Category Archives: Writing

I’m Back, sort of

Happy New Year! I haven’t written anything for a long time. I’ve been away on maternity leave. I had a baby in October, so I’ve been busy. And, as cliché as it sounds, my life has really changed this year. It’s amazing and it’s very hard to wrap my head around how staggering it is to be a mom, mentally, physically and otherwise.  No one can tell you how wonderful it is. It’s absolutely one of those things you need to experience to believe – and the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Not surprisingly, my conversations and concerns have been all about baby – and I must admit I haven’t gotten out much in the past few months, so I haven’t had much to say.

I was joking the other day when I was out ever-so-briefly that it’s wonderful to see New York City even if it’s only from a cab window.  I drove by my old haunts the other day – The café Grounded on Jane street and thought — oh how much I want to go in and order a coffee and write….but no, it’s not even close to possible.  My life as I knew it is now over.

This was a rather weird year for me, I’ve been pregnant and a new mommy for the whole year…and I moved – such transitions make for lots of confusion.

About a month before the baby was due my husband and I moved to Tribeca or Baby Park City, which is what I call it.  I’m not kidding, it’s all babies all the time.  I recently joined the Hudson River Park Mommies Group, which is pretty hard-core email group for mommies who live downtown.  Strollers are a common sight down here – about as ubiquitous as cars — and every time you stop to chat to one of the mommies you find out she’s a part of “HRP.” As soon as you are a mommy your conversations and concerns change.  Mommies talk about poopies, breastfeedings, pediatricians, playgroups, sleep schedules, etc and it feels like it never ends. That’s what these women do – they talk. And now that’s me – I talk baby.

I’ll admit it, probably like most new mom’s I’ve been frustrated, irritated, annoyed and sometimes depressed. I’m resentful that my husband often sleeps till 2PM and then gets up and takes a two hour long shower.  Mommies never, ever get a break and I think that is what is so shocking about the whole new mom thing – we suddenly have much more responsibility than our man. I have felt like I’m drowning in New York at times.

But here’s a little bit of sunshine.  I’m in Sonoma Country, California at the moment. We are spending a few weeks here with my mom, hanging in her country home. I am nowhere near New York or the cold weather or the HRP mommies. I’m in hippy wine country.  It’s nice here. This is where I grew up. My husband and I get to sneak away for an hour or two and go to the mall while my mom watches the babe and we’re thrilled about it.  The best part is that I get to share my wonderful daughter with my family and friends which I wasn’t able to do in New York.   Last night my mom and I sang the baby  lullabies in the room she created for her (my brother’s old room) in the house where I was born and raised.   Life really does come full circle and having a child reminds you how precious, beautiful and amazing life really is. More to come, but for now, I am sending you all a little bit of Sonoma County fuzzy.

Go To the Fringe Festival – See Viral

If you are new to New York or just visiting, you might be wondering what’s “The Fringe” and why should you go? The NYC Fringe Festival is one of the largest and best festivals of new plays in the world. Every August for the past nine years companies from all over the world have come to NYC to showcase their work (from dance to theater) and hopefully get some needed recognition and sponsorship of producers. Many little Fringe shows, playwrights, actors and directors go on to be quite successful. Urinetown came out of the Fringe as did Matt and Ben and many others. Doing well in the Fringe can really help a playwright get to the next level in their career. I’ll be short and sweet with this one because this play will close and you must see it. Viral, a new play by Mac Rogers (who has written several other successful Fringe plays and other plays around the city – read my review of his last one) scores on so many levels that I think newbie playwriting students should go see this play as an example of how to hit every element needed to make a great play, which is extremely difficult to do and rare to see. Talk about it afterward and try to analyze what makes it so great. In Viral, Rogers brings the audience into his characters bizarre world effortlessly; and by the end we almost don’t want to leave it. First of all, he starts out right by choosing an intriguing subject matter (watching someone’s last breath). However, a great subject matter does not alone make a great play; it’s the je ne sais quoi that makes a play go from good to great, but playwriting professors will tell you that it’s the combination of craft and the uniqueness of the world that you create. This play has both. Rogers didn’t just create compelling characters with believable dialogue, he makes us root for them. More importantly he gave them something to do, a problem — with life and death stakes that takes the entire hour and half to resolve. Viral centers around three fabulously dysfunctional misfits who get off sexually by watching people die via “painless suicide.” The forth star of the play is the client, the dark and sexy Amy Lynn Stewart, the victim who wishes to die. The big question to be answered by the end of 70 minutes is clear and you won’t be disappointed. Obviously I don’t want to give too much away, but just know that the ride in Viral is a hideous and beautiful journey, well worth and hour and half of your time. Playwrights of every pedigree (and producers) should pay attention to this one. It’s extremely rare to see a play working so well with so much craft in place. I can’t tell you how many plays that have been lauded in recent years actually aren’t terribly well crafted or worth all the hype. I’m not saying these plays aren’t  enjoyable to watch; they are. In my opinion they are just a tad overrated. Those of us who know better, who are shooting to someday write a play that follows the rules that are so hard to master, should look no further than Viral, found in the bowels of New York City at the Fringe Festival: it’s perfection!

