Thursday, February 16, 2012

Two Days More. The Hopeful Egalitarian Writes.

Hello, Play Orphan Anna here!

Two days! Two days of writing left before we turn in the drafts of our Grimm Challenge Plays. I'm down to the wire, racing against the clock with my back against to ropes. My second act is in shambles and all I can think of are over-used idioms!

Having finished the rough draft of Act I of my adventure/sci-fi play based on Sleeping Beauty, I'm plowing through the second-half of Act II, which has posed more of a challenge in terms of research and plot. Although there's a lot of fiction in this adventure/sci-fi play, a lot of research has to be done in order to make the world of the play consistent and believable. To give you a frame of reference - I'm sort of a research nut. I spent over a year and a half researching and revising my 45-minute monodrama Courage in the Upside-down World. Granted, that play was supposed to be biographical. But still...

In general, I have a hard time putting away the books and closing my web browser and getting down to writing. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Perhaps. And now I'm doing that idiom-thing again.

Because of my research, many things have changed in the story. I envisioned a good part of my second act taking place on the pack ice in the Arctic Ocean. After reading more about how polar drift works, and realize my gross ignorance on the subject, I decided the story would only work on terra firma, or more specifically: pre-Soviet Franz Josef Land.

Another hurdle has been my own personal challenge to make the play - the story of an expedition that takes place in the Jazz Age - inclusive. The number of male and female characters are equal, plus there are about ten, smaller characters who can be cast as women or men, depending on the needs of the production.

My central character is a women. The leader of the expedition she is part of is a woman. Did I mention the story takes place in 1925? There is a certain amount of alternate history involved, of course, but even in fantastical stories people seem to have a hard time accepting women in adventure - especially if they are not romantically connected to the other characters. Several years ago I was watching National Treasure or something similar with my housemates. We were juniors and seniors in college and we enjoyed taking a break from our work to enjoy a movie together. This time though, I found myself a little bored with the film and I wondered aloud why there seemed to be such a shortage of women action heroes. (As a child, I had always sought out books where this was explicitly not the case). On the screen, the hero swung across a ravine or something similar on a rope. The helpless female love-interest was busy being helpless.

"They're not strong enough," one of my (female) housemates promptly replied.

"What?" I said.

"Women are not strong enough to be action heroes."

The other housemates agreed, further implying that they would not care to see a woman action hero - that the idea was silly. "But-but it's not silly," I said. "One man isn't strong enough to do all the things the guy in this movie is doing." Besides, I thought. It's not about muscular strength. If it was, then why did I recently spend nine and a half hours of my life watching tiny hobbits trying to take a ring to Mordor? No, I decided. There are many types of strength needed for an adventure story. There is muscular strength, but also endurance, strength of mind and most importantly, strength of character. No, this problem had deeper roots and it had something to do with the way men and women were seen in fiction.

Of course, in this project, the last thing I want to do is write one of those self-aware, condescending heroines that have appeared regularly in Hollywood movies in the past decade. You probably know her. The pretty princess who sort of needs to be rescued, but then holds her own by kick-boxing her way out of a gang of thugs. Her eyes twinkle and you can practically hear her saying: "Tee-hee! Girl power!" She is almost never injured or killed.

I find this sort of pseudo-empowerment highly disturbing.

Well, here's what I think works, and here's what I am attempting to do in my play: develop the characters. All the characters, male and female need back story and real character traits. They should not be merely plot devices, tokens or eye candy. This is not easy. I've found hypocrisies and false presuppositions in my own thinking that I have had to address. It has not been easy, but so far it has been extremely gratifying. I hope most of all it will help people see women in adventure stories as real characters - real heroes. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this topic, please comment. I would love to hear your ideas. But for now, I must get back to this writing challenge. Good luck to my fellow challengers, and I will leave you will one last idiom: time is fleeting!

-P. O. Anna

P.S. My play is inspired by Sleeping Beauty. I've swapped the genders of the princess and the prince, but I'm hoping the play will leave people wondering: who rescued who?

