Thursday, September 22, 2005

Playwright's Weekend

“I haven’t been so uncomfortable since I first tried anal.”

That quote may be the best way to describe how several people felt during a good portion of our semiannual fundraiser this past Saturday. More on the above quote in a minute.

There are times I have to admit to myself that being a self-producing Off-off-Broadway playwright is just plain weird. The most obvious way to elaborate is to simply explain to you, dear readers, how my weekend went.

Nosedive’s semiannual fundraiser comedy show, this time entitled “Nosedive’s Bucket o’ Chum,” came and went on Saturday. Was it a success? Yes and no.

Financially — and in terms of what we set out to do — it was very much a success. We had a full house, made a sizable profit and will be able to use this money to finance a good portion of our December production of A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol.

As for the actual event itself, well…to be fair, you’d probably have to ask the audience. I’m going to go ahead and assume, however, that many audience members have seen better nights.

It started off well enough (with the exception of technical glitches; the Looking Glass Theatre did not provide us with any stage lights and the tap for our keg was being particularly tempestuous. Seriously, for a bunch of drunks like the ones in Nosedive you’d think at least one of us could successfully tap a keg). Our opening sketches got laughs, as did our mini movies we shot for this shindig.

But all of that changed once we did our “Jesus Doing Topical Stand-Up Sketch.”

For those who weren’t there, the idea was that Jesus, played by Scot Williams, was accepting a Humanitarian of the Year Award, and was a complete dick. His acceptance speech would basically consist of racist jokes and jokes about Hurricane Katrina, followed by a version of the Aristocrats joke. The Nosedive gang, of course, would lynch and crucify him (get it? Ha, ha!).

It didn’t work.

We got some gasps, some moans and some uncomfortable silence. Not laughter. It went over like we lobbed a hot and used diaper at the audience.

The original idea was not to espouse a racist mindset, but to mock it. Scot's a very religious guy and has a huge problem with the way the Christian Right has hijacked religion in America (hell, who doesn’t?). We saw the sketch as an indictment of the right-wing racism that helped increase the death toll in New Orleans.

[Also, in case you haven’t noticed, I personally derive a great deal of pleasure offending the histrionic left. I do have the habit of offending people solely for the purpose of offending people (with New York liberals, it’s even easier than offending the Christian Right sometimes). I really should try to fix this annoying habit of mine. So, obviously, Nosedive often goes in the direction of deliberate button pushing and antagonizing. (Sorry about that.)]

Unfortunately, the monologue ended up being so heavy handed that all attempts at satire were lost in the end. It wasn’t funny, simply offensive (and I’m not blaming Scot here; he went balls-to-the-wall with this, without fear, and I for one admire his chutzpah).

Of course, as I’m writing this, I am getting reports that a number of people really did enjoy themselves, although they agreed that the Jesus sketch was a train wreck.

My sincere apologies to everyone who came to this wanting to relax and have a good time and, instead, got very offended. We dropped the ball on that one.

After the sketch, we overheard from a female audience member give the aforementioned quote: “I haven’t been so uncomfortable since I first tried anal.” Beautiful. Seriously, we’ll be holding onto that line and using in future press material forever.


With some exceptions, many of our “regulars” were unable to attend this one. Someone who was able to attend was—with his wife—Pete and my high school theatre director, Steve Kelsey.

My initial reactions upon him entering the theatre were both, “Wow, excellent!” and “GAH!” “Wow, excellent!” because it was great seeing him and Priscilla and I was very touched that they came all the way from South Carolina to see our silliness, and “GAH!” because…well…we want them to have a positive impression of us.

I had to warn Steve that if they were expecting to see a fully rehearsed, tightly scripted and directed play, they were going to be sorely disappointed. “Think of this as one of our high school sketch comedy shows…only more unprofessional.”

I’m guessing we didn’t disappoint.

At any rate, as for how Steve found out about the show? He found out from reading Jamespeak. Who knew?

* * *

So that was Saturday.

On Sunday, Pete, Patrick and I went to see some staged readings presented by this new theatre company, Wild Child. And one of the scripts being read was “The Attempt,” by yours truly.

Earlier last week at a reading I ran into another playwright I know very peripherally (Jason Parker Green) who happened to be looking for short scripts. The next day, I sent him three (“The Attempt,” “Jiffy Squid” and the 10-minute Miss Tyler monologue from Monkeys). He chose “The Attempt,” which was read on Sunday along with 6 other scripts (two from Mr. Green, two from Mac Rogers and two from a playwright named Robert Steager).

It was a blast.

All of the plays were fun. I was of course terrified that mine would stand out as the shitty one, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The actors did an excellent job and the audience laughed.

It was a huge relief (HUGE relief) to see actors reading a script of mine without me having to worry about finding a space, spending money, publicizing or roping in favors from friends for potential audience members. Not only that, but it was super-fun to hear one of my plays being read by two actors I had never met before that night (and wonderful to see that it went over well with the audience).

It also made me feel better about the idea of submitting my scripts to other groups, since for the longest time it’s always ended up being some sort of scam (scam in that, in previous cases, I wouldn’t be rejected, but I’d be given a weird runaround from the group,* or they would fold, or otherwise not be able to get/keep their proverbial “shit together” to mount a production or even a reading).

Going from being Persona Non Grata to an Acceptable Member of Society within a 24-hour period is really nothing new to this bizarre underground shtick.

There are times I have to admit to myself that being a self-producing Off-off-Broadway playwright is just plain weird.

