Monday, September 2, 2013

Brush Up Your Mythology!

There's been a lot of exciting doings in Emily-world, not the least of which is having started our new theatre company, Turn to Flesh Productions, which is aiming to put on my Cupid and Psyche ~ A New Play in Blank Verse Off-Broadway in time for Valentine's 2014!

Now, if your memory of the original myth is a little fuzzy, never fear: we've got you covered with a primer (embedded below).

And do make sure that you check out our original teaser trailer here!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Challenge Accepted! (Or How to Make Emily Sweat Sonnets)

Hullo, folks!

For those of you who may not have heard, I've started a theatre company in New York, Turn to Flesh Productions which will be kicking off its season with Cupid and Psyche ~ A New Play in Blank Verse by yours truly.

We'd love for you to like our Facebook page...and to that end, my business partner, executive directrice and dear friend, Michelle Kafel has issued this challenge:

Anyone who likes the Facebook page today will get a personalized sonnet from myself.  Just make sure you leave your requirements on the page (e.g., Elizabethan, Petrarchan, use only trochees, use the word "cow" etc.).

Go ahead.  Make me sweat.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Honour of St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence was a jolly sort,
A joyful deacon, a blessed man,
Who though was given a Martyr's crown
'Twas over the motley of Comedian

Upon the burning coals he laid -
Where lesser men have cursed and cried -
Said he, "Now turn me over, boys!
I'm finished on this side!"

O gentle saint, O stalwart friend,
Who would not kneel to Caesar's throne
Give us this day your strength of heart,
That life's last laugh may be His own.
~ 10 August, 2013 (c) ECAS

Monday, April 8, 2013

Captain Jack Sparrow

A brief meditation on Captain Jack Sparrow (mostly from the first movie):

So, this picture is being posted apropos of nothing other than it's bloody striking and it's bloody Jack Sparrow and it makes one want to jump through computer screens and onto the bounding maine...but it also makes me think a few other (slightly deeper) thoughts. Things that make me go "Hmmm."

When I first saw the "Pirates" movie, it was fine - it was better than some other recent fare (
Geena Davis, I'm looking at you) - the costumes were good, the actors were decent, the bit with dropping the sconce was an acceptable meet-cute...and then:


The most remarkable thing about his appearance to me (besides the genius of his entrance which showed us pretty much *everything* we needed to know about his character, and which to me is still probably the Best Entrance/Introduction of a Character Evah) was that as soon as I saw him, Captain Jack Sparrow HAD ALWAYS EXISTED.

Cole Porter and Mozart have this quality. One can hear their songs for the first time, and be sure that they've always been singing in your bones. Shakespeare's characters are so indelible that while there are a plurality of people who have played Hamlet, there can never be another Hamlet - not really. It's also fun to be able to say, "Oh, I was playing Ophelia," or "Lady Bracknell" last week and not to have to explain who she is or from what play...the way one must do if one is playing, say, "Betty." And then explain, "From 'Sure Thing.' By David Ives. 'All in the Timing?' It's a really great play. It's about two people meeting at a cafe? And they keep starting over. There's a bell? Nevermind. But you should totally read it."

The opposite of this effect, however, is that the Archetype of Jack Sparrow is so strong that the writers (and to some extent Johnny Depp himself) forgot the most HUMAN part of Captain Jack - which aren't his catchphrases or his quirks - but his real LONGING, LOVING of the freedom of a ship and the open sea. Which this early picture captures.

So it is when we're writing/acting/directing new work: there's the thrill of finding the unexpected human contradictions that make great characters great. And there's the danger of falling into "either/or," archetypical or caricature when we return to that work again and again and again.

For me, I'd love to see Captain Jack Sparrow return with a bit of his secret soulfulness intact. For now, I'm content to watch him here, dreaming forever after of that horizon.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When Purple Prosedy Attacks! (And How to Tame It...)

