Friday, November 19, 2010

Jupiter Rising

No, I'm not talking about the band with the same name. And Jupiter is not rising, strictly speaking, but turning direct, bringing back good luck and gifts, or so would have us believe. I read my horoscope regularly and yesterday, apparently, Jupiter, who's been conspicuously absent from all my areas (home, career, etc.) is coming back. If I am to believe astrologyzone, everything should be turning up Stetco any minute now. Is it sad that, the day before the show, I rely on astrology to get over my breakdown? Absolutely. Is it working? Almost.

This morning I came up with a plan. Two actually. First, I left about 5 messages for Karl at KRVS Radio. If he can come back and check the soundboard I'd feel better about everything. Naturally, that is no guarantee that something nobody has looked at so far, some tiny piece of malicious equipment, won't break down.

My second plan is a drastic change in my opening speech. Initially, I was just going to tell people to turn off their phones and have a good time. Now, I'm going to deliver my last blog entry live, on Saturday night. It won't be a long speech, but it will involve the audience in the process. I'm going to talk about the conditions we have been working in, not as a complaint, but in terms of a site specific performance: the show is shaped by the space it is presented in. So if the space fails, instead of thinking of it as a failure on our part, we'll think of it as some mutation of a guerrilla  theatre show. Warned, included in the process, the public will hopefully not experience it as a disappointment either, but as a natural part of the space the performance takes place in. Theatre in times of war. The show can be interrupted at any moment, but once the danger is over, it can resume without taking a hit. Naturally, I hope nothing will go wrong. But if something does, it will simply be incorporated in the performance. If I learned one thing in 20 years of staging plays, it is to take a misfortune and turn it into an opportunity.

I've been doing a lot of thinking and, no, I won't let these people down because there's too much work that went into this production, too much emotional involvement. And I won't let the audience down either, because they did nothing wrong. Only my ego might get slightly bruised, but that, I hope, I can survive.

So let's hear it for Jupiter and a bit of luck coming our way,  because at this point, all we need is luck. Everything we could control on our end has been taken care of: performances, inflections, rhythm, text, energy. The rest is a matter of luck.

This is my last written blog entry. The last entry will be delivered on the stage, tomorrow, as an opening speech. And if you want to know how things went...well, you'll just have to come to the play, won't you?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The straw that broke the camel's back...This play is the straw and I'm the camel, in case the reference wasn't clear. I've reached a point of exhaustion that borders on indifference. I'm numb. To have reactions, to get angry, to shout, protest and threaten, you have to have some emotions left...and I don't. I'm drained. This play drained me. First, the connection to my father. Then, the actors, whose often superb portrayal of the characters has turned me into a sentimental wreck. And now this. I think that in our 14 days on this miserable stage we've had about 5 rehearsals without technical incidents. We figure out one thing and another breaks down. I thought we were safe. I thought we were prepared to face the crowds. I was wrong. 20 minutes into the rehearsal tonight we had a new sound problem: new strange sounds, like paper being crumpled near a microphone. Everything shut down. We turned on the lights and Matthew proceeded to figure it out. What could it be this time? Not the mics: Karl checked them. Not the cables: I just bought 10 new ones. Not the speakers: we solved that one last week. No. This time it was the soundboard itself.

I give up. I can't fight this room anymore. I imagine four months of work, all these extraordinary people's energies destroyed by budget cuts, by the fact that the university has money to buy equipment but not to maintain it. Ok, so we solved this new problem today. What about tomorrow? What about opening night? I started crying in Fletcher tonight after everyone left...pulled myself together a little when Ellie came home and cried some more. I don't know what to do. Part of me wants to pull the plug, but I can't do this to the people in the cast, the crew, Susan...I understand a show tanking because the actors are weak, or the writing is terrible. But to jeopardize a play because everything you work with is held together with tape and a q-tip is ridiculous. Can I take an opening night where the lights go up in the middle of the show and Matthew runs from the sound booth to the stage to figure out what's wrong this time? I don't know. For the time being, this is me, signing out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

That's enough sentiment for one day, Margaret!

Remember that quote? Comes in handy every time I get careless...And I've gotten really careless lately. Too much sentiment.

It's so difficult to be detached, though. You have to be part robot to do it (I'm working on it)...I was watching the cast celebrating Dan's birthday yesterday. That was the thing I couldn't tell him in the car: that the day before I had ordered awesome cupcakes from Sophi P (best cupcakes in town!) with candles and the whole shebang. That everyone in the cast knew and pretended it was a surprise...Could I have still wished him a happy birthday as we went shopping for shoes? Absolutely. But that would have felt like a tiny betrayal since everyone in the cast expected to celebrate him that evening...I can't explain these things: once a theatre collective is created, there is a certain protocol to be followed: either we do things together or not at all.

At the end of the rehearsal today (great rehearsal, by the way), Seth said, "I feel like the rehearsals we had in Griffin took place two years ago." Griffin Hall is the English Department building where we rehearse once a week for about four months before we go on the stage. Yes. The first meetings we had, at the end of August, feel like a lifetime ago. That's how productions are supposed to evolve: slowly, quietly. You begin with a skeleton and, slowly, you add muscles and blood vessels and...things (my knowledge of anatomy ends here). The play takes shape; the shape demands a certain rhythm; actors grow into their characters...All good things to those who wait, no?

So while watching the cast celebrate Dan, I wondered if they knew how rare these moments are: being so utterly part of something; belonging to a group where everyone has your back; working towards that one evening, that one production that reaches two hundred audience members simultaneously. It's a thing of beauty just to think about it.

I'm really trying to keep emotions in check because, to quote from my play, "people and relationships are nothing but traps." But it's getting increasingly difficult not to talk about the way I feel (Guten Abend, Herr Freud...) when I see these extraordinary people baring their souls for me every evening. How exhausting. How admirable. How humbling.

You see what I mean with the sentiment? There comes a point when there's simply too much of it.

Susan brought the pictures she took last night for us to see. They capture some moments in the play (some of them are very very good) but there's something missing. I think we need to have the cast go from scene to scene posing for the camera. There are close ups I need: Larry screaming, Gabe staring at the "Love at first sight" sign, Seth and Dominique's faces during their dance and final embrace, Jean's rare moment of affection...When I watch this play (while pacing maniacally from one end of the house to the other), there are things I see simultaneously, actions that happen in each of the characters' areas and it is this..."chorus" of images that creates the harmony of the whole. When Italo Calvino tried to describe the melodic quality of his chapters he called them "arias." That's how I see the scenes in my play: as separate voices existing in a chorus that unites them while maintaining their distinctive character.

I overexplain, I know. But I have to. I look at the stage and I see my characters, and they have an existence independent of my own, and their world exists only because the relationships between them have allowed for an entire world to be created. At the end of the play the stage is literally littered with "the little things" the lyrics of the opening song refer to: chalk outlines, and pages from a random manuscript, and shoes, and handbags, and rose petals...The tiny facts of life (I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled) have invaded the stage and the characters have to deal with them, carve out an existence among them, learn to love them. A simple play (Conni's kid who's 10, I believe, saw the entire production yesterday and seemed to get it), complicated by its need to stylize human emotions.

To put it more precisely: it has become increasingly difficult for me, at the end of each day, not to go and embrace Dan, and Seth, and Mike, and Conni, and my own kid who's been performing in my plays for 10 years now, not to tell them how much they mean to me, how grateful I am for their portrayal of my characters. There, on the stage, under the chiaroscuro lighting, I recognize my world, my refuge, the only place I feel completely at home. It is a fragile world, dependent entirely on sounds and lights and movement, a world where safety is an illusion, and houses have glass walls. How I love the look of it. How I admire the abandon with which the actors move from one space to the next. Each new space brings the promise of new adventures and each adventure is a little more daring than the last. I don't mean "adventures" in the usual sense. In fact, during many scenes, nothing happens. Nothing on the surface. Internally, the characters wrestle with themselves like Jacob with the angel. Those are the kinds of adventures I'm thinking of: a flight of the imagination, a great passion, an internal exile.

This entire play is a love letter: to my father, to the people in my past, to illusions I've let go of. It's about adventures I no longer dare to have, regrets that surface every day, and gratitude. Mostly gratitude. So, yes, I love you Dan, and Seth and Conni and Mike and Ellie...I love you all, with your faults,and your problems and your tremendous need to make sense of the world. My world makes sense through you, because of you.

That's enough sentiment for one day, Margaret.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


For all my preference for experimental, innovative theatre, I like maintaining certain traditions when staging our shows. For instance, I like the presence of the physical text on the stage, I like the connection between actor and "book," because the book is where it all began, the origin of every story, of every dramatic possibility. The act of reading, of connecting with the final text, is an important part of the show, now even more so than in the past, perhaps because technology urges us to give up physical texts and I find myself so attached to them. I appreciate online publications, but I prefer holding the actual journal in my hands. I understand the need for wireless reading devices, but I'll always buy the book because the act of reading a physical text comforts me.

21st century theatre has a love-hate relationship with language. The text is less important than choreography, movement, silence, lights. While I often find myself sacrificing text for spectacle, I need texts on the stage to remind myself of our point of departure. It's a strange kind of homage to the written (and spoken) word...

The first time I did a production whose set was an art installation, I worked with two extraordinary artists: sculptor Jeni Battaglia and artist Susan David. From that point on, I've always had, as part of the set design, a piece of art made by Jeni and a painting by Susan. Call it tradition, call it superstition, call it what you will. All our plays, since that first hybrid (the theatre-art installation show), incorporate Jeni and Susan's work. Their visual language and my idea of the spectacle coincide.

