Friday, April 28, 2006

Day 5

Megan Hayes as HADIA

Photo shoot today! Taking photos that MIGHT be used on the promotional posters and pictures to have for the press.

Finding an image to represent this play is not easy. I'm not sure if this is par for the course or not. We had a couple of ideas (such as an image of a woman's face, split down the middle: 1/2 hejab and 1/2 not) but I realized the image needs to be funny otherwise people won't know they're walking into a play the can laugh at...

As an actor/director/and now writer...there is an awareness in most of the comedic projects i've worked of how we (the cast, the writer, the director) need to let an audience know it's okay to laugh. Especially with the split-label of comedy-drama.

If you have any ideas...send them my way.

We had fun with the photo shoot, though...



Lisa and Michael setting up a photo

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Day 3 and 4

Rehearsals take place on the set of Permanent Collection, currently running at Horizon Theatre. We're doing the table work right now which gives me a lot of opportunity to hear all the little touch ups that need to be done...and also work really concreting the 2nd act structure/story.

Having a really personal day today, in the sense of realizing how self-indulgent the play is. I have been focused on an idea of universal theme for so long, I almost forgot it is mostly my story, my parents' story...up on the stage.

Exposed doesn't even begin to cover how i'm feeling right now.

Glad I didn't get cold feet before. I need the reailty check for a bit of humility but...wouldn't trade this experience for NOT knowing what it's like. Just wish I'd not come across this exposure-ephipany RIGHT now. In the midst of rewrites.

Conversation around the table is still good and strong and there was a wonderful moment, today, when Lisa came across an arabic word in the script (spelled out phonetically) and asked, What does this mean again? And the entire cast answered. I didn't even have to...which is wonderful.

Have provided FATHER (Tom Thon) with a video-tape instruction explaining salat. There are moments for me where I wonder how much I really DON'T know about the Islamic religion.

I really wish I could have my father come and sit in on rehearsals. It'd be great to have his feedback. Have him correct me. To have him be an active part of the process...

We'll see.

Following pictures show the cast and Lisa and our wonderful stage manager, Ronnie. (God bless all the GOOD stage managers).

The cast, in alphabetical order, again is:

Marianne Fraulo - MOTHER
Megan Hayes - HADIA
Tyler Owens - ADAM
Tom Thon - FATHER

(L-R) Lisa, Tyler, Megan, Tom's leg.

(L-R) Marianne, Tom

Everybody...and Ronnie, in the left corner.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

2nd day

Rehearsals run from noon to 5.
Read through the script twice on the first day. Great to hear it with all the different voices instead of just Lisa and me alternating. There's only so much two people can handle.

Today was great.
Due to line revisions and a couple of rewrites to scenes, i ran a bit late, coming into rehearsal 30 minutes behind everyone... fantastic, though. I'm glad that it worked out like that. The conversations that are taking place just two days in are wonderful to sit through. There are parallels that the actors and Lisa are finding that I did not intend but am glad are there. It makes me think of English class in high school when that one question was asked, "Is the symbolism intentional?"

Ah. Maybe. It depends. What works for you?

Plus, the wonderful thing about rehearsals, when the energy and combination of people are good... the wonderful thing is the personal sharing that begins... without thinking. The opinions, the defense of characters...the individual real-life experiences of the actors. It's wonderful.

Lisa is slowly sliding off her dramaturg responsibilities and placing her director's cap on...
This is a difficult transition for me to understand with her only because i'm accustomed to dealing with her questions on a dramaturg level. So, when she asks a questions, I immediately think that means I need to rewrite the scene...
whereas, she's just asking a question of my see if we (the director and playwright) are on the same page.

It's a bit of culture shock. But...I welcome it.

It's actually liberating to see the actors and director take the words and characters given to them...and run with it. There's no need to control, on my part. I am looking to see what I can do to help them do their job more easily...while maintaining the integrity of the script.

So many people asked me if I was going to be in this show, which always confused me. My goal as a playwright is to be a playwright. To see if my vision is properly conveyed on the page. To see if I left the script in the hands of total strangers (which would be GREAT, eventually) they vision would still be maintained.
What's the point of writing a script that I have to babysit?
How would I grow as a writer if I acted%

Monday, April 24, 2006

First day.

Today is the first day of rehearsals.
All weekend has been filled with nothing but furious rewriting and a seeking for I can finally see this thing.

Gave Lisa an aneurysm on Friday when I completely restructured the script.

Yep. Told you it was taking every fiber to just do edits and slight touch ups.
Never. NEVER leave me alone with a script for more than 2 days.

"I don't know. I just thought i'd try this..."
"You can't TRY ANYTHING anymore!!"

It did help, though. It's a good thing that God makes things easy for me because i'm really good at making them difficult on my own.

