Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Monthly Review

it's time for my annual accounting report I write. It's a tradition that I've done since I was a teenager and it helps me keep track of my goals. It also helps me remember things I've forgotten. I spend this day in reflection and review, while looking forward to 2017. So this was my 2016. No revising, no editing, just recalling and writing as quickly as possible....

JANUARY: New Starts 

- I returned to work on "BrainDead." I got to write two episodes (one sole writer and the other co-written with a producer). My contract was extended so I had to cancel my guest artist retreat to my friend's school in Switzerland. Although I was looking forward to the travel opportunity, I was glad that the show was continuing onward and they wanted me to be along for the ride.

- "Don't Smoke In Bed" began doing its first read throughs in London at Finborough Theatre. I was in communication with the director via skype and email. I was very excited to be in such competently British theatre hands. Everyone knows what they're doing over there, or maybe it just seems that way to an American sitting in NYC.

- "The Gospel According to F#ggots" started rehearsals again at Brooklyn Arts Exchange and I had a lot of new material. We figured out some scenes and were getting ready for our last public workshops. This was one of the most complicated plays I've ever worked on because it was experimental, highly stylized with dance/movement, poetry, and video interludes. But I was really enjoying the process.

- "Zoohouse" had another reading at National Black Theatre in Harlem and we began talking/planning the February workshop.

- Meanwhile I was on a MAXAMOO and NYTheatre Review tear, going to dozens of plays, writing reviews, doing podcasts, staying connected to this vital and alive world. "Discotropic" was the most innovative performance piece, which was a queer sci-fi funk dance project. "Skeleton Crew" at Atlantic Theatre Company was the most complete and satisfying work. And "Negrophobia" was the project with the most ambition and potential for development.

FEBRUARY: Theatre-centric

- BAX open workshop of "The Gospel According to F#ggots" was extremely helpful. The piece started to come together and the talkback guided me, thanks to fellow BAX artists Marissa.

- "Don't Smoke in Bed" opened at Finborough Theatre in London. It was a strange experience to be so distant and to hear raves and slams. Overall the praise to slam ratio was about 3 to 1. From the critics, I learned more about my collaborators and REALLY wish I could have been there because I heard that the acting was superb and the use of sound and set was innovative. One of these days I'm going to make it to London to thank the "Smoke" crew.

- "Zoohouse" workshop opens at National Black Theatre. By this time, it has been an unbelievable month of theatre. Three plays, 3 different hoods (Brooklyn, Harlem, London), 3 directors, 3 theatres. After working on "Zoohouse" for 18 months this was the final workshop and a fully-fleshed out workshop. Director Ebony Golden is on that jazz aesthetic level and infused the work with potent dance and songs. I felt like the audience was with the show and loved the twists at the end.

MARCH: Gospel

- "Gospel" was in transition with a lot of people leaving, not being available, or just disappearing. What ended up happening was that the piece got honed down to its essentials which was a 70 min selection that actually turned into a phenomenal and transformative for me to work through, substitute direct in places, work with a choreographer, ad-lib lines, arrange production, find the videos, get the videographer, and pretty much run around constantly. But I really loved the end workshop and was so grateful for the opportunity. Doing this piece again would bring me so much joy. We will see.

APRIL: End of the BrainDead Road

-My "BrainDead" contract could not be extended any more, or rather the network was not willing to pay me for more of my time, which was fine. I had been extended to over 30 weeks already and this was a dream first job. My work wrapped up the same week as my birthday.

- As "Gospel" was wrapping up I got a call from Skylight Theatre in LA. They were interested in "Obama-ology." Great, do it! I won't be there! LOLOL, little did I know....

- I met up with Jon Rivera at Signature Theatre. He was in town and wanted to talk about "Obama-ology's" LA production. He said he could get the play down to one-act and 99 minutes long. Good luck!

- SPAM was one of the oddest, richest works I've ever seen. It was a JACK's so it was two blocks from my house. Similar to "YOUARENOWHERE" this is a twisting work about identity in the 21st century.

