Saturday, June 27, 2015

How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career Edited by Lawrence Harbison

How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career
Edited by Lawrence Harbison
Applause Theater & Cinema Books, 2015

Reviewed by Deborah Finkelstein

It’s the question all of us ask: How did this writer make it? Lawrence Harbison decided to find out. He interviewed 30 playwrights and asked them to share their stories.

Joining a writing group was a popular recommendation. It’s a great place to share work, and receive support and feedback. Many groups do readings and some even invite directors. “Careers are built by establishing working relationships with other like-minded people,” says David Auburn (6). Harbison adds, “Try to get into a playwright workshop. If there isn’t one in your area, start one.” (x)

Many suggested self-producing plays rather than waiting for a theater to stage plays. This allows the writer to hear the work live, and share work with the world. Plus one never knows who’s in the audience that might want to produce the play. Bekah Brunstetter says, “We wanted to work on plays. We didn’t want to wait for opportunities—we wanted to make them for ourselves.” (20)

Writing groups and self-production also build community, as do attending school or working in the theater as an actor, director, stage manager, stagehand, etc. These are all great ways to meet other theater folks. “Offer to read stage directions,” Harbison says. “Do anything to make the theater aware of you and your work.” (xi)

Community was an important ingredient in many playwrights’ prosperity, and several shared the way someone they knew helped open doors for them. “Make your friendships, your connections, early. You just never know who’ll wind up being in a position to help you further your career,” says Lauren Gunderson (97). Playwrights added that it’s important to kindle the friendships, “I spend some part of every day keeping in touch with people,” says Aaron Posner (161).

Some writers never submitted plays, but several did attribute their achievements to sending plays out to theaters, contests, and festivals. “You never know who’s going to be reading it,” says Gina Gionfriddo (61), and John Cariani (38) adds, ““All it takes is for one person to love your play.”  Brunstetter prescribes applying everywhere, “I’d look up submission opportunities… make myself deadlines, and try and meet them all.” (20) This advice, like much of the book, was applicable to not just playwrights, but most artists.

A few of the playwrights reminded writers to persevere and shared tales of rejection. “I had a briefcase full of rejections,” says Neil LaBute (123). Brunstetter spoke about the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. “I applied eight times before I got accepted. If at first you don’t succeed, apply apply again.” (25). Eric Coble reminds writers that it’s natural to feel rejected sometimes, “Keep writing even when it seems like nobody wants to see or hear or read what you’re creating. All writers feel like that sometimes. You just have to keep going.” (48)

In addition to describing “how they did it,” playwrights also shared stories about their background. They spoke about their writing style, their habits, and their inspiration. They gave details about the journeys of specific plays. Set in Q and A format, the book is worth a read to anyone wanting to learn more about contemporary playwrights in the U.S. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur by Doug Holder

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur

Boston 1974-1983

By Doug Holder

Big Table Publishing Company

Boston, MA

ISBN: 978-0-9908413-6-4

17 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly


Doug Holder hears voices. Lots of them! He channels these voices through his maturely manufactured, yet wholly internalized, persona, a replica of his younger, offbeat self. Holder’s persona specializes in self-deprecation, perceptiveness, and smart-alecky truth-telling. Consider the catch word of his title – poseur. Make sure you give it the appropriate French pronunciation with an elitist air, and see how it colors everything that comes after. The inset photo of Holder on the cover of this chapbook only adds to the effect. Tellingly, the specter of life’s brutality always seems to hover in and over the fabric of each of these funky prose poems, teasing out some pretty unusual insights.


Reading through this sixteen part poetic memoir the cadence carries you forward down alleys, past vacant lots, into a psychiatric ward, and out into the mystery of Boston’s Chinatown. The pull of the words and phrasing reminds me a lot of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry—specifically Kaddish. Unlike Ginsberg, however, Holder does not constantly engage. He keeps a bit of distance between himself and his objects of interest until he doesn’t. Then he zeros in with a vengeance, albeit a funny vengeance.


Holder’s persona, just out of college, comes alive at 271 Newbury Street in a piece entitled Newbury Street. The poet initially gives the reader a grand tour of the vicinity and a mini job history before dropping names of famous acquaintances – an interesting narrative in itself, but Holder is just setting his audience up. The poet springs his trap,


… I had the same Chinese

laundry as talk radio host David Brudnoy (the Chinese man always

used to yell at me Why you lose ticket?) Brudnoy, his pockmarked and

intelligent face, with an ironic smile. I worked as a clerk at the corner of

Newbury and Beacon Street, Sunny Corner Farms. Members of the

Cars used to come in regularly—Rick so sky high, fingering a

Twinkie… also Gila Radner—a frenzy of frenzied hair, Howard

Zinn, tall, a radical patrician, and Barney Frank—rumpled and in a

rush—all on the night shift. And beers after work at Frankenstein’s. My

boss, a fat Irishman, called me a dirty kike regularly after he had a few…

nice to me the next day…


“Nice,” a civilized and suburban word fits so snugly in that last sentence.


