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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Happens in the Rehearsal Room

Rehearsals for Captain Moonbeam & Lynchpin began this week. Things are going great so far. Our first full cast rehearsal is, I believe, tomorrow night, which is something to look forward to. In the meantime, we've had one read-through and a couple smaller rehearsals with a few specific actors.

One of the things I love about directing is that it's such a learning process. Even when I think I've got it figured out, something sneaks up and changes the game. I'm constantly observing and adapting to the different ways my collaborators process information and spark their creativity.

Take, for example, our most recent rehearsal. We spent (or rather, I spent) a lot of time agonizing over a particular conversation between two of the characters and how it influenced the dynamic of their relationship. The conversation involves a girl, and while I knew the subject was laced with tension and inarticulated issues between the two characters, I was wrestling with finding something more specific than that, and scene was suffering. It felt flat, meandering, and unclear.

We talked a lot about why the situation might set one character on his guard, or create anxiety for the other, and the ideas we tossed around helped, but the conversation still seemed a bit aimless and vague.

I tried to liken the situation to two friends I knew way back when who had something of a falling out and no longer speak to each other. Before I knew it, I was telling my cast the whole tale - moral and all. "Gather 'round, kids," I said jokingly at one point. "It's time for life lessons from Leigh..." My story DID have a point, but it seemed a little like a distraction to be sitting there, regaling them with the whole sordid history of these two friends.

But then we ran the scene again. And guys, the difference was night and day. It was suddenly dynamic, engaging, nuanced. I could tell there was a clear and complicated history between the two men and I was actively curious to find out more.

It's a constant and joyful surprise to discover how the mind processes information and emotion. I would have never guessed the difference between a discussion that begins, "It's possible your character is experiencing a lot of anxiety or frustration because..." and one that starts, "Oh my god. This situation is SO much like this girl I once knew who got SO upset at one of her friends..."

Why is that? Is it because it gives the emotions definition, context? A cause and also an effect? Or maybe because it takes the pressure off trying to personally define and internalize the conflict, and instead provides the opportunity to step back, understand and empathize with the situation from another angle?

All I know is I'm constantly surprised and amazed by what happens in the rehearsal room.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rapture After the Rapture

For all my joking about it, I am strangely grateful that nobody got raptured yesterday.

"Don't tell anybody, but I'm kind of scared," I told my friend in the car yesterday, as the hour approached 6pm.

"Why?" he asked incredulously and, let's face it, probably a little disdainfully.

"Because, okay, I don't believe in a God that condemns anyone to an eternity of pain and suffering in general, and I certainly don't believe in a God that chooses not to reveal himself to his creation and then condemns us to that same eternity of pain for not believing. It's like some sadistic test, it doesn't make sense to me. I can't get behind that."


"But we don't know. Maybe there is some perverse, sadistic, self-involved divine entity up in the clouds that wants us all to suffer fire and brimstone for not worshiping at his feet. How do we know?"

"That's true," said my friend.

"We don't know anything. Maybe the Greeks were right, how do we know? Maybe it's Zeus up there - why not? Why assume that God, if there is a God, is ultimately a good, loving or fair?"

Why, I sometimes ask myself, this faith in justice? There's something in us that believes innately in fairness - life SHOULD be fair, and (maybe I'm just speaking for myself) there's a little part of us that is surprised every time, over and over again, when it's not. And God is the ultimate Should, the way it's supposed to be, the path we always see unfolding before us but never manage to travel down.

But listen. We learn early on (and then again and again) that life isn't fair, despite this thing inside us that tells us it should be. Why, in that case, believe that God is?

For my part, I choose to have faith in something greater than ourselves and to believe that it is ultimately good, loving, and, yes, fair. I believe this because - honestly? - it seems like a happier way to live than believing in the alternative, despite the fact that, when you think about it, any of it could be true. So I suppose that today, the day after "Apocalypse Not Yet," I'm grateful because, for a little while at least, I get to keep my faith in the way things should be.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thoughts Before the First Rehearsal

My posts have become less frequently lately, as I've become distracted by the business of preparing for my two upcoming projects, James Comtois' Captain Moonbeam and Lynchpin followed immediately by the Lincoln Center Directors' Lab. And I mean immediately; Captain Moonbeam closes on June 26th, the Lab starts on the 27th.

