Category Archives: News
I suppose I am a real writer now, readers. Why? Because four days ago, I received my first-ever real writing rejection.
Don’t mistake me, readers. I have been rejected as a writer before, but it was in a more minor fashion: plays I wrote not being chosen for school performance, losing essay contests, etc.
As I may have mentioned, I took a poetry and fiction writing class last semester, and I produced some work that I thought was fairly good. Since we only had four people in our class, I also brought in a piece I had written on my own, for critique. The class seemed to like it and gave me suggestions, and I polished it up as part of my final portfolio.
As I was working on this portfolio, I was also completing a project on a literary magazine for the same class. It’s very simple, I discovered, to submit to these magazines, and many of them don’t charge a reading fee. I decided to submit the aforementioned piece, a short play, to one of the magazines I had come across.
This was all about a month ago, and I had no idea when or if the magazine would get back to me. However, I am an actor; I’m pretty much used to putting myself out there initially and never hearing from someone again. I am prepared for this kind of thing.
Then Thursday came along and I saw an e-mail in my inbox from the very magazine to which I had submitted. The e-mail itself is very short, but while they could have written, “Thank you for submitting your piece, but we have decided not to publish it,” they actually referenced the piece itself, saying that they did find “the style, using the line breaks, effective , especially when reading drama” and wished me the best with it.
So it could be worse. No, I will not be published in this magazine this time around, but hey, at least they read it and noticed the part of the play I’d spent the most time on. I think it’s a good piece that could probably still use some revision, but I’m proud I submitted it. And now I feel like I’m officially a writer; all real writers get rejected :p
Last night, over two years of work was presented to an audience. After five hours of rehearsal over two days, my thesis play was performed. It was truly incredible.
Despite being a writer, I am lost for words. It was just unbelievable. I was ridiculously nervous. The reading took place in the fancy dining room in the castle on campus. I chose a seat in the most private corner I could find, but couldn’t sit down. All day, I was exhausted and running around gathering refreshments, creating playlists (that I later forgot at home), orchestrating the dropping off of music stands, and folding programs. Everyone kept saying, “Are you excited?!” and I would mumble, “Uh, yeah, sure,” eyes still fixed on my task.
I miss my second class of the day to attend the second rehearsal. The director was stopping scenes here and there to give some instruction, and for the most part, we were completely on the same page with what each scene and character needed. Also, the actors were fantastic. They ranged in age from eighteen to twenty-eight, and they were all wonderful at all of their parts (each actor played at least two characters, and in some cases, three.) They all had different voices and accents for whomever they were playing at the moment, and even sitting in a small conference room, they were performing as though for a crowd. It was great, and it was amazing to have people treating my work like it was a real play. All of the people involved were volunteers, but that didn’t mean they were any less enthusiastic and I just watched in gratitude as they read my words with their incredible skill.
At eight, we headed over to the dining room to set up. My parents were there already with some extra refreshments, as well as thank-you trinkets for my cast and director. People started coming in and I started getting nervous. I only knew some of them; others were the parents or friends or significant others of my cast.
At 8:35, my thesis professor came to the front of the room and introduced the piece (I had asked not to.) And then it began. From the start, the actors were even more amazing than they were in rehearsals. It was so exciting.
The best part were the reactions. People laughed at the parts I had meant to be funny (and some that I suppose were, too) and when it got intense, I could feel people listening. I’ve never had that reaction to my writing, and it was amazing.
Because I’ve heard these words so often, either in my head or read by the actors, I was really paranoid that the play was boring. I was so convinced of this that when intermission was announced at the end of Act I, I was on the verge of tears. But then people started coming up to me and telling me how much they liked it so far. I felt much better as the second act commenced and the audience was responding again. I took a lot of notes- things that worked, things that didn’t, things that could be cut, etc.
When the reading ended, both the cast and I got a big round of applause. Then came the actual worst part for me: since all of these people had come for me, I needed to thank all of them. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to everyone. Those I did get to were quite enthusiastic, though. My friend Lindsay came all the way from my hometown, nearly two hours away, to see the show, and when I went to see her, she exclaimed, “It was so funny!”
