Playwright Michael London
In this episode, host Rodney Veal speaks with Michael London, a director & playwright, about his career spanning over 40 years and his residency with the Benjamin Franklin House in London.
[00:00:29] Rodney Veal: All right. We’re super excited to have as our guest, Michael London, who is a playwright and director of the Ohio Playwrights Circle. He has studied playwriting and theater in a variety of locations and in theaters and in academic settings across the country and world. Indeed, the World Rural Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, in England, and Ohio State University.
[00:00:52] Just name a few. And he has a Master’s of Arts and Screenwriting for television and film from the Royal Holloway University of London. [00:01:00] Woohoo. I’m, I’m an Anglophile, so this is just a Anglophile. So this is super exciting for me. And he is also working with various organizations across the across the country and to the Dramatist Guild and the National Play Writer’s Guild.
[00:01:15] I hope I’m getting the title right and he’ll correct me when he’s, when he comes in. And he’s also a recent. Announcement of receiving Ohio Governor’s Awards for the Arts for 2023. So it’s super cool. So it’s not one of these things where he’s coming in as a novice. He has a lot of gravitas backing it up and, and playwriting.
[00:01:37] And I just am super excited to have a conversation with Michael London. So Michael, that was your life. Welcome to the podcast. It’s,
[00:01:47] Michael London: it’s good to be with you, Rodney.
[00:01:50] Rodney Veal: Oh, that’s super cool. And you know, one of the things that, as I was going through and pulling up information about you, one of the things I, I was, and, and this is with other guests, how [00:02:00] did you start out with the belief system that I wanna be a playwright?
[00:02:04] I mean, I mean, it’s not, that’s not something that you walk around as a f in, in, as in the fifth grade saying, you know, my career, I wanna be a playwright. So, I mean, I mean, so tell us the origin story of Michael London. Go for it.
[00:02:19] Michael London: Well, I don’t know if it’s, it’s, well, let me try to answer this question, the question about, about playwriting, because I think there was a part of me that was even surprised I was in as, as you, you may be aware, you may not be, but I have a dance background.
[00:02:38] I was not aware of that.
[00:02:40] Rodney Veal: Yeah. And I was yeah, I was actually, I was dancing and I was on a I think it was, I can’t remember the name. I wanna say it’s a Moody Fellowship or scholarship at Lamar University in Texas. And I had danced before that in Columbus and. I was there at the university [00:03:00] and I’d had a couple of different in injuries and when we danced, we danced all day.
[00:03:05] We got up in the morning, you know, at six seven. I was in the studio by eight dance, dance, dance. And cuz I was also dancing with a couple of different companies that were there in addition to the university classes and work. And then, then we would do even sometimes do teaching. So it was constant. I had a couple of injuries.
[00:03:26] They weren’t horrible. But if you’ve been a dancer and, and, and you know what I’m talking about I had, I had a couple of friends who were in, in our R D T at the time. Now granted I’m going back, I’m, I’m in the seventies okay. That we’re talking about this. And and they were a couple, husband and wife and I, it was interesting to me how, how many surgeries they ended up having in order to keep dancing.
[00:03:55] And I just remember I was in the, [00:04:00] I was in the, what do you call it? It’s the sports. It was really sort of odd because it’s a Texas very big sports place. Oh yeah, totally.
[00:04:08] What? Yeah, it physical therapy. You were probably in that sort of,
[00:04:11] Michael London: I was in that, you know that sport sports rehab area, right? Yes. Sports medicines for, for reason rehabil.
[00:04:17] And so there were, you know, there were three football players, two weightlifters, five basketball players, sex gymnasts and a whatever, and one dancer. And but I just talked to people about stuff and I was in there and I was just looking at this rehab and I think it got in my head because I was limited on what, what I could do.
[00:04:38] I had to stick my leg down, you know, from my knee in this tub. I don’t know that therapy thing. And then there were other things. So somehow I got in my head and I began to question whether or not. Especially because of these friends of mine who I knew who were dancing for their life and had these injuries.
[00:04:59] And I went, [00:05:00] do, do, do I really want those, you know, surgeries? Do I really wanna go through that? I mean, I love dance, but do I love it that much?
[00:05:13] Rodney Veal: And we all question that. I, trust me, I, I, I, yeah, I I have empathy. I get it.
[00:05:18] Michael London: Yeah. The dancers, I mean, it’s, it’s not an easy life, you know, early career and fast and hard and constant.
[00:05:25] Anyhow, I, I, I had, that was not the first injury. And, and that got, that’s what got me to thinking. And while I was at the university I had been invited actually to continue on, on a scholarship. And they wanted me to keep dancing. And at the end of the year, I decided I wasn’t going to, And because part of what I was thinking was, what else do I like to do?
[00:05:50] And I was fascinated with the storytelling capabilities of dads. I was fascinated with other things. And my background [00:06:00] before that was in the theater and I went, I think I should be St. Tell. And I, I was in Texas and I, in my mind, I went, I should be telling stories. I need to start writing. And I thought, I didn’t know, this sounds weird, but it was, I thought, I thought, I don’t think I could get injured writing.
