I have been on something of a theater marathon lately. Six days in a row, I went to readings or shows which included War Horse, Tommy Smith’s Fire Men, Don Nguyen’s Red Flamboyant as part of Ma-Yi’s Labfest and Vampire Cowboys’ The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G. Inspiring. Then, I got in a car with part of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab and drove 12 1/2 hours to Louisville to see Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine and A. Rey Pamatmat’s Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them. Maple made me think. Edith made me cry.
The thing about seeing theater this good, a collection of theater this varied, is that it really gets you to thinking about what keeps you in a seat. What moves you. What sticks to you like cobwebs for days after you’ve seen something.
I have been trying not to think about this as I hammer away at the rough hewn Fast Company and try to smooth its edges (or keep it jagged in just the right places) and shine it just enough for our First Light reading next Tuesday. The thing keeps changing on me. And it’s pushing my capacity. I’m having to use everything I think I know, and it still might not be enough. We’ll see. It’s finally gotten fun to be writing it, so that is a good thing. Con men. Magic. Basketball. It’s good to have fun. It’s good to be scared. Right?
It is my opinion that often a playwright doesn’t get to hang on to the complete vision of their play enough. They get butchered, bastardized and taken away from their original intention because so many people are pulling at it. And you end up with a hodge podge mess of a thing.
Here’s a letter from JD Salinger describing why he will never let Catcher in the Rye be made into a film. What I admire perhaps, is his strength of conviction but it seems like at the end of the day, he doesn’t trust actors.
The most interesting pieces I’ve seen lately seem to have a complete vision are Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are, So Shut Up and Listen at the New Victory Theater and Pig Iron’s Chekhov Lizardbrain at Clemente Soto Velez. In the case of the first, the director got 13 14-18 year olds in a room and devised the piece with them. In the case of Pig Iron, from what I have read, the piece was group conceived by three of the actors and the director.
So, what I am trying to figure out is where I can belong in a collaborative process like that which yields striking results, where everyone buys in and creates something that is more than the sum of the parts.
I am going to see if I can make the April/May workshop of The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness that kind of experience for all involved. We’ll see. We’ll experiment. We’ll play. I’m going to try to hang on by letting go, but doing so in a collaborative environment.
I would like to hear about successful collaborative or devised experiences that anyone has heard about. Anybody? Colossal failures too. It is helpful to know what doesn’t work.
But, for now, have a look.
The middle is always the most difficult thing to characterize.
In theatermaking and in teaching, we often call this “process.”
I spend a lot of time planning in both things. When writing a play, I’ll often spend weeks or months reading, researching, thinking. Thinking while I’m in the shower, eating a cupcake, falling asleep on the subway, in the middle of a conversation with someone, while watching a play. The play is omnipresent.
Teaching is very similar. I build a map, think about where I want to end up with them at the end of 45 minutes, at the end of a 2, 4 or 10 week residency. And I build backwards. What game, activity, set of questions, turn and talk will get us there?
I find a lot of solace in that initial mapping. There is something tangible and concrete I can hold onto and look at. There is a terrain I mean to cover. I just need to wear the right shoes and get enough rest and I should be able to make the journey.
But, on the journey, a torrential downpour will come out of nowhere. The upper of my shoe will separate from the sole. I’ll drop my water bottle in a stream and it’ll float away. I’ll get 15 or so mosquito bites. This is what happens in the middle of a residency when you add the students and daily school drama, absences, classroom teacher burnout. This is what happens on a second and third draft of the play when all the feedback you’ve gotten starts running through your head and you get seduced by strands that take you off entirely in the wrong direction. Then, your characters get angry and start to run amok.
I am in the middle of a lot of things right now. In the middle of a big residency devising a piece of theater with young people. In the middle of a residency around Fela! In the middle of a draft of The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness. In the middle of building the Spring reading series called 2020 Visions at Teachers & Writers. In the middle of writing an article on Philadelphia Young Playwrights for the Spring issue of T&W Magazine.
It makes me feel very messy.
But I am “in process.”
I’ll finish something soon.
I’ll cross a bridge.
First time back in the classroom this week with the K-12 set. I have been under the weather which makes it harder, but I still managed somehow.
I am reminded of what a hero the classroom teacher is, how they truly set the tone for great learning, safety, humor and creative exploration.
This is also a crazytown theater time. I just had the good fortune of catching the closings of my friends’ plays–Ooh-rah! by Bekah Brunstetter and Thunder Above, Deeps Below (yes, again) by A. Rey Pamatmat. It was a good reminder of what I reach for in writing–truthful moments, compelling and charismatic characters, and something about the blow at any moment. Both, so lovely.
And now, here comes Ma-Yi Theater Company’s Labfest. As you see, I’m closing this sucker. So I have a little time to finish this here little play that is, eh, not quite done yet.
First-look readings of brand new full-length plays from
the next generation of Asian American playwrights!
The Ma-Yi Writers Lab is the largest resident company of Asian American playwrights ever assembled.
This, its third LABFEST, will be the largest collection of brand new full-length plays by Asian American writers ever presented in one stand, anywhere in the universe throughout the history of recorded time.
Labbers have been known to write about things like space aliens, moustaches, salmon canneries, Darfur, calculus, cheesecake, and Scooter Libby – we make no promises about the content of this year’s crop, but we can promise that they will be brand new, first-look readings from the next generation of Asian American playwrights.
