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The morning of the first read

It’s that time again. The morning of the first reading of a new play.

I’m not talking about the first reading after a theater has agreed to produce a play. I’m talking about the first time I’ve gathered actors to give this creature a voice–my first opportunity to hear what I’ve gotten myself into.

As the architect of a play rather than its builder, a playwright has to eventually put the play into the hands of others, knowing that, barring a publishing deal, that’s the form by which its audience will see it.

I like to do that early in the process (early, of course, is a relative term–I’ve been working on today’s play for years. It began life as a novel, in collaboration with Eric Pfeffinger that never found a publishing home).

This first-read can be a deeply awkward time. The first time I gathered actors in my living room to read what became “Midwestern Hemisphere,” it proved an empowering–if way, way too long–evening packed with guideposts for developing the play. On the other hand, the first time I did the same with what became “Popular Monsters,” it was a cringe-packed afternoon that made me avoid for weeks the trio of talented actors who forged through the mess I had gall to call a play. (At the time, it was narrated by a werewolf and was only about an hour long.)

Note: I always find the best actors I can for these readings. That way, I can only blame myself.

There are some who believe that it’s shirking a writer’s responsibility to show a work to anyone until the writer has taken a work as far as he or she can. I’ve never been that kind of writer. One of the blessings of my time editing Indy Men’s Magazine was that I had a reciprocal relationship with Todd Tobias where we were each comfortable tossing a draft to the other and discussing a piece while in process. Rather than agonize over that last 10% of polish, we trusted that the other could pinpoint some places that would take the piece close enough to the finish line for publication. It worked.

A first reading of a play is similar, for me, except I am handing off the play not to another writer but to a set of people with very different talents. I’m not looking to them to give a post-read analysis of the piece and tell me where to go (although sometimes that happens and sometimes it’s very helpful).

More important is hearing the play as it happens, getting my first sense of the overall rhythm of the piece, finding the places where my voice gets in the way of its voice, and hearing if I’ve left room for the actor.

Sometimes, as with today, I’m trying to find if there’s a play in there somewhere. And I’m blessed to have actors in my universe willing–for a pizza lunch–to dive in for a few hours and show me what’s really inside this world I’ve tried to create.

 

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SiteLines presents…

Thrilled to announce the launch of another long-in-the-making project.credeaux script

A series of play readings held in locations that resonate with each play’s subject matter, SiteLines finds established, not-yet-performed-in-Indy plays packed with life — plot- and character-driven stories that make you lean in to find out what happens next. And we present them in places that enhance the subject matter and, in the process, connect theater to new, interested audiences.

SiteLines events are one-night-only pairings of interest groups with discussion-sparking play readings featuring top-notch plays and (paid) actors.

For our first reading, on Dec. 10, we’re partnering with Gallery 924 and the Arts Council of Indianapolis for a free reading of Keith Bunin’s “The Credeaux Canvas” at Gallery 924. A discussion with gallery director Shannon Linker will follow. For more info and to RSVP, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sitelines-presents-a-reading-of-the-credeaux-canvas-by-keith-bunin-tickets-19788571149

If you are part of an organization interested in partnering on a SiteLines project, by all means get in touch with John Thomas and I at louharrywriter@gmail.com

SiteLines has been funded in part by a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission.

Hope to see you there.

 

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Hey New York folks: A free reading of my new play

Consider this your invitation to join my Nov. 10 at 7:30 for a reading of my play “Popular Monsters” at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre in New York City.

It’s 1978, “Halloween” is about to open, and Greg has landed his dream job at his favorite horror movie magazine. But what’s really scary isn’t what’s on screen or in print.

The event is free, although we’ll pass the hat for the wonderful group of actors who will be performing–including Eric Rolland (TV’s “The Men Who Built America”), Lorne Batman (“A Disappearing Number”), Max Cove (“A Modest Suggestion”), and Rachael Ma (“Living In A Musical” and “Nutcracker: Rated R”).

Kindly RSVP here if you plan to attend. Hope you can.

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Upcoming events

Just an update on what’s happening over the next few weeks:

Oct. 19: Hosting Indy Actors Playground at Indy Reads Books. In case you don’t know about IAP, the premise is simple: Each month, a selected professional actor picks a play that he or she has long wanted to be a part of. The actor picks the cast and the play is read. Folks are welcome to come and hear, but we never announce what the play will be. For more about IAP, check it out on Facebook at Indy Actors Playground . And, if you happen to have any unwanted books laying around, bring them for donation. The reading itself is free.

Oct. 28: Hosting Indy Reads’ annual spelling bee. I’m told this will be the last time under this format. It’s always a blast. And there’s a taco bar this time.

