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Stephen Adly Guirgis: At the Ojai Playwrights Conference

August 10, 2009 |  7:07 am

Stephen Adly Guirgis Each summer for more than a decade, a select group of playwrights from across the country has converged on the idyllic town of Ojai, north of Los Angeles, to escape the distractions of their everyday lives and write. So, for a week, guests at the Ojai Playwrights Conference write, rewrite and write some more alongside others there to write, rewrite and write some more.

Now in its 12th year, the conference offers playwrights a nurturing environment to develop and hone their works-in-progress before presenting readings to the public.

This year's event includes new plays by Stephen Belber, Bill Cain, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Stephen Adly Guirgis, David Wiener, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, as well as two symposiums, featuring Kron, Charlayne Woodard, Steve Connell, Sekou (tha Misfit),  Mozhan Marno and Carrara-Rudolph. A full schedule is here.

Culture Monster asked Guirgis, playwright, actor and co-artistic director of LAByrinth Theater Company in New York, to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the conference. Here's the first of his posts.

First days

I have already fallen head over heels for the brilliant, hot and award-winning playwright Lisa Kron -- and the fact that she is a lesbian only means I'll have to work a little harder to figure out a way to turn myself into a gay woman. Lisa and I were on the same flight from New York, and we had fish tacos at the Neptune's Nest in  Malibu, overlooking the ocean, on our way up to Ojai.

Lisa Kron in Well Somewhere between passing me the hot sauce and sharing some gossip about a couple of big-name theater people back home who are apparently making "the beast with two backs" behind the backs of their respective spouses, I fell in love with her. Kron (pictured) is just so cute and brainy and witty. I can't wait to see her symposium with the equally hot, brainy, quick-witted Jeanine Tesori on Tuesday.

The truth is that everybody here is pretty brilliant and hot. Every guy up here who didn't fall in love with a lesbian seems to be not so secretly smitten with another amazing playwright -- Frances Ya-Chu. She's barely 26, and her boyfriend would be wise to bring a Louisville Slugger and some mace when he gets up here.

For those of you who only have eyes for bald-headed Jesuit priests with black belts in karate, there's the unique and profound Father Bill Cain. Bill's play destroyed everybody in the room when we read it the other day.

And just when the mood seemed irretrievably somber and reflective, along came Emmy-nominated Leslie Carrara-Rudolph to make us laugh and laugh some more with a sneak peek of her one-woman musical journey with puppets. Leslie is like Robin Williams on crack -- but with puppets.

The only thing more amazing than Leslie and her puppets is the food up here and the generosity of our host, Helene Gordon. Here at her 60-acre estate, complete with Olympic-size swimming pool, hot tub, tennis courts and an always-full fridge and bar, it's like "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" for playwrights and interns.

Helene's neighbor and my friend, veteran TV writer and show-runner Dave Hackel, offered to house me at his place. But I begged to stay at Helene's. In fact, she may find me still hidden here come New Year's. This place rocks, and I'll slug it out on her grounds with the bears, coyotes and rattlesnakes if need be.

Ojai Artistic Director Bob Egan knows of my plan. He's agreed to give me a tent and a lantern if I finish a second draft of my play by Wednesday ...     

More first days

Stephen Belber It's really great to be up here with my friend and fellow LAByrinth Theater Company member Stephen Belber (pictured).

We read his really excellent new play "Dusk Rings a Bell," and I got to play the lead opposite my new lesbian crush, Lisa Kron. It was a lot of fun. It's a weird thing with playwrights: Sometimes we can be kind of competitive with one another, but honestly, when it comes to the folks who I think are among the very best -- like Belber -- I feel no sense of competition but rather relief and gratitude that they exist. Steve's a guy who could be making barrels of loot by working exclusively in film and television, and yet he stays true to his heart and continues to contribute top-quality work to the theater year after year. And he's a real gentleman -- but with a devil's glint in his eye and a rapier wit if you look and listen closely. I'm real glad he's here.

Then there's David Weiner and his new play "Extraordinary Chambers." Dave's been sidled with the tag  "talented emerging writer,"  but the truth is, the guy has already emerged! Not only that, but he has me writing more and working harder than I'd maybe like to up here, 'cuz the guy never stops working! He's always writing, or talking with his dramaturg, or taking notes, or writing some more, or pacing around in deep thought like some kind of Hoboken Einstein. The guy makes me feel guilty, and because of it, I've been able to accomplish a lot up already. I don't go to sleep until I see that Dave's light is out, and even then, I'm not convinced that he's not under the covers with a flashlight rewriting Act 1 one more time. Fortunately, he's a super-cool brother with a great sense of humor and a big, generous heart; otherwise, me and Belber would have had to spike his green tea to get him to slow down and stop making us look bad.

And on the subject of looking bad, I gotta say that so far the interns are putting us all to shame in the partying department. These guys and girls -- many from Kenyon College in Ohio -- really know how to kick it old school: Work all day and party all night. But, yo, Interns: Watch your backs! Us old heads are about to make a comeback! You guys are generation next, but we still got a few nights of mayhem left in us. These people are professionals, so watch and learn. Watch and learn...

-- Stephen Adly Guirgis

Top photo: Stephen Adly Guirgis. Credit: courtesy of Guirgis
Middle photo: Lisa Kron, appearing in her play "Well" in 2006. Credit: Ari Mintz / Newsday
Bottom photo: Stephen Belber. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times