Thank you for bringing Cost of Living to Los Angeles. This is the first production the play has received after its NYC premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club in June 2017 and the world premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival in July 2016.
I’m grateful to The Fountain for investing in this story and for continuing its life. I’m grateful also for the beautiful, thoughtful production that you and the wonderful team of artists created. And I’m thrilled for the kind welcome that the play and production have received in LA—and the chance to showcase the talents of some truly incredible actors.
I hope you’ll join me in supporting The Fountain Theatre by making a Year End Gift today.
Cost of Living tells two parallel, relationship-driven stories. John hires a caretaker, Jess, and the pair chip away at their judgmental personalities, slowly becoming friends; and Eddie looks to reconcile with his wife, Ani, after a prolonged period of separation. John has cerebral palsy (CP), a condition caused by abnormal brain development that is characterized by impairment or loss of motor function. Ani, because of a car accident, is a quadriplegic, meaning that all four of her limbs are paralyzed, although Majok’s script notes that “some of the fingers of one hand are partially functioning.”
Katy Sullivan in “Cost of Living”, Manhattan Theatre Club.
Actress Katy Sullivan, who played Ani at MTC to great acclaim, is a bilateral above-the-knee amputee, a disability different from the character Ani’s quadriplegia. Sullivan will return to the role of Ani for the Fountain Theatre West Coast Premiere. Actor Tobias Forrest, a quadriplegic, plays John. Jess and Eddie are able-bodied characters played by Xochitl Romero and Maurice G. Smith.
The following conversation is an excerpt from a January 2018 interview with Majok conducted by Melissa Rodman, a Harvard College senior who wrote her thesis on staging disability in 21st-century American theater. Majok discussed how Cost of Living uses humor and sexuality to paint a picture of four messy, contradictory, funny, and flawed people, destabilizing assumptions about disability.
Melissa Rodman (MR): I was wondering if we could start off talking about Cost of Living and where the inspiration for the play came from, particularly the disabled characters.
Martyna Majok (MM): It started with a monologue. I was struggling economically. I always kind of have. I grew up with very little money, so for me, all the plays are about class. Cost of Living was about class; queens is about class. All these plays are in conversation with class, but America is so focused on identity. That is their lens through which they see just about every play. I don’t know if it’s the same for literature and things like that, but I think particularly for plays where you really have the bodies on stage.
So they said, “Oh, you wrote a play about disabled people or about disability.” I thought, “Well, no, it’s a play about class and loneliness, and it also happens to be told with two disabled bodies.”
So I had that monologue. I didn’t know what to do with it. What am I going to do with this 10-minute play? And, a few months later, I was asked for the 10-minute play festival to write about jobs. And so I thought about my most memorable job, and it was working with a man with CP, while I was in Chicago.
I went to the University of Chicago as an undergrad, and when I graduated, I ended up working for a graduate student at the same university. And so I wrote about that—I mean, I didn’t fall in love with him [laughs]—but I felt like this is a world that most people will not know about. And so, I went with that, and when we presented it, it was a really fascinating experience for me.
My play starts, and it’s just this woman standing onstage, speaking to someone offstage. And as soon as the character John enters in a wheelchair, everybody got so quiet. You felt them feel nervous. And it was so palpable to me. I didn’t know what it was. Were they nervous that I was about to make fun of a disabled character? Were they nervous at just the image of a disabled body?
Tobias Forrest co-stars as John at the Fountain Theatre
I have a friend who says that disability is like a walking reminder of mortality, that when somebody looks at a disabled body, they’re thinking about the fallibility of their own body and death. I’m thinking about that, and I didn’t know, and I thought, “Oh god, my play’s gonna tank.”
And as soon as John has the first joke, the audience was like, “Okay, okay. We can laugh.” But it was like they were still kind of feeling it out. But because he had the control in the scene, and he had the jokes, and he was in charge, people felt comfortable.
And they could laugh and kind of grow with the people. So I thought, “This is fascinating. I have to make a play that put two disabled bodies onstage.”
