Tag Archives: #58

Life List #58 – Part IV

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the fourth post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here, the second one here and the third one here.

The Vineyard lab productions are some of my favorite ticket buying gambles. They can be really awesome and inspiring works or they can be a seed of an idea that still needs to undergo germination and several growth spurts until it’s ready to bloom. The lab productions are unique in that they offer the audience an opportunity to see a work-in-progress. The labs operate on a small-scale, limited run that allows the creative team the opportunity to develop a new piece in front of a live audience, and for audiences to witness the creative process at work. The production values are simple and actors hold scripts on stage, since the creative team will continue to write, revise, and cut scenes throughout the run. Anything that reveals someone’s process, how they do what they do, is a treat and an inspiration. Combine that with the fact that this year’s lab, entitled Now. Here. This., was a new work from the collective brains of people I know and had previously interviewed, was just another example of Vineyard karma (another “k” word to add: Kismet. When I returned for the closing performance of this show, I eavesdropped on a conversation between the guy sitting next to me and the older woman sitting next to him. He introduced himself to her. I recognized his name. He was the author of a NYT Modern Love essay I optioned with my writing partner almost six years to the day ago).

Cast/Creative Team of Now. Here. This. Photo by Dirty Sugar Photography

Before I saw this production, I had to write about it for an online publication. I interviewed Hunter, Susan, and Jeff at Camp Vineyard while they were rehearsing. I transcribed our interview. I wrote a first draft of the piece that was way too long and very very first drafty. I rewrote it. I left it alone for a day, then tweaked it before sending it to my editor. He called me and asked the one question I couldn’t answer: “What is this show actually about?” I didn’t know. They really didn’t know what they had up on stage and how much rewriting they would do over the course of the run, so we had talked about the production in the most general way possible. So the question remained, what was it and how was I going to convey it to readers? I tore apart my second draft and laid out 12 pages of the transcribed interview on my bed to see what I had. At 1:30am, I finally saw the angle: the creative process is more important than the final product. Take the reader through the process of developing a new genre of production (dubbed the theatri-concert) from the perspective of the book writers and the composer/lyricist. If this was a roller coaster, I was going to tell you how it got made. By 4:30am, I had my story and my third and final draft completed.

When I saw the production two days later, I had a way more emotional response than I ever expected. The stories were both specific and universal, funny, raw and sometimes cut deep. It was like watching a brand new baby take its first breaths of life. It has the potential to be something big and great and wonderful, it just needs time to grow. Like a new baby, the show really makes you think about your self, your life (the parts you’ve lived and the parts you have yet to live), your place in the world. There were moments that reminded me a lot of Lynda Barry’s workshop (both in the way the stories were told and my visceral reaction to them). It explores ideas like how to take risks and celebrate being our true selves, but even more than that, it looks at the moments where we find happiness, how we stumble upon those moments and haven’t yet mastered the art of hanging out in the “Now. Here. This.” If you were too lazy to click and read my piece (you are forgiven), here’s one of my favorite quotes, from the super sound bitey Susan Blackwell, who describes the idea behind the Now. Here. This. theory:

There was this monk, Thomas Merton, who said that if you can get to the intersection of Now: this moment in time; Here: exactly where you are; This: exactly what you’re doing—if you can get to the intersection of those three things, then there’s nothing to fear and you can really appreciate your life. 

I should add I cut this quote off right before her next line, which was: “but we suck at this.” The quote reminded me of a conversation I had one summer with a friend as we sat on a fake lawn overlooking a fake Santa Barbara house in the middle of soundstage in Brooklyn. He asked me if I thought this, everything that surrounded us (in both its real and fake forms) was happiness. Could this make someone happy? I will never forget my response to this question, because I’ve thought about it ever since: I think it provides moments of happiness. I don’t believe there is a complete state of true happiness that last for extended periods of time. It’s pockets and moments. It’s bigger than us and smaller than us at the same time. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it was happiness until we look back on it later — we were happy only comes we when learn new levels of unhappiness or differentness. But that’s what makes it so special. That’s what forces us to live. We want happiness, we strive for it, we work for it, but the reality is, it usually finds us when we’re not looking for it. The trick is to recognize the moment just as it finds us. That’s something no amount of money, set dressings, make-believe worlds, or people can duplicate. It just is and you are just in it. In other words, that monk was right.

Live in the Now. be in the Here. and go see This.

If you like hearing about/seeing the exciting work the Vineyard Theatre is contributing to the theater world, check this out: They recently received a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies in recognition of its mission to develop and produce new plays and musicals, and to support artists. Bloomberg has challenged The Vineyard to match the grant of $75,000 with new donations. They’ll MATCH your donation. This grant makes your gift work twice as hard, so your support is worth even more. Please consider participating in the Vineyard’s NOW. MATCH. THIS. campaign. 

Life List #58 – Part III

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the third post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here and the second one here

Back in April, I attended a performance of Christopher Shinn‘s play, “Picked” at the Vineyard. It was a solid production of a play filled with fascinating ideas about a film actor, Kevin, who subjects himself to neuroimaging, intense, in-depth interviews and testing in order to deliver an emotionally authentic performance for a legendary director. We learn early on the film script is being developed around the results of the lead actor’s tests. It’s all big ideas and James Cameron-like dreams of moviemaking. To some extent, it’s not far from the truth of how movies, especially the high-tech, high-concept ones, are almost intangible ideas. I had recently come from working on a movie where a majority of our central characters were computer-generated. Human actors would recite dialogue to a red dot placed in their eye line. We would shoot whole scenes where the set would be the only thing to look at, for now. There’s an interesting challenge to work on something that feels like a movie, but it’s only half there.

