Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More fun with random poetry

From Walt Whitman:

Now for the last--let me look back a moment,
The slower, fainter ticking of the clock is in me;
Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Something in the Zeitgeist

[These are not pictures from my show. Photos are of Mike Daisey from his performance of How Theater Failed America and from the recent NYC production at the Met of "Dr. Atomic".]

It seems everyone is doing a show about the atomic bomb these days.

I already knew that the Met in NYC was opening “Dr. Atomic”, a new opera by John Adams with libretto by Peter Sellars, taking excerpts from government files and other research. That show, which got a really interesting write up in the NYTimes is more about the creation of the bomb and Oppenheimer’s work on The Manhattan Project (taking a very Faustian approach).

But then I just read that Mike Daisey opened his latest monologue show at Joe’s Pub in NYC called “If You See Something Say Something”. The title is taken from a host of public service ads on the NY subways. I remember seeing them all over the place, sometimes accompanied by a photo of a lone briefcase on a platform (because there might be a bomb in it, get it?).

Here’s an excerpt from the review today by Charles Isherwood:

Mr. Daisey’s ambitious new show traces the philosophical roots of our metastasizing contemporary security apparatus back to the early days of the cold war, when the newly energized war machine was kept in a state of tense alert, the better to rout the Commies should they suddenly spring into action and swamp American shores.

It’s a smart, provocative thesis. Mr. Daisey argues persuasively that the heightened security measures enacted by the current administration echo the Red Scare tactics of the 1950s, when the fear of Communism caused some serious erosion of the ideals enshrined in the Constitution. It has certainly been suggested — and Mr. Daisey adds his voice to the chorus — that the “war on terror” is having side effects similarly toxic to the moral health of the nation.

You can read the entire review here. .

What I find fascinating is that unlike the opera “Dr. Atomic” which focuses on the story of the bomb’s creation, Daisey is, like me, more interested in the current echoes of the cold war with the present day. He seems to compare the heightened security measures of those two eras, especially those in major U.S. cities post-9/11.

From the review he seems to work from an honest place of fascination with the test site in Los Alamos, NM. The Trinity test site is where 7 Minutes to Midnight starts as this is the event which awakens Kronos, signaling him that it’s the end of the world and freedom awaits. In similar fashion, we move forward in time, examining how the atomic bomb affected us in the 1950s, the 1980s, and even now in the present day. And we’re using the myth of Kronos as a lens in which to see these differing times, taking a more abstract approach to the stories.

I admire Daisey for taking on the bomb and I know that his raconteur-ing (that is a word I think I just made up) will add interesting personal commentary to a subject much in need of talking about.

I feel like perhaps we are only now coming to grips with what the legacy of the atomic age means to us now. What does the future hold for us in this world of nuclear weapons and mass destruction. It’s been sixty three years since that first test in Alamogordo on July 16, 1945.

It’s like the world has PTSD and is only now starting to sit down with the therapist and say, “Holy crap, what did we just invent?”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Move Over Shakespeare, Now There's Something Meatier...or is there?

I just saw Seattle Shakespeare Company’s new production of Henry IV parts I & II, adapted by the esteemed Dakin Matthews and directed by the talented and charming Stephanie Shine.

I’ve actually seen three variations of this adaptation from John Goodman playing Falstaff at the Old Globe in San Diego to Kevin Kline wearing a fat suit at Lincoln Center. All I can say is this production easily holds its own with both of those. The directing is fast-paced, the performers talented and energetic and the over-all production is quite thrilling, especially the big battle.

Whenever I see a great production of Shakespeare, I always wonder why anyone would bother writing new plays. Hasn’t the Bard of Avon captured everything about humanity in his 36 plays? What new visions can be offered by a modern playwright that can’t be found in Richard III or Othello (Which seems to be particularly popular given this year’s election)?

And here’s my answer…

Shakespeare lived in a different age. He wrote for a different time.