[00:06:24] I mean, I’d had a couple of different entries, right? And I thought if I write, I’m not gonna hurt my ankle. I’m not gonna have my knee stuck in this thing. They won’t be bandaging my elbow because this dancer twice the size of me ran into me, or whatever, you know? Or, Some weird thing that I just said.
[00:06:42] Rodney Veal: Weird thing happens on the stage.
[00:06:43] Michael London: Exactly. That. I just thought it was safer. I know that’s a weird way to come into writing, but I thought it was safer.
[00:06:50] Rodney Veal: Oh, no, I, I, I’m thinking I absolutely understand. I mean, I knew, I knew I had to get in and get out. I mean, I knew that my performance life, shelf life was very limited.
[00:06:59] I [00:07:00] mean, I, I had injuries. I stupidly danced on them. I get it. I totally get that construct. Yeah. So, yeah. So when you get this opportunity to do other, you just jump on it. So
[00:07:10] Michael London: I, yeah. And I soon moved that direction and when I went back, I moved back to Ohio and I became the production director for ballet Metropolitan and helped to start that company actually.
[00:07:24] Rodney Veal: Oh my goodness. At, at the time. Yeah.
[00:07:26] Michael London: So Columbus. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Back in the seventies. And I remember I was taking the. And it was that, that led me actually to Mo to come to Dayton because I had, I was taking the company in Columbus, ballet Metropolitan to Philadelphia in, I remember it was in 76 and we were to the Northeast Regional Ballet Association, the NEBA Conference.
[00:07:51] And that is where I, I first saw dc DC and I was I was sitting in [00:08:00] the bleachers because we would have rehearsals in like a gymnasium. Well, of course, back in the day. Yeah. And because the, you know, well only, you only get so many companies, one company at a time on the stage. So we would use that.
[00:08:13] And I remember sitting there talking to John Myers Brown who was with Philco, Phil Philco. Yeah. And so I’d been introduced to her and we were having a great conversation. In the middle of the conversation, I looked down on the floor. All of a sudden there was a new company that came in and they started dancing.
[00:08:30] I, to be honest, I did. I don’t know what Joan was talking about because I was so distracted and I looked and I was like, this is Dayton contemporary dance company. I said, who are these people? And she said, oh, you don’t know them? And I’m like, no, they’re brilliant. Who are they? I mean, I’d never seen them, didn’t know them.
[00:08:50] And she said, well, that’s Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. I said, my God, they’re brilliant. I just went on like a fool. I just never seen. They were wonderful. Wow. I [00:09:00] was completely enraptured. What I didn’t know, Was, I didn’t know that. Behind sitting behind me up a row in the bleachers was Geraldine Blendon.
[00:09:12] Rodney Veal: Oh my God. Oh, and she’s, I love her. You know?
[00:09:15] Michael London: Yeah. And so I, I’m sitting there and I, I didn’t know it was, I didn’t know, I didn’t know there were just people sitting there. And I said, Joan, who in the, I was just crass. I said, who in the hell my God, who, who did this? Who runs this company? You, before I leave, you’ve gotta make sure I meet them.
[00:09:32] And she is laughing cuz she knows I’m making a complete fool of myself. There’s Geraldine sitting right behind me. Right.
[00:09:40] Rodney Veal: No nonsense. No nonsense. Geraldine London.
[00:09:42] Michael London: Yes, absolutely. Just sitting there, not saying a word, not reacting, giving. I got no clue. And Joan, Joan was wonderful. She’s just smiling and I know she’s like a cat with the mouse.
[00:09:54] I didn’t know why. And she said, oh well, well that should be pretty easy Michael. And I’m like, really? [00:10:00] You need to do that? And she goes, why don’t we do that now? And she said, I said, what? And she said, turn around. And I turn around and she introduced me to Geraldine. And Geraldine said very few words, which was difficult.
[00:10:14] Which typical of Geraldine. Yes, yes. She said to me, she said now you are the production manager, production director for Ballet Metropolitan. Is that correct? I said, yes. I said, it’s very good to meet you. And she said, yes, you’re gonna be my manager. And I said, okay. And I looked at Joan like, is she a little wacky?
[00:10:35] You know? But I mean, it was just, that was her way. And I said, okay. And I just went on. And a year, a year, a year in 77, we met again. I ended up in Dayton. I thought I was coming just for a short time to take care of some work, some business. And she walked in, sat down and said, okay, because we had stayed in touch a [00:11:00] little bit, but not much.
[00:11:01] And she said, so are you ready? And I said, for what? And she said, to become my managing director, you’re gonna be my first managing director. And I was like, you’re really serious about this, aren’t you? And she went, I know you’re the one. And, and finally, after a number of times, I said yes. And that was when I became her first managing director.
[00:11:23] Rodney Veal: Oh my God. So how long were you managing director of DC d c?
[00:11:25] Michael London: Not a long time. I had a Okay. I had told her about, I said I have a five year plan, so she asked me this in 77. Okay. I worked 70 8, 9 80, and I think I, I wanna say it was 81. I left because I was able to accomplish for the company to create this foundation mm-hmm.
[00:11:44] That I thought would take about five years. And it really only took me about three and a half. Right. And I remember, I, I remember telling her, oh, she was not a happy camper because she, you crossed, you’re not leaving me because we’d become family. [00:12:00] Right, right, right. You know how it is. And so Exactly. But I said, yes, but I’m, I’ve completed what I needed to do for you, and we’ve created this base that.
