Slow Down…

A note was published on Gapers Block yesterday announcing the site will go on an “indefinite hiatus” on January 1, 2016. If you followed the site at all, it’s worth reading the entire thing.

Gapers Block was my journalistic home for three years and as a result of the time spent there I grew as a writer, editor and person. I started as a writer for Mechanics, the politics section, which always kind of surprised me because I viewed myself as being completely unqualified as I had been a theater blogger and the most notable thing in my background was I dropped out of The Theatre School at DePaul University. From 2013 through 2015 I was the editor of Mechanics, which was a fun adventure and I’m eternally grateful to Andrew Huff, the editor and publisher, and Ramsin Canon, who proceeded me as the editor of Mechanics, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the site.

As a send off, I thought I would round up my favorite pieces I wrote or edited because Gapers Block was such a unique part of Chicago media some of these pieces feel like they only could have been published there.

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Remember how I was participating in NaNoWriMo but also started writing a play? (If you don’t, I mentioned it in the previous post)

Presently, the play is much more interesting to work on than the novel. Partly because I gave the characters in my play more emotions and more depth. (Which is my fault.) Also, unlike my previous plays, not everyone in this play is a complete jerk that spends the entire play yelling at the other characters.

But I have no title for this play because I tend to worry about titles last. (I’m terrible with titles, if you haven’t noticed.) In fact, I don’t even come up with the character’s names immediately. When I start writing a play, the characters are A, B, C, D, etc. They will even refer to each other by their designated letters, which always makes me feel like I’ve been watching far too much Gossip Girl. Especially with this play because the character that was B is named Brenda and the character that was D is named David. But the dialogue and plot comes first, names come second.

Well, hopefully this effort on a play is successful. So far, I think it’s better than my previous plays.

NaNoWriMo Update #1: Hey, I Decided to Write A Play While I’m At It!

I’m presently at 6,000 words with my novel simply because I’ve been a bit busy recently. So, I’m a bit behind, but I’ve been trying to write whenever I have the time. Which sometimes means that I end up writing at, oh, 3 a.m..

But Saturday night, I was sitting in an Argo Tea with my MacBook, working on my novel while simultaneously reading Bilal Dardai’s live-tweeting from a performance of “The Man Who Was Thursday” when an idea hit me.

What if I decided to switch the narration from third-person omniscient to first-person point of view for the very final chapter?

This would be to simply show how destructive the relationship that the two characters were in for most of the novel was to them personally. (I’m presently a bit fascinated by what love, infatuation, lust and obsession does to people and to their relationships by others. Those themes are not only explored in my novel, but also in the play that I managed to start working on. Only, the stories told in both of them are very, very different and the ending for one is a bit downbeat while the other one is a bloody tragedy at the end.)

So far, I think that it is effective and manages to tie up the plot lines very well. I’m not sure if I will change the narration for the entire novel to first-person point of view for this secondary character. I’ll figure that out later and was in the process of debating that when I was kicked out of Argo Tea. (The staff decided to close early.)

In other news, I started writing a play too. At this moment, the play is coming along better than the novel. But I had a realization today that an actor can’t be hogtied on his back and have his facial expressions visible to the audience in most possible stagings. So, I’ll fix that in my stage directions. (Long story short: Obsessive ex-girlfriend of the protagonist kidnaps the protagonist’s best friend.)

NaNoWriMo or NaPlaWriMo?

The month of November happens to be the month for the annual National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, and National Playwriting Month, NaPlaWriMo. (It also happens to be NaBloPoMo, but I don’t have something to blog about everyday and I feel like writing every day might be a stretch for me.)

Now, which one of these might I participate in? You might think that I would be participating in NaPlaWriMo because of how much I love the theater. But I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo since the idea that I have for a story to be told would be best told in a novel format rather than in the format of a play.

I have thirty days to write 50,000 words. I already have 1,734 words written, so writing 50,000 words seems like a goal that is possibly achievable.

What will make participating in NaNoWriMo will be that in the month of November, I have finals. I also have entrance essays to work on for two colleges that I’m apply to. (I’m trying to transfer.) So, in addition to those things, I will be trying to write a novel. But, after November 16, I begin my Winter Break, so I should have plenty of time to write.

Well, wish me luck. I won’t abandon this, I promise.

What I’m Presently Writing

I’m now writing a fictitious story about the artistic director of a theater that wakes up one morning and realizes that he doesn’t know why he’s working in the theater.

I was also working on a novel I started in July and had gotten fairly far with, however I feel as though it is structurally a mess and I haven’t felt like looking at it and making notes on what needs to be changed.

