A Review of “On Air”

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My new play, On Air, which I blogged about earlier this summer, received a wonderful production at Scripps Ranch Theatre, San Diego, in July 2016, produced by Robert May.

I’m happy to feature here a review of the play by San Diego-based writer, artist and professor Mindy Donner.


ON AIR
Scripps Ranch Theatre (SRT) presents the 5th Annual OUT ON A LIMB:
New Plays from America’s Finest City 2016

ON AIR is one of those plays informed by and telling about the Viet Nam War
era, and they get it right! “They” are the powerful playwright, Lisa Kirazian; director,
Liz Shipman; their fine cast, and the tech folks at Scripps Ranch Theatre.
The plot takes us along the journey of a dedicated educator, writer and on-air
producer of a reader’s theater hour at a local east county, San Diego radio station. The
entire production echoes and amplifies the eidetic quality of the writing, and that of our
central character, Gary Gordian, a community college professor who believes not only in
his students, but in the transformational possibilities inherent in delving into great works
of literature.

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Gary Gordian’s character and story is based upon and inspired by a real-life Gary
and his wife, Siran. Francis Gercke’s Gary was so believable and passionate that I could
hardly believe he was cast just two weeks prior to the opening. This is a great love story:
the love of Gary for Siran, a poetic seamstress who emigrated from Beirut; her love for
Gary and family; and Gary’s love of teaching the great books to a cadre of students
with limited resources. Siran, as played by Mariel Shaw, is graceful in all aspects,
shimmers with an ethereal beauty and has a core made of steel.

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Throughout the play, the pervasive thread is that of Gary longing for “greatness”–
to be a successful writer, to teach at Berkeley, to earn a real salary–and that of Siran’s
longing for home and family–her need to stay in one place close to extended family.
Siran’s rather old-world brother, Van, is asked to not visit after a boorish evening at
dinner at which he orders his sister around and around! Van is performed by Carlos
Angel-Barajas, who takes another turn as Juan, a Spanish writer with whom Gary has a
meaningful correspondence. While Juan is a more empathetic character, it is revealed
that Van wanted to be a priest, rather than a banker. No character is allowed to be one dimensional in this production.

And that is not the only relationship which becomes strained and frayed—Gary’s
“friend” at the college warns him that he is up for review and suspected of altering
students’ grade in order to give them a military deferment. Charles Peters is jocular and
almost despicable as Ben, fellow professor—who is on the make with his female
students. Gary’s radio station threatens to cut his show, as the listening audience for
“great books” in San Diego is on the wane. Disillusionment threatens to take over Gary’s
soul, if not livelihood.

The stage, which is long and shallow, is deftly designed into smaller focus areas
which become Gary’s college office with desk, his tiny writing study, the Gordian’s living
room, and offstage is quite believable as their bedroom. This suited the play, and the
acting within to a tee. Kudos to Bob Shuttleworth, scenic designer, and Liz Shipman,
who envisioned the perfect world for this play.

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Gary’s college students were delightful with earnest longings, confusion, angst
and all that students really experienced during that fateful era. Robert Bradvica, as
Steven; Michael Crosby as Mitch; Christopher Torborg as Shay, and Michelle Marie
Trester as Abbey/Toni—all were praiseworthy.

Gary gets his opportunity to take a job at Berkeley; Siran almost dies bearing their
child; and they transform into people who now know what is most important.
Siran realizes that “home” is where Gary and their child reside. Gary knows he is
committed to teach these community college students, who truly need him.

The delicacy and beauty of Siran in the “hospital”, a chair, her child which is
birthed from a blanket folded just so, and nurtured by mother and father, and Siran’s
Armenian dance of joie de vivre to follow are traces of director and choreographer Liz
Shipman’s imaginative fingerprint on this production.

This memorable and inspiring production needs to be mounted again for a longer
run, so that more audiences can enjoy this work.


Thank you, Mindy. Thank you, director Liz and cast. And thank you, producer Robert May and SRT!

Onward!

(all photos by Darren Scott)

A New Word for 2016…

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I find it helpful to have a ‘theme’ to each year – a word that captures the overall goal I have/need to pursue in multiple areas of my life.

Last year it was SHED, referring to my need to relieve myself of excessive obligations, lose weight, purge old items in my home, and so forth. It definitely came to mind throughout the year and guided me in many schedule choices I made. I didn’t succeed 100% but I’m still chipping away, still ‘shedding.’

