Finally in Iowa (part 1)

We did it! The chef, Jovi, Adrian, Malcolm, Kevin, Olivia, Zara, Kat, Tawny & Deb were all on stage. Audience feedback was terrific. For the first time in Iowa, we did it. Our presenters, Excel! Estherville Arts & Culture connected us with Luke Slaughter, a diligent tech director.

The production was fraught with issues, beginning with our director getting transferred to Wyoming and various cast members having life-searing family and personal issues.

The point of art, as with many ventures, is to never, ever, ever, ever give up. And we didn’t. A director from New York, originally from Iowa, made a wonderful suggestion that perhaps the work could be presented as a workshop, with a focus on audience talkback. We present the story and a great audience experience (thanks to Ed Peterson, the Estherville Lincoln Central School District, and a bevy of high school students earning purple cord hours for the amazing set) and from there build a production just for Iowa.

It’s much harder to get a presentation in Iowa than in New York and Boston, until you begin asking for help. Then in some ways it is easier, but still monumental. I cannot get over my gratefulness at the energy shown by the actors and our backstage crew.

The issues and crunch of time made some things imperfect, but were we not put on the earth as artists to have perfection emanate from our fingertips. We were put on earth to scale each wall, to march into each fray with fearlessness, or with a modicum of fear, but the knowledge that it would all be what it was meant to be.

I spent years on the script, and do rewrites and edits each year to make it magnificent. Audiences and cast members fall in love, and that’s also the intent.

Work harder than everyone else. Be fearless. Climb the mountain. Move the obstacles.

Yes, develop your technical prowess, too.

That. That is theater. That is art. Keep going.


Bring TFOJB to your town! Help to make it the next Fantasticks with an audience, cast and crew revolution! First, you go out and make a difference for others and in yourself, then be part of it.

Have you been observing the progress of TFOJB Boston TFOJB Pittsburgh TFOJB New York TFOJB Seattle from afar? You no longer have permission to be an innocent bystander. Do something to alleviate homelessness, post about it ‪#‎tfojbstrong‬ and be part of it. We could be the next perennial show like The Fantasticks — somewhere, and also start a revolution! #tfojbstrong

To people already in the trenches working on the issue of homelessness: I’m out attempting to raise volunteers for you, who will be audience, cast and crew of my play. We’re taking a theatrical approach (collaboration, group bonding, taking on the issue of social isolation) and hope to be a perennial theater performance so we can bring in people actually doing something about homelessness over a long period of time. What can we rock together?


Two weeks! Support the public reading in Jamaica Plain, Boston w/Open Theatre Project

The Feast of Jovi Bono is going up before a live theater audience on July 23 at 8pm. That’s really very soon. It’s a public reading — actors with script in hand — and a talkback — you tell us what you think. Then we get ready for a November full production. Making this happen requires at the core, Laurie Riihimaki the artistic director, Marina Silva the activism leader, a stage manager, a production manager (someone to handle the logistics so Laurie and Marina can focus on tasks at which they rock) eleven actors, and Open Theatre Project’s great performance space at St. John’s Episcopal in JP.

Watch this, and if you’re in Boston, please attend. We have great guests coming from the Dramatist’s Guild — Massachusetts and from ArtsImpulse. We want to hear a variety of voices and viewpoints at the talkback. Hop on the Orange line to Green Street and take it in.

Theater is collaborative — TFOJB is ready for you!


The week we were set to have auditions for TFOJB – Boston the unprecedented snowstorms hit and no one was going anywhere. Except that our directors, Laurie Riihimaki and Marina Silva went places. They volunteered with #BostonWarm, making sandwiches and getting to know the people who are homeless in Boston. Over the spring, we have worked to regroup, and connected with Open Theatre Project, who loves our mission and has opened their doors for a late autumn production at their place in Jamaica Plain.

In early May, Laurie, Marina, Dustin from OTP, and I met at Blue State Coffee to strategize. We are so ready — with a mountain of things to yet do! Coming soon: an outreach/promotional video, audition schedule, more about the chance for audience, cast and crew to dig in and do something about homelessness in Jamaica Plain.

