Sunday, April 25, 2010

From The Lobby of The Apple Tree Inn

The 29th Inge Festival wrapped up last night, and I'll have some pictures and notes from the events on Saturday a little later. At this moment, I'm waiting for my ride to the Tulsa airport to catch my flight to Dallas and then on to Miami.

This lobby could tell stories from the Inge Festival of years past. I'm sitting in the exact place where I met Edward Albee in 1991 after he came back from his morning walk. He sat next to me and we introduced ourselves. I also remember sitting here and seeing Jim Lehrer, Frank Rich, Stephen Sondheim, Neil Simon and Arthur Miller check in at the desk; not all at the same time, but spread out over the years.

This is also the place where we spent many a late night/early morning after the events at the college with snacks and drinks -- lots of the latter. I have memories of August Wilson, Gordon Parks, and Pat Hingle swapping stories while sitting on this couch, and singing camp songs with Shirley Knight and her daughter Kaitlin Hopkins. Director Daniel Mann told many stories about the New York theatre history going back to the early part of the 20th century, and he could tell the best jokes: my favorite was the old man going into the rest home.

A lot of the people who were a part of this festival when I started coming 20 years ago are gone now: the playwrights we've honored such as Jerry Lawrence, John Patrick, Wendy Wasserstein, August Wilson, and Arthur Miller; and dear souls such as Jo Anne Kirchmaier, niece of William Inge, dear friend, and keeper of the Inge family flame; and Robert Anderson, playwright and friend. I still see them here on the couch or coming around the corner, dressed for the tribute, or first thing in the morning, padding out in slippers for an eye-opening cup of coffee. The friends I've made here are my inspiration as a writer and scholar, and knowing that this group of dedicated and devoted friends will become even wider is the reason I keep coming back.

It's not goodbye; it's just intermission.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Inge 2010 - Day 3

This was a rich full day, beginning with an interview on stage with Paula Vogel, this year's honoree, followed by the scholar's conference where I delivered my paper to polite applause, and then the gala dinner at the Civic Auditorium. I'll update with pictures as soon as I download them.

So far it's been a lot of fun, and the best part is that the weather has cooperated fully. Over the last twenty years we've endured wind, rain, tornadoes, sleet, even a snow flurry or two. One year it rained so hard that my shoes got soaked through just from running from the college parking lot to the theatre. I had to go out to Wal-Mart and buy a new pair. (I still have them.)

One of the best parts of the festival is that we get the chance to mingle with people who know what it's like to work on a play or a piece of writing for weeks, months, or years and then try to get it produced... or even read. There's a lot of solidarity and commiseration, but there's also good advice and networking going on, too. I have already been asked for copies of Can't Live Without You from people who are interested in considering it for readings by their theatre group or even consideration for a full production. It's both gratifying and inspiring, because the next inevitable question is, "What else have you got?" So I am working on giving them more.

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the Picnic picnic, a master class with Paula Vogel, and the tribute to her.

Pictures from Friday:

Paula Vogel is interviewed by David Savran.

Mary Hanes shares ideas on playwriting.

I had some pictures of the gala dinner, but the quality isn't all that hot, so I'll see if I can nick some from the official photographer and post them. Suffice it to say that we all had a great time, and the program of songs put together by Tom Jones, last year's honoree, which included a tune from his work-in-progress, a musical version of the film Harold and Maude, was a delight.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Inge 2010 - Day 2

I spent the morning listening to two good friends -- Elizabeth Wilson and Barbara Dana -- read a portion of a work-in-progress by Barbara. It's a play about two aging actors working to come up with a play that they can do for a benefit and touches on the friendships -- past and present -- that they share.

Elizabeth Wilson and Barbara Dana

After lunch I sat in on a lively panel discussion with agent Peter Franklin, Gigi Bolt, and Mary Hanes on the current state of theatre and promotion of new playwrights in America. The consensus was that there are innovative ways to get new playwrights out to the theatres that are looking for new works, and there should be a means of providing support for theatre programs that nurture new writers. After all, where would theatre be without playwrights?

