Tag Archives: the vineyard theatre

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.

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Life List: #58

If you check out my life list, you’ll see there’s quite a bit of stuff I have to do. Luckily, thanks to my Under 30 Membership at the Vineyard Theatre, I am on my way to crossing #58 off my list: See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre. Why the Vineyard Theatre? It’s a place with which I have a 15 year history — more than half of my life. It’s also where I made the decision, at age fourteen, to pursue a career in the arts.

I saw my first off-Broadway show at the Vineyard Theatre in 1996. It was a “silent movie opera” called Bed and Sofa. It wasn’t a typical production, but nor was my route to seeing it. A family friend, who also happened to be my occasional voice teacher, was starring in the show and took me with her to everything related to the production.  I witnessed the labor and birth of a musical, from an in-studio recording of song selections to help secure grant money and solidify the project, to rehearsals, dress rehearsals, a preview night, opening night, and ultimately, the Drama Desk Awards, when the show was nominated.

I was there when the composer, Polly Pen, and librettist Laurence Klavan changed chords, adjusted the way words were pronounced and collaborated with the director, Andre Ernotte, and cast, Terri Klausner, Michael X. Martin and Jason Workman. I saw major artistic changes, such as the elimination of a whole character, the narrator, occur between the rehearsal period and opening night. The set, by G.W. Mercier, appeared to be built right before my eyes.

I learned how people collaborate as artists, how they pick and choose battles over their creative opinions, and how they compromise. I also discovered a lot about life in Moscow in 1926 — more than I’ve ever read in a history book. My days and nights at the Vineyard allowed me to set the compass of my destiny. It solidified my commitment to pursuing a career in the arts. I knew it would be a risky, rocky road, but it made me realized I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

After my Bed and Sofa experience, I saw a few productions at the Vineyard, sent donations when I could, and purchased memberships, but (due to work) was never able to commit to seeing every single production in one season. However, when I renewed my membership this year and added it to my life list, I felt a new sense of commitment.

I attended the first show of the season, Middletown, last week. The production is in previews and the cast and crew are hard at work fine-tuning it. Before slipping into my seat, I walked down to the lower level by the bathrooms and across from the green room. This picture hangs above the water fountain. It’s of my family friend, in a production she did at the Vineyard before Bed and Sofa. I snapped a picture of it and emailed it to her. I thought of the many lives that were changed in this theatre. Small productions that played extended runs and sold out performances. Shows that went on to play larger, Broadway houses; opportunities that arose from having a place to play, a stage to perform on, and seats to fill. Part of the idea of adding #58 to my list was to cross off a wish, but the other aspect was to pay tribute to a place where my 14-year-old self learned some of the most important life lessons:  follow your dreams; live what you love.

I’ll keep you posted as I see more productions there throughout the season.