News and Bloggy Nonsense

ALiEN8 and CLEAN SLATE

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I have not written on my blog for awhile. Did you miss me? I’ve actually been over on another website talking about some other projects and I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to tell you all about it.

For a while now, composer Kate Brennan (http://katebrennan1.wixsite.com/katebrennan)  and I have been writing what we believe are some very special musicals geared toward young adults. It started when the good folks at McCarter Theater’s Education Program put us together last year to create a new show for their Summer High School Intensive. The result was a show called ALiEN8. Since then, we’ve workshopped ALiEN8 with Ignition Arts in Oklahoma (https://www.ignitionarts.org/) and the show is scheduled for a production at Drexel University in the Fall of 2019. We’re also talking to a few other folks about productions – more on that as it develops. This past summer, we created a new show for McCarter called CLEAN SLATE. We’re currently looking for opportunities to workshop and develop it further.

When Kate and I started discussing this project, we wanted to write shows for YA audiences. Not necessarily HARRY POTTER or HUNGER GAMES knock-offs, but stories that put young people front and center. We’ve been very inspired by the current generation of high school students and their ability to accept cultural differences, whether they have to do with gender, race, religion or nationality.

As a theatre artist and educator, Kate brings years of experience, an exhaustive knowledge of YA literature and her prodigious musical talent to this work. I’ve been writing shows based on the experiences of young people for the better part of two decades. Between the two of us, we’ve managed to create something pretty unique. The young people we’ve worked with have been profoundly inspirational and encouraging. These aren’t educational touring shows about single topics like bullying (although there’s nothing wrong with that – I’ve done those too) but stories inspired by the concerns and passions of young people.

And occasionally there’s time travel, parallel dimensions, mysterious visitors from elsewhere, and a little bit of magic.

I won’t outline the shows here – more info can be found at the ALiEN8 website – https://alien8themusical.wordpress.com/

You can find a synopsis, photos, testimonials, song demos, and more about us. Enjoy!We’d love to see the shows done at the professional level, but we also think that really committed high school and college theatre programs would like them as well.

Okay. That’s it for now. More to come another day – possibly news about a Kickstarter campaign or a concept album (or two).

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THE RISE AND FALL OF WAIVE GORDON L’PREVE

THE RISE AND FALL OF WAIVE GORDON L’PREVE

By David Lee White

CHARACTERS
Waive Gordon L’Preve – President of the National Firearms Organization
Mabrid McClinter – The NFO’s spokesperson
Crank – A teenage intern

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(We are in Waive Gordon L’Preve’s private room at a large conference center. There is a table, a couple of chairs and a large safe in the corner. There are two doors. The main door leads to the conference hall. There is also a side door which serves as a private entrance and exit.)

WAIVE
(rehearsing)
“And so, once again, I’d like to thank all the members of the National Firearms Organization for once again electing me, Waive Gordon L’Preve to be your president. I promise that I will…will continue…dammit!” (he pulls out his notes and looks at them, then continues) “Will continue to serve and protect the rights of gun and rifle owners all over this great country of ours.” And then they clap a cheer, applause, applause, applause “Thank you! Thank you!” (He stops. Catches his breath. Wipes his brow.) Whew. Wow. (to himself) Come on, Waive Gordon L’Preve. You can do this.

(MABRID MCCLINTER enters via the side door. She is agitated.)

MABRID
Jesus H.

WAIVE
Mabrid! I was just…uh…

MABRID
I mean I knew it would take the membership awhile to get used to an attractive woman being the new spokesperson, but some of these guys can’t stop staring at my boobs .

WAIVE
They’ll get used it just like I did. I hardly think about your boobs anymore. Maybe six, seven times a day, tops.

MABRID
They’re so obvious about it. My eyes are up here!

WAIVE
It’s a new world, Mabrid. Things change. They’ll just have to realize that sometimes that boobs are attached to a real live woman with important things to say.

MABRID
Here’s the cash box, by the way. Half these guys register for the conference with cash only.

WAIVE
They don’t want their wives to know they’re here. They leave less of a trail this way. Put it in the safe will you?

(MABRID puts the money in the safe.)

MABRID
You okay, Waive?

WAIVE
Yeah. Why?

MABRID
You don’t seem right.

WAIVE
Just a little nervous this time.

MABRID
How come?

(CRANK enters via the main door. He is a sullen teenager.)

CRANK
Hey.

WAIVE
What’s up, Crank?

CRANK
I was supposed to come in here and tell you something but now I totally forget what it was.

WAIVE
That doesn’t help me, Crank.

CRANK
Oh, right. Five minutes until your speech.

MABRID
How’s it going out there? Natives getting restless?

CRANK
I can’t tell. It’s like I’m in a dark tunnel. I see things happening but it all seems so far away.I didn’t sleep last night. My head wouldn’t stop thinking about horrible.things. I hate my life.

MABRID
He was really the best intern out of the whole program, huh?

WAIVE
You just need a couple days off, Crank. You’re doing great work.

CRANK
When I’m around these people all the time and all they talk about is how dangerous the world is, it starts to get to me, you know?

WAIVE
World’s a rough place. Right Mabrid?

MABRID
Killers around every corner.

CRANK
It’s like I’m sinking into a pool of impenetrable darkness. Maybe I just need a girlfriend.

WAIVE
A good woman can turn a man’s life around. Right Mabrid?

MABRID
Uh…sure.

CRANK
I was listening to these people out there talk and it was all about how Mexican immigrants are ruining the country and I started thinking, “Isn’t this racist? It sounds so racist.”

