See much theater? Why, yes, I do.

3 Sep


Recently Dave and I joined a throng of enthusiastic supporters to see Disclosure, written by my friend and fellow Playreader* Carol Lashof. Afterward a mutual friend of Carol’s asked my husband and me innocently, “Do you see much theater?” Dave sort of laughed and just looked at me. “Yes,” I answered without equivocation, “We see a lot of theater.”

Last year I saw an average of one play or staged reading per week. And if I really liked it, I probably wrote a review. (I’ve always figured there’s no reason to comment on either a bad or perfectly ordinary play.) But I’ve seen quite a bit of worthwhile theater recently and I just haven’t blogged about it. It’s gotten to the point where I see so many plays that by the time I get around to writing about one, I’ve seen two or three more.

It’s possible that I’m overdoing it.

Let’s see…the last theater post I penned was about CCCT’s rendition of The Sound of Music at the end of June. Since then, I’ve seen five professionally staged full-length plays; five staged readings at established Bay Area theaters; four different festivals, each consisting of several short works or excerpts of longer plays; and a couple of storytelling events. Mind you, this does not include literary readings or the comedy show I saw (W. Kamau Bell at the Berkeley Marsh). And I even squeezed in a few films during that period.

Forgive me for just providing some highlights.Stereotypo1-900x400_c

  • I thoroughly enjoyed Don Reed’s one-man show currently at the Berkeley Marsh, Stereotypo, in which he inhabits several characters who are all waiting their turn at the DMV. He’s a great talent and never disappoints.


  • The Revolutionists, Lauren Gunderson’s brilliant take on the French Revolution from a female perspective, is clever, funny, and insightful. I was lucky enough to see a staged reading at the Bay Area Playwright Festival. Watch for it when it gets a full production, which it must if there are theater gods.
pint-sized plays

A bear in a tutu opened this year’s festival.

  • If you Google Pint-sized Plays, you’ll probably find the competition in Wales. But SF has its own Pint-sized Play Festival that is a great evening of short pieces, all set in a bar. Specifically the bar at Pianofight, which is the newest hip venue for a variety of theater forms. To be included in the festival, each piece must present at least one actor imbibing a full pint of beer before it ends. How could it not be lots of fun? It’s an annual event, so you probably won’t get a chance to see this again until 2016.
  • Carol S. Lashof’s Disclosure is a smart, thought-provoking play that resists easy answers, delving into those frustratingly gray areas of love and parenting. It’s too late for you to catch this iteration by Those Women Productions, but I sense that this play has legs and might just pop up again. We can only hope.

*Playreaders is a marvelous free program at Berkeley’s central library downtown, at which a bunch of us sit around a table and read plays aloud at noon on Wednesdays. It is led by my favorite librarian, Debbie Carton.

Million-dollar business idea: time-sharing

27 Aug

Dali clock

No, I don’t mean going in on a vacation home with your friends and family. I’m talking about the buying and selling of life’s most precious commodity–time. Or it doesn’t have to involve purchasing; it could be a barter exchange or a lend-me-some-now-and-I’ll-pay-you-back-later scenario. But who wouldn’t like to curate their time more efficiently. (“Curate” is the word of the year, so I felt obliged to sneak it into this post at least once.)

The thought occurred to me yesterday while I was reading an email from Dirk, a friend and fellow writer who generously sends me books and always has an encouraging word about my writing endeavors.  He had shared some good news, and I responded with congratulations paired with an apology for not being in touch, since I have not been as diligent in my replies and thanks as I should have. I also admitted that I hadn’t been writing much lately. Dirk instantly sent me a writing prompt to jump-start my creativity. My quick note back assigned my dry spell not to a lack of inspiration but to a scarcity of hours in the day. This whole day-job situation has definite implications. (If only my writing could pay the mortgage…)

Nonplussed, Dirk shot back an answer–he had finished his latest project seven hours ahead of schedule, so he could offer that time to me. I smiled and considered the possibilities.

