Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Idea for a new play

November 10th, 2014

Someone who is always late (like, say, a friend of mine) comes into conflict with someone who is always on time and kept waiting (like, well, me). Hilarity doesn’t ensue.

It’s not much of an idea, I know, but it’s certainly animating me at the moment.

What I can’t write to

November 8th, 2014

My daughter and I are visiting my mother in southern New Jersey through next Wednesday. And I’m on deadline for a short play I’m submitting for an event next month.

My plan has been to finish the play today and send it off. My daughter asked me where I was going to work. I told her it didn’t matter, as long as people didn’t talk to me. My mother and my daughter were sitting up in the kitchen playing Rummikub, so I sat down in the living room with my laptop.

And sure enough, they came in to sit next to me and work on a puzzle.

And for my mother to ask me the same thing several times (she’s 89, with a strong need to know things).

And for my nephew to start hammering something onto the outside of the house by a window within my view.

But none of that was stopping me. It actually reminded me that I wrote one of my best plays — widely remarked upon by friends and even judgmental relatives as one of my best plays — while smoking a cigar and drinking wine and talking to an actor at the same time. And I usually write my plays while playing music. I’m used to tuning things out.

So I was feeling unstoppable, and pulling the play into the station as it were, when my mother went downstairs and turned on the television. Loudly. And I started overhearing what sounds like one of those Tim Allen movies about Santa Claus. Sample dialogue:

Father: “I guess I just have to go back and tell her I didn’t find Santa Claus.”

Tim Allen, with a chuckle: “Oh, but you DID!”

There was no writing anything on my play after that. At least, not while being within earshot of that. So now I’m writing this instead — and relocating upstairs.

Happy anniversaries

October 30th, 2014

Twenty-two years ago this evening, we opened Moving Arts. Throughout that time, our mission has been to premiere new plays by new writers. In 1992, we opened an evening of two of my one-acts. On Saturday night, 22 years later almost to the day, we open “The Gun Show,” a new play written by EM Lewis, a writer and friend (and former student) I admire tremendously. We’ve got a new artistic director who is talented and smart, and we’ve got an ongoing tradition of good plays done well by talented people. Tomorrow night will be no exception. It’s thrilling to me that this is the way we celebrate that anniversary: with another new production.

Tomorrow night I celebrate an anniversary of a very different sort. Twenty-seven years ago tomorrow, my girlfriend Valorie and I got married. Yes, on Halloween, and yes in costume. We dressed in replicas of 17th century French court clothes; my father was a clown and my mother was a witch (in costume, not in real life); my new father-in-law was Henry the 8th and my new mother-in-law wore replicated traditional Hawaiian garb. One friend came as a jester, the Roesbergs came as Groucho Marx and Mae West, my one brother was an Arab sheik and my other brother was a butler and my sister came as a cowgirl and the list of costumes goes on and on throughout the 200 attendees. We all had a fine, fine time. My wife and I produced that event and, years later, three children.

Whether for the theatre or the marriage, not every anniversary has felt like it merited an anniversary celebration. But especially when you realize that you’re in the third decade of each, you have to marvel at the accomplishment and be grateful for both.

Today’s (TV) music video

October 22nd, 2014

A tip of the hat to whoever is the music supervisor for “American Horror Story.” The episode tonight, and next week as well, will feature the Pere Ubu song “Road to Utah.” That shows good taste!

Check out the song for yourself:

Today’s music video

October 21st, 2014

Here’s another incredible performance by Puddles Pity Party, delivering a cover version that far exceeds the original.

Taking root

October 20th, 2014

Eleven years ago yesterday, on October 19, 2003, my son and I planted the tree you see above in our front yard. At the time it was a sapling, a five-foot-tall slender branchless stick with a clod of dirt wrapped at its base. Now its canopy grazes my roof and its web of wood provides a highway for squirrels, a sanctuary for birds, and a relief for my house from the relentless heat and sun.

How do I know the date we planted it? Because while we were doing it, I got a phone call confirming my contract with what turned out to be the first client of my new business, which gradually morphed into the business I now own. You tend to remember the date of a contract like that, when someone agrees to be the first to pay you a fair sum of money in a new endeavor because they’re taking your word that you’re good for your end.

In the eleven years since, that son has grown to be a 23-year-old man with his own successes and a career, the company has grown exponentially with three dozen client projects at any given time and a staff to handle them, and the tree has become a daily touchstone for me to regard on my way out in the morning and on my way in in the evening. It reminds me that we all take root with each other, that every thing is part of something larger, and that every day time passes and life goes on.

I can see for miles

October 20th, 2014

Which is a good thing, because that’s about how far back my seat will be for The Who, who will be playing the Staples Center.

Actually, the seats aren’t nearly as far off as the date: September 15 of 2015. I wonder if Daltrey and Townshend will still be alive then. Daltrey seems very healthy, but who’s to say that magic bus won’t roll over him unexpectedly? Townshend has been sober for more than 20 years, which certainly will improve his odds. If something happens to either, would they just get a substitute? Given past history, you better you bet. Fifty years later, and despite band deaths and determination that every tour was the “final” tour, it’s clearly too early for The Who to say the song is over.

Rotten for the win

October 20th, 2014

The news piece I’m about to link to is my favorite thing on the Internet right now. But first, a little background.

This time last year, comedian Russell Brand was encouraging people not to vote, partly because he never has, but largely, he claimed, because voting effects no change. Well, I can predict one change for sure: If you don’t vote your interests, the votes of other people, with interests opposed to yours, will count for more. Because there will be more of them. So let’s say you’re concerned about climate change and would like to see more research and funding, but you decide that your vote doesn’t count, so you don’t show up, and that all of your pals — the cultural elite who will even know who Russell Brand is — don’t show up either. Guess who will still be coming out. I think you see where this is going.

Anyway, here’s Brand’s infamous interview from last year:

Now, a year later and in an election season, an unlikely voice of tradition and reason has shown up to give Brand the finger. Yes, I speak of none other than Johnny Rotten. Mr. Rotten, whom some of us know as probably the most influential singer of the latter half of the 20th century, and who came to prominence in a band called The Sex Pistols (still an unbeatable band name), declaims that Russell Brand is a “bumhole,” and provides the public this seemingly rather un-punk-like advice: “Get smart, read as much as you can and find out who’s using you. I did. What’s wrong with you?”

Here’s the whole story. This makes me gloriously happy. The Sex Pistols were punks because of the failure of the establishment, just as Jonathan Swift was making a moralist point when he advised that the Irish end the famine by eating their own children. Mistaking The Sex Pistols and their ilk as stupid louts always reminds me of the line Joey Ramone shared about the Ramones, who right from the start were profitable and who always, always made money: “We’re dumb, but we’re not stupid.”

Today’s music video

October 19th, 2014

Sure, Leonard Cohen can write and sing weepy songs with great power. But he’s not a 7-foot-tall depressed clown.

Hallelujah – Puddles Pity Party from Gary Yost on Vimeo.


October 19th, 2014

Once upon a time, I posted here every day — sometimes multiple times a day. Lately, it’s been more scattershot. But I just noticed that it’s been three weeks.

I could provide a laundry list of other duties (something I know that Joe Stafford would enjoy; he always loves the laundry lists in my plays), and indeed I wrote a “chore list” for today so I could get everything finished that I’d like to (including working on my book; going to the gym; grocery shopping, which I handle because I stick to my budget; and work on my company — so there’s your laundry list, Joe).

But instead of going into all that, I’m just going to return to posting more often. Thank you for your patience — if you’re still out there.