About Me

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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Tangled (Or: How I Spent My Christmas Vacation) Part II

Unbelievable as it is, I’m not quite through with Tangled. This second part of my saga is the alternate-title part of it, the part where I explain that (if you’ll recall) I saw the movie on borrowed time, and how both the movie and the time, along with some unexpected Christmas joy and a few strange and chaotic days of traveling gave a world of perspective to the addled state that was my mind in 2010.

To start, the luminarias: in New Mexico, we have a tradition (perhaps my favorite of all traditions) of setting out luminarias on Christmas Eve. They’re little paper lanterns, made simply with brown paper lunch bags filled with sand and lit from the inside with a candle. They are spectacular.

The whole city does it. Some houses, like ours, modestly line their lawns with a few dozen luminarias; other neighborhoods work together and go absolutely crazy with them, and the effect is breathtaking; an infinitely unfolding, softly glowing pathway of light as far as the eye can see.

My dad usually takes the lead on the luminaria set-up at our house, but he had a hip-replacement surgery close to the holidays this year and was thus unable to take on any holiday responsibilities other than sitting on the couch and/or shuffling about in his walker and enthusiastically delegating to me and my sisters. So, the luminaria duties (among others) fell to me this year.

Also to me: last minute Christmas Eve dinner shopping. So, on Christmas Eve morning I headed over to Smith’s to pick up the remaining items on our grocery list, stopping first at Walgreens on the way over for luminaria candles. But Walgreens, as it turns out, was out. No problem, I thought, they’ve probably got some at Smith’s anyway.

Nope. Not only was Smith’s out of candles, but the entire store was a crowded mess. And not a crowded New York City mess either, where even in the worst areas the congestion is equal parts tourist and pissed off New Yorkers trying to get to work. No, nobody in that entire store seemed to know how to walk or stay out of everyone else’s way. I called home, and asked my sisters to go out and get some candles at the hardware store down the street, since it looked like I’d be at the store for a good long while.

But when I got home, I found both my sisters plopped on the couch, in exactly the same place I’d left them.

“Didn’t you get the candles?” I demanded.

“No,” said Sarah languorously. “Luminarias aren’t really that important to me, so I didn’t want to go.”

“Well the are important to me!

I left the house again for the hardware store. They were out of luminaria candles there too. And out at the nearby dollar store. And out at the farther-out-of-the-way hardware store. Finally, in the sixth store that I tried, I found some.

We lit the candles before church and followed their glow across the driveway as we headed out toward the car.

I noticed how ours touched against our neighbors’ on both sides, so that you could hardly tell where ours ended and theirs began. Oh, this, I thought. THIS is why the luminarias are so important to me.

I can feel the whole community through these lovely, glowing lanterns. We’ve all done this together, lit these candles in the darkness. Together they make a bright path, lighting the way toward some kind of saving grace. They connect us in our hope to our neighbors, to the whole city, to the world.

There's a beautiful scene in Tangled, in which Rapunzel watch the thousands of lanterns that are released by the kindom on her birthday in the hopes that she, the lost princess, might return. It's easily the most enchanting moment of the movie. I mean, look at it.

It's only a short sequence, but before the lanterns are released, we see the King and Queen, her parents, look sadly at one another, still grieving after all these years, before launching their lanterns into the air, an act of reckless, unfounded hope. Their lanterns are joined by rest of the the kingdom's: a mass of tiny glowing testaments to their hope, a community united, their light persevering even in the darkness.

Of course they reminded me of the luminarias. Not just in look, but also in the spirit of the action, the coming together to light the darkness in a shared expression of faith.

I thought back to the pastor’s final words on Christmas Eve: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”

For a long time I’ve been preoccupied with the overwhelming weight and mass of darkness in the world. It leaves me icily numb, unable to see a divine order, as much as I look for it. If you took all the darkness, all the evil in the world, I often think, and put it on a great big scale against all the lightness and good, the light may well triumph. But if it did, I think it might only be for coincidence.

The awful unfairness of the world is a pretty obvious thing to be so hung up on, but there you have it. It is, and I am.

But, say what you will, whatever light and beauty that does shine in this world, it’s true – the darkness does not overcome it. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe it’s more than I realized. The darkness does not overcome it.

In entire the 72 hours after Christmas, nowhere I ended up was where I expected to be at any given point in time. I thought I would be detained several days due to the storm, but found myself booked the following day on a flight to Newark instead. When my Denver-to-Newark leg of the trip was cancelled, and I watched passengers frantically vie for seats on flights as far away as a week, I figured I was about to spend an unplanned week-long vacation with my Grandma in Colorado Springs. And when the customer service representative bizarrely, miraculous put me on a flight – the only flight – into LaGuardia that day, never did I expect to make it all the way back to New York only to get stranded in Queens. But I did.

It was truly an exercise in patience, but I tried to be calm and accepting of every evolving circumstance. I’ve had a lucky streak of eventless flights in the past year or two, and this kind of thing is bound to catch up with you eventually. And who are you going to be mad at here, anyway? Weather is weather.

But when I finally did end up stuck in deep Queens on Tuesday, LIRR-less and unable to get to work, I was disgruntled and overcome with guilt. I would have been okay with staying Colorado Springs with my grandmother for a week, in fact (much as I DID need the money this week) I was a little disappointed to NOT see her and all my aunts and uncles and cousins after all. And I took a seat on that miracle flight into LaGuardia from somebody who really needed it. And! After all that I couldn’t get to work the next day ANYWAY.

I’ll spare the details, because they’re unimportant, but as it turns out, I needed that unexpected snow day in Queens more than I ever could have guessed. I spent the day re-defining a relationship with someone from whom I had parted on sad, ambiguous terms and without that time together, I would have been lost.

I still think spending an extra week in Colorado would have been wonderful, but it occurs to me now that perhaps anything that might have happened would have been wonderful. It occurs to me now that I needed that entire travel fiasco more than I ever could have guessed. I needed the space to discover opportunities and possibilities in the midst of total chaos, uncertainty, and inconvenience.

On the 26th of December, the day of the blizzard and my original flight, I woke up early with a lump in my stomach as I gathered my suitcase, headed for the airport, and contemplated saying goodbye to my family.

Instead I enjoyed an extra day of rest, a fantastic movie with my sisters, and an unexpected feeling of peace.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tangled (Or: How I Spent My Christmas Vacation) Part I

*Warning: I talk about the movie Tangled in this post and give away a few minor spoilers. So if, like me, you care more than your age would suggest about Disney princess movies, maybe skip this one.*

On Sunday, December 26th I was supposed to be on a flight home to New York City, but I guess there was a little snowfall back here in the East? In any case, it was not my fate to be on that or any plane that day and I was granted a temporary reprieve. Instead, I found myself in a movie theater in Albuquerque, seeing Tangled with my sisters, all the while muttering incredulously, "I can't believe I'm here."

I loved it, of course. That maybe goes without saying. I mean, first, it was a new movie by the man who wrote the score to my childhood. And it started out strong, with a beautiful opening sequence, followed by a charming opening number introducing us to our main character. Very Beauty and the Beast. It seemed to promise to be a Disney musical that - finally - behaved like a musical, and not just a movie with some songs in it, like it's post-Tarzan brethren. Alas, its musical-steam fizzled out after about four songs, none of which were particularly memorable (and why is that a trend now anyway, these movie "musicals" with less songs than I can count on one hand?). But there was still something in its tone and structure more reminscent of the Disney movies that defined my youth than anything I've seen in years. Which made me unspeakably, glowingly happy.

Unrelatedly: I'm constantly comparing Tangled, which I liked, to The Princess and the Frog, which I didn't, because both initially triggered the same nostalgic EEEEE! OMG! reaction within me. So, why didn't the Princess and the Frog work? Especially since, technically, the Princess and the Frog was much more what I would consider a "real" musical; it had an appropriate amount of songs sung by more than two of the characters, all of which efficiently pushed the narrative along.

Here is what I've decided: The Princess and the Frog's failure comes down to a combination misfire in structure and in attitude.

When I attempt to analze the Princess and the Frog I'm almost always brought back to the song-wherein-the-villian-states-his-villainous-intentions, Friends on the Other Side. A good song and an evocative number, it does well by the SWTVSHVI format. So I've been somewhat perplexed as to why something in me points to that moment as the moment when the movie derails. But the problem is, while Tiana is a fun, interesting and dynamic character, her counterpart, the evil Dr. Facilier, is not. The creative team does not seem to recognize the fact that in a good story, it's not just the hero who must be engaging and multi-dimensional, it's everyone. Including the villian. And, if memory serves me, we learn very little about Dr. Facilier other than that he's mysteriously and magically evil. Eventually we do learn that his wicked deeds are in an attempt to avoid payment with his soul on a magic voodoo bet... or something? I don't know, I saw it a long time ago. But in any case, it comes too late. His song, Friends on Other Side, sets in motion the malicious plot that propels the entire story forward. So if we're not clear about who he is, what he wants and why he wants it by the end of this pivotal number, the entire movie is going to suffer.

The movie was also sadly overly pedantic in its attempt to duplicate the celebrated Disney movies of the past. And that is exactly what it felt like: a poor imitation. As in, "We'll give her talking animal friends! Just like in the other movies." The resulting animal sidekicks felt lifeless and recycled. Where Tangled was a clever mix of tried-and-true stylistic standards and the fast-paced, slightly edgier, hipper humor that has evolved during the Disney/Pixar collaboration, the Princess and the Frog stuck humorlessly to an old formula rather than using it to further new, creative, innovation.

