Friday, March 23, 2007

New Format for New Works Festival

Here is the press release for this year's College of the Canyons New Works Festival (Valentino opens Program B):

Original Works, New Format for New Works Festival

The College of the Canyons New Works Festival is an event that invites local playwrights to submit original works and have them performed before live audiences in the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center. Now in its fifth year, this year's festival will be held from March 22 to 25 in the center's Black Box theater.

More than 18 playwrights submitted works this year and eight have been chosen for presentation. During the college's winter session, the scripts were prepared for presentation and during the spring semester, they are rehearsed and performed.

"This is a unique process," said David Stears, director of the New Works Festival. "With most festivals, the play is submitted and as a playwright, you don't see that work again until the performance. This is an opportunity to work through the entire process, so the playwright can refine the product right up until the end."

Over the years, the festival's format has evolved and this year there are some substantial changes. This year, for the first time, the festival opened the submission process to anyone in the community. "We are a community college," said Stears, "so why not invite everyone from the community to participate?"

Also new this year is a Playwright's Symposium, a panel discussion beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 22, with some of Los Angeles' most exciting playwrights. The discussion will focus on the creation and production of scripts and will be followed by an open question, answer and discussion forum. Panel participants will be:

  • Katherine Griffith, Playwright
  • Randee Trabitz, Director
  • Mickey Birnbaum, Playwright
  • Jennie Webb, Playwright

Admission to the panel discussion is free, and there will be no late seating.

Since more pieces than usual were selected for presentation this year, it became more difficult to present all of the pieces in a single evening. "This challenge became an opportunity to widen the festival," said Stears. "By adding performances and alternating the presentations, we've created more of a festival feel to the event."

Scheduling isn't the only difference in this year's programs. "Two of the selections are what we consider challenging work," said Stears. "So we've included those two pieces together in an evening." Both pieces contain language and subject matter that may not be suitable for all audiences. Performances have been grouped into two distinct programs .

Program A

Challenges Faced -- Six pieces of questions, challenges, and hope.

Suitable for most audiences.

  • Friday at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday at 4 p.m.

Program B

The Machiavelli Way -- Two pieces with a common backdrop: revenge and reconciliation. This program may be considered challenging in language and content. Some material may be considered offensive or inappropriate for all audiences.

  • Saturday at 8 p.m.
  • Sunday at 2 p.m.

The final change to this year's festival format is the addition of a Talk Back session after each performance. This is an opportunity for the audience to give its feedback to playwrights, actors, and directors on the work they've just seen. "It's an opportunity," said Stears, "for audiences to express themselves and let their voices be heard."

Admission is free for all New Works Festival performances. No advance reservations are accepted. Admittance is on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain. For more information about the performances, contact David Stears at (661) 259-7800, Ext. 26064.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cesare Borgia, Requiescat In Pace

Today is the 500th anniversary of Cesare Borgia's death.

This is how Raphael Sabatini describes the event in The Life of Cesare Borgia:
Cesare Borgia, landless, without right to any title, he that had held so many, betrayed and abandoned on every side, had now nothing to offer in the world's market but his stout sword and his glad courage. These went to the first bidder for them, who happened to be his brother-in-law King Jean.

Navarre at the time was being snarled and quarrelled over by France and Spain, both menacing its independence, each pretending to claims upon it which do not, in themselves, concern us.

In addition, the country itself was torn by two factions--the Beaumontes and the Agramontes--and it was entrusted to Cesare to restore Navarre to peace and unity at home before proceeding--with the aid upon which he depended from the Emperor Maximilian--to deal with the enemies beyond her frontiers.

The Castle of Viana was being held by Louis de Beaumont--chief of the faction that bore his name--and refused to surrender to the king. To reduce it and compel Beaumont to obedience went Cesare as Captain-General of Navarre, early in February of 1507. He commanded a considerable force, some 10,000 strong, and with this and his cannon he laid siege to the citadel.

The natural strength of the place was such as might have defied any attempt to reduce it by force; but victuals were running low, and there was every likelihood of its being speedily starved into surrender. To frustrate this, Beaumont conceived the daring plan of attempting to send in supplies from Mendavia. The attempt being made secretly, by night and under a strong escort, was entirely successful; but, in retreating, the Beaumontese were surprised in the dawn of that February morning by a troop of reinforcements coming to Cesare's camp. These, at sight of the rebels, immediately gave the alarm.

The most hopeless confusion ensued in the town, where it was at once imagined that a surprise attack was being made upon the Royalists, and that they had to do with the entire rebel army.

Cesare, being aroused by the din and the blare of trumpets calling men to arms, sprang for his weapons, armed himself in haste, flung himself on a horse, and, without pausing so much as to issue a command to his waiting men-at-arms, rode headlong down the street to the Puerta del Sol. Under the archway of the gate his horse stumbled and came down with him. With an oath, Cesare wrenched the animal to its feet again, gave it the spur, and was away at a mad, furious gallop in pursuit of the retreating Beaumont rearguard.

