By Kimberly Mollo
From the NJ Ocean Star, September 27, 2013
POINT PLEASANT BEACH, NJ – While it is true the Jersey Shore was, by and large, open for business this summer, many homeowners are still picking up the pieces of their ravaged properties 11 months after Hurricane Sandy struck the area. The Writers Guild Initiative, a volunteer-run foundation that stems from the Writers Guild of America [East], hopes to bring some relief to those residents by hosting a writers workshop in Point Pleasant Beach in November.
Residents in Point Pleasant Beach, Point Pleasant Borough, Bay Head, Mantoloking and Lavallette, as well as their neighbors in Manasquan and Brielle, are invited to participate in the Writers Guild Initiative’s Hurricane Sandy Writing Workshop.
The workshop will be held on Saturday, Nov. 16, and Sunday, Nov. 17, in Point Pleasant Beach — specifically, in either G. Harold Antrim Elementary School or in Point Pleasant Beach High School, depending on the amount of space needed.
The workshop will be run by a team of professional writers, from novelists to screenwriters to television and Broadway wordsmiths. The goal of the two-day workshop is to provide a safe, pressure-free environment for people directly affected by Hurricane Sandy to explore writing as a creative outlet for their thoughts and feelings.
Professional writers who have run these workshops in the past include Tom Fontana, a three-time Emmy Award winner and writer of programs such as “Copper,” “Oz,” “Homicide,” and “St. Elsewhere;” Michael Weller, president of the Writers Guild Initiative and writer of the “Hair” screenplay and upcoming Broadway musical “Doctor Zhivago;” Marsha Norman, Pulitzer Prize winner for the play “’night Mother” and Tony Award winner for “The Secret Garden;” Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award winner for “Angels in America” and Oscar-nominated for “Lincoln” and “Munich;” and Point Pleasant Beach resident Chris Albers, who has written for programs such as “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher, “The Jon Stewart Show,” and “Late Night with David Letterman.”
Participants must be local residents over the age of 18 who have an interest in exploring the craft of writing.
No prior experience is required, and the workshop is free of charge for all interested.
HOMETOWN WRITER HELPS GIVE BACK
Mr. Albers, who originally hails from St. Louis, Mo., and moved to the East Coast to attend Fordham University at Lincoln Center for theater and psychology, has been employed as a writer for more than two decades.
He landed an internship with the music department at “Late Night with David Letterman” during his sophomore year of college — an opportunity that changed the course of his life.
“It was the exact place I wanted to work,” Mr. Albers said. “It was my dream, to work on that specific show.”
He recalls watching the first broadcast of Letterman in 1982. Mr. Albers was a high school student then, and would stay up every night to watch the groundbreaking late-night program.
Once he was hired as an intern, he worked hard to turn his position into a more permanent, paid one.
“I just thought, ‘Well, this is my one chance,’” Mr. Albers said. “I knew this opportunity might never come again.”
After being hired in the music department the summer before his junior year of college, Mr. Albers worked “50, 60 hours a week” on Letterman, going to classes after the show ended on weeknights and on Saturdays in order to finish his degree.
“I was determined to finish [school], but I also was not going to let this opportunity go away,” he said.
He originally wanted to be an actor, he said, and started to get involved in writing with the goal of penning himself into sketches. Quickly, though, he realized how much he loved the writing itself.
The legendary television host started allowing the young, ambitious music assistant to turn in one page of jokes every workday. Mr. Albers recalls getting up at 5 a.m. to pen those jokes before even getting to the office. His hard work, though, yielded gratifying results.
“The first day I gave [my jokes] to [David Letterman], he did one on the show,” Mr. Albers said. “I just couldn’t believe it.
“I still have those cue cards from the first few [of my jokes] that he did,” he added, smiling.