MABRID
You know, when you think about it, liberals are far more racist than conservatives. I mean you have to really think really hard before it becomes obvious. It almost feels like you’re forcing yourself to believe something that isn’t true. But then eventually, it starts to make sense.

CRANK
I’m thinking about killing myself if I don’t kiss a girl by the time I’m eighteen. And depending on how things go after that, I might still kill myself.

WAIVE
Oh, don’t be so dramatic. You are an invaluable member of this organization and a real credit to our intern program.

CRANK
Thanks, Mr. L’Preve.

WAIVE
And when the conference is over, I’m going to take you to the range and we’re gonna release some tension by firing off some rounds. Sound like fun?

CRANK
Nothing sounds like fun. Maybe if someone told me they loved me, I’d feel better.

WAIVE
I love you, Crank. Now get out there and set up some chairs for the banquet, will you? Help yourself to some chicken salad.

CRANK
Yes sir.

(CRANK exits)

WAIVE
Kids now are so crazy.

MABRID
Be careful of that one.

WAIVE
Who? Crank?

MABRID
These kids get depressed and the next thing you know, they open fire on their classmates.

WAIVE
Crank doesn’t seem depressed to me. He just needs a sandwich.

MABRID
I don’t know. One more high school kid loses his shit and this whole organization is gonna fold like a house of cards.

WAIVE
But it’s not our fault. It’s mental illness’s fault.

MABRID
Can’t sue a mental illness, Waive. And you know these libtards are just itching for someone to sue.

WAIVE
(snickers)
It makes me giggle when you say libtard.

MABRID
Libtard.

WAIVE
Cut it out.

MABRID
Snowflake libtard.

WAIVE
Don’t! I’m gonna be up there giving my opening remarks and I’m gonna hear your voice saying libtard and I’m gonna start laughing!

MABRID
You have about four minutes to get yourself together.

WAIVE
How do I look?

MABRID
Nice and shiny.

WAIVE
What gun should I take out there?

MABRID
That pretty gold one. I thought that was your luck charm.

WAIVE
Smith & Hunter just sent me a new handgun model and it’s a doozy. I thought I should show it off.

MABRID
Let me see.

(WAIVE goes to the safe, opens it, and pulls out a pistol)

WAIVE
Now, before I do anything with this, I’m gonna check to make sure it’s not loaded. Then you’re gonna check to make sure it’s not loaded. Okay?

MABRID
Safety first.

WAIVE
(checking gun)
I have checked the gun and it is not loaded.

(WAIVE hands the gun to MABRID. She checks it.)

MABRID
I have also checked the gun and I can confirm it’s not loaded.

WAIVE
Okay. What do you think?

(WAIVE poses with the gun.)

MABRID
I like it. It’s classy.

WAIVE
I think I’m gonna go with it.

(WAIVE opens his coat, revealing a shoulder holster. He puts the gun in the holster.)

WAIVE
Man. Why am I so nervous?

MABRID
You’re sweating.

WAIVE
I’ve done this a thousand times. This should be easy.

MABRID
You’re under a lot of pressure Waive. Things aren’t like they were ten years ago. Gun owners are an oppressed minority now.

WAIVE
I was listening to MSNBC yesterday –

MABRID
There was your first mistake.

WAIVE
They were saying such hateful things about me. I just kept thinking…”These people don’t even know me.”

MABRID
I’m telling you, the media hypes all this stuff up. It’s irrational. They’re trying to make it seem like we’re the bad guys.

WAIVE
We’re not, right? We’re not the bad guys.

MABRID
Of course not.

(CRANK enters)

CRANK
Two minutes, Mr. L’Preve.

WAIVE
Thanks.

(CRANK exits)

WAIVE
Wow. My stomach.

MABRID
What’s wrong?

WAIVE
I need to sit down. Is this stage fright? Am I getting stage fright? I don’t know if I can go out there.

MABRID
Now you listen to me Waive Gordon L’Preve. You are an American hero.

WAIVE
I am?

MABRID
And there are thousands of people out there ready to listen to how you’re going to fight for their god given rights. We are under fire, right now. All of us. And I can go out there and talk and let strangers look at my boobs all damn day but that’s not going to inspire them like you are. This is why you were put on this planet. This is your job. You are Waive Gordon L’Preve. Now get up, go out there and kick some ass.

WAIVE
Yes. I can do this.

(WAIVE stands up)

WAIVE
Thank you.

MABRID
No, Waive. Thank you. Now get out there.

WAIVE
Wait!

(WAIVE takes the gun out of his holster and goes to the safe.)

MABRID
You’re not gonna use the Smith & Hunter?

(WAIVE puts the gun in the safe, then takes out a gold gun)

WAIVE
Nope. I think I need my lucky gun.

(The gold gun goes off, shooting MABRID. She falls over, dead, dead, dead.)

WAIVE
(Pause) Mabrid? Mabrid? Oh my God.

(CRANK enters)

CRANK
You okay, Mr. L’Preve? (sees MABRID’S body) Oh, my God. Oh, sweet lord.

WAIVE
It was…it just…

CRANK
What happened?

WAIVE
It was an accident.

CRANK
Didn’t you check to see if it was loaded? You always check to see if it was loaded!

WAIVE
I checked the other one!

CRANK
Why didn’t you check that one!

WAIVE
You were supposed to check that one!

CRANK
I didn’t check that one because you said you were using the other one!

WAIVE
Dammit! Godammit!

CRANK
Oh, this is bad. This is real fucking bad.

WAIVE
Don’t curse! There is a code of conduct for the interns at National Firearms and it includes refraining from cursing so stop fucking cursing!

