Watch a video of my prison and opioids play "Streets Like This," performed by actors who have all dealt with incarceration

In 2018, I was commissioned by Civic Ensemble of Ithaca, New York to help devise and write a new play based on their ReEntry Theatre Program — a free arts initiative for people who've experienced incarceration and/or drug rehabilitation. The program participants developed the raw material through theatre games and writing exercises, which I then took and transformed into a full-length script.

Streets Like This originally ran for 3 sold out performances in May 2018, featuring a cast of program participants, whose personal stories of addiction and incarceration inspired the script. The people involved in this show from the start have gone on to make some tremendous policy changes for social services and criminal justice reform in Tompkins County, New York, and decided to remount the show again this spring.

Then the COVID-19 outbreak happened.

But the cast and company got together one last time and filmed their production without an audience. It's streaming now for free between April 30 and May 17, 2020; and since they can't raise any money through ticket sales, they're hoping the video will bring in some donations so they can keep this program going.

Working on this play and getting to know these actors was an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me, and I know it's had a positive impact on their lives, too. I hope you'll check it out, and if you're feeling generous, throw some money their way so they can keep doing good work in changing the ways our society deals with addiction and incarceration. Read the rest

Stream this powerful theatre production about class and motherhood right now

Theatre companies have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus quarantine. While the communal accessibility of theatre is a large part of the artform's pedigree and appeal, professional productions are often tight for money, even in the best of times. With limited runs, and plenty of hands-on-deck required on a nightly basis, many professional theatres in America rely heavily on donations — and right now, those are drying up, too.

My wife, Bevin O'Gara, is the Producing Artistic Director for a small professional theatre, and has spent these last few weeks trying to figure out ways to salvage the company. Plenty of supposedly-helpful people call her every day and say "Why don't you just share the videos from the plays?", not realizing how that actually gets into complications regarding intellectual property rights and union policies. (Consider: actors, directors, and designers have already signed contracts promising them a certain amount of money for a certain thing; playwrights often license out their work based on a pre-determined number of performances. So who gets how much of a cut from streaming rights? Who gets to decide which performance was the best, and thus worthy of the stream? Plays don't always read as well on video, either — actors do different work on stage than on screen, and some might be concerned about their performances being captured and shared forever.)

My wife recently directed a production of Cry It Out by Molly Smith-Meltzer, a new play about motherhood and class issues that's been well-reviewed all across the country. Read the rest

A new play lets formerly incarcerated people tell their stories. Meanwhile, prisons are still banning books.

In January of 2018, I was hired by the Civic Ensemble of Ithaca, New York to take part in a fascinating playwriting opportunity. The company had started a ReEntry Theatre program in 2015, teaming with state social services to implement a theatre education curriculum to help people dealing with incarceration and substance abuse rehabilitation to transition back into society. In the past, the program participants had written their own monologues and brief scenes, along with learning some improv exercises. But they brought me in to work with those program participants, and all the raw material they'd produce, and turn that into a full-length play—a singular, cohesive vision that was lightly fictionalized but drawn directly from the participants' real experiences dealing with prison and addiction.

The result, Streets Like This, had its world premiere in May of 2018. But now the company is re-mounting it at the Cherry Artspace (also in Ithaca) from March 12-22, 2020.

Working on this play was a very cool experience. The program participants were all people who had seen a lot of shit, but also had some incredibly deep empathy but for what they and others like them had gone through. Many of them possessed an intuitive understanding of the complex systemic issues that drove them into the desperation — the violence, drugs, sex work, and petty crime — that landed them in prison in the first place. And having been through prison — sometimes more than once — they also had a better understanding of the ways that the system is set up to fail people just like them. Read the rest

The word "robot" originated in this 1921 Czech play

In 1920, Czech writer Karel Čapek penned a play titled R.U.R., a cautionary tale about technology's potential to dehumanize. Read the rest

Kevin Smith to do a theatrical reading of his Clerks III script

Director Kevin Smith wrote Clerks III more than a decade ago but it was never made, the director has said, because Jeff Anderson, who plays Randal, wasn't game. Today, Smith announced that he and some unnamed "friends" will do a reading of the script at the First Avenue Playhouse in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. It's a benefit for the playhouse which is where Smith held open auditions for the first Clerks film 25 years ago. There were only 80 seats available (at $100/each) and, yes, it sold out instantly.

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High school stages "Alien: The Play"

The drama club at New Jersey's North Bergen High School brought the classic sci-fi/horror story Alien to the stage for Alien: The Play. From Quartz:

A student playing a xenomorph expertly creeped about on stage and in the audience in the style of the titular alien. The student wore a costume made from donated foam, a plastic skeleton from the clearance aisle, and other materials, Entertainment Weekly reported. Other characters were photographed wearing spacesuits. And the sets were reportedly crafted from donated and recycled items, including old egg-carton boxes to create a computer lab.

A Reddit thread started by North Bergen High School student Justin Pierson, 17, who was part of the sound crew, said the play flows almost exactly like the film. But these students put together their production on a relatively shoestring budget.

"A US High School’s Crafty Production of “Alien” Is Going Viral" (Thanks, Mark Dery!)

(images here) Read the rest

Starlings: razor-sharp stories and poems from Jo Walton

Stephen King once wrote that "a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger" -- that is, sudden, pleasant, mysterious, dangerous and exiting, and the collected short fiction of Jo Walton, contained between covers in the newly published Starlings, is exemplary of the principle. Walton, after all, is one of science fiction's major talents, and despite her protests that she "doesn't really know how to write stories," all the evidence is to the contrary.

To do in Austin: Plurality of Privacy Project in Five-Minute Plays

Austinites! You have two more nights to catch Plurality of Privacy Project in Five-Minute Plays, "an artistic and cultural dialogue around our divergent understandings of privacy." Read the rest

Gangnam Style finally dethroned as most-played YouTube video

On YouTube, Gangnam Style's been the most-played video for five years—a little-known testament to the grim reality of popular culture these days. But no longer! It has finally been dethroned, by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth's See You Again. Moreover, Despacito, embedded above, seems likely to storm past it in due course.

Here's the top 10.

1) Wiz Khalifa, See You Again (ft Charlie Puth) - 2,895,373,709 2) Psy, Gangnam Style - 2,894,426,475 3) Justin Bieber, Sorry - 2,635,572,161 4) Mark Ronson, Uptown Funk (ft Bruno Mars) - 2,550,545,717 5) Luis Fonsi, Despacito (ft Daddy Yankee) - 2,482,502,747 6) Taylor Swift, Shake It Off - 2,248,761,095 7) Enrique Iglesias, Bailando - 2,232,756,228 8) Maroon 5, Sugar - 2,150,365,635 9) Katy Perry, Roar - 2,129,400,973 10) Taylor Swift, Blank Space - 2,101,607,657

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How a "lost" Marx Brothers musical found its way back to the stage

Noah Diamond is a Groucho Marx impersonator, actor and singer whose obsession with the Marx Brothers led him, along with his wife, the director Amanda Sisk, to research "I'll Say She Is," a Marx Brothers stage musical that ran to rave reviews in 1924/5 and has not been mounted since. Read the rest

Shakespeare probably smoked weed, scientists say

Several pipes excavated from William Shakespeare's garden contained cannabis, report scientists who used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze the items. Read the rest

Why are the stories in video games so bad?

People often say they are enthusiastic about games because "they can tell stories", or because they enable narrative moments not possible in other media. But although there are numerous flashes of brilliance in games, this potential often feels like something they circle, but never attain. Read the rest