- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Pam took me to see The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church at St. Ann's Warehouse. Absolutely terrific piece of work. Loved how it played with the notion of fiction, and how the layers of the play sort of grew on me as I sat with it.
It looks like it closes shortly, but if you can get in, I'd heartily recommend it. Kitson is really someone to keep an eye on.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
- I am involved in this evening called Dainty Cadaver. It will be popular, as there are lots of folks involved. So tickets in advance? Smart. My evening is Team B: January 29th, 8pm. What I wrote was less weird than what came before me, but not so completely un-weird as most normal things are wont to be.
- Jeff Lewonczyk is interviewed about the Comic Book Theater Festival.
- My next play reading (did you know that people do play readings?) will be on February 7th. It will be the first reading of my newest play (writing it as we speak I tell you) Traveling to Montpelier. For those of you who read or remember When Is A Clock, Traveling to Montpelier is the title of a very important book within that story. This new play's lead character was the person who wrote the fictional book Traveling to Monpelier, fictional author Daniel Wallers. Looking forward to hearing it. More details as they arise.
- Actor Matthew Trumbull, with whom I share a friendship that goes back to freshman year of college, is now working on a solo show. I'm helping him with dramaturgy and things like that. The script, as it stands, is terrific. We'll be doing a public reading of the play in late February, early March. I'll let you know.
- Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark is still open, even though now they have to say they're in previews.
- I'm been offered the gig to host this upcoming podcast series: New Books In Theatre. A part of the newly planned New Books Network. Very exciting. The planning is being done, and soon, you'll all get to hear me ask people about their books and stuff.
- Finally: Liam Neeson on a Cartoon Show that I like. Hooray, says I.
- Have a wonderful weekend!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Which joins the auspicious ranks of the $ellout Festival, Film Festival: A Theater Festival, The Hell Festival, The Pretentious Festival, The Antidepressant Festival and The Too Soon Festival.
And so...what do we think?
Monday, January 17, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
Friday, January 07, 2011
Thursday, January 06, 2011
He writes a defense of the practice of withholding reviews of Broadway previews in this way:
"...if a critic’s job is to assess the total merits of a work of art – or at least a gaudy chunk of entertainment – reason also argues that the entertainment should be allowed to achieve the completed form its creators had envisioned before judgment is rendered. Painters do not show their work until they have deemed it finished, although the undiscerning eye (and even discerning ones) might not be able to tell the difference between a finished Jackson Pollock and an unfinished one. Film companies run test screenings of uncompleted films to see how they fare with the public.
Works of theater are, thanks to the preview process, vulnerable to early public assessment. But if anything they are more in need of extended gestation. They don’t properly live until their metabolism has been tested, and almost always tweaked, by interaction with a live audience. Lines of dialogue, bits of business, even whole scenes that seem surefire in rehearsal can fall flat when they meet the objective eye of an impartial audience. For this reason the preview period can be viewed, at least from an aesthetic perspective, as the crucial fine-tuning process that can sometimes make or break a new play or musical. And with the price tag of production a musical on Broadway now in the tens of millions of dollars – “Spider-Man” has set a new record at $65 million – the possibility of employing the once-standard out-of-town tryout to work out the kinks in a show is rarely financially viable."
Isherwood notes that with price tags this high, producers who hope to recoup their investment must get Broadway priced tickets sold as quickly as possible - a dubious defense of charging over $100 a ticket for a show that is (by his own words) unfinished and not open to the press. In short, investors won't spend top dollar on a musical if unwitting or curious consumers can't be charged early and often.
The primary reason that Isherwood cites for not reviewing a production, though, (and I suspect he's ambivalent about it from the tone of the piece) is that theatrical performances need a chance to breathe and grow and find their footing in front of a live audience. "Reason argues" that a play should achieve the "completed form the creators had envisioned" before it is ethical to judge the work. The work, in essence, must be judged on it's best day, all the kinks worked out. A 'painting' should not be shown before the 'painter' deems it worthy.
