While my incredible experience with Gotham may have taken up a lot of psychic space in 2018, I did fit in a few other fun projects before the year ended.
One such project last autumn was a short TV comedy pilot called The Genius. I played Carlton McGibbons, the wealthy, well-meaning, and remarkably naive head of a certain benevolent arts institution. Desperate to find the next brilliant artist, Carlton sees a talentless nerd defacing the wall of a public building and mistakes him for the mysterious and famous street artist Banksy. And of course, wackiness ensues…!
My thanks to writer/director/producer Max Weissberg for including me in this fun project. Stay tuned.
In Spring 2018, Off-Broadway was electrified by Billie Piper’s astonishing and gut-wrenching performance in Simon Stone’s superb updating of Lorca’s tragedy Yerma. And this summer we had another all-too-limited run: the always-remarkable Carey Mulligan in Dennis Kelly’s truly devastating new solo play, Girls & Boys. But while Yerma ends with a loud bang, Girls & Boys closes with more of a terrifying whisper.
Alone onstage, Ms. Mulligan, guided by Lyndsey Turner’s sensitive direction, was a quiet force of nature. She related the initially amusing tale of how she met her husband–then slowly revealed what happened, many years and two children later, when her husband couldn’t deal with her becoming more successful than he was. The revenge he takes is unspeakably horrifying. But Ms. Mulligan, aided by Kelly’s delicate script and Turner’s humane direction, helped the audience get through what they knew is coming. And the statistics her character cited at the end are perhaps the most harrowing revelation of all. To know how many times a year these family crimes are committed–almost always by estranged ex-husbands–is to know that there is something seriously wrong with the way men are raised to live in this world. As Linda Loman says at the end of the great tragedy Death of a Salesman: Attention must be paid.
This was another hard-to-watch but utterly unforgettable theatrical event. My husband and I have been fans of Ms. Mulligan since seeing the now-classic Doctor Who episode “Blink,” and Ms. Mulligan’s work onstage is every bit as human and honest and vulnerable as her work on large and small screens. If you missed the Off-Broadway run, it was produced by Audible.com, and there is an audio version of Ms. Mulligan’s performance available as well. Be prepared; it’s not an easy story to sit through, and it will likely leave you deeply shaken. But it is beautifully done, and the message needs to be heard around the globe.
When the Fox network made the decision to order only 10 episodes of Gotham instead of the expected full 22-episode season, and when they further announced this would be the show’s final season, I was heartbroken, along with Gotham fans around the world. I knew the producers and writers had planned all along for seven full 22-episode seasons to tell the origin story of Batman and his many villainous foes.
But Executive Producers Danny Cannon and Bruno Heller, along with all the producers and writers, have taken this adversity as a final challenge. After pushing the envelope for four solid seasons, they are holding nothing back with their 10 “grand finale” episodes.
John Stephens wrote the Season 5 premiere, Year Zero, and it is simply incredible. The storytelling is complex, dark, surprising, and intense. And it sets the stage for some astonishing scenes to come. Danny Cannon directed the episode; this was my third episode working with Danny, and once again a pure joy. We all worked hard and efficiently, but we had a great time, too. Danny’s knowledge of every aspect of every lens, every angle, and every nuance of a performance–and his ability to communicate exactly what he wants in a few words–makes it fantastic to be on set with him. Listening to Danny talk with his team about the finer points of lens work and framing has been an education in itself (but then, look at his beautiful photographs on Instagram–this man knows framing and color and light). I am grateful for every moment on this set–and in case you’re wondering, the spirit on set is great. Episode 501 was Danny’s last Gotham directing gig. That can’t be easy for him, given how much he loves this show. I can’t even imagine. We should all salute him for the world he helped create and define. Thank you, Danny.
It’s a shame Fox can’t appreciate just how extraordinary Gotham is. And it’s astonishing to me that another network hasn’t already stepped in to snap up the show and continue it through its intended seven seasons. The television world will be much poorer when the inspired insanity of Gotham is no longer on the air. And forget the outdated Nielsen rating system; advertisers will find themselves desperately wishing they could align with a genuinely original and hip show like Gotham once it’s gone.
I am honored to have been invited back to make an appearance in Season 5. And I promise Gotham fans this: Danny and the entire team are going out all guns blazing. Literally.