And here we are.

Yesterday was an 11 hour writing fest. Scrutinizing every moment to make sure it does flow into the next.

I am so happy today.
No. The script isn't completed not to be touched anymore...
That's not the point.
The point is that I didn't notice the time yesterday 'til my stomach had a full conversation with me...outside of my body.

I'm somewhere else today. Just watching...but so excited for this play.
Right now, feel like i've hung out with Hadia ...listening to her life story...
instead of having possibly lived it. *smile*
She and I have a lot in. common. She's ok with me. *smile*
I love her family though.

It's not my script anymore but something that I need to help get ready for its purpose.

I moved out of the way, thank God. I'm not in the way. There's no 2nd guessing editor in my head telling me that I need a whole new play.
There's only...
There's only the Matrix.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rewrites, Papers, Scissors.

The most challenging hurdles, right now, are editing and rewrites.

Edits? It's taking every bone in my body to not trash the current script and write a new one; and rewrites are like trying to throw up...carefully.

There are so many scenes that have been cut and brought back and created and then cut and kept around in my office to confuse me ...

Right now, in looking to solidify the structure and story of the play, I am delving through the older drafts. There is a comfort in knowing that something that was instinctively chosen in the beginning will work in the end. The journey i've taken in attempting different ideas and following through with this or what helped me realize this. It aided in getting me to understand the story I wanted to tell, that wanted to be told.
I've always been better at knowing what I don't like than what I like. Process of elimination...

However, sifting through older scenes that were cut because they didn't add to THIS story? Is leading to a discovery of a whole 'nother play waiting to be told.

It was never my intention to do this, to be a playwright...but, it's something i've always done: construct scenes, tell stories, share experiences... I'm willing to accept I may have been in denial, somewhere.
The symptom I have to overcome due to this is "this is the only play i'll ever write." It's hard to remember it doesn't have to be that way. Not everything I want/need to say needs to go into the script.
There's relief in that.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

God Willing.

I think I will back up a bit and fill you in on one of the more interesting stories of fate with this project.

In December, Lisa and I decided it would probably be a good idea to start gathering the contact information of the actors we thought would be good for these roles. The original plan was to hold auditions in January.

Being the holidays, it was probably the most convenient time to gather this information. (Most of the parties I attended were filled with actors and not many of them went far without a headshot within reach.)

One particular evening, a good friend of mine, Karla, an actress, called me and said, "Suehyla, have you found anyone for the role of the FATHER yet?"

I said, "No. And i've seriously nothin'..."

"Well, "She replied, "I met this guy at an audition and...I don't know what he can do talent wise but, I gotta tell ya...he looks the part. He's really nice, too. I went ahead and got his headshot for you. I'll bring it to the party tonight."

Great, i'm thinking. That's perfect.

She gets there, hands me the headshot and ...*shrug*... I'm like...whatever. This is fine. At this point in time, i'm just gathering. I will call no shots 'til the person is in front of me.

I stayed rather late at this particular party...or...rather early, depending on how you look at it and ended up being the DD for several friends.

On the way home, driving down Moreland Avenue, my intoxicated, rambunctious passenger(another fellow actor) notices the small pile of headshots between us.

In my peripheral view, I see him reach over, pick up the top headshot (brought by Karla) and fumble out the words, "Whoisthis?"

"That's one of the actors we may call in for Perfect Prayer."


"Yeah. You know him?"


As we start to cross the bridge that spans I-20, I hear the ssshhhhh of the passenger window as it electronically slides down.
I feel that damp chilliness enter the car(The ability for air in the south to still be humid no matter how cold it is, is amazing). I turn to look at my drunk friend (it's all in slow motion now) as he takes the headshot and tosses it out the window, into the air...and nonchalantly rolls the window back up; if he's just rid himself of some lint...or...a cigarette butt.

To say I lost my temper would be laziness on my part as a writer. But. It is what I will leave you with...

I chalked up the loss to fate. To God's will. The actor probably wasn't any good anyway. Right?


Fast forward to a week and a half ago when Karla pays me a visit.
I tell her about our panicked search for an actor to play FATHER.
She perks up and says, "That reminds me! I just saw that actor in a show! The actor who's headshot I gave you?"

"Oh, yeah..."

"Yeah. He was really good, Suehyla. He played a Palestinian terrorist."


"Hm. I almost forgot about him. What was his name?"

"Tom Thon."

"That's right. Tom. Thon. Hm...."

I call Lisa. Ask her if she's ever heard of him. Suprisingly, she recalls having just met him at a party a few months back...and, Yes, that does seem like an interesting choice... do I have his contact information.

Why. Yes. I do. It's somewhere between Moreland avenue and I-20.

I ended up contacting the theatre he was currently working with, got the information to Lisa, and...the rest, as they say, is soon to be history.