His arguments are pretty straightforward and sound. All this hoopla about previews shouldn't be that remarkable. It is, after all, about an outlier: Spider-Man's producers are pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable to demand from the press and from audiences.
But, Mr. Isherwood's standard for when a play should be reviewed made my eyebrows go up. For hundreds of plays produced under the guidelines of the Showcase or Seasonal Codes all over New York City...the small, uncommercial works, the weird stuff, the "Indie" theater... that standard does not apply.
Plays with budgets as low as $20,000 can scant afford more than sets and a publicist and stipends for their Equity performers and rental costs. (For example, my production of Brandywine Distillery Fire at Incubator Arts Project cost around $12,000 for a two week run.) With that budget, they might even squeeze out some decent production values. They will receive a run of ... 25 performances? At their longest. If the New York Times or Time Out New York go to see them and review them, it is likely they will come to the very first or second public performance. Whatever benefit that these small productions might receive from months of extra work, whatever "completeness" they have yet to achieve before a reviewer check them out, is not in the budget.
The reason is just as financial for small producers as it is for Broadway producers. Smaller producers raise as much money as they can, use much of their own money as well, and they can't afford even a week of "previews" for a four week run. Instead, they get their plays up as quickly and cheaply as possible, trusting in their luck, in their perseverance and in the talent of those involved. They hope that a few good reviews will garner enough interest and paying customers to either broaden their industry profile or break even, or both.
These practitioners, I think it's safe to say, largely create works that can rival the artistic mert (if not the scale) of superhero musicals or dancing versions of feature films. Still, they are rarely reviewed at all, and when they are, they're given scant time to "achieve the completed form their creators [have] envisioned."
This isn't an argument that the New York Times, or any other major press, shouldn't come down below 34th Street or past 9th Avenue and see what there is to see. I'm glad they do, and I think they have shown they care a great deal for the theater created beyond the limits of Broadway. (I won't, though, go so far as to treat these Off-Off Broadway reviews as community service. A part of covering the arts is covering the arts.)
I'm also not arguing that a reviewers should use kid gloves with a production because it is making due with less. If a production is set before an audience for their time and attention, it should be judged as complete. Caveats in this area help no one, not the artist who is struggling to be heard, nor the critic who is making an assessment.
In short, I'm not decrying the treatment that Off-Off Broadway productions receive. I am highlighting this disparity to challenge the notion that those in previews have an unassailable right to create their "art" unmolested by the judgment of the press In fact, they have purchased that "right."
One could produce more than 3000 showcase code productions with the entire budget of the Turn Off The Dark. That doesn't mean people shouldn't spend money on Broadway- I honestly don't mind if a commercial producer raises funds for a commercial production and then tries to make that production a commercial success. What I object to is treating expensive public rehearsals as untouchable and holy, even as those of us who are making cultural artifacts for breadcrumbs are given far less time and room to breathe. If those of us with light wallets are expected to withstand the creaky process of a single dress rehearsal before a major reviewer stops by; I think a $65 million musical about a Marvel Comic book character directed by Julie Taymor with songs by Bono and the Edge...can withstand a few blog posts after several months of performances.
I think we all realize that these things are not equivalent, and that's the nature of the marketplace. All of us whose budgets consist of next-to-nothing still work overnight to bang sets together and throw our best at the critics, firm in the belief that they will see us on a good night, with generous hearts, and give us the legitimacy that won't come from pay. Heck, even if the New York Times shows up and gives us a swift kick in the ass, small productions know that we will have risen above the noise for a moment, and we're grateful for the amplification. If we fail to live up to our "ideal," sometimes it's a failure of imagination, sometimes of will, sometimes of resources. The preview option, though, is simply not in a tool in our toolbox.
