Directing, Creative Freedom, and Vandalism

I love to reinterpret writers work, but there’s a line that ought not to be crossed.

Bitter Gertrude

From From

Once upon a time I worked at a theatre that received two cease-and-desist orders in two seasons– one for copying dialogue from a Disney film word-for-word and performing it without permission, and one for rewriting the lyrics to Godspell. The artistic director of the company told me, “The New Testament is so boring! Stephen Schwartz would have LOVED what we did with it if he had seen it. Ours was SO MUCH BETTER.” She then proceeded to tell me that she had learned her lesson, and asked me to write a commission contract for a playwright that would give her “total artistic control” over what the playwright wrote. “It’s my idea to adapt [name of book she didn’t write nor for which she possessed the adaptation rights] into a musical, so I own it.” Instead of writing her contract, I quit.

Around this same time, Boxcar Theatre…

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Starting Over without the Expectation of Anything

I’ve been taking improv at UCB since last summer.  I go slow because I can’t afford to go fast.  I’m old. I have bills. I find it challenging.

I really loved my first class, and enjoyed the second. Met some nice people who were fun for the time. I met some people that may be around in the future.

It’s odd going to class when you reach the age that you longer imagine you’ll have your discovery moment and become the next…Gilda Radner or Kristen Wiig or Maya Rudolph.  I find myself surrounded by 20-somethings who are changing the course of their lives for it. I did that. I’m a secretary.

Clearly, I chose wisely. More wisely than a Nazi faced with a 1,000 year old knight but less wisely than, say, my friend with an MBA.

My boss likes to point out that I’m so much more than my job title, but my title is actually less powerful than the usual admin title. I’m a modern day secretary who uses excel; I’m not even an Administrative Assistant. That takes a psychic toll, the powerlessness.

Anyway, learning at this point in my life becomes much more about the process. It’d be weird to make a herald team or a house team, since it’s neither my aim, nor what I’m carefully planning.  I no longer carefully plan. I just try to have fun and feel alive for a minute. I’m both impressed by drive and repulsed by it. I vaguely remember my own drive in my early 20s and I missed as much life as I lived.

Mostly, I wish I could find that spot to relax and work and just learn. It’s hard when you’re surrounded by people who imagine they could & would & might…and fuck it…you just want to be better with people you can enjoy–building random fleets of beavers–without considering a career move, or whether someone will get me to the next place on the grand linear climb to fame.

That shit’s nonlinear. The next spot is not leading naturally at all to the next thing. 201 only leads to 301 in school. It makes me wonder, though, what I want and for now it’s to be better at improv.

For standup, I want to get fucking amazing at it.

No pressure.

Random notes from a workshop two weeks ago:

Marry yourself to the choice.

Don’t doubt it.  Stick to it.

Play the game, move on, play the game again.  Music, rest, music.

The game is the butterfly of the scene. It’s the first laugh. Grab it and run with it together.

Don’t argue; turn it into a positive for your position.

If you argue, because that’s what happens in reality, move on, come back to the premise underneath it.

Heighten the premise of the joke of the scene…the game of the scene.

I am fraglie. (It’s Italian.)

So, for three straight weeks, I’ve been doing stand up on Sunday night. Open mics, a class show. My joke writing is picking up speed. My ideas come faster. Not everything sounds like depression on tap.

I sigh with relief.

I worry.

I have 2 acts of a 3 act play written and its intense. I have to finish it this month. Cripes.

I fret.

This is the time of the year the sucks my soul dry.

I budget.

And through it all I mutter, “Why didn’t I get a degree in business?”

Then I look at that picture and go, “Oh, obvi…”


When I did my set, I did the best stuff from Sue Smith’s class show, and made a few changes – tightened it up here and made certain things more specific. Things got much better laughs.

Things like a joke about sexual abuse.

Things got weird feeling. I’m wondering as I tighten things up if I should insert other jokes into that line of jokes. Neither I, nor the audience, should feel like we’re married to Floyd Mayweather. Manny.  Why do boxers have names from 1956?

or Clifford Odets?

I felt exposed.

I felt fragile.

Power through or Decompress?


Anyhoo. Here’s to a Sunday filled with improv practice, joke writing and an open mic. This is now my DAY.

And a Saturday at the park with music and friends. Equally important.

And the dentist.


