Monday, June 30, 2008

Paying to play

Playwrights must deal with many indignities during the submission process. I usually spare you my submission-related gripes, but today's offender is too heinous, in my opinion, to pass up. I recently found a small college playwriting contest that demands a $30 reading fee -- a new record, at least in my experience (of the more than 160 theaters and contests I submitted to in the past year).

Thirty dollars. What do you need that money for, small college? Are you going broke? Does your theater dean drive a Land Rover? (I seriously would love it if the reason were "high gas prices.") We pay for copies at Staples; we pay for report covers; we pay to send our heavy scripts cross-country by priority mail; and now you want us to pay your expensive reading fee on top of it. Hey, I have to gas up my car, too.

Playwriting is very much a "pay to play" arena when you're starting out: There are playwriting group membership dues, contest fees, copies, postage, even broadband access (for theater research and e-submission). It's an unpleasant reality no one talks about. Who knows if this kind of investment prices some writers out. (I'm fortunate to have a day job to finance my marketing campaign.) I set my contest fee limit at $20, which I still think is too high, but I'm trying to get exposure as a new playwright. I just wonder if the kind of inching-up we've seen in things such as ATM fees and gas prices will bleed over into the arts. It seems that right now businesses all over the country are trying to find out just how much people are willing to pay -- how much they can squeeze before we yelp.

And I suppose it comes down to that: How much do you want it? Someone's going to be desperate enough to shell out $30 to enter this small college contest. I know I'm not forced to pay it; I don't have to enter. But I think it's excessive, predatory and sets a poor precedent. I know theaters (and colleges) are businesses that require money to operate, but when does this kind of situation stop being an award for the arts and start becoming a revenue source that happens to have a blue ribbon attached to it?

I found it interesting last winter when the Steppenwolf's literary manager told a group of us at a seminar that most theaters don't pay much attention to contest wins listed on query letters/resumes, save for two or three very large ones. This small college contest was not among them.

Friday, June 27, 2008

January in June

The Bulls, in case you somehow didn't hear, took Memphis point guard Derrick Rose in last night's NBA draft with the first overall pick. I watched quite a bit of the NCAA tournament three months ago, including a couple of Memphis games, and I honestly can't remember anything about him. I was more focused on Michael Beasley and Stephon Curry, but I did the same thing in '07 when I focused on Greg Oden and not Kevin Durant, who's turned into a very special player, as Steve Stone likes to say. By "focus," I guess I mean "paid a little more attention to."

Having not paid attention to Rose, I feel neutral about the pick, but the analysts have gushed about this guy like he's the next Chris Paul. That could be a case of them having 24-7 TV time to fill and underwhelming available talent to analyze (think NFL Combine), or he could have real ability. I know Norm Van Lier will be happy with Rose and, by extension, Carmen DeFalco as well. Carmen sounded pretty up on him during WMVP's draft coverage last night.

Let me reiterate that I absolutely love that the Bulls are back on AM 1000, simply for the what-seems-like-hours-long pre-game show featuring Carmen and Van Lier. Last season was majorly disappointing, but somehow hearing Norm gripe for 86 games that Ben Gordon was pretending to be injured, Tyrus Thomas needed to get his head out of his ass and Thabo Sefolosha needed to stop making Swiss chocolate and man up made things at least funnier. Thabo eventually showed signs of life, but Van Lier will be ready to kiss Derrick Rose on the lips come this October, when he'll look like Tiny Archibald compared to the previous point men.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Das Glute

If you're interested in getting some new vegan-/vegetarian-friendly recipes or just curious about new brands of faux-meat on the market, stop on by the South Loop Whole Foods this Saturday at 1 p.m. to watch Erika give a cooking demonstration with Upton's Naturals seitan. Upton's gave her a load of the stuff, and she's got some fantastic ideas in store.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It keeps calling me

I'm starting to jones for a Three Oaks visit.

Last year, Erika and I took a weekend getaway to southwestern Michigan, which, as some of you may know, is a popular regional vacation spot for Chicagoans. Erika, being the queen of Internet research -- seriously, if she wanted one of those hot-shot news librarian jobs at the Trib, she could get it -- did an exhaustive search of rental properties in the area. We're not made of money, so we wanted something cheaper, and she found a wonderful little rental house in the wonderful little town of Three Oaks, just over the Indiana border and a few miles East from more expensive, tourist-trappy New Buffalo.

We first went in March, when it was chilly and raining, and again in August around our birthdays, which included a great side-trip to Kalamazoo and the Bell's Brewery. But that was 10 months ago, and the itch needs scratching.