Viral is only playing for two more performances, so catch it while you can.

Ah The Summer Winds

Ah, The Summer Winds
This past weekend before I left the city for some fresh summer winds of my own, I was determined to get off my butt and support one of my friend’s plays.  If you are an artist in NYC, part of the job and fun is going to support your friends’ when they do plays and such, even if they don’t always go to your plays and even if the production values are sometimes rather drab.
Lately, because I haven’t been feeling well, I’ve all but stopped the process of seeing any plays at all (friends included).  I’m just hoping that my many years of good service will pay off and my fellow theatre artists will forgive me for my recent slight of their work.  But since I am starting to feel better, this weekend I made a point to see a friend’s play, The Summer Winds a revival of the 1991 published work by Frank Pugliese.
Who was the lucky friend?  Ian Streicher, a talented director who I’ve worked with several times. I also knew the writer, Frank who was my playwriting instructor when I studied at the New School for Drama in 2005. I had never seen his work, so I was interested in seeing the show.  Also, there were two good actors who I’ve worked with: Nannette Deasy and Robert Baumgardner, so I figured this wouldn’t be a waste of my time, and it wasn’t.
The Summer Winds is being produced by Family Tree Collective, a group of actors who are interested in “artistic growth through performance.” It’s playing at the very bohemian Nuyorican Poet’s Café in the East Village, on 3rd Avenue between Avenue B&C. Not the greatest neighborhood in the world, but a pretty good place to produce the show as it turns out.  The Summer Winds is a collection of short plays and monologues about “losers” in NYC – from Brooklyn to the Bronx. Pugliese seems to know this world well and he covers all types: a couple who have been married for six years and have nothing to hope for anymore, a dancer who never made it, a lonely garbage collector who spent time in prison and a woman who married the wrong guy.  All real New Yorkers – the ones who are sad, the ones we don’t talk so much about, but who we know well because we see them, hear them – and they are ingrained in us.  For every success there have been failures and for those of us who live day-to-day in New York, we know it’s tough and it sure as hell isn’t for the weak. These characters are strong and despite having lost sight of their dreams they still want to fight.
The plays hang together by a comedian and talented singer, Brian Murphy, who pulls off some Frank Sinatra greats, culminating with the song: The Summer Winds.  The material is unusual.  It takes a very skilled writer to write plays like this and truly great actors to bring them to life.
At times I had trouble seeing the action (the seating is not great at the Nuyorican, which is sort of like a bar) and I often  wished for a more comfortable chair.  Despite those minor inconveniences, the material, direction and cast of The Summer Winds is well worth your time.

The Summer Winds by Frank Pugliese

May 29, 30 at 7PM and May 31st at 6PM.  Tickets $15 at http://www.smarttix.com or call 212-505-8183

Nuyorican Poets Cafe – 236 E. 3rd between b&c

Oh, and if you want to see one of my plays? My one-act Without is part of the The Looking Glass Theatre’s Spring Writer/Director forum June 4th-7th.  To buy tickets: 212-352-3101 or go to their website at http://www.lookingglasstheatrenyc.com

“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.

Something for mom: Femme Feast

This Sunday at 3PM the Waverly Writers, Wanderlust Productions in association with The Playground Series at Manhattan Theatre Source will present “Femme Feast”, a veritable feast of female performances. With short plays by Bekah Brunstetter, Lisa Ebersole, Lara Gold, Laconia Koerner and Laura Rohrman (me) it’s sure to be outstanding! This is truly a labor of love and since I am one of the producers, I am certainly urging you to attend…and yes, bring your mom! Tickets are $15. Reservations: (212)501-4751 or order online.

Manhattan Theatre Source 117 Macdougal Street New York City between 8th Street and Waverly Place

How to BE the best?

