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


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Weekend revelations!

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

1.

On Friday night at almost midnight, I finally finished humping all those heavy boxes of comic books back and forth. At some point in my past, I weighed some comics boxes and discovered that each one, fully loaded with comic books, weighs about 60 pounds. Did I mention that I was moving 20 of these boxes from the “office” in my house to the kitchen to a staging area to sort, then out to the back yard, and some of them back inside? So that’s 1200 pounds hither and yon for about 12 hours.

My first revelation was:  Maybe I should give up that gym membership and just do this three times a week.

My second revelation was:  My life would have been completely different if I had collected baseball cards instead.

 

 

2.

On Saturday, my playwriting workshop resumed. I started running this workshop, “Words That Speak,” in 1993. Twenty-six years later, it and I are still here, and in the same location. (Moving Arts, in Silver Lake.) We’ve got stick-to-it-iveness.

When you invest three hours most Saturdays for 26 years in going over people’s pages and trying to relate why something is working well in them, or is not working well, or could work better, you dip into not only past playwriting and teaching experience, but also life experience. I heard myself share this, about how your perspective changes as you age:  “When I was a kid, I was always right, and my parents were doing everything wrong. Now I’m mostly a parent, and it’s my kids who are doing everything wrong.”

Driving home, I realized:  Hey, but I was always right!

 

 

3.

Most Sundays, I do the grocery shopping. That’s because I have a budget of $180/week and I stick to it. I mean, If I had extra money to throw around on groceries, I’d rather spend it on more comic books or more theatre tickets. (My wife’s version of grocery shopping is to spend twice that amount and crow about how much she “saved.”) I make a grocery list, yes I clip coupons, I stick to my list, I tabulate the expenditures as they pile up in the cart so as to ensure that I’m within budget, and then I carefully select a preferred checker, one who will ring me up correctly and accept all my coupons. Last year, there was a lady who not only rang me up wrong three weeks in a row but was quite nasty about it even when, I promise you, I was quite nice about her almost costing me six dollars extra. The whole endeavor takes me 45 minutes. You could set your watch by it. I don’t know how the invasion of Normandy was planned, but the weekly incursion of Ralph’s supermarket is plotted to a tee.

My favorite checker is a guy about my age named Raul. I like Raul for three reasons:  He rings me up right; he’s a store manager, so if there’s anything questionable, he never has to call for a store manager; and if there’s ever any question about any of my coupons or any sale item, he just takes my word for it. (As he should; I would never cheat them.)

Today he asked, “Why’s your hair look different?”

“I just left the gym,” I said, thinking momentarily of the dime I’d found at the gym and slipped happily into my pocket. “I took a shower there and dried my hair, but I didn’t style it. If I put in styling paste now, then I’d have to wash it in the morning, when I don’t need a shower — because I just took that shower at the gym. This way, I can just wet it and go. And get 10 minutes’ more sleep.”

“You’re like me,” he said, “always thinking two steps ahead. You have to when you have kids!”

Raul’s always grumbling about his kids. I didn’t know what they had to do with it — but on the other matter, the more I thought about it, I thought he could be right:  Maybe I am always thinking two steps ahead!

In 2006, I took the employee of a client out to lunch so I could learn more about the client’s company. She asked me what I was doing for them, and how it worked, and then when she fully understood, she turned to me and said, “So you think all the time? How exhausting!”

Well, it can be exhausting. (And it sure isn’t helpful for sleeping.) But… maybe… it also helps me stay two steps ahead.

I’ll have to think more about this.

Collecting value

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

We’ve got guests coming next week — guests we actually want to visit, but thank you for wondering — and so we’ve resolved to make further accommodation here at our hostel-in-waiting. Yes, we have… let me count … six bedrooms, or potential bedrooms, but one is my writing room (and so, nonot a bedroom), and one we still call “the office” although it was originally a master bedroom when built in the 1950s, as it also has a bathroom with shower. Our daughter moved to the unfashionable state of Florida last year, but our two sons are still with us, so that fills three bedrooms. Accordingly, we decided to house my great-nephew in our daughter’s former room, and to clean out the “office” (more properly, the “former office”) and turn it back into an en suite suitable for our much-loved friend from college.

In addition to bookcases stuffed with books, and one of the computer stations, what else is in the “office”? Part of my comic-book collection. By part, I mean about 20 long boxes. I know what you’re thinking:  only 20? That’s what I would think too. But there are another 40 in the garage. And two upstairs in my writing room, for… um… reference. And half of one in the master bedroom; those are the comic books I’m actively reading. So that puts me at owning about 19,000 comic books.

