Life Peak Experiences and Collaboration

I promise, this isn’t going to turn into The Traveling Light Blog. Really, it isn’t.  I really do have other things to write about besides this. But, when life hands you Good Collaboration, you shout it from the mountaintops as much as possible, as well as wrap it up in cool cotton blankets and feed it nice things and take good care of it.

Yesterday afternoon, the cast (or, three-fourths, anyway; Kyra, Doug and Bob), the director and producer (Liam) and photographer and man-about-town Kyle Cassidy packed into the back of Toshiro Mifune (our tough, versatile and quiet Honda CRV) for a drive through the back alleys of South Philly, Grays Ferry, West Philadelphia, and finally, beautiful Mount Moriah Cemetery, for a photo shoot.

Mount Moriah Cemetery.
Mount Moriah Cemetery.

Mount Moriah Cemetery  is one of those things that everyone should know about, but when you go there, you want it to be kept a secret and only invite your few close friends who will be inspired with the same wonder and respect you do.  It inhabits a dreamlike between-space: its ownership is currently legally undetermined, it provides burial space to all faiths, its monuments are of many different aesthetic styles, and it’s wild and cultivated at the same time. The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery have established a volunteer committee, responsible for cleaning, gardening and care. However, its 200 acres and decades of neglect can’t be fixed overnight, so despite its accessibility it still has some parts where the wilderness rules.

The forecast called for a 70% chance of rain, so Liam and I brought a total of six umbrellas, to be sure that we wouldn’t need them. It worked.  The sky was just cloudy enough to give us diffuse light, keep the temperature not unbearable, and give the sky some rich color.

Here we see Kyle in rare jungle footage, as he prepares for his leading role in "Anacondonado IV."
Here we see Kyle in rare jungle footage, as he prepares for his leading role in “Anacondonado IV.”

Kyle specializes in journalistic photography, portraits, and fast improvisation. I’ve participated in one of his photography workshops, and he is extremely good at taking what’s available in a space and using it to great effect. He’s efficient as heck and carries around a positive attitude and sense of humor that is contagious.

So, we turned off of the road and the sight of a lush green hill dotted with stones, punctuated with columns and framed by mausoleums (mausoleii?) made us all squeal like teenaged Goth chicks at a 2 for 1 sale on black lace fingerless gloves.

LINDSAY: I don’t know, you guys, is this grave-y enough?

BOB: Is this grave-y enough?

I turned the car onto the least-beaten path, and then again, and within a minute or so, we were surrounded by Mid-Atlantic Jungle.

Memento Vitae.

On what must have once been brick platforms, rising to either side of the path, were clusters of rich green forest, and a vine-embraced tree that was twisted in the way trees will when their roots defy stone and their branches combat for light. It made a canopy around a granite memorial column from probably the late-Victorian era, and we said, “Yep, that’s it.”

You know you’re making risky art when you’re changing your clothes by the side of a car, using a window for a mirror and someone is offering you bug repellent.  The lantern I’d brought was deemed not period correct (I agreed, but it was the closest thing I could find), so Kyle made some magic happen and slid an electronic device up Kyra’s sleeve, and voila: the illusion of a period-currect flashlight.

Behind The Scenes shot of the shoot.
Behind The Scenes shot of the shoot.
Liam Castellan, director, producer, and all-around git-er-done guy.
Liam Castellan, director, producer, and all-around git-er-done guy.

We played around the monuments for a while and Kyle took pictures, Liam was the Cheez-Itz powered voice activated light stand, and it was a lovely evening in the land of the dead.

and then we packed it up, and went home to brick boxes in which people live.

I don’t think there’s anything better than having good collaborators.  There’s a quote about writing, often attributed to Dorothy Parker, which goes, “I don’t like writing, I love having written.” The first draft, and second and third, are always a bear, a tiring process of grunt work, made worse because it’s lonely. But, when you get together with creative collaborators and actually do something with what you’ve written, and they bring their own ideas and resources to the project, that’s the real reason that I write.

"Make this mistake with me."
“Make this mistake with me.”

TL:DR; Another life peak experience. Coming soon: Real Photos!

We’re looking for theater artists.

We’re trying to find designers to work on Traveling Light. 

Here are the details.

Liam’s Sofa Cushion Fortress presents the Philadelphia premiere of  “Traveling Light” by Lindsay Harris Friel, directed by Liam Castellan.