In 2009, I attended a theatre conference in NYC where, naturally, I was drawn to any workshop that breathed the words "Shakespeare"or "verse drama" or "iambic pentameter" in the title.  The workshops were all individually excellent, but I did notice one hilarious similarity between them:

Every bloody workshop, independent of each other (!), used the following speech from ROMEO AND JULIET in their presentations:
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
In one workshop, we looked at this from a movement standpoint, from other we really delved into the words and expressing the antitheses, and in the last we explored the punctuation.

You'll notice, though, we didn't delve into the entire speech or its surrounding lines, which actually reads like this:
Alas, that love, so gentle in his view,
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!
Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will!
Where shall we dine? O me! What fray was here?
Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.
Here's much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
Dost thou not laugh?
                                     No, coz, I rather weep.
Why, you may ask, did each workshop cut off the parts surrounding those six lines?  The answer is simple: every other line is motivated.  And the parts in italics were the result of:

(Cue dramatic music.  In fact, cue this:)

Writing in Verse: Pretty Pitfalls

As a director, I sometimes wondered why Shakespeare would occasionally "just go off" into rhapsodies  of verse that stop the action cold.  I'm not talking about "To be or not to be," I'm talking precisely about what we see above.  But I'll give you a few other examples:


A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.--
But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
Titania's ready for ALL THE TALKING!

These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
Prospero's got STUFF TO SAY!


Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites, and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,
Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm'd
The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
Now, as a director, I have to make a choice as to whether to cut out parts (typically, yes) or to leave them in.  The bits that I highlighted, while beautiful poetry, tend also to be repetitive poetry for an audience, that is, for those listening.  It can also be a little wearying for the actor to justify why s/he keeps speaking.  Although there may be better examples, let's keep with the four above.

1) Romeo and Juliet: Granted, the "O this, O that" are good poetry, granted too that Romeo is of a poetical disposition, and granted this part isn't easily cut because it's become so well known, regardless it stops the action cold.  Romeo was in the middle of finding out why Benvolio's got a cut or a weapon or there's a body lying on the ground or something.  The important philosophical idea is: "O brawling love!  O loving hate!"  The rest of it are just variations of a theme.  Variations that the actor has to work hard to convey as varied, interesting, and crucial to be said aloud, but which for the sake of clarity could have been cut.

2) Hamlet: Horatio's lines begin with a cause: he's reminding us that during times of national upheaval, even nature seems to reverse itself.  But then he goes on.  And on.  Poetically.  In this case, a director/actor may justify that Horatio is just spinning time out so that the Ghost's reappearance is a sudden shock...but we really don't need "extra bits" in a play that's already four hours long.  (See below for Blackadder's thoughts on that!)

3) Midsummer: Many scholars have tried to draw correlations between this speech and the natural goings-on in Shakespeare's day.  They may not be wrong.  But again, by continuing on and on and on and on, with variations and repetitions and florid example after florid example, the audience gets tired.  The actress may be brilliant...the audience is tired.  Midsummer doesn't suffer from being overlong, and the speech is fairly well known so that about half the actresses keep the whole intact, but in point of fact, we only need one or two examples of how the world's gone mad, and then cut right to the heart of why she's speaking which is, "This same progeny of evils comes from our debate, from our dissention, we are their parents and original."

4) Tempest: This show is actually chock full of loads of poetry with minimal (seeming) motivation.  This comes at the end of the show, and it's gorgeous poetry...but again, repetitious.  Especially at the end of a show, the action should be faster, quicker - we want to see all the resolutions fall into place.  So while directors may keep some of the list of spirits under Prospero's command, they may not need all of them listed.

Now, there are those folks who are going to bristle that I even criticized Shakespeare's poetry at all, but hear me out.  Or rather, hear out Sir Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie:

The Play (Not Your Poetry's) The Thing

So, what can we learn from five hundred years of folks struggling with Shakespeare?  Quite a lot, actually.  When writing verse drama, we need to keep in mind that while we're going to have a tendency to fly off into dizzying ecstasies of the English language, in fact, the audience just wants to know What Happens Next.

That's not to say that you couldn't or shouldn't go off with the Purple Prosedy Monster every once in a while - after all, what's the point of writing verse drama if you don't get to write verse drama?  But that poet-playwrights need to keep first and foremost in mind whether the poetry assists or impedes the forward momentum of the play.

