Some Sweet Day – Interview with Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus

Some Sweet Day will receive its world premiere at the Knightsbridge Theatre on Friday, April 1, 2011. Following is our conversation with writer Flip Kobler and writer-director Cindy Marcus.

Is this your first collaboration on a play, or have you worked on previous projects together?

Flip: Cindy and I have been a writing team since 1987. We sold our first screenplay to Paramount then and have been a personal and professional partnership ever since.  We now have 17 plays published with Samuel French, Dramatic, Pioneer, and Contemporary Drama.

Cindy: Actually, we didn’t start out as writers.  That was not the plan.  Uh uh.  We wrote ’cause I wanted to be a producer and Flip wanted to be an actor, and we thought we could write projects for Flip to star in.  We were very affected by Sylvester Stallone, don’t you know?  When the doors opening were for writing gigs, we decided that might be where we were supposed to go.

How long did it take you to write the show?

Flip: 6 monthsy-ish.  We started writing late summer of 2010, off and on between projects.  We had our first table read in December at our home in Valencia.  We went to Florida over the holidays (my mom is still there and we run a national teen theater camp there), and did another table read. We took notes on both reads and did another draft and a half in January of 2011.  In actual time 6 months, but much shorter in pure man hours.

What challenges did you face while developing the script? Did it change during rehearsals?

Flip: The first major challenge was getting it down to a single set.  Our years of writing have taught us a few things. You not only want to get your play published, you want theaters across the country to do it. You do NOT want to give them ANY  reason to say no.  So, multiple sets are cost prohibitive for a lot of theaters.  Difficult staging,  expensive props or costumes – all things we consider. Another aspect is casting. In doing this show, we’re dealing with a single character played by two actors 24 years apart.

At first we thought it’d be a breeze. But when our first choice for a younger me didn’t really look like me, it dawned on us that other theaters would have similar problems.  So we went back to the drawing board and rewrote to fix that casting issue. We morphed the script to include a backstory about an accident and reconstructive surgery, to loosen the casting reins. But in doing that, it really opened up some great plot and thematic issues we were able to mine. Don’t know if we’da found those little thematic nuggets if we hadn’t had to rewrite the casting issue.

And yes, the script has changed since rehearsals began. Not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse for the actors. On the one hand, we’re making the play better, tighter and honing characters, plots and themes. On the other hand, it’s new pages, new dialog they have to constantly learn.  That’s the glory and pain of original theater.  Sound Of Music has been done. It’s polished and buffed over years and years. Sometimes we don’t know what works until we see it up.

We had an example just this week. [Knightsbridge member] Kate McCoy was having trouble with a scene.  It just didn’t resonate for her.  And she tried everything to make it work. And BECAUSE she’d given it her all, pulled out every trick in her book, we realized the problem wasn’t with Kate, it was the writing. If Kate couldn’t make it work, it would never work.  So we looked at the scene and rewrote it. Again. She had discovered what we’d missed.  Now it works great, but those changes didn’t come in until Sunday, 5 days before opening.

Cindy: Only thing I can add here is the blend of comedy and heart is always a challenge when writing.  Although we believe that you can build in the laughter, you can’t build in the soul of a story.

What are the special advantages/disadvantages, if any, of being a husband and wife team?

Flip: 24 hour access.  That’s both the advantage and dis. It’s hard sometimes to find a way to shut off work. If we’re having an argument, our son will often hear us say, “Wait, is this a professional argument or are you cheesed at the husband?”  It’s taken us a while to develop our style and work method.  But the lines are pretty clearly defined now. We each know our strengths and weakness and respect and rely on the others’.  Usually, one of us spearheads a project with the other flying wingman.  When I run point, I use this analogy:  If you’re generous enough to consider our work art, then I’ve made the marble, Cindy’s made the statue.

Cindy: Phew!  Boy, is Flip right here. In truth, it isn’t just our son, Finn, that has the trouble defining the lines, it’s us too. And some of our worst fights have been creative.  I mean, we have faced some pretty tough stuff in our years together, and to be honest, truly, our meanest arguments have been over a script.  I think it’s ’cause it’s not just about the work for us, it’s about our livelihood.  And mistakes can not only create a bad script, but take away food on the table.

Advantages?  Flip and I speak the same language. We understand the ups and downs of this life, so we have more patience for each other.

How did you first come up with the basic concept for the show?

