Category Archives: Russia

Why Seeing the play “Wood Bones” is Important

Wood Bones is an important play for New York Theater. It’s written by a Native American playwright and it’s in NYC. When was the last time you saw a play written by a Native American playwright? In NYC? I don’t know about you, but this will be the first time for me and I’ve been going to theater in NYC for over 10 years. The play is also seeped in ritual and written about and for Native peoples who are so marginalized that we don’t even talk about them or know how to talk about them.  Through a haunted house story, the play invites the audience into a world I have rarely seen, one of the modern Native American Indian — the men and women who live on reservation land — or not, and who have learned to hate and  honor their traditions.

One of the things that I love about theater are the worlds it allows you to visit. For 90 minutes or more, once the theater is dark, the playwright, director and the actors are holding you captive and show you a world with living and breathing characters. You leave the theater, at the very least, being inspired, one would hope.  Possibly you’ve learned something that makes you think about things just a little bit or a lot differently than you did going into the theater. This should happen even if the play is bad or doesn’t make sense.

I’m going to tell you something — even my stinky plays take the audience on a journey. My very worst play, a play that got me nearly got me kicked out of my MFA program was about a brother and sister when the brother was sent away to a mental institution. The other play that really got me trouble (not because it was bad, but because it was about a professor) was about a guy who masturbated too much who was about to die, but he could turn things around if he could be nicer to women.

Plays these days are BORING and the coverage in the media is male focused (white male focused) and also BORING.

I am tired of seeing ho-hum plays that are extremely cliched and only made new by a celebrity or a prop.  This unraveling of quality is happening all over Hollywood and for the past 5 years it’s practically ruined theater for me in New York City — especially Broadway. Did anyone see that play Grace? So Paul Rudd is supposed to make your play interesting? That’s a lot of work for Mr. Rudd!

I rarely go to theater anymore. I have 2 good excuses – their names are Maya, who is three and Lilly who is only one.  My first priority is my children. I just don’t have the time to go out to theater like I once did. But I am also left a tad cold by the theater when I do go.

I am a playwright with some credentials, enough to speak my mind at least. I feel that I have a style. My own work is quirky, usually dark and edgy and I’d very much like to see things that have the following criteria:

The play should be well written, well acted, have some humorous moments that show intelligence and wit. But the play should not only be witty and it should not be perfectly well-made.  Revivals are fine, and who doesn’t love some of the old great plays?  I have seen most of them at least once, and I don’t really need to see them with a celebrity in one of the roles. I just don’t. It doesn’t make them any better, if anything, like in the case of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” I believe a celebrity actress made it worse. Another thing in this rant, why would I want to see a play where nothing happens?

Here’s what I want to tell producers:

I really don’t care about your set if your play is boring. That’s great that you can write beautiful prose, and say some interesting things and I love it that you are smart, but if your story is not new and exiting and by god original, then what is the point? Are you taking me on an exciting journey? Does your play make sense? Can I follow it? What do you want me to think and  feel when I leave? Have I learned something new, or have I merely been mildly entertained?

For me, the answer is always this: Your play should have taken me on a trip (I love “Trip To Bountiful”),  and would love to leave the theater having learned something new. I like bold subjects, and I don’t like prodding through topics that have been done again again.

Turns out, for me anyway, doing the PR for Wood Bones was an education, and a mind bending one at that. As soon as I took the job, I realized — oh wait, I’ve never done PR before, not officially. Also, I have no idea how to reach out to Native Americans in New York City. Is there a Native blog for New York? And I really don’t know very much about Native Americans or their community. American History was my favorite subject in college and Sacajawea my favorite book; and rafting down the Grand Canyon was one of my favorite trips of my life. And, by golly, my two-year-old nephew is part Navajo!  Guess what? Despite all that, I still don’t know shit.

I’ve been lucky in my career. I’ve worked in marketing since graduating college. Though I haven’t always loved that I do marketing, the fact that I am also a writer and playwright, and am a naturally curious person, my career path has led me to some interesting opportunities to say the least. The jobs I land are so very random, but usually in a good way. They are either good for perks (Starwood Hotels) or for something else — an entertaining story.

My very first marketing job was working for the French company, JC Decaux, an outdoor toilet company. Yes, that’s right. I helped open their flagship office in San Francisco. My focus was the display ads on the outside of the toilets, so I was making phone calls to Macy’s, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren,  but the office was small and I often took calls from druggies and people who just wanted to use “The John” in peace.

