Returning to Voice … After an Entire Month of Quiet

Well friends, it’s true: I went the entire month of July without a single blog posting, though I commented with great joy upon reading postings and features of other new TJ staff members. It’s been a month of remarkable transition and of great new infusions of talent. It’s been a month of artistic regeneration; of vacation; of auditions; set buildings; theater cleaning; reaching important new thresholds in our subscription campaign; of new issues being raised in the press (see Shirley’s last entry and last Sunday’s Post feature on new play development)… There’s been a lot to share, and I’ve stayed crazy quiet all the while. Why, you might wonder?

Well, in a sentence: I’ve been writing. I was away, I returned, I was jet-lagged, I was back-logged, I was adjusting, I was happy in the quiet, I was figuring out what new to say; what new to share; what new directions we would be taking as a staff.

It’s very interesting to be returning to voice on the first day of a new month. The playwriting is dominating. Shall I tell you about that briefly? It’s pretty interesting what’s all in play. Here’s a look at my own writer’s journal – a list (with notes) of what’s on my plate as a playwright right now:

Lots of projects happening.

THE SEAGULL ON 16th STREET – Deep into the adaptation process. Half way done. Auditioned all this week for the rest of the cast. Major announcements coming on that. THRILLED at the process. Loving the ways in which this rethinking of the play — infusing a Jewish Mother-Son dynamic with a son’s wild critique of an older generation’s straying from its roots; crazy Treplev as a Kaballastic Born Again Jewish Journeyer soon to crash — the play seems to support this thematic expansion, as we still keep close to the play’s structure. Have to be careful to fully integrate, develop, and hone my contributions close to Carol Rocamora’s excellent translation. My freedom to work with and add to–while respecting–her text is an important collaborative arrangement that i’m glad we’ve talked about and are making the right contractual arrangements to accommodate such. The adaptation will not want to be the most conspicuous element of our production. We’ll want people to remember this “Jewish Seagull” for its seamlessness; for the easy way in which its particular lens leads back to a universal wellspring. VANYA ON 42nd STREET remains the gold standard for us — the way of having a particular time and place springboard lead us back into the bosom of a comfortable, deep and enduring classical play performed in a totally contemporary idiom. Does that make any sense? It does when you re-watch VANYA ON 42nd STREET. Which I suggest you do tomorrow.

PS – Really enjoying the collaboration with director John Vreeke, Casting Director Naomi Robin, Dramaturg Jodi Kantor and our staff dramaturg Shirley Serotsky. The staff reading of Act I at our staff retreat was a helpful hoot of a good time too.

ALI SALEM DRIVES TO ISRAEL – Once the month of August arrives, which is to say Saturday, August 2nd, I am returning to complete this play with writingevery single day in the month of August, September and finishing it in October. I am on a 2 hour a day at least ration. That’s all I can say about this now. There will be a reading at the end of November to fulfill the NEA extension deadline. Where has this play been, you wonder? What’s taken so long to get back to it? Fortunately, that gets to go into the play now too! A Jewish writer flinching when challenged by his elder Egyptian collaborator. A play framed by a relationship that’s gone bad; an alliance that promised much, endures a crisis of faith, and now a cold peace informs the moving forward into the final voyage; Ali’s last journey across the desert and into a charged and changing region; a walled-in Israel; a Hamas-governed Gaza; and still the hope, after the wreckage of an Oslo promise that first brought Ali to Israel back in 1994 for his first voyage, still the hope that connection, recognition, might lead to deeper understanding to be reflected in a final, tangible act of acceptance. The play’s a hard one to write. I had a strong 40 pages when I stopped writing right before Hamas came to power. I haven’t done anything more than outlining and revising since. The final writing awaits.