[00:12:10] We’ve turned this company a professional, we’re moving, everything’s in the right direction. She goes, yes, and that’s why you can’t, you know, it was one of those, but, but she, you know, she was, yeah, it was, she became like my sister, I have to admit. Oh, wow. And we were very close. Yeah, Debbie was always just, SI was Debbie and Dawn and all the rest of ’em were just like a bunch of nieces, you know, for me.
[00:12:33] And it was a blessing because we did a lot for each other. And I learned a lot. It was I was, I was incredibly lucky to be welcomed into that amazing creative energy that was not just Geraldine, but also the entire company, which it still that artistic that incredible vision that I first saw in Philadelphia in [00:13:00] 76.
[00:13:00] Rodney Veal: That’s still there. That’s still there, by the way.
[00:13:03] Michael London: It’s still there. It’s just amazing. And I was, yeah, I consider myself just to have been blessed to be able to be a part in any way.
[00:13:11] Rodney Veal: That blows my mind because it’s just the fact that you have this dance background because your history is kind of not on Google.
[00:13:18] It’s not on social media, and it’s not, I mean, BEC hey, good job. I’m really impressed by that. So it’s a, because now that just begs the question of, and I love the fact that you, you’re recognizing a narrative nature of dance, and so Yes. Especially modern dance. And so in that five year plan, was that five year plan to be like, with your writing, was it to head into the realm of, of, of screenwriting, playwriting, and or just, was it just to be a writer itself?
[00:13:48] I mean, how does, how does that platform lead to the other?
[00:13:52] Michael London: For me, what happened is that I was in what little free time I had, I, I had just [00:14:00] started writing and I, I wrote a few scripts with no intention of them going out. I called them, in my mind they were learning scripts. And I had been very lucky before I was even in high school.
[00:14:15] I had been cast in a number of shows in the community. When I lived in Columbus, as a matter of fact, the, I remember the the high school drama director came and saw something and then came backstage and he said, you go to my school. And I said, yes, sir. And he said, why aren’t you in any of our productions?
[00:14:32] And I said, well, I don’t have time, sir. And he said, you’re, you better be and show up at my, it was one of those things, and it was, that was a great learning experience that I’d had. So I was very lucky to have an exposure. Both in school and in the community to what does it mean? What does it mean to tell a story?
[00:14:54] So I, you, you know, Rodney, if you’re on stage and you’re telling a story, [00:15:00] you’re learning about storytelling from a very experiential perspective. Mm-hmm. And that’s what I had done. So I had then taken those years of actually learning that and doing that and, and then with my dance and then watching dance.
[00:15:17] And I just said, okay, it’s time to start writing. So in my free time I would write, sometimes I would paint, I had a paint, an art studio too, but, but sometimes I just needed to get it out and write. So I wrote for a number of years and then when I left Dayton Contemporary Dance Company I continued to work as an advisor to them and another, a number of other companies.
[00:15:39] And I, I went to work with the Ohio Arts Council and the Minority Arts Program so that I could work with just a wider range of organizations. And through that association and some of my writing that was happening, I joined the Artist and Residence Program the arts and education program that the Ohio [00:16:00] Arts Council had.
[00:16:01] They took a couple of my SCR scripts and said, okay, we want you in. And I began doing playwriting residencies in schools and they took a, they each residency the shape of it and the teaching of writing. And I think you, you’re gonna understand what I mean when you have, when you have to teach something, you’re also forced to learn something.
[00:16:26] So I was also learning, so I might be, I didn’t work with elementary school. I usually work with middle school and high school, high students school. Okay. Because I had, I did have a tendency to work on a more academic level. And so I, I wasn’t really great for you know, the elementary schools. As a matter of fact, there was a wonderful playwright in Yellow Springs, and I’d say, oh no, you need to talk to Sharon.
[00:16:50] When they’d come to me and try to get me to come to their school, I’d literally take ’em by the hand, go meet Sharon or somebody else that I knew would do a really good [00:17:00] job. But it was there that, then I also began to write tailored work. So for instance, I was, I was doing a residency at Trotwood Madison High School one year.
[00:17:11] Okay. Wow. And So I told the, the director at the time, I asked her cuz they wanted me to write something. And I said, okay, what I’d like you to do is I’d like you to cast a play for me. And she goes, Y great, what play? And I said, no, no, no, no. Get me a cast. I want you to cast a play, but you don’t have a play.
[00:17:36] I want you to determine who’s gonna participate in this. And then I will write, I will get to know them as actors and then I will write a play specifically for them to push their strengths to, to, to support their weaknesses. All of those kinds of things. And, and, and also to allow whatever message they have that they want.
[00:17:59] I, [00:18:00] I wanna give voice to those, to those kids, because a lot of times in high schools you have them doing some script of somebody else or they’re playing, you know, an old man or they’re doing a whatever I wanted their, so she did that, came up with, came up with an incredibly eclectic group of students and I then spent, I said, I need three days with them.
[00:18:27] And I had a video camera and a stage, and we did all kinds of exercises and improv. And it was almost like a therapy session of all sitting around in a circle and them telling me, cuz my job for three days was to listen, okay. Telling me what they cared about, what their frustrations were, what, what was driving them crazy.