- I began reading pilots, taking meetings for my screenplay "Judge/Jury/Execute," and figuring out what's next. I told my Brooklyn roommates that there's a chance I might be leaving. Don't know yet. But I want to give people a fair warning.

- my meditation improves as well as my time. Now that I no longer have a job, my default morning routine resumes: meditation, gym, and then reading/writing after lunch.

- my play "Running" gets into the O'Neill Conference!!! AAAAAAHHHH!!! And I can't tell anyone for weeks. AAAAHHHH! This is one of the all-time highlights. The O'Neill is a temple of American Theatre.

- I get into New Dramatists! AAAHHH! Once again, another iconic divine space of theatre. And I get 7 years to work and play. But I can't tell anyone for weeks! CRIKEY!!!

MAY: TV Again

- I interview for "Vinyl" and bomb. I am a lucky man. The executives were great but my mind was busy working on two different scripts while talking to them. It was a reminder to not get too cocky. Be more prepared. Do my work, read and re-read everything. But parts of me was ambivalent about the show, but it's still HBO. Do better.

- I don't even get to the interview section for another job. This was a tv show I interviewed for a year ago and I thought I did a good job. But through a series of travel snafus, they never came to NYC and our meeting was cancelled. By the time I tried to figure out a way to reschedule they had already moved on. I guess it wasn't meant to be. I have no doubt about it.

- I am guaranteed a job on another show. And a bump up to story editor. The only question is when said show will start. But with this private news I relax a bit and wait to see how things will suss out.

- I interview for two Dan Fogelman shows: "Pitch" and "Untitled Dan Fogelman Project." The first interview is with Jess and I am using a tiny side office at BAX so that I look somewhat professional. This time I am prepared, no repeat of the HBO debacle. A week or so later I interview for "Untitled Dan Fogelman Project." I was using the space at the Dramatists Guild Fund: the backroom near the kitchen. I had a thick head cold, but I push all the phlegm down to my toes, smile, and drop into a meditative space. I don't know whether it was the MJ flu-game, the setting, or the people, but everything clicks. Not saying that in a cocky way, but it's one of those times when you just 'know.' Like on a good first date or when you take a college class and realize what you're major is going to be and how the rest of your life will go forward from this one moment. No matter what happens, I feel good. I gave it my all. I was prepared. I was engaged. And I was loose because I was on cold medication but also I knew that there was another job pending.

- I engage in a back and forth between my agents, manager, and lawyer. They do their magic, I give my opinions, and we have synergy. And then I get the call of the year: I got the job for "THIS IS US." Unlike many of my friends I would have almost an entire week to move to LA (most only get 1 or 2 days). I tell my Brooklyn roommates, find a storage space, get boxes, plan out my last few Broadway tickets, and say my goodbyes.

- My farewell gathering was at Three Jewels. I was surprised at how many people showed up. I got pizza, snacks, and drinks. We laughed and talked in a beautiful space. It was so much better than meeting in a bar.

- I tell O'Neill and New Dramatists about the TV job. They're flexible and great.  I attend the Monte Cristo dinner for the O'Neill and meet some of the other fellows. I go to the New Dramatists banquet and I'm in the church!!

JUNE: La La Land

- I arrive in LA and sleep on my friend's couch. Another friend helps me find a nice 2 bedroom in West Hollywood off of Fountain and Fairfax.

- "Obama-ology" rehearsals are in full swing. Who knew that fate would bring me to the play! The cast is great and they have managed to trim the play down to a lean, full one-act.

- Free time is abundant so I figured I could try to lose some weight. The goal? 40 lbs. I find a trainer at the gym and start a regular workout regime. I also start monitoring my diet.

- I started dating! Or, in fact one date and a relationship starts. Who knew! No HBO flub on this.

- At the end of the month is the O'Neill. After work I go home, throw some clothes in a suitcase and hop on plane.

JULY: Theatre (in LA)

- O'Neill was fantastic. "Running on Fire" goes through several drafts until it sings. Maybe not the tune of traditional theatre, but the work is its own thing. Uncompromising, funny, tragic, speaking to the times. As Marsha Norma or Chris Durang would say 'this is clearly my voice.' And that's all I can ask for, because I am trying to hone who I am (as oppose to imitating past greats).