What we seek now — funding, audience support (Like us here, reach out to offer any assistance from your wheelhouse, be ready for a public reading this summer and production in November), and resources.

New York

Exciting as Boston is, it was really a 24 hour side trip from my trip to New York, where I met with director John Gabriele. A multi-hyphenate bag of talent and diverse experience, John and I had our meeting in Rudy’s, the best dive bar in Manhattan. With Dean Komondorea from the original cast of The Feast of Jovi Bono at Manhattan Rep in 2013, and Dean’s wife, Barbara, we volunteered at the soup kitchen operated by St. Luke’s Theatre (one owned by Edmund Gaynes) and created connections.

What the New York production needs: a patron, friend, or group who believes collaborative, social justice theatre, and engaging the audience, cast and crew after (or before) the performance is a way to build on the artistry that already shines thanks to the actors and directors who have already loved and poured their souls into the words.


We have a great team, and support from the office of a state legislator. Life events have stood in the way of making this great. We may have a few surprise friends of our Pittsburgh effort waiting in the wings.

I started this in November, 2013 with nothing but a phone call from Manhattan Rep that said, “We like your play. Come on down. Since then, this show has received a lot of love from places all over (though none from my home base in Iowa) and it just needs a little infusion to take it over the top and change little pieces of the world, one bit of one city at a time. We have also had director interest in Detroit, Chicago and Oakland, CA.

We are told it would be a great show for high school or college actors to take on in conjunction with a community outreach project, too. I hadn’t considered that. What I do know is that the team members who have started volunteering with homelessness organizations even before major work on the production begins, have become more focused, engaged and empowered in launching the production.

It is my hope that more people and places will step in and say, “Why don’t we give it a try?” and that we can be part of ending homelessness through our partnerships with organizations already working on just that.

Art is life — with an Ash Sanborn show, we live the drama.

When we put on one of my shows, we live it. It’s not just that the actors sink their souls into their parts. It’s not just that we all work our tails off to set my words to stage. Take TFOJB for example. It’s about people in a tent city that moves in next door to Jovi, the caterer. Jovi and her loved ones decide to hear the stories from the tent city at fabulous dinners she prepares.

Malcolm and Jovi dish it out.
Malcolm and Jovi dish it out.

That’s when the story begins its sizzle. People. Experiences. Relationships. Food. Sports. They all collide by the second act. 

But the story doesn’t end with the chef’s final words (spoiler alert) “Bon Appetit!” 

It’s a show about homelessness and it means going out on the street. I’ve gone on and on about the show in New York, and about Daisy in the Diamond District (whose story I licensed for a future show — Clarity). 

The next show is in Boston (with Chicago and Pittsburgh emerging as the next places) and my trip to Boston in June set off another of these collisions. I spent a lot of time in the theater district, and talked to my friends at Howlround/Emerson College. It was night and something made me get off the T at the Boyleston Station. I saw her on the second landing — I didn’t ask her name but I think of her as Iris, after the eponymous song by the Goo Goo Dolls. She was for sure younger than my eighteen-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, and looked like someone Caitlyn would befriend, even with the change jar and eyes filled with fear. 

I set a few slips of money in her jar and was practically speechless by her appearance — neat and clean and not on the street long from what I could tell. I could think of nothing to say except: “Whatever you’re going through, this isn’t forever.”

She beamed. She quietly said, “Thank you.” She was not used to begging for money from strangers. 

I took the rest of the staircase, willing myself to not look back at Iris. I felt Iris to my core but even her glow was quickly eclipsed by the sight of the Old Park Church outside the T station. 

The outside of the church has on nearly three sides several shallow, wide steps leading up to a large landing before the main entrance to the building. On these steps, neatly stacked, were at least fifty homeless people, bundled and ready to sleep. I started for a minute. I wondered if there was a hierarchy, if there were friends or families staying together, if there was a morning meal at the church they awaited, or an evening one just finished. I wondered if their loved ones knew where they were. If they were missed. If someone loved them who would take them if they could, or if, like me, everyone older and/or wiser who loved them is gone. 