You might look at Three Oaks and call it a tourist trap, too. I won't go that far because, despite the pricey antique, furniture and preserves stores, it has a Left-Wing, artistic undercurrent, as well as a micro-sized downtown area, that lends it definite charm. Three Oaks boasts its own community radio station, health food store, art-house cinema, used book store and newly reopened vegan-friendly restaurant. It also has two great bars -- one where the bartender cooks greasy food right there for you a few steps down from the taps.

You also can rent bikes for trips through the green farm fields surrounding the town, and you certainly can ride over to New Buffalo and go up the tourist corridor through Union Pier, Harbert and Sawyer. You'll find more antiques, another bookstore, a great corner store, a Swedish bakery and some awesome Middle Eastern food. There also are some wineries (not as fun as you'd imagine and go with white) and the beach (water is cold year-round, but still good for sunning).

I like to think Erika and I will move to this area someday. Maybe one of us will make a splash with our writing; maybe one of us will be able to work from home; or maybe, after opening our vegan restaurant in Chicago, we'll open a bed and breakfast in Three Oaks. Whatever the route, I want to make it part of our 10-year plan. See you in Three Oaks!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

As I Lay, (Jermaine) Dye (is Batt)ing

If you wanted -- IF -- you could listen to tonight's Cubs/Sox game on three different radio stations -- set them up in a row and listen. I've been flipping back and forth between the Sox broadcast (Farmer and Stoney) and the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball national broadcast (two dudes whose names I forget). Yes, this is perhaps another reason why we should get cable, but I will continue to hold out until at least football season and '08-'09 NBA. Then we'll have some serious considering to do.

In the meantime, I'll lie here on the bed and do my crossword puzzle and listen. There's something to be said for the power of the image, but radio is the superior medium, in my opinion, and baseball on the radio is second to none in sports ... Well, maybe hockey on the radio. Those guys are nuts.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Time together

Today is our third wedding anniversary. Later, we're going to the Chicago Diner to celebrate. Three years. June 2005 was a different time. For example:

- Erika just finished up her junior year of college and was preparing for her first student teaching assignment.
- Mark logged year three at his dead-end news job, with no end in sight. (But he did have a 20-minute commute on one bus.)
- Erika was working as the Friday night (and Sunday morning) bartender at Tuman's.
- Mark had yet to begin work on his first full-length play.
- Erika smoked.
- Mark ate meat -- particularly the grilled ham and cheese from Big Herm's.
- Erika and Mark did not go to the gym.
- Erika and Mark had no nieces or nephews and had never attended the wedding of a friend or family member together.
- Erika and Mark lived on Noble Street in Noble Square in an apartment with avocado green walls in the living room and a space heater -- and loved it.

Here's to another three wonderful years. A lot more is definitely going to happen.

Monday, June 16, 2008

From the Sunday Nite Dead Files

Y'know, I like angry, abstract post-punk as much as the next disaffected leftist, but sometimes you have to cut it with a little ... "Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel"? I bought this record at a moving sale in Wicker Park two years ago for a couple of bucks, and you know what ... I will always think the Dead are a terrible, terrible band, but sometimes they produce a pretty good song. "Unbroken Chain" is a pretty good song. It even has some (gulp) Ubu-esque synth dissonance.

I showed this record to my brother Matt not long after I bought it, and his brief display of Dead knowledge (he is a many-multiple bootleg owner) was so precise and frighteningly crystalline, I nearly fainted. I must demand, the next time he's here, that he flash a bit of that again. If I could goad him into a debate with someone else over which Dead album was the best -- or, even better, which Dead line-up was the best ...

You know, "Scarlet Begonias" isn't that bad either ... I think this is how it starts ... Where's that 1.6 Band record?

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Color-Coded Clown

This "submitted" list looks so nice and unsullied. I keep a record of all the theaters and contests I've submitted to, and I then color-code it as responses come in: green for acceptances, yellow for script requests and red for rejections. So far, no rejections, three requests and one acceptance (a staged reading). This is the nicest it might ever look.

That staged reading happened this past weekend, and though it went really well and led to me changing something in my play (for the better, I believe), I feel that a curtain of stress has lifted. This is the calmest Monday I've had since ... well, I can't remember. But don't get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I was given on such short notice, and I received very sincere encouragement from people whose opinions I greatly respect.

So ... start another play. Yes, it's time; the month is over. Erika's going to write tonight, so I will join her. I have nothing else on my docket, and I'm looking forward to it like nothing else.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Dork or no -- you decide

Yes, we went to the Cubs game yesterday. Yes, they won, and yes, we had a great time with Marie (on her birthday) and her friend John. Yes, I took four All-Star Game ballots and filled them out over the course of the game with, yes, four different rosters. Yes, I forgot to drop them in the little drop-box at Wrigley on our way to getting some Indian food afterward.

And yes, I'm mailing them to MLB today on my own dime.