What if Dirk really could ship me a chunk of seven hours? I could finish proofreading the book on ecosystems and still have plenty of time to work on my play before the next round of corrections came my way.
dmvAnd it wouldn’t have to be a one-way transaction. I could take that hour spent waiting at the vet’s office yesterday, bottle it, and mail it to Dirk for when  he needed it. Or it could be a global sharing economy based on need: the guy sitting at DMV waiting for his number to be called could deposit his hour, and the journalist on deadline could make a withdrawal. Sure, there would be a few hoarders and certainly some who might get greedy, but making the system voluntary would prevent the most egregious abuses.

Time-sharing has other applications as well. You could bank your own hours for future use. Remember those long summer days in August you experienced as a kid waiting for school to start? I could use a few of those now. If only I were able to reclaim those hours wasted last summer watching that travesty of  drama performed in the park. (I blocked out the play’s name, but I recall one laughable phrase “the eternal anvil of truth.”)

What if you could not only offer time but make it mandatory? I bet a few Congressmen might legislate differently on women’s health issues if subjected to just an hour of hard labor. I’d be happy to donate a couple of those hours just prior to giving birth if it could further the cause of reproductive rights. Don’t you think Planned Parenthood would get the funding it deserves if every man actually knew what it felt like to give birth? It would be an experiment on a grand scale–akin to walk a mile in my ovaries. But perhaps I digress…

launching angry birdOkay, now that I’ve explored a few fantasies, I guess I have to face reality: I am responsible for how I spend my time. It’s a matter of priorities, right? Maybe–just maybe–I’d finish my play if I deleted my Angry Birds in Space app. The question is, do I have the guts to do it?


How do I spend my time? An exposé

17 Aug

recording chart

Last week I wrote down everything I did.

It was harder than I thought it would be to keep an accurate account of my time, even though I kept the log open on my computer so that I could jot down my activities as I did them.

I had to decide what was worthy of writing down because early in the week, I was spending too much time recording what I was doing, which, of course, changed the results slightly. I didn’t want my scientific findings to be sullied by faulty testing procedures! So I stopped tracking bathroom breaks and started lumping smaller activities together, e.g.,

8:20-9:15  took Sophie to vet, got gas, did Jumble & crossword

But that made it harder to tally up the time spent on types of activities, such as games. This meant that afterward, during the analysis phase, I had to estimate how long it took to take Sophie to the vet and get gas in order to give me the number of minutes spent on games.

There were definitely some time sinks, which were not a complete surprise. One turned out to be going through my email. Here are the stats: For the 5-day testing period, I spent a total of 430 minutes, or a little over 7 hours, checking and reading the stuff that comes into my inbox, which averages about an hour and a half per day. That seems crazy to me. Of course my email gets somewhat tangled up with Facebook because I receive comments to posts and tags on email, which lures me into the social media world for varying amounts of time.


This is not Lucy’s video from the concert because I couldn’t figure out how to download it to embed here.

For example, on Wednesday, I was in the midst of reading email when I came upon my friend Lucy’s post about the Aretha Franklin concert the previous night. Of course I wanted to see it. Ergo this entry:

9:50 tried to watch Aretha Franklin clip on FB, got frustrated, and got Dave to help

I don’t have anything else recorded in my log until 10:30, despite the clip being only one song long (“Chain of Fools”). This data clearly indicates moments how much time is wasted due to slow technology, or, perhaps more accurately, due to my inadequate grasp of technology.