But I digress. Back to Tangled. I was also bound to love Tangled because it featured a strong, sassy, blonde-haired heroine. Think about it: all the other blondes in Disney's canon, and widely in children's stories in general, are two-dimensional waifs. Only brunettes, apparently, are smart and cool. Listen, I know this cause, the plight of the blonde, might be an unpopular or even silly-sounding cause to support, since throughout the American and Western European storytelling tradition blondes are somewhat glorified. But they're glorified in the same way women in the chivalric middle ages were glorified: for their fairness - essentially, their weakness. Raised on a pedastal, but stripped of their power. It's underhanded sexism and it sucks.

So pleased am I, in fact, with this fair-haired addition to the Disney princess family, that I'm choosing to overlook the fact that the entire movie is essentially about Rapunzel's realization that she is not a waifish damsel in distress, and in the moment that she discovers that she too can be smart and cool... her hair turns brown.

That actually happens. It's like they're mocking me. But it does make sense as a creative choice so... okay.

I also loved Tangled for unexpected reasons. The journey Rapunzel makes and her realization of her own strength is complex; the movie's themes of courage and identity are uenpectedly profound.

The story, you see, is not about Rapunzel's transformation into a spunky, strong person, she is that from the very beginning (another reason I'll begrudgingly allow the hair change). That much is clear to the audience from the moment she decks her would-be prince with a skillet. But all she's ever been told is that she is too delicate, too weak, and she is too afraid to see the truth, as plain as it may be. Her secret royal birthright echoes this theme: she's already a princess, she just doesn't know it yet.

This is in suprisingly layered context to other, similar children's stories espousing the message, be brave, be yourself. Take Shrek, for example: at first Shrek and Fiona are ashamed of their ogreness, they fear it makes them unlovable. But then they realize that their differences are what make them unique, it's what's on the inside that counts, etc., and they should not be afraid to be who they are. Which is a wonderful message, don't get me wrong, but straightforward. Rapunzel, on the other hand, is awesome, and she is afraid. It reminds me of the oft-repeated Marianne Williamson quote, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

Even the love story ties in metaphorically with the characters' journey to their true selves. The song in which Rapunzel and her love interest Flynn Ryder (struggling with parallel issues of identity) realize their feelings for one another is also the song in which they begin to take ownership of their identities. As they sing they declare that they finally know where they are supposed to be, and the lyrics take on a double meaning: they know they are supposed to be together, but also, they know who they are. In fact, one could go so far as to say they know they want to be together because they know who they are.

Ultimately, Rapunzel finds the courage and the wisdom to recognize the power within her. Because she knows who she is, she finds love, her family, and her place. A witty and wonderful new classic.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lessons from Spiderman

Somebody - this somebody, actually - recently told me that you can think of Twitter as being invited to a giant cocktail party with just about everyone you can imagine. That is, you have the opportunity to say whatever you want to anyone. (Like Ellen Degeneres for example). And sure, they might not respond. But they might.

Now, loathe as I am to perpetuate the Spidey media/blogosphere feeding frenzy, I did happen across this article in the Times this evening stating that (big surprise) the opening is delayed yet again. Part of the reason for the delay, says the Times, is to re-write portions of the second act.

Reflecting the view of some audience members who have criticized the show on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, Ms. Taymor and the producers have concluded that Act II has storytelling problems that need to be fixed.

This sort of reminds me of the whole Steve Martin debacle at the 92nd St. Y a couple weeks ago. (Which I, by the way, thought was reprehensible and a total abuse of the very Twitter-power I'm now writing about.)

In both instances we have certain powers-that-be taking the temperature of their public and immediately adjusting their sails. In one instance (92nd St. Y) it was a colossal and embarrassing failure. In the other... well, I'm not sure.

On one hand, look: we all know Spiderman probably sucks. I really don't want to admit it; why SHOULD I automatically believe that the show, just because it's such an ambitious commercial endeavor, will be bad? "Ambitious" should be a good thing, right? But call it a feeling, it probably sucks.

So isn't it kind of cool that Taymor & Co. can look at our Twitter feeds and our blog posts and actually *find out* what it is about the show that's twisting our knickers? That they can actually hear (in a manner of speaking) all the bitching that would normally go on in our living rooms and the Starbucks across the street and respond to it?

It's like when my dad would watch football when I was growing up and he would constantly shout at the screen things like, "Oh, that's a TERRIBLE call!" Or, "Are you kidding me? Don't go with that play!" And I would say, "You know they can't hear you, right?"

So this is like if whichever coach or ref that was the subject of my dad's ire actually tilted his head toward the camera and said, "What's that, Steve? You know, you may be on to something. We'll go with that."

Who knows? Maybe pretty soon they'll all be checking their Twitter feeds on their Blackberries from the sidelines and doing just that.

But then the other side of the discussion is: who said the general public is so smart anyway? Public opinion is important, but do we really want the masses making ALL the decisions? Alexander Hamilton knew that when he helped establish the electoral college, an outdated but valid idea. And also, to put it simply, to many cooks spoil the broth. It's the same that question Mariah McCarthy raised in her recent 2amt blog post about the effectiveness of workshops and play development. Too many voices fused together into one giant homogenized tidal wave of opinion can rush over a play like a river over stone, leaving it very pretty but devoid of all sharp edges.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, all these new social media sites give us the opportunity to voice our opinions like never before and maybe actually be heard. It's a staggering power. But - as Spiderman himself will tell you - with great power comes great responsibility.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Last Play

So there's this new play, "My Last Play," that been getting a fair amount of publicity due to an intriguing article in the NY Times.

I'm completely sold on this piece; I cannot wait to see it.

As one who has spent, well, a lot of time recently pondering my place in the theater world and theater's place in mine, taking part this rumination on how a person could come to their last play is more than interesting to me - it seems necessary.

Of course, there's also the speculation that this might not actually be his last play, rather a gimmick or a complicated form of subversion. The NY Times article says that,

If this all sounds overly self-referential (and it should) and maybe a little self-pitying and overwrought — Mr. Schmidt confesses in the play that his sister-in-law, a therapist, is fearful that he’s suicidal — well, hold on. A sly boots of a playwright and a gifted dissembler, Mr. Schmidt has been known to subvert traditional theater forms.

Which says-without-saying that this miiiiiiight not be as truthful as it's purported by its author to be.

And then, later, his brother comes right out and says it:

“I don’t necessarily buy that this is his last play,” Steve Schmidt said. “I see it as of a piece with the direction his career has gone. He’s playing very creatively with what is fiction and what isn’t and with ways of manipulating the audience.”

There have also been some grumblings, some general cynycism about the veracity of the piece across my twitter-feed. Someone likened it to a Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary type hoax.

Me? I really don't care.

I don't think it matters whether or not he ever writes a play again. The point is, he was there. Somewhere, at some point, for some reason, he sat down and looked at himself in the mirror and said, I don't have it in me to do this anymore.

And at the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, that rocks you. It changes who you thought you were and what you thought you were capable of. Everything you ever believed about humanity, love, faith, life, is twisted up somehow in that passion for the art and when it leaves you, well, that means all the other stuff leaves as well. And what do you do when you come to that point? What do you believe in, who are you at all when nothing you understood about the world seems relevant?

In the end it doesn't matter whether you come back from that edge, just standing over it leaves you a kind of bereft that doesn't heal over too quickly. I know, because I've been there. And, what's more, I'm pretty sure almost everyone else in theater who's been around long enough has too.

It reminds me a pair of short stories in Tim O'Brien's astounding meditation on Vietnam, The Things They Carried. In the first, he recalls a memory of a soldier he killed, of the guilt and fear and horror he felt staring into the young enemy's dead face - no more than a boy, really.

Later, he confesses that the story was made up. He never actually killed a man while serving in Vietnam. But he might have. He would have. And he is left with "faceless responsibility and faceless grief." To imagine the man, to evoke the story wherein he pulls the trigger, is only to give substance to a truth he already feels.

"'Daddy, tell the truth,' Kathleen can say. 'Did you ever kill anybody?' And I can say, honestly, 'Of course not,'" says O'Brien. "But I can also say, honestly, 'Yes.'"

I would imagine if anybody were to ask Ed Schmidt if he's really done his last play, he might very well be able to honestly answer, "No, of course not." But he can also honestly answer, "Yes." And so can I.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

I saw Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson weeks ago at this point and this review of sorts has been rolling around in my head and on scrap sheets of paper ever since. It's been hard for me to articulate exactly my thoughts on it, but here is my best attempt.

I liked it.

But - I didn't realize I liked it until, oh, about 2/3 of the way in. Before that moment, which happened shortly after Jackson's inaguration, my mind shuttled helplessly between appreciation and confusion, searching for some kind of handhold.

Bloody/Jackson is a show about the seventh president of the United States of America and therefore, by nature, a political show. As such, I went in expecting a political message of some kind. I'm acquainted with the Trail of Tears and Jackson's legacy; I suppose I expected some sort of indictment of the politics that enabled such a brutal chapter in United States history. Perhaps even some kind of parallel drawn between Jackson's actions and the political climate today.

And when that message did not immediately present itself, I was confused. (Although, I can say with moderate - if not total - certainty that the fault here was mine for the expectation in the first place, and not the play's.)