I think what i've really come upon is a new way to audition people...

Anyways. Lisa and I continue to meet daily this week, prepping for the upcoming rehearsals. ..and upcoming production.

Just thought i'd share that little bit of fate...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

What's in a name?

So, it's exactly one week before rehearsals are to begin for The Perfect Prayer.

Have a meeting today with Lisa to look at some much needed script changes to 2nd act prior to going into know, to cut down on the number of actors having nervous breakdowns due to a multitude of non-stop revisions.

The two main battles i've had with this script are the following:
1) the middle of the journey for Hadia (the main character)
2) The freakin' title.

As I said in an earlier post, the previous title was Sunset, inspired by the 4th prayer of the 5 daily prayers....maghrib. In the original script, the main character declares her fascination with this particular prayer due to its time requirement: It must be done JUST after sunset. I always found this to be rather magical...and decided to give the same notion to Hadia.

However, as the play has grown and the story expanded, as well as the characters... this major trait became a rather minor one...
The title no longer made sense.
In addition to that, I was advised by certain parties that be...that it's not a marketable title. I was informed:

The title doesn't tell one anything. Doesn't intrigue. Doesn't give a notion as to what a patron may be walking into on whatever evening he/she has chosen to attend. Heck. It's so lacking in intriguement, one isn't very sure people would even attend it... not without some sort of theatrical trailer giving away the whole the masses are conditioned to having.

*shrug* *smile*

At the very first workshop for the script, I had a close friend helping me as a writing partner. He and I came to rest on the title, Perfect Prayer.
At least...I think we did. It's all a blur now...and somehow this name has stuck. And, i'm not gonna lie... I've racked my and my friends' brains for ...SOMETHING else. SOMETHING. Somewhere...

It was Sunset for so long, I had difficulty letting go.
And now that The Perfect Prayer has been with me for 2 just seems...well...perfect.

And so it is.

It's like naming a child...except, at some point in time, if your child decides to change his/her name legally...he/she can. A piece of creative work is stuck in eternity with its name...unless, of course, the piece can be forgotten...
then the name doesn't matter at all.

And if you're wondering how The Perfect Prayer came to be the title?
You should probably come see the show...
perhaps you could even make some suggestions...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Who's your Daddy?!

After putting out a call across the nation for an actor to play FATHER...after receiving auditions from New York City, Chicago and Florida...

We discovered the perfect fit this afternoon in our own hometown of Atlanta.

Casting is now complete:
Tom Thon - FATHER
Marianne Fraulo - MOTHER
Megan Hayes - HADIA
Tyler Owens - ADAM

This is great news on all counts!!
I'm especially happy that the entire cast is from Atlanta.

And on with the show...

Script changes and casting challenges

The story has changed considerably. The hardest struggle is letting go of Hadia (the main character)...and letting her be herself...and no longer a representation of me. Just because she makes choices doesn't mean i'll have to make them, too. Just because we have things in common, doesn't mean we're the same people. Sometimes she's better than I am. Sometimes she's really whiny and gets on my f-in nerves. It will be a struggle up until opening night.

I'm still completing touch ups on the play. (uh...I think Lisa would say that's an understatement).
Rehearsals begin the week of April 24.
3 of the 4 member cast have been chosen:
Marianne Fraulo - MOTHER
Megan Hayes - HADIA
Tyler Owens - ADAM

The father is the most difficult role to cast.
To find an arab looking actor in his 60's OR who LOOKS like he's in his 60's, is talented AND available...oh. AND affordable? not an easy task.
2 weeks away? Lisa is scrambling to do all she can: She and I both have to be happy with the choice... I don't think this will be a difficult thing...I just hope we don't panic and choose simply because we're out of time.


I was pretty lucky (along with 3 other playwrights in the Atlanta area) to be featured in an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (otherwise known as the AJC).

The picture below was placed online and in the newspaper.

I received a phonecall from my mother 2 days ago after she received my email announcement. The following conversation followed:

(Those who know me KNOW that I cannot quote my mother without actually imitating her accent. There's really no point...however, in writing? It is near impossible. Please feel free to use your imagination:)

me: hello?

mom: hello, suehyla.

me: hi, mom. how's it goin'?

mom: it is good. thank you very much for sending the picture.

me: Oh! No problem, I sent it to everyone.

mom: I know but [my sister] was the one who told me about it.

me: (confused) Did you not get the email?

mom: No. I got it.

me: Oh. Okay.

mom: It's a good picture. I want to send it to Egypt...but I can't.


mom: do you know why I can't?

me: (not giving in to the trap)

mom: Because you're cleavage is showing.

me: i know...but it's not that bad. the photographer wouldn't have used the picture if he thought it was bad, momma. during the session, he asked me to adjust my shirt several times.

mom: oh. i see. that was nice of him. Who was he?

me: You don't know him, mom.

mom: Oh. okay.