I have other superstitions as well, like the fact that we need one or two terrible rehearsals before the show. We had one yesterday. Everything that could go wrong with the props did. Ellie ripped her tutu, Mike's medicine bottles popped open, Dan's microphone needed adjustment, props got in the way of the words written in chalk on the floor...Low energy, missed cues, people stumbling over words.

Dan looked broken at the end. He's not familiar with the process (or my superstitions), so I needed to reassure him that everything that happened was part of the normal course of things.

Karl is supposed to stop by tonight to make sure that all our sound connections are...well, sound (sorry: that was bad), and there's one lighting cue I'd like to change. Other than that, I think all we need is public. The cast has been performing to an empty house for too long. Jokes fall on silence and there's a distinct sense of emptiness in the air.

Susan is taking pictures tonight, which is good. The cast needs to see itself. That's the problem with the people in my productions: they don't get to see the play, and the look -- the visual spectacle I'm always trying to achieve -- is as important as the rhythm of the production. The actors internalize the rhythm but, during the performance, they're never able to see the spectacle. So photographs are good.

Went shopping for shoes with Dan. My image of Larry is a bit of an homage to David Tennant's Dr. Who. Cool clothes, funny shoes. But instead of the suit, I went for an all black ensemble: slacks and one of those awesome thin, black sweaters that Batman relaxes in when he's Bruce Wayne. Ok, so it sounds like Larry is a hybrid between Batman and Dr. Who. He's not. It's just that his shoes can't be regular shoes, there has to be something slightly off about them. I found a pair that has a similar design to that of the sportsy shoes Gabe has. I am perfectly aware of the fact that people who wear similar shoes are not soulmates in reality. On the stage, however, I hope the connection will be visible. Gabe connects with Larry even before they meet.

Today is Dan's birthday. I knew that, but he took me a little by surprise when he confessed to it. For reasons that will be revealed later on, I couldn't wish him a happy birthday. He said, "I am 29...Today" I said, "I know," and pointed him in the direction of the shoe store. He now probably thinks that an old Romanian custom prevents me from wishing people happy birthday. Or he just thinks I'm rude. Oh well. All will be revealed, my friends, all will be revealed...

Dan wants definitive answers about the show. "How do you feel about it? How do you think it's going?" and I must frustrate him a little, because I refuse to give definitive answers. What can I say? That we had several rehearsals that were so good, I barely had any notes at the end? That there was that one "crazy good" performance which I hope we can duplicate? That technology is still on my mind and that I'll spend that hour and 20 minutes on the opening night praying that mics or lights or cables or speakers won't explode or fall on the actors' heads? What can I say? An overconfident, "We got this"? Superstition prevents me from making such statements. Am I terribly worried about everything that could go wrong? Up to a point. We have a tradition of pretty damn good opening nights. So I say very little and sound hesitant when, in fact, I am not. There are four more days until another public gets to see yet another fragment of the world that has settled in my mind for a while now. I often feel like I carry around my own museum without walls. And in times of dire economic straits, I don't even charge admission.

Monday, November 15, 2010


If I could have my way, I'd isolate the entire cast and crew five days before opening night. I'd lock them up in a secure building (something vaguely resembling a compound) and then I'd breathe easily for the first time in a long, long time. The compound would have the latest amenities, its grounds landscaped, private, secure. The cast and crew could ask for (and receive) anything they wanted, provided they didn't go anywhere or do anything.

I can't tell you how much I worry when I hear that Dan went horseback riding, or when I see him pass the time, during a rehearsal break, walking on the back of the chairs in the auditorium. I worry every time Ellie drives her car, not because she's not a safe driver but because everyone else is crazy. I worry when Seth leaves town, even for an afternoon. I worry when Jamie hangs lights 30 feet into the air or Susan climbs the tallest ladder I've ever seen to safety pin a curtain fold...(speaking of climbing ladders, I had an awesome idea yesterday. As lights hit the stage we noticed a long piece of wire hanging from the rafters. What to do? Remove it? Dangerous. Tie it, somehow? Not pretty. Tie something (meaningful) to it? Hm...Then, genius! My genius, that is, I've never suffered from false modesty: I took the Zeppelin with the bride silhouette attached to it and suspended it from the wire. We stepped back, lights hit the stage, and above Conni's area, the Zeppelin floated beautifully, a reminder of Larry Tarkowsky's love for impossible flying machines...I did a little victory dance that is usually not meant to have an audience, and we continued to hang lights.)

Collaboration, worry: the curse of the playwright. The playwright needs other people to produce a show. Again and again, I envy the poet, the fiction writer, all the writers, in fact, who do not depend on a collective. Not because the collective is undependable (I've worked with some of the most reliable people one could ask for), but because accidents do happen. So, yes. I'd love to lock up cast and crew in secure, glass cages, and cater to their every whim until the evening of the performance when I'd release them onto the stage...Is this a strange thought? Absolutely. But would it solve all my problems? Yes, it would. Why can't the cast experience the isolation that, in the movies, at least, astronauts experience before a trip to the moon or to some other nasty planet? In my perfect world (the one with the theatre with the awesome marble floors), this exile would be mandatory. In the real world...Realism again. My archenemy.

I'm waiting for Ellie, to go shopping for the white top. I'm also trying to gather my thoughts for this afternoon's live interview, so I won't babble without a point. I have to stop by the office and take care of some school work (although teaching seems the most surreal part of my job these days), and then I have to go to Fletcher to spray paint white a few more props.

Rehearsal at 6, as always. We've settled into this maddening rhythm with a certain ease. After a while, madness becomes second nature. Monday. Five days left. In their imaginary glass cages, the actors get ready for their parts. The enclosure is perfect, the cast completely protected. In my mind, where all things fantastical take place, precautions have been taken to assure success.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lights and Other Random Issues

One runthrough and four hours of figuring out lights. Discovery: I hate yellow. Yellow makes people look jaundiced and makes the stage look...poor. So Seth and Mike and Dan with occasional help from the rest of us spent a good portion of the time moving a 30 ft ladder about so that Jamie could focus lights and place gels where we needed them.

I had to change the blocking of the nightmare scene and of the ending because we simply don't have enough lights to cover all the areas. And what we have is dying. One of our main lights (one of two side lights, in fact), makes a terrible sound when brought up to full intensity and Jamie said that pretty much spells death: the light is about to shut down. Imagine losing one of your two lateral lights in performance. You can't? Ok, I'll tell you what happens: the entire downstage right area goes dark. All the collective fantasy scenes disappear.

I also rechoreographed the Zeppelin scene because, depending on where you sit in the house, you get to see parts of it or not much...So I changed it again hoping this new setup will solve all our problems.

On tomorrow's agenda:
1.convince Matthew to stop tweaking sound during the performance. When he told me he was muting mics during the runthrough I had a moment of panic. It's very easy to forget that a mic is muted (this has, in fact, happened with Chess' mike one time).  I'd like the volumes adjusted once and for all before the rehearsal, and then the mics not touched again. Somehow I need to convince him how serious I am about this.
2.convince myself that I like what we have in terms of lights. I kind of do, but I'm not ecstatic or anything
3. go shopping with Ellie because she needs her white top for the play.

Today I went shopping with Dan for his costume. For all his isolation, Larry has to look cool. Until Dan tried on the fifth pair of pants I didn't realize how skinny he really is. I think I called him "feeble." I'm doing better and better. A week ago I told him he had the stamina of a five year old. Today I called him feeble while assuring him that all the women involved with this production are still crushing on Larry. Perhaps the two statements will balance each other out...

At the end of our six hour rehearsal, after shopping with Dan, we went to hang posters in Griffin. Tomorrow I'll deal with the large poster for Fletcher. While hanging posters I had a pretty weird conversation with Dan. Whenever I'm very tired I don't censor myself: whatever's on my mind, comes out. But Dan answers my questions with a smile and continues to put up with me. I don't know why. I don't know why all these people subject themselves to my merciless approach to directing, to months of work and criticism. It's happened ever since I moved down here. It must be something in the water...

I'm pretty worn out but tomorrow is a relatively easy day: no teaching, just the KRVS interview at 3:30, shopping and rehearsal. At some point the cheap motel that is my house has to return to its original condition. I'm planning a cast party after the show and I can't have people walk into this mess. It's not even just looks abandoned, as if a thin patina of desolation has attached itself to it.

Also on the agenda tomorrow (and every day until the 20th) is the reminder not to get emotionally attached to the cast. I used to care immensely for the actors I worked with and then one of them killed my play. This happened about four years ago when the production (that one show we had all worked so hard to perfect) got cancelled. I never got over that. The whole thing felt like a personal betrayal. That's why, whenever I catch myself thinking affectionate thoughts about the cast (and it's difficult not to, seeing them get better and better every day), I take a moment to remind myself of that incident and to tell myself that, after the 20th, things will go back to normal as if nothing happened.

But we'll all know that's a lie because something would have happened by then: a play, a moment of colossal abandon and delight, a complete break with reality. And for those few months, in the most artificial environment possible (the rehearsal space, the stage) a world would have been built from the ground up, and all the people in it would have remembered it as their most excellent adventure.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Strange Days

Spent the night yesterday throwing up and trying to get rid of an unbearable stomach ache. If I were Jean Laliberte, my vegan-revolutionary-disease-plagued character, I'd think stomach cancer, naturally. Deep down inside, I am Jean. On the surface I'm trying not to be him. My first stomach troubles (yes, my theatre friends, now you'll be subjected to intimate gastroenterological details...) started a few weeks after my father's death. I wasn't feeling well, I wasn't feeling ill either -- it was a combination of the two, triggered by food. As long as I ate toast and bananas, I was fine. Real food destroyed me. Since then, I've had these episodes a few times. I'd eat normal food, get a terrible stomach ache, throw up, go back to semi-normal. Perhaps my head and its problems have moved into my stomach. Perhaps I think with my colon.