Yes, there were references to Jackson's "maverick politics," that smacked of the McCain/Palin campaign of 2008, but the play (and Jackson, its mouthpiece) also speaks of a yearning for change in the political status quo that was the tone of the nation that elected Barack Obama. And still at other times, Jacksons idiotic recklessness mirrors the antics of George W Bush.

All this, though, without judgement: Jackson's actions may be impulsive and ill-considered, but his intentions are always good. He acts always out of a desire to affect change, to move his beloved nation toward something better. That more often than not he does so brashily and angrily does not change the intention. If anything, the stodgy and comically farcical founding fathers who represent traditional American politics (or, as traditional as a 25 year old nation can claim to be) make Jackson's impassioned style noble by contrast. Whiny, temperamental and volatile, Jackson is no real hero, but he's certainly no anti-hero either.

Hmm. What to make of that, then?

The answer eluded and frustrated me for most of the play. But still, I appreciated it. In productions so broadly farcical, so heavily stylized as Bloody/Jackson, it's an easy error to allow stylistic elemnts to stray from one another, creating a sort of artistic mismatch. A melodramatic flare here, a drop in rhythm there is all it takes to give the impression that one is watching a sum of disparate parts, each belonging in a different play. It's a bit like matching denim on denim: the parts can be similar, almost identical, even, but unless they are cut from the exact same cloth, the effect is ruined.

Bloody/Jackson never strayed from the cloth from which it began. Truly no easy feat. It knew exactly what it wanted to be, and it was that, from begining to end.

And it was enjoyable.

There was a point when I thought the play was over (it wasn't, not hardly) when I thought to myself, "Well, I don't know if I liked that, but I definitely enjoyed it.

As the show went on, though, I did decide I liked it. It was smart, sharp and well-executed. What's not to like? I does lack a degree of emotional resonance that would compell me to love it: the best example of this is the love duet sung between Jackson and his future wife. "This blood is not a metaphor," they croon cutely as she literally bleeds him for medical treatment. Clever, but without emotional power. But while it somehow misses the depth of that ecstatic moment when one connects intellectually, emotionally, physically to the piece, I still find I have very little bad I can say of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Oh, and I did eventually get the point. And it was a good point. As the hapless historian-narrator finally points out, "You can't shoot history in the neck." Jackson, for all his good intentions and fiery deeds is no savior; he cannot fix, as he so brashly believed, all that's broken in his country. He cannot even stop history from remembering him as "an American Hitler." Time and history marched on, and continues to march on, even today. The play's echoes of contemporary politics underscores that. And we do what we can to bend its path in a favorable direction. But to believe, as Jackson did, that you can control the tide, is merely hubris.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rainy Day Funds and the Publishing Industry

Okay, so I was reading a blog that happened to outline The Way Things Work in the publishing industry. Essentially: publishing houses look for huge bestsellers in order to finance all of the other books they publish that are not bestsellers and are not actually going to make any money.

I actually knew this. I took a couple writing classes in college and in each there was inevitable Day In Which We Talk About Getting Published. (An aside:I never really got a Day In Which We Talk About Getting Produced in any of my directing/playwrighting/dramaturgy classes. Consequently, I know a lot more about the mechanics of pursuing a professional career as a novelist than I do as a director, which seems strange. Anyway).

I'm assuming - and maybe this erroneous - that not every one of these non-bestselling books published is ever meant to be a bestseller. Certainly there are a fair amount of books - most of the ones I read, aside from, yes, the occasional Dan Brown - that don't look like they've been presented or marketed to fit the bill.

So, if this is true, this seems like a fairly altruistic, yet necessary, business strategy. From a strictly business perpective, why publish anything other than the books you really think will make you money? Yet, if that WERE all the was published, we would be doomed. What kind of a literary culture would we have left?

I'm just wondering if any producer or producing group has tried this strategy with theater. Produce a Wicked in order to produce a Scottsboro Boys, which just announced it's closing after just a two month run?

Is there a reason why we can't? I ask this out of curiosity and complete ignorance. Has it something to do with investor relations? Does the commericial/not-for-profit model somehow preclude such an arrangement?

I mentioned the subversive Scottsboro Boys in particular because the blog Gratuitous Violins said the following in response to its closing:

Well gee whiz guys, if you felt you had to produce it couldn't you at least have given it a chance to build an audience? Doesn't a challenging, provocative work need time for the buzz to spread? Couldn't you plow some of the profits from Chicago into it to keep things going a little longer?

Which is essentially the same idea I just proposed. And, admittedly, a commenter on the blog countered that the current climate of high costs and low profits precludes "rainy day funds [to keep] things afloat longer. Today it's do or die from day 1 (or even earlier!)." So maybe that's my answer.

But I'm still curious to see if anybody else has something to add to the conversation. Just wondering.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Viewpoints Addendum

I’m still reading my little Viewpoints book on and off. And, as I read it, I’m continuing to think about its practical applications in terms of my own process.

Now, rather than just thinking about how I would use it, it's probably more productive to just use it - and see if it works for me. This is a slightly more difficult effort, especially considering I don't currently have any projects on which to try it. But - I do I keep coming back to a particular situation that arose during a show I was working on about two years ago. The play, called “What Work Is,” was to be an examination of the nature of work, inspired by a book of poems by Philip Levine by the same name, and created during the rehearsal process.

One of the actors, Clare, had developed this wonderful character of a young, erstwhile concert pianist. A woman who, after being ejected from her prestigious conservatory program, had given up the piano and was reckoning with the question of what to do with herself now.

At one point Clare had a fantastic idea for a scene of her character: while in the midst a mundane task - making breakfast, we eventually decided - the action begins to look, feel and sound more and more like playing the piano, in order to express the idea that, even without playing it, the piano is still an inextricable part of her life. Even the simple act of making eggs becomes a concerto, or a sonata.

Unfortunately, neither Clare nor I had the movement background to create adeptly the physical life we envisioned. It took a lot of a stumbling, a lot of pursed lips and knitted brows and hemming about where and how to start. I was even thinking about Viewpoints then, because I called a friend of mine who is particularly versed in it to give me some ideas. We got through it, and created a nice sequence, but I think both of us were hoping to push it a little further, create something a little broader, perhaps, or more abstract, or more elegant? I’m not sure actually. But the process and even the final product, while something I am proud of, and I hope she is too, felt restricted. I think that’s the best word.

As I consider how Viewpoints can help me - specifically me, on a practical level - this experience offers a very neat answer. Having a movement-based vocabulary and structure within which to work would have given Clare the guidance and myself the context we both needed to go farther with her idea. So! My new goal, in reading about and understanding Viewpoints, is to re-consider my process with Clare and determine what (if anything) could have been added or changed through a knowledge of Viewpoints to have made it stronger.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I'm thankful for a lot of things this Thanksgiving. Friends, family, food, health. Another thing I'm thankful for is Thanksgiving.

I really, really love the idea of Thanksgiving. I love it because it feels like a religious holiday, both in tone and in the reverence of its observation. But... it's not. It's national. I can't think of anything else quite like it.

And I love that.

I love that there's this occasion that brings us together to celebrate qualities like love, abundance and gratitude, but that what brings us there is not any god or religious dogma, but our identity as Americans. We're brought together by our togetherness, as simple and strange as that sounds. By the fact that we are all here, occupying the same the space in the same nation. And all of us, because we're here, because we're alive, because our ancestors (whether literally in Plymouth or elsewhere) survived the winter, we all have something to be thankful for.

I think, symbolically, this says something very unique and stirring about America. And while I know that particular idea often stays in the realm of symbolism rather than actual practice, it still means something to me. I know that Thanksgiving is in many ways the gateway from whence the monolith of the commercial American Christmas can emerge. I also know the American nation later near-demolished the very same people with whom we celebrate the Pilgrims breaking bread on the first Thanksgiving. I know that, though those Pilgrims came here with a dream of a world without religious persecution, once they were free of their own persecution they turned around and pretty much persecuted everybody else right back. And I know that that terrible persecution in the name of religious zealotry still persists in this country, especially, and recently very tragically, towards the LGBT community.

But I still like the idea, that the most important holiday on the American calendar transcends faith, race, culture, and class. It's a moment when, despite everything else, we take a step back to contemplate our abundance. Together. I'm thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"We'd all like to flee to the Cleve..."

When I was in 7th grade, my math class learned about the stock market. My teacher handed out newspaper pages with that day's NYSE quotes (quotes? Is that the proper term? Obviously, this lesson really stuck), and, after explaining how the stock market worked and how to read the information before us, he gave us each a few hundred imaginary dollars and told us to go invest.

Microsoft stuck out from the rest like a shiny penny. It was by far the most valuable stock on the page and, in 1996 during Microsoft's peak years, even a twelve year old like me could look at the brand Microsoft and recognize success. My - and many others' - first impulse was to take our fake money straight to Microsoft. Our teacher cautioned against it.

Micrsoft was already played out, he told us. The time to buy Microsoft stock was before it had blown up. Sure, the stock might keep rising, but it won't double or triple in value, not from here, not like a smaller company has the potential to. The real money's not to be made there.

I'm pretty sure this is Investment 101 (hey, we were in 7th grade), but the lesson keeps coming back to me. I've wondered a lot to myself recently: is New York theater's stock like Microsoft's in 1996? Played out, too expensive and, while unquestionably representing the utmost pinnacle of success, not necessarily going to give you the best bang for your buck?

