San Diego Playwrights

Getting San Diego Playwrights Produced on San Diego Stages

The Story of GAM3RS: An Interview with Walter G. Meyer, co-writer of GAM3RS The Play with Brian Bielawski

Rooftop party at Gam3rcon

Walter G. Meyer and Brian Bielawski at a rooftop party at Gam3rCon

Tell us about yourself.

I am a freelance writer and have been since I was in high school. I have written three published books, numerous screenplays that have been optioned and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles for the Los Angeles Times, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Out, San Diego Magazine, and many others. My most recent book, “Rounding Third” happened to be published just before the bullying crisis starting making the news and because the novel powerfully addresses that topic, I have been speaking and writing about that timely topic all over the U.S.

What are you working on now?

We are turning GAM3RS, the play, into a web series. We started shooting two weeks ago. GAM3RS will be performed at the first San Diego Fringe Festival July 5, 6 & 7, and at Gam3rCon, July 17-21. And we are booking the GAM3RS fall tour. We hit lots of colleges and high schools across the country. Oh, and we are doing a one-night only show in North Hollywood June 26. Details on all of the shows at: http://www.gam3rsthewebsite.com/

What have been your successes? What are your challenges?

GAM3RS was a hit in the 2007 New York Fringe Festival and has toured the country from MIT to UCSD. We have had theatrical runs in New York, New Jersey, San Diego and Los Angeles. I lost count of the number of performances, but it well into triple digits. And of course, having it become a web series is a huge success.

There is a saying among book writers that you can either promote your last book or write the next one, but you can’t do both. That is our biggest challenge with GAM3RS—we can either do the show or work on the web series or book more performances, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all of that. Recently we took on a booking agent to at least handle that aspect of things for us.

What is your plan for producing your work in San Diego?

All of the shows I mentioned before, and we’ll be doing the University of San Diego—where the show started—at their new theater in fall. Plus I’m sure we’ll get other offers—we are talking to some high schools and other possible venues.

How did you and Brian come to work together? Also, how did GAM3RS grow into Gam3rcon?

I barely knew Brian—he had to call our mutual friend to get my number–but he called one night and said he had a play due the next day. He was working on getting his Masters in theater at USD/Old Globe Theater. One of the requirements of his graduate thesis was to perform a short (15-minute) one-person, one-act play.

He said he’d been working on it for weeks and he knew what he wanted to say, but somehow it wasn’t coming. As he told me, “I have about 17 words on paper and I think 12 of them are bad.” He knew I was a professional writer and asked if I could help him. For whatever stupid reason, I went over to his place at 10 p.m. and we pretty much pulled an all-nighter and wrote the first draft of GAM3RS. As I later said of the process, he had all of these jokes and ideas—all of these beautiful Christmas ornaments and no tree to hang them on—so I helped him create structure and story and character arcs. He read it the next day and the class loved it. The first time it was performed, it was a huge hit and was optioned to be a sitcom. That deal fell through, but GAM3RS started playing around the country and eight years later is now becoming a web series.

Brian and I had tried for years to get GAM3RS into Comic-Con. Comic-Con used to do a lot more live theater than they do now. And we never got a flat-out no, but we also never got a yes from Comic-Con. Brian had done a play at the 10th Avenue Theatre in downtown San Diego and happened to mention to the theatre’s owner that we had once again failed to get GAM3RS into Comic-Con. The owner said his theatre was sitting empty during Comic-Con, maybe we’d like to do it there. As soon as we said we were doing it, people came out of the woodwork saying, “I couldn’t get my movie/game/play into Comic-Con either, can I do it at your place?” And with barely over a month to plan, Gam3rCon was born. We had 500 people that first year. Last year, our third year, we had 2,300 attendees. And now it has become all things gaming—live theater and GAM3RS, the play, of course, but also videos, art, stand-up comedy, live music, art—all about gaming. And of course, gaming with large video and table-top lounges.

Walter setting the stage at MIT

Walter setting the stage for GAM3RS The Play at MIT

Walter and Brian on stage after Cal State Fullerton performance of GAM3RS The Play

Walter and Brian on stage after Cal State Fullerton performance of GAM3RS The Play

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Origins by Thelma Virata de Castro

Thelma de Castro 004

In February, my cousin got married at a chapel in Liberty Station. It was a Big Fat Filipino Wedding. My brother and I danced Gangnam Style as we were introduced at the reception. Two days later I went back to Liberty Station for an informational meeting at the San Diego Foundation for the 2013-2014 Creative Catalyst Fund: Individual Artist Fellowship. My cousin’s name was still on display at the chapel.

