Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter is here!

It is snowing like crazy out there.

(okay, not crazy like Buffalo crazy, but crazy like Seattle people who don't know how to drive on snow that freezes over crazy)

I walked the dog this morning and this is what I saw at the intersection over by the North Seattle College. Seems a bus couldn’t quite get up a hill and slid sideways, jackknifing and blocking the entire street.

So I’m working from home today and thinking, y’know, I haven’t posted in a long, long time on this site.

Maybe you noticed?

Or not.

(Only one avid reader—aka The Mom—has actually mentioned the lack of writing)

The show 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT was a rousing success in various ways. The ensemble really came together and brought all their focus, energy, and enthusiasm into developing this new piece of theater. The performance of the show had sold out houses (sure its only a 50 seat house, but still…).

The actors were a bit surprised that they even got so much laughter during the show—especially during the badminton showdown between the countries with the bomb. We had a thought-provoking post-play discussion about the realities of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, life during the cold war, life under the shadow of the nuclear bomb, etc, with the cast, a philosophy teacher, ethics teacher, and with a BCC member of Unicef and Japanese foreign exchange student. The audiences were generally receptive to the collage and nonlinear narratives that were thrust upon them.

And the songs really kicked butt. Especially the rap.

(It was the first time I’ve ever actually had rap in one of my shows and I gotta say, I felt pretty hip.)

As many people know, the show was entered into the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. We just found out a week ago or so that the script is a regional winner and finalist for a Kennedy Center national award, the David Mark Cohen Award. Due to this wonderful and well-earned surprise, we will be taking the show in a bare bones presentation to the regional festival in February. In fact, the whole cast was going anyway as most of them were Irene Ryan scholarship nominees (for our show or another show). And since I’m good at producing shows that could literally fit into a trunk, we’re taking all our props with us (badminton rackets, shuttlecocks, tambourines, sheets, paper cranes and yes, we’re even taking the chairs).

The most successful part of this show, for me, was that I really wanted to use the time and energy to discover new personal methods of creating theater in a more collaborative way, ie devising. I have worked on devised work and various types of new play development as an actor, director, dramaturg and playwright. Each new work can be created in its own unique way--even if you're a traditional playwright who loves him his Aristotle, you know that every time you write a play you're learning how to write THAT particular play, even if you do follow a typical three-act traditional structure.

And for devising, things get more nebuluous in definition depending on the theatre company, director, or writer. In fact, I got into a discussion about devising because this person thinks that if there is a playwright or any source material then you are not devising (to which I think Theatre de Complicite, Wooster Group and a whole slew of devising theater folks would whole-heartedly disagree...).

But I digress...

I feel I’m still learning how to be a playwright/director. In some ways I really like passing the responsibility along to another director to help shape something. Especially with all the tricky bits. This production and experience was more about collaboration, and much of the writing and directing (ie storytelling) was done in direct collaboration from the ensemble—and I use the word to include not just the performers but the assistant director, designer, and stage manager. Even though I wrote a lot, or decided where to insert particular quotes from research, dialogue or poetry, or just choreographed movement--much of the work was from trimming down a lot of the work we did in the rehearsal room.

There’s many lessons that I’m still processing and much about the creation of the show that worked well. The biggest drawback, really, was the lack of time involved. The show went from an idea to a fully-fledged production in less than a year, changing shape and storylines many, many times based on research, workshops, improvisations and conversations.

In short, I feel more proud of this show than any other play I’ve written or directed.

There have been other productions that have been magical in their own right (in particular a production of Love & Death in the Time of Crayola), but 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT has proven to me that I can write and direct and wonderful things can happen. I may not always want to work this way, but right now, I’m thinking it’s a pretty good way to do things for now.

The main reason is that I don't feel like I'm imitating anyone. A lot of times, I hear other playwrights' voices in my head (why do writers always sound insane?). But this time, I really asked myself, what kind of theater do I like? What kind of theater do I want to see and make? And I made that....mostly.

Anyway, this director/writer thing works for folks like Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Moises Kaufman, Richard Maxwell and Richard Foreman and Young Jean Lee, so why not for me?

Speaking of which, Young Jean Lee is about to open her play THE SHIPMENT in New York City next month. If you’re going to be in that area, you should check it out.

Here’s a clip of her talking about her work, her process, and writing about race (as interviewed by downtown theatre impresario Richard Maxwell).

1 comment:

Jenna said...

I would love to read about your process of writing/collaborating wtih your students on this piece. I know that you have written a little bit about it but not in great deal. I may have the opportunity next year to work with students on a devised piece and I honestly don't know where to begin. Any help you want to offer would be great!