Flip: This play was actually reverse engineered from a screenplay we’d been toying with over a decade ago. Everybody has regrets. Everybody wonders “what if.” Everybody wishes they could have a do-over.  And we loved the idea of spinning that romantically. Getting a second chance to get the damn girl.  As we noodled, it seemed great fun to have a man play Cyrano to himself!  A wish-Ida-known-then-what-I-know-now deal.

The screenplay went through various drafts and incarnations, but always seemed to end up too actiony. I got it into my head that we needed a true villain. Could never shake that. When we started to work on the play, suddenly the change of format opened up new possibilities.  We didn’t need a bad guy, the characters were both the heroes and villains of their own lives. That major story breaking change would never have come if we hadn’t written for the stage.

Cindy: Oh my gosh, this was frustrating.  We both felt the comedic tonality of the screenplay but we kept coming back to that big old dramatic ending we had.  And could not make the darn thing work.  Doing this as a play completely freed us up.  And the years have honed our strengths.  We feel best when we are doing comedy with heart.

What previous work have you done as screenwriters?

Flip: As I said, we sold our first screenplay to Paramount. Another to Universal. Sadly, neither of those films has yet to be made. Then we ended up at Disney where we became the sequel king and queen for a while. We wrote the sequels: Lion King II Simba’s Pride, Beauty and the Beast II, Pocahontas II, Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Lady and the Tramp II, and a bunch of others.  In fact, we wrote the first screenplay for Pirates of the Caribbean when it was set to be an animated flick.

We wrote an Episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine entitled “Profit and Loss”. And our G rated family film Jack and the Beanstalk starring James Earl Jones, Christopher Lloyd, Wallace Shawn, Katey Segal and Chevy Chase came out in the summer of 2010.

How long have you lived in Los Angeles?

Flip: Cindy grew up here. I grew up in Florida.  I graduated on a Tuesday and on a Thursday I threw everything I owned into my car and chased the stars in my eyes to L.A.  30 years now.

Cindy: Ahem, uhm, I don’t think Flip has to go into the years thing.  LOL.

Any future projects in development?

Flip: Always, always, always.  We have two new plays coming out with Pioneer this fall.  Two more for spring of 2012.  I finished my first novel that I’m about to start shopping and we have several Young Adult novels nearing completion.  Cindy’s acting book will be published with Meriweather and hitting the shelves this fall.

Cindy: Must be a really good day cause we just got an offer today for another young musical.  Yay!  And Flip did not mention that I currently also have a book out.  It’s called Playdate (also through Meriweather) – and can be purchased at any major online bookstore.

What is your favorite aspect of writing for the stage?

Flip: My favorite part is direct access to your audience. You get to hear their laughter, gasps, applause, and yes, yawns and moans. But it’s alive. It breathes. Writing a book is great. But you never get to sit with the reader and see if they like it. It’s all so sanitized and removed.  Screenwriting is great, but our experience has been to get rewritten over and over by animators, producers and directors who have never written on their own. We can only wonder what the finished product would be if they’d filmed our script, not something close to our script.

So I love the real time reaction.

Cindy: Me?  I love getting to be responsible for the whole kit and kaboodle of the show.  From soup to nuts.  Often, we direct our own stuff.  It’s part of the teaching process for our teens in our summer camp.  Our camp is about theater as a means of transformation, so the shows we do enable the teens to find themselves and like what they see. They are pushed and prodded and nurtured through a very short three week process, but the work they do and the growth that comes out of this is transformative.  Phew – that’s a long winded way of saying we have to direct our pieces ’cause they are new.  And that’s an incredible experience to be able to see your project go from idea to production.  And sink or swim, it’s all yours.  Thankfully, we keep on swimmin’.

What was your favorite part of this process?

Flip: On this project, it’s been the theater and the cast.  Knightsbridge has been a blessing. They’ve got our backs when we need and get the hell out of the way when we don’t.  And they get it. They know when to do what.  Give us the freedom to create knowing we’ve got support behind us.

But this cast has truly been the godsend. Hard workers, professional and talented. Willing to go the extra mile with a smile and laugh. Often you get great talent, but lousy humans. Or vice versa, or some weird combo in between. But this entire company has made the journey fun and allowed us to hone the product to be better and better.

Cindy: Yep.  I gotta agree with Flip here.  Working with these actors.  They are a very, very talented bunch.  And passionate about their craft.  No ego.  Just the work.  Wow.  I felt like I died and went to heaven.

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About knightsbridgela

My name is Mark Petrie, and I've been a member of the Knightsbridge Theatre of Los Angeles since 2007. The Knightsbridge and the National American Shakespeare Company stage innovative new looks at classical plays, as well as the best of contemporary drama, musicals and new works.
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