Anyway, instead of ignoring the blog while I focus on my projects, why not use the blog to think about them? After all, this space is, if nothing else, a place where I can give voice and structure to thoughts that would otherwise float nebulously through the haze of my mind, their whispers quickly extinguished by a mild cough or clearing of the throat. It feels strange to talk about this stuff while it's still so very much in gestation in my head but there's no rule about it, is there? Who says everything has to be polished product?

…There's not a rule about it, is there? I feel particularly strange blogging about Lincoln Center, like maybe I'm not supposed to. This probably stems from the fact that I still sort of imagining it as this Super-Cool Secret Club while I've been trying to poke my nose through their curtains, hoping the Cool Kids will let me join. But that's just silly, right? It's just a workshop; it's not a Super Secret Clubhouse. I can talk about it if I want to, right?

Basically, briefly, there's this. They emailed us a play about a month or so ago with the instructions to read it, think about it, just marinate with it a bit (I believe the specific instructions were to "noodle around with it" but I marinated instead). A few days ago, we were each email with specific segments of the play that we're to prepare to spend a day (6 hours) directing with a room full of actors, directors, a stage manager or a designer.

That's all I'm going to say on that for now; with Captain Moonbeam at the forefront of my priorities I haven't managed to do much more yet than read my segment, but I have a feeling my thoughts on the process will be a post unto themselves. Actually, that's not a bad idea - blogging about it might be exactly what I need to organize and prepare.

So that leaves Captain Moonbeam. We have our first table reading on Tuesday of next week, and I'm trying to organize my thoughts for that. What I want to do - what I always want to do at the first reading - is spend some time talking about what the story is - why it deserves to be told, what about it makes it worth hearing.

For Captain Moonbeam I think it's ultimately a story about redemption; it's a journey toward faith, finding an understanding of some sort of goodness in the world worth hanging onto, fighting for even. Unfortunately, in this story at least, all that comes at a price that makes it bittersweet, or even just plain tragic. I think this play very much addresses the question of the "better story," as Yann Martel calls it in Life of Pi:

I can well imagine an atheist's last words: "White, white! L-L-Love! My God!" - and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, "Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain," and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.

The first thing we've got to do is have a conversation about the archetypal significance of comic books, and comic book adventures. These ideas about goodness, order, selflessness and nobility - they're all symbolized by comic books in this play, and the type of world the comic books portray within them. So how do those comics resonate for us, and what do they represent for us as a culture?

In stark contrast to that comic book world, there is another version of reality in Captain Moonbeam and Lynchpin, a world where people are miserable, petty and self-serving; a world where people can fall ill for no reason, your best friend, or even your own father can just abandon you one day and leave you all alone. Is that the world we're believe in? Or is it the comic book world, where heroism thrives and goodness and nobility prevails? If we don't believe in it to some degree, why do we have these stories at all?

And where does that leave us with Alex, our protagonist? In the end he just wants the better story. And can we blame him for that? No, really - can we? It's not a rhetorical question. How are we suppose to feel about what becomes of Alex by the end of the play? Which is sadder, that he believes in such a noble world, or that we don't?

I hope I'm not getting to heady for what's ultimately a pretty and weird short play. Still, it's important to get that toe-hold on what makes the story worth telling, and I think this is it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thankful for Douglas Adams

So, this past Wednesday was the anniversary of Douglas Adams' death, and although I'm two days late on the jump, I don't want to let the day pass completely without comment.

I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy my sophomore year of college, while going through, well, what in hindsight can only really be called "rough time." I was in the midst of a kind of identity crisis at the time - fearful of my future and anxious and terrified of the person I felt I was becoming; I felt alienated and disconnected from all the people I loved the most; I was beginning to question my until-then unshakable faith in some kind of inherent beauty and goodness in the universe. I cried a lot. I had trouble sleeping most nights.

I needed a distraction and, in desperation on one of my worse nights, I picked up my roommate's complete Hitchhiker "Trilogy".

It turned out to be exactly what I needed. Arthur Dent's hilarious and bizarre wanderings across the universe took me as far away from my earthly problems as I needed to be. And yet, at the same time, with it's wry yet loving observation of the weirdness of the human condition, it quietly, gently, humorously brought be back to solid ground.

Adams reveled in the weird, random, inexplicable mess we call life (the answer to life, the universe and everything is… 42?). He didn't shy away from the disorder and the chaos, the misery and mystery of it all. Instead, he exalted it. It all became part of a kind of fabulously funny, existential inside joke. And in hindsight, this was exactly what I needed. At a moment when I was quickly losing faith in any kind of benevolent order, Hitchhiker helped me peer into the abyss I was facing and laugh at it a little.

