Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Second Year in Philadelphia

Mark Cairns as The W. K. Webb Sportsplex in The Travel Plays at The Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia PA (January 2009).

After a rewarding and busy first year in Philadelphia, I spent my second year (from the beginning of July 2008 through the end of June 2009) trying to top myself.

I am not sure if I succeeded, but I definitely feel fulfilled by a full year's worth of work. It was another year of learning, of exciting opportunity, of deep questioning, of getting deeper inside the City of Brotherly Love.

As a highlight reel (and to compare it to Year One):

JULY 2008
Worked as a dramaturg on Jennifer Haley's play, Breadcrumbs, as part of the 2008 PlayPenn New Play Conference. It was my first experience in some time working as a dramaturg, and I was generally just happy to be working on the conference (of which I am a fan). I liked Jen's play a lot, and got to work with a lot of new people (both in Philly and nationally) that I didn't know, but was thrilled to meet and experience.


My ten-minute play, Two Bubbles, is published by Playscripts, Inc as part of the anthology Great Short Comedies, Volume 3. The play, originally written in 24 hours, shares a volume with Steven Dietz, Rolin Jones, and others.

Brendan Ahearn, Tiffany Feng, Brad McEntire, Laurie Farris, Jeff Hernandez, and Shannon Marie in Two Bubbles, Audacity Productions / Rover Dramawerks, Plano, Texas (2002). Photo: Carol Rice.

If you are wondering, YES, copies of the play are still on sale.

Began my second year of teaching at The University of the Arts.

Began a new teaching job at Saint Joseph's University, teaching "Introduction to Theater" and "American Theater", mostly to non-theater majors.

My one-act play, Valentine's Day, goes into production as part of the Philly Fringe Festival. The play is produced by The Burn Ward Theater Company as part of the project, Mittens Descending and Other Tales. The play was directed by Andrew J. Merkel and performed by Molly Casey on September 5th and 6th.

Cherie A. Roberts as "Elida" in Shovel.

My Butoh-inspired piece, Shovel, is re-imagined as a site-specific project, 4 x 4, which featured four short, theatrical pieces staged in environmental spaces inside of Plays and Players Theater (Shovel was performed in the theater's catacombs). The play, also part of the Philly Fringe Festival, was directed by Andrew J. Merkel, performed by Cherie A. Roberts, with costume design by Jamie Grace-Duff.

Elected to the Board of Directors of Philadelphia Dramatists Center (PDC) and appointed as the Board's Secretary.

Moved to West Philadelphia, beginning the first-ever ArtsEdge Residency, created by the University of Pennsylvania and The Kelly Writers House. I begin an eleven-month term as "Resident Writer", offered subsidized living and studio space in the West Philly community. The Residency introduces me to a number of wonderful people, writers, and events, as well as to a part of the city that was unknown to me. Big, continued thank-yous to Jessica Lowenthal, Erin Gautsche, Al Filreis, Greg Djanikian, and Gina Renzi for making it all happen.

Complete the short piece, Goodb(eye), written for Audacity Theatre Lab's Eye in the Sky project.

The Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series and I get pepper-sprayed in the ensuing Broad Street riots. I also am almost crushed by a dumpster that was on fire.

A pretty historic (and awesome) event takes place, sending the city into its third riot within six days. I do not almost die, but feel reborn.

My Butoh-inspired play, Shovel, goes into performance as part of the inaugural New Orleans Fringe Festival. The piece is produced by Austin-based Cisne Negro Productions and performed in the dive bar, Hi-Ho Lounge, on St. Claude Avenue.

Briana McKeague and Odile Nicole Del Giudice of Cisne Negro Productions.


Attended a free lecture given by Robert Wilson at Drexel University, which opened with him standing in silence for ten minutes at a podium. He later declared that we should burn down the universities. I became an even bigger Bob Wilson fan.

Completed Doctor Helix and Keggy the Keg, a ten-minute play written as a gift for my microbiologist, home-brewing brother-in-law, Adam Guss. The play is a fictional re-telling of the kidnapping of the unofficial mascot of Dartmouth University.

Keggy the Keg, before he was kidnapped.

Began my second semester teaching at Saint Joseph's University.

Began teaching Creative Writing at The University of Pennsylvania, my first Ivy League teaching gig. The course I taught was: "Space, Place, and Character in Playwriting and Fiction". We read plays and fiction, wrote every class period, explored lot of weird spaces on campus, participated in a Flash Mob, field tripped to the Annenberg Center, to the Mutter Museum, created characters and expressed them through MySpace profiles, watched a play together, had class in the dark, had class in the park, and the students wrote A LOT of great work.