Of course, New York will always be the epicenter of professional theater. I can't imagine somewhere in America that would have a place for a beast like Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark besides The Great White Way. But when it comes to the indie, the experimental, the cutting edge - the stuff that goes on in dilapidated black boxes, basements and loft apartments - for this stuff, New York as a base of operations is becoming less and less logical.

Real estate mostly, but also a meager audience base stretched thin across a mammoth arts scene concentrated within a relatively small geographical area, makes creating - and maintaining - great theater more and more difficult. Even for the big guys, so let's not even mention the smaller fish.

But we theater folk, we stay. And we pay out the nose for a falling-in space with a diminutive house that we would nevertheless pretty much sell our souls to fill. That is, if we're lucky. If we get a space, a chance. Why? Because this is highest point of the theater world, that's why. Because nowhere else, nowhere else are you going to get to see and maybe even work with so many creative geniuses.

And that's the truth. That's why I stay at least. Sometimes - like when I saw Van Hove's jaw-dropping Little Foxes a few weeks ago, for example - I think about living somewhere else and it feels me with deep sorrow. Nowhere else, on this continent, at least, would I get to see something like that.

I read a quote today that got me thinking about this all over again:

There was a generation of people who really deeply believed that the future of every American city had to involve a vibrant arts scene... The question we’re facing now is what happens to that dream.

In full disclosure, this quote was taken from the Clyde Fitch Report, where it was discussed within a different context. A context which, itself, was slightly different from when it was originally spoken by Marc Masterson, the artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. So the quote is now thrice removed from the original intention of the statement. But it resonated with me nonetheless.


Yes! I do believe the future of every American city must involve a vibrant arts scene. Every American city. Not just New York. Or even Chicago or Boston or LA. Cleveland needs a theater scene just as vibrant as New York. Minneapolis. Denver.

Can you imagine? Amazing theater, everywhere! It would be beautiful.

It's the only way theater as an art form will continue to thrive. If it's relegated to a strange and novel diversion found on the streets of the Big Apple, like the Naked Cowboy or cartoon artists in Times Square then what audience will we have left? Tourists, coming to see the latest spectacle, jukebox, or movie musical and then New York theater people, going to see other New York theater people's shows.

And then not even that, maybe, if real estate continues to soar. The price of experimenting, taking risks, trying something new will become too costly. And theater is going to suffer.

Maybe we can take risks in Cleveland that we couldn't take in New York.

The remedy must be to head to the 'burbs. They need a vibrant theater scene. Every American city needs a vibrant theater scene. They need us and we, I'm convinced, need them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Wasserstein Debacle

I have mixed feelings on the whole Wasserstein prize scandal business.

The latest news is that they are re-opening the competition by considering other works by the 19 original nominees. And I am, oh, 75% in favor of this decision.

But part of me - the 25% voice of dissent - is worried. There's been an enormous outcry in response to this decision and, as a result, a tremendous amount of pressure on TDF to award that prize. And this worries me. It begs the oft-asked question: is it appropriate to lower the bar in order to encourage equal-opportunity and diversity? And when it comes to theater, my art form, about which I have uncompromisingly idealistic standards, my answer is an emphatic no. No, the bar should not be lowered, and if we women aren't reaching that bar then by God we are just going to have to work harder.

And doesn't it say something significant that the group tasked with awarding this prize, which is Ms. Wasserstein's legacy, has enough respect for Wasserstein and the new generation of women playwrights to hold the work up to a specific and fixed standard of excellence? It would be easy for one to award the prize to a sub-par play and, amidst undeserved accolades, pat oneself on the back for promoting the cause. And in reality, giving the award to a play which, when we're being honest, doesn't hold a candle to the works being produced in the male-dominated professional arena, would be a terrible disservice; it would say, this is the best we've got, so don't bother to take us seriously.

(And - it should be noted here - that I am arguing the decision process itself, not the relative merits of any of the nominated playwrights. I don't know anything about the plays or the playwrights themselves and this is NOT an indictment of the work. For all I know, many - or all - were amazing plays and unfairly passed over. But, for the sake of argument, I'm giving the TDF committee the benefit of the doubt and assuming that withholding the prize was not a decision that was come to lightly.)

On the other hand, I wonder, I feel withholding the prize this year is downright irresponsible. Like everyone else I think: is it really possible that not a single play written by any emerging woman playwright in the United States was that good? No? Not a single one? That CAN'T be right. There has to be one out there. And I think that an award as notable and as financially significant as the Wasserstein prize as a responsibility to find that play. Because if it can't be found by the committee responsible for the preeminent award for new women playwrights then the message it sends is that it can't be found at all. And in a community wherein our incredible female talent is already at such a disadvantage, that message is neither true nor one we can afford to send.

That said, I hope one of those 19 playwrights has something wonderful up her sleeve.

Friday, November 12, 2010


After a perfect storm of hirings and firings in the serving world, I put forth the hypothesis that waiting tables maybe isn't for me, and took my approach to money-making in a different direction. I submitted my name to a few different temp agencies, and three weeks later, voila here I sit at my first temp assigment, learning the meaning of the Monday through Friday work week and g-chatting at the office.

Basically, I have a lot of free time on my hands. So I stopped by the Drama Bookshop and picked up a few books on directing to look over during my work days. It's something I've been meaning to do; I've always secretly found my theater education thus far a little bit lacking. Oh, don't get me wrong. I learned a lot in undergrad. But it was mostly abstract: theater theory, various philosophies. How to think about and interpret a story. Ideas about theater and theater-making. What I didn't learn much about were specific practices within the rehearsal room. Okay, I know all about how to expand and define my concept for a project. What I don't feel as comfortable with is the practical business of how to turn that concept into a physical reality. I've got nothing in my arsenal but intuition and trial and error.

There have to be some ideas out there of a more structural approach - some practical techniques to get from point A (a neat idea) to point B (a neat show). There's Viewpoints, for one. Everybody's always talking about that. And while I'm certain Viewpoints isn't the only thing to offer this kind of structure, it sure feels like the only thing anybody's talking about, so I thought I'd start there. I bought a copy of "The Viewpoints Book," by Anne Bogart and Tina Landeau.

I've never really understood Viewpoints. I've touched on it cursorily a few times in my meanderings throughout the theater world. I've done some exercises. I've even had it explained to me once or twice. But I've never really gotten it. I think to myself, "Okay, so we walk in a circle and try to be aware of each other in space." (And I know that's a simplification, but you get my point). That's great. Really, without a hint of sarcasm, it's great. But my question has always been, what do I do with that? As a director, how does that help me in the rehearsal room? I know there's an answer, but nobody has ever been able to give it to me properly. So I'm going to the source - the people who wrote the book on the technique. Literally.

I'm only 40 pages in. We're still talking about exercises, and not so much about practical application. So I'm still in the dark about my ultimate question. But I have enough thoughts on the subject already that I figured they were worth sharing.

My feelings are mixed. On one hand, I'm starting to get it - I'm starting to see how this is a philosophy I can USE. At one point, in discussing how change in Tempo can trigger a change in mood (ie: slow can feel sneaky or scared, fast can feel desperate, etc.) the authors say, "by applying each Viewpoint, especially in its extremes, we invite something to happen." Ah, I see. So if I learn and understand each Viewpoint well enough to identify and manipulate any specific one within rehearsal, I can create space for things to happen that perhaps neither I nor the actors had expected. That's exciting. That's something I can work with.

At the same time, I'm deeply wary of the Viewpoints exercises, the create-awareness-in-time-and-space activities that seem to be at the core of the technique. I don't know their place; I'm trepidatious of pushing it upon a group of actors. I occasionally initiate warm-ups, exercises, games as a part of the rehearsal process, but I try to keep it to a minimum. While I appreciate the ideas put forth in The Viewpoints book, namely, that a theater artist must continue to practice the basics, just as a musician or dancer would, what that means to any particular actor I work with is specific and individual - each has his or her own process. I learned the hard way that an actor can easily say, "I'd prefer to do this work on my own, privately. I didn't come here to practice. I came here to work".

It's one thing to work with an ensemble dedicated as a group to working with Viewpoints, or to cast a show with the clear and specific intention of creating or reimagining the piece using the technique. But outside of a setting where the use of Viewpoints is previously agreed upon by the group as a whole? I'm not sure. It could be intrusive. It feels inappropriate to push Viewpoints exercises on an actor or group of actors just because it's working for you.

I also keep coming back to something my friend once said. She told me she can spot a piece that's used Viewpoints a mile away. Its techniques are so specific, it becomes like a signature on a production. I myself have never noticed this, but that's possibly because I understand so little about Viewpoints i wouldn't know it if it slapped me in the face. Has anybody else every experienced this? Have you ever gone to a show and become distinctly aware you were watching a Viewpoints-inspired piece? And if you have... is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Here I Lie

I made my way out to the East Village Sunday night to catch a play called Here I Lie, performed at a space called the Seventh Street Small Stage.

I've been reading about the Cino Nights series on various blogs, including an intriguing interview with the playwright, Courtney Baron. The play, and the disease upon which it was based, sounded fascinating. I had never heard of the space, though, which surprised me. So, I did a little digging and discovered that The Seventh Street Small Stage is none other than the back space of Jimmy's No. 43, where 8 Women performed its original NYC run. That sealed it. Last I heard of Jimmy's performance space was when we left it - after it had been shut down indefinitely. I'm glad to hear it's back up on its feet. I remember Jimmy was a good guy to work with, and genuinely excited about the theater he was able to bring to light in his performance space. A person (and a space) like that is a real asset to the indie theater community of New York.