It wasn’t even my idea to apply for the Fellowship. I am working on a monster of a project with director Andy Lowe and singer/songwriter Jane Lui. Andy had the idea to create a maritime musical version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that involves larger than life puppets. The deck of the ship transforms into Marley’s face. The Ghost of Christmas Past descends as a star. He asked me to write the book and Jane to compose the music and write the lyrics. I worked on the script and gave it the title, North Star. We had a meeting at Cafe Bassam to review my draft of Act 1. As we were saying goodbye, Andy mentioned that if we applied for the Fellowship I’d have to be the lead artist since he and Jane no longer resided in San Diego.

So I went to the meeting. It was an artist’s dream. We were told that we were important. We brought life to the community. We could ask for up to $20,000. With that money we could buy computers and fly to New York. The only catch, we had to engage the community. We couldn’t just practice our art. We had to give back.

The project I envisioned was to have a concert reading of North Star. For civic engagement I decided to start a playwrights group to support other playwrights. I took in that message that we were special and important and I wanted to share it with my peers. Our goal would be to work together to get San Diego playwrights produced on San Diego stages.

If I truly had my way, I would stay at home, lie on the couch, drink my International Café Hazelnut coffee and read the paper. But I am a playwright. As I said in my Fellowship application, I hear voices in my head. Playwrights have the unique position of existing at the intersection of the literary and performing arts. I can’t just write a play and be done with it. It needs to be performed.

I have had many opportunities in San Diego and been supported by some wonderful people. The Fritz Blitz. Carlsbad Playreaders. The Actors Festival. San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre. Unfortunately, some of the theatres and programs that produced new work by local writers have cut back, are inactive, or no longer exist.

San Diego playwrights need to be produced in order to grow. We want to be involved in local theatres as more than audience members. I tend to keep my being a playwright to myself since the inevitable next question is “Do you have anything in town that I can go see?”

And so I got my hopes up. I applied for the fellowship. Out of 117 applicants, 25 nonprofit sponsors selected 25 artist partners. I was selected as a finalist.

My nonprofit sponsor and I turned in the final application. I bought a new dress at Target and shoes at Ross for the interview. My nine year old and five year old sons even helped me shop. I practiced interviewing with my husband.

On the day of the interview, my friend picked up the kids from their schools for me. I went back to Liberty Station and walked slowly in the parking lot in my new shoes. I had my work samples ready to go, plus my handouts. I figured the odds were good. 10 of the 25 finalists would be funded. That’s 40%. The interview went well, I thought. My husband had even predicted one of the questions.

And then I waited. And waited. And then the e-mail came. “Unfortunately, your proposal was not among the final 10 . . .”

I forwarded it to my husband. His reaction: “I am proud of you, and I love you.”

I told my sons. I wanted to share with them that sometimes you don’t get something that you really want.  My oldest said he was actually glad because he thought this meant I wouldn’t go out to see plays as much.

I told one of my friends and said I was going to have to do a jogathon to raise money. My oldest son’s school raised over $30,000 and she had sponsored him. My friend asked how many laps I could do.

I told the people who were my references:

“Oh well, another opportunity will arise for you. All we can do is keep on keeping on, right?”

“I’m so sorry. I’m convinced you were the most worthy of all the applicants. NEXT TIME!”

“Ah, who needs ‘em.”

The application process was indeed a catalyst.

San Diego Foundation, I thank you for what you’ve taught me about civic engagement and the artist’s role in the community. In a workshop at the Foundation, Arts Advocate Doug Borwick accurately labels artists as entrepreneurs. Seema Sueko, Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company Executive Artistic Director, led a workshop on Consensus Organizing for Theater. We have to create relationships and satisfy the self-interests of all parties. What does a theatre company gain from producing a local playwright? How does the community benefit?

Playwrights can’t exist in isolation. I know we love our couches, but we have to get out there and be seen and be heard. San Diego playwrights need to take responsibility for our own careers and build a community that supports us. In this reciprocal relationship, we must determine what the community wants and needs from us. We must give back so that all our interests are met.

Thus, San Diego Playwrights was born.

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