My next job was much more normal. I worked in a really fancy office on Maiden Lane in San Francisco. Obviously after my first toilet job, I couldn’t wait to have a respectable normal job. I worked for one of San Francisco’s chic advertising agencies as an assistant media planner and my client was Kia Motors, a Korean car company, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I spent my days dressing cute and flirting with a co-worker. It’s a frilly time…before the Internet boom, just before….and I was lucky to jump that ship and land at my next job which was the very cool, hip Salon.com. I loved this job, one of my favorite jobs ever.  I went camping with Jake Tapper and a throng of other seasoned journalists who are now on CNN and really very famous. Later, when I moved to New York, highlights included doing the online marketing  for the W Hotels and for DIRECTV. I got to go to fashion shows and held court at big meetings, but that power and money didn’t make me happy. In fact, I cried after my first day at DIRECTV because I just didn’t want to work for a big company, it’s not my style.

When I was very young I spent 2 summers in France working in restaurants learning French. I also smoked way too many cigarettes and drank like a fish and sipped lattes with a ciggy in one hand with a cute hat on my head. I used to be able to stay up all night and dance on bars, get lost and come to work at 8AM, drink a huge glass of fresh squeezed OJ and everything would be okay. This French experience is why I got my first job for the French company and probably why and more importantly how I got into marketing. I landed that first job because I spoke French.

At some point, when I was in NYC, I decided I wanted to be a theater artist and I worked my butt off to make that happen. When you have a true passion for something it’s not really that hard. Even though I had a marketing background, I spent 90% of my energy working in the theater. I got my MFA from the New School for Drama, I acted in numerous plays and was even the star of a Russian mini series. I’ve written and had over 40 productions of my plays over the last 10 years.  I spent the 3 years that I was in grad school working part-time as a theatrical literary agent. I was also copywriter for a major theater, a dramaturg for a summer, an assistant on Broadway.  I’ve directed plays, staged managed and written reviews. This year I can add two new titles to my rap sheet:  play contest judge and press rep.

So what’s my point? I’m not sure. It’s 5:30 in the AM. Wood Bones is original, Wood Bones is exciting – it’s well acted and makes sense, and I think you should see it. And then, perhaps a day or two later, when you want to know more, take a trip to the Native American Museum and bring your Kleenex, because you might cry.Image

Hip Hop Abs…or update…1.5 years into having 2 kids!

It’s almost my birthday. I’m totally old! Ugh.  I’m going out with friends tonight — to a bar in NYC. It’s hard to plan these things last minute…drinks for 15 friends in NYC. A few people will cancel with really good excuses at the last minute…and I will be annoyed. I mean, why bother with all the planning? But whatever. Just because I’m old and sore, I should still get a drink with friends on my b-day, right? I’ll have to update you on how this goes….

You know you are feeling old when you are more excited about the massage that you’ve booked for the next day, then your night of revelry.

Anyway, so both my kids’ celebrated their half birthdays this month. Lilly, my little one who is as cute as they come, is 18 months old; and Maya, my oldest is 3.5. Whoa! So I am 3.5 years into this mommy thing….and 1.5 years into being a mamma of two. What have I learned?

1. The first year of having a new baby is the hardest! Whenever I think of having another kid — and believe me — everyone ask “will you have another?” What do they think I am a baby machine…? No, I am giving away all of our baby stuff as fast as possible….I am ready to move on from the baby making phase, but I will remember it fondly, I will….

But what I remember the most, and what I will impart to anyone who asks is this:

The first year of having a new baby is HARD. The real reason women are not supposed to have babies after a certain age is because it’s too hard. Someone is trying to tell us something important. As you get older, you need your sleep!!

2. It’s harder to lose the baby weight after the second baby. For me this has been true. 18 months later and I am down to 3lbs of my pre-second baby weight, which means 13lbs more than before I had babies. I guess that’s not so bad. Things would go a lot faster if I didn’t go to Shake Shack once a week, I know this…yet, I still find myself at Shake Shack every Friday.

3. Laugh more, relax more, Cuddle more and forgive more often. The other day I was about to give my older daughter a time out for not going to brush her teeth right when I told her to. She said, “In a minute mommy.” Then she and the little one started riding on their horse and cow naked. I just started laughing.

4. Realize that I may not have hip hop abs, but maybe I can get to a dance class once in awhile. Before I had babies I used to live in the West Village and on Wednesday nights I took a very professional level dance class at my local gym. It was a hard class and one that you really couldn’t do unless you were once a dancer. I was a dancer when I was younger and used to take classes several times a week up until my twenties. I  even had a dance scholarship when I was 19.