CRANK
Does the code of conduct include shooting the organization’s spokesperson? Because you just shot the organization’s spokesperson!

WAIVE
It was not my fault!

CRANK
Well it wasn’t my fault!

WAIVE
It was more your fault than my fault!

CRANK
Oh, my God. I knew something like this would happen. The world is so awful. God, I’m so depressed.

WAIVE
What do you have to be depressed about?

CRANK
There’s no way out of this! Walls closing in…sinking into pit of despair –

(There’s a knock on the door)

VOICE
Waive? You in there?

WAIVE
Don’t come in! I’m…um…masturbating!

(pause)

VOICE
Okaaaayyyyy…

WAIVE
I’ll be out in two minutes!

VOICE
Everyone’s waiting.

WAIVE
Two minutes!

CRANK
I mean I may as well just die. That’s the only way out of this.

(WAIVE gets an idea)

WAIVE
You know what, Crank? This wasn’t your fault.

CRANK
It wasn’t?

WAIVE
No. You’ve been depressed lately, yeah?

CRANK
Yeah. Pretty bad.

WAIVE
So you haven’t been thinking clearly.

CRANK
I haven’t.

WAIVE
People just don’t understand what that’s like.

CRANK
It’s true. They don’t.

(WAIVE leads CRANK to a chair and sits him down behind it.)

WAIVE
It’s like everyone is coming after you and no one wants to give you a fair shake.

CRANK
That’s exactly what it feels like.

(There’s more knocking on the door.)

VOICE
Waive? Waive? You in there?

WAIVE
(putting the gun in CRANK’s hand)
When the world starts crashing down on you, you’ve got no choice but to defend yourself, right?

CRANK
Right.

VOICE
Okay, Waive! I know something’s wrong in there! Unlock the door or I’m breaking it down!

WAIVE
Repeat after me. I am not responsible.

CRANK
I am not responsible.

WAIVE
This is not my fault.

CRANK
This is not my fault.

(WAIVE goes to the safe, takes out the cash box and tucks it under his arm. The pounding on the door gets louder and louder.)

WAIVE
You just keep saying that over and over.

CRANK
This is not my fault. I am not responsible.

VOICE
We’re coming in, Waive!

(WAIVE sneaks out the side door and exits. The pounding on the main door gets louder. CRANK holds out the gun and aims it directly at the main door as the voices outside get louder.)

CRANK
This is not my fault. I am not responsible. This is not my fault! I am not responsible!

END OF PLAY

 

NICK’S FIELD TRIP

On Friday, I was a “room parent” at my son’s school. We went on a field trip to the Palmyra Nature Cove. This is how that went.

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9:00 AM
THE CLASSROOM
It’s nine am and I’m here in my son’s classroom. His name is Nick. Nick is incredibly excited that I’m a roommate for today’s field trip. I’m nervous because sometimes I can barely control Nick. The sheer volume of children in the room is making me delirious. It’s like there are twenty Nicks. There are two other dads going on the field trip. Both of their names are Jeff, so I feel a little left out. I’d feel better prepared if my name was Jeff. Nick has been telling all his classmates that he’s going to take them ghost-hunting. He’s referring to an app I have on my phone that uses the camera to make it look like there are ghosts in the room. A boy comes up to me and says “Are we going ghost hunting?” “Maybe later,” I say.He says “I’m not allowed to go ghost-hunting because my mom says she doesn’t trust you.”

9:15
We’re waiting for the buses to arrive. I’m in charge of Nick and his two friends Derek and Jason. A large group of kids is doing a dance move called “The Floss.” It’s this hip-shaky-arm thing that makes no visual sense. – like MC Escher doing hip-hop. One of the teachers looks really frustrated. Eventually, she shouts “Kids! Kids! Everyone has to stop flossing right now! No more flossing!”

9:20
I don’t think I’ve been on a school bus since I was in eighth grade. The school’s principal, Mr. Randal, boards the bus.

– “Kids! Can I have your attention! Listen, I know you’re excited to go to the Palmyra Nature Cove. Remember – you can talk when the bus is moving, but you have to use your inside voice because you are *inside* this school bus. But when the bus stops, you have to be quiet. Can anyone tell me why?”

– “BECAUSE SO THE BUS DOESN’T GET IN ANY ACCIDENT!”

– “Sure, okay. Also, I want everyone to be on their best behavior. You are representing the Peter Muschal School. You are all wearing your Peter Muschal t-shirts, right? I’m sending along t-shirts from another school. If anyone gets out of line, your teachers will make you wear a different school’s t-shirt.”

9:35
NICK: Can we go ghost hunting dad?
ME: We’ll see. Maybe after the nature hike. The other parents don’t trust me.
NICK: What’s on the nature hike?
ME: I don’t know. Birds, probably. Fish. Frogs. Turtles.
NICK: Snakes?
ME: I hope not.
NICK: You hate snakes.
ME: I do.
NICK: You’re afraid of all snakes.
ME: I don’t want to talk about it.

9:45
This bus has that school bus smell. I kind of wish one of the kids would vomit. Not because I want anyone to be sick, but I’m remembering the smell of vomit on the school bus and that minty, bleach sawdust that they put on top of it. I think experiencing that trauma is an important part of childhood development. Plus, when I was a kid, we all wanted to sit in the back of the bus because there were so many potholes on the road that the back of the bus would lurch and throw you completely out of your seat and into the aisle. Nowadays, kids wear seatbelts on the bus because they’re soft.