Here I Lie focuses on two seemingly unrelated characters who both suffer from the same compulsion to feign an illness, going even to self-destructive lengths - ingesting poison, self-mutilation, etc. - to create symptoms in their healthy bodies. It's based on a real disorder, which makes it all the more compelling.

The two characters, Maris, a book editor, and Joseph, a male nurse, take turns relating their stories to the audience in a series of monologues.

Maris's begins when she reads a manucript for work, a memoir of a young man with cancer. It's written terribly, she tells us, but its story moves her to tears. So, she passes it along to her boss, who is less than impressed. In a moment of desperation, facing a demotion, she tells her boss she was touched by the story because she could identify with it; she is also dying of cancer.

Delirious with the attention, yes, but moreso the power she now possesses to manipulate others' emotions, she continues the charade. Soon she is shaving her head, joining cancer support groups, taking medication for chemo, starving herself.

It is grotesque and fascinating to hear her tell it, especially as performed with warmth and sympathy Samantha Soule. As an editor, Maris boasts she "knows how to tell a good story," and her life is punctuated by this need to tell the story. And she insists - ever more desperately - that the story she is creating through her feigned illness is a good one, one that benefits others to witness. No, it's more than that. The is not just telling the story, she IS the story.

And in the end, when she takes her own life to complete the story of her own invention, and proclaims with near-religious ecstasy that the ending is "so pure," the moment is haunting.

Maris's blind and terrifying irrationality is, under the fine light of Baron's text, understandable, relatable. Anyone who would call themselves an artist can identify with this terrible need to tell a story, to open people to a new world, a new perspective, a new way of being. Anyone who has ever created can also understand the fine line that Maris rides between shameless attention-mongering, and the uncorrupted goodwill of bringing something new and beautiful to others. And anyone who as ever yearned to bring truth to a story (and what is art, really, but telling a lie as truthfully as possible?) can appreciate the awesome power in the creation of a story so whole, so complete, that one literally gives one's life to give it breath.

It scares me, but I know why she calls her death "pure."

Jospeh, by turns, chooses life where Maris chooses death, allowing himself to be spontaneously healed from his self-inflicted set of symptoms, baffling his already-baffled doctors even further. Joseph chooses hope: you see, through his work as a nurse in a neo-natal ward he becomes attached to a particularly ill premie, born to a reckless and drug-addicted young mother. He names the boy Joe, and sees himself more and more as the baby's father. Then, when little Joe dies after a month in neo-natal intensive care, Joseph becomes suddenly and inexplicably ill, and then just as suddenly and inexplicably healed again. In an effort to regain the hope he lost with the loss of his "son," Joseph makes himself the miracle the little baby could not be.

In contrast to the riveting complexity of Maris's story, Joseph's feels more obvious, less engaging. Also troubling was the relationship between the two characters, or, rather, the lack thereof. The two appear to have no apparent connection to one another, no shared history before the moment that the play begins. More problematically, though, while it's clear they exist in the same space - they acknowlegdge each others' existence, touch, make eye contact, laugh at each others' stories - they never actually respond to one another. What the one has just said never considered by the other, in never affects or informs his or her next soliloquy. The circumstance creates a kind of uncomfortable paradox: they are in the same room, but they're not. They're listening to each other, but they're not.

The conundrum leaves both of them more or less alone in a vacuum with their monologues, relating events that have already happened, a style of theater which rarely works. It didn't even work for Tennessee Williams: Suddenly Last Summer is beautifully written, and striking in its imagery and allegory - except that most of that striking imagery takes place offstage, related to us second-hand in monologue. Which, while lovely and engaging, begs the question, why am I watching this?. By which I mean, why not just read it? What makes it necessary to SEE it, on stage, in three dimensions?

Likewise, almost all of the action of Here I Lie is re-told after the action. In the play's defense, though, this particular story gives as strong an argument in favor of using this device as any I have seen. The characters do live out their lives in a kind of isolation, unable, because of their disorder, to be entirely honest or present with anyone. It makes sense that their physical presence in the play would reflect that state.

I do, however have to ask the following question: what is the point having these two characters in the same space at the same time? Or, more accurately, what is the point of Joseph at all? His story is so weak compared to Maris's, and his presence does little to nothing to affect her story as she tells it. Were it up to me, I would bring focus exclusively to Maris.

When viewed in this light, Joseph could be a credible foil - it makes sense for her to exist in the space that she does: a sort of alternate dimension, somewhere between waking and sleeping, between life and death. It also makes sense that she should share the space with a person with whom she has never had a relationship, but who shares her affliction. In this way, she is still alone, physically separated from everyone from whom she isolated herself with her affliction, but not in a vacuum. But sadly, Joseph's character doesn't realize his potential to move Maris's journey forward; he has very little to do with her at all. In the most valiant effort I've ever seen to disprove the Heisenberg ucertainty principal, Maris's story is not shaped or changed by Joseph's observation of it (and vice versa - although I'm less concerned about that). It would be more powerful if it were.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I just found out, through this post on Kevin Daly's Theater Aficionado at Large that there is a Rent revival in the works at New World Stages.

This comes as fabulous news to me, as Rent is one of approximately 9507843957 shows in New York that I really, really meant to see and yet found myself on the day of its closing wondering if it was too late to get tickets. Rent has a particularly special place in that category because, as a sensitive and somewhat strange adolescent growing up in the mid-to-late nineties, I had a lot of friends who were Rentheads. Like, a lot a lot. AND I was a theater kid, which made it doubly bad. I always wanted to know what the kerfuffle was about, but somehow missed it each of the few times it came on tour to my hometown. When I moved to New York, I thought, great, now I'll definitely see this show - it's right there. But I never actually got around to it, because I knew it was right there. And then, one day, it wasn't.

"Oh well," I told my friend Sarah after it closed. "I'll just have to wait for the revival."

"You're going wait around for 10 years?" she asked.

"What?" I said, "I'm clearly not in any big hurry to see it."

As it turns out, I didn't have to wait nearly so long. Mr. Daly posits the question in his post: how soon is too soon? Normally, I would say that there is an appropriate amount of time to wait before remounting a show. The point of a revival is to give old material new perspective for new eyes. I was a little affronted when Les Mis re-opened so quickly. What, exactly, was the point of that? It seemed somehow disrespectful to the original production.

Rent, though, because it's moving to an off-Broadway venue, seems like a different animal to me. More akin to the recent moves by Avenue Q and The 39 Steps than the big Broadway revival of Les Miserables. True, unlike Q and 39, Rent will not be the same show moving to a smaller space. It will have new producers and be under new direction. But I think the idea is the same: here is a new environment for an old show where it is more likely to thrive. So I'll allow it.

But this news has gotten me thinking. I am so excited to see this show which, only a few years ago, I thought I had missed out on completely. I'm sure I'm not alone. So, is there a market out there for
big shows to go out Celine Dion-style, coming in and out of retirement as many times as they can inflate the ticket price of a "comeback performance"? Has anyone ever tried this?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The view of Washington from my Harlem walk-up.

Let me begin by saying I'm not the most politically knowledgeable person. I do try, but for the most part, what happens in those fancy-lookin' buildings with domes on top elludes me. It's all about the details in politics, and I'm much more comfortable with the big ideas. But it was a pretty big week in politics, and what with the elections yesterday, and then some tiny little gathering down in DC over the weekend, I feel it would be remiss of me not to say something about it.

I don't have much to say about the election. First, let me say I'm one of the few liberal-minded young people in the country who hasn't been disappointed by Obama, largely because I was possibly the only liberal-minded young person whose expectations for him weren't that high back in 2008.

Oh, not that I have anything against the man. I love his politics and his passion. But here's the thing. Well, really it's two things. The first is, I think there were all these Obamaphiles who had this idea that the President was going to take office and immediately get out his Magic Hope and Change Wand and with a single wave effect world peace and feed all the nation's hungry. But our government is a system, and sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's a bad thing. I think it's mostly a good thing. But a system means a lot of bargaining, a lot of beaurocracy, and a lot of compromise.

The other thing is this: on the night of the 2008 election, when Obama gave his victory speech, I've never seen a politician, celebrity or any other public figure look so visibly tired. It was uncanny. You could just tell that wanted it. So. Badly. And this man, he's SO intelligent, SO articulate, and so so charismatic. And that level of intelligence and charisma, coupled with the intense ambition I saw that night and throughout his campaign, well, it just puts me on edge a little. I'm not saying that Obama is secretly a bad man with hidden, ulterior motives. Let me be clear. I am not saying that in any way, at all. Like I said, I love his politics and his passion. I'm just saying it makes me a little... wary.

So, all this is to say that I'm not surprised by the disappointment in Obama and the democrats that was clearly voiced at the polls yesterday. And I'm not that troubled either. I have my own political ideas, but even more than I love them, I love the populace at work. We align ourselves behind an ideal or a platform in the hopes of something better than what we have, we're eventually disappointed or disillusioned, and then we throw ourselves behind a different, more promising platform. Back and forth, like an infinite pendulum.

I do, however, have a little to say about the Rally to Restore Sanity that happened this weekend. I don't know what the ultimate numbers were for the turnout at the rally, nor how it measures up, in relative terms, to other past rallies but I will say that in terms of talk and anticipation, this was the biggest thing to happen in DC in quite a while, at least from my vantage point.