I’ve gotten this comment more than once on the script, but it always startles me. While I enjoy writing comedies, and I did write certain scenes to be funny, I never considered my play- in which, at one point, my main character is sent to an insane asylum and is threatened with lobotomy- to be a comedy. But I think what this reading in particular taught me is that both comedy and intense drama can exist in the same work. Funnily enough, I have observed this in other plays, but somehow never considered it for mine. However, I don’t have a problem with it being comedic so long as the drama can exist, as well. I just want people to enjoy my work.
Now, a day after its performance, I’ve gotten great feedback. A few of my classmates have commented on mentioning their wish to do the play at our university, which would be great; my school has done quite a few new pieces since 2007, and having been in one just last semester, I know that these pieces are treated with extreme respect and care. One of my professors- the one who actually gave me the assignment that birthed this project and who is a playwright herself- said that she would give me her feedback if I wanted it. I did, because she is brilliant, and she gave me some awesome comments, both complimentary and constructive.
And here’s another amazing part: as I said good-bye to my director, he hugged me, then smiled and said, “We’re not done.”
I hope not 🙂
On Friday, my first full-length play got its first public reading, and it was one of the most nerve-wracking, coolest experiences of my life.
I’d been nervous about this reading for a long time. Just the thought of it gave me butterflies in my stomach. A week ago, I was on my last day of spring break, sweating to make my self-set deadline of getting the script out to the cast by morning. I finally sent it out at 1:30 and practically collapsed from relief.
But that was just step one. Starting on Wednesday, I ran three separate rehearsals with various members of my cast of thirteen. Also on Wednesday, just after I had finished the a private rehearsal, I got an e-mail from another cast member, telling me she was at home sick and had to drop out of the show. Thankfully, it was easy to re-cast.
Thursday were the big rehearsals. They were the first time I’d heard my play read out loud in over a year, and I was ridiculously nervous. During the first rehearsal, I couldn’t hold anything; pencils and highlighters kept slipping out of my hands and I couldn’t think straight. The nerves ebbed as I listened to some of my actors read the pages. I was really happy with my choices, though one of them, I was thrilled about: my leading actress. I chose her because even though I’d never seen her act, as a freshman, she has a reputation as a great performer. Also, her voice is what I hear in my head when Mary, my main character, speaks. I was not disappointed; she was absolutely perfect for Mary in every way. She was thankfully able to come to both big rehearsals and read with the other actors, all of whom were willing to ask questions and take direction. I was really happy with the cast I’d assembled. Most of them were my friends, actors all, and it was really awesome to hear voices I knew read words I wrote. My friend and roommate played Peter, a role she’s always wanted to play, and it was so fun to see her come alive in the role. It was also amazing to have those words be taken seriously. People weren’t reading them like they were their friends’ words for a project; they read them like they were cast in this show and were at a rehearsal.
During those rehearsals, and especially the second one, I discovered that while I don’t like directing, I was perfectly comfortable giving my actors notes on how to tweak their performance, or how to keep it exactly how they had done it. Also, amusingly, I found out that I apparently have parts of scenes memorized, because I kept mouthing the words.
The next day was the actual reading. I didn’t know who would be in the audience. My thesis class was required to be there for the first hour, but much of my class was in the reading. I had visions of the three classmates not in the reading, my two professors, and the director in the audience. To my surprise, the audience was sizeable for my apathetic university. The actor playing Hook brought three friends, none of whom I knew, and a bunch of people from the department came, too.
I sat in a desk against the far wall while the reading went on and, as my advisor had suggested, did not have the script in front of me, only a notebook in which to jot things down. This forced me to focus on actually hearing what was being said, not what was written on the page. The cool thing about hearing your words read by actors who know what they’re doing is that you can see how those words will be interpreted should it ever be done again. You see where you might need to put a stage direction in or where the language is stilted. And best of all, when you have an audience, you get to hear their reactions. I was amazed at what I heard. Earlier this year, I talked to my academic advisor (who’s also the head of the theatre department) about this play very briefly. He didn’t say much about it, but labeled it a “historical feminist comedy.” I was surprised to hear this, since I look at the play as a drama, but on Friday, I found out that the play is a lot funnier than I ever thought. Mary is pretty snarky throughout the play, and a lot of people liked that, as well as the slightly awkward proposal scene, and the ever-loving Lost Boy Tootles, among other things. But my favorite reaction of the entire reading was when a teenage Captain Hook kisses Mary and someone in the audience gasped.
