After lunch I snuck into the barn, where the oldest theater space was on campus, sat in a corner and watched the players play away the afternoon under the guidance of director Israel Hicks. He had drawn a large circle on the floor, and the small company of actors that sat on the edges became a cast of many when they entered that circle. The play was THE WHITE BLACK MAN by Oyamo, and it was an amazing process to witness. The script-in-hand performance of the play the following night was even more captivating, and remains in my mind as one of the finest nights of theater I ever witnessed. The play was flawed, sometimes rushed, ragged, a little raw, at times unclear, and it was dynamite.
This was the summer I got serious about learning to be a better playwright, and in fact discover if I could write plays at all. I decided to attend every performance of new work at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference in Waterford, CT, to sit in on as many rehearsals as I could, and read the work in the library on the grounds. At the time I was working in their education program on campus and directing new work locally. I asked to attend the playwriting class that fall at the National Theater Institute, and from there I began.
My arts career is a hodgepodge: beginning as a visual artist, becoming an actor in musical theater, quickly learning that I was better suited to directing than acting. Allowing room for coming to the work as a playwright was a way to coalesce these varied skills into a single artistic venture.
ARIADNE ON THE ISLAND is a language driven piece. At the time I was reading a lot of plays translated into English, and much of it was by Federico Garcia Lorca and Maria Irene Fornes. I am more than a little in love with Lorca, and agree with Caridad Svich who once said to me that we all begin with this remarkable poet playwright. How poor would our twenty-first century art be without his work? A friend who has performed in several of my plays from this period once remarked, “These plays seem like they are translations from the original Spanish,” which still makes me delight.
Here at Gulfshore Playhouse I am given a superb, professional cast of players, an insightful and experienced director, and a theater company committed to allowing me to work the play how ever I determine best. The work for us this week is to serve the play. In this iteration that work is to trim the excess, to reveal the true through-lines of the text, and probe the deeper wants of the characters.
Directors of new work are wonderful barometers for detecting the greater currents in the over-all piece as well as sussing out the small moments of connection with the actors. Through them a playwright may determine whether to strengthen these connections, fill them with purpose, or realize that some connections are a detriment and need to be removed. Actors are marvelous agents for their characters, as they navigate the world built on the juxtaposition and tension between what they say and what they do. They are great balancers of the contradictions because they propel this imbalance, enabling the dramatic action to spin, spill, and turn. When the world comes to rest again, it is time for us to go home.
Of course, none of this means much without the final component, a willing audience. The people who come to see new work are hungry for something a little raw, somewhat ragged. They forgive the compromises made to the crunch-time-clock that twelve hours of rehearsal gives a performance here, and in exchange we give them the frenetic energy that comes from a fast few caffeinated days together. We group of strangers become a company of performers and their audience, all of us hoping to fall just a little bit in love for an hour or two together.
That is the work of this week.