The last time I took this class (at my gym) was before I was even pregnant, probably in 2008. I remembered the class and the teacher fondly. Her name is Abbey and she seems to have a following — she does great choreography. It’s a combo of lyrical jazz and hip hop. In short, a real work out.

Since my daughter now takes ballet and loves it, I had often thought that I should go take a dance class — but I don’t have the time. I mean, that’s now how I would want to spend my time….but maybe that’s what I should do. Dancing is healthy and something that I used to love to do. So the other day, I woke up early with Maya and I went to turn on a cartoon for her, and a crazy infomercial came on for “Hip Hop Abs”…I let it play and after a minute, Maya turned to me and said, “Let’s do hip box ats.” We jumped up and started dancing and I decided right then and there, I was not going to have this flabby muffin top anymore. I was going to go get myself some hip hop abs! I ordered the supplies. I know that I won’t do it, though. I don’t think I even have a dvd player. But I did get inspired to go find a dance class, and you won’t believe it — Abbey’s “Dance Project” was happening that very evening at my old gym in my old hood. I had a sitter that evening, so I decided to go to the class. I slithered in to class in the back. Abbey yelled something to me. I’m sure that she didn’t recognize me. She never knew my name, but back in the day, she used to refer to me as  “Hot Pants.” Anyway, I was sure that I wouldn’t last 10 minutes…but there I was 30 minutes later — hooked…dancing, turning, jumping — sweating. I left though, early, because I didn’t have the right shoes and my toe was bothering me. But I was happy! In fact, I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the evening. Dancing is good. I’ll be back!!

5. Super moms need a break. We are all super moms…I know this.

Remember that you need a break too. This can be anything….a rest, a massage, a moment to write a blog post….a hair cut. Moms (and dads too) need a time out from work and kids. These moments of time out are refreshing and well deserved. I’m a frigging super mom, who also writes plays, TV scripts and has marketing clients.  I take both my kids swimming by myself (they are babies) all the time. You should see what chasing them around the changing room is like, and you’ll understand why I think I’m a super mom. I also do a Russian play group on Tuesday afternoons. Yeah, I speak Russian enough to do a Russian play group. I read French books to my daughter every night and she loves it. No, I’m not perfect, and I never seem to have my double stroller stocked with exactly what I should have (there’s always a lot of weird shit in there), but I’m a very good mommy and I deserve every little break that I can get….you do too.

Happy New Year Blog

Ashley Wren Collins

Ashley Wren Collins

Happy New Year!  Wow – it’s 2009.  Finally.
It’s been such a long time since I’ve blogged!  After my whirlwind one-interview-a day project, which culminated with Barack Obama’s victory on November 4th 2008, I was just so overwhelmed I had to shut down The Pop Cycle from pure exhaustion.
The winter snow falling on our city seemed appropriate. The chilly air brought a palpable fear with it.  In November I started a Russian class with a terrible Russian teacher who made me think learning on tape might be easier than pulling Russian lessons out of him.  Really, since I studied French for some five or so years, I know a thing or two about how to approach language study and no homework is not a good thing!
Anyway, just as a dark November pulled up to the curb and the job market got even worse, a small miracle happened (to me). I was offered a role as an actor in a fellow playwright’s play . Did I mention that I didn’t have to audition, and the role was one of those juicy roles that only comes around every so often for an actor?

See, I like acting, but I hate auditioning and since I am mostly a playwright why would I ever audition anyway? I wouldn’t.  But then, somehow, someone, quite randomly sees my acting ability, literally from afar and voila, I get cast in a play.  It wasn’t exactly like that – but my version is close enough.
Being on stage is such a thrill.  It’s creative, but in a completely different way than the work I do as a writer.  In the end of course, writing is the better of the two because a writer walks away from their hard work with a play in hand, the actor applause.
There is a thrill to acting that is ephemeral; like a bottle of pop constantly exploding. As a performer I’m a part of the process – and who doesn’t love being told that “you’re wonderful.” It’s addicting and I could get used to it, but alas, I always do this one-hit acting thing and then I’m back to the hard, hard work of being a playwright.

Talk about no glory!  Playwrights sit hunched over their desks sipping coffee or worse – drinking Vodka.  They are primarily loners and sulk about not getting produced.  Or, when they are getting produced they think the following: “I should have written that better but oh well,” or “the actors and director are ruining it.” And when people are loving your work, it’s the actors that get all the praise!  Since I have done both roles — been the actor and the writer, I can tell you with confidence that acting is hard work too; and playwrights are lucky when a very good actor likes their script.  It’s a collaboration.