[00:18:47] What, what, what gave them joy, what, what they missed, what they loved. All of those different things. And so then I finished those three days and then I went [00:19:00] away and in two weeks I wrote a new play for them, a full length production I think it was called The Incident at White Rock and and came back and then gave it to them and then they rehearsed it and put it on as one of their major plays for the year.
[00:19:17] And that Wow. That experience of understanding, there’s a connection to community, I guess is what I’m trying to say. Mm. That, that I learned by doing residencies. They were all, none of them were ever the same. They were always different, but I could tell this was a, an at trotwood at that time had an incredibly, they had an incredibly creative and and devoted group of students and teachers who were really interested in the art and.
[00:19:49] So I had to step it up. I couldn’t just say, let’s do an exercise. And that’s when I went, I’m gonna have to really step it up. I think I’m gonna have to write a, an original piece for [00:20:00] them. Wow. And that’s exactly what they wanted. They wanted that challenge. And so that’s what we did. And so through those exercises and through the, you know, writing on demand, it’s like, you know, if you’ve created something, you know what it means.
[00:20:14] If you’ve got a deadline, it change. Exactly. Yeah. I mean, you know, and I, I had a a colleague of mine, a very gifted person who’s a very gifted director today, but back then was helping me because this wasn’t the day of computers. And so I literally was with a, you know, with a, a, a little dictaphone thing and I was dictating scenes wi on tape, and they were in another part of the building, typing.
[00:20:42] And to get this done in two weeks, Wow. And but those experiences helped me really, and, and having somebody like that, that you can trust mm-hmm. Because he literally would come up and, you know, and knock on the door in the room that I was in and go, excuse me, you screwed this [00:21:00] up. You can’t say such and such and so and so, you forgot that you killed that person.
[00:21:04] Or you, or whatever, you know, and you can’t kill them because she’s pregnant and you forgot, or whatever, you know, and, and we would just have these weird conversations about characters, but he, you know, he was usually right, to be honest with I’d been so busy trying to pound out this thing, you know, so keep giving straight those kinds of experiences probably taught me as much about writing.
[00:21:28] And then I continued to write, I continued to study, and then I began periodically to teach and doing workshops and. I taught at let’s see, I taught at Otterbine University. Okay. Playwriting there. Just different places.
[00:21:41] Rodney Veal: The kind of the experiences that, I mean, and this is something because it’s podcast is, you know, it’s an eclectic audience.
[00:21:47] I mean, I do not know, I, I can’t be any more eclectic. I mean, it’s like educators, students, it’s house. It’s just crazy that people walk up to me and say, I heard this podcast. I’m like, [00:22:00] okay. So I, I always wanted to make sure it’s like, you know, cause I love the fact that you’re talking about the different experiences leading to this sort of epiphany about playwriting and, and the actual practice of playwriting.
[00:22:14] One of the things I pulled up off the internet, and this is I’m quoting you, I feel like I’ve, I’ve pulled up my Diane Sawyer moment, uhoh about your work and was, I love how you were writing towards characters at Trotwood and this old question of. You know, your, your themes in your work about secrets are about secrets and families.
[00:22:33] Yes. Which is like, I thought, oh, you really did pick up the narratives from, from modern dance, did you not? Yeah. So talk about, I mean, is that, is that a crucial element? Like there has to be, does a play not work unless there is something that is being discovered? Or, or can it just be Well, I mean, I’m, I’m just kind of curious and it, does it have to have layers?
[00:22:58] I mean, let’s talk about [00:23:00] that in, in your words.
[00:23:01] Michael London: Yeah, I think, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. I think that first of all, I don’t think every play is, is has to be the same and, and structured the same. I, I am fascinated with storytelling structures. It’s sort of a thing very often, to be honest with you.
[00:23:18] I have, I come up with a structure for the concept of telling a story, and I have no idea what the story is, but I’m fascinated with stories. So when you talk about layers and, you know, does it have to have this element or that, those are sometimes things that I think about before I even know what the story is.
[00:23:35] I’m gonna write. Because I’m just interested in different storytelling structures. And I think that, well, to, to give you an example, we, I think secrets and, and a story revealing something, whether or not it’s revealing something to all of the characters or whether it’s [00:24:00] only revealing something to the central character.
[00:24:03] Sometimes some of the most fascinating stories are about people that are just like us. That are walking around in life thinking we know what we’re doing and really believing certain things, and then all of a sudden having a revelation about ourselves and seeing ourselves and going, oh my God, I’m stupid.
[00:24:24] How did I miss this? And, or, oh my God, I can’t believe I kept this hidden all these years. You know? It’s, it’s those kinds of things. So self revelation as well as revelation to others, I think is fascinating. And I think audiences can learn. I do believe, I do believe that stories are the textbook for life.
[00:24:53] I think that children, I, I, I watch, I, over the years I’ve [00:25:00] watched my grandchildren and I, I watched them learn and I watch other children. I watch children in schools. And they learn in a powerful way when it’s, when that learning is connected to story. As adults, why are we watching Netflix? Why are we watching stories?
[00:25:22] Why are we watching? Because we’re learning about life. We’re learning about what, what, what’s good to do, what’s bad to do what what consequences are we can without having to go out and, you know, crash the car. We can see what the consequences are by watching somebody else do it or hear the story, you know, that this all started, you know, if we think back and the stories.