Nov. 1: The November edition of “Going…Going…Gone: The Live Auction Comedy” features improv vets Claire Wilcher and Bill Wilkison along with Dance Kaleidoscope’s Caitlin Negron. Expect, well, don’t expect anything but a one-of-a-kind good time. More info at www.liveauctioncomedy.com and tickets at Theatre on the Square

Nov. ???: I’m in the process of pulling together a reading of a new play of mine in New York City when I’m in town for the American Theatre Critics Association conference. Stay tuned…

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“The Mural” –a short story

On Sept. 20, I had the pleasure of attending Art Squared (home of the best neighborhood parade in Indianapolis) and participating in its Masterpiece in a Day competition.

For fiction writers, it works like this: Three elements are chosen in the morning of the event and writers have until 3 p.m. to submit a max. 1000 word short story. A panel then judges them without authorship information.

The elements chosen this year were Architecture, Post Office, and Mismatched Earrings.

Here’s what I came up with (It and other winners in fiction and poetry will appear in an upcoming issue of Punchnel’s Literary Magazine):

The Mural

by Lou Harry

“Turn here, Becky.”

I took a right at yet another blinking traffic light and drove down yet another small town street to yet another post office. Not much different than the last few. Two story brick building. Raised granite basement. Classical revival style. Tuscan columns of Indiana limestone.

Prior to meeting Carly, if I was on Jeopardy and the category was architecture, I would have just hit the buzzer, said “Who is Frank Lloyd Wright?” and hoped for the best.

But in my seven months with her—before and after she graduated—I picked up a few things. Picked up things like one of those prison guys by the side of the highway. Not particularly interested in what I was picking up. But doing what was required.

We looked up at the factory workers and the farmers. Carly went on and on about how Thomas Hart Benton traveled around Indiana and painted a series of panels for the Chicago World’s Fair, establishing the rulebook for these celebrations of the nobility of the American worker.

I tried to think if I knew an actual factory worker or an actual farmer.

Nope.

“Pretty cool that he painted all of these,” I said.

No, Carly corrected me. These weren’t painted by Benton. They were “inspired” by Benton. Carly said “inspired” like it was something she had told me many times without it sinking in.

The original Benton murals, she said, weren’t in post offices. Most of them were actually in IU Auditorium.

Almost four years of my life there and I didn’t notice.

Outside, Carly sensed something.

“What?” she asked. Or said. I wasn’t sure.

“I just don’t see…they aren’t needed any more, right? These post offices. Isn’t that the thing? Because if they were needed…”

“It’s not about what they were. Or what they are,” Carly said. “It’s about what they can become.” She and her firm were trying to figure out what these no-longer-needed post offices could be turned into.

Another small Indiana town. Another post office on the closure list.

At some point, Carly had told me that a mural is a painting applied directly to a wall. You can’t take it down and move it somewhere else. Well, in some cases you can. But it’s a delicate process. And ethically questionable. A mural, Carly said, is an essential part of the architecture of a building.

I told Carly I was going to pass on this one, watching her as she climbed the wide steps, rising into another nearly abandoned, pretty-much unnecessary postal temple. I guess you can be sad about something like that. The end of something. But I think it’s more important to deal with the reality. Assess the facts and make the necessary decisions.

After a few minutes, I scribbled a “Be right back” note on the back of an old receipt and tucked it under the windshield wiper. I could have texted, I suppose, but I didn’t.

In dollar stores, I always end up buying something, even though I’m not looking for anything. This time, I picked out a pair of flowered earrings.

“Will that be all?” asked the woman behind the counter.

“That’s it,” I said.

Outside, I took off one of my drop earrings—the ones that Carly gave me at Christmas right after we met—put it in my pocket, and replaced it with one of the flower ones I just bought. I left the other drop in my other ear and the other flower on the cardboard.

—–

Carly was standing by the car when I got back.

“So,” I asked as I got close. “What do you think?”

She looked at me. Looked right at me. Then at the post office.

“I know that there’s something that this can become,” she said.

“Maybe there isn’t,” I said.

–end–

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Science fiction, the Hugo Awards, and a fascinating political battle

I can’t remember when I last read science fiction and have no idea who won the Hugo Awards in the past couple of decades.

But this year’s fascinating battle is also about politics and opposing, passionate forces at odds so I found myself following the battle over the Hugo Awards this year and the power struggle that played out online last night.

Here’s how it went down. In short, anyone who joins the World Science Fiction Society gets to vote on nominees and winners for Best Novel, Short Story, etc.

Seems like a very democratic process, no?