Around 2:45am, I was thinking if it was possible to cancel the rehearsal. At 4 I managed to fall asleep. At 7:30 I was up and not in pain. I made a huge quantity of  tea, poured it in a thermos, and went to Fletcher to get ready for the longest rehearsal to date: the first lighting rehearsal. Jamie arrived with a lot of instruments borrowed from the theatre department. We had a moment of internal celebration until we realized that 6 of the 10, I believe, borrowed instruments didn't work. We did a runthrough and, of course, sound troubles began. As I was telling Matthew (our sound guy), I have this love-hate relationship to Fletcher. I love the space, I HATE the equipment. Everything is faulty. This time, it was feedback from Dan's microphone. I was ready for a small breakdown when Matthew realized the feedback was coming from two giant speakers on each side of the stage, speakers we thought were dead. Well, they're alive and useless, and they make strange noises. We turned them away from the mics and then Matthew had a second brilliant idea: to replace Dan's shitty wireless microphone with a regular one. We did, and Dan's voice came to life. No more problems with the last monologue. No more difference in intensity between the left and the right side of the house. Rehearsal continued and, as it did, I could not believe what was happening, how tremendous everyone was.

I can't even talk about Dan. Dan is insane. It has to be insanity, to be able to manipulate the same sentence so many times -- different inflections, different meanings every time...The interaction with Ellie has never been more alive. Seth is beginning to improvise (the sign that the play is ready for it its public). I remembered a production I saw about 25 years ago back home. It was the equivalent of the art students' "senior show" here: theatre students and their professor (a well known Romanian actor) staged a scene that was a rehearsal of a play. At a certain point in the scene, the main girl turned to the professor/director and said, "I don't know what to do. I feel like slapping him, but that's not in the text." And the professor said, "Excellent. Theatre begins the moment you 'feel like' doing things nobody told you to do."

Absolutely true. When actors get completely comfortable with the space they inhabit on the stage and with their part, they start adding small things: an inflection, a gesture that wasn't there before, a pause...That's when I know they're ready. And we are ready for public.

After the runthrough Matthew had to leave and we began the slow process of hanging lights and checking to see what works and what doesn't. I say "we," but I mean Jamie. Jamie is extraordinary. She's done lights for me for 10 years (for free) and I would have a hard, hard time working with anybody else. Some people learn things and then produce these...what shall I call them?...these "correct" lighting schemes. Jamie invents stuff, mostly because we don't have much to work with and I always want things to be beautiful.

But here we are in Fletcher, with its strange bathroom-like floor that reflects light in the most uninspiring manner, missing tons of instruments, trying to make do. I'm so tired of this poverty. I want a fully functional lighting system. I want colors and I want subtlety and I want nightmare scenes with nightmare lighting and awesome fades and dramatic endings. In my dreams, my plays have all of these things.

While assisting Jamie, I told Dan that every woman there had a crush on Larry Tarkovsky. Dan was beaming and I didn't have the heart to remind him that Larry is the character...On the other had, Dan identifies with the character so much that, for another week, at least, there is no difference.

The cast had lunch, and Dan and Ellie started talking. I sat in Larry Tarkovsky's chair and watched them talk, and joke, and do combat moves, and have a great time. I have never been able to explain to an outsider the chemistry, the camaraderie, the amazing understanding that develops between the members of a cast whose ultimate goal is the show and not the cultivation of their own egos. It is amazing to watch. There's never too much sentiment. (After that perfect runthrough, I said, "I have no notes. That was crazy good. I hope you can do it again...Dan. I love you. I have no idea how you're doing what you're doing, but Larry has evolved beyond my wildest hopes." I should have said, "I love you all," because I do. I should have just quoted myself, because Larry says it in the play: "I love you, Gabe...and you, Dominique, and Jean...I love you all,with your problems, and your dreams and your absurd need to make sense of the world...")

We did a second run through (mostly a speed through) and roughly sketched a lighting scheme. For a first lighting rehearsal it was great. For the actual show...we need many more lighting instruments.

At some point during the hours it took to test the existing lights I took inventory of the cast: Seth, looking awesome in his white scrubs (did I mention he went to Subway dressed like that?), taking a nap on his -- now familiar -- prison-striped cot. Conni sunning herself outside, enjoying the gorgeous weather. Mikey admiring his freshly (spray painted) white shoes, occasionally stroking his pet baby scorpion, Jake. Dan...Dan is not on another planet: Dan is another planet...Ellie talking to everyone at the same time, laughing, having a great time away from...I guess, away from reality. Theatre is an admirable escape. You create your landscape, you light it the way you want it, you add its sounds, its soundtrack, its inhabitants. As a director, the world is under your control. As an actor, the simple fact that, for a few hours, you get to be someone whose actions have no consequence in real life is extremely liberating. Outside the door of the darkened room that has become our refuge, reality bides its time. It will get us in the end. But not today.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Awesome rehearsal yesterday with two sound hiccups. Spoke to Karl at KRVS yesterday (the man has unlimited supplies of patience) and he recommended a website for mic cables. I ordered ten cables with overnight shipping, so this time tomorrow (well, perhaps not exactly "this time" since I don't plan to start rehearsals at 7am) we'll have new cables.

As much as I would like to pretend that everything is in order, I still have to say that sound worries me. There are always explanations for the things that go wrong, but the point is -- perhaps I should communicate this out loud today before rehearsal -- the point is that, on the day of the show, if there are sound mistakes, the audience will not want to know why things didn't go as they were supposed to. They will only notice that things went wrong. Because of the format of our shows (months of rehearsals, two intensive weeks, one show), we do not have the luxury of error. Things go well or things go wrong. Perhaps I'm not able to communicate how important precision is for the rhythm of the production. Perhaps I should explain that one of these productions is, for me, the equivalent of a book, or of any other peer-reviewed publication: as a writer you don't want to be "almost" right; you don't want your sources to be "semi"-exact, or your argument to be "kind of" thought-out, do you? Same thing here: approximations do not work. Precision does.

Speaking of precision: out of the 10 things that needed work, we solved all but 3 which will be resolved tonight. Seth is getting better and better. Dan has surpassed anything I've ever imagined about Larry and his transitions between moods (between moments of despair, or tenderness, or boredom, etc., etc., etc.) are seamless. Conni walks on the stage with an ease I almost envy. There's something so natural about her character's actions even when she does the oddest things (I do have her "looking outside the window" which is, in fact, a giant ladder upstage right, or photographing the surreal tree whose branches carry all the ships and flying machines), that the spectator never questions her actions. Mike is...God. How do I describe Mike? He can take direction -- the most bizarre suggestion -- and turn it into something worth watching. His character is cartoonish -- a strange combination of neurotic and exaggerated behavior and yet it makes sense somehow: the fact that he sleeps on a floor lined with maps of the world; the fact that, at regular intervals he crosses out a country, or a continent, an ocean or an expanse of land; that fact that he has a baby scorpion (named Jake) whom he treats as if it were a child; the fact that he breaks into San Quentin, at the end of the play, to save Caryl Chessman; the fact that he takes Chessman hostage in an attempt to save Chessman...A loud, irrational, impossible character made completely believable because Mike is just that good.

Ellie is very funny. Realization: my child is funny. I have a funny child. Comedy is difficult, and she does that extremely well. The few moments that still don't work happen because of variations in volume (that's the risk of using mics on the stage), but those are the things I'm going to work on today. Yesterday she said, "When I go to Chessman's cell I tell myself I'm going to suck and then I get there and I suck because I knew I would." A shift does happen when she walks to Chessman's space, but I still think it's a question of blocking. We'll see what happens today.

The most important thing has been accomplished and I know that I repeat myself constantly when I talk about rhythm, but that's the truth: when a production has found its rhythm, everybody involved feels it, and that kind of energy and confidence communicates itself to the characters. Their movements become fluid, transitions between scenes happen seamlessly, and every second counts. That's why precision is so important.

There is a scene where each character is in his or her space -- radio station, apartments, prison cell -- and an Edith Piaf song is heard in the background. One by one, the characters break down and start crying -- first tentatively, then louder and louder until the stage is overwhelmed with weeping, tears, cries, hysteria. I love this scene. Everything that we carry inside (that therapists are trying so hard to get to) is revealed here. That is the point of the scene: if we were truly honest with ourselves, at some point, we'd have to break down. There's a part of Gabe's monologue where she talks about Life (her character often tackles "big subjects") and she she says " feels itself." The weeping scene is connected to that thought. Life -- ordinary, everyday life -- observed in its most intimate moments is often depressing...I'm not explaining this well. Remember Chekhov? (my other obsession). His characters burst into tears most of the time (when they don't have meaningful conversations about the weather) and that's not because they're miserable people, potential suicides, but because his plays allow us to see these characters when nobody else is watching. Totally private moments, when the characters are stripped of any pretense. And in those moments "life feels itself" and that feeling is often too much for the people involved. And so they weep. I love the verb: weep not cry. Weeping is more personal. A statement, not an action. That's why Larry says "I weep, so you don't have to," and not "I cry..."