In the same poem humor and irony help maintain distance and narrative speed, but does not negate a strong sense of tragedy and waste pulsing through the page. Everywhere food and rodents seem to share the down-but-not-quite-out-background of this artist-in-training. Holder concludes his Newbury Street narrative with a wink,


… Those nights writing in my

furnished room, the clank, clank of the radiator—thinking I was a

Beat poet or something. The mice scurried by—my father told me,

over the phone: Get the hell out of there! My mother joined in, That’s the

lifestyle they lead, Larry. Hordes of us made the pilgrimage to be with

the rodents and roaches… all-night poker games with the service

bartender who worked at the Hilton… the dishwashers from his shift,

Latinos with flashy gold-filling smiles. Bartending was not his life he

told us—he was going back to U/Mass Boston—for the past 5 years he

told us.


Innocence gets its due in Holder’s piece entitled, Combat Zone, Greyhound Bus Station, Boston Public Library. The poet gives his reader an affecting reaction after the real world sneers at him. Here’s the gist of it,


…I weaved my way to the carnality of the Combat Zone—

down LaGrange Street. First stopping by Hand the Hatter, an

avuncular old man—some fish—some fish out of order—water—in the

midst of this—presiding over blocked, buffed, and august fedoras—the

kind my father wore—his heels pounding the floors in Penn. Station.

And the whore in the bar said: Give this kid a glass of milk. And all my

street-wise posturing melted with these succinct words—not a

boilermaker but a milk boy.


Holder’s persona seeks to confirm his romantic notions of the artist’s world by escaping to filmdom in a meditation he calls Harvard Square Cinema. This is probably my favorite piece in the collection. Stream of consciousness rushes through this set of memories from Brando’s Last Tango in Paris, setting up the way the world should work, to Frank Cardullo, who owned and held court at the Wursthaus eatery, delivering corny puns filled with dead-end wisdom, to an insane Harvard University exile, who counsels his fellow comrades, presumably directing their financially naïve futures. Holder’s persona here introduces a couple of his old pals,



…The Harvard refugees at the au Bon pain.

Expelled from the academy—for some reason or another. Gravitated

like moths around the light of Harvard Yard. Sat with my friend

Byron, trust-fund man, graduate of the wards of McLean—he

dabbled in Native American crafts—liked to ogle the young girls

passing by, called the old ladies trouts. George—a scavenger of scraps

of newspapers, and gossip of the street—full of news of the supposed

scandals at Harvard—joined us, and let us in on the insane, inside



Most modern practitioners of “beat” style and themes are pale imitations of the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Weiners, et al. Holder delivers more. He brings with him his own value added innovations to the genre, most singularly his humor.


In the very last line of his very last piece in this collection, Holder stands on a rain-slicked street in Chinatown waiting for a dramatic introduction in Twilight Zone fashion. I hope this signals that another installment of these “poseur” poems will follow in short order. Very short order.

To order go to

*********Dennis Daly lives in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Joanne. They have four adult children. He is a graduate of Boston College and has an MA in English Literature from Northeastern University. Daly worked at General Electric for ten years. He edited and published The Union Activist newsletter and the North Shore Union Leader, a labor newspaper. He also was the managing editor of the Electrical Union News, the official news organ of Local 201 IUE. He also was a regular contributor to The Salem News., He was elected to a leadership position of the 9000 member IUE union. Later he worked as a Department Head in the City Of Salem. He has been published in many poetry journals and magazines and nominated for Pushcart prizes in 2013 and 2014. He is included in a chapbook, published by Northeastern University Press, with two other poets, Robert deYoung and Patrick Duddy. . His second book, a verse translation of Sophocles’ Ajax, was published by Wilderness House Press in August, 2012.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Interview with Donald Norton: Managing Editor of The Somerville Times.

Donald Norton/Managing Editor of The Somerville Times
Interview with Donald Norton: Managing Editor of The Somerville Times.

With Doug Holder

Donald Norton has lived in Somerville all of his 68 years. And if there is one thing that most people can agree on about this important figure in our city, it is that he has an unabashed love for Somerville. Norton, once the owner of The Somerville Times, is now the managing editor. The ownership of the paper is now in the hands of his longtime friend Ross Blouin. I met with Norton at my usual spot at the Bloc 11 Café in Union Square. Norton is a fount of information about the “Paris of New England,” and he had a plethora of anecdotes about the old city, and his view of things to come.