The rest of the conversation is not necessary and rather repetitive. Let me just say now...I love my mother. I do. I wouldn't be who i am without EVERYTHING she did...

The following morning, I called my father (they live in the same house's a long story). Dad's only comment?

"This is a bad picture."

"I know, Dad. Sorry."

I don't know if he's read the article or not.
I know my mother has. She called my sister to say her feelings were hurt by a comment I made...

My sister, though, reassured me that I only spoke the truth and it wasn't a bad was just...the truth.

Most importantly, for me, she told me that she agreed and understood the comment.

Hopefully my parents will as well. None of this, the play or to hurt. It never has been... and it's been one of my main concerns in the upcoming production...whether or not my parents will be able to sit through this play and enjoy it? or will it be 2 hours of an insult to them?

I really have no way to tell...
I can only ask that, God willing? Everything ends up okay...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

In the Beginning...

Today, i'm on the phone with Lisa Adler, the co-artistic director of Horizon Theatre in Atlanta. She is also the director of my script, The Perfect Prayer, which is about to enjoy (hopefully) it's world premiere in May.

I'm relaying one of the many stories I share with her about discussion with my parenst and friends in regards to his upcoming production and she pipes up with, "Would you be interested in blogging about this?"

"About the process and stuff?" I asked.

"Yes! I think that's a PERFECT idea."

"Sure," I replied.

of course I would. I mean, Perfect Prayer is basically autobigraphical and rather exposing as it is...why stop there? Why not share the process of also growing as a playwright and reveal even more about myself.

It's probably for the best that I do this with words...otherwise i'd be posing nude somewhere.
Not really.

Anyway. Here we are. Let me catch you up:

Almost 11 years ago, I wrote a one act play called SUNSET. I was 19 and was taking a graduate level playwrighting course to bring up my undergrad, sub par grade point average. This is the play that saved my ass. I was flunking the class by midterm, not enjoying the professor nor the responsibilities. When it was mentioned that a rough draft of our final project was due the next and I had NOT a thing down anywhere... I knew I had to work fast.

I spent the entire night awake and only banged out 17 pages of a play that began with the words, "God I feel like hell tonight"...inspired into writing by Sheryl Crow's Strong Enough. When I started with those words, the rest of the play, around 3 am, poured out of me. I recreated recent struggles of my own life with my parents and the resentment I had about being the United States of America.

It was never an intentional, political statement. It was riddled with universal teen-age angst and the common, coming-of-age story . I also thought it was drama, tell truth.

17 pages. I needed 25 or more to be considered eligble worth grading...otherwise, automatic F.
I handed in what I had, along with some story about how I accidentally deleted the rest of the play...
The Professor, who mutually disliked me, said, "Save it, Suehyla."

One week later, we received the scripts...and I flipped to the final page to discover a red C. Scribbled underneathe this forgiving grade was: You've really got something here. Keep going.

And so I did.
It was then chosen as one of the two plays from the class to be staged at the end of the semester; staged at a University where my parents were pretty prominent.
I was given the option to not have my name attached: Suehyla El-Attar (not exactly your every day southern name).

I chose to attach it, anyway. I mean, why stop now?

Much to my surprise, people laughed during the play. They laughed at the moments I thought were the most difficult; the moments in a daily family life...the moments that, when living them, I thought I was the only one to have ever faced them.
Instead, through the first-time audience, I discovered the absurdity and universality of the dysfunctional family.

Best therapy I ever had.

My mother came to see the play and quickly left at the end, hurt by the way I portrayed the family. My father never attended but was beyond words with the attention he received from fellow faculty members who recognized his daughter's name...and his character.

I moved to Atlanta 7 years ago with the full intention of finishing the play and getting it produced. I got side-tracked by life...but was finally returned to my original intention by a season-friend who read the script and said, Finish it.

And so it began...
The one act became a full-lenth 2-act.
Having been exposed to the workshop process at Horizon, I had a bit of notion of how to go about discovering the script all over order to complete it.

I was lucky enough to have Lisa attend one of the readings of her own volition. She immediately took an interest in the story unfolding before all of us...and invited me to take part in the New South Play Festival. Here, my play could (and would) be workshopped intensely for a week and then be subject to a reading for the general public. Two summers of this and Lisa gave me the opportunity of a lifetime by placing my script in the current 2006 season.

This is one of those random stories of right place, right time. I look at my professional, personal friends Lauren Gunderson and Steve Yockey, and wonder exactly what kind of murder I may have gotten away with, here...
then, again, I should probably wait 'til the play is up and running... and see if it's actually any good.
If i'm actually any good.