There are so many scenes in this play that I love. The characters' completely artificial freeze frame before they go to sleep: small actions afterward -- Jean kissing his gun and his baby scorpion then lying on the maps on the floor, Gabe drawing an imaginary bed (in chalk) and sleeping inside its meager outline, Dominique looking outside the window at a world of her own making, Chess in his cell hugging Prometheus, the fish...(Seth is totally attached to that damn fish, by the way. Yesterday when I said I had to take Prometheus home with me to draw the prison stripes on him, I had trouble convincing him to let go. Seth takes Prometheus home every evening. He's afraid that if he leaves him on the stage somebody will swipe him...A giant fish made out of batting and a pillowcase...Oh well. To each his own)

I love that scene. And I love the stupid infomercials we came up with, and the phone conversations and Larry's inflections. I'm having a tiny crush on my own character. I did say to each his own, didn't I?

Today I'm meeting Susan at 1 to go to Kinko's and make our posters. Susan is awesome. At the end of each rehearsal she hides the three giant canvases she painted for the show behind the back curtain. The paintings are huge (6x7ft) and when she carries them out she's so tiny that the paintings cover her completely. So we turn around and see these large canvases "floating" towards the back curtain. It's hysterical. During rehearsals her laughter keeps the cast alive. If a scene works well -- particularly if tiny elements are added every day -- she laughs out loud and her laughter is so infectious that both I and the stage manager start laughing. We just can't help it. Susan painted the striped canvas for Chessman's cot yesterday. It's a huge relief to see the green ugly cot turn black and white. Now I have to put the same stripes on Prometheus. He is, after all, a prison fish...

I'm trying out the costumes tonight and tomorrow Jamie comes and the lighting work begins. The first day of lighting is exhausting. Every scenes has to be lit, every area, people have to stop after every other line, Jamie runs on the stage, moves a 30ft. ladder around, climbs to the top, hangs a light, climbs down, runs back to the lighting booth and so on and so on. It takes a long, long time. After the initial offer of help, I haven't heard back from the Theatre Department. Let's hope they keep their word and lend us a few instruments.

So here we are: I woke up at 5 convinced that Derek had forgotten to burn the new soundtrack. He had. So at 5:10, while eating his cereal, he was making the CD for tonight. Good times.
The house looks a bit tragic (Whenever I treat my house like a cheap motel -- wake up, shower and go, come back late in the evening, go to sleep -- the house ends up looking like a cheap motel). Pakki needs a bath. My poor, once white, dog looks a bit gray. The laundry needs to be done. Cooking? Ha. A distant memory. But after next week (next week?! Oh my god. I have 8 days left!) all will go back to normal and I will cook, and do laundry, and farm like a pro again (I miss you, Farmville. Even my farm looks abandoned these days).

In the meantime decisions have to be made about the end, about the possibility of error and means to correct it, about the smallest details that make a good production great.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Seeing that I have a few moments this morning (only because I woke up at 6 like a lunatic), I decided to take inventory of the situation: rehearsal last night flawless (when I say "flawless" I mean no major flaws, nothing the public would notice, but I would, so there are still about 10 things I want to change). Fletcher is an odd space: you stage something perfectly visible center stage, and the left side or the right side of the house can't see half of it. I need to rechoreograph some scenes.

I brought Derek in to set up the new sound system (Derek knows everything about anything technical. When he's around I don't have to worry). After everything was in place we noticed we were missing two cables (to connect to the new speakers) so the entire new setup had to be dismantled and we had to go back to what we had before. Now all the sound cues are perfect, but in the middle of the rehearsal these harsh background sounds started happening.  We stopped and checked everything. No idea where the sounds are coming from. Possible the mic cables? In which case I have to change them all because we have no idea which cables are about to die...

This is a new type of panic: until now I knew what was not working and I could change it. Now we have a sound problem of unknown origin. How am I supposed to solve that?

I tell you: I don't know how directors in real theatres manage to still have shitty shows: their sound equipment works beautifully and they have all the lights they need. All they need to do is direct. I need to learn how to light a show with a lamp and a roll of tape. Ok, so I'm exaggerating, but you get the point: everything in Fletcher is about to die and I don't want their tired  wiring to demolish my play. I'm thinking of running back to KRVS and Karl (best sound guy in the city), present him with the problem (like telling a doctor your symptoms) and wait for a diagnosis.

But back to the good stuff: rehearsal went well. Seth is beginning to defrost and Chessman starts taking shape. Does he have Seth's mannerisms? Absolutely. But, in the end, that's all I wanted: a regular guy, who took a wrong turn and found himself on death row.

Gabe is still walking through walls. I have to remind Ellie every time that the "walls" we draw in chalk on the floor are supposed to function as real barriers. If you're not supernatural, you can't just go through them. Same thing with her "door." I'll start making "bang" sounds in rehearsals every time she hits a wall. Perhaps it will help.

Louis (the stage manager) is becoming more and more helpful. True, I still notice the odd prop at the wrong location during rehearsal, but he comes up with some great ideas about scenes.

Speaking of inventory, here's today's schedule: pick up blood pressure medication with Mikey at 8, office hours/class prep until 11, class from 11-12:15, office hours/lunch until 2, class from 2 - 3:15, job workshop for grad students (so they can get meaningful, well paid jobs like mine) from 3:30 to 4:30, rehearsal at 6 (with me mopping the stage at 5:30).

Possibly cry on Karl's shoulder in between and hope for miraculously restored mic cables. I need to believe in miracles now. 'Tis the season (plus, I'd like to have something to be thankful for on the 25...)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The other side of Insecurity

I am in love with the poster for my play. I am in love with my play. There are moments in it that I will always remember -- Larry's monologues, his cries, his conversations. I say "Larry," but I mean Dan because Dan brought Larry to life. I was watching the conversations between Dan and Ellie last night and there's...I have to say it, corny as it sounds: there's magic there. I don't know what it is. Some crazy chemistry, some rhythm I hadn't even noticed until Dan and Ellie started having fun with their scenes. And then there's Conni dancing with Seth and the image of that...she -- tiny, frail, elegant and he -- massive (I mean that in the most complimentary way possible). Seth has presence on the stage and when he dances with Conni there's something incredibly affectionate going on...I love it. I love those scenes and I love Mikey's hysteria (his revolutionary actions demand it), and I love my giant Zeppelin and Susan's paintings and Susan's laughter...Susan was laughing so hard last night, I almost had trouble concentrating. It was a good thing. We need the laughter. The cast does.

Conni said yesterday, "This is a simpler play" in response to my question "How do you, guys, feel about it?" She thought I would mind, but I don't. True, I've struggled with realism and linearity in this production, but I wanted this simplicity, this (almost) love story -- a few people whose lives are entangled, a few relationships, an almost happy end...I asked myself before writing the play: what is it that I love to read? And the surprising answer was, "Romantic stories with happy endings or mysteries that end well..." Ok, so I couldn't pull off the happy ending (still working on it), but the rest, Gabe's need for romance, Chessman's affair with Dominique, Dominique's willingness  to fall in love with a man on death row...How human. How...wrong. How lovely. So, yes: after many doubts and a few sleepless nights, I'm in love with my own play. On the other side of insecurity there's a certain vanity triggered by things well done...We're not there yet: many small things still bother me -- the volume in the beginning (this play needs to start in the middle of things, loud, obnoxious, rhythmic), some of Chess' lines (Seth still sounds like he's reading), some transitions and, most of all, the sound equipment that brings me grief every day.

On a happier note, I talked to the theatre department and it seems we can borrow some lights from them. Yay! Banish the ugly!

Today at 1 I met with Seth, Conni and Mike and we went shopping for scrubs. It was awesome. The guys look great in their "asylum" uniform, Conni looks delicate as usual, and the owner gave me a discount and is coming to the play...There are days when I love Lafayette. Or the South. Only here are people this friendly.

I came home to discover the plumber (the cool one who liked my set pieces) working in the laundry room. He smiled big and waved. I think he's the one who makes Pakki nervous (Pakki wants to spend time in the bath tub again...)

This morning I managed to get through the defense and then I met with Dan and went to KRVS to record the opening sentence of the play. Dan's voice was so feeble even in the recording studio that Judith had to turn on the volume almost to the max. No wonder I can't hear that last monologue in the play, the one Dan says after tiring himself out...Afterwards, I told Dan a lot of things: how I think he is extraordinary (but has no stamina); how I believe that it's not physical feebleness but all that restraint he practices; how, if I had the means and the circumstances were different, I would do terrible things to him on the stage to get rid of his inhibitions, to make him come out of his shell. "Terrible things like what?" He asked concerned. I told him about the great theatre experiments, about theatre companies like WOW who stripped the actors naked in front of the audience and left them there, vulnerable, to deal with their bodies and their souls. I think Dan was disturbed. I keep wanting to reassure him and all I manage to do is scare him. (Like I did with my student yesterday)...

At KRVS I picked up Karl's soundboard. I'm bringing our speakers too and trying a new sound format. I need to resolve sound once and for all. I need one good sound rehearsal...and it hasn't happened yet.

But something...some heaviness has lifted off my soul and I think things will come together now. They have to. I need them to. All this work cannot go to waste.

Hair appointment (trivial but necessary) in an hour, then new sound setup at 5:30 and rehearsal at 6. On the other side of insecurity there's hope.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Age of Experience

I think I may be too old for this. I've been writing and directing plays for 25 years. Every year, the two weeks before the production are the most brutal -- lack of sleep, worry, doubt, the need for perfection. Every year I've done pretty well. I've maintained the appearance of sanity, I've managed to teach my classes and have polite conversations with people in elevators. This year everything seems a little more difficult. Mopping the stage before every rehearsal has become less of an affectionate, comforting activity. My back hurts and I have blisters on my hands (painting the stage was not a picnic either...) Finding enthusiasm for my classes requires more effort. Responding with a smile to those who, in an attempt at support, wish me fractures of all sorts ("Break a leg! Break something!") takes a lot out of me.