This year, 2016, I’ve selected CLEANSE.

cleanse

1. make (something, especially the skin) thoroughly clean.

2. rid (a person, place, or thing) of something seen as unpleasant, unwanted, or defiling.

3. free (someone) from sin or guilt.

Like ‘shed,’ CLEANSE also has multiple points of meaning for me. In 2016 I hope to cleanse in the following ways:

Taking care of my health. I have various areas I have to cleanse and improve, from food regimen to weight to joint pain. So I’m working on it little by little. Have a long way to go, but I’m going to continue physical therapy, working with a trainer, occasional fasting and keeping a more detailed food log.

Cleaning my house. I know it brings my husband and kids more peace. And it will free up space for me too. So I’m going to take a section/room/closet each week or two and really hammer down to purge and cleanse where we live.

Getting rid of toxic people. For various reasons, there were a lot of negative people, comments and situations surrounding me this year. It was surprising, but at the same time I know it’s common for those pursuing a life of faith and truth to face opposition. Just the same, I don’t want to give these people and ‘forces’ more weight or power than they deserve. So I’m going to turn away from them as much as possible.

Creating. My writing and other creative work renew and refresh me as few other things do, so I’m going to be sure to make more time for writing retreats and scheduled power writing sessions.

Spiritual growth. Our souls need cleansing too. So I plan to recommit to time with God and to vital prayer times for each area of my life and for each member of my family, seeking forgiveness and wisdom where I’ve fallen short and boldness in the areas where I’ve been half-hearted.

What is YOUR word for 2016? What are your goals? Anything you hope to ‘cleanse’ this year? I’d love to hear from you.

Onward!

Tips for Teenage Writers

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A few months ago I had the privilege of speaking at a theater event sponsored by Playwrights Project, a fantastic organization which uses drama-based activities to teach literacy and communication skills to youth and seniors. They also sponsor the California Young Playwrights Contest, professionally producing winning plays by writers under age 19.  They produced my first play as a teenager and were instrumental in my becoming a writer.

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On this special night I got to speak to the teen finalists and winners of this year’s Contest, being produced this month of January and premiering this coming week (http://www.playwrightsproject.org/PBYW.htm).

I hope these words are an encouragement to writers of all ages.

———–

Great to be with you tonight and congratulations to all the finalists and winners!

To me you’re all winners, because I wrote three plays over three years, before being a winner of the California Young Playwrights Contest, and each year I took the page of written comments they sent me, you know what I’m talking about — I took those comments to heart and tried to do better the next time. And the next time, and the next time. For that habit of seeking improvement, for those practical examples of how to work past mistakes and weaknesses toward success, I’m forever grateful to Playwrights Project, because those lessons have served me well in writing and life ever since.

That winning play production in 1989, 25 years ago amazingly, and during my freshman year at Stanford, was my very first. I thought: maybe I had a voice, something worthwhile to say, and maybe I was saying it in a way that made people listen, think, or be inspired to live or act differently. Or maybe, just maybe, I was writing so that I would live or act or think differently. Your playwriting, your art, will change you as much or more than it changes anyone else.

Whatever you do in your life, with your life, and whomever you do it with, here are three things to remember, whether you go on to be a playwright, an accountant, a lab scientist, or anything else:

  1. Notice the Unnoticeable. Don’t stop looking around you, noticing others who are rarely seen or think they’re not being seen. Listen carefully to what they say, speaking honestly about what you see and hear.
  2. Ask the Unaskable. Don’t stop asking tough questions. Don’t be afraid to suggest tough solutions — or to not suggest a solution at all.
  3. Feel the Unfeelable. Don’t say, “I can’t put that much anger out there.” Put it out there. Or don’t say, “I can’t put that much joy out there.” Put it out there, and everything in between. The scariest place in the world might be on the empty page. But it’s also the safest and freest place in the world, to be yourself.

Just think. Your winning play, the one you’re being honored for, today, the one being lauded above hundreds of others across the state, the one that’s going to be produced in a few months and bring you so much encouragement and confidence and joy? Imagine: This play of yours will one day be your worst play.

But that’s okay. Because it means you’ll only be getting better and better. Every play you write builds upon the last one, just as every year of your life ahead will build on the year you live before. Nothing is wasted in the life of a writer, an artist, nothing is ever wasted in the life of one who chooses to see with both eyes, nothing is wasted in the life of one who chooses to live with their whole heart, chooses to be grateful for the life they have, no matter what, and who want to share about it with everyone, warts and all.