But that wasn’t the only time sink. Apparently I have a tiny gaming addiction. Not the betting on horses kind or the online fantasy game variety–no, my compulsion involves the Jumble, crossword puzzles, Words with Friends (both classic and new), Cryptoquote, Sudoku, Angry Birds in Space, and an innocent-enough looking game that I discovered on my phone called Two Dots, which is basically connecting like-colored dots but is oddly satisfying for hours on end.

angry birds

angry birds

Add to that total one of my newer projects–Lumosity, which was actually prescribed to me by a neurologist. (I’m not kidding! I was worried about my memory loss and got a referral by my g.p. to see a specialist, who gave me a number of tests that showed nothing serious. So he prescribed puzzles, such as the Jumble and Sudoku; but I already did those, so he wrote down on an official notepad and handed it to me.) So now I spend 15 to 30 minutes a day, 3 or 4 times a week on my “training,” which includes brain stretchers such as Memory Matrix, Speed Match, and Trouble Brewing, which essentially tests me to see if I’d be any good as a barista. (The jury’s still out.) And because I love, love, love Word Bubbles, I usually play a round (or three) of that at the end of my regular “workout.” (I’m using their terminology here.) I try to rationalize this entertaining break as integral to my health. But I’m not certain that it’s actually improving anything except my ability to match shapes and rescue virtual coffee cups from being overfilled.

And of course there are the unforeseeable activities that consume no small part of my life. Here are excerpts from Wednesday:

9:50  tried repeatedly to sync the app on my phone with my Active Band (my cheap knock-off version of a Fitbit that is not working)

noon  went to library rally/protest (that’s worth a whole post by itself)

1:10  tried to retrieve aloe from cracked plastic container to apply to sunburn (that I got at library rally) and used way too much so as not to waste it before throwing mess away; ended up having to peel blue sticky strands off my skin

1:30  cleaned up dog pee

2:30  tried to figure out how to upload a fucking video from my phone to Facebook. GRRR!

4:25  got hungry and wandered around looking for food, then watched the puppies play

5:15  looked all through house and in backyard for Sophie’s missing collar (Bonus: found my long-lost Active Link under the bed!)

fitz & toy

Not the actual puppy I watched last week because I CAN’T DOWNLOAD THE RUBY VIDEO THAT I REALLY WANTED TO PUT HERE!

Now in between those things, I did get a little bit of work done, i.e., proofing a historical biography of Charles Anderson (a less famous guy who made a speech at Gettysburg the same day as Abe). But I won’t lie–it was not my most productive day.

I was relieved to discover that I do spend more time working at my job than I do playing games, but I’m not proud that I spent more than twice the amount of time playing games than I do exercising (8.5 hours v. 3.2 hours total for 5 days). But to be fair–some of that game time was playing cards with Dave after dinner and working on crosswords with him at lunchtime, so that counts as socializing and eating too (double duty). My biggest disappointment in myself is that last week I hardly read any books at all! (And I don’t even have “The Daily Show” to watch any more as an excuse for not getting in my bedtime reading.)

So what’s the upshot of all this? What did I learn?

  1. I should probably save FB videos to watch at bedtime, when Dave is right next to me and isn’t in the middle of redoing some complicated table for a science book that’s due to go to press. In fact, I should probably ignore all Facebook notifications during my workday
  2. It takes a long time to record everything you do.
  3. Don’t try to use a lot of aloe when you don’t need it just to keep it from getting thrown away.
  4. I should spend more time watching puppies play. Outside. Where I don’t have to clean up their pee.

My next project? I think I have some reading to catch up on…

Experiment reveals startling gender bias in publishing

11 Aug

I knew that women had to try harder than men to get published. I just didn’t know how much harder. . . . Then I read this piece by Catherine Nichols on Jezebel. My first reaction was depression. But then I felt a fire stirring that I hope will fuel a redoubled effort in my quest to be published. Read it and let me know what you think.

Nichols piece on JezebelHomme de Plume: What I Learned Sending a Novel Out under a Male Name

Tackling the where-does-the-time-go syndrome

9 Aug

colorful alarm clocks I work part-time and no longer have young children afoot, so I really have no excuse when it comes to completing my to-do list in a timely manner. But I often reach the end of the week and wonder why I haven’t accomplished more. Where does the time go? I don’t think I’m unrealistic in my goals, but many remain just out of reach.