Well, this year, a disgruntled group that believed the membership was leaning too far left and no longer focusing on old-school “hard” scifi organized a slate of candidates, pushed for a significant number of new members to join who would support that slate, and loaded the nominees with those favored by the slate-creators.

Fearing that voting for their actual favorites would split the vote and allow the slate to win, the rank and file exercised its option to vote No Award as the winner in many categories. That’s what happened last night.

No rules were broken and the ceremony (which ran online as well as at World Con) was handled with remarkable grace and humor by authors David Gerrold and Tannarive Due.

Now, slate-folks are saying it proved the whole thing was political to begin with. Others are saying the No Award push was necessary to prove it wasn’t political.

Like I said, fascinating. What do you do when you feel an organization has been corrupted? And what do you do when you feel your organization is being corrupted by people who believe they are uncorrupting it? And how do both sides–and the organization–survive such a battle?

You don’t have to make a giant leap to make this an analogy for today’s political world.

And, for the record, I didn’t care much for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which won the Hugo for Best Film.

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To my Catholic pals…

To my Catholic pals conflicted about the recent Supreme Court ruling–feeling the pride but also worrying about betraying their faith–I respectfully ask you to consider:

1. It wasn’t long ago that hellfire awaited those who ate meat on Friday. The Catholic Church changed.

2. For a long time, the church mandated Latin for services. The Catholic Church changed.

3. The whole mandatory celibacy thing for priests is drifting into the history books. The Catholic Church will have changed and survived.

4. Paul and Peter had a knock down/drag out over whether or not circumcision was the way to go (Still waiting for the movie version of “Incident at Antioch” Come on Hollywood, get on it.). Okay, the Catholic Church may not have actually changed on this one, but it indicated that its leaders could disagree fiercely about something and still survive.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I’m no theologian, but I do know that no religion that has survived hundreds of years practices its faith–and holds to the exact same beliefs–as it did when it was founded.

Peace.

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Father’s Day, 2015

I became a father when I caught my first sight of Emily, the pioneer kid in the Harry quartet. I won’t pretend to try to describe that feeling. Her arrival in my life changed the way the stars looked.

butterfly search

with Jonah

And, boy, did she make me smile. Still does.

Then came Katie. Maggie. Jonah. Magnificent creations all, and all grew in love and chaos, teaching me that the heart, an amazing metaphorical muscle expands and expands and expands.

But the world, well…

I lost my father when I was young. I lost my daughter, Maggie, when she was young. So Father’s Day, it’s a roller coaster for me.

Because the brain, a stubborn mound of stuff, can hang on tighter to the times you think you failed as a father. “What about me?” say the successful moments, raising their hands to get a bit of attention. But when they get called on and try to speak, the failures rudely talk over them. Loud and relentless.

Mags on the BCR

Mags

I’m sure I’m not the only father who, every day, tries to come to terms with the life he’s led and the lives he had a part in launching.  And every year, here comes Father’s Day–a day devoted to those of us who stumble, walk into walls, and accept an honor we often feel we don’t deserve. We lose sleep, find truth, dance,  cry, and see the universe swirling in the hair at the top of tiny heads. Father’s Day underlines, boldfaces, and italicizes our feelings about what we’ve done, what we haven’t done, and what we could have done a helluva lot better.

Having a father around to say “you’re doing okay” would have been nice. If you’ve got a kid who is also a parent, consider doing that some point soon if you haven’t recently.

greek trio

Katie and Em with son-in-law Benj

The greatest honor of my life has been being called Dad. And the greatest challenge has been trying to deserve it.

Peace.

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Update as we near June 2015

Quick update:

http://www.IBJ.com/arts still going strong. Weekly A&E and dining review columns. Blogs as often as possible. A ticket giveaway just about every week. Arts reporting in the rest of the paper and online. Writing some of the profile sections (including 40 Under 40). Working with top-notch journalists dedicated to what they do. An honor to work with them.

–“Going…Going…Gone: The Live Auction Comedy.” Come see the always-new show the first Sunday of every month at Theatre on the Square in Indianapolis. Want us to do the show with your theater or to benefit your organization? Drop me a note. Have props, will travel. We’ll also be doing special midnight shows during the Indy Fringe festival.

–Plays. Hope to have news to announce by the end of June about upcoming production(s). At work on one now that’s been hovering for a while. Feel free to shoot me a note if interested in ready any of them. Agent search is a summer project.

–Indy Actors Playground. Still hosting play readings on the third Monday of every month at Indy Reads Books.

–Freelance. Upcoming piece in The Sondheim Review.

–TV. Hope to have some news next week.

–Books. “The Sugar Bush Chronicles” will be out in October. You’ve been warned.

–Appearances. Thrilled to serve as toastmaster for InConjunction over the 4th of July weekend.