9:50
I’m sitting next to one of the Jeffs. He asks me how the playwright business is going. I tell him it’s outstanding and that writing plays is a financially viable skill. He tells me he does market research for a perfume company. He works in the division that puts perfume in laundry detergent and has to do a lot of data gathering. “Sometimes,” he says “I go to other people’s houses. I watch them do laundry and I sniff their dirty clothes.”

10:00
A boy turns around in his seat and says his name is Rick. But I shouldn’t call him Rick. I should call him potato. “Guess my last name,” he says. I can’t guess. “Chip!” he says. I have to admit, I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t guess that.

10:05
Because I want to document this field trip, I occasionally turn on my voice memo app and say key words into my phone so I don’t forget what happened. It’s because of this that one of the parents is staring at me funny as I look at my phone and say the words “Vomit. Sawdust. Potato Chip. Bus Accident. Someone doesn’t trust me.”

10:10
THE NATURE PRESERVE
– “Hi, guys! My name is Lucy and I’ll be your tour guide. We’re gonna go on a nature hike today. We’ll see some of the other parts of the cove. There will be some wild Turkeys. We just got some baby geese so you’ll see them with their mommy and daddy geese. Also, you’ll probably see quite a few snakes.”

10:12
Dad?
– What?
– Can I go ghost hunting?
– No.
– Why?
– Pay attention to the tour guide.
– I just want to see your phone for a second.
– No.
– Can I take a picture?
– No.
– Please?
– No.
– Please?
– No.
– Please, dad?
– No.
– Please?
– No.
– Why?
– Because.
– I want to take a picture.
– No.
– Why?
– Because you just want to see the ghost hunting app. You don’t really want to take a picture.
– Yes, I do.
– No you don’t.
– Please?
– Pay attention to the tour guide.
– I want to take a picture.
– Okay. One picture. One. And then give it back. No ghost hunting.
– Okay.
– I’m serious.
– Okay.
– Here’s my phone.
– Thanks. HEY GUYS I’M GONNA GO GHOST HUNTING!
– Give me back my phone!

10:20
The tour group is walking along a forest path. Every once in a while, one of them leaps off the path into the grass and I have a tiny stroke because I’m convinced they saw a snake. Then one kid shouts “WHY ARE THERE SO MANY TURDS?” It becomes impossible to control the group once the subject of turds has been brought up. They almost don’t even care about the family of geese that Lucy points out. They are screaming like someone has dropped napalm on them. To be fair, there are an awful lot of turds. But I’ll take stepping on twenty turds over seeing one snake. Kids are so immature.

10:25
I’m walking with Jeff #2. He says, “I don’t know how these teachers do it. All these kids. I can barely handle my two. All that screaming. I get so overwhelmed and my brain shuts down and I kind of lose it. I have to, like, breathe deeply and focus so I don’t go crazy. I don’t know how these teachers do it.”

10:30
About twenty feet ahead is a flock of wild turkey. They’re amazing – tall and regal. Jeff #2 starts talking to them – not in English, but in Turkey. He can make perfect turkey sounds. One of the turkeys turns to look around at where the noise is coming from. They really are magnificent animals. A few seconds later, I realize that Jeff #2 probably learned to make turkey sounds so he could hunt them. Suddenly, I’m very hungry for turkey.

10:50
LUCY: Who wants to see a tadpole?
EVERY KID: MEEEEE!
LUCY: BACK AWAY! BACK AWAY! DO NOT CRUSH THE TADPOLE!

10:53
Haven’t seen a snake. Stepped on three turds.

10:55
I overhear Jeff #2 talking to Lucy – “One time I went camping and took my two boys on a hike. The fog got so thick I couldn’t see six inches in front of my face. I thought we were gonna be attacked by a bear. My boys wouldn’t be quiet. All that screaming. I get so overwhelmed and my brain shuts down and I kind of lose it. I have to, like, breathe deeply and focus so I don’t go crazy. I don’t know how you teachers do it.”

INSIDE THE WELCOME CENTER
11:30
– Hi, guys! Everybody gather around! We’re going to play a game! Who wants to play a game?
– I DO!!!!
– Okay. Well this is a game about bears! Who wants to be the first bear?
– MEMEMEMEMEMEMEME!
– Whoa! Okay! How about you, sir?
– YES! I CAN BE A BEAR! I PLAY FOOTBALL!
– I PLAY HOCKEY!
– I PLAY BASKETBALL!
– I’M A NINJA!
– Okay! You’re all gonna get a chance to be a bear. But the first bear is a special bear. You know why? Because he lost his leg in a trap and has to hop on one foot. We call him “Hoppy Bear!”
– I WANT TO BE HOPPY BEAR TOO!
– NO, I’M HOPPY BEAR!
– I WANT TO BE NINJA BEAR!
– Hold on, now! So Hoppy bear has to collect these cards. I’m gonna scatter them around the room and they have names of plants and berries on them. Each plant and berry is worth a number of points and each bear needs to collect eighty points!
– I WANT TO BE ANOTHER SPECIAL BEAR!
– Okay. You got attacked by a porcupine and the quill went in your eye! So you are “Blind Bear!”
– FOREVER?
– No. Only temporarily. Here, put on this blindfold. You also have to collect eighty points of plants and berries. The rest of you have nothing wrong with you. You just have to collect the cards. Go!
– (INSERT SEVERAL MINUTES WORTH OF RANDOM CHAOS HERE)
– Okay! Everybody stop! Now add up your cards.
– I GOT TWENTY-FIVE!
– I GOT FIVE!
– I GOT FIFTY!
– I GOT THIRTY-FIVE!
– Well, only two of you got eighty points so you are the only two allowed to live in the forest. The rest of you have to live somewhere else, including “Blind Bear” and “Hoppy Bear.” Does everyone understand why we did this? Why do you think we played this game? Anyone?