So this week I’m going to track everything I do. (Don’t worry–I won’t bore you by recounting it in full detail.) It will be like a budget for my time. Back when I taught elementary school, I could easily account for just about any minute of the day. What was I doing at 8:45 am? I was sitting in a circle with my students going over the schedule for the day and checking in with them. What about at 10:00? Easy–I was either using the restroom, checking my box in the teachers’ lounge, or standing out on yard duty.

recording chartBut working at home with a flexible schedule means that any given morning, I might be at the gym, at the grocery store, or finishing up laundry from the weekend. Oh, and I might even be copyediting or proofing, which is what I do for a living. Or I could very well be in my pajamas reading the Chronicle. (Yes, Virginia, there is still such a thing as a newspaper.)

I’m a tad fearful of what I may find out, but I plan to bravely record it all, which should provide me with the proper fodder for future planning. After I analyze the week’s data, I’ll be sure to write up what I learned so that you too, dear reader, may benefit from my experience if you suffer from the same syndrome.

Wish me luck.


I flunked out of virtual camp

29 Jul

camp nanowrimo

I know myself well enough to understand that I’m more productive when I have a deadline, so I decided to give myself a goal to light a fire under my creative process. It began almost on a whim when I read about Camp Nanowrimo, a summer offshoot of the phenomenon known as National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November.

The idea behind the virtual camp is to work on a project for the month of July and keep track of your word count. Throughout July the good folks at Camp Nanowrimo send you daily tips, lots of encouragement, and even set you up with virtual tent mates. I was assigned to a cabin of twelve writers, who are there to provide moral support for each other during the camp experience and also serve as proof that you are not alone even though writing is usually a solitary activity.

My plan was to finish my full-length play, A Wilder Woman. I had already written about 7000 words before camp started, so I figured another 30,000 would finish it off. I was doing great on my goal of 1000 words a day for the first six days. But on July 6, I realized that my play probably didn’t need to be 37,000 words. It was probably going to be a shorter play. I kept writing anyway, but I fizzled out because I knew that at that point I was padding it just to reach my word count goal, which is not terribly productive.  Then I couldn’t figure out how best to end it, which stalled me out completely. Sigh. So much for making that self-imposed deadline.

Last weekend at the ATLAS (Advanced Training Leading Artists to Success)Playwrights Showcase, I ran into Anthony Clarvoe, a playwright whose class I’d taken, who asked how my writing was going (because, of course, that’s what writers ask each other). I admitted that I hadn’t gotten much further on my play despite my foray into virtual camp. He sympathized and said that strict word counts often fail as inspiration. I asked about his progress, and he mentioned that he definitely had to be careful that his teaching responsibilities didn’t keep him from writing.

And it occurred to me that this is going to be a lifelong challenge. Anthony has been writing far longer than I have and still has to be conscious of balancing it with other parts of his life. It may get easier, but writing a play is never something I’ll be able to do on auto-pilot. And it shouldn’t be. (That’s probably how so many awful TV shows get written.)

I love to write. But it takes dedication. And I get distracted.

Well, I may not yet have found the most efficient way to write a play. But I do know that writing something–whether it’s a play, a song, or a blog post–is better than writing nothing at all. man writing

And if I want an audience to see my play, I have to keep at it. It seems obvious, I know. But maybe a slight shift in perspective is all I need to get back on the right track.

So I may be a lousy camper, but I’m still a writer, dammit.




22 Jul


This entertaining account of a first-time award-winning YA author brought a big smile to my face. I don’t even know her, but after reading this, I feel like I do. Of course, I’m the teensiest bit jealous, but it’s so great to hear success stories.

I Would Buy That Book!

16 Jul


Parents PressWalking back from my Zumba Gold class–which makes me officially old–I passed a newsstand piled high with that free monthly from years of yore: Parents’ Press. I don’t mean to imply that Parents’ Press is no longer being published; I just don’t read it anymore, so it blends into that invisible backdrop of Things For Other People. In it, inquiring minds can read about the safest playground equipment, the optimal number of guests to invite to a seven-year-old’s birthday party, and how to get your kid to eat broccoli. I’d forgotten that such issues were ever relevant to me.