Such a small number for a grown man.

When I look at them, frequently all I can see is the ones I don’t have. Can you believe that I’m still missing a few issues of Herbie? I can’t.

A couple of years ago, my eldest son recently read my entire run of Lucifer, which I testify to you is gobsmackingly good and nowhere near as dopey as the idiotic television show theoretically derived from it. (Hey, let’s take the former angel of light, the Macchiavellian schemer with his own side of things as portrayed in the comic book, and in the TV show have him solve cases for the homicide bureau. ‘Cause, why not?) The entire run of Lucifer consists of a 3-issue miniseries, and a 75-issue main run, providing in all one of the comic-book-reading highlights of my life. In reading this run, my son said said, “Hey, you know you’re missing one issue.” “No, I’m not,” I countered cleverly. He said, “No, you are.” Then he showed me. There was indeed a gap in the run. … You have no idea how frequently I’ve thought about that gap in the run since this exchange of two years ago. … I know I bought all 78 issues, and read all 78 issues. This means that, somewhere within those 19,000 comic books in those 60ish boxes, there’s a misfiled issue of Lucifer. At some point, I will pay someone, one of my offspring, or maybe someone else — maybe even the great-nephew who’s coming to visit — to look carefully through all of those and find it, goddammit, and put it where it belongs.

Today, sizing up the available space in the “office” collection of comic books, and eyeing the “garage” space of comic books, I decided I’d pare back a little. I mean, common sense, right? Why did I have a few issues of Transformers? Channeling Marie Kondo, I figured that I could probably identify 600-1800 comic books that I could part with, if I could pull all the comics out simultaneously, cull the runts quickly with no further thought, thank them for their service to me and wishe them well in their next life, and if they were mostly from the 1990s when the artwork was truly abominable and the stories unmentionable.

The good news:  Eight hours of hauling 60-pound boxes of comics inside from room to room, and outside to a staging area, and I’m halfway done. And it’s only 7 p.m.!

I approached my two sons and asked if either wanted to put the soon-to-be sacrificed comic books on eBay or Local5 or whatever the hot selling site is these days. One begged off, having been down this route before; the other looked at me and, sizing up my state of mind, took pity and agreed to do it if he could keep half the revenue or even all the revenue. Once he signed on (although the specifics aren’t finalized), I started lugging all the comics destined for a new home outside under the carport (“out of sight; out of mind”). As the number of comics there grew, and as I threw out comments like, “This is the entire Ed Brubaker run of Captain America!” and I shed inward tears, I heard myself lapse into self-pitying and aggrandizing comments about how brave and noble I was to sacrifice even one — and look how many I was willing to forsake! My wife, inspired by my actions and now emptying an entire Honda Odyssey load of undesirable detritus from our garage into our van, knew to say nothing. My elder son looked at the comics I was putting out and said, “You certainly have enough of them!” He caught my glare and then quickly corrected himself:  “Well… you certainly have a lot of them.” I said quietly, “There are never enough.”

So, now, I’ll be parting with 600 of them. I’ve already got those set aside, and I’m not thinking about them any more. (Well, maybe those Brubaker issues of Captain America. They were so good!) This isn’t the first time I’ve sold comic books, God knows; I’ve been selling comic books in one way or other, professionally or just as part of, um, late spring cleaning, for 45 years.

But here’s what I think about:  Imagine if I hadn’t been selling them for 45 years. Imagine if I still had that copy of Avengers #1 handed down to me from 1963. Or that precious copy of Fantastic Four #1 that I bought for $85 in 1976. Now I could probably buy a house — even in overpriced Los Angeles! — just with those two! I also had all the early Amazing Spider-Man comics, and Journey Into Mystery with Thor, and at one time or another probably every key Silver Age comic from Marvel and DC. If I still had all those, can you imagine what they’d be worth? … No, not in money. To own! The good news:  I’m going to Comic-Con in two weeks; maybe I can get some more of these back.

In the meantime — interested in 600 or so awesome comics? Let me know!