An in-progress version of the epic project, The Travel Plays, is presented at The Kelly Writers House as part of my ArtsEdge Residency. The project is directed by Wally Zialcita and performed by a really talented, fun ensemble: Mark Cairns, Michael Dura, Tomas Dura, Lyndsay Hart, Dawn Harvey, Brittany Holdahl, Aaron Oster, Jerry Rudasill, and Andrew J. Tardif.

The Travel Play, "Jackson", written for Tim Fawkes. From left to right: Michael Dura (blurred) as Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew J. Tardif as Johnny Cash, Lyndsay Hart as Andrew Jackson, Jerry Rudasill and Mark Cairns as The Bar That Burns Down.

Organized and curated "The Zombie Bake-Off" (along with help from Philly-based director and actor, Daniel Student), a writing event connected to the inaugural Philadelphia New Play Initiative Conference, whose keynote speaker is Paula Vogel. The event, hosted by Plays and Players and Philadelphia Dramatists Center (PDC), inspires almost 20 new plays about zombies, abuse, and chicken salad sandwiches (truncated versions of the three "ingredients" given to the writers), including my offering, Zombie Heart Salad Sandwich.

MARCH 2009
Completed the first draft/journey of The Travel Plays (An American Potlatch Road-trip), a collection of 37 short plays that journey from the Walt Whitman Bridge to Ozona, Texas, and back. All 37 plays are mailed to each of the 37 friends who inspired their individual play.

Belize's Place, a full-length play co-written by me and Austin-based playwright/musician Jason Tremblay (under the collaborative pseudonym "Tav Keyinde"), is given a first-read.

Joined InterAct Playwright's Forum, a collective/support-group of invited Philadelphia playwrights that meet monthly at InterAct Theatre's home in the Adrienne Theater.

Nominated for the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theater Artist, a $10,000 award given annually to a Philadelphia theater artist of exceptional promise. This is a huge honor for me, especially considering the brief time I've spent creating art in Philadelphia. I do not win the award, but am thrilled to be considered.

APRIL 2009
A workshop production of my full-length play, Dandelion Momma, is presented at The Kelly Writer's House, as part of my ArtsEdge Residency. The project is directed by Wally Zialcita, dramaturged by Terri Epp, and performed by Kevin Bergen, Wendie Hetherington, Brenna Schiman, and Miriam White.

Brenna Schiman as "Delores" in Dandelion Momma.

MAY 2009
My one-act play (one of my first plays ever!), The Ride, is presented at Saint Joseph's University, as a senior project directed by Fine and Performing Arts major (and Varsity basketball player) Edwin Lashley.

My one-act play, Valentine's Day, is performed at the University of San Diego, also as a senior project, by one of my former National Theater Institute students, Stacey Hardke.

Another production of Valentine's Day (another university project, another former NTI student, Ben Smolen, directs it) is scheduled for production at Wesleyan University, but canceled due to an unfortunate campus tragedy.

My one-act plays, Zombie Heart Salad Sandwich and Doctor Helix and Keggy the Keg, go into production in Austin, Texas, by Debutantes and Vagabonds at the Rollins Theater at the Long Center for the Performing Arts as part of the project, Are You Alive? The plays are directed by Amanda Garfield, and the production runs for three performances, May 14, 15, and 16.

Began creation of a new collaborative work, The Babel Project, with on-going creative partner and electronic music composer Mike Vernusky.

JUNE 2009
Celebrated my 33rd birthday with fireworks at a Camden Riversharks game in New Jersey.

Contributed (along with seven other unknown/anonymous writers) to the collaboratively-written (in the style of Tennessee Williams) play, We Share the Same Air for a Moment, as part of Anonymous Theater, produced by Philadelphia Dramatists Center.

Returned to The National Theater Institute (at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT) to work as the Playwriting Faculty for the Summer Intensive Training Program: TheaterMakers.

Ate really amazing blueberry pancakes at The Broken Yolk Cafe in New London, CT.

In all, it has been an outstanding, rewarding year. In addition to the work, I have continued to learn the city, feeling more and more like Philadelphia is my home. I have found more friends, more beauty, more of the city's little secrets, and more truths (and questions) about myself.

I am looking forward to the journey of Year Three, and hope that I can continue to contribute to the city, as well as find new ways to grow as an artist and human.

Thank you to everyone for a really good year.

rock on,