The stories about disabled characters that I had seen tended to be one of two kinds: one was the “Oh he’s gonna run the marathon,” that sort of an inspirational story, where disabled characters just are such saints that they almost aren’t actual people. So there’s a distance already there.
And the other is the dying-with-dignity narrative, which I think is very dangerous. It makes it seem like there’s only two options. You either have to be an inspirational amazing-genius-achievement person, or you must want to kill yourself. I wanted to make sure that I countered that and offered another narrative, and also for them to have humor and sexuality.
MR: I noticed while reading the play that the stage directions and descriptions of the real physical interactions between the characters really come across. I was wondering how your experiences informed your scripting the play?
MM: There are so many things, like how do you shift your weight to be able to accommodate a body being moved from a wheelchair? There are so many specific things, that I would just walk the actors through it. I can’t imagine writing that or trying to figure that out without having experienced it.
The first time I went in, and kind of got trained—I think it was my first day—and the guy, who I was working for with CP was clearly so used to training people how to help him, and so he walked me through it. And so onstage, I walked them through it.
And then for the quadriplegic character, Ani, I had to do more research on my own.
I never wanted to rely on an actor doing my dramaturgy, so I researched as much as I could with that, and talked to people. The two were kind of a combination of past experience and research outside.
MR: That makes sense. I’m thinking more about the playwright’s notes at the beginning, which are very extensive. What was going through your mind when saying Ani and John have to be disabled people playing these characters?
MM: I mean, it’s funny. It became such a big thing. I had just written it thinking, “Well, of course. Like, of course. Did you guys ever think that you had to cast it differently?”
It blew my mind, but then of course I remembered celebrities like Eddie Redmayne and Sam Claflin, the Me Before You actor, played disabled people.
MR: The Jake Gyllenhaals.
MM: Jake Gyllenhaal. People will look at plays and think, ‘Well, at one point he walked, so we have to cast a celebrity and CGI [computer-generated imagery] his legs.
You could CGI the legs onto someone with a disability, if you would like to, to be able to actually give these people opportunities to represent themselves onstage in their own stories. But I think a lot of people will cop out in that way, because it’s economic, like you’re saying.
It’s a risk to cast an unknown actor, disabled or able-bodied. And I understand that, but also if you continue to not let disabled actors play disabled characters—or any character, to be honest—then they’re not going to get the exposure and the experience to then become the Jake Gyllenhaal. R. J. Mitte from Breaking Bad, he’s now an offer-only actor. He’s somebody who was cast in Breaking Bad, who has CP, and now he’s a name. Now more opportunities are open to him, and people consider him for larger roles.
Because it’s not my identity, because I’m not a disabled person, I felt like it would not have been right if I had also taken—not just the identity I wasn’t—but to have it told with people for whom that it’s not their identity.
I think people have been using the excuse, “We just don’t know any disabled actors.” We did a lot of casting. I knew Gregg, who played John at MTC, from like six years before I wrote the play. I didn’t write it for him, but after I had written it, I thought, “Oh, I know somebody who can do this.”
For Ani, it was not difficult to find a disabled actor, it just was difficult to find the right actor, in the way that it is for any role. The most difficult thing was finding somebody who could be brash and have humor and be believably working class, and that was harder than it was to find a disabled actor.
MR: And when you had this team, what did you think about, in terms of actually staging the disability with these four bodies that were assembled? Did things change from script to stage? And then, of course, there are the two iterations, at Williamstown and at MTC.
MM: It’s interesting, ’cause when you see Katy in a wheelchair, you see that she doesn’t have legs and doesn’t have knees. Sullivan was born without knees and legs. So people kept calling the character she played, Ani, a double amputee.
There’s all these things on the Internet, “The play’s about a double-amputee.” I’ve tried so painstakingly to specify the character Ani is a quadriplegic, not a double-amputee. But they’re gonna see what they’re gonna see. From the Williamstown production to the MTC production, the rewrites that I made in between were clarifying exactly what the disability is.