BORN GUILTY and THE WOLF IN PETER working with Zak Berkman of the Epic Theatre and directed by Daniella Topol. Would you believe there’s going to be a 2 day workshop of this in New York in January? Returning to this show with at least one new thought (even though I don’t have my black spiral notebook journal with me, which I must retrieve–where the heck is it?): The fallout from our rightward tack (around the world); the reflexive reaction to the ambiguous legacy that the child of survivors inherits — examining Peter’s impulse to cut (from the Jewish community) and run rightward (toward Joerg Haider of the Austrian Freedom Party) and what’s the personal and political toll of that journey; how we lurched to the right in the ’90s and in the 2000s and what we lost of ourselves along the way… How much do these plays change? Need to? How much deeper do they need to go?

Rummaging through old notes from Joseph Megel after the 2007 Atlanta production, I find these:
“What questions is the Adapter asking? They should go deeper. “So Peter changed? So what?” Adapter’s questions should be more fundamental queries into the dark heart of a man. The Adapter shouldn’t stay in a naive place—his questions should acknowledge something deeper and his pursuit should be deeper.” Well, I guess deeper is the operative word, isn’t it?

“Peter is a very interesting character/complex… The narrative is over-simple in framing or pursuing Peter. Intellectually, he should be deeper. Journey into darkness concept should be further developed. Heart of darkness in the Beer Tent is not deep enough.” I think we found the running theme; of the notes at least!

I look forward to conversations with Daniella and Zak and our plan to explore stuff over the fall.

OH, THE INNOCENCE – Would you believe this project with music has resurfaced, thanks to some keen interest from some excellent young musical theater talent here in town!? I do like the idea of reclaiming this project from its sad shoot-down of 4 years ago. Does it want to be more of a memory piece? Well, I think the frame work is there for it to be a memory of time past. But listening through the show just now–with lots of redemptive music within it–it’s also true that we need to get rid of a trace element of languor; there’s a lot that’s right about the show, but it needs tons of talent and it needs to move on a dime and play a little bit more like a movie.

LOVE AND YEARNING IN THE NOT-FOR-PROFITS — Well, the hoped for Off-Broadway production at 59 E 59 didn’t happen for this fall because of the fall out from GLORY DAYS as it bamboozled my besieged producer (who took a pounding). He may resurface to produce again yet! And the team at 59 E 59 likes the project and would keep a slot for us for 2009 — in the fall perhaps. But they too are awaiting a rewrite! Once I find the black spiral notebook journal and peruse the blue journal — where I had my notes from the excellent talks with director Hal Brooks, I’ll know if I’ve written anything brilliant or worth including in the pieces. The question of direct address is the most germane. The influence of THE GREAT WHITE UNDULATING ORB–which I wrote for a husband and wife in bed, staged this summer in the 10 minute festival at Source–writing with the quick outs and allowing for a more presentational rummaging through trunk plays and trunk secrets, when we were a little bit more alive than we think we are now. I am doing that work and hope to get them new stuff soon. Still, we’ll need a co-producer to partner with 59 E 59, if John O’Boyle isn’t able to come through. Our option expired before it ever really started. Which is to say, it never quite happened. But it might still. And so we’ll see.

Any more projects? Sure! But it’s enough for now, these journal notes that I share with you. All in the admission that for the past month, I’ve been much more “playwright first” and “producer second.” And it hasn’t been that way in a very long while for me. And how do I feel about that? Good. And how do I feel about being a producer at Theater J now going into my 12th year? Still good. I still get excited and I still get hungry and I still get expansive about what we’re planning and how we’re growing and how we can’t afford to slide backward.

But it’s hard. Being both. Being a happy producer is just as hard as being a happy playwright. They’re twinned journeys in perilous pleasure and pain. But here’s the good news. I’m excited to keep doing both for a long time to come.

And will I keep writing blog entries like this in the future? Thankfully, no. But it’s the first one in a month. Let’s get the lists and the rust and myopia out of one’s system in one long sustained belch. Which this sort of has been. Thanks for hanging in there, and welcome back. And Happy August.