- btw, kayaking! I love kayaking. Who knew? I could kayak right now as I write this.

- "Obama-ology" opens. Overjoyed that this little play has my tone and signature stamped on it. I can't believe the journey of this work from an inkling, to a rough draft at Juilliard, Juilliard public reading and then in the school's summer play festival, before hopping across the pond to Finborough and then RADA. And now LA.

- I met up with a movie exec about "Judge Jury Execute." We are in agreement: this is important and we can work together, so we start doing 'the work.' I take the first series of notes and settle in for rewrites.

AUGUST: Hollywood Withers

- this is the slow time.

- I move to a new place on Palm Avenue in West Hollywood. I'm in the deepest and greasiest part of the gay jungle.

- I watch the news. I am lukewarm on Hillary Clinton and many of my friends feel indifferent to her, but we rally ourselves by looking at the alternative.

- "Obama-ology" closes. I loved the production. I wish more people could have seen the play but I can't be in charge of that. All I can focus on are the words. Toward the end of the run, the crowds grew due to word of mouth.

- I turn in rewrites for "Judge Jury Execute."

- I continue working out and add dance and zumba classes at night. The weight starts to fly off.

- a lot of brunches and meetings

SEPTEMBER: Premieres

- I go back to NYC for the New Dramatists ceremony. I stay some of the days in the New Dramatists loft, and some other times on a friend's couch in midtown. I miss NYC. The induction ceremony was wonderful and exciting.

- "This is Us" premieres. The audience response is a grassroots phenomenon that no one could have predicted. The first show opens to huge numbers. The writers and producers are taken aback. We all hoped for success, but few expected "Empire"-esque ratings. But the new kind on the NBC block starts off with a bang.

- Lama Chunzom comes to LA with the teachings of Master Kamalashila. I get a new set of meditations and dharma. Wisdom spreads!


- I write my TIU episode. And then the entire season gets re-broken so I have to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I think it ended up a lot better.

- I have lost 40 lbs. Now I'm going to 50!

- I rewrite "Judge Jury Execute" because... it's Tuesday. But the script is getting better.

- I spend Halloween out and away from my apartment since I'm located at the epicenter of the parade. I work out at Crunch, I eat a luxurious dinner, and then I watch a terrible movie at Sundance Cinema. By the time I get out it's past midnight and the party is starting to die down.

NOVEMBER: World Turned Upside Down

- I have lost 50 lbs. Now I'm going for 60.

- I'm on set for my episode. It is a new phase in my career, being in the meetings, talking with the actors. On "BrainDead" my job had already ended by the time they were shooting my episodes. And I found myself wrapped up in other work so I never went to the set.

- The election happens and the world is turned upside down.

- amidst the carnage of democracy I win an award. A fairly big award that I can't openly write about until 2017. But I am overjoyed! And the check cleared.

- I finish another draft of "Judge Jury Execute" and I think we're finally 'there.' The exec is happy, I'm happy, others are happy. Now we go looking for a director.

- "This is Us" becomes the clear runaway hit of the season. The numbers keep growing every week. By the end of the month we are on-par with "Empire."

DECEMBER: Nominations

- "This is Us" surpasses "Empire" in Nielsen Ratings. The only show bigger than it on network tv is "The Big Bang Theory." Maybe one day?

- Award nomination season and "THIS IS US" gets nods from SAG, WGA, AFI, NAACP. And then the Golden Globes! Three nominations, which means WE GET TO the after party. And maybe the writers are in a tent on the side during the actual awards, I don't know. But at least we got the after party.

- I finally have an excuse to go into the fancy cake bakery near my place, so I order a Golden Globe cake made from red velvet. But I'm trying to lose weight so I drop the cake off at the office, take a picture, and then leave. I heard it tasted amazing.

- theatre meetings happen. We will see if any of it leads to new opps in 2017.

- movie meetings happen. Once again, we will see if new opps are on the horizon.

- I get two salt lamps as gifts. My sinuses feel great.

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