I can say, ‘cerebral palsy,’ and people who don’t know anybody with cerebral palsy might not know exactly what that means. Some people think it’s like an accident versus neurological birth disability. And so, I decided, “Okay, I’m meeting the audience where we’re at.”
I want everyone to come in with a common knowledge. I want them all to feel safely taken care of, and that they’re all on the same knowledge plane. So I think I assumed more people would know more than they did about CP and would listen to more of the language versus see Katy and assume she’s in a wheelchair because she’s a double amputee.
Most of the rewrites were actually about the Jess character. The rewrites tended to be me having to explain how somebody who went to Princeton could end up sleeping in their car. ’Cause this was unbelievable to an audience. [laughs] And so I had to put in clues about how things broke in her life along the way, that she would end up being there.
At one point when I was working on the one for Williamstown, I asked Gregg to describe to me what his body felt like to him, and then asked his permission if I could use some of that language. And so that’s the part [in the play] where he’s talking about his body.
He walked me through what it would feel like to kind of walk, for him specifically, because he went through a lot of dance—physical dance—training, and things like that that enabled more mobility than for somebody who didn’t go through that kind of training. And so he walked me through what the body feels, and I thought that was interesting and important, ’cause I also didn’t know what it feels, literally what it feels like, and we’re talking about bodies. And so, in that sense, that was a really great collaboration.
And, I mean, the stages were different. Williamstown has a raised proscenium, so at one point they just realized, because the actors are in motorized wheelchairs, if they go out of control, they’re going to end up in the audience. [laughs]
You do have to kind of change things a little bit, but it’s fine. There’s ways, you know, it’s just part of it.
MR: You mentioned different kinds of audience perceptions of all of the characters. Can you talk a bit more about the audience response and how that factored into some of the staging choices?
MM: I think most of them had to do with responses to class, I guess.
There was an interesting experience Gregg had after a show.
Katy comes out, and she has her prosthetic legs on, and she doesn’t enter in the [prop] wheelchair. And Gregg enters walking, also without his prop wheelchair.
There was somebody who came up to him after the show, and said, “I’m so glad that you’re not actually disabled. Oh my God! Thank God!” And he told them he actually is disabled, that he does have CP. But this response of “Thank God! Thank God it was just pretend!” That was really interesting.
I was at some of the talkbacks, and I think people were surprised at the humor. They were expecting a certain kind of story.
With the last three plays I’ve done, which all have serious capital letters—they’re about poverty and immigration and disability—people are assuming that that’s gonna be a sad story [laughs], or it’s just gonna be a super serious story. I’ve learned to train audiences early on that they can and should laugh.
So I front-load a lot of jokes that I usually give to the person that is the “other,” that’s gonna be perceived as the “other,” so that they’re the ones who are in control of the humor and driving it, and the audiences connect with that person.
MR: Are there any other things that you wanted audiences to take away from the characters?
MM: I think the one about suicide or the idea of giving up never came into the conversation. Sexuality was a big one. I wanted to have sexy scenes and have a person taking agency with their own sexuality and pleasure. Hopefully, it’s like a widened lens that somebody has about another person’s life. It’s a wider empathy that they have.
I have a lot of friends who are disabled. I have a huge group of playwriting friends, but part of that group is people with disability. And so they will tell me about people assuming pity for them, and that gaze, that was something I did not want at all present in it.
People will say, “Oh, you poor thing,” or “That must be so hard,” and they’re assuming that they’re suffering daily and every minute and are thinking about their disability all the time. And I wanted to add more in the lives of these characters than just that.
Achingly human and surprisingly funny, Cost of Living is a haunting, rigorously unsentimental play about the forces that bring people together and the realities of facing the world with physical disabilities. Unemployed truck driver Eddie is struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged wife Ani, facing life in a wheelchair with a spinal cord injury. Jess, in a job that she desperately needs, is trying to navigate her duties with John, her new boss with cerebral palsy. But, who is really caring for whom? By shattering stereotypes, the play reveals how deeply we all need each other. In addition to the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Cost of Living won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play.
