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SF Weekly theater critic inspires play 

Wednesday, Sep 17 2008

As a theater critic, when I see my name on a press release, it's usually attached to a quote pulled from one of my reviews. I'll come across exclamations like "'Brilliant!' — Chloe Veltman, SF Weekly" and sigh, knowing full well that in the original the adjective was preceded by the adverb "hardly."

Last week, however, my name appeared on a press release in an entirely different context. For the first time in my life (at least to my knowledge), a theater company has seen fit to use a piece of my writing as the jumping-off point for its latest play.

I never saw myself as much of a muse; I tend to piss off theater people more often than I inspire them. So at first, I didn't know whether to feel flattered or alarmed by the news that Sleepwalkers Theatre co-founder Tore Ingersoll-Thorp conceived his new drama, March to November, in response to an essay I'd written earlier this year. The press release declared, "Inspired by SF Weekly theater critic Chloe Veltman's January 9, 2008, article entitled 'Election Stage Left,' which challenged Bay Area playwrights and theater companies to create more 'political' works, Sleepwalkers answers the call to arms with a classic hero story that assesses the relevance of overtly political theater."

My initial, highly cynical impulse was to ask a fellow critic whether he, too, had received a press release from Sleepwalkers claiming inspiration from some article he had written. I'm still awaiting a response.

I called Ingersoll-Thorp to find out more. The 30-year-old playwright admitted he was initially inspired by anger to write his drama about a young female playwright's struggle to reconcile the turmoil going on in her personal life with her conflicted stance on political activism. "I was upset by what you wrote about theater being of greater interest to liberal than conservative audiences," he said. "But when I calmed down, I realized that you weren't so much saying that writers need to set the world on fire with their plays, but should at least try to get a debate going."

I'm curious to find out whether Sleepwalkers' theatrical "countereditorial" really will answer my "call to arms." Set in San Francisco in the run-up to the 2008 elections, including references to Obama and McCain, and featuring what sounds like a relatively sympathetic right-wing Christian preacher character of the fire-and-brimstone variety, the play certainly sounds politically intriguing. Whether it makes me, to quote my January article, "happier than a Republican congressman handing out buttons at a high-school abstinence drive" when it opens at the Phoenix Theatre on Oct. 23 remains to be seen.

At any rate, it's always nice to know that people are doing something with my work other than using it to line the cat box.

About The Author

Chloe Veltman


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