After the reading, we had a talkback. For those not ensconced in the world of theatre as I am, a talkback is what happens after the performance of a play when the audience can ask questions of the actors, the director, or, in this case, the playwright. The actors sat with the rest of the audience while my advisor and I sat in front of everyone. Afterward, my roommate said, “When you two were sitting up there, I just thought, ‘He’s like a proud papa bird showing you off, like, “Look what she’s done!”‘ You’re like his protegee.” I would give a few million dollars to be considered my advisor’s protegee, since he’s amazingly awesome. During the reading’s intermission, we were talking about the plans for the talkback with my thesis professor and my advisor said, “We’re not going to let you ask questions of them because if you ask for negativity, you’ll get it. I’m not going to let anyone tear down your play!” His reasoning for this was not necessarily to protect my feelings, but that many of the people in the audience, even if they were actors, don’t know the process of writing a play, so their suggestions might be negative and also, not helpful to a playwright. “They’re not going to write your play for you,” he said.
With that guidance, it was a pretty useful talkback. Any criticism had to be phrased as a question, and those are going to be helpful in examining some things in the play. Overall, though, people really liked the play, and I’m really excited to look at it again with their comments in mind. There’s definitely a lot of work to be done, most of which won’t even be done before the next reading, but I’m excited to get back to work.
When the talkback ended, my thesis professor, my advisor, and my director were all waiting with their pads of paper, but while I love all of them, I was so exhausted that I didn’t want to discuss anything in depth. Apparently, stressing yourself out is pretty draining; I was about to fall over. Thankfully, all three of them said they needed to think things over and would e-mail me. I told my director that there were a few actors from this reading that I would really like in the public reading, but didn’t say who. To my delight, when he e-mailed me later with a proposed cast list, most of the people I loved from my reading were on his list- including my wonderful Mary and my roommate (though sadly, not in the role of Peter, since the director thinks it’s important that Peter be played by a guy. However, he liked her so much that he wanted to cast her somehow.)
As I walked one cast member back to his car, he said to me, “Thank you for letting me be a part of this. This is a real play.” So many of the other cast members were equally as gracious, sending me thank-you texts, even though it was them who had done me the favor.
So now I have two weeks to revise before I give the cast the script. I’ll conference with my professor and advisor this week and probably be completely overwhelmed by everything they tell me. But I’m really happy to have taken this step and that it was a success!
Yes, I, Rachel am back being the advocate for young adult fiction, something I will always be and do my entire life. Thankfully, I’m not doing it alone. One of my favorite authors, Maureen Johnson, spoke to The Guardian about why YA is beneficial. I love her.
Some choice quotes from the interview:
“The reason [YA] has taken off so much is that it’s good. I think it’s as simple as that. It’s exciting.”
“These books change lives in a very positive way, an almost universally positive way.”
“It has its detractors and its detractors generally don’t know much about it. [They] tend to cherry-pick five books, half-read them, and say ‘All of this is nonsense.’ It’s not nonsense, it’s good stuff.”
It should be noted that Johnson’s books have been banned from several school libraries by the aforementioned detractors. As Johnson stated, they half-read her books. The biggest one in question (and also my favorite of hers) is The Bermudez Triangle, which is about three girls that have been best friends since they were very young and what happens when two of those friends begin to date each other. The red flag instantly went up as soon as the word “gay” was sighted, but the parents that fought against this book claimed it was obscene because of (gay) sex scenes. There are no sex scenes in the book, between either the two girls or the third friend and her boyfriend. There is nothing beyond kissing, but the parents were desperate to have such a book banned from their children’s lives. This kind of thing makes me sad.
But interviews like this make me happy. Rock on, Maureen!
(Also, you should check out Maureen’s blog. She doesn’t update super often, but it’s one of the funniest things you’ll ever read. I was actually introduced to her books through her blog; I read it for a good eight months before I read any of her books. While her blog posts are great, her books are even better.)
One of our most avid readers and commenters, MikeReverb, has nominated us for the Versatile Blogger Award! Look how pretty it is!
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass this award along 15 or 20 fellow bloggers.
4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.