Cost of Living opens at the Fountain Theatre October 20 and runs to December 16. Tickets go on sale September 12. More Info
Playwright of Acclaimed 2012 Fountain Production Wins Windham Campbell Award
What’s it like getting a phone call telling you you’ve won $150,000? Ask playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer of In The Red And Brown Water produced last year by the Fountain Theatre.
Tarell joins two other two playwrights — Stephen Adly Guirgis and Naomi Wallace — and six fiction writers as inaugural recipients of the first-ever Donald Windham Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes, English-language awards that call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.
“It is an extraordinary blessing to be named an inaugural recipient of the Windham Campbell Prize at Yale”, says Tarell. “An added honor to do so alongside such incredible artists whom I admire greatly.”
Prizewinners receive an unrestricted grant of $150,000.
When the phone rang last March at his hotel room in New York, McCraney was $175,000 in debt. He was casting for his new play Choir Boy for the Manhattan Theatre Club. It took him a while to fully understand the nature of the news. When the information of the award registered, McCraney put down the phone and cried.
The Windham Campbell Prize cites:
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s working class characters inhabit an extraordinary mythic universe, speaking a poetic language through which we grasp the spiritual stature of embattled people.
“In the Red and Brown Water”, Fountain Theatre (2012)
Playwrights never expect such financial rewards. They just hope their works are produced on stage somewhere. Their main goal is to make a living being a writer and most — even the names of playwrights we all know and admire — have to supplement their income by teaching or some other gig to pay the bills.
So, what’s Tarell going to do with the money?
“Who knows what I’ll do with it,” says McCraney, 32. “Hopefully l’ll just look at it in my checking account for about a few months before I decide to do anything with it.”
McCraney goes to Atlanta to see a production of Choir Boy at the Alliance Theatre, then off to London at the end of the month to start rehearsals for his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra which he is also directing. That production will also play Miami at the end of the year and begin performances at the Public Theater in New York in February.
The Fountain Theatre introduced Los Angeles audiences to McCraney’s work with the award-winning 2012 LA Premiere of In The Red And Brown Water. The Fountain is now in discussion about producing Choir Boy in our coming season.
TheFountain Theatre andDeaf West Theatrebrought their lyrical and romantic deaf/hearing updated-version of Cyrano to New York last Monday, April 29, for a special staged reading at the acclaimedNew York Theatre Workshop. The staged reading was performed for a full house of NY theater producers and invited VIP’s for the purpose of solidifying interest in a possible New York production.
Four original cast members were flown in from Los Angeles: Troy Kotsur, Paul Raci, Victor Warren and Al Bernstein. The rest of the ensemble was cast with local New York actors Matt Biagini, Robert De Mayo, Samira Wiley, John McGinty, Puy Navarro, James W. Guido, Alexandria Wailes, Richard Dent, and original cast member Maleni Chaitoo who happens to now live in NY.
The company rehearsed with director Simon Levy for only three days. Our thanks to our friends atPrimary Stagesfor providing their rehearsal studios to the Cyrano company. Also in attendance at rehearsals were playwright Stephen Sachs, Deaf West Artistic Director David Kurs, Fountain Producing Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, DWT Founder Ed Waterstreet and his wife, actress Linda Bove.
The highly regarded New York Theatre Workshop is the Tony-winning company dedicated to developing new plays and musicals. Over their 30-year history, they have launched many acclaimed productions and have transferred several to Broadway, including Rent, Dirty Blonde, Homebody/Kabul, Peter and the Starcatcher, Once, and more. The Cyrano staged reading was held Monday in the NYTW upstairs rehearsal hall. An invited list of producers and VIP guests attended, including representatives from New York Theatre Workshop, The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Primary Stages, 59E59 Theatres, Broadway director Jeff Calhoun, and more. The actors performed Cyrano entirely memorized and off-book and cleverly incorporated the use of captioning and video design on a large TV flat screen monitor.
Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to our Cyrano donors who contributed to our fundraising campaign and made this very important New York opportunity possible: Phillip Baron, Cal Bartlett, JB Blanc, Eve Brenner, Carlease Burke, Johnny Clark, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Cathy Colloff, Debra Conklin, James Conley, Kimberly Cyzner Family, Lorraine Danza, Timothy Davis-Reed, Fred Dean, Donna Duarte, Susan Duncan, Michael Edwin, Mark Freund, Amy Frost, Heidi Girardoni, Jane Gordon, Gaby Gross, William Dennis Hurley, Trice Koopman, Ken LaZebnik, Robert Leventer, Dennis Levitt, Ruth Linnick, Betsy Malloy, Caitlin Marcus, Donne McRae, Susan Merson, Mills, Michelle Montooth, Joel Moreno, Russell Nore, Jenny O’Hara, Susan Oka, Z. Oppenheim, Patricia Parker, Cynthia Paskos, Patty Paul, Terry Paule, Sharon Perlmutter, Ralph Pezoldt, Allison Pickering, Lawrence Poindexter, Priscilla Pointer, Bill Pugin and The Sign Language Company, Terri Roberts, Mark Routhier, Rita Schneir, Sandy Schuckett, Susanne Spira Survivors Trust, Suanne Spoke, Marjorie Throne, Eileen T’Kaye, Zoltan & Dorcas Tokes, Andrede Toledo, Tate Tullier, Jessica Turner, Nick Ullett, Heidi Girardoni, Carol Watson, Marianne Weil, William Wilk. We could not have done it without you!
What happens now? We’ll see what the future holds for our unique, thrilling and moving ASL/spoken English version of Cyrano. In the meantime, enjoy these snapshots of the rehearsal process and the staged reading!
Casting is now complete for the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere production of the new comedy/drama Heart Song byStephen Sachs, directed byShirley Jo Finney. The trio of TV/Film/Stage actresses leading the way are Pamela Dunlap (“Mad Men”), Juanita Jennings (“Fences” at South Coast Rep) and Tamlyn Tomita (“Glee”, “Days of Our Lives”, “Joy Luck Club”). Heart Song opens May 25th.
Heart Song is a funny and touching new play that chronicles the personal journey of Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City struggling through a crisis of faith. Rochelle’s life is changed when she is convinced by friend Tina (Tamlyn Tomita) to join a flamenco class for middle-aged women. There she meets Daloris (Juanita Jennings) and an unforgettable circle of other women who propel Rochelle on a journey of sisterhood and self-discovery.
Pamela Dunlap (Rochelle) makes her Fountain Theatre debut in Heart Song. She is a film/TV/stage veteran who has guest-starred on dozens of TV shows including two years as Pauline Francis on TV’s Mad Men and two years as Gilda Rockwell on Commander in Chief. Her many film credits include Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling and I Am Sam with Sean Penn. On stage, she recently co-starred with Dorothy Lyman in August: Osage County and has appeared in regional theaters across the country including South Coast Repertory, Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, the Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum, New York Theatre Workshop and the Lonacre Theatre on Broadway.
Juanita Jennings (Daloris) recently co-starred in South Coast Repertory’s production of Fences. She is well known to Fountain audiences for her thrilling portrayal of Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and for her versatility in From the Mississippi Delta. She has also appeared at SCR in Jar the Floor (NAACP Theatre Award for Best Actress), and Twelfth Night. Other theatre credits include productions at New York Shakespeare Festival, the Negro Ensemble Company, Mark Taper Forum, The Old Globe and Westwood Playhouse. Her many TV roles include Edna on the Tyler Perry series Meet the Browns, and Dorothy Bascomb on The Bold and the Beautiful. She is also a Cable Ace winner for her portrayal in the HBO mini-series Laurel Avenue.