Sunday and Monday

Monday, May 27th, 2019
  • Having decided — again — that the play I was working on had been best served in its one-act version, i.e., that it should not become a full-length version, this decision being made after many months and endless pages of struggle to turn it into said full-length version, a version that I was having trouble believing one bit of, I turned back to a play I started this time last year, in the hopes that it would become my new full-length play. Fingers crossed.
  • Had some friends over last night from eight until midnight for drinks and cigars and snacks. Two of them are playwrights, one is an editor of TV shows and videos, and one is this universe’s foremost expert on “Star Trek.” We talked a lot about comic books and, naturally, “Stark Trek,” and a bit about theatre, and a surprising amount about Nancy Pelosi (impeachment now, yes or no?). I guess we’re all exhausted of talking about you-know-who in the White House.
    • When the subject of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination came up, I said that now that I’d watched all eight seasons of “Game of Thrones,” I had a new outlook. “Almost nothing that happened in the first seven seasons mattered in the end,” I said, “and the Democratic nomination is like that. I don’t need to tune in until next June.” One of the playwright friends said, “Yeah, backing one of the candidates now is like being all-in for Robb Stark.”
  • Started reading The Terror last night after midnight (okay, this morning). This is why I mostly don’t see movies or TV shows on books I’ve read or am going to read — it’s impossible to get the actors out of your head. I didn’t see the film version of “Anna Karenina,” but nevertheless Alfred Molina is now connected in my mind with that book, which was the most compelling novel I’ve ever read. Same with The Terror; even five pages in, it was difficult not to “see” Jared Harris on the page.
    • I also had an extremely sinister and upsetting dream — one in which I manage to evade some sort of creatures in a post-apocalyptic setting, but wind up running into a real-life person from my real life, someone I have studiously avoided for a long time now, and was forced to work with that person. Compared to my nightmares — in this case, the nightmare of being forced to work with this person again — no horror novel can compete.
  • This morning when I woke up I vowed to finally do something about the ever-running toilet in the master bathroom that had to be manually jiggered in order to stop running water. So I went and bought the part at  DoIt Center (yes, yes, it’s been renamed D.I.Y. Center, but in my household it’s still called “doit,” pronounced to rhyme with the first part of “soitently!”). Back home, it took about 20 minutes to fix. Well worth the eight weeks I put that off.
  • My son left for an overnight camping trip, and our other two children are already out of the house, and my wife works nights, so at one point the two dogs and I looked at each other like the last survivors on a life raft. They mostly prefer the other people and weren’t sure what to make of it being just us.
    • But given that they know I can still open the refrigerator door, they remain hopeful and attentive.
  • I was cautious in announcing any triumph in fixing that toilet, lest I get assigned any further duties. Proud of my strategy in delaying so long!
  • Washed some dishes. Not all of them from last night! — not the cocktail glasses or the rocks glasses or half of the snack bowls and plates — but enough to be seen doing it. Should get me through for now.
  • Now I’m sitting out back surrounded by loudly chirping birds oblivious to all the bad news in this morning’s paper, and I’m prepping another cigar, with hope in the air regarding this new play, a play based on an obscure, rarely named and somewhat disreputable philosophical condition. Fingers still crossed. I’ve cleverly entitled it “New Play.” (Might change that later.)

Fred Willard 2 Night

Monday, May 20th, 2019
Fred Willard plying his trade with Jimmy Kimmel

Fred Willard plying his trade with Jimmy Kimmel

 

Here at the headquarters of leewochner.com, we’re big fans of the comic actor Fred Willard, dating back to adolescence.  As an early and longtime fan, I just about passed out when Mr. Willard himself came to see a comedy of mine 20 years ago. He sat through it like an Easter Island statue, but then went around telling people it was the funniest play in town. (If only he’d told the right people. But anyway….) It’s difficult to express what a great tribute that was.

The first place I saw him was on Fernwood 2 Night, in 1977, a syndicated satire of small-town talk shows that was supremely important to the 15-year-old me because it was so utterly divorced from the overly slick and rampantly unfunny “normal” offerings on regular network television.  Its gimlet-eyed take on false glitz mirrored my own skepticism. Willard played Jerry Hubbard, a none-too-bright sidekick/announcer with a flair for the obvious, paired against the disdain of the host, Barth Gimble, played by the multifaceted Martin Mull. Since then, I’ve enjoyed the work of both men; I’ve got all of Martin Mull’s solo albums, and as for Fred Willard, I loved him in “Best of Show” and so many other things over the years, whether they were little guest appearances or sitcoms, or voiceover work on King of the Hill or wherever.

I used to know his wife, the playwright Mary Willard, in passing, and went to one of her plays in the 1990s at the Company of Angels Theatre, up the street from Moving Arts (which may have been why we were seeing each other’s work; that, plus our mutual membership in the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights). I had heard that she died last year, but hadn’t given it much thought. Then, somehow or other through social-media networks, a couple of weeks ago I came across a howlingly funny appearance by Fred Willard in a clip from The Jimmy Kimmel Show, a show I have generally found not-howlingly funny and have avoided like a traffic accident. Fred Willard was his usual deadpan self, and Jimmy Kimmel’s transparently radiant joy at having Fred Willard to work with lit up the entire bit.