And this troubles me. I read a little about the event itself over at Parabasis as well as an article about Stewart's final speech in The New York Times. As far as I can tell, the event was, from the organizer's standpoint, ostensibly apolitical, neither for or against anything other than the vague and unspecific idea of sanity. Ralliers carried signs that ran the political and social gamut. Some relevant, some inappropriate, and some simply pointless.

I find it interesting, and a little bit frustrating that this massive, unifying event, one of the most massive in recent memory, was centered upon, well, nothing. Is this going to be the legacy of our generation? Like generations before us, we're in arms about something... we just can't figure out what it is. And so we let the lines between reality and entertainment blur, and turn to the one thing that does have the power to unify us on common ground: television. I think we can do better.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Language Archive

By Julia Cho
@ the Laura Pels Theater through Dec. 19th
Click here for more information.

The Language Archive by Julia Cho is a breathtaking tale of the overwhelming power and complexity of language: how it creates and defines not only ourselves but our relationships with others, and how somehow, simultaneously, it is woefully insufficient.

It tells the story of George (Matt Letscher) whose marriage is falling apart. His wife Mary (Heidi Schreck) is deeply dissatisfied, she cries all the time, she is leaving him. And George cannot seem to find the words that will make her stay. Ironic, because George's entire life is devoted to the study of words. He is a linguist who studies, records and catalogues dying languages in his "language archive," thus saving them from total extinction.

George's professional life hits a snag just as his personal life is falling apart: the day his wife leaves him is the same day an old married couple are flown in to George's lab. They are the last remaining speakers of a language called Elloway, and they are there to be recorded speaking in their native tongue. Trouble is, the couple is in the middle of a heated spat and refuse to speak to one another in Elloway. English, they insist, is a much better language for anger.

Language means everything to George, and his wife cannot understand it. She is baffled at his capacity for sorrow at the death of a language when he seems incapable of expressing any kind of grief at the death of a human being, even a loved one. But, as George explains to us, with the death of a language comes the death of an entire world: its memories, its traditions, its stories, everything.

George is talking about worlds in a broader, anthropological sense, but he may as well be talking about the world of his marriage. They cannot understand each other anymore, the common language they once had between them is dying. "I'm sorry, George," Mary tells her husband sadly, "I've never understood what you were saying."

By contrast Alta and Resten, the elderly Ellowen couple played with endearing vivacity by Jayne Houdyshell and John Horton, have a mutual language that is as alive as their native tongue is moribund. On top of this, Cho adds another fascinating dynamic to their relationship: because they are the last remaining speakers of Elloway, they bear between the two of them all the collective knowledge of their vanished people. Their world-of-two is private and specifically theirs, but also, at times, encompasses the entire Ellowen world. The lines between what belongs to Elloway and what belongs to just them become delightfully blurred.

Now, add to the mix Emma (Betty Gilpin), George's lovelorn assistant who is secretly learning Esperanto (a passion of George's) as another - better - way to communicate with her beloved employer. But she's blocked, she can't seem to get the knack of it. Her teacher (also played by Jayne Houdyshell) an imposing German woman, cautions her that learning a language opens doors to new worlds. So, if she's unable to learn the language, she should think to herself, what door is she afraid of stepping through?

This is staggeringly intricate and utterly heart-wrenching scene the play sets. It examines delicate interplay between language and relationships: how at times language defines the relationship, and at others, the relationship defines the language.

Language is all these characters have to fill the space between one another. And yet, somehow, it is also insufficient. Alta tells George that although he thinks that a world dies because the language does, it's the other way around. If a language is dying it is because the world is already dead. There is something else to our experiences, our relationships, that is ineffable. Something neither created nor contained by language and perhaps we all die a little for our inability to express it.

Mary ultimately escapes the language barrier with her husband, and her husband himself by opening a bakery. The bread she bakes there is almost magical the way it holds one in its thrall. The sublime sight, smell, and taste of the bread taps into something visceral, a need and a pleasure knowable only in experience and inexpressable in words. The exchange George has with a woman outside the bakery says it best. Baffled and dejected, he stands outside knowing he has seen her for the last time when a woman approaches him. "What is that amazing smell?" she says. "Bread," he responds simply. "Where did you get it?" "There." And she walks away. There is nothing more to be said, for either of them.

And yet, there is truth to what Emma's Esperanto teacher has to say. There is power in word. The simple act of uttering things aloud can call them into being. And if language does have the power to open doors to worlds, what does it mean, then, that George never tells his wife he loves her? When she first tells him she's leaving, he says his whole body screams, "Don't leave," but he doesn't say it. He records a tape of a hundred voices saying in a hundred dead languages, "I love you," but none of the voices is his. Because he doesn't say it, it is at once more true and less.

In my favorite moment of the play, Cho sums up the depth and richness of our knowledge of love, loss and language with hearbreaking simplicity: Alta explains to Emma that, in Elloway, "I love you" translates directly as "Don't leave me." "Because that is what 'I love you' means to us," she says. "I never want to be left by you. I never want to be without you."

Despite how enamoured I am with this play, I found myself less than satisfied with the production. Other than Jayne Houdyshell and John Horton, who were consistent bright spots in every role they took on, the performances were inconsistent with the material and somewhat jarring. It felt as though the actors flew through their own lines, neither listening what had been said, nor considering their own response. This not only lead to unbelievable, two dimensional portrayals of what should have been vibrant characters, but also felt especially inappropriate given the nature of the material. For people who claimed to exalt the notion of language, they appeared completely unaware of their own.

It is entirely possibly that this was a choice; if it was, though, it was the wrong one. All of Cho's characters understand and appreciate language. Even those who ultimate reject it (Mary) and those who cannot seem to bend it to their will (George, Emma) are aware of it. These characters were not. I won't criticize the cast too harshly, though, because this misstep might not be their doing. I honestly can't say for sure whether the error was in the acting or in the directing (by Roundabout favorite Mark Brokaw). But I will say that given how uniformly dissatisfying the majority of the performances were, I can easily believe that they were the result of specific direction.

In the end it doesn't matter which. The play was what it was: a somewhat disappointing production of a touching and thought-provoking new work. Ms. Cho has me sold; I intend to follow her work for a long time to come.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Saturday Night Saloon

It was a good theater-going week for me. First, I saw The Language Archive by Julia Cho, presented by Roundabout Theatre Co. at the Laura Pels Theater. It was fantastic. Beautiful in that heart-in-throat, holy sh*t, blown-away kind of a way that only happens every once in a wonderful while.

That's all I'm going to say about it for the time being; I'm still mulling over all the pieces, formulating an articulate review of both the play and the performance.

That was Wednesday. Then, Saturday, I went to see a little thing called The Saturday Saloon that I'd been reading about on a couple of blogs lately. The show was produced by the Vampire Cowboys, a name which, when mentioned, pretty guarantees my interest is piqued. I've followed the Vampire Cowboys ever since I happened to stumble upon their play, Men of Steel, a of years ago and found it a brilliant, thoughtful and thoroughly dead-on satire.

The great thing about the Vampire Cowboys, too, is that my appreciation is totally pure, untainted by any of the bitterness or envy that often accompanies great works for me. No, "Oh god, why can't I be doing stuff like that?" No, "God, why can't I be WORKING with these people?" Because the stuff they do - or at least the stuff I've seen - works within a specific genre so precisely, it takes an understanding of this geeky, sci-fi/fantasy/comic fandom (and I use these terms in the most reverent way possible) that I appreciate, but do not possess.

This is what I find so brilliant about the Vampire Cowboys: they spoof the genre so accurately, yet so lovingly, it's at once a parody and an homage. It's kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque in that respect. And anyone who knows me well can say that, from me, that's a compliment of the highest order. Add to that the incisive social and political their plays often contain, and I'm pretty much a fan for life.

That's why I made my way all the way out to Brooklyn last Saturday night, and I was not disappointed. The Saloon featured short installments of on-going serials by six different authors. I jumped on board for part two of the production, and I'm going to try my damndest now to see the next installment on November 20th.

This is not a review of the show, because, not having seen the beginning or the end of any of the pieces, I don't think that's fair. So, this post is mostly to say I saw a show, it was fun, I had fun.

I missed the first piece. I was late; I didn't look carefully at the information before leaving my apartment, and didn't notice that the show was ALL THE WAY OUT THERE in Brooklyn. I got there just in time to catch the second piece, "Control Room" by Mac Rogers. It was awesome. Space travel, crazy sci-fi mythology, hostel enemies in strange galaxies, and wise-cracking protagonists. Yup. I'm on board. Next was "Death Valley" by Adam Scott Mazer. Cowboy-western zombies. ALSO on board. "Starboat" by James Comtois (one of the bloggers who brought the show to my attention) had a killer cliffhanger - I have to admit, this one is the show that makes me most catch part three.

The next two were also great. Clever, fast-paced and original, I laughed out loud watching both. But, in comparison with the other three, I had a much harder time following these two. I'm going to blame it on a combination of starting to get a little sleepy (what? It was past my bedtime.) and not having seen part one. The first, "Jack O'Hanrahan and the One-Sided Window," by Brent Cox was a weirdly hilarious spy-spoof. The second, "Killer High," by Crystal Skillman featured a bizarre alternate-reality of elementary-schoolers playing a real life-and-death war game. I read about Ms. Skillman recently on Zack Calhoon's blog and was especially interested in seeing her work. Very weird and very cool.