I’m still a parent. But Parents’ Press doesn’t provide much guidance beyond school-aged kids. There’s the occasional article about college admissions or high school sports, but its primary readership is parents of younger children–that period of parenthood when you have more influence and presumably more control.

When my daughter was a baby, bookstores were teeming with titles promising to help me do everything from writing a birthing plan to getting my child into college. I believe in the power of information, so I bought a book to help me navigate those early desperate, sleep-deprived months: Your One-Year-Old by Dr. Louise Ames Bates. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the same author had written Your Two-Year Old, which I snatched up the following year, eager to mine her knowledge of toddlers. Your Three-Year Old was an automatic purchase, especially because I had erroneously thought that the legend of the “terrible twos” implied that three-year-olds were easy peasy by comparison. Which, in fact, was not the case. I think whoever came up with the concept of the terrible twos just liked the way it sounded. But because I failed to get the memo on the threatening threes, I was blindsided. Your 2-year-old

Anyhoo…the point is that someone had very thoughtfully written user manuals for parents. Just owning such volumes provided a certain amount of security. Only later did I realize their inherent danger: because I’d read an expert on child-rearing, I was deluded into thinking I was in control. (“This has to work because it was in the book!”) Indeed I looked forward to each new year of my daughter’s life so that I could read the next in the series, certain that at one point the book would tell me that I’d arrived at the sweet spot and it was smooth sailing from then on.

Spoiler alert: that moment never came.

I diligently read the whole series, which also covers children who are four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine, but ends with Your Ten-to-Fourteen-Year Old. I can only imagine that by the time Ms. Ames had published her advice for how to deal with tweens, she grew too disinterested to devote a separate volume to each year. And then, afraid to tackle those tricky teen years, she probably mixed herself a martini and left parents to face their destinies alone and without her guidance.

All of this leads me to wonder where the parenting articles and books are for me, the mother of a 22-year-old? Who is writing on important subjects such as which questions are appropriate to ask the young adult in your life? What can I read that will help me offer just the right amount of support that will neither enable her nor cripple her? Where are the instructions that tell me how often I should call? And why hasn’t someone published what should be a must-read for all parents of young adults: Navigating Social Media for Parents of Twenty-Somethings? (Is it OK to accept a friend request from your daughter’s ex-girlfriend whom you’ve never met?) And wouldn’t it be so helpful to have a pocket glossary so you could keep track of words that joined the lexicon long after you graduated from college? (By the way, “non-binary” is no longer just a math term.)

tongues out

In simpler times

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It is a lifelong endeavor that is constantly assessed for quality control and it must adapt to the ebb and flow of the one being parented. And that’s how it should be. I’m reminded of my favorite title ever of a parenting book: Anthony Wolf’s Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?  We walk a delicate tightrope in order to provide the right amount of space and support. Parenting looks different at twenty-two than it did during the threatening threes. For one thing, my only child is thousands of miles away. But it’s not only the geographic distance that looms; new ideas and beliefs create their own kind of distance. Which is part of growing up, right?  After all, if we do our job well, then our confident, resourceful children eventually don’t need us. Talk about a disconnect between job performance and job security…

So my challenge is to parents who have already survived those tricky twenties: write a guide book! I’d buy Your Twenty-Two-Year Old in a heartbeat. And I’m telling you, the person who writes Navigating Social Media for Parents of Twenty-Somethings will make a million.




The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music at CCCT

29 Jun
photo by Joe Metheny as Rolf and Grace Lilette Lorenzana as Liesl in CCCT’s production of "The Sound of Music," directed by Marilyn Langbehn.

photo by
Joe Metheny as Rolf and Grace Lilette Lorenzana as Liesl in CCCT’’s
production of “The Sound of Music,” directed by Marilyn Langbehn.