That's why, I guess, I'm skeptical of the argument that defends previews as a way to serve Art with a capital "A." It feels more like an elaborate game of "Mother May I?" The standard mapped out ("never review the play until it's completed to the producer's satisfaction") is neither universally applied, nor could it be feasibly - at least not until the Showcase Code is adequately reformed. In the end, there's a brilliance to the profit model of charging your audience to watch you develop a show and keeping the press at bay as long as possible. Let's just not pretend that, in all cases, it's in service of more than protecting an investment. The rest of us aren't given such generous allowances.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
But...that's all up in your head.
What do you need, what actual stuff, do you need to make this happen? Sure, you think ... a computer with a word processor. But your simple thinking on this subject is what separates you from a professional. Playwriting is an act that takes place in the real world, often over a course of weeks or months. You must be provisioned. You wouldn't play football with a soccer ball would you? Unless you were from Brazil.
So, for your benefit, I offer you the following inventory:
1. A computer with a word processor.
You need to write and store your work and this how to get it done. One might say "pen and paper" but one might also say "gold standard."
Preferably this computer should be a laptop, so you can bring it with you to a local coffee shop and make a show of having something to do with your Saturday afternoons. If this computer is an Apple Computer, that is even better. There is no advantage in word processing power, it's just fashionable and fashion is how we project confidence. I learned that from Project Runway.
Oh and for all you people who were born in the goddamn 90s, please at a bare minimum grant yourself a QWERTY keyboard.
2. A cup.
Do I care what is in the cup? I do not. Many will say "coffee" but ... who gives a shit really? Drinking while writing is a time-honored tradition, and it has largely replaced the pack of cigarettes that once fueled good work. If you want fruit juice, that's really your call, wimp.
Regardless of your choice between tea, water or whiskey, you will be drinking something and so you will need a container for it. To save others the burden of your filth, carry your own cup with you and wash it yourself, like a grown-up. A mug is the best choice, because it will largely cover up whatever you're drinking if you're a lush, or keep things warm if you are not.
The cup should have an Apple logo on it. That's fashionable.
For you people born in the goddamn 90s, there is no App that replaces the cup yet. Get a real cup.
You cannot write well without pants. Sitting at a computer with only undergarments will inevitably lead to reading through pornographic websites and losing your literary mojo. Wearing a skirt to write is not restrictive enough. Restriction breeds creativity. Even the most comfortable pants will breed more creativity than a flowing skirt.
Sexist, you say? No one forced you to read this, so stuff it.
4. A rock.
Get a small, smooth stone and place it on the left side of your computer. Name the rock. Try putting the rock in your pocket. Take it out of your pocket. Put it on the right side of your computer. How does it compare to the left side? Do you feel less or more balanced when the small, smooth rock is on the right or left side? Hard to say? Repeat the process. Once this is determined, say the name of your rock aloud (example: "Rock.") The rock will not respond.
The play will finish itself.
5. A photograph of your Dad.
This is universal inspiration.
Your Dad isn't so sure that you've made good choices, even though he's always been there for you, supporting you financially and emotionally. Even if he's passed away, you can still tell that he's watching you and occasionally getting disappointed by you. Let that disappointment wash over you. Then, write dialogue that is, really, to him.
If your Dad was never overtly supportive, try imagining that deep down, it was because he was never able to achieve his own goals and sacrificed everything for his ungrateful, indulgent children. A sense that your parents blame you for their own unhappiness is like a video game power up for drama.
For advanced writers: If the picture begins to fail to inspire you, write the word "Future" on the photo in lipstick. Problem solved.
6. An empty manila folder.
Oh what will soon fill this folder?
7. Red Yeast Rice
A natural supplement that can help reduce cholesterol. People like you, people who want to write plays, have high cholesterol. Take it twice a day with meals. Make oatmeal a part of your breakfast too. This way, as you sit there writing, shiftless and pudgy, you can defend against heart disease and gall stones.
8. A totem
How else will you be able to tell the difference between The Dream and Reality? Don't let anyone else touch your totem. Also, don't make your totem something you can eat, like a sandwich, because you can really only use that once.