Responding normally even to requests that have nothing to do with the play has become problematic. Let me give you an example: a student came to talk to me after class, wanting to make sure she wasn't failing. She doesn't talk much in class, but her writing is decent and her presentation was very good, so I found her worry unfounded and I wanted to assure her that there's no chance she might fail. I smiled and said, "That's ridiculous. Your presentation was very good and on those rare occasions when you speak in class, you always have something insightful to say." As I was finishing this carefully constructed (and pedagogically sound) sentence, the student almost burst into tears and ran away. I kept repeating, "You're doing well enough, don't worry," and she kept walking away, devastated. I think it was my face. I was too tired to compose the appropriately mothering smile, and I think the pathetic attempt at a smile that I managed looked like a rictus or -- from the student's point of view -- a mockery of her emotion. I don't do well with people bursting with sentiment ("That's enough sentiment for one day, Margaret!") so this kind of emotional fluidity baffes me. I said "There's no need to worry." I said, "Talk a little more in class and by the end of the semester you can get all your points for class participation." Which of these statements was traumatic?? Cleary, it was my face. I'm too tired to mother anybody over 21. Grow up. Do your work. Stop calling me "Ms."

My schedule tomorrow: wake up (early), reread one 30 page critical intro and 4 plays for the MA defense scheduled at 10 o'clock; go to said defense and have intelligent, meaningful things to say; run from defense directly to KRVS studio to record Dan's opening sentence (Don't screw up, Dan. There's no time for mistakes of any kind.) The recording is scheduled at 11:30. Finish superb recording (Are you reading this, Dan? I said "superb"), put it on a disc (so it can be transferred to the soundtrack), meet the rest of the cast at 1pm and go shopping for white clothes (scrubs, mostly). Finish exhilarating shopping experience and run to hair salon to "get my hair did" (student lingo). No, it's not vanity. I don't have to be pretty before the show, I'm not on the stage, but my hair is getting too long and it's interfering with my daily mopping...Be done with salon experience by 5:30 (my hair is styled by a man named Eve...), run back to Fletcher and start rehearsing at 6 pm. Be done by 9. End of "free day" (as in the day I don't teach).

Why am I complaining since everything is my fault? Well, I'd like to have alternatives. I'd like to have choices. I'd like to be the poet who needs just some time alone, or not even that -- perhaps just a few hours in a crowded cafe to write the lines of his next masterpiece. I'd even like to be the fiction writer who, similarly, needs only work space and some peace to write a story. Theatre is a different beast altogether. There's this nagging idea in your head, this image which refuses to come to life until an entire cast and crew are assembled. You depend on other people completely. Everything is three-dimensional. Plus, you have the advantage of failing (if you are going to fail) before a full house, not in the privacy of your own bed chamber...Yeah. I wish there were alternatives, but it's not like I have a choice. I only write fiction when my life does not allow me to even think about putting 4 months of work into a production.

I think that's why I get so angry when I see bad theatre, when I see the prostitution of the stage. On paper (and, as our resumes demonstrate, we are constantly judged by how we look "on paper"), both productions have the same value: the one that required half a year of work, and the one put together in a hurry by people interested in theatre because it's less work than fiction (to put it more precisely: the word "collaborative" -- and theatre is a collaborative business -- allows you to blame the others if the work tanks). On paper, though, there's no difference. But I guess poets and fiction writers feel the same. There are always those who write and those who merely trumpet their own achievements.

But "England expects every woman to do her duty," (see how useful those two quotes are?) and I have to move forward and worry about lights and sound now. Sound, because something seems to go wrong during every rehearsal and I need some consistency now. Lights, because we basically have half of the instruments we used in the previous productions. I don't want an ugly play. I'm kind of over poor theatre.

I keep telling everybody (including myself) that these plays are my research. This is partially true. I have to constantly try new things on the stage so I can teach playwriting students something. But there's also another reason for these plays: they are my soul. With every one, a little part of the world that exists and evolves in my head comes to life. It's a familiar universe where I am completely at home, like the curator of a rather strange museum...and once a year, without charging admission, I let people in. Some think this is a temporary distraction. Some see it as art, a moment of temporary exile. Few know that the real exile begins when the lights fade over the last play.

A moment of nostalgia here...Careful, Margaret.

Rehearsal in one hour. Clear head. Coffee. Stage dust.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Love for Detail

What bothers me most when I go to the theatre (professional theatre -- say, The Steppenwolf, or some small off-Broadway company, or some decent repertory theatre) is the lack of attention to detail. Music begins and ends abruptly (no finesse in transitions, and no music ever used with dialogue, only before and after) and the actors' movements are kind of " murky." I know that "murky" doesn't really communicate what I mean, but I like using it in rehearsal: "This scene is murky" or "That transition is murky...Needs work."  A murky scene is a scene put together in a hurry: the blocking is sketchy, actors kind of know what they're doing but not really, things are not crisp. I like crisp. I like starting with a general idea and then adding focus -- what I call precision work -- with every rehearsal, until the scene looks effortless. That's the idea: to work so long on a scene, on the transition to the next scene, on mood, rhythm and choreography that, at the end, the scene looks completely effortless. No missed beats, no false tones. The problem with such success is that, at the end of the play, people think something this smooth must come naturally and must have taken little time to rehearse.

Today was all about detail work. In about 4 days, we need to look effortless. I woke up determined to fix all the moments in the play that still bothered me: some of Chess' lines, Larry's last monologue, Gabe hesitation at the end and -- the biggest one of all -- the bride falling out of the Zeppelin. Here's the thing: you can't have a bride fall out of a Zeppelin effectively if you have no Zeppelin. So, the first order of things: make giant Zeppelin contraption. One of the walk-in closets in my house is full of costumes and props from all my previous productions. Whenever I need ideas I "take a walk" in that closet (that's the purpose of the "walk in," isn't it? I always find what I'm looking for). The "stroll" paid off. I found a wire underskirt Susan made for our production of Dorian Gray and I added to it, elongating it to look like a Zeppelin carcass. Then I glued on blue tissue paper and...voila! I had my flying machine. I called Susan and shared my victory. Then, together, we went to Party City and bought rose petals (for the weeding party to throw into the air -- I like how the silk petals descend slowly -- that's going to look great with the lights). We also bought party hats and a dandy white hat for Seth who plays the groom.

Once I got to Fletcher, I started looking around for something to suggest the gondola, the Zeppelin's cabin from which the bride falls shouting "Good bye, Steve. It wasn't meant to beeeeeeee...." A simple, high back chair solved the problem. So now the scene that pained me most in the play, is totally awesome. Mikey managed to run in slow motion (my dream on the stage -- to have people run in slow motion and/or fly. Mikey accomplished one of the two...), Seth rocked the hat and held the Zeppelin above his head convincingly, Ellie (the bride) fell out of the flying machine, according to my direction, "in an interesting manner."

Once the Zeppelin scene was choreographed, everything else seemed easy. I took care of two transitions that were taking too long, I corrected tiny details (that made a world of difference) in the Paris/Louvre scene, I listened to Dan read that last monologue like he was in my head, following every inflection and every pause...Dan looks great. What I mean is that he looks so tortured naturally -- he has that kind of face, that vulnerable, my soul-is-in-your-hands kind of look that probably drives women crazy because they think they can cure his sadness -- that Larry's character presents no problems for him. He sits in the radio station and reads passages from his favorite books (Larry's books), and weeps and talks politics and affection, and reads poems and shouts and makes his own rules. He's great. And because I know that Dan can be great all the time playing Larry, I often drive him crazy, so that he'll work harder during the scenes in which he's merely very good.

Conni is incredibly graceful. I can't emphasize enough the importance of working with actors who move well or, in Conni's case, with natural grace. Just watching her cross the stage is delightful, to say nothing of the dance interludes or the caress -- the affectionate scenes. Ellie is excellent in the scenes with Dan and kind of flat in the scenes with Seth. We still have to find a tone for her in those scenes. She doesn't yet know how to play convincingly a character who hesitates between so many possible adventures...

Mike is awesome all the time. This part was made for him. Seth is finally beginning to have some fun with his character. I doubt he'll ever let go completely, but, at this point, I'll take what I can get -- a more relaxed posture, a smile, genuine laughter.

So here I am, at 11pm, exhausted but accomplished. I really wish I didn't have to teach tomorrow, but there's nothing I can do about that or about the MA defense I have on Wednesday (an event I completely forgot about as I scheduled a recording of Dan's opening lines at the KRVS studio...I remembered it just in time not to make a fool of myself, but this just shows you where my mind is.)

I need sleep and I need a glass of cognac (not in that particular order) and I need more hours in the day and longer nights. I'll see what I can do about all these reasonable demands tomorrow...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Realism and Other Strange Events

Realism is my enemy. Every time I have doubts about this play, it's not about the characters or their lines, it's not even about the point which is delivered, I think, pretty clearly at the end. No: all my doubts exist because of the  stench of realism that emanates from this production, necessary for the story to make sense, but absolutely foreign to my internal landscape.