Offending and pleasing people
within the span of 24 hours,

James “Whiplash” Comtois

September 22, 2005

*By “runaround,” I mean there have been more than a few times where I’ve been told that the group was definitely staging the show, then I receive word that the group has folded, or abandoned the project, then I received word from another person even later that the project hadn’t been abandoned, but they went with another script. After this happening a number of times, whenever I’ve been asked for scripts of mine from other people or companies, my initial thought is that it’s a scam that leads nowhere.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

'Bout Time

Damn, it’s been a while. Please forgive me.

The obvious reason for my absence in this space is because my thoughts have not been on theatre — or anything remotely related — for quite some time. Sure, the Nosedive group has been having meetings here and there discussing what we should do for the next few shows, but it hasn’t been until very, very recently that these discussions have led to anything substantial.

It’s finally been decided that Nosedive’s Bucket of Chum, our fundraiser show, will be at the Looking Glass Theatre on September 17, A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol is being re-helmed at the Kraine Theatre in December and my adaptation of Frank Norris’s novel, McTeague, will be presented sometime in the spring of 2006.

Which means The Adventures of Nervous Boy will be staged during the fall of 2006 (God willing).

* * *

Obviously, my thoughts of late have been centered on New Orleans. I’m now in a bit of a bind. On one hand, this blog-type space is not really the place to add to the cacophony brought upon by political pundits that are flooding the airwaves. Yes, I know, I do rarely write about theatre in this theatre blog, but still it strikes me as a bit weird and inappropriate to rant about Hurricane Katrina in Jamespeak after an absence of a couple months.

At the same time, to return and act like it didn’t happen is also a bit weird and inappropriate.

Still, though, I’m not going to spend too much time on it here. I will, however, point you to the direction of my friend Jay Casale’s blog, which sums up some excellent points.

Suffice it to say, it’s quite depressing, people should donate what they can to the Red Cross on the city’s behalf and FEMA’s ineptitude at bringing aide is outrageous.

And that’s all I’ll say on the subject here.

* * *

I also want to offer heaps of praise and congratulations to Mac Rogers, Sean and Jordana Williams for their show Fleet Week: The Musical, which turned out to be The Show of the Fringe this year. They ended up getting more than 1,000 people to see their musical, which was wonderful. Mac recently wrote, “I’ve got to enjoy this while it lasts, ‘cause I know as soon as I go back to writing twisted little Mac plays it's back to 50-seat theaters with 25 unsold seats. You gotta figure Sean and Jordy are like days or hours away from figuring out that they could write hit musicals all by themselves and don't need to put up with my gloomy ass anymore.”

I don’t think so, Mac.

This may be the start of bigger and better things for the trio (and yes, that includes you, Mac).

Considering that, in the world of self-produced Off-off-Broadway theatre, the criteria for success are murky at best (how do you measure success in a field where money is lost 99% of the time?), and they have presented something that can unequivocally be considered a success. Hell; a hit. But I think Mac, Sean and Jordana have shown the rest of us what is truly a “hit.”

In a short while, the three of them wrote a very commercially viable, crowd-friendly show. And it didn’t feel forced in any way. Many times, people do try to write a work solely for the goal of being a commercial success. It rarely works. It ends up being a lose-lose situation for everybody. The audience loses, because they’re seeing some clichéd and forced piece of crap that’s intentionally insulting their intelligence; the writer loses because he’s writing something he has no interest in writing about.

That’s not the feeling that I got when seeing Fleet Week.

It was damn fun and damn funny. And the musical tunes were cool, too (bear in mind you’re also reading a post from a guy who’s not wild about musicals).

At any rate, congratulations on a huge success, guys. It couldn’t have happened to more deserving people and to a more deserving show.

You’ve shown the rest of us how it’s done.

* * *

Of course, because I’m a small and petty person, I also can’t help but see how the success of my colleagues’ Fleet Week shows how low on the already low totem pole Nosedive Productions is.

As Pete said at our last production meeting to figure out just what the hell we’re going to do for the next year or so: “We’re not dead yet.” We agreed. Doggedly, but we agreed nonetheless.

Here’s the deal, folks.

We’re sick of producing, absolutely sick of it. No, we’re not sick of getting plays produced, but producing them ourselves (and primarily paying for them ourselves). It’s become about as much fun as waiting in line at the DMV.

Sure, it was kind of fun when we started, since we had no idea if we could do it, and it was great to see (and show people) that we could. Well…after nine original productions in five years (15 if you count the fundraiser shows), we’ve pretty much proven unequivocally that we can. And — as much as I hate to admit it — a recurring thought I’ve been having is: “So what?”

Playing to 50-seat theaters with 25 unsold seats may have a shelf life.

Hell, why do you think I’ve been so absent from this space for so long? Every time I sat down to start writing, I would realize I had precious little to say that couldn’t be said in two or three paragraphs at most. I’ve also been trying to avoid any sour grapes issues here. Who really wants to read about that?

And it’s not really sour grapes; I’m not lamenting that we’re not rich and/or famous or anything like that. I am, however, noticing that the workload is getting bigger while the payoff is getting smaller. Well, not getting smaller, but…it’s flat-lined. This also may have to do with my interests — and Pete’s — veering elsewhere (film, prose, robbing liquor stores). As mentioned above, my thoughts have not been even remotely theatre-related for some time.

Maybe it’s just a phase. We shall see.

But on the upside of things, we aren’t dead yet.

And we’ll be doing another fundraiser show Saturday, September 17.

* * *

Since Martin Denton from may be setting up links to his site to other theatre blogs such as this one, I should post a little more often than every two months. Again, we shall see.

Arguing with the bartender,

James “It’s Not Last Call!” Comtois

September 7, 2005

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