OUTSIDE IN THE PICNIC AREA
12:00
It’s lunchtime. Nick is done eating his raw broccoli and veggie straws and wants to use the ghost app on my phone. I finally give in. He and about ten kids are running around the lawn looking for ghosts. I kind of figured “What the hell?” It’s lunchtime and there are no activities. But suddenly one of the other parents shouts. “KIDS! KIDS! GET OVER HERE! AND GIVE NICK’S DAD BACK HIS PHONE!” I don’t know this parent, but I’m guessing it’s the one that doesn’t trust me.

BACK ON THE BUS
1:00
Sitting next to Jeff #2 on the way home. He says “Man. These teachers are something else, aren’t they? All that screaming. I get so overwhelmed and my brain shuts down and I kind of lose it. I have to, like, breathe deeply and focus so I don’t go crazy. I don’t know how they do it.”

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Just three more days to Panther Hollow!

PH - Best Friends

“Everything I’m about to tell you is true. And, fair warning, some of it is upsetting so I’m going to apologize in advance. There are eleven corpses in this show – eight victims of suicide, one tragic accident, one fake dead body and one cat. I apologize for that. I especially apologize for the cat, although it’s not me that kills it. There are references to sex in this show – awkward, humiliating sex or, in my case, the humiliating and awkward lack of sex. I’m sorry. There are also two skinheads, one reference to public fornication, a few ghosts, Satan and Shakespeare. I’m sorry that I take a few potshots at religion although I feel it’s warranted. Also, because of lifelong feelings of self-loathing, I feel the need to say “I’m sorry” for everything you might find offensive and for that, I apologize. So let me just start with the first dead body and you can tick everything off as I go along…”

Can’t wait to bring PANTHER HOLLOW to Luna Stage this Friday (12/15/17). There’s only one performance so get your tickets now at http://www.lunastage.org

In the meantime, here’s an article written by Clara Wilch at the University of Pittsburgh a couple of years ago  –

Bringing Light to Dark Places- Pitt alumnus David Lee White on his new one-person play “Panther Hollow”

by Clara Wilch

In a recent conversation with alumnus David Lee White he explained that theatre has “always been what I’ve done. It’s my medium, it’s the language I speak… the only way I’ve ever really seriously interacted with the world.”

White began studying at the University of Pittsburgh as an acting MFA in 1991. Since then, White’s theatre experiences have multiplied along with his talents, expanding to include director and playwright. Among White’s early experiences playwriting were the “great” classes of Pitt’s Dr. Kathleen George, and a staging of an original piece by the school. He is now the Associate Artistic Director and Resident Playwright at Passage Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey. White’s most recent endeavor, the one-man show Panther Hollow, is the newest fruit of White’s lifelong labor and passion for theatre, as well as a deeply personal return to the landscapes of Pittsburgh.

White recently brought Panther Hollow to our city for a performance at the Arcade Comedy Theatre, and is currently in talks with Pitt about an upcoming, on-campus production, the details of which we will be excited to announce.

Panther Hollow is directed by John Augustine and confronts, in comedic and confessional fashion, the darkest point in White’s struggles with clinical depression. He summarizes the potent concept of his play- “Back in 1995, I had just finished grad school and was still living in this run down house in Panther Hollow. One morning, I found a dead body hanging from a tree down the street from my house. I spent the next year cruising therapists, popping meds and trying to piece my broken life back together. When I turned forty-five, I stumbled across my twenty-year old journal and starting piecing the story back together. This show is the result.”

And this result, believe it or not, is hilarious as well as moving. “I’m unable to avoid comedy,” White said, and he does indeed demonstrate excellent humor in discussing even the most difficult of times. Bringing forward the comedy that surrounds serious issues can be “breathtaking” for White, who cited the work of John Guare and Christopher Durang as examples. White accomplishes this same juxtaposition in revisiting the most “internally intense year” of his life with openness and a readiness to make people laugh.

This is not to say the writing process was easy. White says he struggled with how to honestly approach these experiences, how not to judge such loaded subjects or himself.  He also wrestled with how to portray that period in a dramatic way because “depression is really kind of boring.” Eventually, enthusiastic audiences convinced him that this is a story they wanted to see told and subjects they wanted confronted. They were drawn in by White and his journey as well as the intriguing atmosphere of Pittsburgh, which developed into an important component of the play. In three words, White describes Pittsburgh as “nostalgic,” “confusing,” and “ever-changing” (an intriguing setting indeed!)

Despite the highly autobiographical content of his play, White’s vision is large- the motivation for telling his own story comes in part from his long-time mental health advocacy. White described how the play is a way of sharing information about the deep and unique structures of depression and illuminating ways of emerging out of it- for those who may suffer, and loved ones who struggle to help them. More basically, it is a means of creating communication and openness about illnesses and even treatments still shrouded in mystery and, too often, stigma.

Through the process of developing the play and facing its challenges, it became “liberating” for the playwright and audiences. White explained, “staging the worst year of your life, and having people laugh at it… to put this out there and share this with other people who’ve experienced this” is a way “to say, ‘Let’s not be embarrassed by it.’” By “it” White does mean depression and mental illness, but he also means any experience that causes people to feel isolated and embarrassed. White’s speaking honestly about difficult and lonely times, the sort that had once ashamed him but in fact help define us all, becomes a way for audiences to regain compassion for themselves and openness towards others. This simple but very important transformation of perspective and emotion is just that sort that theatre is able to create, and a testament to White’s multi-faceted commitment to the form.

