WorkShop Theater has reinvented itself and is settling in very nicely with the regular crowd at ART/NY.  I had the pleasure of directing two readings last month, featuring exceptional casts and simply wonderful material.

First was the latest presentation of the WorkShop’s InspiredBy Series, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.  It was great to get back to working on Stoppard, even in this super speedy context.  We got the laughs, we got the emotion, we got the wit.  We even got the Scottish accent!

The next day I was back in rehearsal, this time for the Pen to Paper developmental reading of Ken Jawarowski’s The Distance.  Ken’s a brilliant writer of intense, unflinchingly human plays.  My four actors tackled some truly challenging emotional work, and the audience response was stupendous.

Switching gears and looking towards the future: The WorkShop’s annual Out of the Hat Festival is back for year 5, and I’m delighted to once again have a play of mine in the mix.  My play, The Beach, is a sci-fi story of hope, expectation, truth, and exploration.  I love it a lot.  The Festival runs October 16-19 at ART/NY (my piece will be read on the 19th).

And in the meantime, I’m getting ready to stage manage the Little Orchestra Society’s Magic Flute: Mozart concert, then head out on the road with Black Grace Dance Company for their US national tour!