Tag Archives: Susan Blackwell

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. 

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Monday’s Watch, Listen, Read

Watch

“The very thing that makes you different in high school is the thing that makes you exceptional as an adult.” — Lin-Manuel Miranda

I’ve written about the “It Gets Better” videos before, but this video — created by (the awesome) Susan Blackwell, (the rock star) Hunter Bell and (Bird Bird II) Matt Vogel — deserves to be plugged because it addresses bullying across the spectrum, not just LGBT. Almost everyone who is different is bullied, verbally, physically, emotionally. Every teens deserves to have someone tell them it gets better. Also great about this video, it gently reminds adults to be proactive, to keep their eyes open, their ears and mouths ready to respond, and to listen.

Listen

I keep a list of the songs I write by, which was inspired by a writer-friend who keeps her soundtrack lists on her website (Update: They’re MIA on Catherine’s site now, but email her, if you’re curious). Every piece I write has a different soundtrack. When I’m on a writing binge I get stuck on one artist, whose songs I have memorized, and play them on repeat. After a while I don’t hear the music anymore, but there’s something about the rhythm and having a soundtrack by which to write, that’s important to me. I’ve been listening to a lot of Adele lately. This particular song, “Cold Shoulder,” works nicely with the play I’ve been working on about relationships, finding them, losing them, etc.

Read

Life Interrupted by Spalding Gray

“A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way, he is immortal.” -Big Fish

Spalding Gray‘s name is scribbled all over my work notebooks from 2002-2004, but I did not know who he was or what he did. I never met him in person, but I will never forget his voice, with that thick, New England accent. I first talked to Spalding in 2002, when he would call the office where I interned to talk to my boss, who was a friend of his and had directed one of his monologues. My boss would always take Spalding’s calls with enthusiasm, happy to talk to him until work interrupted their convivial conversation. As the years went by, I noticed Spalding’s voice developed a heaviness to it that hadn’t been present before. He had had an accident. It was clear that he was depressed. He still called the office where I worked, but I began to take messages instead of connecting his call immediately. Sometimes, Gray talked to me beyond the scope of the message. I listened, not always certain if he was telling me a story with an ending or simply rambling till I found a way to beg off the call.

I remember passing newsstands when Spalding was missing, his face on the cover of the Post and the Daily News. A few months later, his face appeared on the covers again, when his body was pulled from the East River. This is when I discovered Spalding Gray. I borrowed his filmed monologues from my boss and watched them one after another. I read the transcripts. I was blown away by how one man, sitting at a desk with a single glass of water as a prop, could navigate an audience to places as far away as Cambodia and as close as New York City, piloted only by his words.

His last monologue, “Life Interrupted,” published posthumously, was unfinished. It was also one of his best. There’s a darkness, a light, a hope, a humor, a sadness, and a beauty to it that no other written work I have come across has ever captured quite so intimately. I can’t imagine how Spalding would have finished this monologue or if he would have at all. There’s something about an unfinished work; a sense of incompleteness, of restlessness; that allows a writer to continue living in our minds, giving us the freedom to compose an ending worthy of his singular voice.