Nothing you experience, or hear, or suffer, or succeed in, or learn in life, will ever be wasted. My first playwriting teacher, Janet Tiger, said that if you decide to be a writer, you’ll never be bored again. She was right. From then on, after that playwriting residency at Patrick Henry High School, even if I was dragged to the mall by my mom, or sitting in a doctor’s office with gross beige walls, I was never bored. I was always checking things out. Checking people out.

You should always be watching people, listening to people, to what they say and what goes unsaid, what they do and leave undone. Because as a writer what you leave out is just as important as what you leave in. What you leave to our imagination in the audience, is just as powerful as what you explicitly tell or show us on stage.

I can’t wait to hear all you have to say, to show, to share. Just never, ever stop. Congratulations.

———

Onward!

(This blog originally posted on Jan. 19, 2015. em>)

A March to Remember

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The forecast was rain. But we marched anyway. To commemorate the coming 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, my husband, two daughters and I marched across the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday.

I first thought: maybe we’ll catch a cold, one of my family’s biggest avoidances. Maybe we’ll be utterly exhausted, with the rest of our busy schedule that we crammed this into, flying in from San Diego and back in one day. Maybe — this wasn’t such a good idea.

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Lessons from a Great City

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We were in San Francisco for meetings and a speaking engagement this weekend. Then my husband and I took an extra day to just relax, something long overdue for us (thanks to some angel babysitting by my folks). It was a breath of fresh air and a much-needed break during a pretty stressful time.  A little Valentine’s Day dinner, a little sleeping in, a little walking and exploring. Heaven.

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But seeing the city I love — perhaps as much as my own hometown, since San Francisco was also home for me at one time — did two things for me this weekend.

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Stories in Storage, (Re)discovered

storage2 Among other summer projects, I’m revising a script I’ve been working on for years and years — in between other projects and life events, of course, but longer than any other.

I first conceived of it 30 years ago, as a teenager.  I outlined it that year and drafted it as a screenplay five years later, in college.  After graduation, I decided to re-write it as a television miniseries. Since then I’ve written it as a novel (currently under editorial review) and have re-written the miniseries countless times (including a current rewrite I just submitted to an industry professional this week). I have outlined and drafted two sequels.

We all have a project we don’t want to give up on — but we still wonder what the heck is ever going to happen with it.

Taking a break from a few writing deadlines this past week, I visited our storage space over the weekend to do some overdue summer purging of ‘stuff’ in general — yes, I’m ashamed to say we have a storage space for endless old files, supplies, decorations, tools, and household items.

It’s also where I keep a lot of old writing drafts, manuscripts and notes.  Some of the papers I uncovered this weekend were of outlines and ideas I had completely forgotten about — and I was excited to think about their possibilities going forward.

Then I found something else.

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Being a Musician vs. Being a Writer

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In my freshman year of college a few things happened where I felt I had to decide between being a musician and being a writer.

 

I had gotten to the point in the repertoire as a violinist where I’d either have to become a professional or keep it as a hobby. To take the professional route would require me to spend a dozen or more hours a day in practice and let go of most other time commitments in my life. I had concertized; I had been in orchestras, even toured a bit — but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted above all else.

 

Alongside my musical studies in those years, I also studied theater, acting and playwriting. It just so happened that in this same period of my freshman year, I had entered a young playwrights festival contest and got word that I was one of the contest winners. The prize was to have my play produced professionally.

 

The process of seeing my play come to life for the first time — working with a director and dramaturg, doing revisions, watching actors audition to play my characters, seeing them bring the roles to life — all of it transformed me. My words, my thoughts, my voice were not only coming out but being affirmed by professional artists and by audiences.

 

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As an 18-year old, this took me in a direction I didn’t quite expect. Music was always my main thing; theater was second. But winning that contest and seeing my play performed in front of me that year clarified my decision.

 

I decided to be a writer.

 

Why? For the “glory”? No. There were gloriously satisfying moments as a musician too — performing solo on stage to enthusiastic applause after hours of learning a piece, winning regional or national competitions, touring the country. It required my creativity, my being, poured into the work, just like with writing. I knew that either field would require a lot of un-glorious work, rejection, and persistence, like in any arts field.

 

What was different?

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