Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Question Of Dorothy

The thing about Dorothy that’s always puzzled me in The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz is how she’s kinda passive. Sure the story revolves around her, but that’s also the problem, it revolves AROUND her, she rarely participates in moving the story forward.

The only thing Dorothy does in her own in the first half of the book is swatting the Cowardly Lion when he chases Toto upon first meeting them.

Every other problem in the first half of the book is either solved by someone else (Scarecrow figures out how to cross the ravine, how to cross the river, how to get out of the poppy field), or Dorothy is given the answer from someone else (Good Witch of South tells Dorothy to go to Emerald City to see Wizard about getting home, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion invite themselves to go with Dorothy to see the Wizard, she never offers to take them with her, though she’s happy enough to have their company along the way.) Dorothy rarely has to make anything happen herself.

Once she melts the witch (which in the book she does simply because she’s angry at the Witch for tricking Dorothy out of one of the two Silver Shoes that she wears.), she becomes slightly more pro-active. She gets her friends back together (which, you could argue, she had to do simply because Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Men weren’t around to help), but she also hits upon the idea to call the Queen of the Field Mice to get them back to Emerald City, she’s the one that uses the three charms of the Golden Cap (though the suggestion to use the second and third charm is given to her by Scarecrow and Tin Man)

That seems to be an anomaly, as things return to form for the rest of the story: She’s not the one that unmasks the Wizard, that’s done accidentally by Lion (who roars to frighten Wizard) and Toto (who jumps away from Lion in fear and knocks over the screen that Wizard is hiding behind.) The Wizard comes up with the idea to use the balloon to get them back to Kansas. The Soldier With The Green Whiskers suggests they seek out Glinda’s counsel, Tin Man gets them through the forest of Fighting Trees, Tin Man and Scarecrow get them up and over the wall of The Dainty China Country, Lion battles the Great Spider, and of course Glinda tells her how to use the Silver Shoes to get back to Kansas.

There could be several reasons for why Dorothy is written the way she is. One could argue that storywise, Dorothy can’t find solutions to problems in a land she’s completely unfamiliar with, or perhaps gender politics in 1900 dictated that little girls were not so much the leaders of their own story as they were a nurturing figure or princess to protect to the metaphorical warrior characters around her.

But a reactive main character who continually says “What shall we do?” “What can we do?” is not interesting to me. I have the same issue with Marty McFly in Back To The Future, and Benjamin Button in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. They don’t move their story forward so much as they mostly stumble through the consequences of decisions that other characters make for them.

Dorothy is good, sweet, kind, of course. But she still can’t take the reigns of Say Goodbye Toto if Toto is the driving engine. I had to build a new Dorothy that is worthy of Toto’s fierce devotion.

In Say Goodbye Toto, the characters of Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are tweaked to where they’re pursuing Dorothy romantically, to Toto’s dismay. Midway through the second rewrite, it occurred to me that Dorothy would have to be completely oblivious to what Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion’s intentions were to justify Toto’s desperation in protecting her. And the only way to make Completely Oblivious work so as not to exasperate your audience is to make it Completely Funny.

And that’s when I remembered Rose from the Golden Girls. Remember Rose? Betty White was wonderful as Rose, who was so good, so sweet, so kind, and so wonderfully oblivious, and drop dead hilarious at being wonderfully oblivious. Rose never got the jokes around her (or even the ones aimed at her) but she still went on her merry oblivious way through life with a skip and a smile (though maybe not in this picture.)

But then I realized I wasn’t done. I had been so focused on shaping Toto’s arc, on how a dog learns what the true meaning of love is, that Dorothy was basically the same from beginning to end. She was still completely oblivious, but without a major character shift, she felt a little one note. Drama depends on characters changing, and Dorothy had nowhere to go.