[00:25:45] In history, believe me, there were young men who were listening at, sitting around the fire, you know, when caves, when the guys came back and they were two people short, and they listened to those stories about what [00:26:00] happened, and they were learning from those stories about what to do and what not to do.
[00:26:05] Stories are the textbook for life stories that are, are, are in every way and for all of us. So I do believe that that’s fundamental and that that’s part of the work that we as storytellers do, is that we’re there to help provide, even if it’s just shining a light on someone else’s life, someone else’s story because of somebody else that’s gonna watch.
[00:26:30] It’s, there’s a project I’m working on right now. That I was very, very lucky. I received last year I received a, an individual artist award from the National Endowment for the Arts to create a new pl, a new play. And the play is, the project is called Native Voices. And and it, it, it’s, it’s a tricky one and I’m working on it right now.
[00:26:57] We’re doing public story circles and I’m [00:27:00] interviewing an awful lot of people that live here in the Miami Valley in Ohio. About what does it mean to be native? What does it mean to be native American Indian or native descendant and live here? Because I think a lot of us that live in this area are invisible.
[00:27:18] There are native people here that are members of enrolled tribes of a wide range because it’s a very intertribal state for a variety of reasons. I don’t believe that a lot of people know that. I don’t believe that there’s, that, I don’t believe that native people are always seen. I don’t believe that we know that we’re seen.
[00:27:38] I don’t believe we know their stories. And so this is an effort, this particular project, to be able to allow native voices to be heard and native people to be seen is specifically about what their experiences is right here in the Miami Valley. So I’m, we’re, that’s the kind of thing, because it may not be a secret, [00:28:00] for instance, to, to the native people who live here, but it is to the people who don’t, who don’t see them, who don’t hear them, who d who aren’t aware.
[00:28:10] So, and, and usually it’s families. I think families are fascinating. And there’s all kinds of families. There’s the families that we are, you know, the families that we’re born into, the families that we make of our own, and the families that we experience every day at work. We have all kinds of different families and, and some of us function better in, in some of them than we do in others.
[00:28:43] So True, so true. Excuse me. And I think when you can sit and watch a story about a family and you can see yourself and nobody else, you don’t have to talk to anybody about it, and you can see somebody [00:29:00] like yourself and you see yourself in someone else, and you see yourself in someone else’s struggles.
[00:29:06] And you see how they overcome it. I believe it can inform you on what you have, what your options are. Something you may not have thought about before, something you may not have dealt with before in that way, but you get to watch someone else do it and go, oh, may, maybe I can do that. Maybe that would help me.
[00:29:31] Maybe that would make my life better. Maybe that would help me make my, my son’s life better, my daughter, my family, my whatever. I think that’s what stories are about. And that’s why I think the, the dynamics around secrets, whether they’re purposeful secrets or if not secrets, things unknown that get revealed and, and families and the essential family structures.[00:30:00]
[00:30:00] That we’re all connected to in one way or another. Even if we’re disconnected from family, we’re connected to the concept of the family structure. And I believe it’s a great point of learning and that’s why most everything I have that I write is connected in some form, fashion or to that.
[00:30:19] Rodney Veal: I love it.
[00:30:20] And so we’re gonna take a, a, a brief pause here and we’re gonna come back to this really great conversation and talk about even dive even deeper, this conversation about characters and story and playwriting and, and structure. So stay tuned.
[00:31:20] Rodney Veal: All right. So, oh my God, Michael, that’s so great to hear your, your story and, and about this journey with, with secrets and families and w and, and, and your process. And so I have a question because one of the things when I was looking up in my, you know, research was the fact that, okay, you’re an artist in residence for the Benjamin Franklin house in London.
[00:31:44] Can we unders, I I, you know, residencies blow my mind anyway as a concept, but how is the Benjamin Franklin house having a playwright as an artist in residence? What, what drew you to this?
[00:31:57] Michael London: Well, I, [00:32:00] when I was, I, I have been going back and forth to England Because of school and other associations for a number of years.
[00:32:07] As a matter of fact, I’ll be heading back there in June. Wow. Jealous for probably three weeks. And I’ll fit in a whole bunch of stuff. As a matter of fact, next, I think next week I have a Zoom meeting with Marcia, with the director at the Franklin House. So we’ll meet, we meet online. I haven’t been, this will be my first trip since the beginning of the pandemic.
[00:32:29] I usually go once or twice a year. And it came because I had written some work on Benjamin Franklin for the theaters. And when I was in London I had some other colleagues and friends and producers who wanted to put together a reading, and we decided that it would be, It would just be really interesting to do.
[00:32:51] There’s only one building left the Benjamin Franklin house which is in London on Craven Street. It’s the only place [00:33:00] standing that Franklin lived, and he lived there for quite some time. He was there probably a good 10 years in his last stretch, and then a few, maybe three before that when he was the representative for the colonies.
[00:33:13] But this is where he lived. And so we thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to present a, a reading of this new work on Franklin that I had written and to do it in his parlor. Wow. Which is what we did. And then afterwards and I, I suppose this is really the, the compliment I took from it was that the, the director who is a Franklin scholar asked me if you know, is could they, could they get the rights to use the play more or whatever?