The citizens, crowding to the walls of Viana, watched that last reckless ride of his with amazed, uncomprehending eyes. The peeping sun caught his glittering armour as he sped, so that of a sudden he must have seemed to them a thing of fire--meteoric, as had been his whole life's trajectory which was now swiftly dipping to its nadir.

Whether he was frenzied with the lust of battle, riding in the reckless manner that was his wont, confident that his men followed, yet too self- centred to ascertain, or whether--as seems more likely--it was simply that his horse had bolted with him, will never be known until all things are known.

Suddenly he was upon the rearguard of the fleeing rebels. His sword flashed up and down; again and again they may have caught the gleam of it from Viana's walls, as he smote the foe. Irresistible as a thunderbolt, he clove himself a way through those Beaumontese. He was alone once more, a flying, dazzling figure of light, away beyond that rearguard which he left scathed and disordered by his furious passage. Still his mad career continued, and he bore down upon the main body of the escort.

Beaumont sat his horse to watch, in such amazement as you may conceive, the wild approach of this unknown rider.

Seeing him unsupported, some of the count's men detached themselves to return and meet this single foe and oblige him with the death he so obviously appeared to seek.

They hedged him about--we do not know their number--and, engaging him, they drew him from the road and down into the hollow space of a ravine.

And so, in the thirty-second year of his age, and in all the glory of his matchless strength, his soul possessed of the lust of combat, sword in hand, warding off the attack that rains upon him, and dealing death about him, he meets his end. From the walls of Viana his resplendent armour renders him still discernible, until, like a sun to its setting, he passes below the rim of that ravine, and is lost to the watcher's view.

Death awaited him amid the shadows of that hollow place.

Unhorsed by now, he fought with no concern for the odds against him, and did sore execution upon his assailants, ere a sword could find an opening in his guard to combine with a gap in his armour and so drive home. That blade had found, maybe, his lungs. Still he swung his sword, swaying now upon his loosening knees. His mouth was full of blood. It was growing dark. His hands began to fail him. He reeled like a drunkard, sapped of strength, and then the end came quickly. Blows unwarded showered upon him now.

He crashed down in all the glory of his rich armour, which those brigand- soldiers already coveted. And thus he died--mercifully, maybe happily, for he had no time in which to taste the bitterness of death--that awful
draught which he had forced upon so many.

Within a few moments of his falling, this man who had been a living force, whose word had carried law from the Campagna to the Bolognese, was so much naked, blood-smeared carrion--for those human vultures stripped him to the skin; his very shirt must they have. And there, a stark, livid corpse, of no more account than any dog that died last Saturday, they left Cesare Borgia of France, Duke of Romagna and Valentinois, Prince of Andria, and Lord of a dozen Tyrannies.

The body was found there anon by those who so tardily rode after their leader, and his dismayed troopers bore those poor remains to Viana. The king, arriving there that very day, horror-stricken at the news and sight that awaited him, ordered Cesare a magnificent funeral, and so he was laid to rest before the High Altar of Sainte Marie de Viane.

To rest? May the soul of him rest at least, for men--Christian men—have refused to vouchsafe that privilege to his poor ashes.

Nearly two hundred years later--at the close of the seventeenth century, a priest of God and a bishop, one who preached a gospel of love and mercy so infinite that he dared believe by its lights no man to have been damned, came to disturb the dust of Cesare Borgia. This Bishop of Calahorra--lineal descendant in soul of that Pharisee who exalted himself in God's House, thrilled with titillations of delicious horror at the desecrating presence of the base publican--had his pietist's eyes offended by the slab that marked Cesare Borgia's resting-place.(1)

1 It bore the following legend:


which, more or less literally may be Englished as follows: "Here in a little earth, lies one whom all did fear; one whose hands dispensed both peace and war. Oh, you that go in search of things deserving praise, if you would praise the worthiest, then let your journey end here, nor trouble to go farther."
Here is my own verse translation of Cesare Borgia's epitaph:
Buried in this bit of earth
Lies one who held the world in fear,
A man whose hands have given birth
To war and peace. If you're sincere
And hope to find a man of worth,
Then end your troubled journey here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Viana Forgives Valentino's Sins

Duke Valentino (Cesare Borgia) was killed on March 12, 1507 during the seige of Viana, a town in the Kingdom of Navarre, which is now part of northern Spain.

He was buried in Viana's Santa Maria Church. His remains were later exhumed by a bishop who thought Valentino did not deserve a Christian burial. Valentino's bones were re-interred beneath a city street, only to be dug up again by a roadwork crew in 1945.
His remains were shut away as a debate raged between the city fathers and the Catholic clergy on what to do next: the city fathers wanted Cesare reburied in the church, a move resisted by clergy horrified by his sins. The city fathers have won, and Cesare will again rest in the Santa Maria Church.
Read the full article here.

