Karen Blomain & Michael Downend

Karen Blomain & Michael Downend Image

The highly creative Karen Blomain and Michael Downend let their feet touch the ground on occasion and some of the time it is here in Northeastern Pennsylvania that their soles hit the dirt.The couple is enjoying the success of a few collaborations over the past couple of years. Blomain's first novel "A Trick of Light" was recently purchased by Barbra Streisand's production company, Barwood Studios. The studios also requested a screenplay version of Blomain's earlier story, "An American Wife." Additionally, "An American Wife" is set to be staged at The Northeast Theatre in Scranton in the near future.
Blomain, a Kutztown University professor, seems to be a genius at juggling her life between classes on weekdays, face time with Downend at their townhouse in Wilkes-Barre on weekends and still finding opportunities to write, travel and do workshops all over the world.

Downend is presently involved with writing plays about heroic women for National Public Radio. He is also a published photographer and equally as busy as Blomain. He is wrapping up his novel "Worldly Goods" and he and Blomain are working with David Zarko, artistic director of The Northeast Theatre, to stage "An American Wife."
Blomain was born in Scranton where her family has lived for many generations.
Downend hails from Forty Fort and the Back Mountain and says some of his best memories are rooted in the Wyoming Valley. Downend's publishing career started when he was 15. A Back Mountain editor paid him $15 to take pictures of a drover and spring lambs at Hillside Farms in Trucksville. Howard Risley, The Dallas Post editor, not only liked his photos but didn't change a word in the accompanying copy. "I've been at it ever since," Downend said.

The couple met when Downend reviewed Blomain's application for a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts writing fellowship. He liked her work and later, when they finally met, well ... let's just say the last 17 years have been one creative experience after another for the pair.Blomain and Downend have given more than 100 readings, workshops and speeches at various venues throughout the U.S. and in Austria, China, France, Ireland, Mexico and Russia. In addition to their Wilkes-Barre address, the couple also has homes in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Elk Mountain where they go to write, work and re-connect.

Since 1992, Blomain has regularly taught Russian diplomats at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow. A consultant to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Project, she has published two chapbooks of poetry, two full-length collections, numerous stories and essays and her work has been included in periodicals and anthologies. She has taught and read since the bi-annual Dodge Poetry Festival began at Waterloo Village, N.J., and is a founding member of the Scranton-based Mulberry Poets and Writers Association. She also helped develop the new Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University. Downend's fiction and plays have been broadcast on National Public Radio. Subsequent success includes his award-winning PBS documentary, "A Journey to the Endless Mountains," which Downend wrote and narrated. He has photographed 13 book covers, had one-man and group showings of his photographs and awarded a Rockefeller Grant from the Office of Drama Research for a play, "The Mola Mola Fish." An unusual claim to fame for Downend is his role as Jorn in "The Robot Holocaust." The 1987 cult film has been labeled "the worst sci-fi flick ever made."

The couple's professional affiliations reflect the scope of their work. Active memberships include PEN, the Authors Guild, the Dramatists Guild, the Writers Guild of America, the American Society of Media Photographers and the National Press Photographers of America. Both have received Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships, Blomain for poetry and Downend for playwriting. Blomain said she and Downend work three hours together and three hours apart each day when they find the time to get together.
"Our relationship is such that we typically know tacitly what the other is thinking," Downend said. "The collaborative work seems to flow easily from that."
But how about the "he said, she said" thing? Is it a plus or minus in their collaborations?
Communication expert Deborah Tannen says there is a defined difference in the male/female thought process and voice so is that what works with Blomain and Downend?
"It seems that we're each able to bring role identity (male/female) to our writing each supporting the other: 'What would a woman do in that instance? What would she say, react? Do some men think like that? How would a guy say that?' Occasionally, we might see the other going in what might be the wrong direction with an 'opposite sex' character, scene, some dialogue - that sort of thing -and with no more than a gentle nudge, we reset the course," Downend said.The pair took advantage of an opportunity recently to read sections of the completed first draft of "An American Wife" to playwrights and directors from New York City. Their "sounding boards" included Mark Zeller and Dana Zeller Alexis, founders and directors of The 78th Street Theatre Lab in Manhattan, and retired Hollywood actor Don Gallery. "Listening to dialogue helped immensely," Downend said. "Unlike fiction, writing for the theater must be done with the actors in mind."

The Northeast Theatre production next year will also keep the actors in mind when "An American Wife" is staged, director Zarko said. "An American Wife" will be part of the company's 15th season production schedule and will be presented March 21 to April 7, 2007 in Scranton. Billed as "sweet, funny and true to life," the play is set in the Scranton area after the World War II and tells the story of Stella, a Polish war bride and the first year of her life in America spent with her husband and his Irish family.
Zarko gives Blomain and Downend high marks for professionalism in taking suggestions for re-writing certain parts of the play and getting those re-writes back on time.
"Meeting deadlines and respecting actors and directors needs is a measure of professionalism," he says. "It's all essential to making the play three-dimensional."

The Northeast Theatre is the only Equity (union) company in eastern Pennsylvania outside of the Philadelphia area. Auditions and casting for the play, which will be performed by Equity actors from New York City, Philadelphia and this region are presently under way. According to Zarko, local actors Agnes Cummings and Conor McGuigan have already been cast for roles.Downend said he and Blomain have a flexible schedule and both plan to be in northeast Pennsylvania for rehearsals of "An American Wife."Until then, Blomain will continue her teaching schedule at Kutztown and commute to Wilkes-Barre on the weekends. She just recently finished a second novel, "Glorious, Untidy World."
Downend will soon be sending his novel, "Worldly Goods," to the Darley Anderson Agency in London where three sample chapters resulted in an invitation to send the completed manuscript.

Downend's first radio play in the NPR series is now in post production. The radio play deals with the life of Min Lurye Matheson, whose daughter lives in Kingston. Downend says the late labor leader, along with her brother, Will Lurye, were largely responsible for fighting the Mafia and dress factory owners in Northeast Pennsylvania and New York City in order to organize women in the garment industry. For Blomain and Downend, artistic creativity has fueled not only a wealth of literature, poetry and plays for the world to enjoy but also lasting love and admiration for what each other have to say.

┬ęThe Citizens Voice

Author's Plays