Always remember that writing a play is fun. Nothing tells us we're having fun like a mess o' colorful balloons. Before writing, make sure you have some helium filled balloons that will float gently and kindly above your screen at all times. You'll feel content, you'll smile, and you'll know that no matter the subject of your play ("the tyranny of the ignorant majority") or the state of your characters ("abject misery"), you're throwing a birthday party for your new Art.
10. A mirror
Listen, writing can be lonely. Especially writing plays, because when you're done, you still have to shop around what is essentially a blueprint for a live production to a bunch of people who, while ostensibly looking for new work, will look at your masterpiece as one more thing to add to their list of obligations. So... writing a play requires a boost. Look at yourself while you write. I know we're told to look inside ourselves, but instead, look at yourself in the gray light of your apartment, nakedly starring at the pimples and weird teeth and crooked nose that you inflict on everyone all the time. Smile at that thing you see. That's you, a playwright.
Despite your instinct towards revulsion, love that playwright. That playwright needs all the love you can spare.
If you would like to purchase two orchestra seats for this show at nearly $180 dollars a piece (if tickets are available!) try Broadway.com.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
First of all, personally... I got married to this lovely lady, and I couldn't be happier. We were engaged in Burlington, Vermont in May and married only months later, October 16th, in New Hope, Pennsylvania. October 16th just happens to be our six year anniversary of being a couple, so the stars were aligned. I can't say enough about the wedding...it was the best day of my life. So many friends and family there, too many to try to remember in this post. But the ceremony, the reception, all of it, were absolutely magical.
Also, several of my closest friends had children this year. Dave and Erica welcomed the beautiful Emma Marie DelGrosso into our big New York family. Also, my friends Michael Colby Jones and Stephanie Fagin-Jones now have twin boys, Alex and Zachary. Future Yankees fans, to be sure.
Professionally, I had a solid year.
Glee Club was produced at the Access Theater early in the year, and it will soon by available from Playscripts, Inc.
Trayf (under the title Rabbi Hersh and the Talking Lobster) was also picked up by Playscripts.
That Old Soft Shoe was performed as a part of the Too Soon Festival at the beginning of the summer, and it's a production I was extremely proud of and felt was a bit overlooked frankly.
Almost concurrently with that production was the production of Denouement, and then in September, Michael Gardner and I co-produced Brandywine Distillery Fire (which grew from the work done on Denouement and the prior year's Exposition) at St. Mark's Church as a part of the Incubator Arts Project. It was a real honor for me to work in that space for the first time. It was a fruitful collaboration with Michael and the entire cast. It was good stretch stylistically, and we had some thoughtful press.
Finally, a worked for the second year on the Worldwide Webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve (which was fun, yet again) and have begun working on new projects for 2011 already.
New friends, new opportunities, new works, new members of the family, and getting married. I challenge 2011 to be just as good at 2010. We'll see!
I was not always like this. This happened to my Dad around 50. Now, if one of us sends him a card, he goes "You guys...are all...grown up..." and holds the phone away from his face.
This will be my fate.
Monday, January 03, 2011
Glee Club will soon be available for purchase from Playscripts. You can, though, already license performance rights.
What's up with me in the world of theater?
Well, I'm working with a good friend on a solo piece that I think is going to be tremendous. This time, I'm more of a director/advisor, which is a lot of fun.
I'm also on the prowl to bring back The Great Escape, a play of mine first produced in 2004. I've always loved the play, it's a deeply personal one, and it's my hope that it'll see new stages and audiences this year.
I'm currently writing Traveling to Montpelier which is a companion play to When Is A Clock. I'm feeling good about how it's going, and I'll keep you up to date as I work my way through it.
For those of you unfamiliar with When Is A Clock, "Traveling to Montpelier" is the name of a book that incites the action in that story. The new play is the story of the book's author, Daniel Wallers. It's my The Magician's Nephew, or something along those lines. I like the idea of a fictional world that can support the weight of several narratives and characters. Can you think of some examples of this type of storytelling you'd recommend to me, as reference? Or some cautionary tales?
Either way, I hope you're starting your year off right. More to come, as always.