My stories and my plays exist somewhere at the intersection of various fantastical worlds. Not fantastic. Fantastical. The premise might be realistic, but the story evolves beyond the limits imposed by reality. When I chose to use Caryl Chessman and not just some random guy in prison who's paid to write his autobiography, I found myself assaulted by realistic elements: Chessman's narrative, his connection to Lapierre, his death, its aftermath and so on and so on. When I decided that the characters were to be connected not only by their relationship to Chessman and Habitat Radio, but by their location as well (they all live in the same apartment building), a certain physical reality emerged, and I've been fighting it since the moment I noticed it. And so the characters' minimalist furniture (a table, a chair) is all white and their "walls" are drawn in chalk on the black surface of the stage, and doors and windows are completely imaginary and distances (between the radio station, San Quentin, and the apart building) impossible. And, yes, there is a space marked "Fantasy" in the play where props are nonexistent and geography irrelevant (a room in the Louvre materializes next to Gabe's "wall," the bride from Larry's fairytale falls out of the Zeppelin, beauty pageants and scenes from a TV vampire show occupy the same space), but the problem -- my problem -- remains the same: the transitions between perfectly possible conversations and the strange stuff that takes place in the fantasy space seem forced. Usually, by now, the internal mechanisms of a particular production -- I'm talking mostly about choreography and rhythm -- would reveal themselves to me rather effortlessly. In this production, there's still a lot of work to be done: in the "realistic" moments characters do too much (do we really agitate ourselves constantly in our homes?) and in the fantastic scenes they don't do enough. Tomorrow I'm redoing the entire "bride falling out of the Zeppelin" scene. I've kept tweaking it and I've been trying to like it, but I don't. So it needs to change. I also need to bring some order in Dominique's actions (in her house) and in the relationship between Dominique and Chess.

There's also a moment before an Edith Piaf song that doesn't work: Larry is crushed that Gabe hangs up on him (GABE: Stop listening in on my conversations. You don't make me happy), but then relaxes peacefully as everyone else weeps mercilessly because of that song. I think this would be the moment he works out like a maniac, not later in the play.

I've been having trouble with Dan's voice. He seems to tire out by the end of the play and that very important monologue at the end sounds incredibly flat. Exhausted. Irrelevant. I fixed some of that today (mostly by insulting Dan).
Me:What's the point of all those workouts you do if you can't last more than 20 minutes? You have the stamina of a 5 year old.
Ellie: Actually 5 year olds have a lot of stamina...
I find that the people I work with for the first time are always surprised by my lack of kindness (kindness, finesse, tact). What annoys me is that I never make a secret out of it when I tell people what's involved in the staging of a play. I always say, "It's a lot of work, and the work will almost kill you, and unlike American directors (Darling, that was very very good. Now let's do it again completely differently), I don't have time for niceties. If a scene sucks, then it sucks and it needs work. If it's great, it's great, and I'll tell you that."

And they smile and say, yes, yes, they've always wanted to do that -- spend their weekends in rehearsals with me crushing their souls...And never believe it's really that bad, until we reach this stage, and things need to acquire a definitive shape, and a certain  rhythm needs to develop, and I'm running out of time. What surprises me even more is that once the play is performed and time passes, the majority of the people involved demand to do it all over again (another production, another four months out of their lives, more soul crushing). Masochism is alive and well, apparently, but I think there's something else too. This need for perfection, for precision, yields good work. Our plays don't look sloppy or improvised. That's mostly because behind every 2-3 minute scene there are hours and hours of rehearsal. Perhaps this is the advantage of the experimental production: precision work takes the place of realism.

Susan took some photos today. The stage looks good, the spaces the characters inhabit seem a little less chaotic. But there is much work to be done and those transitions need to be resolved. Realism demands these types of resolutions...The only thing I'm happy with at this moment is the poster. There are two versions of it, the one attached to the Happiness Machine event on facebook and the one attached here.

The poster captures the play perfectly, this mixture of lala land and misery. Now all I need to do is repair the damage caused by realism, transpose onto the stage the possibility of this strange juxtaposition...and make it beautiful.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Anger Management

Today was a 12 hour day. At 8am I entered the rehearsal space with Susan, determined to transform everything: floor, props, the air of mild desolation hanging about the place...The Auditorium where I usually stage my plays, reminds me of an old Italian woman. Ok, that makes no sense whatsoever, but let me explain. Think of Italian neo-realist movies where actors are, in fact, amateurs chosen for certain characteristics --  a particular walk, a facial expression, a certain tone of voice, etc. From time to time, the main characters in these movies are women whose faces spell desolation. Once beautiful women, now devastated by life. Eyes burning with unconfessed desires, disappointment carved deep into the lines around their mouths, a certain harshness, a bitterness easy to miss at a first glance, an overall tristesse (The French have a way with words...) Usually, all these women need to be restored to their original splendor is a bit of affection...Now you see the parallel? That's what the stage here needs in order to show its true potential: a love affair. That's where Susan and I come in. Armed with one gallon of flat black paint (for the floor), one gallon of flat white "Pot O' Cream" paint (for the chairs and props), white spray paint for one brown (ugly!) plastic table, and red spray paint for Dominique's bracelet, we conquered the space. Splendor was restored. We worked nonstop for 9 hours. At the end, the world of Habitat Radio emerged -- tentative, new, exciting.

At 20 minutes to 5 we were done. At 15 minutes to 5 I realized that I had spent the whole day thinking it was Sunday, thinking I had weathered the time change successfully. At 10 to 5 Susan and I started paying each other compliments. "You are so amazing..." "No, it's you. Your paintings make the set." "I am so in love with our work." "I know, isn't it amazing?" "Yeah, I'd date me." And so on and so on. At 5 we were ready for the cast to arrive and be completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the set. They were, but showed restraint. Susan and I reminded them that we had been working for 9 hours. Several times. In the end, they showed a little bit of appreciation...

Rehearsal moved slowly. I tried to solve all the problems in the second half of the play. Sound remains a problem. I feel for Matthew (our sound guy), new to the process and to the space, trying to constantly figure out this old equipment...At this point I don't know if it's Dan's voice that fades out during the final (and most important monologue) or if it's the mic's fault. Inexplicably, a speaker  seems to short from time to time. Perhaps I need to do what I've done before -- borrow a soundboard from our trusted radio station (KRVS and its wonderful sound guy, Karl), grab Jerry's speakers and take Matthew out of the sound booth ( this setup requires the sound guy to sit in the front row).  It's worth a try.

The plan was to rehearse without Seth until 7 and with Seth afterwards. At 7:10 the stage manager gets a text message: Seth is stuck in traffic. He can be there in 90 minutes or meet us in the morning. All the frustration of the previous day comes back, mixed with a new kind of anger. That's the thing about doing a play: by the end of the rehearsal process you know everything about everybody -- weaknesses, strengths, egos. Tonight the entire collective suffered because one person's plans could not (would not) be changed. The rehearsal process suffered as all those present felt a little cheated (they too could have had lives on a Saturday night...)

I had trouble directing scenes after that. I could not concentrate -- the frustration got the best of me. We wrapped up the scene and went home. I have to get over this, and fast. My frustration cannot become more important than the play. I'll try to recuperate some of the wasted time tomorrow. Perhaps the time change is symbolic. It is time for a change.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Right to Speak Deliriously

I really have no time for this -- writing, I mean, but it has to be done, I have to talk about the things on my mind while they're relevant, while they can still help shape the play.

This is a crucial time, when all the important decisions have to be made, when students (my students) need to be more understanding than ever (they never are), when friends need to be constantly available (despite having lives and troubles of their own), when cast members need to have the patience of saints (they often do).

This is the end of an era and the beginning of a celebration. Ten years here, in Louisiana, twenty years in this country, having survived absurdity and malice (I'm talking about my country now), having made it through the process of learning completely new things, a new way of life, a language other than my own, new rules, new social dynamics, new freedoms. I've made it, and, in the process, I came to love it here. This is where I can speak my mind (most of the time...), this is where I do plays without fear of repercussions. I remember the guerrilla theatre days in Romania, the huge risks we took, our youthful stupidity...

Nostalgia is a disease. Stay away from it. The cure? Start painting giant tree branches in the back yard, as I did this morning under the suspicious looks of the neighbors. I've been storing the branches for months in the shed, kept them in large, black trash bags. Today, when I finally took them out, an entire reptilian colony emerged. I screamed, jumped back, took the branches out of the bag, painted them, opened another bag, screamed, jumped back...The process repeated itself several times until I was done. More painting. More neighborly looks. The plumber got it, though. When he came to look at the outside pipes, he glanced at the giant tree-woman. "Art show?" he asked. "Play, " I said. "Part of the set." "Nice," he said, and went back to banging on the pipes. We understood each other. I liked that.

Now I'm waiting for Mike to go shopping for a camera I can paint white. All the props are stored in the kitchen -- fabrics, tables, chairs, spray paint cans, tools, medicine bottles, chess set, intertitles. Things are coming together. I'm slightly concerned about my dog who, some days, becomes restless and hides in the bath tub. Usually it has something to do with changes in the temperature or storms, but today the weather is fine, so I don't know why he behaves as if he were in need of a bomb shelter. Please don't get sick, Pakki. I couldn't deal with you and the play at the same time.

I'm experiencing a slight delirium. This is how it manifests itself: the world around me is in soft focus, and only things related to the production are in sharp focus. I teach automatically (not wasting people's time, I hope, but in a rather detached manner -- I can't help that). My relationships with the people around me become a bit superficial -- I smile, I comment (on the weather), I say hello, but nothing registers because I think of all the things that need to be done, I think of the moment when the lights go up and the space changes around me and this story I've been trying to tell all this time plays itself out. I have earned the right to speak deliriously. Barthes said that, and I've been in love with Monsieur Barthes ever since I read his pseudo-memoir, ever since I read his most intimate thoughts on the subject of boredom and sensuality...

I love my delirium. Surprisingly, it helps me think. And then, if all goes well, I emerge from this ordeal (the way Victorian heroines emerge at the end of a long sickness), a little lighter perhaps, a little happier, amazed to be surrounded by extraordinary friends.

Delirium Part II

And in just a few hours everything changes. Seth calls, and during an otherwise pleasant conversation announces that he had no idea there was a rehearsal tomorrow. He's out of town.