[00:33:52] And I said, well, I I won’t do that right now, but, but if you wanna work together on something, what if I wrote something [00:34:00] designed specifically to be presented in this space? In other words, site specific work. And they said yes, and they were really excited because I think the real compliment was because they’re, they were, they’re not dramatists.
[00:34:18] Mm-hmm. They are academics and scholars. Right. And, and brilliant by the way, at, at, at their scholarship. And I said, there’s a way to communicate much of this. And they understood that. And I, the, the compliment I got was, your work was from a scholarly point of view in terms of its accuracy, it was spot on.
[00:34:42] And so all of those years of research all of those years of re my research on, on Franklin and his relationship with his son, which most people don’t even know he had one paid off. I didn’t. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, not only did, most people don’t know that [00:35:00] Benjamin Franklin had a son, but his son was probably one of the most important people representing the crowd.
[00:35:09] In in the colonies. He was the royal governor of New Jersey. He was the longest serving royal governor for the king of any of the colonies. And, and yet his father was Benjamin Franklin. And William Franklin was, you know, this important man. Well, they ended up father and son on two opposite sides. Mm.
[00:35:31] And so that’s what the, the, the particular play I wrote called Treason was specifically exploring that relationship and a specific night that actually did happen where both of them snuck away because they couldn’t be seen together and got to a friend’s place in the country in Pennsylvania and tried to convince each other to come over to the other side.
[00:35:58] And that’s the night their [00:36:00] very close, very close relationship exploded. And I mean, people don’t know when Franklin did his kite experiment, which everybody knows about. People don’t know that it was William, his son, holding the, the, the key and the the string. They were very, very close. It was a loving relationship.
[00:36:19] And it ended that night. And so that was the night I wrote about, because that, again, was about family. It was about, it was about the secrets. People don’t even know he had a son many people. So I wanted to write about that. They appreciated it and one thing led to another. I wrote another piece for them.
[00:36:38] I’ve written a couple of other pieces specific for them to be able to be performed there in the house that are site-specific works. And And that led to my becoming their playwright in residence. And I’ll be meeting with, as a matter of fact, the director, I think next week. And we’re gonna be talking about what we’re gonna be doing over the next few years.
[00:36:57] Because I think there are some [00:37:00] opportunities with other writers, not just me, and for me to be taking a role maybe to curate as their playwright in residence as we, I’ll probably still write some more stuff, but, but I think I, I don’t think I’m, it, I think there are others that have a voice that need to be heard and I think could, both entities could benefit.
[00:37:20] And so I’m looking at, at helping them with that process. And that’s, so I’ll be heading back to England and June for that and, and to see a bunch of friends and go to a wedding and all that kind of stuff.
[00:37:29] Rodney Veal: Oh. Which is, you know, I, like I said, I’m totally jealous. I, I mean, I, I I, I, it’s really funny that our past intersect because a lot of people don’t know that.
[00:37:37] I studied at Bull Marsh College in Redding. I never really talk about it. I never really talk about the fact that I studied American politics in the 1960s odd bird. I’m just a very odd bird that way.
[00:37:49] Michael London: That’s that’s okay. I like that.
[00:37:51] Rodney Veal: I mean, so I, I, I will always have a soft, the UK will always be I have a really great place in my heart because I felt like that’s why [00:38:00] I kind of discovered some things Yes.
[00:38:03] That I’m still playing with as an art maker. And so, and cuz I was an art maker and a political scientist, which is the duality of the brain going on there. So I, I, that’s why I’m like, I’m loving this conversation because it’s like politics because a lot of people did know. And I was like, wait a minute, how did I miss?
[00:38:21] That he had a son and that relationship. So I went and looked it up and I’m like, this is fascinating. So I think a lot of people for, for people who maybe are considering being playwrights, I’m hearing it time and time, do the work people, which is basically do the research. Research is critical and paramount to telling these stories and uncovering them.
[00:38:42] So from your perspective, because you are working with a dramatist guild and you talked about you wanna help people tell these stories, like to share their voices, talk about that. Like why, why that’s important. Like, and, and I love the fact that you’re generous to invite other artists into the, your space on a residency with [00:39:00] the, with the Franklin house.
[00:39:02] Michael London: Yeah. I hope to be able to do that with the Franklin House and, and as well as potentially some other residencies that I’m looking at. But my, my role with the Dramatist Guild. The Dramatist Guild of America is the professional association for dramatist composers, lyricists, and loreti in the United States.
[00:39:20] And we probably have about 10,000 members across the country. Most people connected predominantly with Broadway and we’re not a union as, as are some of the others, like actors, equity, et cetera. But, but we are the professional association o of the Dramat of Dramatists in, in the United States.
[00:39:42] And I was I was asked to be let’s see, this is 23, so year. A year ago, a year and a half ago, I became the Ohio representative. Mm-hmm. The regional representative for Ohio with the Dramatist Guild. And so my job is to do my very best to serve [00:40:00] Ohio playwrights and to lift them up and to honor them and to find ways to serve them.
[00:40:05] And sometimes it’s doing it’s doing a podcast, if you will an online interview. I did had fun this year. I did this past year radio and the lake theater. I did a whole thing on audio drama that’s on the Drama Disco Guild website. With, with the directors, the artistic director and the producing director there which was great fun.