He didn’t live in a world with technology like the atomic bomb or the computer. The dude couldn’t even type—he wrote his play with a quill (which in a lot of ways is much more reliable than MS Office). In the world he lived in, the main method of communication was talking and listening. He didn’t live in an age of world wars and mass genocide (okay, well, there was that thing called The Crusades, but I'm talking Holocaust here, 9/11, Kosovo, etc). His economy was not global. He wasn’t able to attain any information he wanted via Google. He wasn’t able to read any newspaper from any part of the world on his computer, or see any image of atrocity from Sudan, poverty in India, or see YouTube clips of events happening in London or New York or Paris.

Shakespeare wrote about humanity and basic human drives like greed, love, fear, ambition don’t change even over the centuries. Which means his work is still relevant and I wouldn’t want to do without it.

I love me my Shakespeare.

But his work alone does not hold all the answers nor does he ask all the questions that are relevant to us in our age.

That’s why we need new plays.

David Hare’s Stuff Happens does a better job of examining our own political and military actions in current events much better than just dressing up Julius Caesar in business suits.

We need plays like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. We need Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. We need Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

And just as important, we also need plays from a female point of view with good parts for women (because let’s face it, if you’re a woman in a Shakespeare play, you’re probably one of these four: young lover, queen, bawdy wench or the nurse. I like to believe that in today's world, a woman has more options than that. I like to believe that a woman can be the protagonist (and no, I don't think its as easy as just casting a woman as Hamlet). We need playwrights like Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, Naomi Iizuka, Marsha Norman, Rebecca Gilman, Caryl Churchill, Tina Howe, Melanie Marnich, Sarah Ruhl, Julie Jensen, Sheila Callahan, Neena Beber, and on and on and on.

Not to mention plays from other viewpoints outside of the privileged class of white male centric society—plays from August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Suzan Lori-Parks David Henry Hwang, Maria Irene Fornes, Octavio Solis, Nilo Cruz, Diana Son, Young Jean Lee, Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), Kwame Kwei-Armah, Yussef El Guindi, and on and on and on…

Like I said, I love me my Shakespeare. But as I was watching Henry IV yesterday, I kept thinking…this is great English history, but where are the histories of the U.S.? Who is examining our own political legacy over the ages? Why aren’t we thinking about what leadership means today with language and events from today?

We've spent a lot of time and energy honoring and supporting a dead playwright from another country. Isn't it time we start looking for our own Shakespeare of our time? Does he/she even exist?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Boy and Girl on the Ridge, Pt. I

This is one of the other scenes I'm in love with...there are two parts. This is part one. It actually involves all eight of the actors, as all the men speak the BOY lines and all the women speak the GIRL lines and they moved about in the space, each staring off into different directions, each mirroring and echoing eachother.

The effect is a little haunting, to say the least, but very cool.

Imagine out in the desert. A boy. A girl. They are sixty-five miles from Vegas. It is almost midnight and another day at the office for the scientists working on the test site. Another day. Another explosion.

SOUND of the wind, which has died down to a low whistling. GIRL and BOY looking out to the desert, boy sitting in chair, girl standing.

What are we waiting for?

Look over there.

They stare out. Time passes for what seems like ages.

Let’s go.

It’s almost time.

A far off SIREN wails. They both look off to the desert.

What’s that noise?

Hold on.


Oh my...



That was...

It was...


Yeah, something.

Pause. She gasps. Something seems physically wrong with her. BOY doesn't look at her, keeps staring straight ahead.

You all right?

I think I’m gonna be sick.

What’s the matter?

It’s like the Garden of Eden...Tasting from the tree of knowledge, knowing that...knowing the world is different...being cast from paradise.

Paradise is the desert.

Aren’t you afraid?

He looks at his watch.

Aren’t you afraid?
(he looks at his watch)
Aren’t you afraid?
(he looks at his watch)
Aren’t you afraid?


I thought maybe I should post some dialogue from the show for reference to the post I just created...This is The Nightmare section...The entire ensemble of chorus members will be saying this, in various stages, as they move around the stage.