Speaking of good actors, this brings me to my first interview of 2009:
Who: Ashley Wren Collins
Where: In front of the Waverly Diner, West Village, NYC
Occupation: Actress and celebrity assistant.
Hometown: Bethlehem,PA
“I love this diner!” quips Ashley as she arrives from the rain.
“Why?” I ask, looking around puzzled.
Really people, The Waverly Diner is just a diner with regular diner food.  Outside of their fresh squeezed OJ, I can’t say I’ve ever had anything amazing to eat there, but I swear so many people LOVE it and so many of my friends pick this damn diner as our meeting place.  It’s a Greenwich Village staple, so I need to cover it.
Ashley says she loves it for the “memories.”
“Ah, okay,” I say.
“My dad and I came here 10 years ago when I was getting my first passport. I remember the experience not just because it was the day I got my first passport, but also because Santa sat alone at a table next to us.”
“Really?” I say.
“No kidding.  Just me, my dad and Santa eating breakfast in the restaurant.  He was pretty relaxed, especially since it was Christmas Eve.  Anyway, here I am about to renew my passport for the first time, so it had been 10 years!”
Ashley is lucky, she’s always known that she wanted to be an actress and she’s studied her craft at the Moscow Art Theatre in Moscow.  I met Ashley when my friend and director Fritz Brekeller cast her in my romantic comedy My Life As You in the summer of 2006.
Ashley is a great comedic actress who really should be a character on Saturday Night Live.  She’s stunningly tall and blonde.  Kind of like a goddess who burps when she’s nervous. In any event, today, two years after My Life As You, we are meeting at 8:30 AM at the Waverly Diner.
I wanted to interview Ashley because she’s been busy. Not only does she work as a celebrity assistant, but she and her friends have created a goofy travel web series called  Suzy and Duddy.  The conceit of Suzy and Duddy reminds me a bit of  Flight of the Concords on HBO except instead of musicians from New Zealand, the characters are two super dorky Minnesotans who have created a super dorked out travel show.  In episode 2 they find a British sounding producer who is now part of the chaos as they take on NYC, which they do with pizazz in episode 3.

News for me: I am writing about Greenwich Village for the Examiner.com, so if you want to keep up on events and such in the village, become a subscriber to my blog.

Interview 2, 3 and 4… and one crazy day in NYC.

I met so many people this week….where to start?  Let’s just do my day on Thursday, Sept 19th.  This is not a typical day necessarily, but it’s not completely uncommon either.

11 AM I found myself lost in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.  Two Russian people starring down at me (I fell coming out of the subway). They grunted. I looked up, shocked that I’d forgotten my Russian.   Noon.  A Russian guy stalks me on the subway and begs to kiss my hand.  I think he said “me and you together in Odessa” but I’m not sure…like I said, I forgot all my Russian, but somehow he kissed my hand. 12:30PM washing hands vigorously.

2-5PM met Audrey “to write” at Doma “a writer’s cafe.”  I overhear two guys laughing at themselves writing a screenplay no doubt. They were typical though….”We want to write something like The Office, but it’s been done.”  6PM, jump out of taxi in front of the W Hotel’s corporate office to meet my old friend Kevin, we get drinks and eat Oysters.  My Russian friend Olga shows up wearing a fedora and also orders her own Oysters.  She tells us that NYC’s Web 2.0 sucked.  Kevin’s wife Andrea shows up and we all go to at a party for the Luxury Collection in Chelsea.  I met a French fashion designer named Thomas Renaud.  I think his thing might have something to do with Aqua Man given his scuba attire.  Then, I scarfed down some Salmon Roe, which was delicious while standing outside and admiring  the evening view from the 21st floor.   Sometime before we left the party, I ran into an old actor friend from my MFA program (Steve) and decided to ask him to be in my reading of Reporter Girl which is next Friday, September 26th.  He was working the party and had a headset on.

Many glasses of wine later, Kevin, Andrea and I ended up a the W in Times Square for yet another party.  There I consumed more drinks and started talking with my old friend from work, Leah.  Seems like we got kind of silly and Kevin and Andrea left and Leah and I and a bunch of blond girls who now work on the Luxury accounts hung out in the W Store.  I happen to know that the W Store rocks with amazing little finds.  One of the girls had really blond hair and talked like a valley girl.  She said that she spent $300 on cabs last weekend and gets her hair blown out every day. Her teeth were very white.

Midnight.  I arrived at my door with a new black hat, ear muffs and a hot pink scarf.  Dmitry had cooked the Cod I bought, so I ate (again). We had more wine and watched TV.  I checked my email and found out that one of my plays has been chosen for a December production in NYC.