Can Playwrights Write a Modern-Day Greek Tragedy?

I apologize in advance for the several posts I’ve recently been posting that have been related to ancient Greek theater, but that is what I’ve been studying in two of my classes and my thoughts have been going about ancient Greek theater and its styles in the modern world.

One thought that did occur to me was whether or not current, contemporary playwrights could write a modern-day Greek tragedy, but with a common man as the tragic hero, similar to what Arthur Miller did with “Death of a Salesman.”

I ask this question because I don’t think that there are any current playwrights that have written a modern-day Greek tragedy. If someone is willing to argue that “August: Osage County” is, I’d be willing to have that debate, but I don’t think it is.

What I am asking for is not a show that the audience members could sit in the audience and go, “Ah ha! This is like an old Greek tragedy.” Because that would be a bit too heavy handed.

What I am asking for is a play with a tragic hero, a character who neither inherently evil or inherently good that has a tragic flaw, that follows Aristotle’s idea of a tragedy. A play that is a bit more plot driven than character driven, and has a revelation of a secret to the tragic hero and/or a reversal of fate. A play that is able to produce catharsis in the audience and make them pity the tragic hero’s fate and fear for their fate occurring to them.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask. But that might be because I am presently trying to write a contemporary Greek tragedy. If tragedies written more than 2,000 years ago still have the ability to pull at the audiences emotions and hold the same power it used to have, then I see no reason why modern playwrights can’t write a play that is done in the style of a Greek tragedy.

Jezebel Gets It Right

Normally, I don’t read Jezebel, but I couldn’t sleep and I turned on my laptop and ended up reading the “This is What You Missed On TV” posts they have and I eventually stumbled upon a post entitled “The Twilighters Are Mad, And They’re Not Going To Take Our Crap Anymore.”

For those of you living in a cave, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series is a phenomenon, particularly among females. (Although, I do have a male friend who loves the series, and for those of you that are curious, he’s on Team Jacob.) Although, while some Trekkies or LOTR or Harry Potter fans can laugh at jokes made about the series or about characters, if you mockingly say “OMG, sparkly vampires!”, Twilight fans will rip your head off.

Which is precisely what this post discusses. In fact, it quotes one comment,


It’s bad enough when random commenters start bashing, but professional writers? That’s completely out of line.

The author of the post then translates it for us:

Translation: It is totes out of line for profesh writers to have any opinion that does not match up with MINE.

Although, many of the Twilight fans I met while attending high school were a bit more aggressive than this. For example, I read the books. I struggled to get through the fourth book because of how poorly it was written, while simultaneously making a list of every typo and error in “Breaking Dawn.” I personally thought that the first book was okay; an admirable first novel. However, when the quality failed to improve, I began to shake my head. So, I personally think that the books are terrible. (Sorry, Rhys) I also don’t see what the big deal is with the books or the movies. (Sorry, Rhys) I’ll take True Blood or Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles any day over Twilight.

As the result of this, I have gotten my head chopped off. If you describe the series as melodramatic, you will regret it. Make a joke about a sparkly vampires or how a girl probably wants her boyfriend to have body glitter on him for prom, and you will eat your words.

Make a joke about Trekkies being virgins and they probably laugh.

If you try to point out the literary merit, or serious lack there of, in the novels, you’re being over analytical. Although, I receive that complaint often, so I can brush it off. Point out the problem with Bella being a flat person–in terms of personality, not physical appearance–and that she is overly obsessive about Edward and even though he’s like “If you love me, you could easily be harmed,” she’s like, “OMG, YOU’RE HOT! TURN ME INTO A VAMPIRE, PLZ!” I mean, I understand the possible “love conquers all” message, but if you read the second book, there’s a chapter early on in the novel where she cuts herself on some wrapping paper and everyone in the family, except the patriarch, Carlisle, goes nuts over the sight and scent of human blood. She cuts her finger on wrapping paper and she puts herself in danger. (I would like to say that Carlisle taking care of her and the cut I thought to be very sweet, but still.) If that happened to me, I would reconsider my relationship. But my mother read classic novels to me when I was little and my two most prized possessions are a first edition copy of Kenneth Tynan’s “Curtains” and a 1944 copy of Homer’s “The Iliad,” so my opinion doesn’t count.

But the writer best sums it up at the end.

I can understand why Twilight fans take it personally; anyone who has ever been a fan of anything knows that feeling well— the defensiveness that comes along when someone tries to bash something you love. But to state that writers can’t have an opinion on Twilight is a bit much, and trying to brush off legitimate criticism of the novels, especially in regards to the messages they send young girls, as the work of “haters” isn’t doing much for your cause. So let’s let twygones be twygones, people: the world is a rather unsparkly place if you can’t laugh a little at the things you claim to love.