The nightmare always starts the same way. It’s the end of summer and my mom is taking me shopping for school clothes. It ‘s a really sunny day but the sun is going down over the mountains in the west. We walk into Macy’s at Meadowwood Mall, by the shoe section. I’m walking down the aisle when all of a sudden there are these panicky screams. All these mothers and children screaming and yelling and running around like the end of the world is coming. And I think, maybe this is it, y’know, maybe this is the end of the world, who knows...I turn around to look out the glass doors of Macy’s and suddenly there is this bright light. I mean, it’s like when you are a stupid little kid and your sister dares you to stare into the sun too long and you want to keep staring but the sun is like jabbing needles into your corneas. Y’know? For a second I remember that stupid black and white public service cartoon about the turtle, “Duck & Cover” but I don’t want to duck. I want to see what’s going to happen. I see the mannequins in the store against the light from the windows and they are like silhouettes, but then I think maybe those aren’t mannequins, but maybe they are people, I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. They’re not moving. It’s like time has stopped. I feel this intense heat all over my face, like I’ve been lying on the beach far too long. A horrible noise rumbles and creaks. I think its the building around me. I feel my breathe get sucked up by something. And this is the craziest thing but I feel my heart mind is body dematerializes and there is nothing. It isn’t like I die and suddenly see St. Peter at the pearly gates...I mean nothing. Darkness. A void. Then I wake up and go to school. Yeah, I’m usually late to first period. But my teacher doesn’t care. I sometimes forget I even had the dream until I’m getting my chocolate milk at the 7/11 and it occurs to me as I’m passing over a couple of bucks to the zit-faced clerk that I like totally died the night before. I like to think that if the shit really does come down, y’know, like if the U.S. and the Soviets actually nuke each other, I like to think I’m mentally prepared. I got practice for that kind of thing.

Banging my head and the beat goes on...

I was talking to my really smart wife yesterday at dinner before rehearsal, whining and moaning about how hard my process for this show has been…

She listens to me whine and moan a lot, so she’s used to it. In fact, she adds her support and help by sending emails of encouragement (and sometimes she sees more value in my work than I do..)

Rest assured, the show is going to be good and like nothing that's been seen before in some ways, that's for sure. The performers are great and the script is good, if a bit raw, and the design will be pretty interesting.

What has been difficult and challenging for me specifically is that the purpose of this show was to really try to do work differently, writing and directing a show and re-making things in rehearsal. Maybe it’s because I’m a Leo but I have a personality flaw of a big ego and like everything to revolve around me and my ideas. This does not serve devising and alternative theater all that well (though it works for Richard Foreman, I think).

And I don't want this show to be like other traditional plays. Which makes things difficult, because you narrow the kinds of plays you can compare it to.

Then I wonder if devising theater is really my calling, or if I should just write and direct like some modern-day Brecht (also a megalomaniac who liked to play guitar—and actually thought he could teach Kurt Weill a thing or two…Which would be like me trying to tell Bono how to write a song.)

I’ve usually had a much more developed script and dialogue/character/actions are much more dictated by my original idea. This process has been me letting go of a lot of that to create space to play in the rehearsal room and work directly with the ensemble. It requires me to listen to the ensemble in a much more active way and then figure out how to rewrite (either on the spot or back home at the keyboard).

And I like this more open-ended process, but man, its like banging my head up against a wall, over and over. I’m much better at thinking through things on paper, writing them out. This process has tapped into my instinctual choices much more than I’m used to and it’s a little unnerving.

It's good, but everything still feels a bit raw.

Traditional theater is so much easier…Write a play, give it to a producer or director, hand it off and let them deal with it. Make it a single unit-set in a realistic setting (like an apartment in Ballard, say) with characters we all know and have seen on the street. Rewrite as necessary and at your leisure to make it all smooth, polished and safe. Easy. Comfortable and palatable.

I have GODS and SCIENTISTS and ATOMIC BOMBS and characters play badminton and then break into song FOR NO APPARENT REASON, because it’s not really a musical, but there is music…There are different theatrical styles, various locations, spanning over a time period from creation until now.

When I describe the show to people they usually say, "Wow, you have a lot going on in that."

Yes. Probably too much. Like always.

But my smart wife asked me, “What are the parts of the show that you really like and why?”