Tamlyn Tomita (Tina) is best known for the films The Day After Tomorrow,The Joy Luck Club, and Karate Kid 2. Other film credits include Picture Bride, Come See the Paradise, Four Rooms, Living Out Loud, and Gaijin 2. Soap opera followers know her as Dr. Ellen Yu on Days of Our Lives and Glee fans have seen her as Julia Chang. Tamlyn’s stage work include such productions as The Square and Don Juan: A Meditation (Mark Taper Forum’s Taper, Too), Summer Moon (Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre and South Coast Repertory), Day Standing on its Head (Manhattan Theatre Club), and Nagasaki Dust (Philadelphia Theatre Company). Tamlyn returns to our Fountain stage twenty-three years after winning a Drama-Logue Award when she starred in our very first production, Winter Crane, in 1990.
Also featured in the Heart Song cast are Andrea Dantas, Alicia Dhanifu, Mindy Krasner, Sherrie Lewandowski, Norma Maldonado, and Barbara Oilar.
Stephen Sachs is the author of the recent Fountain hits Bakersfield Mist (optioned for London/Broadway) and Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award). Shirley Jo Finney won the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for her direction of the Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed and award-winning In the Red and Brown Water. Internationally heralded flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez will serve as Heart Song choreographer.
That’s how all of them start, the scripts I write for my LA projects. It’s also how I’ve felt since moving from Chicago to Los Angeles. As if my life were a closed aperture with a really, really long release, my time here has slowly been coming into focus. What remains unclear is what comes after the shot is complete and the first scene begins. But that’s not what I’m looking to discuss just yet. This is about what comes before the shot. That slow fade. That build to first page. The beginning of the story. The how I got here in the first place, what I’m thinking now and what comes next.
When I left Chicago, I had a ten-month old daughter, many Chicago storefront theater productions and a severe antsyness from spending the entirety of my life (up to that point) in the Midwest. I also had a strong desire to try my hand at film and television, something I had only tested and played with during the previous ten years. Heading out, I thought I had more than enough clues about what my future could hold if I only did what I’d done in Chicago. If I continued writing, meeting people and getting better at my job, then surely there would be LA-based writing work to be found.
Then came the writer’s strike.
Then came the recession.
Then came the city of Los Angeles.
Basically—then came life.
If there’s any bit of advice I would give about being a playwright in LA, it would be this: when one moves to LA, life does not suddenly stop. I don’t mean that life itselfwill stop, I mean that your new Hollywood career will not be your only focus. It was a lesson I learned the hard way, my hope being I would be able to dive headfirst into the world of TV and film and let everything be carried away with the current. But life’s current is full of rocks and brambles and discarded plastic bags and who knows what else. Los Angeles is a city, but a different city than Chicago, New York or any place else that I have been to or know of. It has a rhythm that one has to truly root through and discover, much like one of those hidden object puzzles I used to ponder over as a kid in Highlight’s magazine. Comparing this hidden-object lesson to my time in Chicago, my writing life suddenly felt quite different. Perhaps it was the social aspect of rehearsal (and post-rehearsal) that made theater more engaging. Or perhaps it was the hands-on, do-it-yourself determination that can give theater (even in the biggest of houses) a weird, gritty momentum. Or perhaps I hadn’t truly thought of writing as a job, and since moving to LA, it had become just that. There’s a weight to that thought. A heavy weight. A heavy weight that never really goes away and creates a palpable squishing of ideas, thoughts and feelings reverberating through all Los Angeles coffee shops, gyms and bars. But that’s not entirely a complaint. That’s just a fact. LA is full of professionals (those gainfully employed or those “between jobs”) and the production of entertainment in LA is a citywideprofession. Thinking otherwise (and how can you not every once in awhile?) will only make you long for the days when theater could be a playwright’s only focus.