ETA: My mom liked this post and then unliked it, I think she got the 69 joke.

Sex. On. Legs. Part 3 – 101, Day 7

Today’s Prompt: Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.

Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue.

This is a continuation of these posts:  Part 1 and Part 2

The best choice I made all reception? The stolen bottle of semi-decent champagne cooling in my hotel ice bucket. On my second glass, my mood is much brighter. Maybe it’s the release of the tension of the party. It’s hard to spend a day worried someone will reference a past that I’ve put as far behind me as possible. I can’t recall feeling this uncomfortable in my skin. It’s just having this time of my life in front of me.

Class failure.  That’s me. Images and humiliation race through my head for a moment. It’s hard to fail at something that means so much to you. It’s hard to forgive…me.

All my champagne bubbles pop at once and I move to change the channel and find a RomCom to distract me. I flip channels with the agility of an office worker who spends their evenings relaxing with the boob tube. I’m no social commentator, but maybe some funny tweets during a live broadcast to feel creative and like a creative.

Like the people at the party I can hear outside.

I look at the silly, expensive shoes, my fancy dress in the bride’s color. At least it was my choice and not a total waste of money. My hard earned secretarial dough. I slug some more champagne to get the bubbles back in my head.

“Champs,” I giggle. For a second I picture the fussy, perfectionist Real Housewife who nicknamed champagne, champs, judging my life. “I think you need less of an onion ring life and more of a champs lifestyle,” myself as Heather DuBrow declares. I giggle hysterically.

The bus leaves at 12pm tomorrow and it’s 8pm tonight. This is gonna be a long night if I’m making bad housewives jokes and laughing at them. I send out texts to my favorite friends, the folks a part of my current life.

I see it then. A sheet of semiburned paper someone must have slipped under the door in the last few minutes. I’m fairly certain it’s my letter, but I’m hoping not. My letter should have burned up in the bonfire.

I stare at it as I walk up.  Bits of it are gone, but it is a fragment of my letter.

I love you….but that would…make you miserable…do not return my feelings…kindness and distance. We…again…wish you the best…life.

I hear my voice and I am screaming with the horror, “Oh my god, why isn’t this burned up??”

“Oh my god, who brought this to me?!?” That hits me harder. Holy hell, who saw this shit?

“I don’t know why I found it. I never knew it was a love letter.” HIS voice. From the outside of my hotel room. He is standing in the hallway by my door.

“Of course you found it.” I slide down the door in dread. “Oh course, you did.”

“It came to me, Jules.” No, his voice is down here. He’s leaning on the other side of the door, this cheap thin door that doesn’t feel as solid now that I am listening through it.

“It was so many years ago.”

“You’re the one hiding in your room.”

“I don’t belong here. Ry. I was so happy to be included that I didn’t think about how I’d feel going backwards.”

“How is a wedding going backwards?” His tone accuses me of stupidity.

“I’ve made a life that doesn’t include anyone here…I don’t think it could.”

“Then you should have turned it down and stayed away, like you always did.” His voice is moving, irritated and dismissive, as he stands.

“Ry! Why did you bring this letter to me?” I scramble to open the door enough to see him as I lean against the doorframe.

He turns and looks down at me. Confused, drunk, a little tired. “I guess I hoped you’d grown.” He turns and takes a step away.

For the first time, I react, not in anger, but in my own truth, “I did grow. I just grew in a different direction.”

He never turns. The only sign he heard is the noticeable shrug of his shoulder and the pause in his stride.  I watch my first love walk away from me, for good this time. After all this time, I can finally accept he never felt anything for me; and that relieves me. I stare at the elevator doors for a long while.

“I need bubbles.”  That’s when I notice; he left an offering. “Fuck the glass.”

I start drinking a near full bottle, laughing at the texts my friends back home are sending me. New York City life, not a soul has a car. The party and people and the past recede until I nod off in the doorway.

The next morning everything hurts. The empty bottle and dead cell phone are all tucked underneath me, an uncomfortable bed. I find the remains of the letter clutched in my hand:

I love you…and…wish you the best…life.