NUMBER ONE: Check
NUMBER TWO: SEVEN THINGS ABOUT US!
1) We met when we were thirteen years old through mutual friends. A few months into our friendship, Stuart invited Rachel to audition for a film he was writing with his film company. These days, Rachel is also a member and the company goes by the name Enscribe Studios.
2) Stuart studies black holes.
3) Rachel eats her food strangely (this one was suggested by Stuart, who has witnessed this.) For example, when we were compiling this list, she was eating the layer of skin inside a clementine’s rind. Rachel’s mother often begs her not to eat in public, for fear of family shame.
4) Stuart knows Middle English and read The Canterbury Tales in the original language.
5) Rachel lived in London for five months in the beginning of 2011, had two of her short plays produced while she was there, and appeared in an off-West End show.
6) Stuart has studied Jidokwan.
7) While she is very good with words, Rachel’s dyscalculia gives her the mathematical prowess of a third grader.
NUMBER THREE: SPREADING THE LOVE
Hm… I don’t think we know that many bloggers, and Mike has already been nominated. But we shall nominate all that we know! In no particular order of awesomeness:
NUMBER FOUR: Check.
Thanks again, Mike!
Or, I suppose, the answer to the mystery discussed in this entry.
In the middle of last month, I put out some feelers for a director for my thesis. I sent out an e-mail containing a synopsis and general project idea to two alumni from my school that had been suggested, one that I knew and one that I did not. While I was sure they are both competant directors, I thought I knew what to expect: one of them would respond (maybe, if they had free time) and would take pity on my schoolgirl project.
So imagine my surprise when both of them said yes, leaving me with the wonderful conundrum of having to choose. I eventually chose the alumnus who had contacted me first, partly because he had done so, and partly because he had been suggested to me on two different occasions. Also, he was fantastically enthusiastic. I sent him the script on a Sunday at 11 p.m. By 9 a.m. on Monday, he wrote me back saying that he loved the project and would be delighted to direct it. This was amazing and shocking to me, as I had met this alumnus very briefly a few times. Also… he loved my writing?! In the e-mail to me, he called it “a beautiful, moving piece of work.” I was speechless.
We e-mailed back and forth for all of February. I practically did a happy dance when I got a message from him asking what sources I used while I was writing the play, because he was doing some research and wanted to look into them. He was doing research. On something I wrote. A little over a year ago, I had two short plays produced in London, and it was surreal to realize that a huge number of people were auditioning and vying for roles that I had created. This was just as crazy.
He and I met up last night to discuss the reading, and after doing so, I’m so excited. He’s absolutely perfect for the project, and he also really cares about what I think about it. This seems like a given, and maybe it is for staged readings, but in general, the playwright doesn’t get much, if any, input into a project. I can already feel that this is a gem of an experience.
Wednesdays are always stupidly busy days for me- five class sessions, as well as a four-hour Children’s Hour rehearsal- but the rare free time I have will be spent frantically starting and finishing my revisions that I’ll be going over with my advisor on Friday morning. Guess who’s pulling an all-nighter tomorrow night?
Just this morning, I read a great article in The Guardian by one of my favorite authors, Maureen Johnson. In the article (read it here), she discusses J.K. Rowling’s upcoming adult novel. Some of the public seems to think that the novel may flop simply because Rowling has previously written only children’s novels, and adult novels are infinitely harder.
This statement never fails to turn me into a giant squid of anger. As a reader and writer of primarily young adult literature myself, I find this view offensive. As Johnson says in the article, “It seems to be the received wisdom that books angled at the younger set are simply not quite the same thing as books aimed at adults: not quite as challenging to write, not quite as challenging to read. And it is my boring yet constant duty to explain that books for younger readers are some of the most challenging and well-written material out there. Children and young adults (or adolescents, whichever you like) are among the most athletic of readers. Unlike adults, they do not normally restrict themselves to one genre. They read broadly, experimentally, and with considerable passion.”
Since I was a young reader, I have read a mix of children’s and adult literature, and to be honest, almost always preferred the YA to anything else. This probably had something to do with the fact that the protagonists were closer to my age, but also, the stories in general were more active, more skillfully written, and all around better. This is not to say that adult fiction is substandard, but it is a fact that young audiences won’t tolerate a boring read, and let’s be honest: some adult fiction is boring. And even though an adult book might not be snooze-inducing, young adults refuse to sit through a fifteen-page description of the main character’s morning routine when it could easily be summed up in fifteen sentences. They don’t want filler, they want action. Adults are willing to tolerate unnecessary narration, but children demand only quality material.