I say my favorite parts right now are all the parts that don’t have anything to do with the Doomsday Clock, which was the premise of the show and hence the title. My favorite scenes right now are the various versions of the myth of Kronos. I like all that examination of family as seen through that prism. It’s not that I don’t like the Doomsday Clock stuff, but when I’m looking at the atomic bomb stuff I’m more fascinated by the Boy/Girl scenes or the Nightmare monologue than the historical representation of what the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists do. The facts and figures don’t mean anything to me. The truth of perpetuation of violence feels real, and that resonates on a political and personal level.

Also, those scenes really feel like they’ve been created with and for the ensemble. So they shine in a unique way where the other stuff just seems like pieces of text I cobbled together from research (which basically it is).

I guess I’m trying to hone in on what excites me in this show and get rid of all the rest.

This is why I’d really like more time…

The thing is that I think the show works well when it juxtaposes the myth of Kronos with the story of the atomic age, like two ideas bashing against each other (or maybe its not juxtaposition but rather a dialectic—a dialogue of ideas—I get them confused).

One thing illuminates the other. Ideally.

Feeling lost in this process, I reached out to another writer/director whose work I really admire, Young Jean Lee. She had a show come through here in Seattle at On The Boards called SONGS OF THE DRAGONS FLYING TO HEAVEN. I was really impressed with the show and have been hearing a lot about her as an artist for a long time (in fact, I even saw her perform as an actor with the National Theater of the United States of America way back many years ago at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn). She is a member of 13P, a playwrights production group in NYC, studied with Mac Wellman, and has been doing her own thing of writing/directing for a long time.

She is currently working on her next show, SHIPMENT, about race. Check out her website here because she has a really interesting blog about her process and the show.

In fact, on her blog, I found this little list of advice she received from some other smart theater person about her work. I think it’s so great and applies to all kinds of theater-making, traditional or alternative, so I’m going to post it here:

- first of all, I admire what you do. your work is consistently brave,
provocative, disarmingly honest, conflicted, disturbing, and funny;
and I'd love to work with you on something somehow someday
- do not be offended: it will harm no one except you
- Foreman gives a suggestion in 'Unbalancing Acts' to address the one person in the audience - even if that person exists only in your imagination! - who is: A. smarter than you and B. totally gets what you are doing
- assume the audience is very intelligent, and then work hard to keep them guessing what is really going on
- encourage the performers to harbor secret throughlines, and to own & savor everything they do
- never reveal your entire hand at once
- be cunning
- keep the audience in a state of mystery as to what is genuine and what is not
- however, disregard any advice that is not useful or interesting to you
- examine your impulses and take care not to reject advice out of
pride nor fear
- tell your truth, the universe needs honesty
- and finally: don't let the bastards get you down"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Kind of Writer Am I

Okay, so this kind of fun, but I don't really know how reliable it is.

Probably as reliable as that fortune teller I went to once in NYC who told me someday I would buy a car or be in a car some day...Which ended up being so true because I went on a TYA a cargo van...about a year, you know, totally reliable.

You Should Be a Film Writer

You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind.

You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life.

Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling.

And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

Two More Weeks


That’s the new name for the prologue section of my show 7 Minutes to Midnight.

It’s organized chaos, to some degree, but its really a lot of things going on…Eight actors playing with a bunch of rubble. Somewhere in there they will start speaking the text, singing the songs, becoming the story that is the story of the atomic bomb and the story of Kronos and the story of our own tendency for self-destruction…

And we’ll get there…But right now it’s kind of a big mess.

But that’s okay. We got time. Not a lot of time, but some.

No matter what show you work on, you always need two more weeks. That’s just the mantra for any director/writer/actor whatever…Two more weeks. But what I love about the theater is also what challenges me—that there is a looming opening night. And you don’t “not open”. I mean, you can, but that looks even worse then putting up a crappy, haphazard show.

It’s hard to imagine that some of the great theatre practitioners—like Stanislavsky, Brecht, and Grotowski—they rehearsed plays for years.