The person who attends the most readings wins a cash prize of one hundred million dollars.*
All readings are $5, available at the door. To make reservations, email Mariah MacCarthy at email@example.com, or call 212-971-4862. All readings will be at Theater for the New City, at 155 1st Avenue (btwn 9th/10th St).
Monday, October 5 at 7pm
by Kyoung H. Park
Tuesday, October 6 at 8pm
Garba Griha: Womb-House
by Michi Barall
Thursday, October 8 at 7pm
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them
by A. Rey Pamatmat
Friday, October 9 at 7pm
by Sung Rno
Saturday, October 10 at 3pm
The White Knight
by Mrinalini Kamath
Saturday, October 10 at 7pm
Growing Up For Dummies
by Nora Chau
Sunday, October 11 at 3pm
How to Get Rid of the Wife: A Political Romance
by Nandita Shenoy
Sunday, October 11 at 7pm
Jesus In India
by Lloyd Suh
Monday, October 12 at 7pm
We in Silence Hear a Whisper
by Jon Kern
Wednesday, October 14 at 6pm
The Kimono Project
by Patricia Jang
Thursday, October 15 at 6pm
A Voice in the Wilderness
by Eugene Oh
Thursday, October 15 at 8pm
Particles of Pakistan
by Rehana Mirza
Saturday, October 17 at 12noon
by Michael Lew
Saturday, October 17 at 2:30pm
by Dustin Chinn
Sunday, October 18 at 2pm
The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness
by Carla Ching
*payable in installments of $1 every 10,000 years
Yesterday, last meeting of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab’s season. We still operate on a school year schedule/theater production company schedule, so it’s summer and school’s out. As a kid, I was always sad when summer arrived because I’d be bored as anything. Now, I’ll miss the company and comradeship as I soldier through these two new plays by myself during the desert of summer.
Also, today, was my last gig at a school for the year. A meeting to debrief with the teachers after a semester long residency. I walked up to the classroom teacher’s door and she had her wallet and keys in hand. She locked eyes with me and said, “I forgot.”
Deep breath. “That’s okay.” Unlocks the door. She seems upset.
Are you alright? She says that she’s just got a billion things to do. Has to prep for next class, buy supplies for a capioera workshop later that afternoon and she has ten things more to do. She’s the team leader. It’s the end of the year. She says, “I’m so stressed out I’m about to start crying. In nine years, I’ve never been so stressed out.”
I feel for her. I ask if there is anything I can do. She tells me about why it’s so hard right now. End of year. Behavioral issues. Too many duties for too few staff. I listen and I think she’s starting to feel better because someone hears.
I’ve been there. Seven years ago, I was a classroom teacher and I was there.
The other teachers filter in and we talk about our program and what worked and what could be better in our partnership next year. And she lights up with ideas and anecdotes about our work together this year.
And I think about how all our hardworking, incredible teachers need more support, more time. They need not to feel alone with the weight of the world on their shoulders and a classroom of students who need so much. Students need a teacher, yes, but often they also need a mother, a father, a counselor, someone to draw a hard line, a coach, an artist, an inspiration, a citizen, a dreamer, a realist. They need all these things. Each teacher has 45 kids that need all these things (and it is a small ratio here, at my last teaching gig, i had 145 students).
How can we help them to stand under all that weight?
How can we hold them up?
How can we thank them for what they carry?
(Have you ever read “the things they carried?”)
They carry us all.
This opens next wednesday. I’ve written a new 10-minute play for them called “Closing Up Shop.” It’s a lovely evening of 7 eleven minute plays that take place in a convenience store. Please come by if you can. Some crackling plays, sharp direction and a fantastic cast.
Desipina & Company
Rehana Mirza, Artistic Director & Rohi Mirza Pandya, Producing Director
Seven.11 Convenience Theatre 2009: The Final Year
Musical Director Samrat Chakrabarti
Opening Night Wednesday, June 17, 2009
At Center Stage, NY
48 W. 21St Street, 4th Floor, NYC
June 17th – June 28th, 2009
The final Seven plays:
Soonderella by Samrat Chakrabarti and Sanjiv Jhaveri
A new pop musical involving a fairy tale of a different colour.
Color Me Desi by Rishi Chowdhary
A liquor-run to the convenience store before the big desi party uncovers that there are more shades of brown than there are colors to Holi.
One Dollar Box by Eugene Oh
A provocative tribute about anybody’s father, anybody’s son and the desperate measures that arise when life boxes you in. Working man, work it man.
A Very Desi Christmas by Samrat Chakrabarti and Sanjiv Jhaveri
An original pop musical that illuminates the true meaning of rice.
Closing Up Shop by Carla Ching
A look at what happens when it’s time to move on to the next generation.
What’s in Store by Rehana Mirza
A run-in at the convenience store leaves its manager with the keys to closing up.
Raj Against the Machine by Vishakan Jeyakumar
A Sri Lankan immigrant questions his life in the convenience store, with his best customer by his side.
Production Stage Manager – Nick Tochelli
Assistant Stage Manager- Shannon O’Connor
Set – Jason Simms
Asst Set/Props – Amy Lee
Costumes – Jenny Fisher
Lights – Jeff McCrum
Sound – len DeNiro
Choreographer – Sandhya Jain
Graphic/website design Nilou Moochhala
Technical supervisor Enayet Rasul
Original 7-11 logo and t-shirt graphic design Atif Toor