Sam Shepard

August 1st, 2017 No comments

When I started out in playwrighting my exemplars where the traditional male canon of American theater: Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams; and I was escaping my personal background in undergraduate English, with its heavy accent on Shakespeare, Aphra Behn, John Gay, Molière, Ibsen, etc. It wasn’t until I started reading contemporary playwrights, including David Mamet and Sam Shepard that I realized that theater could be much, much more than the little that I had seen and read.

My first exposure was to Mamet, and his brand of hypermasculine posturing. Here I realized that the speech of characters in my plays could be street speech, every day speech, and it could be arranged rhythmically in iambs and punctuated with fuck yous.

Sam Shepard showed that plays could be stream of consciousness, have radical set designs, outlandish plots, and explore the ravaged landscape of the fevered mind. Plays like the Unseen Hand, Chicago, Cowboy #2, Rock Garden, Red Cross blew my mind when it came to the spontaneous shifts in character and action, the stark symbolism of the text, repetitive language cycles. And then I got to his bigger plays: Fool for Love, True West, Buried Child, Curse of the Starving Class, La Turista, etc. And here I saw displayed the full power of a playwright who had developed his own mythos and vision of the world. He took traditional plots and situations and suffused them with surreal events and behaviors that showed the raw unconscious pulsing just below the surface of the everyday. I knew I wanted to write like him.

Then there was the realization that I had seen him in films. Not even connecting the dots. When I was a kid I had watched his films on HBO: The Right Stuff, Raggedy Man… and then later, Thunderheart, Black Hawk Down, Bloodline. And having kids, heard a thousand times narrate the film Charlotte’s Web.

It was a hope of mine to meet him, but I’ll have to stick with his works, I guess. Sam Shepard was a unique talent, whose abilities were transcendent.

Holiday Giving — Do Your Part

December 2nd, 2016 No comments

We’ve entered the giving season, so I thought I’d write about one organization, other than Playwrights Local that is, to which I’m giving my money.

I’m writing about a black box theater in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland. A theater company that changed my theatrical life, and radically altered my perception of how intimate, how powerful, how threatening, and how exhilarating theater can be.

petrol23I was introduced to convergence-continuum in 2007, when Mike Geither took me to see Chris Johnston’s play Spawn of the Petrolsexuals. The experience was fundamentally altering. Chris wrote a play about a dystopian, bombed-out landscape in which homeless superheroes fought brutal, oil-hungry Commandoids that I can only compare to the Enclave, for those of you familiar with Fallout. There was Angerboy, and Freegrrl, Ingen and Holyman. It reminds me, now looking back, of an early Eric Overmyer play, like Native Speech. The set the convergence created was a character in the play: fabricated steel structures, junk scattered, a broken television set, the massive east wall that was used as movie screen, a motorcycle, a garage door that really opened on Scranton Road, garbage cans, and the trap door near the west wall that leads to the cellar.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith, playing Darkangel—-a sort of black sorceress –- opens the trap door leading down to her underground lair and, as soon as she opens the door: the image of Darkangel looking down is on the movie screen east wall. I watch her descend away from me in the theater. I watch her descend toward me on the screen.

It was too meta. I was IN a B-movie and IN a real theater experience all at the same time. My head swelled to explode. The production was well-executed, but the feeling was raw. I went back two more times to see Chris’ play because I’d never seen anything like it. And this is what I hear whenever I take someone to convergence who has never been to convergence. The person who accompanies me is blown away, overwhelmed with a theater experience that they’ve didn’t know was possible: to be that close, to be that much a part of the experience, to feel so intensely.

Convergence is a true ensemble company. It’s made up of passionate, wholly committed actors, directors, light designers, sound designers, playwrights, video designers, costumers, set designers, painters, box office managers, and musicians—all volunteers: virtually impossible to believe in many ways. And they are all successful!! Critically acclaimed productions! Awards for acting, design, productions! And all working for the production itself, and not some small rapacious little thing like money or notoriety or any self-proclaimed “groundbreaking” aesthetic.

So, besides this… why give? convergence-continuum, the theater company, doesn’t own The Liminis, the theater space, in which they create their magic worlds! The Liminis space itself, that was so unique to the production I described above—-the garage door, the trap door, the movie screen wall—-all of the three-dimensional feast of experiences possible in a location—-is at risk.

What if theatre weren’t a mirror reflecting the familiar, but an opening into unknown territory? What if there were no fourth wall? What if, instead of going to the theatre to watch a play, you crossed the threshold into the world of the play to experience it? Theatre that expands the imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space, and performance that challenges the conventional notions of what theatre is. What sort of theatre would this be?

convergence-continuum

I’m giving to convergence right now. Please give to them as well.

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