Before that, I met my Boston director, Laurie. She has lots of ideas to make TFOJB more than just a show. Boston is the perfect place to write more of the story of TFOJB. We’re making connections with people who have actually served, visited and talked with people who are homeless in Boston. Whether we get their stories on film or video for a part of the show, the cast, crew and audience goes out to them in the night, or we do something even more incredible, TFOJB is gifted with a Boston director who will make it come alive, onstage and off. 

We’ve been in contact with a major financier in Boston, but few shows are single-handedly produced. We need people wealthy with time, with talent, and with a gathering of funds to create with us. 

Are you in? 

Meet Matty Haze and Libby Seton in the new web show UNPAID

You heard about the lack of water in a huge swath of Detroit? They shut off tens of thousands of people because they didn’t pay their bills. Fine. But even those who paid their bills weeks ago are still without water. Either they want certain residents to leave Detroit (and go where?) or they want to have a Urinetown situation on their hands.

No water in Detroit

It’s not just water. Some have a vision to make food so outrageously expensive that we don’t even need to eat simple foods anymore — we can just choke down soylent green. I’d personally prefer to eat cake, thanks.

For-profit corporations have opened charter schools at the edge of certain neighborhoods and opted to not provide transportation. The result is a flight of middle class families out of what were diverse-income neighborhood schools.

“But you’re not entitled to something just because you want it.”

“Our taxes can’t carry the have-nots forever.”

“If you want something, earn it.”

“Stop expecting handouts.”

These handouts used to be simply the marks of a democratic society. What has changed? It’s no secret that I feel greed is truly the root of all evil. Without expanding the sociopolitical discussion here (though you’re invited to do so in the comments) I want you to meet someone.

Meet Matty.


Matty Haze is the namesake character of St. Marie-Therese Haze who started a free school during the French revolution, then was given charge of a debtor’s prison and a refuge for former prostitutes.

21st century Matty starts a free school (True Liberty School) with her friend, Libby Seton, using four abandoned Detroit mansions and a couple of vacant lots to run an upper and lower school, a community organic garden (where students grow their own produce for their breakfasts and lunches, several vocational programs, an art and music collective, a secret water source, and a mentoring program.

True Liberty School

Libby Seton is the namesake character of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, an American contemporary of St. Marie-Therese, who began the parochial school program in the U.S. with the idea that access to education should not depend upon social class.

MATTY just turned forty. She has been an activist since her undergrad days and has the scars and tattoos to show it. Her ailing father is in exile, headed for debtor’s prison, because he could not pay an old student loan he forgot about that went into default decades ago. Her mother has fled a similar fate by emigrating with her boyfriend to Portugal. Matty’s younger sister, Ferdy, just returned from a stint as a nurse at a school called City of Joy in Rwanda. Clearly something happened to her in Rwanda that left her traumatized, but she won’t say what it was. Ferdy volunteers as a nurse at  True Liberty and mentors two upper school students who seek careers in medicine.

LIBBY is sardonic artist type who wears a beret and has posters of hard rock bands in her office. She was left widowed when her husband, Cole, was killed in Afghanistan. She supported her children teaching in a good school in Ann Arbor, but parents started pulling their children from the school because of Libby’s “spin” on oppression in history. Her daughter got a scholarship to military school and moved away at 15. Her younger son lives with his grandparents who are paying his tuition to a private STEM school. Her eldest son is autistic and is in art school learning glass work.

The Lower School

DYLAN THOMAS SETON: That eldest son. Age 22. Refers to years where he barely spoke and did digital art on his laptop. Does janitor work at the school. Navigating young adult hood, romance, jobs, etc. in an autistic young adult.

ERIC TAYLOR: Emergency services coordinator for the Sheriff. Friendly cop who warns Libby and Matty when LE is on a rampage. Also gives them an in to get water delivery and avoid shutoff to the school.

