Wednesday, September 28, 2011

'New Play Glory'

We almost have a cast on the show I'm directing, The Man in the Black Pajamas. It's been a two-week process, four different auditions in two different locations, but we are almost there. Tonight, we are starting on the rehearsal process, I'm looking forward to it. Chuck was able to secure a warehouse space for our rehearsals, last night after auditions we taped off the space, 14' X 19', so, here we go. Although we didn't get hundreds of people at the audition, I really think we got what we needed. If you are an actor going into an audition, (or even reading about it) and you walked into a room with Chuck and I sitting at a table, it would be difficult to assess the situation. We are not from an established theatre company here. We are two guys doing a free-lance new play. That means we have to prepare and produce it all. The way I put it to the actors is to look at it like it’s a small, well-written, independent film. Because Phoenix doesn't have an on going and thriving community doing new plays, its difficult to get across the importance of this kind of work. Phoenix has always been a we'll get our plays from NYC or Chicago kind of place, actors are not used to doing something that is new. I have to say that it is always exciting doing a new play. A new play has an energy that has not been lost in history, its untried, always changing, challenging. It doesn't have photos of previous set designs, it doesn't have a record of reviews or media articles. It doesn't have a history of success or failure. The actors will create the characters for the very first time. I think for actors, the intimidation factor rises doing this kind of work. Think of it being a band. There are no cover songs to even warm up with. All the songs are new and fresh, but having said that, the songs may be fresh, but they have never been recorded or played on the radio.

Music has the same issues as a play, however, a song is only two or three minutes, a play is 90 to 130 minutes. I could always tell if I had written a good song if I played it and people would ask, "Whose song is that?" When I would tell them it was mine, they would either look at me like I was lying, or want to talk more about it. There are certain tricks I learned doing new songs. I sometimes would open my set with a strong new song. It's always risky, because it is the establishing song. I would immediately follow with a song that was very familiar, and then switch back and forth. If I really wanted to know the reaction, I would never tell them, "This is a new song," rather, I might tell a short story that related to the song. I'm quite sure that I have a number of songs that could really be popular if I had the machinery to get them spilled onto the American landscape, but until then, as Sammy Kahn said once on the radio, "Sing your songs anywhere you can, as often as possible, for as many people as possible, at some point, there will be someone in the audience that will hear your song and won't be able to forget it…" I'll keep singing those songs, Sammy. Having said that, as much as I don't want to be cynical, the value of a person wanting to help someone either because of their connection to music or knowing someone who does is a value that rarely exists anymore. That value is related to the honor and loyalty amongst artists, which used to suggest that you have a community of artists who stick together through years of work, when one becomes successful or works, they bring the others in the group to the party. Although when I was teaching, I used to teach that principle, I don't see it much anymore. It seems to be that the young, strong, and talented are pushing on a window of time to make it happen through the shear will of the self.

A new play is much the same in regard to what Sammy Kahn said, although it seems a bit old school these days. With this play, we have six performances to convince people that it’s a play they won't forget. That's a very tall order. In the nineties, when I was doing one new play after another, in retrospect I'm convinced that there were shows that could have played well in any city in America, unfortunately, Phoenix does not have the machinery to change a playwright's life or pick up a new play and send it across America. Even amongst its own community, it was rare that a local producer or director would find themselves in a smallish theatre looking at a new play, it just didn't happen and still doesn't. There were journalists I believe who zeroed in on the importance of new work such as Kyle Lawson, who was constantly in the service of getting the word out about a new play, but I never saw a connection between a larger theatre company here and a home grown play. A city that does not cultivate the playwright will never be known for their theatre community, that's just a fact. But there are other reasons for doing a play here. For one thing, even though it's not free, it is a little cheaper to put up a play here. And, even if you are not going to land a big fish here to catapult your play to another level, what you have when you are finished is another polish on your play. It is a polish that you simply cannot get without production. I've been known to go through the arduous process of production several times on a play to get polish. It was part of learning the craft of playwriting. Memorizing that process taught me to get at the polish much quicker in a script, eventually I could bypass at least one of those productions. I did find it possible to build a community that understood this process, and the production of a new play was always exciting, no matter where it was done. I am in the process of building another community that is excited by this process, but I have chosen my home town of Boulder to do this, and have also been building and connecting to people in Los Angeles. Boulder because this is where I want to land with tired bones, and Los Angeles for the challenge and for, okay, I'll say it, for the glory. It’s a grand idea to walk into Los Angeles with a truck and a few clothes and put up a play. And I believe there are still people out there who do see that as a viable challenge. I'm getting to know those people. It is a lot like casting a play, only finding those who will work for the glory of putting up a new play there takes a little longer. Cultivating relationships that will eventually manifest some reality takes years. In the world of theatre, these relationships are also the ones that have an intrinsic meaning other than glory. Like the theatrical process, they are relationships that are built in an old school way, with loyalty, understanding, caring, and truth. Then, you really have something to write about.

1 comment:

Gerry said...

I do find an entry about putting up a new play intensely interesting because I am a playwright with many plays not yet produced. You have directed two of them in a new production, but the rest are yet to be tried out on an audience. I was just thinking today that I have three plays never produced that I think would go well in Los Angeles, so you must stay alive now for a number of years to get not only your new plays produced somewhere, either in Boulder or Los Angeles, but some of the other writers' plays you have strong bonds with produced. A number of playwrights are going to get excited by that thought. I have "Outlaw Love Story: Red Barfield and Dandy Cox romance" which I worry about you doing in Boulder for fear some of the characters' relatives might recognize them and get mad. The characters themselves are dead and gone. What a band of spirits would take an interest in that play! So you really have a lot left to do in this life! Now I must get busy polishing my memoirs!