I grew up in a post-war housing development in Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. My parents were card-carrying agnostics living in a neighborhood of Traditional Jews (the synagogue was at the end of our street) and Catholics (their church was across from my school.) I spent many a Saturday morning sitting in our window watching those going to temple walking past our house in their best clothes on their ways to Skokie Valley Traditional, and many a Sunday morning watching those going to church pile into station wagons for the short trip to St. Joan of Arc. On steaming hot days in the summer, I didn’t envy them. All the rest of the time, I did.
From childhood on, I actively searched for a religion to which I felt I belonged. I tried the Big Three; I chanted with Buddhists; I visited the B’ahai, who’d built by far the coolest temple up north on the lake. Meanwhile, my mother constantly took us out of school for matinees downtown: I saw Eve Arden rave in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Sandy Dennis run her fingers through raw hamburger in And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little, As You Like It, with a whole bunch of old people in it, The Organic Theatre’s famous mostly-nude adaptation of Animal Farm, with a whole bunch of young people in it, Oliver! and a million high-school productions of Oklahoma! When I graduated from Goddard College in the late ‘70s, I thought I had found my true religion: poetry. This was because I got into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in Poetry, and I thought it was a sign.
A week into grad school, I realized that sitting around all day writing poetry was not enough for me. Also, I could not quote Yeats. I had wasted my youth on horses, odd jobs and road trips, and couldn’t quote one great writer, let alone a poet. I was an embarrassment to myself. I avoided facing this by enrolling in a course called Basic Playwriting taught by a grad student named Lee Blessing. When the head of the Playwriting Department suddenly quit his job, he was replaced in a matter of hours by an insane Scottish playwright named Tom McGrath, whose exquisite play, The Hard Man, was a huge influence on me, and subsequently by Phil Bosakowski, who taught us that plays were agile things which could be written in a matter of minutes, put on by oneself, and moved on from, like stepping stones, to new places. To me, it seemed like writing a play was just a matter of pumping up a poem. Thus began my journey towards Theatre, my passion, the temple, the church where I belong.
The sheer joy of writing sustains me through good times and bad, allows me to discover things I didn’t know, to work out problems I’m too immature to handle yet, to feel love and gratitude in an often unlovable, ungracious world. I like lending this out in teaching. A practical person, I like teaching people how to sell what they write. I crave the freedom of working on a novel in obscurity, and I enjoy the restrictions inherent in writing a villanelle, or a play, or a screenplay. I love inventing people and deeds, and I love working my own life into a character’s, so that I can deny that I ever personally thought or did such things. I teach from the experience of almost thirty years of daily fighting and flying with my talent and my shortcomings and the infinite possibilities inherent on a blank page. I like engaging in dialogue over new work. I ask students to read constantly in order to find out how other writers handle certain things. I encourage a habit of writing to form. I know the psychology of being a writer as well as structure and form, and enjoy sharing this as well. I like helping writers get over the fear of revision, find inspiration, and see all the fantastic possibilities in their ideas. I love narrative and I love busting narrative. I love the stage picture and all the elements of performance that one can bring into an evocative piece of theatre. If I have a static philosophy, it’s something like, as Roethke put it, “…I learn by going where I have to go…”
My most recent play is What’s Buggin’ Greg, winner of the Macy’s New Play Prize, which will be produced by Cincinnati Playhouse and tour during the 2012 season. Other recent work includes a film, Ninja Mom: Mother’s Day, Makeover! a theatrical musical based on the life of Estee Lauder, and new plays, Our Suburb and The Posthumous Democrat. I am also working on a novel called Mass For Shut-Ins. My stage adaptation of Disney’s classic, Snow White, just finished playing at Disneyland for the past 5 years. I’ve written extensively for television, including movies of the week for CBS, NBC and Hallmark. My adaptations of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! and The Boxcar Children, with composer Kim D. Sherman, have toured all over the United States. O Pioneers! was filmed for American Playhouse with Mary McDonnell in the lead. My play The Stick Wife continues to be produced all over the U.S. and Europe. Hearts Are Wild, an original rock musical with composer George Griggs opened in Pittsburgh at City Theater in 2006 and Sabina, a chamber musical about Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein, with book by Willy Holtzman and music by Louise Beach, is in the works, as is Club California, a musical about prostitutes in Kosovo, with composer Craig Safan. Heartland, an original musical, also with Kim D. Sherman, has been produced in regional theaters since 2000. I’ve won numerous awards, including an NAMT Development grant at Human Race Theatre, a Rockefeller grant, an NEA and a Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Award. I am a member of The New Dramatists and The Lark Theatre in New York City.