Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seattle Freeze

It’s a phenomenon. It’s been written about. Sociologists like Dr. Jodi O'Brien at Seattle University are even studying it. If you're unsure of what it is, watch this documentary video at YouTube.

Yet if you ask someone from Seattle about it, they will react either in denial or shrug, saying, "we're just more reserved, that's all."

As someone from here told me, “You can have coffee with anyone.”

Yes. But dinner? A movie? Hanging out with someone on the weekend?

Not likely.

Don't get me wrong, and I'll probably piss someone off with this post (but you'll be too nice to actually tell me...). Seattle people are overly polite, cheerful and friendly. They let pedestrians walk across the street at any time (sometimes almost causing accidents in the process). And I have met some wonderful, open and good people here. I don't want to generalize every single person who lives here...


I've lived in few major cities, and two minor ones, and although there are great things about Seattle, this cultural phenomenon has me baffled. Also, as the documentary points out, this idea of a closed off society as a growing trend in this country really scares me.

And how does that relate to theater?

Theater is a social art form. Theater demands connection between actor and audience. Theater allows us to cut through the bulls**t and find truth.


This is the major difference between theater and tv/film/internet. In order to enjoy theater, people have to get out of their house and join other people to watch actors talking not just to each other, but could also talk directly to the audience...Theater is inherently inter-active.

That's pretty cool. And its why theater has survived for thousands of years (thousands, people...) and will survive for thousands more.

Writers are prone to being anti-social. Not all of us, of course. But the job itself can be solitary. We sit at a keyboard, hear voices, talk to ourselves, getting lost in our world. It's a necessity for creation that can become the very thing getting in the way of interacting with the real world.

Novelists may have it the worst. Poets can do readings. Screenwriters get to schmooze at parties.

But playwrights...I think playwrights have it the best.

Because to me, part of the real fun of theater is the art of making theater. And that's why I love being in rehearsal.

If you don't love rehearsal, you should really get out of the theater. Even if you are a playwright. Seriously.

Theater people spend anywhere from two weeks to two months in rehearsal, for shows that may only run for a couple of weeks. It's our 9 to 5...The rehearsal room is our office.

Okay, its so not an office...which is another reason why I love it.

It's where we play.

That's what they're called, y'know,...plays...

My lovely wife is also a director and she refers to working together as "kicking around the sandbox". I love that. It brings up this image of childlike play, when you met that weird kid and made a castle and had dumptruck wars, or whatever.

I love working with actors and directors (and designers, too, when I have them). It's a communal thing. I want to know what they think and I hope they'll tell me, whether they think something is brillaint or crap. I never think that writing a play is finished when I "hand it off"--it's always in process. I loved doing 14/48 this past weekend because I love sitting in rehearsal. How can you not? I mean, actors are working their butt off on your show, directors are solving problems that you created. And its fun and engaging.

And the material we work on can be the impetus to real and deep conversations about meaningful things above the mundane--hopefully the things you're writing about. The human condition. Behavior. Us. Doesn't have to be "big" issues. (In fact, my play was about certain body parts not being big, which actually could be a big problem and is evidently not just a joke but a real thing that couples may have to deal with, but nobody really talks about...).

I guess what I'm saying is as a writer I've got anti-social tendencies anyway. I got into the theater and came out of my shell, embraced by this second family. But I feel, and maybe I'm noticing this because I spend more time writing plays than acting and directing, that often there isn't enough connecting going on between dramatists and the rest of the theater folks.

And this is not a Seattle problem. This is a national dilemma.

We need to get away from our keyboards and get involved. We should be sitting in rehearsal. Some of you might clamor, "it's so boring". Sure, you sit there watching other people work, sometimes feeling like an unnecessary element. But it's your play. You should be involved. You have that right. And you're not unnecessary. You're part part of the conversation that's happening, not just about how to do the play, but everything else the play is opening up...for you, the director, the actors, and then eventually the audience.

And if you don't have a show in rehearsal, then get out and volunteer with a theater company. Dramaturg something. Hand out programs. Direct. Audition. Meet other theater people, not just other writers.

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