Drop the Map

If 2016 was the year of process: head-down, deep in the trenches, dump-out-your-purse, can’t-see-the-forest, who-knows-how-this-ends, let’s-see-what-sticks, 2017 was a year of unfolding. Making space. Trusting. Following through on promises I made to myself and my work. Not finishing things per se, but putting in the time and energy for underlying ideas to truly manifest. I realized that if I was going to figure out the best structure, the best ‘world’ for Photo Play to inhabit, I had to devote the time and focus to bringing each possibility to some level of fruition. I couldn’t just judge the options conceptually. I had to see them made manifest, then wade into each, try them on for size, choose your clunky metaphor.

Back field – Holes in the Wall Residency

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. I wasn’t sure I had the patience or the confidence to see any of the ideas through to even a third draft. There were so many possibilities crowding my head that I was afraid if I delved into any of them too deeply I’d get lost and not be able to find my way out. And guess what? That happened several times. More than several. I would be seized by an impulse that could carry me to the next scene or the next draft, and then…a moment of blankness, when I lost the thread of the story or the direction it was headed, and I had to stop, take a breath, and sometimes even speak the story beats out loud to remind myself of its shape. But having the experience of getting lost and having to pull myself together, pull the story back together, was useful. It diffused the fear, even the times I got lost and stayed lost and had to just walk away from the screen for a while. The scary thing happened; I allowed it to move through me – through the work – and afterwards there was a new draft. Or just a bunch of fragments, which was ok too.

This is the work of drafting: weathering waves of impulse and doubt, frustration and satisfaction. I should know this by now but I keep learning it, over and over.

Self-portrait with smudgy laptop screen.

2018 will usher in the next phase of Photo Play: a workshop presentation at Dixon Place on March 21st. This is something I have wanted and worked toward for more than two years, and again I find myself unsure I’m up to the task. But if I approach it as drafting, accept the inevitable doubt, fear, and new insight, I can find the way through by trusting that a path is there, even if I can’t see it.

One of the core ideas in Photo Play is that snapshots are like maps. We keep them safe in albums, spend time gazing at them, through them like doorways into particular moments the past. We trace our lives from there to here, and look deeply into the images for clues about who we used to be, and how we arrived in the present moment. I would love for there to be a clear map for this next phase of Photo Play’s creative development, but there isn’t. I can set goals, assemble a timeline and to-do lists, sketch an outline for the final script to follow, but the process will be collaborative and therefore impossible to predict. Though it makes me nervous, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Learning to trust myself is only meaningful if I can do it when the path ahead is muddy and steep, when the itinerary leaves room for the unexpected.

Unexpected duck!

Packing List

Space and time. Earlier this year I decided that’s what I wanted for Photo Play. In pursuit of my goal to develop it into an evening-length work, I thought about what I would need. Money is nice – and necessary in the production phase – but for right now, what I really want is dedicated physical work space, and the time to create. Beautiful luxuries for any artist. Either of them by itself is rarely enough: a room of one’s own is no use unless ‘One’ has the time to use it, and time is useless without a place to go, to escape from everyday obligations.

So I tossed out some nets, and the first opportunity has been caught: a writing residency at Holes in the Wall Collective in the first week of May. Though brief (4 days!), it will be just the thing to jump-start the next phase of my work on Photo Play: a place to focus sustained attention on its architecture and narrative through-line – something that has been sorely missing from the process so far.

I am both excited and terrified of this gift. I think every artist with a support job is always holding a little of herself back, in the struggle to locate the energy it takes to keep the mechanics of life humming along. But this will be a chance to see what happens when every bit of energy is aimed at creativity. What a leap of faith, and again, what a luxury.

For now, I prepare. In the interest of coming to work “with my pockets full”, as a teacher of mine once advised, I’m plotting like a squirrel before winter about what to bring to the residency and how to spend my time there.

In addition to physical necessities, I will bring:
– An openness to impulse
– A dedication to the value of structured time
– A willingness to let go of what does not seem to be working

I will leave behind:
– The need to know about every breaking news item as it breaks
– The obligation to loved ones and how they will fare without me
– The worry of “what if…this doesn’t turn out like I hope/ the work has no merit/ the narrative architecture I identify isn’t compelling”.

Better get packing

‘Photo Play’ at the IRT Theater

A very belated post of some images from the maiden voyage of ‘Photo Play’, an original performance piece I wrote and developed in September of 2015 with a stellar cast of theater artists. ‘Photo Play’ asks questions about our human preoccupation with photographs – how the experience of being photographed and seeing images of ourselves shapes our identities, and – especially since the advent of digital photography and social media – how we use images to shape our identities in the eyes of others. In 2016 I’m hoping to develop the piece further, whether into an evening-length performance, an immersive performance/ exhibit, an interactive installation, or some combination of the three. Stay tuned!

"Chin down, eyes up, hips at an angle."

“Chin down, eyes up, hips at an angle.”

"Top five answers on the board..."

“Top five answers on the board…”

"I wanted to surprise him."

“I wanted to surprise him.”

"The photographer said 'Kiss!' so we did."

“The photographer said ‘Kiss!’ so we did.”

"This is one of my favorite photos of all time."

“This is one of my favorite photos of all time.”