Doug Holder: Donald in back of us is an old church. I think it houses condos now. Union Square has changed—the city has changed—you have experienced this change in your years here.

Donald Norton: I am 68 years old—so I can go back to the late 50s. At that time there were a lot of stores in Union Square. Any type of shopping you wanted to do; you would come to Union Square. The streets and sidewalks were very busy with people. The Square was laid out very differently back then. There was a different traffic pattern. Somerville Community Access TV was a fire station. The city changed very rapidly in the early 60s. One of the reasons was that there was a massive flight from the city of Boston. If people remember the Boston Redevelopment Authority was tearing down the West End of Boston. A lot of the folks from the West End were moving into Somerville. The predominate ethnic group in Somerville at the time was the White Anglo Saxon Protestant.  A lot of the churches were emptied  and people moved out to places like Stoneham, as more Catholics were coming into the city. The vibrancy in Union square lasted till the early 60s, until the malls came into play.

DH: I heard there were slaughterhouses in Somerville?

DN: I remember “Squires”  which was located where Target is today. Squires was a slaughterhouse. Back in the day there were a number of slaughterhouses in that part of the city, on the outskirts of Union Square. My parents told me that the cows from the farms outside the city were marched down College Ave., through Davis Square, down Elm Street, and down Somerville Ave. to Squires. There was a fire at Squires that lasted a week. As kids we would go down every day to watch it burn. It was a really good smell, well, like a barbecue of sorts. After Squires a lot of big stores like Bradlees’s, and Stop and Shop moved in.

DH:  With all this change, what do you see as the future of the city?

DN:    I don’t know. I think it is challenging. Of course it depends on the economy. I see young couples that come into my office that are pre-approved for an $800,000 home and make $200,000 a year. But it is hard for people to sell in Somerville. The whole area is hot, and getting another home is just as expensive. People have to go farther and farther out. Anyway, as I said, the city changed in the early 60s, and by the 70s there was an influx of Portuguese. My mother once told me that at one time Somerville was a huge Republican city-of course that has changed also.

Somerville is not on the right track as far as a pricewise city. As far as keeping the city diverse…well a lot of people are going to move out because they can’t afford to live here. But what younger folks don’t realize is what goes up, must come down. So the million dollar home and the high paying job you have today can be gone. Your home can be greatly devalued. I have been in real estate since 1977, and I have seen many booms and busts. The generation of people in their 20s hasn’t really experienced this as adults. People should keep this in mind.

DH:  Can you talk about the term “Slummerville” that has thrown around a lot over the years.

DN: This originated from people on the outside, because of the perception of Somerville as a hotbed of criminal activity. I never thought of Somerville this way. I was never insulted by the name, “Slummerville.” People who used this word obviously didn’t know anything about the city. Over the years I have worked in organizations that have contributed to the welfare of the city. And how things have changed! For instance I run into people who have not been back to Somerville since the 60s and were once embarrassed to be from it, and now they wish that they never moved. They read all the press about the city, so now they wear Somerville proudly on their puffed- out chests.

DH: Can you talk about the history of The Somerville Times?

DN:  It was started in the 60s by an attorney who was running for mayor. It started out named “The Somerville Times,” later it became “The Somerville News” and now it is known as “The Somerville Times” again. The Times was started as a counterpoint to The Somerville Journal. The Journal was locally owned, unlike now. The Journal had a huge staff. It is now relegated to a shoebox space just off Highland Ave.  When Bob Publicover took the Times over, he changed the name to “The Somerville News.” It was monthly paper. It was a hands on operation. Bob had a popular column titled “Bluntly Speaking” where he announced he had AIDS. That was a big deal back then. In 2002, when his health declined, he sold me the newspaper. At that time my real estate company was very successful. I put a lot of money into the paper—and we never made much from publishing it. For a while we had a partner, but he left. Two years ago I sold it to Ross Blouin, an old friend of mine.  I am now in the role of managing editor. The Somerville Times is going to be around a long time. We are the number 1 paper in Somerville. We get between 14,000 and 17,000  readers ( online and print)  a week. We have 160 boxes across the city and we are putting in more. We plan to put 4 or 5 boxes in Assembly Square Mall.  Recently Tufts University Journalism students studied us, and gave us many recommendations to improve the paper, some of which we will implement. I glad that we have a diversity of writers with different viewpoints.

DH: On a final note, what about the story we broke about Obama’s unpaid parking tickets he got in Somerville when he lived here while attending Harvard Law School? Give me the inside dope.

DN:  Well we had some inside information about that from a source that I can’t reveal. Hillary Clinton’s people called us about the story during her campaign. The story got so many hits it almost crashed the website.