Load-in is Monday, September 2, and performances are 9/6 through 9/14, in the Skybox at the Adrienne.

1967 London: the “Summer of Love”. Playwright Joe Orton confronts Beatles manager Brian Epstein late at night in a Jewish cemetery. They spar over big ideas and big secrets. When a policewoman and her male superior arrive, it could mean big trouble!

Looking for a costume designer for four costumes total.

Looking for a designer to build and install a unit set.

Both positions pay a stipend.  Looking for designers based in the Philadelphia area (or with “local housing”).

Email with resume/etc. and any questions.


A Midsummer Night’s Dreamers

Traveling Light makes its Philadelphia premiere this September in the Philly Fringe.

Traveling Light 1st image  Once upon a time there was a young man who heard some really beautiful music. He’d dedicated his whole life to aesthetic pursuits, but when he went down into a dark cavern and heard the beat and the harmony, he knew he had to bring that beautiful music up out of the dark and polish it and present it to the whole world. This music became bigger and stronger and more beautiful, until finally it could move on its own, and it was too heavy for him to carry any more, and it threatened to break him.

At the same time, there was another young man, almost exactly the same age, who liked to tell stories. Unlike the first young man, he’d been surrounded by a lot of ugliness and anger for most of his life, and the best way for him to deal with it was to create stories in which tricksters gave the bad people the badness they created right back. He went to a school that taught all about beauty (strangely enough, the same school that the first young man attended), and the first time he tried to make something beautiful and strange, it was so strange that people got scared, and he was sent to prison. While he was in prison, he polished his process, and when he got out, he continued making things that were strange and odd and funny and sad, with a vengeance.

This was all at a time when the world was changing. It was easier to make your voice heard over miles and miles, and the world seemed to be getting smaller, and  people were starting to realize that maybe if they started treating each other as equals, kindly, amazing things could happen. But sometimes, even that was abused, because it’s awfully hard to get rid of things like greed and jealousy.

The first young man said to the second one, maybe this beautiful music I manage and your odd and strange stories could be put together to make something amazing. and the second young man said, I’ll see what I can do. so the writer went home and wrote a story, and brought it back to the music manager.

and the music manager said, this is too much. this is just too extreme, and rough, and unusual, and I don’t even know how to describe it.

and the storyteller said, but you’re just the same as this kind of story, you’re indescribable in the same way. you’re also that which can’t speak its name for fear of prosecution.

Later that summer, the storyteller came home, to find the person he expected to be waiting for him, waiting, as always, but this time with a hammer and a jealous rage, and by morning, the storyteller was dead.

and twenty-one days later, the music manager took too much medicine that he thought he needed, and the next morning, he was dead too.

the story teller kept a diary. so did the music manager. those diaries are kept secret, as diaries should be. but some things happened that summer, and some of the diaries’ pages are believed to be destroyed. and nobody knows why.

that summer was called “the summer of love.” which is an odd name for a summer in which there were a lot of fires and war and riots and protest. there were also a lot of warm, sexy nights where people broke rules and did what their hearts told them to do.

this isn’t a dissertation. it’s a play. less factual, more fun.


It feels weird to be promoting this play in Philadelphia, now, when I wrote it years ago. The production in Minneapolis, by Theatre Pro Rata, directed by Natalie Novacek, is still extremely close to my heart, and had a lot of magic in its site-specific production at Layman’s Cemetery.  Carin Bratlie and I still brainstorm and I still miss Minneapolis, the people I met there, and their commitment to making fun, brilliant theatre. After that production, I somersaulted straight into Temple’s MFA program, and it’s been hard to come up for air at all ever since.

I don’t want people to think this is the only play I’ve ever written, but it seems to be the one people like the most, and I’m deeply grateful that Liam Castellan said, “I am going to pick this play up and run with it.” and finally, this play gets to happen in my home town.

We have a cast. They’re beautiful. We’re still looking for designers and crafting press releases and planning photo shoots and so on and so forth. for now, I get to be so excited about it that I am forced to be experimental with capitalization.

Details to follow. Keep your eyes peeled.

Good things, small packages

I’m very happy to say that I’m part of the Philadelphia Installment of the One-Minute Play Festival. 

ompf-logo-2-copy  It’s exactly what you think: an evening of short plays, all of them one minute or less, a highly concentrated, haiku-esque dose of solid theatre.  Creator Dominic D’Andrea has been making this happen in cities around the country, and I’m pleased as a pig in mud to be included on the same bill as these playwrights and directors. Some of them are longtime friends, some I’ve admired from a distance, and some of them are people I’ve never met, and we’re all crunching ideas into delicious tasty cake pops of emotional substance. Or, you know, coal into diamonds. Your mileage may vary.

