Beyond 360 Degrees

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about how a theater/theatrical experience brought my life full circle. After that, I thought my Vineyard Theatre karma was pretty much complete. I mean, what could be beyond the 360 degrees of a full circle life? Well, for me, it’s this.

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about a Broadway show that was doing some really cool and innovative things with social media. Last year, I wrote a little piece about the lab production of that creative team’s next show. Then, a few months ago, I got a call from that team of super smart & creative nerds asking me if I would be interested in working with them on the full, Off-Broadway version of that lab production, Now. Here. This., which would premiere at the Vineyard Theatre. And now, we are all sitting in a room together writing, and talking, and eating raw almonds, and structuring the show until we are exhausted and cross-eyed and no one remembers what day of the week/weekend it is anymore. And I could not be happier.

I wish I could tell you everything that is in my heart about the experience I’m having working with this group of people on this musical, but the truth is, it’s all wrapped up in the joy, love, humor, brains, and courage that will live up on stage (as embodied by creators/performers Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Jeff Bowen, Heidi Blickenstaff, and under the direction/choreography of the most excellent Michael Berresse). This creative team has shaped stories and crafted a narrative that moves the walls of theatrical storytelling. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The show is a beautiful hybrid of musical theater, presentational storytelling, autobifictionography, and literary journalism — with some flashbacks thrown in for good measure.

Now. Here. This. is about the moments in our lives: the good, the funny, the ugly,  the beautiful, and the bad ones. I am incredibly proud of what the show says and of the creative team saying it all. Being a part of it has changed the way I think about my life and how I approach my own storytelling. My hope is that this musical will (in some small way) make us more aware of what surrounds us.

What’s beyond 360 degrees is a moment that is at its heart the same, but the shape shifts slightly with each circling back. The subject gets older, the walls push out further, the role becomes more active. But the love and passion for creativity remains just as strong as it was when that 14-year-old girl sat in the Vineyard Theatre, and watched a show come together for the very first time.

Previews of Now. Here. This. begin March 7 (and our box office opens TOMORROW, 2/1!) The show runs till April 15th at the Vineyard Theatre (108 E. 15th St bet Union Square East & Irving Place New York, NY) 

The Moment

Stolen from the Facebook profile of fellow "Moment" contributor Deborah Copaken Kogan (clicking on pic takes you to her website)

The second item on my Life List is: Publish a book. When I look back at it now, I realize I should have been more specific because I’ve sort of done that already. I have run the gamut of publishing jobs ranging from book publicist to book researcher, coordinating sub rights, and e-book producing (where I produced a NYT Bestseller, baby!) If I was to take #2 at face value, however, I’d have to classify it as a book on which I appear as the author complete with name on the cover and author photo on the back flap. So those publishing gigs are subsets of #2.

BUT

This book you see above puts me a step closer. In “The Moment,” you’ll find 125 beautiful moments that changed the lives of writers and artists both famous and obscure. My essay, “Fearless Flyer,” appears in here. It’s my first contribution to a publication that is bound and made of pulp, not pixels. Even more exciting, some of my favorite writers, storytellers, and friends also appear between these covers. I fell in love with Deborah Copaken Kogan’s words in college; I sometimes wonder if Rebecca Woolf (whose insanely gorgeous essay ends the book) and I weren’t separated at birth; Gregory Maguire always enchants me with his stories. Ever since Baratunde Thurston and Sara Barron did the Six-Word reading series I co-produced, I’ve been stuck on their every word. Jennifer Egan and Elizabeth Gilbert (two literary rock stars), also contributed pieces. When I heard Liz Gilbert was contributing a piece, I put Larry Smith, the book’s editor, in touch with my friend/Liz’s sister, the awesome YA writer Catherine Gilbert Murdock, who turned around an essay in no time flat. She’s that good.

“The Moment” also contains pieces from people who aren’t writers by trade, but who are incredible storytellers. Some of my favorite pieces in this book are written by people who are: unemployed, zoologists, still in school, a camp director, and a former trend-forecaster. Everyone has a Moment that changed their lives. What’s yours?

Life List #71

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #71, Return to the Santa Ynez to walk in the fields and write, was one of those Lift List goals that snuck up on me and that’s part of what made it so enjoyable.

Last month, I traveled to California for an extended period of time to see friends, meet babies, and work from a different location (as lovely as my apartment/workspace is, sometimes I need a change of scenery). During that trip, I visited a friend in Santa Barbara — a place I had only been once before, where I fell in love with and vowed to return to the Santa Ynez mountains.

Since I had a few work days to kill before my friend and I went on an adventure to Hearst Castle, I decided to spend those days writing up in the mountains. At 9am every morning, I made the 30(ish) minute trek up through the gorgeous mountains and settled on the deck of  Corner House Coffee, in Los Olivos. While I typed away on my laptop, I watched the citizens of this small town come in for their morning coffee, stop in for a muffin or a lunch time sandwich or meet up with a spouse after their work day. I heard their local gossip, learned about new construction underway, and pet a few adorable dogs.

During my lunch breaks, I shut my laptop, got into my rental car, and drove around aimlessly through the mountains, marveling as their peaks changed from purple to green and taupe. There were times where I’d comment out loud to myself how it didn’t look real. When you daily commute consists of pavements and subway tunnels, winding roads and expansive views that look as if they were painted with watercolors makes it harder for an urban brain to absorb. It almost makes you feel giddy. Since I was already in a state of euphoria (or maybe it was the altitude), I would follow whatever small sign struck my fancy. One day it was “Lavender Farm, keep right.” Another day “Miniature Donkeys for Sale + Petting Zoo.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I turned down long driveways and was greeted with the smell of fresh lavender or manure. I bought linen spray and almost walked away with a miniature donkey. I walked through an olive grove, picked a few olives off a tree, and absently put them in my pocket — where I rediscovered them a few weeks ago, shriveled and hard as rocks, but they made me smile. I’ll keep them in that jacket to remind me that I took a risk, went off the beaten path, turned off the GPS, didn’t follow Mapquested directions or my hour-by-hour itinerary and just drove — only turning when I encountered small hand-painted signs to destinations that sounded interesting. This freedom from schedule, even from knowing where I was, was exhilarating.

After my lunch break adventures, I went back to the coffee-house and moved indoors, where it was warmer and I could plug-in my laptop. From there, I’d lose myself in World War I and lost romance while the milk steamer hissed and the baristas chatted with each other during their downtime. When the local school children started pouring in and ordering frappes, I emailed my collaborator my rewrites, turned off my computer, and prepared for the trek back down to Santa Barbara. I wrote (and rewrote) two scenes during those days in the Santa Ynez and, not surprisingly, they are my favorite moments in our musical. I’d like to think I first recognized a magic in those mountains that provoked me to add #71 to my Life List — something that lead me to include  the words “and write.” An instinct of sorts. Maybe even a connection to nature. Whatever it was, I’m so happy I listened to it, took advantage of my days there, and had the opportunity to be inspired by such a breathtakingly beautiful region.