The only downside, other than having to trek into Brooklyn (hey - I live in Harlem, folks. Brooklyn is a fur piece.) was having to stand the entire time. By the time I got there, the term "standing room only," was an understatement. The place was PACKED. Which is awesome for the production. Not so awesome for my feetsies. But other than that, I give the evening an A.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Care About The Simpsons for the First Time in 10 Years.

So, this is the first post of mine that isn't strictly theater or New York related, but it's still firmly in the arts realm, plus it's just too strange not to discuss, so I'm going for it.

I'm talking about the opening sequence of The Simpsons done by UK graffiti artist Banksy.

Now, in the interest of total honesty, I haven't watched The Simpsons in a decade. The truth? The joke got old for me around age 16. It's difficult to explain. Although the subject matter continues to be socially relevant, its brand of humor somehow... isn't. Its satirical style, starting with its interpretation of the prototypical American family, seems dated now. It's not edgy anymore, it doesn't shock or challenge; the show has somehow gone soft.

Feel free to disagree with me there. I know the argument, "I can't explain it, but it's just not edgy," is totally airtight and not vague AT ALL.

That is, by the way, a total digression, as the sequence in question is, if nothing else, certainly edgy and socially relevant.

But to continue. I also had no idea who Banksy was until this opening sequence was brought to my attention via the remarkable power of the interwebs, so I'll immediately concede that I am maybe not the most informed person to be declaring her opinions on the matter. But this does spark in me some major opinions, so I'm going to vocalize them anyway. Maybe even create a dialogue here.

First of all, here's the sequence to which I am referring. Embedding a video within a blog post is still out of my range of capabilities, so click here to see it on Hulu.

As I understand it, Fox/The Simpsons allegedly outsources much of its merchandising to South Korea. I say allegedly because I'm not sure if these are simply allegations or an undisputed fact. In any case, the sequence is obviously a response to that subject.

My first question is, if this was created in response, then by whom? Obviously, the sequence was directed by Banksy, but it was certainly realized by the creative team behind The Simpsons. So, why? What kind of response is this? It doesn't refute the allegations, or paint The Simpsons or Fox in a particularly positive light.

Or does it? The images in the sequence become so increasing absurd that by the time we arrive at the scenes of workers killing kittens to stuff Bart Simpson dolls or abusing unicorns to manufacture DVD's they are laughable. But are we supposed to laugh? I don't feel much like laughing. The tone of the sequence is eerie and dark; it evokes an ethos of horror and tragedy rather than humor. And even if the tone were more overtly satirical, the issue of sweatshops and the exploitation of foreign workers is a serious issue and I'm not quite sure why it should be lampooned, especially be an organization accused of contributing to it.

What exactly is the message here? Is it, "Hey, exactly what kind of hell do you imagine in these South Korean sweatshops? Do you think we're killing kittens and unicorns over there? Everybody just chill out." I certainly hope not, but... it kind of seems that way?

Or maybe this is a secret form of protest by the socially conscious artists behind The Simpsons? An effort bring awareness to a business practice they disapprove of on the part of the organization that produces them? That would actually be pretty cool. And hey, it's gotten me talking, it's gotten my Facebook page a-buzzing on subject about which I was hitherto entirely ignorant. It's even gotten me a vaguely indignant - a feat in my generation of glorified indifference.

Still, as far as I can tell, it's supposed to be humorous, but it's funny for all the wrong reasons. Not in the "that's-so-wrong-I-can't-believe-I'm-laughing," sense, but in the sense that the humor seems to tear down the argument that (if you land on the side of human decency) it should be building up.

I just can't figure it out.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Odds and Ends.

The reading for Suite for Summer went well. I was a little disappointed that I couldn't bring in more of a crowd - the audience was solid, but only two were my doing. But, publicity has never really been my strong suit. Can't seem to get those butts in seats. Oh well, my two made up for it by being active, intelligent and appropriate participants in the talk-back. The talk-back also went well; it seems everybody in the room left satisfied with what was heard and discussed.

And then there's also this.

I'm pretty excited about this. Man, I love The Civilians. Gone Missing is one of the most hilarious, enjoyable, poignant and profound few hours I have ever spent in the theater. Maybe I identified in particular because everything in my life does eventually go missing? I don't know. All I know is, I loved it. I loved how it interwove the trivial - the little pieces, the shoes, the wallets, the letters, that we leave behind as we go on with business of living - with the more significant items we lose and must somehow learn to cope with the loss. It was silly, and sad, and sometimes both and the exact same time. A brilliant and beautiful exploration of nostalgia and memory that shed a light how we love and how we grieve. And seriously? How did they do it? How did they take all these diverse, frenetic, true accounts and turn them into real story, with real structure, with such depth and meaning? It's the kind of thing that makes me inspired and bitterly jealous at the same time.

I really wish I had seen This Beautiful City. Not only do I love The Civilians, but I love religious discussion AND I love Colorado Springs. As the city of my grandparents and several sets of aunts, uncles and cousins, I think of it as a second home. I would have loved to see a show that investigated the dynamic of a city so dear to me. Why did I miss it? How did I let myself miss it? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

So anyway, I am NOT missing this one.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Suite for Summer

I'm directing a reading tonight. It's the first thing I've done since March, so that's good. Well, I should say it's the first performance that I've done, because I HAVE been working as diligently as possible on both my project with Johanna and the resurrection of 8 Women: A Karaoke Murder Mystery, even though neither of those projects have any performances in the foreseeable future.

(I don't believe I've blogged about 8 Women, have I? Yikes. The show, which was at the epicenter of my theater life for so long, has faded so far into the background it hasn't even been worth mentioning since I started this blog. I suppose it's for the best. We all needed a break from the thing, I think, to come back at it with renewed vigor. Which we are doing now. More on that later.)

So, the reading. First of all, it's tonight. (And it's free, so come!) Here's the info: 7:30, A.R.T./NY at 520 8th Ave, 3rd floor, Bruce Mitchell Room. The play is called Suite for Summer, by a woman named Robyn Burland. I actually worked with Robyn on the very first show I did in the city - a play of hers called Greater Buffalo. I was the stage manager and assistant director - I mostly, as she reminded me last night, mopped fake blood off the stage. It's been great to come back around and work with her again. She's enormously talented; she, and her plays, have such a weird, warped sense of humor.

Rehearsal was last night, I think it went well. I think I made as many small adjustments as I could for the time frame within which I was working. Directing readings is always such a weird thing for me. I don't make hasty choices in life, or in directing. I like to consider, process, marinate before I give a direction, an impulse I have to work against in the rehearsal setting for a reading. When you have four hours - as we did last night - to realize the performance, if you see something you want to work differently, you better speak up because you might not come back to it again.

This is pretty antithetical to my own approach. I like to watch, see where the actors are going with something, even if I don't like it at first, because they might take it somewhere I didn't expect and like even better than what I was planning. Of course, none of this is relevant in the hyper-accelerated reading process. Everything is what it is, it has no room to change or grow, and you just have to say what you like and change what you don't. I've gotten better at it, though. I'm starting to get the hang of it. There were definitely a few directions that I wish I had given to the actors sooner, but, for the most part, the rehearsal went well. I'm looking forward to the performance tonight.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Collaboration II (The Johanna Project)

We've made some excellent progress this week on what I am fondly calling The Johanna Project: we wrote the first scene. It's obviously not a final draft; and it's short; and it doesn't do much but set the scene, in fact it doesn't really go anywhere at all. But COULD go somewhere from here. And it works, for the most part. The characters talk like themselves and talk about the things we want them to talk about.

I think this is a huge breakthrough.

We wrote the scene by switching off line by line - at first with me writing the lines of the mother and she writing the lines of the son. But then with the introduction of the third character, the waitress, we both sort of alternated between the three, as it was appropriate.

We'd done a similar sort of role-playing before, months ago, before we gave the project up, but I thought that one went poorly. That time, she wrote the mother and I wrote the son; I think I made the son overly childish and petulant, and rashly emotional. She fared a bit better with the mother, but she still seemed a bit tied to the 1950's housewife stereotype that we used as a jumping-off point for her character. We also got unnecessarily distracted with an argument about whether or not the deceased father let the son keep a dog as a child.

Why did it work so much better this time? I can't speak for Johanna, but I, for one, am much better acquainted with the characters. All of our talking around in circles, as frustrated as we've been with not moving forward, has definitely given us a much deeper understanding of the characters - and why they're sitting in a room together. We started, logically, with the opening scene and we've been over and through what brings them to this meeting point and what they ultimately hope to get from it, that it was easy to mutually imagine how their initial interaction would go.

All this is great; it makes me feel like we're on the right track.

Upcoming for our next meeting: we're going to read and evaluate the scene we just wrote on our own this week. Then, when we meet, we'll discuss and edit the scene together and then talk about what we believe we're setting up and where we imagine it's going from here. We'll discuss what we hope will happen in the next beat-or-so and then we'll switch off, line by line, again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Do You Need Help?

Despite having been more or less body-slammed by this past week, I can't resent New York too much for it.

Actually, if I'm being totally fair, I can't resent New York at all. It's not New York's fault, after all, that I lost a friend, or my job, or even my Metrocard. It's not its fault that my computer crashed or that I sat on my digital camera.

And yet, I do, in some sense, hold it responsible. Things are just more difficult in this city, I've found. Where else to you have to drag your clothes up and down five flights of stairs and around the corner on laundry day? Where else can you pay an arm and a leg to live in an apartment so small that the simple question of what to do with your winter sweaters in June becomes a riddle so complex it requires all the power of your spatial creativity? So, while New York did not cause me to have this week, these little tragedies like losing one's job or one's Metrocard take on Brobdingnagian proportions here.