But the material was there, I just had to dig for it. I realized that I had a great opportunity with the melting of the witch. Even though in our version, Toto does the actual melting, the prospect of seeing a melted person on the floor, along with the scattered remains of a Scarecrow and the dented remains of a Tin Man (Lion’s just tied up, nothing new there) might be enough to send a girl into a type of humorous psychotic breakdown. Which is what happens to Dorothy. Suddenly, she’s in charge, leading the brigade back to Emerald City to get the things the Wizard promised them, she’s the one who unmasks the Wizard, all the while teetering on the edge of sanity.

It makes for a much more interesting character to write. And hopefully, a more interesting character to watch.

- Amy Heidish

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ask Toto A Question #2

Dear Sir,

I find it impossibly rude to presume to address you by your given name, Toto. You've been around town longer than I have (that's no small feat), and the above salutation hopefully reflects the high regard within which I hold you. I remember being enthralled and -yes!- enraptured by you and your Mistress's mis-adventures as I read about them late at night with a flashlight back in my early '60's girlhood bedroom. It's been some time since, but I clearly recall thoughts such as, "Toto knows what he's about", and "wish he could be all mine", or "that stupid girl's going to lose her darling if she doesn't watch out!"

My question Sir, is this: were you aware 'back in the day' that young-budding-women around the globe were avidly adoring you?

I rather fancy you in your canine smoking jacket and slippers, carefully licking a bit of brandy by the fire, and I will completely understand if my query goes unanswered. You did work so awfully hard and, in my book, you've earned every bit of old wise dog downtime available to you.

I am sending along a pic of my darling boy Franklin (aka "Frankie). On his best-groomed days, I think I can see a bit of you in his handsome profile.

Respectfully and ever yours,
Bibi Tinsley

Bibi! I am simply overwhelmed with your adoration! Obviously you are a lady with exquisite standards and I am mightily proud to meet your high bar of canine studliness.

Of course of course you may call me Toto. The only things that have to call me Mr. The Dog are cats. Because we all know what kinds of lower life forms they are, and they are nowhere NEAR the delicate finery of your personage. I am so privileged to correspond with you!

Do I know what I’m all about? Absolutely I do, and I’m thrilled that readers such as yourself saw my influence from early on. I do wish that I could be all yours too, but alas alas, I am a one woman dog, and Dorothy has my heart. Would that we lived in a parallel world where cats and chicken do not exist and my jumping capabilities are high enough to nick me anything I please from the dinner table, I have no doubt that we would gaily run through fields and meadows with brightly colored streamers behind us. But alas I am Dorothy’s, and you are Franklin’s and thus all we have between us are dreams and correspondence.

As to your question! Dear me no, I never had the faintest glimmer that beauties around the world were avidly adoring me. I always appear as a constant afterthought, the last thing that any illustrator puts into a picture of Oz is me. Possibly because I’m small. Possibly because I don’t talk. Possibly because no one knows the real story and how things went down. But that will all change in a matter of months. Will you be there, Bibi darling!? I do hope to see your glorious countenance.

But I can tell from Franklin’s picture that you are in more than capable hands. He has the mischief in his eyes. I could envision the two of us chasing the horses in Uncle Henry’s fields, dog and dog, bark for bark, as male dogs need to do on occasion to prove their dogliness. My sincerest gratitude for enclosing his picture. I can sleep by the hearth a little bit safer, knowing you have a trusted companion.

And while I am very flattered by your vision of canine smoking jacket and slippers, the truth of the matter is that I do not have my own wardrobe. The brandy on the other hand...

Dorothy! Give that back!

(Dorothy here. Toto has been a very naughty dog just now. Please excuse any high falutin’ impressions he gave you. He’s not nearly as refined as that. He gets fleas in the summer. Thanks for the question, Bibi! Toto will answer the next one when he sobers up.)


Dear Toto -

I just found your blog, and was so jazzed I almost peed the carpet. I've been obsessing about something for months now, and never had anyone to talk to who could understand me. I'm hoping you can help.

