Striking writers, loving parents
At the staged-readings show 'Afterbirth,' the burning issue of the season finds its way into the usual family tales.
By Scott Taylor, Special to The Times
As children giggle and jiggle through shopping malls, bending their parents' ears with their holiday wish lists, one cannot avoid Andy Williams' cheery chestnut: "It's the most wonderful time of the year..."
But for Hollywood screenwriters who are parents, this season's feelings are decidedly more mixed.
That was apparent at Saturday night's special "Support the Writers Strike" edition of Dani Klein's "Afterbirth" staged-readings show in Hollywood, where, above the belly laughs and poignant parental yarns, angst and anger hovered like a chilly specter.
"Afterbirth" was launched four years ago when Klein, a writer and actress, desiring a creative and social outlet after choosing children over career, sought input from other parents who have raised their children in Tinseltown.
Every six weeks, she produces an assemblage at the M Bar, where a mixture of actors and writers perform self-penned tales of parenthood before an audience of 80 or so friends, family members and patrons.
For Saturday's show, however, she gave admission discounts to Writers Guild of America members and heavily slanted the performer slate toward writers. And Klein got a jump on the day's news that the WGA was willing to negotiate with individual production companies, announcing to the crowd, "Unlike past shows, where the storytellers perform for free, tonight I'm going to be the first producer to accede to the guild's formula: I'm giving 'em 3 1/2 % of the gross -- that's a whopping eight bucks apiece!" The offer drew laughter and applause.
Not all strike talk
With the mood for the evening set, stories ranged from humorous to heart-rending to reflective. Some included mention of the strike; some did not.
Eric Weinberg, a writer-producer whose credits include "Scrubs" and "Californication," told the audience that as the father of two young boys, his social life with adults was nil, until "Lady Luck smiled down on me a month and a half ago when the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers... [failed] to offer us a contract that lets us share in the profits they earn from the material we've created. I say 'fortunately' because with striking comes picketing, and with picketing comes -- can you believe it? -- adult interaction!"
Mike Rowe, a writer for the animated "Family Guy" and "Futurama," also spoke of his sons: "You wait until your sons are old enough and then you have the greatest father-son bonding moment of all, and that is when you watch 'The Three Stooges' with them for the first time."
Caroline Aaron is an actress with recent guest-starring roles on "Grey's Anatomy" and "Ugly Betty" who was reading at "Afterbirth" for the sixth time. This time, she told about the separation anxiety she was feeling with her 18-year-old son soon heading off to college.
"Here is the conundrum," she said. "If I hadn't raised him to... emerge over these very short 18 years, then I might not be so in love with the man he almost is and I might not be so heartbroken that he's ready to move on. I am going to write a new parenting book entitled, 'How to Emotionally Cripple Your Children to Keep Them Eternally Dependent and at Home.' "
Manager-producer Eric Gold had never performed at "Afterbirth," but this was the second time that he came to watch and listen. These readings "are great because you can see talented writers incubate their creative process in a different way," he said. "It's a joy to see."
When conversation turned to the strike, Gold suggested that a resolution might lie in a change of tactics: "I'd love to see the writers and the DGA [Directors Guild of America] get together, figure out what's a fair compensation and use their leverage together to find a way out of this thing."
Get serious, for a second
The poignancy peak of the evening was provided by Dan Bucatinsky, an actor and an executive producer of Lisa Kudrow's HBO series, "The Comeback," who wove a tale about the anxious path he and his partner had traveled recently regarding a life-threatening operation for their 2-year-old daughter. But true to form for the evening, the saga ended in laughter.
"Eliza was about to have a heart surgery... Cut to a month later. She pulls out of her 'procedure' with flying colors. Recovered in, like, three days. We took a little longer," Bucatinsky said. "I mean, every time she'd smile at us or do something cute -- or, you know, not dead-like -- we'd cry our eyes out with joy."
That victory in hand, he turned his attention, after the show, to the strike: "I find it ironic how hard the studios and networks fight against piracy -- which, in effect, is... not compensating [them] for work that [they own]. What we're fighting is the same... only the piracy is being committed by the studios and networks themselves."
Regarding the economic ramifications of the strike, Bucatinsky said, "I turned all of the lights out at the house when I left today, which I never used to think about before. It's a mind-set."
John Eisendrath, a writer and executive producer of "Alias," hilariously described the trials and tribulations of impregnating his wife: "We lived ovulation cycle to ovulation cycle. Ovulation sex has about as much variation as walking the picket line... "
Kell Cahoon, who has written for "King of the Hill," "Just Shoot Me!" and "The Larry Sanders Show," was another who had never performed at "Afterbirth" but was enjoying his second viewing of the show.
"It seems like the strike -- and talk about it -- is permeating the whole room. Not only from a lot of what the performers are talking about, but, when we arrived tonight, my wife and I ran into someone she used to work with on 'The David Letterman Show.' And our conversation immediately turned into the rumor that Letterman is going to negotiate his own contract with the guild, and what impact that might have on the whole strike."
By the end of the evening, much of the somberness of strike talk had been deflated by laughter and camaraderie.
When asked if he and his family were scaling back financially because of the strike, Cahoon said, "Not yet. We're living a life of denial and delusion. If this thing continues into next year, we'll clamp down."