Unfortunately, in this country, that is rare. I think the average rehearsal time, especially for universities, is six weeks. Now, a lot can be done in six weeks, especially if you have talented people involved (and if you have well-trained people, as well). My actors are starting to feel and work collaboratively like an ensemble, which is wonderful, but think about how much growth could happen with this group if we were working on this for a year? Or two years? Think about how the script and performance might evolve over the span of that time.

In an age of the 10 Minute play, the 24 hour play festival and the rise of YouTube clips that are shot and put up in a matter of minutes, are we losing that sense of creating a piece over a long period of time? Are we losing the sense of involvement and focus and really mining our subject, searching under every rock for the gold we might discover?

Or maybe this show is simply making more aware of how time is so fleeting.

We never have enough. No matter what we’re doing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Poster for 7 Minutes to Midnight

copywright and courtesy of Brian Healy, the set & lighting designer of the show.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Harp jam

This one is for Chris who is so patiently trying to learn the harmonica for the show.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No More Waiting and Waiting No More...

I was sad to learn this week that the Seattle Rep had cancelled the upcoming production of Bill Irwin in Waiting for Godot. The show was to be directed by legendary Irishwoman Gerry Hynes (of whose Broadway version of Beauty Queen of Lenane was so riveting--and one of the first Broadway shows I had seen after recently moving to NYC).

Instead they are doing The Road to Mecca.

No offense to Mr. Fugard, but...really?!

But my disappointed feelings were rejunevated when announced that Mr. Irwin was going to get his chance to do Beckett's most infamous play, after all...on Broadway. And with a co-star none other than Nathan Lane.

I must say I have slightly mixed feelings about that...In the article they even compared Lane to a modern-day Bert Lahr, who played Estragon in the original production on Broadway fifty years ago.

(As if you don't know this, but Bert Lahr was also the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.)

Bert Lahr hated the play, hated Beckett, and I think the feeling was mutual.

Of course, this was fifty years ago, before anyone knew who Beckett really was or what his play was all about. People weren't used to this post-modern comedy, this laughing and crying at the same time thing. Let's hope Nathan Lane approaches the role slightly different.

It could be quite interesting. And Anthony Page is a good director.

And plus, it's Beckett on Broadway.

Evidently, that's something you see only twice in a century.

Hope I can get out to NY next year to see it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

National Science Foundation: Science Hard

Someone referred me to this article by reputable newsline THE ONION. For the full article, click here.

INDIANAPOLIS—The National Science Foundation's annual symposium concluded Monday, with the 1,500 scientists in attendance reaching the consensus that science is hard.

"For centuries, we have embraced the pursuit of scientific knowledge as one of the noblest and worthiest of human endeavors, one leading to the enrichment of mankind both today and for future generations," said keynote speaker and NSF chairman Louis Farian. "However, a breakthrough discovery is challenging our long-held perceptions about our discipline—the discovery that science is really, really hard."

"My area of expertise is the totally impossible science of particle physics," Farian continued, "but, indeed, this newly discovered 'Law of Difficulty' holds true for all branches of science, from astronomy to molecular biology and everything in between."

The science-is-hard theorem, first posited by a team of MIT professors in 1990, was slow to gain acceptance within the science community. It gathered momentum following the 1997 publication of physicist Stephen Hawking's breakthrough paper, "Lorentz Variation And Gravitation Is Just About The Hardest Friggin' Thing In The Known Universe."

This weekend's conference, featuring symposia on how hard the Earth sciences are, how confusing medical science is, and how ridiculously un-gettable quantum physics is, represented a major step forward for the science-is-hard theorem.

"We now believe that the theorem is 99.999% likely to be true, after applying these incredibly complex statistical techniques that gave me a splitting headache," Farian said. "A theorem is like a theory, but, I don't know, it's different."

Members of the scientific establishment were quick to affirm the NSF discovery.

"To be a scientist, you have to learn all this weird stuff, like how many molecules are in a proton," University of Chicago physicist Dr. Erno Heidegger said. "While it is true that I have become an acclaimed physicist and reaped great rewards from my career, one must not lose sight of the fact that these blessings came only after studying all of this completely impossible, egghead stuff for years."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Move it on Over - Hank Williams

Even if you're not a big country fan (and I'm not really, but alt-country, that's another story), you gotta love ol' Hank.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Vote

This is a recommendation from a friend of the blog (and yes, blogs can have friends). WARNING: some strong language and unabashed political overtones!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dylan Says: "Are You Registered to Vote?"