Of course, just as with any genre or category, there is bad YA fiction. However, there is a certain pressure and duty that falls on children’s authors that adult fiction writers don’t necessarily have to deal with: that their readers are experiencing certain things for the first time and are looking to books to see that they’re not alone. This is one reason why I don’t believe that any YA book should be censored or banned- because finding out that you are not the only one who has gone through something can save your life. YA readers are picking up books not just to go on the spectacular journey between its pages, but to find out that they’re not the only one who hasn’t been kissed/is struggling with their sexuality/had a terrible fight with their best friend/has had thoughts of ending their life. On the other side of that coin, YA characters are also going through the triumphs they are; certainly, a YA reader can understand the happiness an adult character experiences on their wedding day, but right now, that reader can relate much more to the joy of being accepted into their top college.
I’m digressing a bit, but my main point is that YA and children’s literature is not substandard to adult fiction, in either the reading or the writing of it. They are on the same level and should be accepted as such. Rowling’s new adult book may not do as well as the Harry Potter series, but almost nothing as done as well as the Harry Potter series. As Johnson continues, “Let the book stand on its own. The bridge can be crossed in either direction. Many adult authors are now streaming over to the younger side, seeing the rich potential audience there. Rowling, who helped to build the bridge, is walking in the opposite direction. And why shouldn’t she? She’s following her ideas where they take her. Cross-pollination in reading and writing is a good thing: writers moving into new storytelling areas, kids reading “adult” books, adults reading “kid” books. They’re all stories.”
All stories indeed. Why don’t we strip the books of their age-dictating labels? Books are books, stories are stories. If you enjoy it, read it.
Recently, my university introduced a new MFA Creative Writing Program, and since its advent, we’ve been privileged to have some really awesome writers come and visit. This past Friday, though, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, the castle was host to someone a little different: Keith Strunk, an actor, writer, and producer who had come to Arcadia to discuss using the tools of acting in the field of writing.
The posters thumbtacks around campus bore the Hamlet quote, “Suit the word to action, the action to the word,” an excerpt taken from Hamlet’s speech to the players he’s hired to perform the “fictional” play about a malicious man who kills his brother, the king. Strunk, however, used this phrase to begin a discussion about something else: How can a writer use an actor’s approach to words to influence their work, or make it better?
Strunk started out as an English major at Ursinus College, and only after he graduated did he find his way to the world of performing. These days, the award-winning scriptwriter runs River Union Stage, is a member of the Philadelphia Liar’s Club, and is currently ghostwriting a non-fiction book. Most of his fictional work, he shared, begins with a line or two of dialogue, from which springs a bigger idea.
Due to my chronic earliness, I got to talk to Strunk for a bit before the event began. In person, Strunk is energetic and inquisitive, and his open, friendly manner make you instantly comfortable around him. After calling accidentally attention to myself as a “theatre person,” Strunk asked me if I was there for just the acting aspect of the talk, or the writing part as well. I told him both, and he even asked me about my thesis and how it was coming about. When he found out that I had been trained in the Meisner technique, he asked me to help him with an exercise during the event.
To begin his talk, Strunk defined Method acting. “How many of you roll your eyes when you hear the phrase, ‘Method actor’?” Most people, including myself, raised their hands. Strunk went on to explain that the approach to performance first only included the teachings of Lee Strasberg, but now a Method actor is anyone who has any affiliation with Stanislavski’s teaching.
“But what does that have to do with writing?” he asked the group at large. “Who cares?”
He went on to quote famous acting teacher Sanford Meisner, who defined acting as “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” In the later stages of Meisner training, an actor learns that in order to make a scene live, they need to know who they’re talking to, how they feel about that person, what their own point of view is, and what action they’re playing- even if they’re onstage alone. One part of Meisner’s exercise is to have one actor in the room and another actor knock on the door. When Actor #1 opens to door to Actor #2, the latter must have a reason for being at that door. “Think about it,” Strunk pronounced. “No one goes to any door without an intention. Even if they claim they don’t have an intention, there’s an intention behind that statement.”