I have created this kind of super-short theatre before, and “short” never means “simple.” For several years I was a contributing playwright to Night of 1000 Plays, produced by The Brick Playhouse.  In that case, each performance piece was three minutes or less. Some of my favorite work came out of writing for N1K, especially Juliet Balcony, Let’s Call Him Matt, Not Without My Pumpkin, and Car and Driver.  Writing Car and Driver let me play with a vocal style to give a car a personality, which later became the voice of the Lotus in Phoebe and the Lotus.  So, I sort of knew what I was getting into when I started creating pieces to submit, and how they could help me in the future. It’s not that you’re creating a sketch: these are full, finished, stand-alone works. They exist best as a smaller piece of something big and diverse. and provide great opportunity for imagination, because your limitations are so severe.

So far, I have to say, writing a one-minute play is harder than writing a three-minute play. Basically, you get in, make meaning, and get out. Then remove the first and last ten seconds. Then condense, and condense, and condense. “Excuse me, but I need to buy a plant, can you help me?” has to become “Can you help me buy a plant?” which in turn has to become, “How much is the green thing?” or, “Please help me.”

Alternately, you just come up with the most concentrated dose of meaning you can think of. BAM.

So, anyway. Writing this kind of thing is fun, and it looks like the performances will be, too. They take place on Monday July 29th, Tuesday July 30th, and Wednesday July 31st at 8PM, at Interact Theatre Company, at The Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $20 and the significance is all-you-can-digest.

Summer 2012 Review

"No, really, I have ideas. I didn't say they were good ones." Recently I was introduced to the Tumblr,, which made me laugh so hard that my core muscles ached, and I have to thank its creators for giving me a workout.  If you are not a playwright, you’ll find it funny, at least for the pop-culture references. if you are any kind of a writer, especially a playwright, you will find it painfully funny, with an emphasis on pain.

As I was dragged into its web, my experience went from gleeful to sad, and then I moped around like a loser with my chin in my chest. The Tumblr talks about things like “when i have a reading and…” or “when I have an audition and…” or “when I have rehearsal, and…” and I haven’t had the “actively making theater with other live human beings in the same room” experience for a long time.

My dramaturgs.  Confession: I have spent my summer chin-deep in new work in progress. This always sounds so exciting, like I’m conjuring glowing dancing fairies out of the palm of my hand while hapsichord music plays in the background. In reality (I have no talent for making animated gifs, so I won’t submit this to them), I have been typing, scribbling, talking to myself, and having fights with junk food. I read scenes out loud to the dogs.  Squeaky was particularly excited about the scene that involved knocking on a door.

Then, my inner smart playwright said, that’s it, I’m turning the car around. People won’t know that you write plays that are good and so on and so forth unless you have a public writing platform type thing, so do what you know you need to do. Back to the blog with you, Nessie.

Hello. I’m back in the game.

Other than the work-in-progress (It’s fine. I’ll let you know when it wants to be known about), here are some other things that I enjoyed this summer.

  Sleep No More. I was introduced to this by my dear friend Jennifer, who organized a trip for a bunch of us to go up to New York to see it. I had attended immersive theater experiences before, such as Pig Iron’s Pay Up, and have a deep, abiding love for site-specific theatre. Creating Mixed Drinks at O’Neal’s Pub in 2003 was one of my life peak experiences. I love being inspired by a space to create a piece that works in it, and I love complicated relationships between artists and audience. Sleep No More does not disappoint in any way, shape or form.  More than that, it gets under your skin and becomes something you can’t stop thinking about. When you meet other people who have seen it, it’s like being members of the same secret religion, and you curtail yourself off to talk in hushed tones, “Did you…?” It’s a theater experience that is incredibly real, changes based on the audience, and makes you re-think about how you exist in space and power relationships with others.

All this praise being said, I feel like I did Sleep No More wrong. I followed all the rules, particularly the most stern commandment, “Fortune favors the bold,” but I seemed to always be walking into a room just as a pivotal scene was ending and the actors were leaving. Or I would find a room where a character was having a private moment outside of the main plot. The experience I had was beautiful, inspiring, intricately woven, and emotionally intense, but afterwards I found out that one of the people in our group had managed to follow one of the actors like a hawk through the entire show, and had gotten a full, cohesive plot out of her experience that differed completely from mine.