I'm in a long term live-in situation with two pretty decent humans. They say we don't need papers to prove our love for each other - and I always thought it was a committed relationship. (They never forget to feed me, and whenever they move out of state, they take me with them.) For the last few years, though, they've been spending a lot of time on this website called YouTube. They say it's harmless fun, but occasionally I catch them sneaking a peek at videos of other dogs - dogs who seem to be younger, cuter, or just more daring than I am. (They really seem to like the puppy videos, which I find downright disturbing.) I've tried to confront them a few times, but that never seems to go well. They just get angry and push me off the computer keyboard - like I'm the one doing something wrong. I've also tried to access the website to see what's going on for myself - but, as always, the lack of opposable thumbs is a problem.

I have always been widely considered cute and cuddly. (I get lots of compliments on my walks.) Sure, I'll be 98 next month - but I think I look pretty good for a bitch my age, and I can still do all my tricks.

How worried should I be?

Glendale, CA

Hi Bianca, thanks for your question! First things first, you know that collar you wear around your neck? Not the festive Christmas bow, that comes off after the holidays are over. No, no, the collar is the thing around your neck with the jingly tags, the thing that people grab when they meet you and don’t know what your name is, ‘cause I guess it’s written there. So the collar is the dog equivalent of a wedding ring. Humans have rings, dogs have collars. You’re right, you don’t need paperwork to prove you’re in a committed relationship, it’s because your collar does all the proving for you. So you can relax on that front, you’re a legal beagle, except you’re not a beagle, but you get my point.

As to your question! Your owners are watching puppy videos on Youtube. I totally understand your dismay and confusion. Does it mean they love you less? Not at all. Just means you’re not a puppy anymore. Or you’re not doing cute things to distract them, like figuring out how to climb out of a backyard shed by climbing up the chain link walls, poking yourself out the top, and taking a death-defying leap back down to the ground. Know how I know about that one? Your owners sent it to Dorothy.

Look, you’re plenty cute in your picture. And most importantly, YOU CAME FIRST. Who’s still there when they turn off the computer? YOU ARE. Who’s still there when the power goes out? YOU ARE. Who’s still there when the wireless connection blips out? YOU ARE.

May I be so bold as to suggest, that, possibly. MAYBE, the problem isn’t with the ones that walk around on two legs, but four? And not the four legged ones on the computer?

Ultimately it comes down to trust, Bianca. You’d have a problem if they weren’t feeding you or taking you on walks because they can’t tear their eyeballs away from the guy singing his puppies to sleep with his rendition of “Goodnight Sweetheart.” (they sent that one to Dorothy too.) But they still are, aren’t they?

Like I never had a problem until we got to Oz, and Dorothy started paying attention to those goons Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion instead of me. That’s when all the trouble started, but you better believe I took care of it.

So bottom line, unless those pixilated puppies come out of the screen and start licking your owner’s face, you’re okay. In the meantime, to paraphrase the great comedian Steve Martin “Be so cute that they can’t ignore you.”

Or pee on the rug. One of the two.

Ask Toto A Question runs every other week until the questions run out. Don’t let that happen! Send Toto your queries at

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where Did You Get This Idea?

If you’ve ever been a part of a Talkback Session or Q&A with the playwright after a performance, invariably one of the first questions that comes up (providing it’s a world premiere, and not something like Shakespeare’s Taming Of The Shrew) is “Where did you get this idea.”

The idea for Say Goodbye Toto came in April of 2005. I was an Ovation Voter at the time, and was stuck in a very well intentioned, beautifully designed, adequately acted and deadly boring play by a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. I’m not a big fan of Depression era stuff, and I’m also not a fan of the type of writing where people die offstage right before the intermission, and people come onstage and cry about it. The kind of stuff where all the action takes place offstage, and people wonder what they’re gonna do about it onstage. That type of writing makes me snore. (I think I may have been the only one who didn’t like it, as the play pulled in critic’s raves from several publications.)

But sitting there, in the audience, out of nowhere. I suddenly remember at the end of the Wizard Of Oz, how Dorothy holds up Toto and says, “Say goodbye, Toto.” And waves little Toto’s paw for him at everyone just as they’re about to step into the balloon, right before things go wonky because Toto sees a cat and leaps out of Dorothy’s arms and the Wizard in the balloon takes off without them.