Unicorns, Bears, Sugar Pine Trees and old Russian proverbs.

This weekend the Russian part of my family took over. Half of my husband’s Russian family lives in L.A.(his dad, stepmom, aunt, grandma and cousin) so once a year I make the trek and we do something special in the LA area.

Last year we skipped the LA trip and went far east to Moscow to see the other side of his family (his mom and step dad)  in 2007.  Highlights from that trip included agreeing to be interviewed for the International NTV channel (in Russian) and taking his parents to the Le Meridien in Moscow for a few days, which is a very nice hotel, especially for his mom and dad who don’t do fancy things. We bought his mom a swimsuit and it was actually the first time she’d swam in a pool in twenty years! Can you imagine? This made me very happy. I enjoyed watching from the sidelines  in between reading my amazing book: Suite Francaise.

This year, we decided to travel on the cheap (sort of).  We just did a two-day backpacking trip to Sequoia National Park, which is about two and a half hours from Los Angeles. I didn’t really want to go, but now that it’s over, I must say, I had a great time, and I felt extremely present, which isn’t always the case. We are an interesting little family unit when we all get together. We are all funny. The Paperny family is one of the funniest and interesting groups of people that I have ever met, so coming from an equally goofy family (but in a different way) I think our families mix well together — or, I think I mix well with them.

Dmitry, my husband is the funny one, who really keeps the group together. He’s the planner and has everything organized (he secretly bought me a new back pack for the trip by measuring me while I was asleep). Dmitry is truly one of the most darling people that I have ever met in my life. So I guess I am glad that he’s my husband. His sister Tanya is much younger than us, but she’s very mature and interesting to talk to, so it makes us almost even. At only 22 she’s working her first real job in youth advocacy in D.C. She is really into saving money and living on “what she has now” (I went through a phase like that too). She’s already volunteered in New Orleans twice! When she lost her cell phone, we gave her one of our old ones instead of her buying a new one. She’s forgetful, has a bad back and already “doesn’t want to talk about work.”

Dmity’s dad, Vadik, a true intellectual Russian. He’s been living in LA for the past 25 years and has a design studio there. Though, outside of his design work, he is an “intellectual” on many things. He has a PhD and has written a book in Russia about architecture that his made him sort of celebrity in Moscow. Vadik spent his time teaching me a Russian proverb about an old man who planted a turnip that grew too big. I turned it into a rap song. Since we ran out of wine, I only learned half the song, which in English just sounds ridiculous….

When we get together, it always makes for fun times.

So anyway, the four of us took off like a pack of turtles and drove up to the park. We got a campsite and pitched our tents. The next morning we took off for our 7 mile hike, 3.4 up and 3.4 down. It was a long day, and at some point while you are huffing and puffing you are wondering “why?” It’s in moment’s like these that you are already imagining the hot tub at home (Dmitry’s dad has one) and the massage you’ll get and the burger at “In and Out Burger.” But at present, all you can do is feel the pain and try to breathe.

That night, I couldn’t sleep at all. I heard that a mama bear and her cub wandered around the campsite at night (but were “harmless”)….whatever. I kept imagining that a bear snout was going to come popping into my tent at any moment. It never happened, but I did peak out to see the giant sequoias and the stars. The stars were some of the brightest I’ve seen. And in that moment, one fell from the sky and I made a wish. A moment later, a deer or perhaps some other great animal began to graze on the nearby grass and this kept me up all night. Who’s eating the grass? A deer, a bear, something else? We decided later, when we went on a walk to “learn about the trees” that what we heard was a Unicorn and the small stretch of grass must be magical.

Early the next day we were invited to take a tour to learn all about the trees in our area. While I was trying to decide the difference between a Ponderosa and a Jeffereson or a Sugar Pine, White Fir and a Giant Sequoia, I became aware, awake and alive. We then continued on our walk to a cabin in the middle of the woods, which we were told was Grace Allen’s cabin, a woman who spent many summers living in this area. On our way to the cabin we saw old junk, pots and pans from 1890 all covered in rust. When we arrived at the door, a nice old lady came out dressed in some vintage settler’s attire a la 1898. She introduced herself as Grace Allen and asked if we wanted a cool glass of lemonade. She then said her father had moved here in 1880 to run the mill, and she was born here in this cabin in 1887, which would make her about 141 years old, perhaps the oldest person in the world. Huh? My eyes popped out of my head. Huh? But she only looks about 80. What’s going on here? Is this place the fountain of youth? Am I just tired? No, perhaps I’m just waking up.