Similarly, in “Picked,” Kevin isn’t entirely certain what all the testing is building up to. He spends a year of his life fulfilling his contractual obligations without ever shooting a frame of film. He has no idea what the script is (if it’s even any good) and he takes a huge gamble in his first leading role. This is not unlike how the moviemaking process really is. 200+ people show up every day to work on something that may/may not be good. Your life is held up for the better part of a year or more while you were insane hours, lose friends and alienate those you love. But, you also make friends, too — your trench mates. The people you see and communicate with the most over the course of a production. “Picked” also offered a subtle glimpse into the major build up behind a film, from shooting (and the inevitable high to low everyone experiences when a production wraps) to anticipation of release, and running the crazy and repetitive publicity gauntlet.

The most interesting aspect of “Picked” was the ending. It was real and honest. Shinn captured an eloquence and melancholy that was pitch-perfect in its execution. A lovely, solid (and somewhat insider-y) exploration of the beginning of a career all the way through the end — for those who live a life absorbed in a specific world for so long and then begin to fall out of love with it.

Life List #58 – Part II

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the second post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here. On this trip, life and fate pulled out all the stops. Witness below, Vineyard karma.

This month at the Vineyard, I check out Zach Helm’s production of “Interviewing The Audience.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. Zach comes out in the beginning of the production and introduces himself, explaining we will hear the stories of three audience members, who he will pick to come on stage, one at a time, and talk to him for 20 minutes. The show was originally created by Spalding Gray.

Zach Helm wrote about seeing “Interviewing The Audience” for the first time and why he wanted to revive it:

I saw him [Spalding Gray] do it as a freshly graduated theatre student at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 1997. Of note that evening, Mr. Gray interviewed a young girl from the South Side who had never been to the theater before, and who had only attended that evening because her school was working on a project that required the students to “go see theater or dance” and his show was the only one the girl’s mother could get tickets to see. The interview played out as a mix of Art Linklater and WAITING FOR GADOT, and when it concluded, Mr. Gray noted that the girl had not only fulfilled the requirement of seeing theater, but had become theater. The girl responded incredulously: “That’s weird. I could’ve been anybody.”

Three of my close theatre/college friends joined me for “Interviewing,” so the night was already meaningful, but I had no idea it was about to go to a whole new level.

Zach came out on stage, introduced himself and began to scan the audience. Then, he started walking up towards our section. I suddenly felt it in the pit of my stomach, he’s going to ask me. Sure enough, we locked eyes and he invited me up on stage.

After I got miked and settled, he asked me the first question he asks of everyone: “What brought you to the theatre tonight?” I answered, Spalding Gray. I told Zach I had a few brief conversations with Spalding, but I never really knew who he was until after he died. He asked me if I would have done or said anything different if I knew who Spalding was during those phone conversations. Only one thing came to mind: I wish I had listened harder.

The next questions he asked was if I was ambitious. I answered “yes” and, apparently, smiled, which lead to talking about what ambition means and how I’m ambitious. I explained my feeling about ambition was that it only felt true and real if accompanied by passion. It’s important to have both.

From there, the questions turned more into a conversation between myself and Zach, punctuated by occasional laughter from the audience. I sometimes forgot they were there until they laughed. We talked about how my sister and I shared a 500 sq foot studio apt, then how we moved to another building where we lived directly above/below each other. Then, we talked about everything from how I was raised macrobiotic to my history with the Vineyard Theatre; and how important it is to always know every job you can within your industry — knowing who does what and  learning as much as possible for the next step, because you never know what/when it’s going to happen.

At the end of our 20 minutes, as I left the stage, Zach told a fable about knowing when a person is a leader because they know all the jobs involved from the bottom up. He gestured toward me when he said “a leader.”

When returned to my seat in the audience, every feeling hit me at once. I was buzzing with energy, but also very overwhelmed. I had just been sitting on a stage in a theater where, 15 years (nearly to the day) earlier I had made the decision to pursue a career in the arts. And, here I was, on that stage, talking about how I fulfilled that goal and continue to reach for a higher bar every day. I had good friends sitting beside me, who were excited and proud of me, hugging me as I made my way back to my seat. I had come full circle. My eyes welled with the tears of every emotion I felt at that moment, but the crazy karma of the evening wasn’t quite over yet.

The second person Zach picked was sitting in the same row as me, opposite end of the aisle. He had come to with a friend. His friend was none other than my editor at TDF. We had no idea we were seeing the show on the same night. The third person picked (I later learned) was a business partner of a friend of mine.

At the close of the show, Zach invites the audience to stay after and talk to each other because, we all experienced a show that will never ever happen again. This is the nature of live theater. We are all people with stories to tell; with stories worth sharing. We are all living art.

When I asked Zach how he had picked us. He told us the following: “I get handed a slip of paper on which an arbitrary letter of the alphabet is written. I use that as a sort of mnemonic. Tonight’s letter was ‘S.’ I looked out on stage and the first word I thought was “smile.” That’s when I saw was you, Ashley, you were the only one sitting there, smiling.”

After each show, Zach does a post-show “Top Three Moments” video. I’ve been watching them faithfully, but it was extra entertaining to see mine. Out of all the things we talked about, I had a feeling he was going to pick this particular moment.

“Interviewing The Audience” has a home at the Vineyard Theatre through February 27th. You have four days. Run!