All of this is by way of saying that I was delighted today to discover a piece in the LA Times about Fred Willard, and about his personal renaissance under Jimmy Kimmel. (Here’s a link to it.) Fred and Mary had been together 50 years, the piece says, and when she died last year he was left unmoored and wondering if he felt like doing anything at all. Since pairing with Kimmel, they’ve done about 20 sketches together. I’ll have to hunt those down. It’s nice to know he’s still out there making people, including me, laugh.

Critical response

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

Tonight, my wife Valorie and I went to our friend Amy’s 50th birthday party at a club in Sherman Oaks.  Because our lives have been intersecting for more than 15 years, Amy and her husband Ross and Valorie and I have a lot of friends in common.

Still, there were some people there I didn’t know. One guy, Bill, asked how I knew Amy and Ross, and I explained that Amy is my business partner. I’ve also done a lot of theatre with Ross, who is a fine actor and director, but I didn’t go into that because the club was loud and it was a chore to have a conversation.

Bill said he’d known Ross for a long time, ever since they lived next to each other 32 years ago. Then he ventured that he saw Ross in “Cabaret” some years ago, and laughed at the memory, then added that he saw Ross in a show he did last year “across from Paramount.”

“Oh, what show was that?”

“I don’t know. Something with three people,” he said.

I remembered this play. It was called “Triptych.”

“How was it?” I asked.

“Not good. But you couldn’t blame Ross. It was the script.”

I didn’t tell Bill that I too had seen that play.

Because I wrote it.

(un)professionalism

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

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It was the best of (theatre) times, it was the worst of (theatre) times.

I was going to write a long post about professionalism, and actually had most of it written in my head, but I can boil it down to this:  Professionalism is like what Justice Potter said about pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Just over a week ago, we had our tech rehearsal for The Car Plays, which is running now at Segerstrom Center in Orange County. (It’s sold out. Don’t even try.) I directed a play called “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”; here are a few words about my cast. We rehearsed over the holidays; for this 10-minute play, one of the actors would spend five hours on LA’s notoriously convenient buses (two-and-a-half getting to rehearsal; two-and-a-half getting back home), and another one of the actors would drive about an hour each way; the third actor changed her work schedule whenever needed; one of the guys rehearsed a few days after painful, extensive abdominal surgery (!); and our artistic producer drove two hours out of his way to check on our show when we decided we needed to rehearse all the way across town and down south in order to accommodate the guy who had surgery. Meanwhile, three people coordinated and scoured the area for the necessary costume bits and props. Oh, and the tech? The tech involved about four dozen people and 15 plays, and top-to-bottom was probably the most well-produced, well-run, efficient tech rehearsal I’ve ever seen in the 40 years I’ve been doing theatre.

Meanwhile, in the past two weeks I saw an improv show billed as featuring “the top improv teams in LA” where people had no idea how to do improv — low energy; no projection; no familiarity with the announced-in-advance script prompts, and I assure you, these were very well-known script prompts; and where the second team, given its prompt (“It’s a play”) rejected it (“Actually, we’re doing a documentary”), which is a complete no-no in  improv. Rarely have 40 minutes seemed so long. Dying painfully of a gut shot would’ve seemed quicker. During the third of these internal skits, I leaned in to my wife and whispered harshly, “We’re leaving” and grabbed her and ran for the exit, past the audience, who consisted almost entirely of the other people waiting to do “improv” and a scattering of friends-of-the-performers who kept shilling for the performers in a recognizably false way.

The photo above is from a show I saw this weekend. You’re seeing the stage action from my seat. Some members of the audience dragged their chairs left and right in an effort to see something; I just gave up and decided I was attending a radio play. Before the play, the playwright introduced me to “the greatest director in the world”; judging just from that photo, I’m still waiting to meet him. I couldn’t quite figure out why this playing space had the absolute worst sightlines I’ve ever seen, until I turned around and saw that 20 feet behind us was an elevated stage! For some reason, the greatest director in the world decided to stage the play in a slightly elevated room across from the stage. This meant that, as you can see, we couldn’t see; it also meant that the actors’ words were lost to the depth of the room, and, given that there’s no light plot above a room (as opposed to, say, a stage), the actors were frequently in dim. It’s a real shame, too, because the play is better than that. But, the director and his cast found ways to bury the laugh lines too.

My best advice:  Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing. Whether it’s doing live performance or changing the oil in your car.

By the way, the young woman in front of me, in the center above, had beautiful ash-blonde hair, as well as an attractively smooth back, both of which I got to admire closely for an hour and a half.