Sex. On. Legs. — Part 2 (The Letter — 101)

This is Part Two of this story (

I’m 35 and this is my second stint as bridesmaid. This time, it is an old college friend.  Back in the day, where I was shy, she was gregarious and it seems like our entire class is here. Of course, HE is here. He was Mr. Popularity with the men in the class and many of the ladies. I think of my friend, Casie and feel a pang. He’d broken her heart and she dropped out of school. An expensive private school education is a helluva thing to ghost on. He’d broken my heart and made it clear he despised me. He accused me of being obsessed with him. I refused to be run off.

I’d seen him earlier with the groom, but so far I’d avoided him and all the awkwardness. Honestly, it’s mostly awkward on my side, but the avoidance makes me feel safer. What do you discuss with a man who so deeply misjudges you? I’ve spent the first half of the reception heading to the other side of the room, dancing off with old friends and getting a refreshment whenever he even looked my way.  I’ve been supersuccessful and, I am pretty sure, undetected. Craning my neck one way and the other, the coast appears to be clear to head outside and score a puff of 420. I turn the corner gingerly and step right into him.

“You’re avoiding me.”

“…” I am avoiding him and denying it seems stupid.

Somehow, he looks sexier with age. He’s grown into his body, and his face is leaner, so many laugh lines around the eyes. It occurs to me he’s had a happy life and that makes me happy for him. He remains sexy as hell. The kick of sexual awareness to my gut surprises the heck out of me.

Annoyed hazel eyes meet mine. “It’s ridiculous.”

“I agree, but it’s my choice to be ridiculous.” As always when we speak,he accuses and I defend. I feel my hands fist on my hips, and my chin jut out rebelliously.

“I really don’t care.” The gut kick becomes painful. “I wanted to return this to you.”  He presses an unopened letter into my hand. I know this letter. I wrote it as a peace truce during the worst of our battles in school. I considered it a big success until the gossip reached my ears.  Gossip he’d spread.  The bride was one of my few close friends from school I’d stayed in continual contact with.

“Why didn’t you open it?” It occurs to me that the hours I spent laboring over this letter, carefully weighing my words, were wasted. He never read it. He simply chose not to speak to me again.

“I figured since you wouldn’t speak to me that I didn’t need to know what you wrote.” His lips twist bitterly? cruelly? I can’t decide because I can’t help but see him through my years old hurt.

The full impact of the rejection hits me and I shove the letter into my sleeve and turn on my heel and walk away.

He’s speaking in the distance, but he’s moved on to another discussion. The words rattle in my head, the pain and first love rattle through my stressed system.

I love you.

I could draw you pictures or write you poems from my love, but that would just make you miserable.

I recognize that this is one sided and that you do not return my feelings.

I ask for your kindness and your distance. We won’t speak again, but I do wish you the best in your life.

I turn the letter over and over in my hands. I’d written more but a few lines made up the gist of it all.  I watch him from a distance. Always a people pleaser and still a people pleaser. I feel a laugh bubble up inside. He hated me for rejecting him and the entire time, he’d had my heart. He’d set out  to reject me and he’d pushed me away from far more than himself. There wasn’t a person present I’d want to discuss this with. Simply put, how far had his gossip spread all those years ago?

A bonfire had been a tradition for Saturday night drinking and someone had made sure we had one today. I flung the envelope with my faded, familiar scrawl into the flames and watched it burn. Laughing and crying, a little hysterically, I decided to leave. I notice a scrap of it arc up and float over the reception, the pot smokers, the dancers, the aging dreamers that I met in art school.

I didn’t belong here. I go to grab my coat, say my goodbyes and head to bed at the hotel we’ve rented next door to the catering space.

I don’t see the paper land in the reception’s crush. I don’t see him follow its path from the fire with his eyes, smoothly move to make sure it lands at his feet and finally read what remains of the letter.

Sex On Legs – 101 – Part 1

Today’s Prompt: Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more. [It can be a fiction.]
Today’s twist: Make today’s post the first in a three-post series.


He was the sexiest man in jeans I had ever seen.

Sex. On. Legs.

As I looked at him in the spotlight in front of me, I stopped breathing.

The second time that happened to me, I was watching Thor and it was Chris Helmsworth. No a single woman in that theater appeared to breathe because we all gasped for air in unison, a couple of minutes after.  There were a lot of nerd boyfriends sinking into their chairs, mortified. There was nothing personal about it, except for the shared awareness that that was a hot man on screen. I’m pretty sure I could have started a new community of like-minded feminists from the raw sexual arousal in the room. We want sex the way we want it…and NOW…

The first time it happened to me, I was young and he was young. We were in a group of fellow students  It felt like the most important thing that had happened to me.