After five and one-half years on “Late Night with David Letterman,” Mr. Albers went on to write for programs such as “The Jon Stewart Show” and “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher, eventually becoming the head monologue writer on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
He enjoyed working on every show, he said, but had the most to say about the man who gave him his first big opportunity — Mr. Letterman.
“He’s the one that gave me the first chance to write,” Mr. Albers said of the Late Night host. “He’ll always be the most special to me.”
He said he got more involved with the Writers Guild of America, East Foundation, when cable TV was on the rise and writers on cable programs lacked representation by the union — which meant a lack of pension, many benefits, and standard minimum wages.
“I started to go to meetings and point that out, and eventually they said, ‘OK, bigmouth, why don’t you run for council,’” Mr. Albers said with a laugh.
He did, serving as head of the organizing department and helping to secure pension and benefit coverage for writers on shows such as “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” He also served one term as president of the guild.
WORKSHOP TO LET RESIDENTS GET OUT THEIR FEELINGS POST-STORM
The Writers Guild Initiative, previously named the Writers Guild of America, East Foundation, is a separate entity that was born from the guild. It relies on fundraising efforts in order for its members to run free programs across the country. One such program is the writing workshops.
The workshops started in 2008, when many veterans were returning home from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Albers said. The writers in the foundation wanted to help give those servicemen and women a creative outlet for their traumatic experiences.
“We wanted to help them get their stories out — not out into the public for sale, but out of their minds,” Mr. Albers said.
The first workshop was held in Columbus, Ohio, and was a success with participants. Workshops never have the goal of collecting stories for mass distribution or sale, Mr. Albers said.
“We don’t care if you show anybody what you write,” he said. “We just wanted to show them that writing can be a good tool.”
Writers act as mentors during the two-day workshop, teaching participants various writing exercises they have learned over the years in their professional lives. Attendees received plenty of one-on-one time, sometimes telling the mentors stories they had not even told their loved ones yet.
“It’s just incredible, the stuff that’s come out of these workshops,” Mr. Albers said.
The foundation has also given workshops to caregivers of veterans and military doctors.
After Hurricane Sandy struck the Shore last October, Mr. Albers had the idea of using the therapeutic workshops a little closer to home. His own home on Central Avenue was flooded with more than two feet of water, forcing him to gut his house. Nearly a year later, he is still waiting on state funds in order to raise and finish rebuilding the property.
“It’s unbelievable it’s almost a year later and nothing is different than it was a month after the hurricane for me,” he said.
As national attention shifted away from the Jersey Shore over time, many residents who were only beginning their ardurous struggle to rebuild felt a sense of abandonment.
“Nothing’s different for so many of us, [but] everyone else thinks we’re rebuilt,” Mr. Albers said.
He suggested the idea of bringing a workshop to his town at a foundation meeting, and the idea was readily accepted by his fellow writers, he said.
“There’s a lot of people in our own backyard that are hurting,” Mr. Albers said. “I just thought it’d be something really beneficial for the community.”
He encourages anyone affected by the storm who has an interest in trying to write attend the workshop.
“We don’t want anyone to feel like they had to have called themselves a writer at some point,” he said. “It’s going to be a safe place where people who have gone through similar things will gather and share their stories.”
Attendees are not required to write or talk about the hurricane, however.
“They can get a story they’ve always wanted to tell out,” Mr. Albers said, whether that story take the form of a blog entry, movie, children’s book or a memoir to leave behind to their children.
Mentors will teach participants lessons such as how to better structure their work, how to come up with ideas, how to develop characters, and how to write in greater detail.
“People shouldn’t be intimidated, thinking, ‘I’m not a writer.’ Everybody can be a writer,” he said.
Professional writers such as Marsha Norman, [top photo], Chris Albers, Jenny Lumet, Willie Reale, and Susanna Styron, will host a Hurricane Sandy Writing Workshop on Nov. 16 and 17 in Point Pleasant Beach. The workshop will allow residents affected by the storm to explore a creative outlet for their thoughts and feelings.