Asked to advise young artists less far along on their paths, White offered “don’t wait.” “Don’t worry about whether or not it’s going to make you famous,” he said, “do what you want do as soon as possible. Right away.” It’s a good lesson from someone who has not stopped exploring and discovering his creativity and himself, and who has strengthened and contributed to communities in the process of hard work, honest bravery, and an eye for the humor to be found just about anywhere.

PANTHER HOLLOW – This Friday!

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This is Robin (not her real name). She’s one of the people I talk about in PANTHER HOLLOW. Once again, the amazing Ian August drew this picture.

Panther Hollow is this Friday (12/15/17) at Luna Stage. For tickets, go to http://www.lunastage.org

Below is a review of the show from last year when it was performed as part of Passage Theatre’s Solo Flights Festival.

From the Princeton Packet – Bob Brown

   “David Lee White’s Panther Hollow is a perfect example of going out on a limb. Mr. White, Passage’s associate artistic director, has written several plays that were produced by the company, but as far as I know, this is his first solo piece.

   And what a performance piece it is! Talk about terrifying, Mr. White does nothing less that get up on that stage with a chair, a table, a white-board, and two cups of water, then proceed to disrobe his psyche for the next 70 minutes. After an opening joke about suicide to loosen the crowd (ba-da-boom), he warns us that his story — all true — will contain 11 corpses, 8 suicides, 1 abused cat, and sex — the awkward and humiliating lack of it. It also offers up loads of self-deprecating humor.

   The story goes back to Panther Hollow, an other-side-of-the-tracks Pittsburgh neighborhood. There, Mr. White lived the life of quiet desperation familiar to all 25-year-old virgins. He informs us that Pittsburgh is a sort of “suicide central” whose many bridges are a constant temptation to the suicidally inclined. Mr. White punctuates his story with diagrams and photos that he pops onto the white-board.

   Interspersed with a history of obscure suicides, one of which he encountered by accident, Mr. White recounts his theater gigs. He directed the bloody Jacobean revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, and he once filled in as a corpse for a performance of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. He dives onto the floor to demonstrate the stifling posture he had to maintain through most of that play.

   He talks of his limited relationships with women. Among his acting students in years past had been a marvelous young woman, who kicked her cat across the room for peeing on her leather jacket. He had tentatively kissed her. And he developed an obsession with Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose alluring picture on the cover of her memoir Prozac Nation had aroused him enough to make some rash moves. But there is no sex on the horizon. “Constantly thinking of sex,” he says, “tends to dull your empathy.”

   He dips into his bouts of depression and the pain of loneliness. He decides that as diseases go, “clinical depression” has a PR problem. Why can’t it be called something like suicidal cogitatis? He toys with suicide methods that are appropriately theatrical. He explores self-cutting. And he enters therapy with a counselor, a woman who will (horrors!) likely probe his nonexistent sex life. Cognitive therapy follows, and prescribed drugs, which lift him out of depression and up to euphoria. They have given “a false sense of well-being,” the therapist says. But isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

    Inevitably he meets a woman with whom he can talk for hours. She isn’t even deterred by the fact that he lives in a neighborhood frequented by skinheads, a place where you might stumble upon a rutting couple or a fresh corpse on the ground any given night.

   Mr. White’s darkly hilarious story has a light at the end of the tunnel or he wouldn’t be left to tell the tale. He’s a marvelous storyteller and, although the details suggest otherwise, his telling crackles with wry humor. Laughter in the face of death is the best medicine. Ultimately, the story is about the redemptive power of love and, yes, sex with the right woman. The content is about adult matters, but I’d give it a soft R for content. No language that would shock a 13-year-old.

   White pulls you into a slice of his life so seductively that you feel each agonizing moment with him — laughing all the way. ”

Panther Hollow! Next Friday!

More specifically, PANTHER HOLLOW is Friday, December 15th at Luna Stage. You can buy tickets at http://www.lunastage.org

This is Elizabeth Wurtzel –

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Wurtzel wrote the book PROZAC NATION, which became a cultural touchstone for those of us coming of age young and depressed in the 90s. I tried to call her once to tell her how much I liked her book. It was a bad idea. The whole story is in my show. If Elizabeth Wurtzel is reading this – don’t worry. You’re my hero and I don’t say anything bad about you.

Here are some comments about PANTHER HOLLOW from Lauren Weedman. If you’re familiar with her work, you know Lauren is one of the funniest women on the planet.

“What makes David show so unique, and his show so compelling, is his honesty. He’s such a good writer.  I laughed 44 times and cried twice.  The perfect solo show ratio. Corpses…dead bodies….depression…suicide – subjects that are tough to pull off but David does because his humor is so self–deprecating, and so honest.  Most importantly, for a solo performer, he’s a really likable guy.  Panther Hollow is a personal story of imperfect humanity perfectly told.”Lauren Weedman, HBO’s “Looking,” “Hung,” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Award winning solo performer and creator of the solo show “Bust.”

So come see it next Friday. http://www.lunastage.org

 

 

Eight days until PANTHER HOLLOW!

There are a million reasons to go see “Panther Hollow” at Luna Stage next Friday, December 15th. But let me narrow it down a little, spacing them out between now and then. First of all, there’s this drawing by Ian August – PH - Cognitive Triad

Playwright Ian August is also a damn fine cartoonist and his pencil scratchings are all over the show. It’s a bonus! Come for the show, stay for the artwork.

