Category Archives: Travel

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

“Without” at The Looking Glass Theatre

My play “Without” that I wrote in 2004 and was a finalist that year for the Samuel French Short Play Festival is being produced again at the Looking Glass Theatre in NYC June 4-7.  I originally wrote the play while studying playwriting at the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School. There is some interesting history to this play and it’s sort of ironic that it’s my most produced play (this is the third time it’s been produced in NYC).  Oddly enough, every time I get a production I re-write it a little, so it’s kind of always evolving.  The play is about a young woman who is attacked by a gang in Paris and as she’s trying to piece together what happend and who attacked her she discovers something – a miracle perhaps?  It’s one of my plays that deals with the psychology of the mind and plays with an alternate universe.  The Looking Glass Theatre is blogging about it,  so if you are interested in checking it out – you can buy tickets on their site.

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.

One last good one: Bullets, Bums and Barack

Hope. Now I have it.  I’m so excited to see what Barack Obama is going to do with his presidency!  I feel proud for the first time that I am an American; that I had the chance to vote, to make a difference.
My interview project is nearly complete.   From September 17th – November 4th, I attempted to interview one person a day as an exercise to keep me writing.  The result is pretty amazing.  It’s a journal of New York City as we prepared to elect the first Black president.   On September 17th, the day after I arrived  in New York after spending two weeks in California, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of the city in the fall.  It was as if someone had put V-juice in my coffee.  Or, I was in love again with New York.  The trees, the air, the people…everything was cracking with change.

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The “It” Girl of 2005 is Back!

Tonight is the night.  Sure I want to know about the election results, but I’m also trying to close out my project, one interview a day until the election.   Olives are on the table and the champagne is being opened chez moi; my husband is already annoyed with me that I am in my room blogging instead of watching  and being social. In fact, I am still wearing my workout gear and a Hello Kitty T-shirt that says: “Being This Cute is Exhausting.”  Today when I was wearing this shirt at Grounded and asked the guy behind the counter to refill my Hello Kitty water bottle,hellokitty he looked at me with a funny grin.  I realized he was looking at my shirt, which I threw on when running out the door.
“What – you think I’m obsessed with Hello Kitty?” I said, realizing, of course that I looked utterly ridiculous.
“Oh this is a coincidence,” I said, pointing at my shirt.
“You are going to tell me that that’s the only Hello Kitty stuff you own?” he said.
“Uh, not exactly.” Maybe he should read this piece I wrote about Hello Kitty back in 2001.
Moving on.
So with nothing to watch a la moment but a CNN hollogram, I am off to catch up on my interviews.  What on earth are we all going to do for entertainment when this is all over? See more plays?  Be more creative?  Well this brings me to my next interview.



Who: Lisa Ebersole
Where:  Bar 6, West Village
Occupation: Playwright, Video Media Specialist
Lisa was the “IT” Girl of the summer of 2005.  Her play Brother caused quite a stir in New York City.  Her publicist sent an invite to me at my agent job at the Fifi Oscard Agency.  The title of this play had me intrigued, so I went out to the play and there was the playwright with a starring role in her own work that she also directed.  She was as good as any of the other actors in the fine play. For a few weeks at least Brother was the talk of Off-Off Broadway New York; it was edgy, dramatic and different. The New York Times gave it a rave review and Back Stage called her “The new voice in theater.”  I decided that we had to meet.  Even though I didn’t know how long I’d be an agent, I decided to represent her. How could I not?  Lisa is one of the coolest, smartest and talented people who I know.  Within a few months, I helped to get Brother published by the Samuel French Publishing Company, which was thrilling for both of us.  This meant, of course, that I indeed had a good eye for talent and of course the obvious: Lisa Ebersole was bound to be a star.
Fast forward three years to 2008 in the week preceding the presidential election.  I left my post at the Fifi Oscard Agency in 2006 to go back into online marketing.  Meanwhile, Lisa has staunchly refused to be represented by anyone other than me, and writing and creativity for both of us had taken a back seat to the stresses of real life.

Honestly, we’ve both had just about enough reality, and we could use a little sugar. In addition to getting a new President elected, we are both poised for a comeback.
“Oh yes!” Lisa says with a grin.
Lisa and I were in full secret planning mode and I’m not sure we did a proper interview.  From the looks of Lisa, she’s is certainly back from her “It” girl hiatus.
“I’ve got a movie premiere,” she says with grin.  Yup, she’s back.