As my time in LA continued, my “fade in” began to open further and I gained more insight into keeping my writing-brain energized and from seeping out of my ears to a puddle on the floor. My mantras became:
1. Expunge the Desperation. After having numerous meetings with executives from across the spectrum of television and film, I learned a desperate writer is an unwanted writer. The suits can spot your “oh crap I need a job” vibe from in the lobby, so maintaining (or faking) ease is your best bet. I’m told often that show runners love playwrights, so know that you’re entering a meeting because you’re respected for what you do. Let that respect carry you. Be seen as a peer and not a just lowly cog in the machine.
2. Keep Writing. The first year I moved to LA, I thought, “Okay! Here I am! I’m a writer! I’ll go and find me a writer job!” It obviously doesn’t work that way. Just like the rest of the world, Hollywood employers often have all the employees they need and a backlog of friends (or friends of friends) who are just waiting for a slot to open up. The same crop of writers is nearly always looking for a new gig and if you’re new to town, you’re hopping into the unemployment line right along with them. There is a chance you might get a break and have something come along quick or it might be ages until you get noticed. The best solution is to keep writing. Whether it’s a spec pilot, a new play, a daily blog or just some ideas scribbled in a notebook, continue to put fingers to keyboard. Because the moment you stop doing your job, then the frustration and isolation of this company town will start to make you feel you’ve nothing to offer. But you do. There’s a reason a playwright comes to LA (and it’s not to surf). Write, goddamnit. Write.
3. Maintain Theater Relationships. Once you’ve left your city or town of choice and headed west, make sure to keep your theater relationships from dying on the vine. There have been times I’ve backed away from my playwriting career to focus on television and film only to find I needed to get back into the thick of what theaters are doing and think about who I should send a few scripts out to. Because I’m one of those folks who have always considered the theater my family, I felt shocked and lonely in its absence.. Once I realized that leaving town didn’t negate those family ties, I reconnected with the theater artists I care about and enjoy working with. The result is a healthy playwriting career and a burgeoning film and television career, which is exactly what I had hoped for.
4. Question Praise. Before moving to LA, I’d come on a visit and met with a guy from my old agency who told me he was my television agent. He took my wife and me out to dinner and laid on the praise like thick chunks of Philly Cream Cheese. With a twinkle in his eye, he promised money out the wazoo and a house in the hills. This scared the crap out of me, as it should any writer. True praise never comes easy and never comes quick, especially from someone you’ve just met. Only in the rarest situation does a writer “sell the idea in the room.” Often your writing (or your pitch or your staff meeting) passes through multiple brains and hands before it’s either taken on or rejected (most often, like playwriting, rejection is the result—but at least in TV and film, the rejection is quick). Go to meetings, do your best, and always challenge the hype.
5. Have Fun. There are many LA-type activities that your typical new-to-town theater artist doesn’t typically participate in, mostly because your typical new-to-town theater artist was typically at the theater, in rehearsal or at a bar. The beach (seriously, it’s like a freakin’ vacation twenty minutes from your apartment and it’s free), the art museums, the little towns surrounding the city and even LA’s own weird and wonderful history can wrap you up in oddly interesting ways. Ignore your career for a few hours (or days) and go outside. You’ll discover a major reason many people really like living here.
These suggestions come from my experience of learning to “fade in” here in Los Angeles. It’s taken a number of years to semi-understand the ins and outs, but the ability to adapt is a big part of semi-understanding. Just like when a writer begins a script, we know we still have a whole hell of a long way to go. But at least we’ve got our opening shot.
Brett Neveu’s work has been seen at many theaters, including The Royal Court Theatre, Writers’ Theatre, The House Theatre, The Inconvenience, The Goodman Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, TimeLine Theatre Company, A Red Orchid Theatre and American Theatre Company. He is a 2012 Sundance Institute Ucross Fellow and the recipient of the Ofner Prize for New Work as well as the Emerging Artist Award from The League of Chicago Theatres. Brett has been commissioned by The Royal Court Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Goodman Theatre, TimeLine Theatre Company, Writers’ Theatre, Strawdog Theatre and has several of his plays published through Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing and Nick Hern Publishing. He is also a proud ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theatre and currently lives in Los Angeles.