But what is PANTHER HOLLOW about I hear you cry? I’m gonna let the incomparable Scott Sickles – playwright and three-time Emmy nominee for his work on General Hospital – tell you in his own words:

As profound as it is funny, David Lee White’s PANTHER HOLLOW is an intimately personal tale that should be experienced by everybody. An account of the playwright/performer’s first salvos in his battle against clinical depression, the piece sheds light on a condition people still seem to think happens in a vacuum. Even Mr. White’s younger self wonders why he feels down in the dumps “for no reason.” But there is a reason. “You have an illness.” It’s a very thorough illness, too. At best, one becomes doubtful, anxious, and mopey. At worst, one finds oneself with a rope around one’s neck or staring down from a bridge into the abyss. Again, there is a reason: your brain is essentially trying to kill you.

But this is no medical travelog. White takes us back in time to early 1990’s college life in Pittsburgh. You can practically see, feel and smell his old neighborhood as he describes the awkward, uncertain, hilarious, grisly, and emotionally (and physically) naked events on his quest to find health, happiness, and even love. We get a mind’s-eye view into his dreams, anxieties, and youthfully questionable decision making process. There are even a few moments where we the audience wince with regret at decisions he’s about to make 20 years ago. It’s these moments among others that imbue the darkness of the subject and story with much, much laughter.

As a performer, Mr. White commands the stage with the same energy, wit, ease and charm that he had when he was actually in his early twenties. PANTHER HOLLOW feels like an entry in your best friend’s diary that you weren’t supposed to read, but now that you have, you need to share it with another friend whose life literally depends on hearing it. The lessons it teaches are crucial for anyone who has experienced or knows someone who has undergone this struggle. It’s also entertaining as all get out! – Scott Sickles, Writers Guild Award winner and three-time Emmy Award nominee

Got it? Good. For tickets, go to http://www.lunastage.org. See you next Friday!

 

Panther Hollow at Luna Stage!

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Hello, friends.

I’m doing my show solo show “Panther Hollow” at Luna Stage on 12/15 at 8:00 PM.

“Panther Hollow” is the show I’ve been performing for a few years now. It’s a comedy, believe it or not, about coping with clinical depression (Good Times!). It’s been performed at the United Solo Festival, Passage Theatre, Dreamcatcher Rep, The Arcade Comedy Theatre, Point Park College, and the front seat of my car.

“I haven’t seen the show, David? What’s it about?”

I’m glad you asked!

Storyteller and monologuist David Lee White details his struggle with love, sex and clinical depression at age 25 while living in a one hundred year old house in Pittsburgh’s hidden neighborhood, Panther Hollow.

“Sounds great, David! But does anyone famous have anything nice to say about it?”

Why sure they do!

“What makes David show so unique, and his show so compelling, is his honesty. He’s such a good writer.  I laughed 44 times and cried twice.  The perfect solo show ratio. Corpses…dead bodies…. depression…suicide – subjects that are tough to pull off but David does because his humor is so self–deprecating, and so honest.  Most importantly, for a solo performer, he’s a really likable guy.  Panther Hollow is a personal story of imperfect humanity perfectly told.”Lauren Weedman, HBO’s “Looking,” “Hung,” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Award winning solo performer and creator of the solo show “Bust.”

“David Lee White’s solo piece PANTHER HOLLOW USA tapestry of hilarious and poignant stories (among them a bout with depression, a group called “Teens For Christ,” and White stalking the author of Prozac Nation). White is an engaging storyteller, who’s expressive and a lot of fun to watch.” Nancy Giles, Commentator, CBS News Sunday Morning

David’s take on depression and suicide will have you laughing in the aisles and crying in your soul. Panther Hollow is a deeply personal work of bravery, joy and honesty. A truly inspirational tale that does what the best theatre can, showing that we are all human and even the deepest wounds can be healed. Better than CATS, better than ET.Robert Carr, Director of Programs and Services, The New Jersey Theatre Alliance

As profound as it is funny, David Lee White’s PANTHER HOLLOW is an intimately personal tale that should be experienced by everybody. An account of the playwright/performer’s first salvos in his battle against clinical depression, the piece sheds light on a condition people still seem to think happens in a vacuum. Even Mr. White’s younger self wonders why he feels down in the dumps “for no reason.” But there is a reason. “You have an illness.” It’s a very thorough illness, too. At best, one becomes doubtful, anxious, and mopey. At worst, one finds oneself with a rope around one’s neck or staring down from a bridge into the abyss. Again, there is a reason: your brain is essentially trying to kill you.

But this is no medical travelog. White takes us back in time to early 1990’s college life in Pittsburgh. You can practically see, feel and smell his old neighborhood as he describes the awkward, uncertain, hilarious, grisly, and emotionally (and physically) naked events on his quest to find health, happiness, and even love. We get a mind’s-eye view into his dreams, anxieties, and youthfully questionable decision making process. There are even a few moments where we the audience wince with regret at decisions he’s about to make 20 years ago. It’s these moments among others that imbue the darkness of the subject and story with much, much laughter.

As a performer, Mr. White commands the stage with the same energy, wit, ease and charm that he had when he was actually in his early twenties. PANTHER HOLLOW feels like an entry in your best friend’s diary that you weren’t supposed to read, but now that you have, you need to share it with another friend whose life literally depends on hearing it. The lessons it teaches are crucial for anyone who has experienced or knows someone who has undergone this struggle. It’s also entertaining as all get out! – Scott Sickles, Writers Guild Award winner and three-time Emmy Award nominee

That was a long post. Thank you for reading this far. And thank you for helping me get the word out there. Thank you, again, for just being you.

D.