But I don't resent it. It's the nature of the beast, and I knew that walking into the mouth. In fact, the idea that all things are exponentially more difficult in the city is something that drew me to this place in the first place. I know - what kind of masochism is this? But I like the concept of working for one's survival, of being fully conscious of it: every day is a gift, an accomplishment. And if you really want something (even if that something is sweater-space) you simply cannot just sit back and expect it to come to you. You have to get it. It makes you evaluate your priorities: you learn to understand the value of hard work, and know which goals are worth working toward.

In theory, at least.

Here's a story: yesterday, I met a woman struggling up the steps of a subway exit with a large cart full of groceries. I will admit that I am not the most philanthropic of people. I rarely stop for the homeless, or for enthusiastic clipboard-wielders. But I will stop to help a person up the stairs. As one who has carted everything from a shag rug to a wheelchair across this fair city on the subway, I just can't help it. Anyway, this particular woman was very grateful for my help. It was clear to me, and probably to her, that she would have never made it up the stairs without a helping hand.

This phenomenon fascinates me. In the course of my subway travels I frequently come across people or families with loads - mostly baby carriages and related contraptions, but sometimes grocery carts and suitcases - far larger than they could possibly carry on their own. And I see, also, the kind counterparts who invariably offer a hand.

The helpfulness of these good people is an amazing and beautiful display of humanity in a city that is notoriously cold. But it's not this side of the good Samaritan coin that fascinates me, it's the other: the scores of people who, everyday, make their way to the train with carriages and suitcases and carts and the full knowledge that, without the charity of an as-of-yet-unknown entity, they will be stranded.

Everything is difficult in the city. It would be easy for this to create a ruthlessness in people, an every-man-for-himself-and-take-what-you-can-get mentality. And sometimes, I think, it does. But in spite of it, sometimes it also creates this. All of these people rely entirely upon the kindness of strangers simply to get from point A to point B. We live among people; our lives are inextricably linked. Activities like grocery shopping, or going to the airport, or taking the baby out in the stroller, which might be done privately, must be done socially here. Out of necessity, we respect each other, we care for each other, we must allow ourselves to be cared for as well. Somehow, counter-intuitively, the hardness of this place creates a softness, a necessary vulnerability. I love this.

Oddly, though, I myself have never accepted the proffered hand on the subway. I've struggled with my own share of groceries and suitcases, not to mention the occasional mammoth prop (the wheelchair, for example, which I used to tote from my apartment in Harlem to a bar in the East Village on a regular basis) and every time a stranger has offered me help, I've refused it. I have to learn to carry this myself, I think. If I don't, how will I manage to carry it when there's nobody around to help? I'll get soft, I won't be able to do it.

Now, as I'm suddenly beginning to feel insurmountably weighed down by the burdens of the city, I wonder if this is exactly my problem. Instead of bending in the wind, like the skyscrapers around me, I've been standing impossibly rigid, and my foundations are cracking. All this time I've lived in this place, loved this place because it was making me strong. But what if it turns out that strength is the last thing the city needs from me, or that I need from myself? Softness, perhaps, is not a terrible fate that I must avoid if I want to ensure my own survival; it's what I must yield to if I want to survive at all.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Welcome Back to NYC.

So, it's been a rough week. I spent the first part of September on vacation back home in New Mexico, idyllically alternating in between snacking on junk food and watching junk TV. It was fantastic, and a much-needed respite from my progressively muddled life. I felt like a tangled string on a yo-yo, winding further and further into itself until it is such tensely twisted mess that correctly working the yo-yo is an impossibility until you hang it out and let it slowly unwind itself.

I did a little soul-searching, took a few deep breaths, and returned to New York with new strength, and a renewed resolve to work through the challenges the city put forth. And Lord, did the city take me at my word.

My first evening home, I received an email from my job informing me that I was fired. What happened while I was gone? And what could I have possibly done in absentia in the two weeks in between the last shift I worked, when I still had a job, and now, when I have none? Maybe I will never know. That was day one.

I have been home a little over a week and have thus far lost:

1. My job
2. My computer (crashed)
3. A brand-new unlimited Metrocard
4. A best friend
5. A digital camera (sat on it)
6. My most recent rental from Netflix (That last one is kind of lame. But on top of everything else, by the time I got to this one, all I could think was, seriously? Come on.)


(Okay, the computer is an exaggeration. My computer ACTUALLY crashed right before going out of town. And it is now fixed, as of yesterday (minus all my data). But it was a terrifying challenge trying to find a job over the past week without being able to look at Craigslist or print resumes.)

The worst is definitely number four, but for the sake of brevity, we'll skip that for the time being.

The thing about this week, though: it feels too brutal to even be coincidence. I've felt very at sea about my place in New York City of the past few months, very torn about whether or not I have a place here. I've loved this place with an unrivaled intensity since I was eleven years old, and the first four years of life here were thrillingly sweet. But now, suddenly, I'm questioning my ability to be the person I want to be in this place, to create the life I want to create for myself, and - most importantly, because this is the first and only reason I chose to live in NYC - to make the art I want to make or even grow as an artist here anymore.

And - is it love that's keeping me here anymore, or is it just stubbornness? And, maybe, a crippling fear of failure?

So I worry, and I cry, and I basically withdraw from society for nearly three months, and then I finally get enough distance (literally, physically) from New York to do a little thinking. What I thought about, and what I decided, that's another post too. The point is: I come back to New York and I'm ready. I've realized, come what may, this is where I am right now. I'm going to be present. I'm going to be open and accepting of both the challenges and the gifts it brings forth.

And it gives me... this week. It's as if the city responded by saying, "Okay, Leigh. You want to talk about being strong? You want to say you're open and accepting of this life? Prove it. Be open to THIS."

And I'm trying to be. After months of feeling unable to cope with even the most mundane of life's little bobbles (Seriously. I once turned into a sobbing wreck because my cat pooped outside the litterbox. I SAID it was a bad few months), I've now been dealt an emotionally crushing week and I'm realizing... I'm moving forward. I have to, and I am. Welcome back to NYC.

Friday, September 10, 2010


My best friend from my hometown and I are collaborating on a play.

This was my idea. Johanna, my friend, is a writer - mainly a poet. She is, without exaggeration, the most amazing poet I have ever met in real life. I will concede that she has some competition with some established poets - some of the well-published authors who are generally celebrated within poetry circles as the geniuses of our time. But within the circle of real-live people whom I have actually met? She is beyond compare. And, I should point out, I went to Sarah Lawrence, a school chock-full of talented writers. She truly has a gift.

Johanna has also tried her hand at a little short story and novel writing, although, to my knowledge, she has never quiiiiiite finished a story. (If you read her prose, you'd understand why - dense as hell. All the rhythm and imagery and tightness of a poem, but sustained for, like, 40 pages.) She mentioned to me that she'd like to try her hand at playwriting and I thought, oh my god. I don't want to sound like I'm using my oldest and dearest friend, but if she actually put her massive creative talent towards playwrighting, and followed through? I could have an all-access directorial pass to what might be some of the most amazing new work available in the theater. And as one who has struggled to find new work to be excited about over the past four or so years, this sounded incredibly enticing.

But Johanna, for all her poetic prowess, has very little interest in the theater as an art, and thus very little knowledge of playwriting, dramatic structure, etc. Here's where I come in. I thought - hey, I know how a play should be structured, and I'm a pretty okay writer myself, so what if we collaborate?

We spent a couple months bouncing ideas back and forth and then we stopped. I think, because we both sort of hit a dead end. We could talk endlessly about the characters - their backstories, their motivations, their arc. But when in came to actually, physically writing some dialogue, we hesitated.

I, very laboriously, clunked out a couple scenes between a mother and a son. They - if I do say so myself - failed SPECTACULARLY. I forgot that, of all the genres of writing I have tried my hand at, playwriting (alas) is the one at which I am the least adept.

But now we've gotten back on the horse, we're collaborating again and it looks like we're still just circling. We had what might have been a productive conversation yesterday, or might have been more putting-off on our parts, about wants. What does the son want? What does he get in the end? Ditto for the mother, and the waitress.

I'm sort of... haunted by Edward Albee. The Zoo Story keeps hanging over my head - the quintessential example of what, I think, we're trying for with our play: two people who need something from the other talk their way around each for a while and discover truths about themselves and human nature in general in the process. And then they get, or don't get, what they need.

Except, Zoo Story eloquently expounds on human connection, what it means to be and feel alive, and... well, YOU know. Everybody who's read or seen Zoo Story knows. And our play will just be two people yelling at each other - or resisting yelling at each other, as the case may be.

I know it's a pretty common creative demon to have the better efforts of another hanging over your head like this. I face it all the time as a director (*coughLearDeBessonetcough*). But I think it's got us both - at least me - in a point of complete paralysis, and I'm not sure how to work through it.

Maybe we're just not great collaborators. When I've collaborated with Sarah in the past, we sort of have a rhythm: we discuss, and then she writes. I'll be honest, this rhythm has often frustrated me. Why is she always the one that writes? But I can't seem to get my pen to the page as fast as she does - maybe the reason is because I can't seem to get my pen to the page at all. Maybe Johanna and I both need a Sarah for our collaborative process, and both of us are unsure how to step up to the plate and be the Sarah.