I've never been this close to wanting to hurt someone physically. These are the moments when I know that these productions mean so much only to me, that for everyone else they are an occasion to do some interesting work, but they're not these necessary, life and death events. For me they are. How can one conceive of having the weekend off 16 days before a production?? In what demented parallel world would we not meet, particularly since our first rehearsal on the stage looked so tragic? I am so angry I don't know what to say. I need to breathe. I need to reschedule. Now, an entire company needs to adjust their schedule for one person. Since August, I've been saying every week: "From November 5th on, you have no life for two weeks." How did that translate into a weekend off?

I talk to Dan. He tells me he's available, but he wasn't sure we're rehearsing. For a moment, I feel like I''m inhabiting an absurd, malicious other world. Where were these people  when I announced the schedule: Nov. 5 through Nov. 20th daily rehearsals? I check with everyone else. They all know what's going on. Ellie has taken time off work to be available all Saturday.

So now I have to sacrifice morning and early afternoon. Meet with people at 5, rehearse two hours without Seth, and at 7, when he can finally be there, begin the rehearsal. A day wasted. Every year when I look back at these productions I love so much, I wonder if they're worth the heartache, the neurosis of the final weeks, the confirmation that they mean so much only to me. And every year, the answer is no. No, they're not worth all this misery. But then time passes and I forget how much these weeks drain me. And I do another play. Perhaps this blog will help me remember. Perhaps all I need to do, when I feel like I have to stage another production, is reread this entry...And yet, I know they all do care. Otherwise, why would they subject themselves to all this work? This is just one of those miserable days. Let's hope it goes away and doesn't clone itself.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Practical matters

There are two episodes that stand out in my mind when I think about the weeks preceding a production: one is the Walmart incident when, oblivious to my surroundings, I shouted at Steven (the artist/set designer I worked with until 2003), "Guns, Steven, we need guns!" The second is something similar to a ritual that happens every time before a play, something I dread but find oddly comforting: mopping the stage, getting rid of months of dirt and dust, then adding a thin layer of "Mop And Glo." Yes: glo not glow. It's a marketing thing. Mop and Glo is my best friend: it makes even the ugliest surface beautiful, it seals and protects, it gives the illusion of class...Ok. I know this sounds completely idiotic, but when the spectacle is more important than the text -- when the spectacle is the text -- a classy floor makes all the difference. In my perfect world -- the world in which an obscenely large inheritance allows me to quit my job and buy a theatre building -- the floors are always amazing: translucent black marble, rare wide hardwood planks, black and white tile...Anyway. The mopping is reassuring. Once I mop the floor before each rehearsal, I know there's no turning back. The show has been announced, the press release is ready, the interview is scheduled, invitations have been sent. I think about this because there's always a moment before each show when I want to cancel it, to take it back, to forget about it. It's too scary to think about -- my words in the mouths of these people, the images in my head now live on the stage, the music I've been collecting finally in its place, in the body of the text.

I collect songs. I'll hear a melody, a song on a soundtrack, anything, and although I don't know where, in the play, it belongs (at the moment I hear the song the play doesn't exist yet), I know it belongs there. So I put it on a disc and wait. Months later, the play takes shape and then these songs I've been gathering for a long time finally make sense.

The Walmart episode with Steven...I often wonder if it happened that way, if it happened at all. I remember it distinctly, but that doesn't mean anything. Some years ago, a theatre critic was talking about "a theatre of the first person," an intimate dramatic affair during which the actor brings to the stage episodes from his real life: the suicide of a friend or family member, home movies, photographs, recordings. He goes through all these memories that are now narrated for the benefit of the audience and, in doing so, he recreates some of them differently. Perhaps, reshaped, this memory looks better now than it did in reality...What is the point? I don't know: therapy, probably, because theatre is both an extremely therapeutic and an incredibly neurotic process. It's that one love affair you can't get rid of. So yes: I know we were looking for guns and I know we were in Walmart. Perhaps I did shout in Steven's direction. Perhaps I remember I did because I miss him so.

But whenever I get this sentimental, I remember a line from a novel I read in my youth. I don't remember the book (I was a teenager when I read it), but I do remember the line: "That's enough sentiment for one day, Margaret!" Must have been a British novel: stiff upper lip and all that. I also remember "England expects every woman to do her duty." That's what happens when I do a play: daily rations of sentiment and lots of expectations.

Susan picked me up from school today and we went shopping: mopping supplies, white paint, black paint, white props. The Home Depot people look so much friendlier in commercials...
After Susan left I started painting everything I could lay my hands on: tables, chairs, the intertitles we use in the play (my homage to silent film). Tomorrow I have to somehow get mics for the stage (both lapel mics and regular ones); I have to transport, with the help of the stage manager, the giant tree-woman silhouette to Fletcher (the theatre space in the Art and Architecture building), I have to make sure we have all the 63 props I swore I'd do without in this production. Then, somewhere between comfort and uncertainty, the rehearsal can begin.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Cast

7:07 am, in my office. I've been here since 5:40, catching up on work, thinking about the play. Will 20 rehearsals be enough for the amount of precision work ahead of us? Possibly.

At the end of this production, my theatre company dissolves. I don't mean it won't exist anymore (I have to believe that more people interested in theatre will join the program)...What I mean is that all the people I've worked with for years are leaving -- finishing degrees, moving far away. Leaving.

So: the cast.

Dan as Larry Tarkowsky, the radio station host. At some point, Larry goes fishing (in the fantasy space, naturally -- Larry only travels in his mind). I told Dan I wanted something resembling "the old man and the sea," that kind of an encounter. I wasn't disappointed. When it comes to isolation, to communicable solitude (if that makes sense), a loneliness so palpable it becomes contagious, like a disease, there's no one better than Dan. I said, "go under the fantasy tree, eat a sandwich, think, start fishing, struggle with a giant fish, lose the battle." I've never seen a more tragic battle. And yet it made us all smile, because there's something in Dan's movements reminiscent of the good old days of cinema -- Keaton, Chaplin, the little tramp. Imagine the little tramp losing a battle with a giant fish. Now imagine the little tramp as Magritte's little man whose face is obscured by a huge red apple, standing perfectly still inside his gilded frame. In the Parisian scene (Conni and Seth's visit to the Louvre), Dan plays the little man, correct, anonymous, neat -- Bartleby-ish. Dan as the little tramp, Magritte's everyman, Bartleby. Larry Tarkowsky is all of them and nobody in particular. A solitary man. A freak.

Conni walked into my office in the Spring of 2003 and said, "I've seen your plays and they're beautiful. I haven't seen anything like that before. I want to be in your next production."
It was a matter of instinct that I said yes. It's always a matter of instinct, which is why I never audition people for my plays. What's the point of the audition? To spot talent in the most artificial of circumstances? Ok, so you spot talent. And then rehearsals begin and you realize you haven't the faintest -- you've no idea if you can trust any of the people you've chosen. I'd take a courageous, reliable amateur any day over a talented (professional) jerk. So I don't audition. I'll teach a class, and I'll notice something: body language, or a certain way of speaking, of articulating words, a certain sense of humor, etc, etc, etc. At the end of the semester, when I know I can trust the person I've noticed all those things about, I'll ask: "Do you want to be in a play? It's more work than you can imagine. It will almost kill you and, during rehearsals, I've been known to be unkind. But at the end, the work will be good and the play will be beautiful. What do you say?" For the most part, they say yes. I've never regretted my decisions. And now, all these amazing people, these people I've come to trust completely, are leaving.
Conni plays Dominique Lapierre, actor and freelance journalist, interested in the life of Caryl Chessman, the red light bandit on death row at San Quentin. Dominique Lapierre did exist and he (yes, the real one was a man) was indeed interested in Chessman. I've read his interview and I think he too believed Chessman to be innocent.

Seth is Chessman. The character is slightly problematic. On the one hand, he's the guy whose death triggered the whole death penalty controversy. Norman Mailer and Robert Frost, various political personalities and about three million other people petitioned on his behalf. Chessman maintained his innocence until the end. On the other hand, for my own purposes in the play, Chessman has to be sleek and witty. He is, after all, offered a book deal. He does get to write his autobiography and he is good -- persuasive, smooth, articulate. I show his death at the end, but his death coincides with Larry's redemption, with his leaving the radio station in search search of life, I suppose, so I imagine part of the tragic impact will be lost on people. I'm still negotiating the end. Plus the characters are so stylized that I wonder if Chessman's execution will have any impact at all...I don't know. I don't know yet. I'm not killing Chessman to make a political point or debate the death penalty. I'm eliminating him as one would an obstacle.

Seth is still struggling with his space (the seating is not too comfortable, the angle is a bit off) and with the first sentence of the play, when he announces, in blackout, the existence of Habitat Radio. It's a disembodied voice that has to sound a bit fantastical, "At first there is nothing," not quite biblical, but in a way creating a world. At first there is nothing but the radio station, then, slowly, spaces are traced around it, exist because of it, are justified by its existence. I'm not sure Seth understands the importance of that first sentence. A play's beginning sets the tone for the entire thing. The end image stays with people, long after the curtain falls.
This is Seth's second production and he's still reluctant to let go completely. He is still in control of every gesture, every inflection -- and when I say control I mean restraint, which is not always a good thing on the stage. It's as if he has an image to maintain, and, even as a character, a touch of the ridiculous or a moment of abandon might spoil that image, might dent his masculinity...I have to work on that: convincing Seth to let go. It is, after all, his last play.