In the photo booth

In the photo booth

Superheroism Is

Playing a superhero in The Astonishing Adventures of All-American Girl and the Scarlet Skunk has been…a trip, and for the most part a good one. Lots of lessons, many of them personal and therefore too tedious to disclose here. But the most surprising discovery so far is that superheroism, at its essence, means:

  • Good posture
  • Earnest delivery of catchphrases
  • Frequent hand-washing of delicates

TIGHTS

Twenty Stories

It’s nice to acknowledge milestones, whether they’re anniversaries, month-iversaries, how-long-has-it-been-since-you-smoked-iversaries. But simply marking a date doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, unless you take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come – the same way a ritual only takes on meaning when you repeat it, remember where you were the last time, and notice what has changed.

Rituals are puzzles, or the slow and deliberate solving of puzzles. They’re what we use to look at the broken pieces we’ve been dealt and try to form them into some kind of picture, arrange the sounds into sheet music. Repetition helps us see the picture when we step back far enough, hear the song when we close our eyes.

This fall will mark my twentieth year living in New York City. I came here in August of 1993 for college, and except for a few months in the summer of 1994, I never left.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have lived somewhere for that long, to have racked up that much experience on one place. Without any kind of reflection, twenty years doesn’t mean anything. It’s just time. And since time is a made-up concept, it’s really more like just…aging. (Oh good MORTALITY TALK.)

So I’m going to try and distill this time into something sharp, distinct, meaningful, by writing up twenty stories from my twenty years – one story each week between now and the end of August. The stories will come from any and all points along the timeline of the last twenty years. They will be of varying length, style, and quality.

The challenge: for a writer, I’m not a terribly strong storyteller; I have a hard time knowing where to begin and end a particular sequence of events, because those are the hard choices that stamp an experience with meaning. But in this case, isn’t that the point? I want to trace lines through the stream of my memory, set up signposts so I know where and who I am. Because if it’s one thing I envy when I hear other peoples’ Archetypical New York Stories™ it’s the indelible sense of identity they carry. And I feel like I lack that. Despite all the time spent here, I’ve managed to retain quite a… “portable” sense of self. I definitely feel marked, influenced by the city, but I don’t think of myself as anchored here.

…which is an utterly ridiculous idea. I mean, I’ve spent my entire adult life here; I’m a creature of New York in ways that would be laughably apparent if you shoved me out of a van in another city. But instead of knowing that in a vague, abstract sense, I want to KNOW it. IN CAPS. I want to understand my particular brand of New Yorkness and be able to point to it with words.

So here we go. Story #1 will post by April 8th.

 

Switching It Up

Without a doubt, a highlight of the past few weeks was being invited to participate in the No, YOU Tell It! Reading Series – a workshop in which four writers develop personal stories based on a theme, and then trade stories with another writer for a live reading in front of an audience. If past readings are any indication, it’s a fascinating exercise in point of view and interpretation, as you listen to one person’s experience – complete with cadence and character – come out of another’s mouth. I am thrilled (and a little intimidated!) to be participating in this round.

As I write, I’m trying hard to put aside notions of tone and style as they relate to being read out loud, and just tell the story. But I’m always aware that there’s a difference between how someone might perform (and how an audience will interpret) a first person monologue, versus a piece with a lot of description and exposition. Nonetheless, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable challenge.

The next No, YOU Tell It! reading will take place on Monday, November 12th at 7:30pm.

 

Read To Me

Last night I enjoyed another installation of the Liars League NYC reading series. It’s a gloriously simple concept: writers submit their work according to a theme, the Liars curate the selections, and they’re read aloud by actors once a month at KGB Bar in the East Village. The room is small, so everyone there is listening closely; there’s little worry that loud talkers will interrupt. The bar staff knows how to serve drinks discreetly (they’re listening too!) and since all the actors and writers bring a posse, it’s good news for their nightly receipts. A few months ago I participated in one of the readings as an actor, which was a lovely experience. But honestly it was almost lovelier to attend as an audience member: how often do you get to sit on a bar stool with a G&T in your hand, with no responsibility other than listening? Sometimes it’s really nice to be read to.

Dancing on Common Ground

This week I got to interview musical comedy duo extraordinaire Mel and El (otherwise known as Melanie Adelman and Ellie Dworkin) for G.L.O.C (Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy), a wondermous website that promotes the work of…well, you get the idea.

I am not making it up when I say that I had a kick-ass time chatting (or as someone’s unfortunate high school boyfriend used to say) “clamming” with them. They are (as my world-traveled Canadian-Great-Aunt-by-marriage Phyllis used to say) a laugh and a half. 

The interview is posted here, so please enjoy, and go see their shows when they’re back in action. I’ll be there!

It’s always thrilling the first time you find common ground with someone – especially if very few people graze on that common ground in the first place. Listening to Mel and El talk about their creative process, the symbiosis between their work and their friendship, and their frustration with the way friendship between women is typically portrayed, I felt a huge sense of kinship and…relief. There were SO many parallels to my experience working with Kath and Sabrina that at a certain point I had to stop myself from nodding and saying “…yes…YES” because a) I started to sound like a deranged life coach, and b) I was recording our talk and needed their answers to be audible for transcription. But it was great. And it made me remember why comedy-ham-types like us need to get out of the rehearsal room once in a while and compare notes with others of our tribe. We have to go to each other’s shows, laugh, yell stupid shit, and have drinks afterward. Be a community. Especially ladies but boys too. As the divine Jen Kirkman recently said, we have to talk to the dudes too.

Ok, now I REALLY sound like a life coach. Enjoy this video of Sam Kinison to charge your rage batteries and restore your nihilistic disgust for humanity.