This is the same for writing. Strunk pointed out that all intentions stem from being specific- what does my character want? Why does he want it? What will happen if she doesn’t get it?- and looking at the specificity of an action makes a scene work, on the stage or on the page. Every scene must have a conflict, something to raise the stakes, and each character must have a point of view about that conflict. If none of these exist, the scene probably does not help the story move forward. “Characters,” Strunk told the group. “Need to need something.”
About halfway through the talk, Strunk called me up to demonstrate the Meisner technique of repetition. He explained to the crowd that the point of the exercise was to remain neutral in your delivery until you had the impulse to change something. This was a speeded-up version of the exercise; in my experience, it can takes weeks to be allowed to go beyond being neutral. He and I stood facing one another in front of the crowd and Strunk’s eyes landed on my polka-dotted rain boots. “Those are funny boots,” he commented. “Those are funny boots,” I repeated. “Those are funny boots.” “Those are funny boots.” Back and forth, we parroted the phrase, eventually allowing inflections from anger to joy to disbelief to understanding, to enter our phrases.
“But,” observed an audience member, “It seems as though you’re manipulating the meaning.”
“Exactly!” Strunk exclaimed. “And it seemed false, didn’t it?” The observer nodded. “The point of a Meisner exercise is not to manipulate the words when you feel they need a change, but to allow the words to be spoken differently because you feel an impulse to change them. It’s not premeditated.”
Strunk later used a similar example when a student in the audience asked how actors manage to keep their lines fresh every performance. Strunk explained that while improvisation of lines is frowned upon in performance, one must think of the recitation of lines as an improv with predetermined words. “You use techniques to build a framework, like walls of a log flume. You’re the car, and you set yourself on the top of the hill and let yourself go. Those walls, that framework, keeps you on track, but you still have room to play.”
The great thing about actors, Strunk pointed out, it their ability to be open and the fact that they never lose touch with their inner child. Writers could benefit from the same lesson, being open to play with their scenes and dialogue. “It’s that old writing adage: you can’t have a favorite character, scene, or line. You have to be willing to play around with it and throw things out if necessary.”
Strunk also remarked that even writing non-fiction can be fun. “It’s still about connecting with the audience, to the idea of things.” He mentioned an instance when he met with the subject of his ghostwritten book. The client works in what one might consider a dry field, one full of charts, graphs, and numbers, “but what I wanted his honesty and ability not to judge people to come through [in the writing.] I wanted to connect through the humanity.” Strunk pointed out that non-fiction is just as viable a form of writing as novelization, and just as difficult, if not more, because the writing has to be clear and connected for someone who is trying to learn about the book’s subject.
The most important thing I took away from Keith Strunk’s talk was that a solid foundation and willingness to play within that foundation can be the key to a successful career, both in acting and writing, as well as beyond. If you’re willing to trust your words to do some of the work for you, then you’re well on your way.
Guess what’s happening, blog readers?
THINGS, that’s what! Very, very exciting things that are so awesomely awesome that I am afraid to share them with you. (I am very superstitious in this way. I very strongly believe that a good thing spoken of is a good thing that will be taken away.)
I will tell you about them as soon as they are more set in stone, but the basic thing is that someone more influential than I read my play and called it “a beautiful, moving piece of work,” “a fully developed play with a very assured and mature voice,” and “Seriously, the best play I’ve read in a long time.”
…I may or may not have cried, I was so happy and excited.
(Also, side note: I have taken a brief hiatus from recreational reading as I memorize my lines for a production of The Children’s Hour that I am in, but Stuart will be here soon with reviews!)
Today, dear readers, is the day that I pretty-much-except-for-some-medical-facts/words finished my latest novel!
Of course, I am using the word “finished” loosely; this draft is finished. But I’m still very happy, as this is a novel I’ve been working on for over two years and made a gigantic mess of during National Novel Writing Month in November. So this is good!
Also, side note: there will be posts that are not reviews coming up soon, when Stuart and I get into the swing of our final semester (eek) of undergraduate education. In the meantime, in mere minutes I will be posting a review of John Green’s latest novel, The Fault in Our Stars!