Fasten your seatbelts, Gotham fans. This last season is going to be EPIC.
In 2017, as part of the superb Writing the Rockies conference, I directed a staged reading of Act I of the new opera-in-progress Lottie Silks by librettist Enid Holden and composer Justus (Jay) Parrotta. This year, I worked extensively with Enid on revisions to the libretto for Act II, to deepen the characterizations, simplify the storytelling, and heighten the conflict. Her rewrites were excellent, and Jay was a superstar at reworking the score to align with all our changes.
The resulting workshop performance of Act II brought tears to the eyes of many in our audience–a good sign for a tragic opera! This piece is actually set in Gunnison, Colorado inspired by Enid’s house (which was once an 1800’s “dance parlor”), and the story is based on real (and heartbreaking) events.
My thanks to terrific accompanist/coach Sarah Holtan Stai (not pictured) and to our entire fantastic cast, many of whom joined us through special arrangement with the venerable Central City Opera. Pictured here Left to Right at our after-party are: me, Paige Sentianin, Margaret Siegrist, Adam Ewing, Clara Nieman, Joshua Zabatta, Composer Jay Parrotta, Librettist Enid Holden, and Jason Baldwin. The performance these singers gave, both in terms of musicality and honest theatricality, was nothing short of amazing given the two days of rehearsal we had together. They literally gave me goosebumps and made me cry. That’s not easy to do. Bravi!!
Audience response to Lottie Silks has been extremely positive. Next up: Enid and I will rework Act I and parts of Act II based on feedback, and prepare the entire piece for presentation in Washington, D.C. in 2020. I can’t wait.
The Opera Workshop at WSCU is, to my knowledge, the only program in the U.S. dedicated to originating new operas through development of libretti from within the university’s Creative Writing graduate program. We believe the focus on strong lyrical storytelling makes for more compelling opera, and gives the composer that much more inspiration.
When I went out to give my summer coaching intensive at Western State Colorado University this July, I wasn’t prepared for the number of Gotham fans I would meet among the students and faculty. I had a number of requests to pose for photos, and for autographs–so I had to come up with some autograph cards quickly, as I hadn’t brought any with me!
As cool as it was to meet Gotham fans from various parts of the US and Colorado, the cool factor then went through the roof: I learned that talented screenwriting MFA student Ji Ding’s girlfriend Yiming Zhao had traveled all the way from their home in China for the graduation–and brought along pictures of Mr. Penn for me to sign!!
The fact that a Gotham fan carried Mr. Penn images all the way from CHINA kind of blew my mind. I had brought my Gotham rain jacket with me on the trip, so I put that on and we had fun posing for a picture she could share with fellow fans back in her homeland. I’m honored and humbled every time I meet more of Gotham’s incredible fans.
2018 represents my third year as Professor Sellon, member of the faculty at Western State Colorado University’s graduate program in Creative Writing. For those who didn’t already know, WSCU has an extraordinary and intimate grad program for poets, genre novelists, and screenwriters. If you’re seeking an MA or MFA in any of these areas, you owe it to yourself to take a good look at all WSCU has to offer. It’s an excellent curriculum taught by an eccentric and wonderful bunch of working professional writers. No ivory tower teaching here–every professor is actively out there in the creative world right now, and sharing what they learn with their students.
So what am I doing there? Each summer for two weeks, I give an intensive where I coach grad student poets and genre novelists on how to get up an perform/present their work. That way, when they have a book to promote, they have the presentation skills needed to get listeners excited about buying their books. This may be the only grad creative writing program with such a class–and as far as I’m concerned, it should be mandatory for any writer, especially in this era of YouTube and social media. It’s brilliant that David Rothman, chair of the Creative Writing department, asked me to join the faculty. The difference in performance level from my students each year is genuinely humbling and inspiring.
This year, I had one second-year poet (Teow Lim Goh) and three graduating genre novelists (Melody Griggs, Lynde Iozzo, and Edward Carson) in my full-time intensive. I also coached two additional talented genre novelists in extra sessions. The dedication and growth demonstrated by each was terrific; these writers will go far. Congrats to all, and to WSCU for turning out writers ready to work and succeed in the real world!
Wow. As if the fan mail and autograph requests weren’t enough, now a couple of artists on social media have created fan art images of my character Mr. Penn from Gotham. These images couldn’t be more different in style, but they both capture an element of Mr. Penn. I’m so impressed, and also grateful these talented folks turned their eye on my beloved Mr. Penn.