Rodney Gilbert

A couple of days ago I decided I was fed-up with the Facebook/Twitter rage machine and was going to start writing about the people I knew who were actively changing the world for the better. This morning I woke up to discover that my friend and collaborator Rodney Gilbert had passed away. Rodney probably changed the world more than anyone I’ve ever met, in ways that were largely invisible to much of the world, but profoundly significant to the those of us that knew him.

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I woke up one morning back in 2007 to a voicemail from Rodney Gilbert. He said “David White, it’s 2:00 in the morning. I’m in Newark. I’m in my house and there’s police tape across the street. This kid just got shot. We need to get to work.”

Rodney was an actor, director, producer, activist and advocate. When you worked with him, you got all those things. He never left any part of his personality outside and you didn’t really want him to. His activism brought power to his acting. His advocacy brought passion to his producing. His work as an actor brought sensitivity and compassion to his direction.

I met Rodney in 2004 when he worked as an actor in Passage Theatre’s adaptation of “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich” directed by Nick Anselmo. After that, I hired Rodney to come to Trenton to act and work with kids every chance I got and he was always willing to do so. Our collaboration solidified when he played the role of King Navarre in my play “If I Could, In My Hood, I Would…” Rodney was more than just an actor in the show. He was a mentor to the eight middle-school kids in the cast. The show revolved around the problems of gang violence in Trenton – issues that Rodney was familiar with because of his history in Newark.

Shortly after that  phone call, Rodney and I started talking about doing a production of “If I Could…” in Newark. Before we could start work, however, he wanted to show me what Newark was like – he told me that if I wanted to improve a community, I had to understand it from the inside-out. Early one morning, I parked my car near his house on Spruce and Rodney took me on a walking tour of his city.

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Separating Rodney from Newark is impossible. I’ve rarely met an artist so symbiotically linked to his hometown. Rodney grieved the problems his city went through, but never lost faith in the people that lived there. On our walk that day, I saw Newark from Rodney’s eyes. We couldn’t walk more than a few blocks without hearing someone shout his name.

Rodney directed “If I Could…” so many times that I lost count. During the first performance at a Newark community center, Rodney moderated a discussion between at least sixty gang members. ( a discussion which ultimately saw a poor representative from a local foundation scurrying for the exit.) I saw another production at a local church and yet another at a Newark art gallery. More often than not, though, I got messages after the fact – “Hey, David White. We did ‘If I Could’ last week. I forgot to tell you it was happening. My bad.”

Rodney did multiple shows and classes for Trenton kids – so many, it’s hard to remember. He also appeared on Passage’s mainstage in “Trenton Lights,” – an oral history based show about the city of Trenton (written by myself and June Ballinger, directed by Adam Immerwahr). He also directed a workshop of “Profiles,” a follow-up to “Trenton Lights” on the subject of race. Last summer, he and the Yendor (read it backwards) acting company produced a workshop of my play “Fixed.” Even after I stopped working at Passage, Rodney continued to come to Trenton and work with students at Trenton Central High. Somehow, he continued to find the time to champion African-American, Jersey-based playwrights, promote the artistic talent in Newark, and beautify his city by producing murals by Newark visual artists. Rodney didn’t rest. Rodney knew the arts made a difference. Rodney never gave up.

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I have been blessed with many amazing collaborators over the years, but Rodney was one of people that helped me grow as an artist, an advocate and as a human being. When I doubted that theatre could change lives, Rodney was there to prove me wrong. The world is a bit darker than it was yesterday, but Rodney’s work made everything so much better and brighter that it will ultimately make up for all the grief and mourning. My heart goes out to the folks at Yendor Productions, the Company, Rodney’s friends and family and the hundreds (thousands?) of young people that Rodney mentored over the years. Rodney was eloquent, intelligent, passionate and hopeful. He believed in the power of youth and fought for them to receive complete, well-rounded educations and equal access to opportunities.

Rodney – I suppose I should say “So long” here, but I’m not going to. You see, there are an awful lot of people that are still carrying pieces of you around with them. So I know you’re not gone. Your spirit has simply been divided and distributed among the people that knew and love you. I will grieve and mourn, but not for too long. Not because I won’t miss you, but because at some point it will be 2:00 AM and it will be time to get to work.

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Conversations with Nick About the Ape God

048

NICK: Daddy?

ME: Yes.

NICK: Who were the first people?

ME: No one really knows. There’s a Bible story that says the first people were Adam and Eve. God made them and they lived in a garden. But that’s just a story. Probably, there were no first people. We evolved over thousands of years from something that looked like ape.

NICK: What the frick? We were apes???

ME: Not exactly. But we probably had a common ancestor with apes.

NICK: WE USED TO LOOK LIKE APES?

ME: Thousands of years ago.

NICK: I’M GONNA HAVE NIGHTMARES!

ME: No, no, no. It’s not scary. It just means that humans were different. We looked different thousands of years ago.

NICK: LIKE APES???

ME: Probably more like apes, yes.

NICK: Lord, God! I don’t wanna look like an ape!

ME: You don’t look like an ape! I mean people and apes have a common ancestor. And some people became apes and some people became people.

NICK: What the frick? I’m gonna have a nightmare where God comes down and HE HAS AN APE FACE!!!

ME: No, you’re not.

NICK: Yes! And the ape God comes down and he kills the human God!

ME: They’re the same God! I mean…no one knows if God…Okay…listen –

NICK: There are two Gods! The ape God and the human God! They have a common ancestor!

ME: That’s not what –

NICK: I don’t want to go to heaven, now.

ME: Why not?

NICK: Everyone there will have an ape face.

ME: No, they won’t.

NICK: Yes, they will. Because heaven has all the dead people so if people used to look like apes, most of the people in heaven will have ape faces.

ME: (pause) You make a good point.