Actually, he doesn't say that, but his CD comes out today and the only thing wrong with pre-ordering it is that its being delivered to my house right now...but I won't get home till late so won't be able to listen to it...arrgh!

But Dylan would ask, "Have you registered?" because in most states, today is the last day. And if you don't register, you can't vote. And if you don't vote you are a big poo-poo head.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Quote of the day

"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it."

– Harlan Ellison

Friday, October 3, 2008

Accommodating the Mess

The title of this post comes from the thoughts of Samuel Beckett who was musing about a form of drama that “accommodates the mess”.

The mess being post-modernity. The mess being how we process things so differently. The mess being a post- World War II and atomic age.

My mess right now is 7 Minutes to Midnight.

I’m not saying the show is bad or in trouble. What I’m saying is that like many of my ambitious projects, there are far too many things going on in it right now. It’s time to clean it up. Less is more, in art as well as architecture.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve worked with the small ensemble of five actors to create and shape material. Some of it is movement work, some of it is text. Now I’m going to add some more to the ensemble and I really need to start answering some of those really tough questions like “what is this story about and what is the best way to tell it?”

Mostly I’m thinking about structure. One brilliant playwright, maybe it was Octavio Solis I can’t rember, doesn’t like the word structure and would rather use the word “organization”. As he says, “you organize your closet, you should organize your play”.

I’m trying to think about how to organize this play, which means what scenes go where. Should we follow events historically in a linear fashion? Should we jump around? Do I want to have some cohesive way of tying things together? There are many, many options. The characters and most of the story is pretty clear, at least to me, but I need to figure out the order. What I love about theater is that there are so many ways of telling the same story. Which will we choose?

I don’t know.

So that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend, by myself and in my rehearsal on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pretentious or just long-winded...You decide!

I was asked to answer some interview questions for the Bellevue Community College school newspaper about our show 7 Minutes to Midnight.

In an effort for clarity I of course went for length instead...The reporter wisely broke up my interveiw and edited it down for print.

The chair of BCC said it sounded smart. I thought it might be prententious.

But hey, you decide for yourself with this unedited version!

How does this type of play differ from the plays BCC usually produces? From other plays you've written?

Most of the plays BCC has done are either well-regarded classics or important contemporary plays by modern writers. They’ve done Chekhov or Wilde or Sondheim musicals in addition to newer works like Steven Dietz. They have a track record, not necessarily at BCC, but nationally or internationally. In a way, they’ve been “road tested”.

When you’re working on a new play, whether it is a traditional process (which I’ll briefly explain) or more alternative, that luxury of the road test is not there. In some ways, this makes for a wonderful range of choices and that pioneer spirit of “no one has ever done this before”! On the other hand, you can also get daunted on whether or not it can be done, or done well, for that same reason.

Most of my plays I’ve written in the past, like Obscura or Burning Botticelli, have been developed in a traditional process, generally used in regional theaters and on Broadway. The process is like handing off a baton in a relay race…It starts with a playwright who plans and writes everything down, usually alone. Eventually there is only so much work you can do by your self and its ready for production (even though it may need some amount of rewrites). The script is then like that baton, handed off to a producer and/or director to get a production started. The baton is again handed off to designers, then to the actors culminating in a final performance where the baton is handed to the audience. Again, there may be some rewrites but generally you go into the first rehearsal with a solid script that has been worked out ahead of time (story, characters, dialogue all in good shape).

In this kind of traditional process, the text is usually the primary element, although not always. The other aspects of performance like sound, image and movement become secondary. With a play like Importance of Being Earnest where the text is not just stylistic of that period, but also witty, you want the text to primary.