He and his jeans sauntered to the front of the room of nervous students. Cocky and insecure, he checked out his audience.  He both thought we were enraptured with him, yet was certain we were already over him. I missed it.

All I could see was his hazel eyes, and then his mouth, with its full lips. A patchy bit of dark brown hair covered his cheeks. Broad shoulders that tapered into narrow hips and powerful thighs. He had hands like a pianist’s hands, soft and gentle, but squared off like the son of a workman. His knuckles and forearms were dusted with dark hair, like my dad. I couldn’t breathe.

Out tumbled a voice like whiskey and honey, filled with warmth.  He was a singer, he said. He had a ska band in college. He referenced Star Wars with confidence. His ska band was called Atreyu. You could hear how good his voice was just from speaking.

“If someone had said describe your dream man, dude, he’s it,” the unguarded thought occurred to me. A recognition settled into the pit of my stomach. I was going to do more than crush on this man. I was in deep shit.

Quickly, maybe even desperately, I skimmed up and down his body, looking for perfection. “The perfect man, the unattainable man, that’s what will save me now.” Instead, I saw flaws. His ears stuck out and his nose flared out too widely for his features.  These were deeply humanizing flaws.

The recognition expanded and became a dead weight in my center.

He looked like the sexy boy next door and smirked like he thought he was getting one over on us. I didn’t notice. I was too bowled over by his charisma to read it.  A couple of years of maturity on me and I would have seen him for the truth: he was the kind of man that thinks he’s a CEO, when he’s really a mid-level manager shunted into a position where he can do the least harm to the company.

It didn’t matter to me. I knew. I would lose my heart to this boy; and he would be disgusted with the gift.

Photo: Mike Mozart

The Soundtrack of My Soul – 101

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you? 

My Girl

I grew up in the D. Detroit. The Suburbs of Detroit. This was the music of my home, of the city, of my father’s generation. Bill Stewart. Not the singer. My dad loved Motown. He loved the 80s; he was less enthusiastic about 70’s funk, but he could dig it. However, what really jazzed his beat was classic Motown. He listened to the stuff everyday and since I rode with dad, so did I.

Motown is what my childhood sounds like.  I grew up on the 60s stuff that came out of Hitsville.  It is the soundtrack of a clean house, a dance shared with all the members of my family and our dog, it’s what was playing during my first slow dance. 

Dirty Dancing, the movie and the dance form, was popular as I prepared for junior high. It never dawned on us kids the significance of the lack of Motown on the soundtrack. We simply put those into rotation at my first big kids party. I was 11 and I tried a stiff box step with another 6th grader. He stared at his feet. My Girl was playing on the radio. 

White kids can’t dance to it. Can’t find the rhythm off the downbeat.

Silent All These Years 

During my teen years, Tori Amos saved my soul. She was the soundtrack to my salvation. I played her albums over and over, but this was my anthem. To me, this song was to be song out loud and clear and proud, like you were sending it to Jesus. 

When I hear the lyrics, I hear a meditation on don’t make waves, don’t upset anyone. Be good, little girl, keep your pain to yourself. No one cares. no one understands. 

Tori did. She wrote it, so she felt it too. I was alone with her voice, but not alone in my pain.


Sara Bareilles’ song is one of my faves.

It reminds me of the moment in Pollack right before Pollack begins to paint a canvas. What will it become? Where will the creative urge lead the artist?

This song is the soundtrack of the most difficult moment–the moment before creative impulse. 

All I know is I want to go somewhere new. To me, to my audience, to my art. 

Day Two: Description – 101

My eyes hurt by 3pm.  Gray, dystopian walls with a slight green cast cause by the florescent light above. The gray wavers in my field of vision, as I rub my eyes.  The texture of multiple shades of gray adding into nothingness.  Nothing offensive, nothing new and nothing original.  Cookie cutter fabric for a cookie cutter job.

In rebellion to the implied rule against decoration are two objects: a glitter-encrusted, lime green card covered in butterflies and a name badge from HR training identifying me as “Sparkle,” a nonofficial nickname.

These are the walls I stare at everyday.

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