Valentino on KHTS Radio

A few weeks ago I was a guest on KHTS (AM 1220), talking about my play Valentino with Paul Strickland on his "Thursday Matinee" show.

You can hear the February 15 epsisode of the show here (mp3 file).

My segment starts about 40 minutes into the one-hour program.

Cesare Borgia Reburied after 500 Years

In the 500 years since the death of Cesare Borgia, his bones have not exactly rested in peace:
Like Cesare himself, whose violent life came to a violent end at 32, the tomb was not long for this world. In 1527, a touring bishop of Calahorra. whose family had long been persecuted by Rome's ruthless Borgias, caught sight of it and howled at the outrage of such a sinner as Cesare being buried in church ground. The sarcophagus was demolished forthwith. The remains of Cesare Borgia, illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI and himself a cardinal at 18, an accomplished murderer at 25, and military conqueror of a good part of Italy at 27, were carried into the street and buried beneath the cobblestones and the dung of passing cattle. For 400 years the villagers of Viana avoided the unmarked grave, particularly on the night of March 11, when Cesare's ghost is said to be abroad and thirsty for vengeance. For generations the city fathers of Viana urged Cesare's reburial inside the church; for generations the priests of Viana resisted them.
Now, at last, his bones have been reburied in consecrated ground.

Read the full article here.

Machiavelli's Hero

The L.A. Times today published a great article by Alexander Stille about the Borgias, which is timed to coincide with tomorrow's 500th Anniversary of Cesare Borgia's death:
THE NAME Borgia is synonymous with Renaissance decadence, treachery and ruthless realpolitik. The tales of the handsome and bloodthirsty condottiere Cesare Borgia; his father, Pope Alexander VI, and his sister, the beautiful Lucrezia, who may (or may not) have also been his lover, have spawned an endless number of tales, poems, novels, operas and movies.
Including, I might add, Valentino: a play in verse.

The article goes on to discuss the historical events upon which my play is based:
When Giovanni was assassinated, his brother took over his position, giving rise to the rumor that young Cesare Borgia had done Giovanni in.

A daring military adventurer, Borgia worked to strengthen the papacy's hold on central and northern Italy and to carve out what he hoped would be a kingdom for himself that might rival Venice and Naples.

Perhaps his most enduring claim on our attention is that his deeds and misdeeds attracted the notice of a young Florentine government servant named Niccolo Machiavelli, who had spent time as an emissary in Borgia's court and wrote back long reports about the young man commonly known as the Duke Valentino, one of many titles he held.

One of the most famous of the surviving reports is known as the "Description of the Methods Adopted by the Duke Valentino when Murdering Vitellozzo Vitelli … " in which Machiavelli, with some admiration, writes of the shrewdness with which Borgia lured his principal rivals to the town of Sinigalia and had them strangled.
Read the full article here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Meet the Original Cast of Valentino

While the New Works Festival cast of Valentino is busy memorizing their lines for their first performance on Saturday, March 24, 8pm, I thought I'd go ahead and make the introductions:
VALENTINO – Lou Steele
LEONARDO DA VINCI – Andrew Fish Booth
MICHELOTTO – Chriss Nicholas
CARDINAL ORSINI – Paul Strickland
SOLDIERS – Andrea Plaud and Sarah Oh
I'm very excited to have such a talented group of actors speaking my words on stage for the first time.

Break a leg, everyone!

New Works Festival Schedule

The schedule for the 2007 College of the Canyons New Works Festival has been announced:
Thursday, March 22, 7pm – Playwrights Symposium

Friday, March 23, 7pm – Program 1:
Mr. Furnettle and the Christmas Debacle by Emily Charouhas
Potluck by Jennifer Swann
GR8GUY4U by Elizabeth Chislett
Alarms by Mary Margaret Sunker
Counting Cards by Colleen Niemi
Prom Dress by Karen Gorback

Saturday, March 24, 4pm – Program 1 (see above)

Saturday, March 24, 8pm – Program 2:
Valentino: A Play in Verse by David Wisehart
Construction/Deconstruction by Joe Camhi

Sunday, March 25, 2pm - Program 2 (see above)
All performances take place in the Black Box Theater at the College of the Canyons. Admission is free, but there is very limited seating. Show up early.

My play, Valentino, will be an excerpt from the full-length play. The actors will perform Act One, Scenes 2 and 3. The New Works staging will run about 45 minutes, and represents about one third of the entire work.

This is a minimal production, with no period costumes and only limited blocking. However, the actors will be "off-book" (lines memorized), and there will be a sword fight!

For more information, go to the New Works Festival website.