SYLVIE JASPER, ALFONSE WILDE, PIPER GREENE: The three potential seniors in the school. Piper lives with her strung out mom and sometimes is still a prostitute at night. She later shows up at the refuge for prostitutes and even later her mom does, too. Sylvie started the community garden in the vacant lots and wants to study horticulture at Mich State. Her mom died and her dad works two jobs as counselor at rehab centers. Alfonse got his girlfriend Navi pregnant and works nights at different places under the table. They all try to get Navi to come back to school but she doesn’t believe she can do it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 9.51.01 PM

BARON SIGFRIED – the bad cop of the neighborhood who is gunning for the school. Proponent of debtor’s prison, shutting off services, etc. “We can’t carry you people anymore.”

DAHLIA HANOVER – the city manager/code enforcer who’s always hanging around finding things wrong. They must run the water from the secret source through the hidden pipes and fill the water jugs only when Dahlia is not around.

Secret water source

GAVIN JOHNSON – an urban field psychologist who runs the after school program for the younger kids. MATTY’s love interest before she’s taken away.

TIFFANY CORDERO – Brings MATTY to the debtor’s prison to run it. Hostile at first, she may become an ally.

HARRY, TATE, NOEL, JAZZY, KENDALL, PIPPA, LOUISA, VERNON, LELANI, JADE – debtor’s prisoners whose stories will be told over the course.

JOSEPH LEWIN: a journalist investigating the debtor’s prisons.

Lilac building - horticulture

The next show: Clarity


Clarity is the 21st century retelling of the story of Clare, Agnes and Francis. As a playwright, I walk into my stories; this one found me. If crowd funding goes well, it is coming to Manhattan Rep Theatre in New York, October, 2014.

It really happened — TFOJB on 42nd Street, NYC!

The cast was incredible!

Things came together like it was a miracle (though we’re still finishing the full funding of the show). The one wish that did not come true was the producer with the big checkbook. Next time, our outreach will reach farther.

The audience left happy.

Manhattan Rep Theatre said, “You and your team are a class act — you’re invited back any time!”

Cammerron, the actor who played Kevin, flew in from Idaho, went to auditions during the day, had a callback to play Princeton in “Avenue Q,” and was offered a part in Company 68’s troupe. Not bad for a 23-year-old’s first try at NYC.

I not only have a 42nd Street theater ready to put on my plays, and a place I’m “always invited back,” but I have a dozen and more theater contacts in New York City, and I’ve decided when I do go back, I will sublet my own apartment in Greenwich Village through Airbnb.

The actors and directors and crew were amazing to work with and went way above and beyond to make it happen. The actors did their own costumes and many of the props, because they had to step up given I was in Iowa and our budget was tiny. Learned many lessons which will be applied to next time.

Stayed in a small hotel midtown for two nights then did not have a place to hang my hat Thursday-Sunday. Instead, went on adventures, hung with the homeless, experienced New York at streetview, became inspired. I lived at the New York Public Library, in Union Square, Washington Square, and Madison Square parks (thank God it was in the 50s and 60s that week before Christmas, with lows only in the 30s-40s).

I could not have collected so much material for future creative work in a month of living New York the sheltered, tourist way.

Sometime, I will tell the stories of Daisy from the Diamond District, Plaza Pete, and Mavis, the Midtown woman who misses her son but doesn’t want him to know how she’s living.

I found nothing to fear in New York until the last day. By then I was rather sleep deprived, and weary from dragging my wheeled bag all over, up and down subway stairs, and all the rest. (I would, however, put in a commercial for the Campaign bag from Herschel Supply Company. I bought it on Zappos. The wheels and the bag itself suffered days of heavy abuse and came out swinging. For $189.99 it cannot be beat and I’d challenge it against the $500 carry-ons.)

Life affirmed in those days. So much beauty in what some consider the underbelly. So much peace and joy in Washington Square Park and throughout the Village — and I had not yet been educated in the great points of Washington Sq. Park’s history of activism, equality, and social justice. Now I am just more in love.

Sometimes I make the life I’ve been given an adventure. Sometimes, adventure finds me.

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