But with alternative methods of theatre-making, of which there are several terms—like “devising”, “ensemble-based” or “physical theatre”, the text becomes equal with other elements of the performance such as movement, music, sound, and light. Even the idea of having some clear storyline can become less important. The form becomes open and more collaborative. it’s more difficult to create this kind of theater alone as a playwright. You need to work directly with the actors, to see their bodies moving in space and to let the actors experiment with images and sound. Many shows can fall under this category of “devised”, the most popular being The Tectonic Theater’s The Laramie Project or Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, but it also can describe many others.

Although I as director and conceiver still lead the rehearsals, it’s more like I’m guiding them down a path. I bring in story ideas, text, research and assign tasks based on that. But anyone in the cast can bring in their own research or text and we can experiment in rehearsal to see how, or if, it might fit. In this sense, using the relay race as a metaphor, the baton is not passed off, but passed back and forth, or shared between two people…at different moments the creation is happening over and over again in each rehearsal. Sometimes the audience even becomes part of that creation process.

Devising a show takes a lot of time and energy, from me and from the actors. I’ve been doing a lot of planning and gathering of ideas, images and text for a long time before even bringing the actors on board. We actually started preliminary rehearsals at the beginning of summer. We’ve spend a lot of time discussing the ideas, characters and stories, as well as doing ensemble-building exercises and games. As I add more ensemble members, I’ll have something resembling a script on paper, but even that will be shaped by the ensemble as we work and re-work the performance. It’s a lot of work but at the end of the process you have something that is truly unique to those actors in this space and time.

How are the students responding to being "builders"?

I think they have embraced the work quite well. Although I taught a lab class in the Spring, this is my first opportunity to direct at BCC and I don’t have a great familiarity with the students. The first stages of rehearsal have been us getting to know each other and building trust. Trust and creating a safe place to play is vital to this kind of work, as it is with any theatrical production. But I’ve given them some big challenges and they are engaging with the movement exercises as well as with the ideas and the material.

A lot of times in theater we get so product-oriented. This kind of work, the journey and process of discovery in rehearsals is equally, if not more important than opening night. We’re learning about ourselves as artists as well as learning about important events in U.S. and world history and how it affects us now. It’s an interesting thing to be given the freedom to explore deep issues of a personal and global nature. Every day I ask them to be creative in new ways and nudging actors out of comfort zones can be really scary, no matter your experience level. Even seasoned actors find this difficult. My hope is that their connection to the work will be more personal because they own the gestures, or they brought in a piece of text or song lyric that resonated for them.

Why is the Science Dept. involved in "building" the play?

I don’t know that I’d say they’re involved in the “building” of the play but we want their help as we create it—we’re not scientists, obviously. So we’d like to get their help with research on the subject matter of the play. We hope to get some professors to drop into rehearsals to explain some concepts.

One of the main questions the piece grapples with is what is the scientists’ responsibility towards humankind? This is tied directly to the real-life creation of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and The Doomsday Clock.

Basically, the Bulletin was established in 1947 by a group of scientists, most of whom worked on the Manhattan Project, and they wanted to advocate to the world that this could literally be humanity’s downfall. And they knew that others besides the U.S. would gain this knowledge and power and essentially predicted the cold war. Never before had so many people in the world been so ignorant of something that affected the entire planet. The average U.S. citizen didn’t know how destructive the bomb was, how it worked, how dangerous radiation could be, and most importantly, they had no idea how many bombs the U.S. was building or that they were going on with the next step of building the hydrogen bomb. They created the Doomsday Clock that same year as an arbitrary way of gauging how close we were to destroying ourselves. In 1947 it was set to 7 minutes to midnight (hence the title of our show). It’s moved twenty times in the past sixty years and now stands at 5 minutes. They’ve said we’re at a second nuclear age, similar to the late 1940s and we have 27,000 nuclear warheads on this planet. But how many people pay any attention to that fact and how do we even comprehend it?

So this play will jump around a bit in time and space, asking questions about what it means for us now in 2008? What was the journey of the scientists who went from trying to end a war with their invention to watching the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And how do you resolve that in yourself? How can the actions of one person affect the world?

I know this sounds like it will be this depressing story of war and destruction, but ultimately we’re trying to find the opposite of that. We want to know; Can we hope for peace?