Peter Franklin, Gigi Bolt, Mary Hanes

Later there was a session with Dan Sullivan, the former theatre critic of the Los Angeles Times, and his view of the state of dramatic criticism and how the critics treated William Inge.

Tonight is the concert reading of The Mountaintop by Katori Hall. I'll have some thoughts on it later.

Update: My thoughts on The Mountaintop.

The premise of the play is that it is the night of April 3, 1968 in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. retires to his room after giving a speech to a Memphis church congregation during the sanitation workers strike. When a mysterious young hotel maid comes to visit him during the night, King is forced to confront his mortality and the future of his people.

When you have a story that depicts an event in history where you know the outcome, it takes a bit of ingenuity to make it interesting to the audience, and when you're writing about a man whose history and life has been so well documented, it takes some imagination to put an additional dimension on the character. In this case, Ms. Hall has accomplished both with a degree of success. No small credit goes to Anika Noni Rose who played Camae, the hotel maid, who gave the role a depth that went beyond the stereotype of the hip black woman of the 1960's. (There is a twist to her character that made it more interesting; think Touched By An Angel.) Gilbert Glenn Brown played Dr. King, and he had the added burden of taking him to a level that goes beyond the historical footage that we remember of him from forty years ago. The problem with playing him is that for the most part the only record we have of Dr. King is his famous speeches, including the one he gave in Memphis the night before he was shot, and the one containing the line that gives the play its title.

The performance was done in a concert version, which means the actors were reading from scripts on music stands, so there was no blocking or interaction. It didn't seem to hinder their performances, though, and at the end of the play, the audience gave them a standing ovation.

The other problem with plays that deal with an historical event is that we have our own memories to compare it to. The death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. struck a number of white people as not only a tragedy for the country, but there was inherently a sense of white liberal guilt; as if there was something we could have done to prevent it or done more to advance civil rights so that Dr. King would not have had to take his campaign to the streets and to the South. Perhaps there was an echo in that tonight in the applause at the William Inge Theatre, but I also think that the reaction and the accolades that the playwright and the actors received was in genuine appreciation of their work. But I also think that political theatre requires a measure of both timelessness and inclusiveness: the message cannot be merely to reflect the moment, because the shelf-life of those plays can be measured with an egg timer. And in order to go beyond preaching to the choir, it has to do more than emphasize a point of view that can only be appreciated by one segment of the society. Playwrights do not get to choose their audiences, and it takes a deft hand to make a play on such a topic reach across the aisle... including the ones in a theatre.


Inge 2010 - Day 1

Christmas in April

Last night we were treated to a staged reading of Paula Vogel's A Civil War Christmas. It's a combination of music and a very moving series of vignettes that depict, among other stories, a slave and her daughter slipping over the Potomac to escape to freedom, young soldiers dealing with being away from home during Christmas, assassins plotting against President Lincoln, and the Lincolns trying to find the perfect Christmas present for each other. They are all tied together at the end with happy endings and a harmonious blend of Christmas carols and battle hymns of the time.

Even though it was staged with actors reading from scripts, the performances were excellent, and the music, supplied by members of the Independence Community Chorus, was enchanting.

It was a great start to the Inge Festival, and a promise of good things to come.

Thursday's schedule includes workshops and the concert reading of The Mountaintop by Katori Hall, the Otis Guernsey New Voices winner.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010


For those of you who stop by here, the news is that I will be posting here from the 2010 William Inge Theatre Festival taking place in Independence, Kansas, April 21-24.

This is a little break from the past in that normally I would be posting at Bark Bark Woof Woof, but since this blog is dedicated to my literary output, I thought I would use it for that purpose. After all, Bobby Cramer is a fictional character; what better place to write about theatre, creative writing, dramatic literature, and other artistic stuff than here?

So check in this week and see what's going on in Independence. I'll even have pictures, and if you're lucky, I'll post the paper I'm writing for the scholar's conference.

See you in Independence.