This image is by Alexandra Lopez (Twitter handle: @lilianettyPR):
And this rather German expressionist image is by Harvey Wallbanger (Twitter handle: @AlbanRavelry):
Thank you to both of these talented artists for their lovely work.
If you’re an artist and you create another image of Mr. Penn, please do share it with me and I may post it here and on social media. I love seeing what the fantastic Gotham fans create!
If you are in the NYC area, and are a fan of the hit show Downton Abbey, you owe it to yourself to visit the delightful (and extremely well-thought-out) fan experience: Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. It is 2 1/2 floors of recreated settings, audio-visual experiences, and of course lots of those stunning vintage and bespoke costumes. There are enough things to read, see, and enjoy that my husband and I spent a full two hours to make sure we didn’t miss anything. It’s been extended through September 3rd only. After that, it may travel to other cities. But if you’re in the NYC area, this is your best opportunity to see the full exhibit. Frequently when shows like this tour, they are reduced in size for the road.
This exhibit is a lovely way to revisit the terrific performances and design elements of this much-loved show. And it’s leavened with a good sense of humor as well. Make sure you take the interactive survey to determine whether you would qualify to serve at Downton Abbey; it’s quite amusing. And of course there’s a gift shop if you want to buy a memento for yourself for a Downton fan in your life.
I’ve been so busy there hasn’t been much time for posts–but I’ll try to catch up with a few now!
My husband and I have been huge fans of Ms. Billie Piper since her performance as Rose in the reboot of our beloved Doctor Who. We’ve loved everything we’ve seen her perform, including a heartbreaking Hero in an updated Much Ado About Nothing and in a chilling dual role in the three seasons of Penny Dreadful, among others.
When we heard her Olivier Award-winning performance in Yerma was coming to the Park Avenue Armory in NYC this Spring, we jumped to buy tickets before it even opened. Her performance, and the entire production, burned itself into our memories. However much we admired her work and knew she would be remarkable, we perhaps weren’t prepared for the utter raw abandon with which she attacked the tragic title role. It’s a shame that this production couldn’t have been done on Broadway, where it would have been available to more audience members, and had much better recognition and award eligibility. But given the unique design of the set (audience on both sides of a large plastic “box”) and Ms. Piper’s busy schedule, perhaps a Broadway run simply wasn’t possible.
I’m just grateful we were there to experience it. The utterly magnificent adaptation and direction by Simon Stone gave Ms. Piper and her excellent fellow performers a claustrophobic contemporary world where nothing is really private–including one woman’s complete unraveling and implosion because she is unable to give birth. Set design was also remarkable, and costumes and lighting were just right; this production was an organic whole start to finish.
Lorca’s play, and Stone’s adaptation, show in unsparing detail how focusing on the one thing you don’t have, instead of everything you do, can lead to madness and destruction. It was a harrowing, unforgettable evening with images and a message that still comes back to haunt me.
This was simply one of the best performances, and productions, I’ve seen in my life. The National Theatre Live did make a recording of a performance, and it is popping up here and there. If it is anywhere near you, anytime: SEE IT!!! You will never forget it. For that matter, anytime Billie Piper does anything: see it. She is always utterly honest, and utterly remarkable.
I’m thrilled to share that my latest title for Recorded Books, Turncoat, is now available, and it’s a cracking good tale. It’s also true. Award-winning historian Stephen Brumwell turns his expert eye on infamous American traitor Benedict Arnold; he offers new evidence and a compelling argument as to the real reasons behind Arnold’s betrayal of the American independence movement. If you thought it was all about money, Brumwell will make you think again. In the process, Brumwell makes a strong case for Arnold’s time bearing a sobering resemblance to our own.
This is a thoroughly-researched and entirely engrossing account of the birth pains of America, and of what it takes for an avowed American patriot and war hero to turn his coat from blue to red. His recounting of the entirely accidental way in which the planned treason was uncovered, and what happened next, reads like a top-drawer Hollywood screenplay; it’s a true cinematic nail-biter.
If you’re a fan of American History, this book is an absolute “don’t miss”–and if you like listening to your American History, my audiobook version will give you about 17 hours of immersion in a remarkable true story.