[00:40:26] We had, you know, Dramatists from all over Ohio, but around the country and some from outside the country join us, which was great fun. So I’ll do programs like that. And I work with the National Affairs. We just had a held five conversations community conversations with playwrights across the country.
[00:40:46] It’s important to me to be able to give back. It’s important for me. I’ve always found that it’s that if I do something for [00:41:00] somebody else, the truth of the matter is I’m doing something for myself because I, whatever it is, I’m gonna learn from it. And it so, so my, my reaching out and my sense of serving on, of certain, served on lots of boards over the years, lots of organizations.
[00:41:17] But it, it really comes from, it comes from a place of knowing that giving creates community. And creating community gives back to yourself. And so in many ways, I’m giving to myself by serving because I get great friends, wonderful experiences, get to visit all kinds of marvelous places. You know, I’ve been, I’ve been lucky.
[00:41:41] I did not. I’ve, I’ve been, I went to school here in this country, but I also went to school at a number of places in England. I have friends there, I have family there. But I taught in China. I taught in Russia, I taught in Brazil. I didn’t expect those experiences to come about. But, but, [00:42:00] but when you put yourself out there and you do give to your community in one form or another it somehow gives back.
[00:42:09] And then all of a sudden you have someone say, would you be willing to. Do a tour in China and teach for two months or something like, you know what I mean? You don’t know that’s coming. But it does. Right? And it was a, and by saying yes to it, I wasn’t making money you know, any nor, but what an experience my giving to them taught me about, about what it was to live there and what it was to be there.
[00:42:35] And this was in the, this was in the late nineties, but when it, when I was in actually when I taught in Russia, it was, it was the Soviet Union and mm-hmm. So it was, it was, Leningrad was where I taught right. Which wasn’t City is St. Petersburg again. But what a learning experience, what a blessing for me to be able to, is the way I look at it.
[00:42:58] So yes, I was, I, I [00:43:00] I have done a lot of service with different organizations. The Dramatist Guild is, is one of them that I’m very committed to. Next, next month Just sort of coincidence it happened of this last three months I found out, but next month is on May the fourth. I remember it now. Oh, because, you know, may the fourth be with you.
[00:43:19] Rodney Veal: May the fourth be with you. Of course. For our Star Wars fans out there.
[00:43:22] Michael London: Yes, exactly. I will, I have an anniversary on May the fourth that I didn’t know about until just literally a month or two ago. And it’s my, it’ll be my 40th anniversary, my 40th year being a professional member of the Dramatist Guild of America.
[00:43:39] Wow. And I was like, wow. 40 years. Has it been that long? Geez, I’m feeling old.
[00:43:49] Rodney Veal: No, but, but isn’t that, but, but, but, but those kind of milestones, I mean, other people don’t understand. It’s like, this wasn’t, you weren’t doing it fly by night. This wasn’t a sort of [00:44:00] like a hobby. This was speaking to you about.
[00:44:04] Something that you care about. And it, and it comes through, I mean, this conversation, I’m like, oh, the world, you know, because you’re connected to the world and people. So 40 years.
[00:44:14] Michael London: And Rodney, you know what this means? It’s about what does it mean to make art? And to make art, you do the work.
[00:44:21] You, you’ve gotta do the work. You’ve gotta put in the time. Yeah. And, and you don’t put in the time and do the work. If you don’t care. If you don’t get a rich experience back from it you leave it off and you go on to something else. It’s those of us who care. We truthfully don’t do it for money.
[00:44:37] We do it for the joy, because that’s the richness it brings in our lives. I know. It does for me.
[00:44:45] Rodney Veal: Well, you know, it’s really funny because I’m, I’m, and I think this is our. I wanna say ninth, eighth, or ninth podcast. I mean, I, I’m not tv I mean, truly not keeping track of that number. But every person I’ve talked to from different walks of [00:45:00] life, I, I, I’ve talked to a Broadway producer, I’ve talked to Hannah Beaker, who’s a production designer.
[00:45:05] I’ve talked to Jess McMillan, who does Mosaics. I’ve talked to Amy Deal, who’s a fabulous artist, and everybody has said the same thing. And it’s like, it’s been consistently throughout. I’m like, you gotta do the work. You gotta take, you know, the experiences matter. I mean, one of the things I loved about Hannah Beaker was that in order for her to get Fruit Veil Station, she had to be a dog.
[00:45:29] She, she was, because she didn’t have any money. She was a dog sitter in Oakland. That’s how she could like, afford to be on the set to be the production designer with Ryan Googler, which led to Black Panther Creed. I was, I, it’s like, it just blew my mind. I’m like, oh, you. We’re a dog sitter. Okay. But you, well, we’ve all have those stories and I, but I, and that’s why I love finding fascinating.
[00:45:56] I was telling Anne, or Anne Rodi produced for the for the art show. It’s [00:46:00] like, these stories are rich. I mean, oh, you know, storytelling is, is, is where it’s, where is where it’s at. So this advice to others, which is really, really great.
[00:46:11] Is there something in, like, other than doing the work, is there some, one other nugget for someone who’s actively considered storytelling and playwriting and spoken the word, like, you know, what should they know?