Mike plays Jean LaLiberte, vegan and revolutionary (also, possibly contagious), a character plagued by constant fears. Jean believes he has cancer of everything. He thinks he's infected with a deadly virus, he has sinus and stomach problems, insomnia and a touch of paranoia. The character is exaggerated and cartoonish, but underneath there is the idea of danger. He claims to have sponsored revolutions. From time to time, he takes out an entire country (he crosses it out on the map that covers the floor of his apartment) and has complete  access to Chessman although he's not on his visitors' list. Jean LaLiberte is a strange combination of everything I fear (death, disease), everything I despise (personal vanities disguised as righteous political statements), everything I question (history, hypocrisy, hysteria).

Ellie plays Gabe, an uncertain character. Not ambiguous, but unsure. People in plays are so sure all the time, about the outcome of their actions, about their convictions, their rights. I'm generalizing, of course, but even the tortured, nowadays, seem to have a plan (on the stage, at least). I wanted a character that can move between all the other characters, not unnoticed but inconsequential. A normal human being. One of us. She works for Chessman, but when it comes to affection, Chessman prefers Dominique. She's Jean's neighbor, but he cannot comfort her when she knocks on his door. She talks to Larry, tries to establish a relationship, to begin an adventure, but that's where the happy end doesn't work. She has to fail or Larry has to fail -- either way, they don't walk into the sunset at the end. Gabe is also my connection to the audience. At the beginning of the play, she is the one who looks directly at the audience after setting up her space. It's a trick I've learned from the Old Masters -- the group portraits where one of the characters looks "out," towards the space the viewer will eventually occupy. It's an invitation, that look, a dare. This is the make-believe space where anything can happen. Do come in...
At the end of the play Gabe has to do the same thing, look at the audience, unsure of the space she's just left behind (Chessman's execution scene), or the space she's occupying at that moment (the fantasy space where she meets Larry). No happy end, no embrace. Between love and death, Gabe hesitates and the lights should fade on that hesitation. Not because I don't know what to do with the character, but because, in my mind at least, this is a more honest ending. This is realism, this ambiguity, this uncertainty, the empty space that surrounds us everywhere we go.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Whenever I feel that time is "out of joint" I think of The Glass Bead Game -- Hesse's book about an intellectual elite, about a university of the future whose students have a need to find out more about the world, about themselves, about the workings of the universe. An ideal (idealized?) world where professors have something to profess and everyone -- both disciples and masters -- have time to think. I miss the days when time was patient. I long for a moment of respiro -- not a holiday, a celebration, a break, but real time to think, to figure out what it is I have to say, to stage plays not just to add a line on my CV (any crappy production will do that), but to actually invent something -- a new gesture of affection, a way to show an overwhelming sadness, a fracture in one's soul. I was talking about this in class today -- the need for a new language in theatre -- and as I spoke I thought of all the terrible plays out there, all that wasted energy, all that work going nowhere. There should be a tax -- a tax, a test, a fee, a punishment -- something that would prevent the prostitution of the stage. There should be a law...

I know I need a break when I think about these things as I lecture (let's call them "parallel thoughts"), when I am capable of talking about one thing while thinking about another -- panic education, panic everything. Four hours of sleep, ten minutes for a lecture, (panic about the lack of mics on the stage), one hour for independent study (panic about KRVS interview -- totally unprepared), one hour seminar (panic about the end of The Happiness Machine, that forced happy ending, as if life were ever so simple, so accommodating, so kind...)

Dan came to talk to me after class and I told him about the new ending. "I have to nix the happy end, Dan. It just doesn't make sense." "That's harsh, Dayana..." Dan identifies with Larry (of Habitat Radio) a little too much. For the play, that's a good thing. I'll worry about Dan's soul later...

In the meantime, I'm waiting. I need four lapel mics (that I can't afford to rent ); I need a better ending; I need to be on the stage (but Fletcher is not available until Friday); I need to change what Conni's doing in the second half of the play; I need to change the wedding scene (a bride who falls out of a Zeppelin shouting in the direction of the groom: "Steeeve...It wasn't meant to beeeeeee...") I need to think. I need time. I need time to think.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Happiness Machine

I've decided to write about the last weeks of rehearsals before our show on November 20th. In my mind, at least, I've been writing this blog for ten years, ever since The Milena Theatre Group came into existence. Since then, we've done fourteen original productions, neither text plays, nor art installations exactly, but a combination of the two with an emphasis on the things that interest me most: physical theatre, exquisite choreography, the human silhouette and its relationship to the space that surrounds it and, ultimately, the stage as a space of endless possibilities.

It is difficult for me to begin thinking about a play without having something new to say. I don't mean only a new story, but the visual language we employ in every production as well. Strangely enough, the people I admire most -- writers, artists, directors -- all repeat themselves (Auster, Hesse, Wilson, Brook). So here's the contradiction: while I admire them intensely for everything they've done, I find repetition, in my productions at least, inexcusable. A sign of failure or fatigue. When I sense that, I take a break. I don't do plays for a while. I'm talking about repetition because it's on my mind, because in the play I'm working on now, a few repetitions are necessary. More about this later.

I started working on "The Happiness Machine" after my father died last October. First, it was just an image: a man, his self-imposed exile, a radio station with a slightly fantastical history. A man in a radio station broadcasting nonstop...His past concerns me less than his present. Whatever makes him live the way he does (a traumatic event, I imagine), does not interest me. I'm interested in the people who come to depend on his program, who listen to everything he has to say.

I needed a name for the station and I came up with "Habitat," (Habitat Radio) because that's the title of the story I wrote about my father when grief counseling proved completely useless...Perhaps I'm digressing. Perhaps the connections are only clear in my mind. So let me try to go through the sequence of events again. My father's death after a long, long illness. His progressive isolation from the world of the healthy. His utter solitude, his despair (I remember the day he asked for a gun, convinced that another day in the hospital would drive him mad. I remember the doctors telling us he was suffering from dementia. I remember thinking how obvious it was that they were incapable of recognizing despair, I remember the anger that kept me going).

Several months after my father's death I wrote "Habitat," the story of a man who cheats death by becoming miraculous, by turning his defeated body into a landscape, a refuge for other exiles. Then, inexplicably, I started making flying machines: a hot air balloon, a Zeppelin, a tiny plane and a large, translucent ship -- all contraptions made of wire, tissue and fabric. I painted gigantic butterflies that consumed other butterflies, I enclosed home-made spiders inside glass-walled terrariums. A landscape (slightly familiar) was beginning to emerge. My friend, artist Susan David, who has been my set designer for seven years now, suggested an art exhibit, a show that would contain all these bits and pieces -- images from our future play. I already had the main character in mind - the lonely man, trapped inside the radio station, broadcasting into the night. I imagined him reading from his favorite books, crying after reciting his favorite poems, screaming in pain or anger, laughing at his own jokes, terrifying little children with his stories. "This is Habitat Radio and your host, Larry Tarkowsky, bringing you happiness 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I weep, so you don't have to." The play was taking shape. I didn't exactly know what it was about (plot), but I knew it had to contain my father's loneliness, his great despair, his absurd need for happiness. The Happiness Machine.

Susan painted three giant canvases -- the face of the main character showing these extreme emotional states. Our art show opened in September. We called it "Habitat," of course, and told people it was some sort of a "preface" to the play. I had already started rehearsals in August...So here we are now, three weeks before the opening night. The cast: excited, exhausted, chatty, me - full of doubt and doom. Saturday was our first day on the stage. When I saw the state of the floor, the missing spotlights, the ugly tables and chairs, the dusty curtains, I almost cried. We spent the first thirty minutes or so sweeping and peeling tape off the floor (courtesy of the theatre department, who did a play there and left in a hurry)...The first rehearsal on the stage with a new sound guy (unusual for me as I tend to work with the same crew for years) felt endless. Nothing is perfected. Movements are hesitant. The choreography needs a lot of work. I find myself unable to communicate exactly what I want because this play has an element of realism I can't avoid (my father, the isolation, the despair), something I cannot stylize, and realism depresses me, upsets me, paralyzes me. I have nothing to say about it and it communicates nothing to me. And yet, for this production at least, a touch of realism is necessary. Blending that with the fantastical world my plays usually reveal, is a problem.

After the rehearsal I spent time with Susan trying to find "a cure for the ugly." The ugly stage, the ugly floor, the ugly lights, the ugly furniture. Conceptually, the space almost resembles "Rear Window": there are several apartments we can see simultaneously, containing all the people who listen to Habitat Radio. Some sort of furniture is necessary, but there's something so banal, so "deadly" (see Brook's Deadly Theatre) about stage furniture, that I needed to make a drastic change. Naturally, the change is a departure from realism. To cure the ugly, Susan and I decided that all the furniture needs to be white. And all the props. And the costumes. White tables, white chairs, white gun, white pill boxes - an aseptic asylum-like world containing "the normal people." Then, there's Larry, and Habitat Radio (black, gray). My ships, Zeppelin, air balloon and plane float somewhere above the characters, like a promise. Caryl Chessman's Death Row cell has black and white elements (black and white stripes on the bed, a black and white chess set). I have to paint the floor as well because some genius painted it black without primer ( this was a beautiful, hardwood floor) and now all the peeled tape, and months of rehearsals, and scratches, are visible. I think of the work to come - the precision work that gives a play its rhythm and the physical work needed to transform an ugly space into something fantastical -- and I wonder why I do this to myself every year. This play (this year) marks our ten year anniversary. I created The Milena Theatre Group ten years ago. It feels like a lifetime. It feels like I've just begun. This is for my father, for his colossal unhappiness, for his lonely death. There is much laughter in the play and a lot of weeping. I can only hope the public will understand that the characters' few moments of happiness exist in that strange space between tears and laughter.