At Least We Have Paris (and New York)

I am so behind on my interviews it’s not even funny.  My mom, her best friend Ginny and my brother Curt visited me in NYC for a week.   It was non-stop eating, drinking, plays, shopping and parties.  It’s so fun to have visitors, but life kind of stopped while they were visiting, which is both good and bad.  Now that they are gone, it’s very sad and I wish I had more of them hanging out at my house like a dorm room…
While they were here, though, I felt a little bit removed from normal life.  It just so happened that I took a copywriting job right before they got here and started a Russian class, uh and I have my blog to write…so it felt weird to spend so much time just hanging out.
Virgina and my mom Starr have been friends since they were ten years old. They grew up in Indiana together and share memories of having sleepovers at each others houses when they were kids.  They are the cutest best friends I think I’ve ever seen.  My mom’s middle name should be “everything is so hard” – while Virgina is very chill and easy going. “Ginny” as we call her spent her first four days in NYC going to Aikido – she’s studying for her 3rd degree black belt.  She’s in amazing shape.
My mom on the other hand missed the “Jane Fonda” movement in the eighties. After having two kids back-to-back, she gained weight and never really lost it.
When I was growing up, I used to look at old pictures of my mom when she was young and think she was a model.  She was the most beautiful young woman I’ve ever seen.  Being the daughter of Dale Messick, who created Brenda Starr Reporter, she must have had a lot to live up to.
Even though she’s curbed her eating habits, working out is not her thing; even walking these days is cumbersome.  She has bad knees.  So the two of them together, Ginny and my mom are a little like a comedy show.

Who:“Ginny” my mom’s best friend
Where: NYC
Occupation:  Tourist and Aikido Master (studying for her 3rd Black Belt).
“Ginny” lived in NYC for twenty years during the seventies and eighties while she worked as an executive at IBM.  She sold her apartment on 93rd and Lex at a really bad time @1989.   She just heard her apartment is on the market again for 1.2 MM, so Ginny was set on telling me that she has “bad timing when it comes to real estate.” I told her to “stop that,” and then I saw the apartment in question.  Wow, I can’t believe she gave up a two bedroom, two bathroom in NYC.  No wonder she has regrets.
In 1989, while I was still in high school, Ginny was once again off for an adventure.  She fell in love with her Paris born and raised Aikido instructor and impetuously ran off to Paris and married him.  Her story reminds me of Carrie Bradshaw kissing New York goodbye for a shot at Paris; except unlike TV, Ginny really did sell her NYC apartment and she hasn’t been able to move back to her favorite city.
Since Michele (the French guy) didn’t want to learn English, she had to adopt her entire life around his; she learned to speak French and became a Parisian as best she could; which is not exactly an easy task. She suffered from loneliness and had trouble making friends because her French never got better than functional.  Therefore, talking about deep feelings became impossible, and well, the French are sort of, uh, French and her husband was no different – he was “uh” French – proud and impossible.
When I moved to Paris for a working internship in 1994, I remember thinking it was odd that Ginny technically knew French better than I did; but she stumbled when speaking, when I soared. While I spoke quickly sans accent, just like the French, Ginny’s words were tentative, like a little bird. I wanted to speak so I found a way I guess. Ginny doesn’t need to talk a lot; she is the quiet observer and a  great listener.   No wonder why men like her so much!  It’s nice, I suppose, for awhile anyway, to not speak and not to be heard.
Ginny had enough of “quiet times” and divorced the “French guy” and moved back to the states (to Florida) in 2002, but she hasn’t been able to afford to live in NYC again, which I think makes her a little sad.  See, for all of us who want to leave, we should remember that we might not get to come back — ever.  This is our time, right now.  I love Paris, and always thought I’d live there again, but in fact, I’ve been back only a few times since living there in 1994.
At least Ginny and I will always have memories of walking near the Seine in Paris; and for as long as I live here, and she likes to visit, we have New York.

“Jumping on Board” to Obama’s Campaign

Thursday I noticed I was repeating things I’d done two, three weeks ago.  But now the air is cooler and the trees rustle more as the leaves fall off.  I had lunch at Doma and when I looked out the window, there was the painter I’d interviewed a few weeks ago. 

Now his painting had morphed, just like he said it would.  I think I liked it better in the earlier version.  I read some of my book, which is research for my new play.  It’s depressing.
The older couple who had sat down next to me were speaking a language I didn’t recognize.  I speak French, Russian and a little German, so I am good at recognizing most languages, but this didn’t sound familiar.


Who: Henriette and Vagn Kondsen
Where: Doma, NYC
Occupation: Tourists  and parents (today)
Henriette and Vagn tell me that they are visiting New York for two weeks and today they have already been uptown and all over Soho.
“It’s exhausting isn’t it?” I say.
“Oh yes, we are glad to sit down.”
“Do you live here?” Vagn asks me.
“Yes, just over there,” I point.
“You are so lucky.  We love the village,” he tells me.
“We are visiting our daughter, but she’s working so much that we barely see her.”
“What does she do?” I say.
“She’s here working on the Obama campaign,” says her mother proudly.
Emma Kondsen came over from Demark to work as a volunteer to get my (crossing fingers) president elected. She’s been here for four months.
“You must be very proud,” I say.
Her parents looked so proud that I think I see tears in their eyes.
“It must be a wonderful thing being a parent,” I say.
“It’s so wonderful,” says her mom.

After pointing them to my favorite neighborhood book store “Three Lives” I went home.  My phone rang and it was unknown number.
“Hello,” I say.

“Hi, my name is Michelle and I’m calling from Barack Omama’s campaign.”

No, it wasn’t Michelle Obama, it was just someone named Michelle.
They were looking to see if my husband, who had donated money wanted to volunteer.
“He’s probably too busy,” I say.  “But, I’ll do it.”

The last time I helped out with a campaign, the guy won.

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