P.P.S. More of my illustrations can be found at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Revolution of Theatre Starts Here!

As the clock counts down to the submission of our rough drafts, the Play Orphans have been slowly gaining popularity! Twitter followers, facebook followers and of course those who just stumble upon our blog are making this a very enjoyable experience and for that we say thank you! We hope that as we continue to build, you will find our plays as enjoyable as we have enjoyed writing them.

With the deadline approaching and the play orphans are collectively finishing their work, I wanted to explore the topic of race within plays. Why this sudden thought? As we have explored many blogs (Like that of Carlos Manuel at his blog and met many people through Twitter (Most notably @MissDonni and her group Multus Productions, LLC), we of the Play Orphanage realize that we have certain duty to those who wish to produce and perform our plays and make them accessible to everyone and not just to one particular group regardless of Race, Religion, Gender, and type. I am not naiive in understanding that sometimes plays are defined by those certain criteria. When I read a play by August Wilson, I know that he made those plays to be performed by blacks. Is that a bad thing? Many will argue that it is the same type of discrimination that we want to strive against. However, his plays are about the black experience during a particular time period. Sure, you could cast a white actor and I am positive they would do an equally amazing job, but that would also be doing the play and the playwright a disservice. There are some plays that just can't be color blind casted, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I feel that when it is possible you should cast your play with the mindset that despite our ethnic backgrounds we all share similar experiences.

But, that is just my thoughts when it comes to casting plays. What about writing plays? So often, we write plays that we feel that audiences will want to see. When this happens, we believe that audiences will only want to see certain plays and proceed to write plays that do not feature a character of color or a religion other than Christianity. We as playwrights have a certain level of responsibility to reflect the changes our society makes. Today we have a President who is both black and white. When will we see more plays about this type of American? How about Latino's? Homosexuals? Muslims? When will see plays that feature these traits within our characters? The play's themselves do not have to be solely about what they are, but when will the time come when we can say that this character is _______ and he or she is going through something that you and I go through on a daily basis. The time, fellow artists, is today! We as playwrights can create work right now that is accessible to a multitude of people and do our job as artists and story tellers to tell stories that reflect our current society.

I will admit that some stories can only be told from a particular groups perspective. But there are some issues in our world today that we all go through and our work as playwrights should reflect that. I once taught a sociology class where I told people that if society collectively acknowledged a TV as a Lamp, Television sets could be called lamps! Now, that is a very far fetched example, yes, but you get my point. If we as playwrights collectively say, this is the work we will be creating and it will be successful, we can change the theatre world! I challenge any playwrights to look at their future writing and try creating a piece of work that knows no color, religion, sexuality or gender. Let us collectively show the world that our art tells the story of our time period and it will not be dictated by what is considered "pretty" and "acceptable."

Please patron the following sites to help assist in this change of thought and also hear more discussion:
This is P.O. Marc Laroy signing off! Spread the word, the revolution of the stage starts right now!

May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Meetup in Memphis

We meet once more, this time in Memphis for UPTAs. Not a whole lot of Play Orphanage business going on here, just a lot of auditioning and networking. We did, however, enjoy one evening of discussion over some delightful barbecue, and had a great conversation about how we plan to make our plays as accessible as possible. I'll let Steven and Marcus speak for thier own works, but I told them of my attempt to make the number of male and female characters in my play equal, as well as including a large number of gender-neutral characters to accommodate a potential producing theatre's needs. It's also very important to me to assign none of the characters a race, and as few as possible an age in order to encourage diverse casting. But I think this topic will be the subject of a future post.

Despite our busy visit to Memphis, we are all conscious of the February 18th deadline for our Grimm Challenge looming ahead. (I feel "looming" is an especially pertinent word since these Grimm fairy tales contain so much weaving mythology).

The Play Orphans in Memphis, TN.
Anyway, all the best to my friends who auditioned in Memphis this past weekend, and as always, happy writing to my fellow Play Orphans!

- P.O. Anna