In short, think a bit harder about the notion of sparkly vampires.* Maybe you’ll laugh a little. To quote Sara Jennette Duncan, “One loses many laughs by not laughing at one’s self.” The same could be taken for one’s obsession.

*I would like to note that while I’ve been working on my untitled novel, I realized that most teenagers might not be interested in it because it has quite a bit of detail and a very important scene takes place in a school district forum that turns into a shouting match. I joked on Facebook that “most teenagers wouldn’t find it interesting because of the amount of detail (a lot) and sparkly vampires (none).” Surprisingly, no one was offended, but one girl remarked that it was “classic Monica.”

A Very Weird Moment About Twitter

Back in May, when I wrote for the high school newspaper, I wrote a column discussing Twitter at a great length. The column came as the result of several students dismissing Twitter as a “Facebook ripoff.” I’ve had my Twitter account since February (I believe) and had found several practical uses for it, such as news sources being able to get information out to the masses quickly.

In my column, I wrote this:

KCRG, KGAN, KWWL, the Waterloo Courier, Cedar Rapids Gazette and Des Moines Register all have accounts on Twitter. With this, a news story can have a link put up and maybe the title to entice people to read the article. It’s like a breaking news alert online. In addition, the three news stations I mentioned all have Twitter accounts for their weather teams, which can be used to put tomorrow’s forecast up or a sudden weather alert.

Not only can news sources use Twitter to get information out there immediately and maybe find out reader’s opinions, but the government can use Twitter to inform people of news. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using the website to keep people informed about swine flu developments.

There I suggested that Twitter could be a news sources as used by news agencies and the government’s tweets. My closing paragraph said this:

Try tweeting and maybe see how nice it is to have news updates and find out about real things.

My general hypothesis was that people would eventually use Twitter as an actual source for information. Maybe a bit too much, as we have seen with celebrity death rumors. But as you can see with what’s happened with Iran, with people using it to get the word out about what’s happening there; the U.S. Department of State using it as a source, it kind of proved my point.

When I write opinion columns, which I really love doing, I don’t expect people to agree with my opinion, or for me to predict something and actually be right. I even received quite a few comments of “You’re nuts” and some laughter upon people reading this column. I was very flabbergasted when I found out that major news agencies were using Twitter as a news source for what is happening in Iran.

I would also put a link to this article, but it is not online. Maybe I could scan it, but I’m not sure if I could do that. I could provide a link to an article I wrote on classical music recordings, but that wouldn’t be relevant to this. Which is a shame, because I’m sure someone would get a kick out of my picture, which is of me wearing a suit, dress shirt and a tie.

Where Are the Female Theater Critics and Bloggers?

The other day on Parabasis, Isaac Butler posted some thoughts on female theater critics and bloggers. That post and the comments on the post caused me to start thinking about that topic.

I’ve written about this topic before, but I think that now my thoughts may be a bit more organized. So, I’m not even going to link to that post I wrote.

It’s true that there aren’t a lot of female theater critics at print publications. Of the 20 members of the New York Drama Critics Cricle, five of them are women. Those writers are Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post, Linda Winer of Newsday, Elysa Gardner of the USA Today, Alexis Soloski of the Village Voice and Melissa Rose Bernardo of Entertainment Weekly. There are other female critics that aren’t part of this group that cover theater in New York: Helen Shaw of Time Out New York, Anita Gates writes for the New York Times, there are female freelancers at other publications. But still, a majority of the critics are male.

Same thing goes for Chicago; while Hedy Weiss is the chief theater critic for the Sun-Times and there are female freelancers that write for the Tribune, freelancers for the Reader and Time Out Chicago, most of the critics are men.

I honestly don’t know why there are more male theater critics than female critics. I could make a suggestion that maybe women prefer to be involved with the actual production of a show instead of writing about it, but I have a friend who’s male who was a critic and liked being onstage more than writing about the show. The fact that there aren’t a lot of female critics is also puzzling because at least for Broadway, 65% of tickets are sold to women. Just from casual observation, I would have to say that at the theaters I’ve been to, whether it’s a show at the Gallagher-Bluedorn, a play done by the Cedar Falls Community Theatre or a production at the Merle Reskin done by DePaul University’s Chicago Playworks, most of the audience members are women.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, who was the arts and entertainment editor at Time Out New York before becoming the chief theater critic at the New York Post, wrote in the comments of Butler’s post, “[M]ost of the pitches I got were from men. Men were also more aggressive in terms of pitching and following up, and, well, this all translated as more male bylines. I don’t know what the solution would be: to encourage women to pitch more? To encourage women to be more assertive with their opinions?”