And my brain starts rolling from there. I could retell Wizard of Oz from Toto’s point of view. There’s something we haven’t seen before. Sure, there’s the movie version, and Return to Oz, and Wicked and later on, the Tin Man miniseries on Sci-Fi Channel, but nobody’s done it from Toto’s point of view before. And I think that dog has something to say. I really do.

Initially the idea was that Toto didn’t wanna leave Oz, that Dorothy was waving his paw against his will. The title of Say Goodbye Toto, would be a metaphor for not wanting to grow up, not wanting to return to reality.

But quickly I realized that wasn’t going to be as strong of a narrative as if Toto couldn’t wait to get out of Oz, and Dorothy was the one that wanted to stay. And a logical reason for why Toto would want to get the hell out of Oz would be if he saw Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion as romantic rivals for Dorothy’s affection.

Once I hit upon that idea, I got really excited about the possibilities. I could play around with audience expectations, and re-imagine the characters in ways they hadn’t been seen before. I could flip gender communication roles in modern day relationships, where Toto the boy is constantly pouring his heart out to Dorothy, who’s oblivious (because she obviously can’t hear him.) I could examine the idea of what unconditional love means to a dog versus a human.

The only thing I don’t have yet is a reason for why it’s called “Say Goodbye Toto.” My original reason that is was a metaphor for Toto not wanting to leave Oz doesn’t work anymore. There is a point in the play where Dorothy introduces Toto to Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion and says “Say hello, Toto.” (Toto promptly replies “I hate each and every one of you.”) But that’s as close as I get. I suppose I could have the Wicked Witch say it in kind of a Bond Villain way, “Say Goodbye Toto, eeeeeee hee hee heeeeeeee!” But that seems a little obvious.

Doesn’t matter. It’s too good of a title. It’s staying. Yay!

- Amy Heidish

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ask Toto A Question #1

Dear Toto - We know Dorothy has great taste in shoes, what kind of shoes do you like? Also, my mind is still on Thanksgiving, how do you celebrate Turkey Day? - Anna

Toto here, with the first question of the Ask Toto A Question feature on this blog. Some of you may be wondering how I can type on a keyboard given my limited opposable thumb action. It’s simple: I tell Dorothy what to type. Good thing it works too, since I don’t know how to spell. Or read. Hey, she’s not trying anything funny, is she? (Toto is currently biting his tail. Don’t tell anyone! Love, D)

Anna has the first question to open things up, and it’s a great one, thanks for sending it in, Anna!

What everyone needs to keep in mind is this: Dorothy’s and my story was a book first, as Dorothy told it to L. Frank Baum when we got back from Oz, and then a movie second. Most people remember the movie first, and the book, not so much.

I bring this up because not only is L. Frank Baum a fantastic writer (I read Toto the stories before bedtime. He’s asleep five pages in. Love, D.), but the way the whole thing went down, Dorothy’s shoes were NOT made of rubies, but were, in fact, silver. That’s right - silver shoes. Trust me, those things were blinding me every single step we took on the Yellow Brick road, them being so close to my eyes and all. Some overthinkers have theories on how the silver shoes are actually political metaphors for William Jennings Bryan's pro-silver presidential candidacy back in 1896, but all I know is that you got a bright sun above, silver shoes by your nose – Glare City, baby. Rubies would’ve been definitely better, a richer color. Who doesn’t love a deep ruby red, right? All the chicks dig gems, I know, I know.

From what I’ve heard, it was an art direction decision to turn the shoes into Ruby Slippers for the movie. I guess they thought with the Tin Man already in there, there was too much metallic going on. Whatever. Tin Man’s a dope, okay? Says he doesn’t have a heart, HE DOES TOO have a heart. It’s all a plot. Tin Man sucks. Him and the rest of the gang…

See, Dorothy and I just argued for ten minutes before she wrote that above sentence. (Toto growled and snarled, and I swatted his nose. Love, D.) Let’s just say our recollections of how things went down in Oz are very very different. You guys have seen her side of the story. My side is much much more complicated.