In essentially the very first page of the very first book, Earth as we know it is blasted into smithereens. If you haven't read it, that should tell you something about the series right there. In subsequent books, Earth sort of has a tendency of popping back in and out of the picture, thanks to some traveling through alternate dimensions (and possibly time?). Now, maybe this is a rumor, but I'm told that Adams never truly completed the series; the book it ends on is not really meant to be the final word, but Adams died before he was able to write another one. Still, the ending of the series is surprisingly appropriate: in it, every incarnation of every version of Earth in every dimension of space and time is permanently and irrevocably destroyed.

When I read the last page, I had to laugh. It would end like that, wouldn't it? And that's what Hitchhiker did for me in a nutshell: yes, it blew up the world, but somehow, it made me okay with it.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is, I owe Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker series an enormous debt of gratitude. So- so long, Mr. Adams, and thanks for all the fish.

And here's a link to an article of his I posted a few days ago, which is brilliant and funny and a little mind-blowing in its prescience: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ruminations on the Standing O'

Several times in the past few months, I've found myself at the curtain call of a play in the midst of a standing ovation. Some of these, for example. Now, as you can see (or read) I didn't particularly care for these plays. So I didn't participate in the standing o'.

This happens to me a lot. And I hate it. On one hand, nothing makes me feel more curmudgeonly then staying staunchly planted in my seat when everyone - to my front, to my back, and to both my sides - around me is on their feet. It makes me feel Scroogish, uncharitable, as though I refuse to see the effort and dedication that has been put into the production.

Really, nothing could be further from the truth. Really. In almost every production I've ever seen, there's something worth acknowledging. There's an incredible amount of passion and hard work and honorable intentions that goes into every production, and I hate to feel like I haven't properly expressed my gratitude and appreciation for the experience.

Take the People in the Picture, for example. I really disliked this play, was even borderline-offended by its treatment of the subject matter (more on that to come). But almost all of the actors were supremely talented, and every single one of them was working hard. In fact, I've never seen actors work so hard on stage. Donna Murphy in particularly extraordinary. Yet when she took her final bow and most of the audience rose to its feet, I stayed firmly planted, all the while feeling terribly conflicted. I hated to seem as though I was willfully refusing to acknowledge Ms. Murphy's dynamic performance. But, I couldn't force myself to my feet.

I hated the show. What can I say? I hated the show. There have been shows, many many shows, which I have hated much less - shows I've even liked well enough - for which I have not stood. Because when I give a standing ovation, I want it to mean something. When I rise to my feet, I want to communicate that I was transformed by the work I just saw.

Not just, "hey, good job." Not just, "I appreciate the time and effort you took to give me the experience of this performance." Those sentiments are important, but that's what applause is for, that's what the curtain call is for. That's not what a standing o' is for. Not if you ask me.

A standing ovation should say, this work was transcendent. It was above and beyond all my expectations entering this theater. I may walk out these doors and never be the same because of this experience. Every artist involved with the production has my sincere thanks and congratulations.

Standing up on stage, or in the back of the house, that's what I'd want a standing ovation to mean to me as an artist. It's partly out of respect for the artists involved and what I communicate to them with my gesture that I so often stay seated.

And it's partly for me. When I am moved that deeply by a play - and I have been - I want a way to express it. I want to keep that right sacred.

Plays For Which I Have Been Moved To Give Standing Ovations:

(there are others, but these are the ones I remember)
-Fiasco Theater's Cymbeline
-Van Hove's The Little Foxes
-[title of show]

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Captain Moonbeam & Lynchpin

I've mentioned this on Twitter already, but I figured I might as well make it blog-official.

I have another project for the summer, and it's a good one. I'll be directing Nosedive Productions' Captain Moonbeam and Lynchpin, written by James Comtois for the Comic Book Theatre Festival at the Brick.

At the risk of giving too much away, Captain Moonbeam & Lynchpin is a fantastic and original new superhero origin story. Or, a sad account of a struggle with mental illness. Depending on how you look at it. Either way, it's a great play and I'm proud to be involved. I've had a great time getting to know James and his theater company, and I'm proud to be a part of this show.

What I'm saying is, it's going to be a great show, y'all. Mark your calendars NOW.

Tuesday, June 21 @7pm
Friday, June 24 @7pm
Saturday, June 25 @5pm
Sunday, June 26 @2pm

Tickets are already on sale.

See you there!