I used to be a regular audience member at Contra Costa Civic Theatre productions back when I taught in El Cerrito and lived in Richmond. But I’d sort of forgotten about it since moving to Berkeley ten years ago. It was always a charming production with a range of talents, which is de rigeur for community theater.

But last night I was treated to a professionalism that I didn’t quite recognize. CCCT’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music was top notch, featuring talented actors and singers. Except for the fact that the two elderly and hard-of-hearing ladies seated next to me talked fairly frequently throughout the show, I felt like I was attending a professional theater production in a major city. And heck, I’ve heard similar conversations at the Aurora, which is far from community theater.

The opening number sung by the nun chorus was breathtaking and set the tone for the rest of the show. Leading them was the Mother Abbess, Marie Plette, who actually had a long career in the opera and is still hitting notes with gusto. Interesting side note: the last time she performed in musical theater was when she was in high school playing none other than the Mother Abbess.

nun chorusBut the rest of the ladies in wimples were no slouches. Notable among them was Berkeley Broadway Singer Mary Coleston, who has also been in her fair share of productions. I had never seen this play on stage, but I probably watched the film twenty times, and I remember wanting to get through the nun parts to get to what I thought was the good stuff with the Von Trapp children. But I could have listened to the nun chorus all night!

Sarah Sloane made her CCCT debut as the show’s star, the headstrong and will o’ the wisp Maria, and she carried her scenes with great poise and sparkle.

Of the twenty-seven roles played (quite an ambitious feat in itself), all but four were making their CCCT debut, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of performing experience. In  fact, arrive early for the show if you want to be able to read their extensive bios before curtain time. The cast represents a well of singing and acting talent.

Of course the children were adorable. In community theater, one doesn’t necessarily expect to get such young performers who can also sing, dance, and act, but this cast did a wonderful job and never relied solely on being cute. Liesl was not played by a teenager but by Grace Lilette Lorenzana, a junior high school teacher with a lovely voice who played sixteen quite convincingly. I freely admit that my eyes teared up in sheer joy during “So Long, Farewell,” which was my favorite tune from this musical when I listened to the record as a child.

All the children remembered their lines, sang beautifully, and kept up with their adult cast mates, but I was particularly charmed by the luminous sixth-grader Maya Marinez-Krams, who played Brigitta.

I was surprised to discover that the play is not the same as the film and had three songs I’d never heard before. And I learned only after the show that the music was live, accompanied by two pianists hidden in the eaves.

If you’re a fan of this moving and popular musical, you must go see this production. It’s playing through July 19. For more info, go to or call at 510.524.9132.

Mortified mines those embarrassing teen years

28 Jun

mortified logo

Mortified founder David Nadelberg had a stroke of genius, and we are the lucky recipients.

Twice now I’ve gone to the New Parish in Oakland to see people get on stage and reveal intimate details of their younger selves. And it is hysterical. It’s called “Mortified,” and you can see it either in San Francisco or Oakland every month. It’s also periodically in Chicago, L.A., and other cities, but we have two opportunities to see it here in the Bay Area.

I first heard an excerpt of the show on “This American Life” some years ago, but I didn’t realize it was something I could see live right in my own backyard. It’s been going for eight years and seems to be picking up steam.

According to the program, “All excerpts shared on stage are 100% real.” However these are not just people reading straight from their high school diaries without any focus or practice. The Mortified crew works with the brave souls ahead of time to mine the best stuff. And they do a good job. Both nights that I saw the show, the readers represented a nice variety of teen angst, from the young boy who had no friends and loved the TV character Mr. Belvedere to the girl who recounted her early sexual experiences.

mortified bookTo add to the hilarity, a clever comedic improv band picks up on the funniest parts and turns them into songs on the spot.

Apparently there is also a book, a documentary, and a podcast, so there are many ways to be Mortified.

I highly recommend this unique form of entertainment. I just wish I’d thought it up.


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