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