To think of it another way, consider what the Rowan Atkinson character above would cut from your play...and consider cutting it now.

Some Tips to Keep in Mind

Before you cut, consider asking yourself these questions:

1) Does the poetry reveal something about the character?
2) Does it move the plot along?
3) Does it cover up some action (a length of time, etc.)?
4) Does it set a mood?
5) Can the actor and director easily motivate it?

If the answer is "yes," then keep the poetry as is (at least for the space of a reading!).  If, however, you find that:

1) The poetry doesn't sound like the character;
2) The forward motion is completely and unnecessarily stopped;
3) The poetry is repetitious and can be summed up in one or two examples;
4) The poetry is at odds with the mood you need to sustain;
5) The actor and/or director are asking you what the hell this means;

Then consider cutting or rewriting your verse.  It'll be painful to lose your good lines, but the best lines you can probably fit in somewhere else, or showcase them independent of an entire sonnet.


The audience is listening to your play for the first time!  They're getting the exciting experience of hearing words as if they've never heard language before.

No one's done thesis upon thesis on your poetry - it's raw, it's new - it needs to keep the drama going.

No one in the audience is reading your play, either.  It's one thing to read a line or two of verse, put it down, and consider it before picking up where you left off.  The audience doesn't get that leisure.  They're listening to fast rich language.

So keep it elegant, but simple!  And make friends with the Purple Prosedy Monster...or better yet, tame it.

See also: Writing in Iambic Pentameter and Where Have All The Iambic Pentameter Plays Gone?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Maternity Wardens

So, due to - y'know - moving to New York City, holding down a full-time job before that, and then directing/producing A Midsummer Night's Dream prior to that (phew!) all in the month of August, 31 Plays in 31 Days has gotten less attention from me.

Wall and Thisbe from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" 2012
However, I did manage to write a play based on something I saw on the NYC subway a few days ago.  There was this real Wall Street guy sitting across from me.  Handsome, but with a very stern face, like he was refusing to grant the world a smile.

However, next to him was this adorable little Oriental girl in a stroller.  She wasn't doing anything particularly noteworthy, just sitting there being four years old, but she caught the eye of Wall Street man.  And he started grinning at her.  A little duckling of a grin.

His eyes became softer.  One could almost see stars and pink roses and fluffy forest creatures emanating out of his gaze as he looked at her.  It was both beautiful and highly amusing how much Wall Street Man melted.

We came to a stop, and Wall Street man immediately put on his sour look again.  He caught my eye, and his face become more poker like.  Not trying to dissuade him, I glanced away - still keeping the guy in my periphery - and sure enough, as soon as the train started up again and everyone become pointedly anonymous, his gaze went right back to that little girl and his face expressed "Oh!  If only!"-ness.

A few stops later, Wall Street Man went off...and was immediately replaced by Wall Street Man #2.  This fellow was buffer, cooler looking.  He didn't look stern; his poker face read Bored, Now.

But sure enough - one look at that little girl in her stroller, and Buff Wall Street Man melted into daisies and candy canes and wistfulness and yearning as much as Dour Wall Street guy had.

Hence, this play.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Directors can be Playwrights, too!

Preach it, Jeffrey Sweet!

There's a saying that never, ever, ever under ANY circumstances should a playwright be allowed to direct their own works.  And while it's true that some of the pieces of mine I've directed I need a little bit more time and perhaps another pair of eyes to help out in round two, by and large, I find that I can playwright/revise better when I do it in the rehearsal room.  As Mr. Sweet put it:

Also it mustn't be forgotten that some people write in rehearsal as they direct.  Their writing process is to direct....Writers who are also directors may indeed face the problem of objectivity as they stage their own stuff, but many others have the discipline and professionalism to know how to adjust for this. That's what you have other collaborators for – the actors, the designers, the producer, and the rest of the people in the room who are presumably there because they know something about how to make theatre.  Directors with any sense will pay attention to and solicit advice from colleagues.
 Check out his entire article!  And then his blog. Good stuff!