I think that Vincentelli brings up a good point. If you pitch a story idea and follow up, chances are more likely you’ll get published. And if you do that, you might have a greater chance of being published multiple times. In regards to her suggested solutions, I think encouraging women to be more assertive with their opinions would probably work the best because I think that timidness is what is keeping women from stepping forward and writing about theater for pring publications.

But while people have to pitch ideas or they have to be hired by publications for full-time writing, anyone can just sit down and start a blog. I know that my blogroll is not representative of all of the theater blogs but looking at that, there are only four theater blogs I read that are written by women and two of them are written by Vincentelli. Most of the blogs I read are written by men. Come to think of it, most of the writers for large blogs, like the Huffington Post, are men. There are blogs that are geared towards women that have female writers, but I think it’s safe to say that there are more male bloggers than female bloggers.

I asked Ellen Wrede, who served as one of the editors-in-chief and the online editor of my high school newspaper, about this topic because she blogs at Smallsimplicity. Ellen commented that when she started blogging it was purely for journalistic purposes, but it ended up being a place where she could write about her life and a few general interest topics.

” It’s not quite a journal, because I have one of those and it is nothing at all like my blog,” she remarked.

She also said that she doesn’t blog regularly, like I do and some other bloggers do, and it’s because she doesn’t have a set subject matter. “[It’s] a little more of a task to think of a topic. In addition to that I just have very small motivation to post all the time,” she said.

A few weeks ago, there was a piece in the Styles section of the New York Times discussing the “failure rate” of blogging. Wrede is aware that people read her blog. I can look at the count of views when I log in to update my blog and that tells me that people are reading, even if they don’t comment.

I’ve been blogging for three years and I really didn’t get noticed by a lot of people until I moved my blog from LiveJournal to WordPress, which could be purely coincidental. I could have easily stopped blogging because no one other than my friends were reading my blog when it was on LiveJournal. There might be some people that want to make it big as a blogger, but you have to start off small, write well and write regularly. Bloggers are not going to become big immediately. If someone finds a new blogger’s blog, it might get on their blogroll and more people are going to read it.

There’s nothing that really prevents people from blogging other than maybe their unwillingness to do so. If a blogger has nothing to write about, then don’t write. Readers are probably not going to panic if a blog goes without an update for a couple of weeks.

Because of the ability for people to blog freely, I see no reason as to why women shouldn’t be willing to blog. I personally think that something preventing women from blogging is that they fear that their friends might judge them. If a blogger writes under an alias, chances are likely that people who aren’t familiar with their writing style won’t know it is written by that person unless the blogger says “Hey, that’s my blog!”

Maybe women could just write reviews and comment on news. One doesn’t have to write a lengthy review like the critics at the Times or The New Yorker. It could be a short little blurb about what was good, what wasn’t good. Maybe they could go a bit more in depth, but some knowledge on the topic is recommended. A good blogger shouldn’t go around giving the wrong explanations for theater superstitions. Who knows, that way, maybe a theater editor or critic will take note of one’s writing and said writer might get some recognition and it could make the pitching of ideas a bit easier. At the very least, women might make blogging a habit.

There is a very clear lack of female theater writers and bloggers, who might view some shows differently from their male counterparts, although I don’t know if this is true since I don’t like a lot of plays viewed as fitting in to a female niche. The main thing that prevents women from blogging about theater, none the less writing about it for a print publication, is that it might seem too hard and they’re afraid of people judging them for having the guts to say that a show isn’t that good or a show is good. Hopefully, women will be a little more confident with pitching ideas for writing about theater and blogging about theater.

Titles of Some Papers and Essays I’ve Written

“Sympathy for the Devil”-An essay on the influence of critics.

“Being Alone”-An essay on why some children need to be left alone growing up.

“Jean-Jacques Rousseau Does Not Like What is Occurring in Your Country”-A paper analyzing Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings.

“Less Glitter, But Be Gay”-An essay on how the new generation of gays aren’t really fighting for their rights

“Children Must Listen”-An essay saying laws on homeschooling need to be tightened (not my viewpoint, but that was the assignment)

“Take My Heart, or Some Other Organ”-An essay on the failures of organ donation systems

“Is Gay Marriage Gay?”-A paper on gay marriage

“The Scourge of Athens Theater”-A paper analyzing the portrayal of the playwright Euripedes in the comedies of Aristophanes