This guy was as creepy as he was hot.  If I had to trade that for the things I did see, I wouldn’t. I found a mirror in a bedroom that reflected back everything in the room, except for me standing in front of it. I found spells scratched into the bottom of a drawer and read patient records on hospital bedstands.  I found a room plastered from floor to ceiling with pictures of birds. I never found the apothecary’s “pills” that everyone talks about.   I witnessed passionate, acrobatic scenes between all the side characters with their own secret stories, but I didn’t see anything involving the power couple until the banquet scene. It whets my appetite to go back, find what I missed, and learn more about how to create this kind of theatre.

Unfortunately, for someone like me, it is expensive. By the time I paid for the ticket, handling fee and transportation, I had spent myself dry for the week. I might end up turning tricks to pay for my Sleep No More habit.

  The Starlux. Vince and I don’t get out much when it’s not one of his gigs, so a long weekend in Wildwood was a big deal for us.  Vince used to spend his childhood summers there, so he was good at navigating, and I pretty much just rode along.  If you want the simple, relaxed Jersey Shore experience, with a certain amount of quiet and a certain amount of excitement, The Starlux is your best bet. It’s two blocks from the boardwalk, near the convention center, so there’s just enough convenience if Morey’s Piers and the boardwalk bustle are your thing, and just enough distance if you want quiet.  Separate from the main building are two lovely remodeled Airstream trailers, and we stayed in the one pictured here.  I fell in love with it very quickly.

Pros: A deck you share with one other trailer, with tables and a grill. With the air conditioner, it’s quiet enough that you will never hear the traffic (unless a Really Loud Motorcycle goes by, and that was infrequent).  The decor is pretty, with clean cool colors and sweeping lines reminiscent of the movie Sleeper, it’s very comfortable, and the mini-fridge and microwave make everything very convenient. The service at the Starlux is outstanding. Everyone is remarkably, genuinely friendly and does everything they can to make your stay pleasant.

Cons: If you are six foot four or taller, you may want to get one of their regular rooms or a suite instead. Vince fit inside, but didn’t stand up much. Had I been as, shall we say, girthsome, as I was in 98 or so, this would not have been a fun time. We were at close enough quarters that this would just be very uncomfortable for people who aren’t happy with seeing each other naked or hearing each other fart.  That’s the Airstream experience, they’re small. Get with it.

We spent most of our time relaxing in their pool, eating well, and working our way through Juan Pablo’s margarita menu. The Starlux also has complimentary bicycles to borrow, so we were able to get in a few local bike rides. Also, I fell from 100 feet up in the air.  I can prove it.  I recommend this experience, mostly because it’s good to be comfortable with the feeling that you have when everything you think makes sense is so far away that it no longer makes sense, and you think, “Okay, so this is how I’m going to die.”  (And then, of course, you don’t die, but it doesn’t seem like it will be that way at the time.) Also, the view of the ocean is stunning and humbling.

Damn right it's totally overgrown.  Gardening. I’m not much of a gardener. I go to Linvilla Orchards, I buy plants, I put their roots in the soil, and then I try to keep them from dying.  My only goal is to make a garden that looks like the complete and total antithesis of  all the neatly planted sterile gardens in our neighborhood. If it looks like Willy Wonka suddenly went from candy to plants, as far as I’m concerned, achievement unlocked.*

If you have ever tasted the difference between a home-grown, well-loved tomato, and the kind you buy in supermarkets, you can get a little nuts trying to make his happen at home. We have some tomato plants (some Better Boy and some Brandywine, which are an Amish heirloom variety), enough basil to make pesto occasionally,  a rose bush, and we have a lot of morning glories. The rose bush was nearly dead this past spring, but frequent watering and some compost has made it come back with a vengeance. One tomato, so far, has grown to the point of being red and ready to eat. The rest are taking their time. Daily watering gives us a meditative ritual for the day, it’s very peaceful and it feels productive.  Pulling weeds lets me get out a lot of aggression. And, speaking of getting out aggression…

Zombies, Run!  Zombies, Run! Six to Start briefly offered this game for $1.99 for one day only early this summer. William Mize recommended it, and I thought, if this gets me moving, it’s worth its usual $8 price tag.  It is a blast. The notion is that you go for a run, and the app does usual running record-keeping things that you want, such as pace and distance, but it also integrates a story with your music playlist. So, you’re not just running (or walking really fast, in my case). You are Runner 5, on a mission to get more supplies and food, unraveling a mystery as to what caused this post-apocalyptic adventure, and avoiding traveling packs of hungry zombies. So, as you run (or walk or cycle or whatever it is you do), not only does it switch between messages from the characters and songs in your playlist, but it lets you know when you’ve picked up useful items, like tinned food, a sports bra, or 9 millimeter bullets.  It also lets you know when a random zombie horde has been detected, and how far away they are.

