deathwork, Theater-Related, Witchy

Finding My Path(s), Again and Again

Just over a year ago, I was in Olathe, Kansas, for the Midwest Dramatists’ Center fall conference. It was a terrific weekend full of cool people, useful learning, and a lot of great theater. I came home fired up about kicking my theater career in the butt. This website exists in large part because of that conference, and my reflections on it formed my first blog post here. I am ever grateful for the experience.

Then, something incredible happened: my smart, talented, dedicated spouse was accepted into grad school. Suddenly, something we’d discussed for years as a hypothetical became imminent.

After a great deal of discussion, I committed to being the anchor for our household while Leora completes their MSW. The “stable one.” But I was equally determined that “stable” would not equal “stagnant.” So, as is my witchy way, I went on a lot of trance journeys, read a lot of tarot spreads, and made a lot of lists in sacred space to determine what I wanted to be doing with myself for the next two years.

I was quite startled when the answer that came back, time after time after time, was deathwork, not theater.

And so was born the deathication, a twoish-year-long exploration of my desires and options around “how to make a living at dying without killing what I live for.” It will involve everything from industry research and interviews with professionals to meditation, tarot spreads, and liturgical development. If everything goes according to plan, or at least doesn’t blow up too spectacularly, I’ll come through it with a solid understanding of where I fit in the alternative deathcare world.

I’m not turning my back on playwriting forever. If nothing else, I have six more plays to write in the Wheel of the Year cycle, because I want to know what else happens to these chuckleheads. I’ll probably never stop writing plays and attempting, at least desultorily, to get them onto stages. But when I think about the amount of time, energy, and perseverance required to really make it in either of these fields, deathwork is the one where I most feel willing—nay, eager to make that commitment.

So last weekend, I was in Chaska, Minnesota, for the National Home Funeral Alliance biennial national conference. It wasn’t perfect: the alternative deathcare movement as a whole struggles around issues of accessibility and diversity, and this conference was definitely a microcosm of those struggles. I loved every wonderful, challenging, frustrating, enriching minute of it. Even when I was pissed off, I was so engaged. I’m so fired up to keep having the vital, difficult conversations and do the vital, difficult work of making it better. That’s how I know my love is real.

Several Minnesota Threshold Network members attended the National Home Funeral Alliance biennial national conference in Chaska, MN, where we hosted a mock vigil, complete with cardboard coffin for attendees to decorate
Queer, Theater-Related

I’m Never Going to Earth Again

Sixty plays. Nine playwrights. Seven performers. Ninety minutes. One wild ride.

This past weekend, Gadfly Theater Productions opened their latest show, I’m Never Going to Earth Again: 60 Queer Plays in 90 Queer Minutes. As the title implies, it’s a madcap night of one- and two-minute plays penned by a team of nine queer writers. One of which was me.

I have no words for what a delightful experience this show has been. From our earliest writers’ meeting to a dazzling opening night, watching the show come together has been magical in a way I’ve never entirely seen before. Having so much overlap between cast and writers has created a level of connection to the work and each other not often found in most “normal” theater productions.

And here’s what’s been the most precious to me: because all the writers are queer, no single one of us was expected to “represent the queer experience” (in six pages or less). We were all encouraged to write about what truly mattered to us, even if it didn’t appear, at first blush, to have anything to do with queer identity. We wrote about gods and strained family relations, about racism, classism, fatphobia, gentrification, religion, environmental degradation, coming out, breaking up, and being superheroes. Taken together, we all represented the queer experience.

And what an experience it is.

*

I’m Never Going to Earth Again is written by Jex Arzayus, Manny Elliott, Zealot Hamm, Ming Hsu, Kassia Lisinski, Jada Pulley, Gabriela Santiago, Cassandra Snow, and yours truly. It is performed by Jex Arzayus, Manny Elliott, Zealot Hamm, Ming Hsu, Jada Pulley, Joey Ripley, and Lyssa Sparrow. It is directed by Cassandra Snow.

It’s playing at Strike Theater in northeast Minneapolis. You have four more chances to see it!