This weekend I was dosed out with theater…Okay, first off, I know I haven’t posted in awhile.  I’m bad – or maybe, I have a good reason. I’ve been sick.  I should be better soon….times are tough with the Noni blog.  What’s new? I’m co-producing an all lady festival called Femme Feast in early May and we are having a big fun raiser called the Lady Cakes Ball where you can get free cupcakes in addition to seeing awesome live entertainment – uh, bands, burlesque dancers, the singer Deanna Neil….it’s going to be hot.  All for $1o bucks!  Cool, right?  It’s at Karma Lounge in NYC on April 16th — doors open at 7.

So all this is taking it’s toll.  We are also producing a theatrical event with 6 or 7 pieces, Butoh dancing, musicians — it’s wild!

So anyway…mid week, I was feeling my usual pain — can’t eat anything…ugh sick…and then I get a call from a director, Michael Parva, who offerred me one free ticket to his Broadway show currently in previews — the show — Irena’s Vow.  Don’t walk, run to get tickets!  I loved it!!  The NYTimes called it “cheesy”, and the reviewer felt it skipped over things — but c’mon we are telling a Holocaust story. I personally thought everyone did a beautiful job and hey — I cried, so I went home happy…which is more than I can say about a host full of mediocre cliched plays I’ve seen in the past weeks.   So good is good is my opinion and great is great. Go see Irena’s Vow.  It’s about something good, real and not just another war story.  In fact, I’m really happy to see all these Holocaust stories coming to life from other perspectives.  Remember when the only story we knew of was Anne Frank?  It’s okay. It doesn’t get tired. It’s part of history.

On Sunday I went to the BE company’s first fundraising event at The Rattlestick Theatre Company.  I was tired and didn’t really want to be there, but boy was I pleasantly surprised by what I saw — some extremely well written one-acts, that were certainly augmented by stellar acting and directing – with a bit of guitar.  Then, after it was over everyone was invited to socialize at Bobo — only my favorite restaurant in the village.  Unfortunately, I started to feel crappy and had to go home to uh…lay there and stare at the ceiling.  I heard it was fun.  And yes, when the BE Company starts producing plays make sure to check them out.  I want to BE them — classy, cool and full of talent.  Oh, I am…whew.

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.

24 Hour Plays on Broadway: Morning Times

After we had a round table of idea sharing, Adam Bock, a playwright who is “on staff” for the night, went upstairs to write his play.  We all hung around and chatted, ate food and eventually we were all getting pretty tired.  At 4:30AM  I went upstairs to the writer’s lair where Ellen Maddow was looking for a story about the ocean, and Adam B was nearly finished.  He laughed that all the assistants were now sleeping on cots while the writers were still busy typing away.  I heard Adam laughing to himself.  I couldn’t really sleep, so I asked to see what he thought was so funny.  Tina Fallon (the producer) told me not to give anything away about any of the plays, so I won’t.  But my oh my, Adam put some of my stories in his play.  So perhaps before my official Broadway debut as a playwright, two of my shinning delightful (and hilarious) stories made it into a play that is going up on Broadway tonight.  It’s pretty funny that Adam just ran downstairs and asked us for stories and then wove them into his characters.  He’s a pretty talented fellow. We are both from San Francisco originally, so we talked about that for awhile.  I already liked his work (Five Flights) but now I really like him as a person too.  He’s a social butterfly.  I can’t wait to see the plays tonight.

Questions for 5AM: I don’t know what to ask.

I asked Adam what his favorite play that he ever wrote. Without thinking he said:The Typographer’s Dream.

A quote from Tina: “We have too much amazing.”

I’m tired.  I don’t even know what to write.  But obviously I thought this experience would be fun.  I get home at nearly 5:30AM, jump into my cozy bed.  As I drift off into my real sleep, I tell my husband, who is used to my goofy stories about my day.

The 24 Hour Plays on Broadway: It’s Sharing Time

I’m back!  I have decided to blog a little bit tonight because I happen to be up all night tonight working as an assistant for the 24 Hour Plays on Broadway.  We are all on the 5th floor of the American Airlines Theater (on Broadway), This is my third year to come help out, and so far this year is more fun that previous years.  For starters, we are all in one room together — assistants, producers, writers (the actors and directors went home to sleep).  Because we are all so near each other, some of the writers are using us for idea generation. For example, I just gave my best pimple story to Adam Bock.  Apparently Rachel Dratach is going to be a gay boy scout.  Sounds fun.  So we just got food, and we are reading the Times and stuff.  More to come soon.

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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