One day, Squeaky and I were on a mission, and the game warned me that a zombie horde was right behind us, just as This Way To the Egress’ “Delicious Cabaret” spun up.  In the interest of avoiding traffic, I made a sharp turn down an alley we’d never taken, and sped up. Just as I thought, “I can’t do this,” not one but two big guard dogs decided to half-hop their fences, snarling and barking like I had pockets full of steak, that I’d stolen from their moms. I took off like a rocket. Squeaky was not amused.

So, yeah, it gets pretty real. This game will make you move. This past spring I was able to go for 40 minute walks at a clip, at a speed of about 2mph. Now I’m walking for 75 minutes at a clip at a speed of between 4 and 5 mph. My self-confidence and endurance have increased, and I feel better.

  The sad ending to my summer: On the same day that all my reading lists for next semester arrived, pronounced my Kindle dead.  Since it’s out of warranty, they  offered me a discounted, refurbished Kindle with “sponsored screensavers and supported content.”

So, basically, the Kindle died, and they offered to sell me a (refurbished) means to look at their advertising. If I’m paying for it, shouldn’t it be ad-free? If I’m looking at their ads, how can they charge me?  And if they can sell me a refurbished Kindle, why can’t they just refurbish my Kindle?

All I know is that I have 23 plays to read. If I have to read them on a backlit screen, that’s not good. Looks like I’m expanding my paper library this year, or I’m buying a new Kindle.  Bastards.

I’m less than a week away from a new semester in Temple’s MFA program, Vince’s band has gigs coming up, and the mint is knee-high, so please send bourbon.


*This should explain the presence of Gardenbike, our trellis for morning glories, daylilies and mint. I thought it was a Frankenbike. I was wrong. It’s a Gardenbike.

There’s no such thing as “between projects.”

After over a year of [almost] weekly blog posts, Vince and I took a few months off. This wasn’t on purpose.  We had some other things suck up our time and energy, most notably:

1) Quitting smoking. I’m sure there will be a future, detailed post about this work in progress.  Suffice it to say that it took up most of our head space starting in mid-December. In the meantime, please know that we are not converted and ideologically we are still smoker-positive. However, the Fine Turkish Turkweed, she is an expensive and harsh mistress.  So,  Nicorette is my new constant companion, and for the month of February, Vince made sure we were well stocked with Cherry Tootsie Pops.

2) The Conshohocken Curve. Whether it’s where you tap your brakes or where you break free of the herd, that phrase is embedded in the minds of everyone who moves within and without the Greater Philadelphia region from years of radio traffic reports. When it floated to the top of Scott Rogers’ brain one day, Vince knew this had to be the name of the band they’d been working on with Alan Kaufman.  For now, the band is practicing and getting ready to record demos, with drummer Mark Sugarman. Keep your cool cat clothes pressed and on a hanger at the front of the closet, because the rock, blues and folk-rock dance pop express train is getting ready to roll.

(How was that? How’d that sound? Do I still have the marketing-copy chops? Huh? Huh? Do I? Huh?)

3)  This semester is such a switch for me that it feels like my head is on backwards. I’m taking courses that are all about what things look like and how that affects society, and/or how society affects what things looks like.  So, I have to know the difference between talud-tablero and duo gong, ruquhn and rubakha, Whistler, Tanner and O’Keefe.  All of this falls into the “things that sound dirty but aren’t” category, and not in a good way.  I’ve been learning the craft of storytelling for a year and a half, now I have to use all the “analyze, memorize and identify” parts of my brain.  so, yeah, just when the learning curve started to make sense, it flipped.

Worry not, internet. Your favorite writer-musician power couple of love has been doing just fine.  Amanda Palmer is in Australia recording a new album and Neil Gaiman is in an undisclosed location writing a new book. In the meantime, you have Lindsay and Vince.

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