Theater-Related

Present to the Story: an artist statement

So, here’s a funny fact: I’ve never written an artist statement before. Plenty of bios that crept into that territory, sure, but never a statement just to say “this is who I am and what I do as a writer.”

But, hey, I joined New Play Exchange, and there’s a spot for it right there under my CV: artistic statement. And I thought, sure, I can do that.

Turns out, it was really good for me. Not just so I could make one more mark on the NPX checkbox, but so I could–so I had to–dig deep into myself and distill what I believe and what I do as a writer into a couple hundred pithy(ish) words. Necessity may be the parent of invention, but a text box with a word limit is the parent of concise summations of artistic identity. The process was a lot easier than I’d anticipated. Although I’ve never before sat down and really thought out my artistic identity, when I had a chance to do so, it was startlingly clear. I think that’s a good sign.

And so, without further ado, I give you… me.

My job as a playwright isn’t to make stories. My job is to be fully present to the stories that exist around us and to give them shape and coherence so that you, dear audience, can connect with them more fully.

I write a lot about the environment, social justice, and how we treat our dead, because I am passionate about these things. I also write about bowling alleys and sex toys, because if we can’t have fun at the theater, then what’s the point?

Many of my characters are queer and/or Pagan, because I am queer and Pagan, and I want to recognize my community onstage. And, like real-life queer folks and Pagans, these characters are also much more than this, so that other people can recognize themselves, too.

I hope you leave my plays inspired to do something. Call your senator. Call your dad. Write your advance directive. Learn the ukulele. Even if you’re only inspired to be kinder to yourself and others for an hour or two, I’ve done my job. Because with every action, you change the Story. And then I go back to work.

Theater-Related

Midwest Dramatists’ Center Conference 2018

I’m too old for a sexual identity crisis, right?
“Never Too Old”

When playwright Michelle Tyrene Johnson posted a call for ten-minute play submissions for the Midwest Dramatists Center‘s 2018 conference, the first thing I did was ask my dear friend Kate, “Is Olathe [the conference location] close enough to Topeka [where Kate lives] that we could see each other if I came to this thing?” Kate replied that approximately an hour and a half between Topeka and Olathe is a heck of a lot closer than eight and a half hours between Topeka and Minneapolis (where I live), and I was sold.

So… I kind of submitted “Never Too Old” on a whim that didn’t have a ton to do with the conference itself. Turns out to have been one of the best spontaneous decisions I’ve ever made.

The MDC conference is two days of intense theater immersion. The day goes like this: actors – no, make that incredible actors with the endurance of ultramarathoners – read a participant’s ten-minute play. The playwright then comes to sit in a chair in the front of the room for fifteen minutes of feedback, first from the room’s designated adjudicators and then from the room at large. Five minute break. Wash, rinse, repeat pretty much all day. Before, after, and in between, have insightful and inspiring conversations about everything from the beating heart of American theater to the daily frustrations of playwriting to weird things our cats do with fifty-plus playwrights or any actor or director unwise enough to sit still long enough for us to buttonhole them.

MDC_gala
At the closing night gala. Back row, L-R: Hannah Vaughn, Your Humble Author, Amanda Andrei, Anna Fox, Elizabeth Kerlin, Lavinia Roberts. Front row: Allan Maule

I appreciate every class and workshop on playwriting I’ve ever taken, but nothing teaches me more about plays and the writing thereof than watching theater and then taking it apart to see how it works. And hearing how other people critique theater? That’s an all-access pass to someone else’s brain. I’ve been home for about eighteen hours, and my mind is still buzzing from all the thoughts that this experience generated. I have new friends. I have new “ones to watch.” I have a page of notes that I’ve already implemented into “Never Too Old.”

To everyone who made this conference a reality: the MDC crew, the incredible actors and directors (especially the “Never Too Old” team: performers Curtis Smith, Peter Leondedis, Nicole Hall, Franci Talamentez-Witte, and Bob Allen and director Warren Deckert), the long-suffering hotel staff, the adjudicators, and every damned playwright in those rooms: thank you. My whim to apply to a conference that happened to bring me close to a friend may well have permanently altered for the better my trajectory as a playwright. I am forever grateful.

(PS: Yes, I did get to see Kate.)