But as to Anna’s question as to my favorite kind of shoes: Christian Louboutin’s leopard-print mule is quite sassy, but a little impractical for Kansas.

Michael Kors has a Derby style shoe, in RUBY of all colors! But anything that makes Dorothy happy makes me happy. Anything but Crocs. Because those things are nasty looking.

As for Thanksgiving, the holiday finds me always under the table, waiting for Dorothy to feed me bites of her turkey. Don’t tell Uncle Henry or Aunt Em, but she’s really not a turkey gal. But that’s why I’m here – to love her and help out in any way I can, which means conning Aunt Em into thinking her dry as dust Turkey is actually delicious.

Hey, I’m a dog. I’ll eat anything, really.

Ask Toto A Question runs every other week until the questions run out. Don’t let that happen! Send Toto your queries at

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Hate Asking For Money

It’s the time of year that I hate the most – sending out the hard copies of letter and emails to friends and family, begging for tax-deductible donations for my theater organization.

This year is even harder, given the poor state of our economy. A few years ago, I was calling local restaurants, asking them to donate to gift baskets I was assembling for a local fundraiser. Most places were happy to donate gift certificates, or a gift basket of their own, as a way of helping the community and promoting their business at the same time.

But at one local eatery, the owner hemed and hawed and made me call back three times while he “thought about it.” On the third call, he waxed at length about how he couldn’t donate $25 to a small theater company when Hurricane Katrina had just ravaged New Orleans.

Not to take away at all from the devastation of that natural disaster, but I don’t see these two causes as an either/or.

Your local arts community will always lose in a match up between organizations like The Red Cross, or Habitat For Humanity, or The Sierra Club. It’s much easier to justify giving your hard earned money to worthy causes that help the poor, the sick, the geographically displaced, the internationally persecuted.

But I suggest that it’s equally important to give to your local arts community. Art museums, local artisans, and local performing arts groups survive on grants when they can get them, but also largely from individual donations.

Without these organizations, people aren’t exposed to different art forms, to different styles, to different methodologies, to different ways to tell different stories, to different ways to dramatize different schools of thought.

And the smaller the company, the more they need help. Our organization performs in theaters that have less than 99 seats, and many times, less than 50 seats. Our operating budget for last year was less than $20,000, as were our grosses. This year, our budget and grosses are both less than that.

Why put so much hard work into something that won’t jump-start a respectable career that pays a respectable salary? Why plead with restaurant owners for a $25 donation only to be told my cause isn’t as worthy as The Red Cross?

Personally, I do it because I believe in the arts. Not just the posh art museums that get endowments from deep-pocketed patrons. But I believe in the hard scrabble theater companies that dot the Los Angeles landscape, who put all their heart and soul into telling innovative stories that would never see the light of day on T.V. or movie theaters.

I donate to my church. I donate to my friend’s causes ranging from breast cancer to autism to AIDS walks. I know it’s important to them.

But I also donate to my theater company. Because it’s not an either/or for me. Nobody says it has to be.

Whatever you can give, whether it’s $5, or $25, or an amount of your choosing, please consider donating. If not to us (via the information on the right hand side), than to an arts organization of your choice. They can really use your support.

Many many thanks.

- Amy Heidish

Sunday, November 30, 2008

And so it begins

Hi everyone!

Welcome to the blog! This blog was set up so our wonderful donors, friends, family, fans, and assorted Wizard Of Oz fanatics could track the progress of my play, Say Goodbye Toto, as we start the march towards a full production in 2009.

It could be easy, it could be dog-toenail-trimming maddening, but hopefully this blog will give an insider's peek behind the joy, pain, tears, grins, and outright insanity that comes with producing theater in Los Angeles, (not the first city you think of when you think of live theater.)

For the first few months, it'll probably be just me and the dog, until we assemble a production team. I'll be talking about the rewriting process. Toto will be taking questions.

Come along for the ride! It should be a fun one!

- Amy Heidish