Each week or so I’m updated on happenings in the LA theater scene by way of the latest postings on LA Stage Times. In the past I’ve always found the news to be informative and even gratifying; however, lately I’ve been experiencing different sorts of emotions as I read about my friends and colleagues who have new shows on stage. Lately, my feelings have taken a turn to the dark side, running a fairly tight gamut from envy and jealousy to out’n’out despair.
And so in the spirit of evenhandedness, coupled with an obviously unrequited need for attention, I am taking this opportunity to talk like an Egyptian and speak out for the poor, the downtrodden and the disenfranchised creators of theater who currently have absolutely no productions in the works.
Or, as many of us are referred to in local theater circles: “That playwright who wrote that play that Rogue Machine did a reading of, but then passed on.”
It’s an insidious dilemma for me, having written a number of plays that have been produced here in Los Angeles, especially as I was very involved with each production. For me the process was the opposite of boring. It was absolutely what I most wanted to be doing with my time — creating a world and characters and then teaming with talented people in order to distill what I’ve done into something even better.
I mean, I was an econ major in college. It couldn’t have gotten more boring than that. (For years, I’d assumed The Merchant of Venice had been written by Milton Friedman.) So after a long career in business, I can truly say I’ve been reborn. Being able to have this new life in the theater is indeed a gift!
But wait. Why is being involved in the past productions of my plays a dilemma? Particularly an insidious one? It’s simply because now the absence of such an experience, not to mention my having absolutely nothing even pending, is growing more and more unpleasant. It gnaws at me”¦ like an illogical plot point”¦or the fact CTG actually produced Nighthawks. As the actor playing Vladimir was overheard explaining to the actor playing Estragon during their AEA-required break, “It’s the waiting, stupid! It sucks the big one!”
At this point, the last full production of a play of mine is already approaching a year ago. London’s Scars was a play I wrote and co-produced with Christie Wright, which was a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre. It proved to be the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life, with lots of changes to the play during the run. But it was the kind of work I love, and in the end I’m proud of how it came off.
Unfortunately it has also contributed to my falling victim to the same concerns inherent in that fabled poser: “How you gonna keep “˜em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” You see, in the past four or five years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some really talented actors such as Rob Nagle, Ann Noble, Meredith Bishop, Salli Saffioti, DJ Harner, Bradley Fisher and Suzanne Ford, among many, many others “¦ as well as top-notch directors such asÂ Paul Kreppel, Darin Anthony, Mark L. Taylor and Howard Teichman (again, among others).
And once you’ve been spoiled by working with such hugely inventive sorts — nice people who both admire your work and want to help you make it better — it is very difficult to pick up the LA Times’ stage listings week after week and not see your name there. And in a strange way, my having received several Ovation and LA Weekly Theatre Award nominations over the years now is only adding to my malaise. (God, I’m not complaining! I’d love more! But it does fuck with one’s expectations, yes? )
So here I sit, along with others of my ilk, stewing in our creative juices. Aside from my five most recently produced plays that all whisper to me daily from their USB flash drives, begging for follow-up productions, there are also five or six brand new ones living right here under the “enter” button on my keyboard that I would love to see done. Apogee/Perigee; Beach in Winter; The Restoration of Sight; Into the Land of Nod; and Memorizing Rome all need more work, to be sure, but they’re getting close. Close enough, in my exceedingly biased opinion, that I feel any notable hiccups in the scripts could be worked out in pre-rehearsal and rehearsal.
Of course, I certainly don’t mean to imply all of these new plays will be everybody’s cup of tea. Some are much lighter than others. And they’re all very different in tone and content and psychological depth. And I’m painfully aware of the fact that almost every artistic director already has his or her favorites (usually a Tom Jacobson play among them) queued up and ready to go and that I’m probably not high on anyone’s to-do list, if on their lists at all.
So what do I do? What do we do? We few, we frustrated few, we band of bards? I know, “be patient.” But besides that, how do we get through the dry times, knowing we have so much to offer for so little pay? “Write better plays” is a good place to start. So despite the risk of experiencing sudden envy, I do see a lot of theater (being an Ovation voter is such a blessing) which helps me to learn and write better. I learn something from every play I see. Attending plays also has helped me to create relationships (or at least name/face recognition) at a number of the producing theater companies around town.
On the other hand, I’m not sending out my work as often as I should. Marketing oneself is a full-time (and tedious) job I’m not very good at — so there’s room for improvement there, although having Beach in Winter named an O’Neill semi-finalist (so far) has been a recent nice boredom antidote, as was a recent reading at the Long Beach PlayhouseÂ of my most personal new play, Apogee/Perigee. Keeping busy is a must.
At the moment, working on a new, very theatrical, very “the Theatre @ Boston Court might actually like this” pieceÂ occupies most of my time, aided greatly by my participation in the Ensemble Studio Theatre – LA’s Playwrights’ Unit, along with their other new play development programs. The new works “Living Room Series” program at the Blank Theatre has also been a tremendous help to me. As for what else I can be doing, beyond what I’ve mentioned above, I’m open to suggestions.
And that, I guess, in a nutshell is my tale of woe, literally told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (at least on my calendar)”¦written in solidarity with those also waiting for some theater somewhere to produce our two hour and 12 minutes (with intermission) play that we’ve sweated blood over for months or even years. Of course, onceÂ our precious piece of art is produced, Kathleen Foley will likely say it needs more work, especially in the second act.
Richard Martin Hirsch, a native of Los Angeles, is a playwright and the 2010 winner of the prestigious Stanley Drama Award for his new play The Restoration of Sight. His previously produced plays include The Quality of Light (Ovation nomination, Best New Play); Atonement (LA Weekly Theatre Award nomination, Playwriting); The Monkey Jar; The Concept of Remainders (Ovation nomination, Best New Play; LA Weekly Award nomination, Playwriting); and London’s Scars.