25 years of drama

Monday, October 30th, 2017

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Two Saturday nights ago, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of Moving Arts. But, actually, it’s tonight that’s the 25th anniversary.

I won’t go into our history again — I did that five years ago on that earlier commemoration; you can read that history here — but I do have to note a few changes, and one constant.

  1. Tom Boyle, who was a big part of that founding, and of many years of my life, died a couple of years ago. I miss him and think about him most days. I’d love to talk to him about the current political situation, or the recent crop of movies or TV, or just play a game or share a drink, and I do try to imagine how those conversations would sound, but my imagination is a poor substitute for Tom himself. Because he was smart and funny and loyal, he was everything I look for in a friend. I’m glad I got to spend as much time with him as I did before he finally pierced the veil and stepped into the beyond. I will say that his death has made me appreciate my still-living friends even more.
  2. Since that post of five years ago, we’ve gained some new board members who have done a lot to move the organization forward. We’ve actually got cash in the bank. (Which should in no way deter you from making an end-of-year contribution — we’ll always need more, and cheerfully accept it!) At times in the past, the cash in the bank was about five bucks. Now, in 2017, we’ve got more than five bucks. Significantly more. It’s not a buying-a-house-in-Los-Angeles amount of money — nowhere near — but it’s not five bucks. That’s saying a lot for a small-theatre company in Los Angeles.
  3. Probably a year (maybe two?) after I wrote that 20th anniversary post, we were incredibly fortunate to land a new artistic director, Darin Anthony. He’s a talented director and a visionary leader and it’s my pleasure to do what I can to support him. Everybody else on the board feels the same way. He wants to do big things, and he’s inspiring the rest of us to help him.

Here’s the constant (and you saw this coming):

Twenty-five years later, we’re still doing new plays. Sometimes I ask myself if I ever envisioned, in 1992, that we’d still be here in 2017. I don’t know. I do remember wondering in February of 1993 if we’d be there in March of 1993. That was tough — and there have been many, many other financially tough times — but we’ve gotten through them all, and in some ways we’re doing better now than ever. And we’ve got big plans for the future. It’s an exciting time for Moving Arts.

Was it five years ago, on our 20th anniversary, that Steve Lozier and some others produced an event at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax that featured celebrities doing roles from our first production? I can’t remember any more. But I do remember what we did two Saturdays ago:  We held a big house party in the Hollywood Hills that featured five short plays fully staged at different locations within that house. They were all new plays; the venue was packed (our biggest turnout ever for that event); and there were so many people having such a great time, myself included, that I actually sent out to get more alcohol delivered from the local liquor store. All of the plays were fun, and so was the event. At some point, I repaired outside up on the hillside terrace behind the house to share Cuban cigars with two other playwrights and have drinks and just talk. That cemented the evening for me:  new plays, great fun, and camaraderie among smart creative people.

That’s what we’ve been doing for 25 years: birthing new plays, and bringing smart creative people together. Every day you get to do that sort of thing is a celebration.

“We didn’t have to talk”

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Smith-My-Buddy

Patti Smith’s terse but beautiful remembrance of her close friend Sam Shepard.

Sam Shepard, R.I.P.

Monday, July 31st, 2017

I was sad to awaken this morning to the news of Sam Shepard’s death. Shepard is one of those playwrights who reignited my passion for the theatre while I was in college. I had a copy of “Seven Plays,” which includes Buried Child, True West, La Turista, and other plays I’ve grown to cherish. At one point, desperate for cash, I sold that book back to the college bookstore — and, of course, found several years later that I just had to buy it again.

Shepard’s dialogue and prose were seductively plainspoken, but the meaning of his work was always deeper and more elliptical — something that, to me, made his writing a cousin to that of Cormac McCarthy. I strongly recommend his book of essays, The Motel Chronicles, and the excellent filmed stage production of True West starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich, which is available in full on YouTube.

I’m just sorry there won’t be any more.

The terrible prescience of “Glengarry Glen Ross”

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

On this blog, I write about Donald Trump as little as I can bear; he already hogs too much of my day everywhere else, so I don’t want it here as well.

But I can’t resist linking to this terrific little piece that compares Trump, and his latest amanuensis Anthony Scaramucci, with a character in the 1992 film version of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” As this piece notes, the stage version doesn’t include the much-loved opener with Alec Baldwin, which has continues to serve as an unfortunate model for some. (Just this past week, someone in the business world brought the Baldwin character up to me — and was dumbfounded to learn that it isn’t in the stage version.)

Anyway, here’s the piece. It’s an all-too-true characterization of the current president of the United States.