[00:46:27] Oh, like you, you’ve been at it for four decades. Something has come out.
[00:46:31] Michael London: I’ve tried. Well, I just, I just think that I just think that there, there’s a key word, which is listen, listen, listen. When whatever’s going on around you, listen, if, if you are, you see a family, whether it’s your own or another in turmoil, take a step back and listen.[00:47:00]
[00:47:01] Not just for what you can do about that situation, but what you can learn about that situation. And every time you listen, you are giving yourself an opportunity
[00:47:15] to teach. You’re giving yourself an opportunity to tell a story, which becomes a textbook for somebody else’s life to help them learn something. Just listen. You have to listen to people. Listen to how they talk. Listen to why they talk. Listen to what they say. Listen, watch what they do. Mm-hmm. Listen to what someone says and compare it to what they do.
[00:47:39] Do they match? I mean just for a, for a playwright if you can, you can train your ears as well as your eyes, but especially your ears to listen to the layers that go on in a conversation and what people say and what they, what they [00:48:00] might be caring about. Underneath you are, you are allowing yourself to, to absorb story.
[00:48:12] Rodney Veal: That is a really great nugget. I totally appreciate that. And I love the fact that you talk about listening because it’s an observation cuz we talk about that in movement generation. If you’re not observing the world, how are you generating movement? The world is filled with bodies that are in motion with, with intentionality and so we.
[00:48:35] It’s this very similar trait that all artists share is the power to listen and the power to observe. And what I have loved about this conversation is that we didn’t even talk, we haven’t even talked about the governor’s awards, which we sh should for briefly. Congrats on winning a Governor’s award for the arts because it’s weird.
[00:48:53] It is a, it’s weird to win awards. I mean, it’s a like for the thing you love doing. I mean, I get it. I mean, it’s like, [00:49:00] what? Why are you giving me an award? I just do this cuz I know no other thing. I have no other skills. This is it. You know? So how does it feel to, to be acknowledged that what you’ve done for four decades, but which is longer than that matters and is awesome?
[00:49:19] Michael London: Yeah. It, it’s, it, it, it does feel good. It’s odd in some ways. But I think. Probably the thing that I, I really appreciate the most about it is the,
[00:49:40] is the understanding and the recognition of, for me, what I’ve been doing and how it is connected to building community. And because when you are able to build community, [00:50:00] and I define that by helping to connect people mm-hmm. And allowing people to find connection. Because the more we can find what we have in common, and this is where the arts have such enormous power,
[00:50:18] every time we can find a way to connect, we then rebalance the scales of our divisions. Mm. And we are, we know that politically in this country, we’re a very especially on the surface and, and in and, and deep down, very divided point in, in our existence. But it’s not new. We’ve had division forever and where we’ve found that people can come together often are within the arts that people can come and watch a difficult story in a theater and sit in the [00:51:00] same audience.
[00:51:01] And even though we may come away with different perspectives about that story and what we saw, we have some common experience that connects us when we find someone else that loves the same music. And we sit in a concert and we listen to the music. I don’t, it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a rock concert or the fell harmonic it, when you can experience and appreciate that for those moments, it connects you.
[00:51:32] So any, any of those things with art and, and all the different artistic expressions that we have out there, when it can connect people, it means there’s an opportunity. Doesn’t mean it will, it means there’s an opportunity for divisions to be diminished. And when divisions are diminished, and we are more together, we are healthier.
[00:51:55] That’s my belief. And we have, we, we can have healthier [00:52:00] community when in fact we’re connected and every opportunity we can find to connect with each other. And if we can’t connect on this issue, maybe we can connect over here. And sometimes the over here is the art. Is, is listening to this incredible, you know, mandolin player that just blows our mind because we don’t understand how those fingers move that fast and, and make that amazing music.
[00:52:24] And yet there’s somebody standing next to us who appreciates that too. But with many other things, we are divided. Those moments of connection are the power. And so that’s what I, I have to say that I really did appreciate and do appreciate about the, the Governor’s Award and the arts. And because it’s a, it’s a recognition for community building and whether I’m working as a, as I have from board advisor traveling the state because I was very lucky to have.[00:53:00]
[00:53:00] Have done I to travel the state. I always had simultaneous my artistic career and a and a business career as an artist. And so my work as an arts consultant was traveling, you know, the majority of the state of Ohio, working in well over 60 counties and traveled all 88, I’m sure over the years of working, and especially from my heart, working in minority communities, working in the African American, Appalachian native American and Latino communities, Latinx communities in the state of Ohio and in some Asian communities, that’s really where my work was, and that’s where my heart was.
[00:53:41] And whenever I could find ways to be able to bridge gaps and connect people, mm-hmm. To me that was the most amazing reward for me personally. So having this award be about community building, that’s the thing I appreciate the most.
[00:53:59] Rodney Veal: I [00:54:00] love it. Well, Michael London, this was your life as a, as a conversation, but I, you know, I absolutely am inspired by this conversation and I’m so grateful for this connection that we have with dance and art.
[00:54:16] I mean, okay. My mind’s a little blown. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll definitely leave this conversation to ponder it, but thank you for, I mean, I can’t even thank you enough for taking time out to record this conversation. I love it.
[00:54:31] Michael London: You’re very welcome.