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David M. White

playwright. director. scholar.

The Raven and the Writing Desk

October 13, 2014

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The Stories:

The Music of Erich Zann by H. P. Lovecraft adapted and performed by Steven Barroga
The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe adapted and performed by Kat Kaplan
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley adapted and performed by Ren Marie
An Occurrence in Carcosa by Ambrose Bierce adapted and performed by JD Sivert
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe adapted and performed by Dave White

The Event:

The Raven and the Writing Desk presents selected readings from suspense and horror writers adapted and presented by Baltimore-area theatre artists and directed by Dave White.

The stories will be adapted to be read by candlelight (though no actual candles will be burned).

Stories will be given a soundscape provided by writing implements (typewriter, pen, pencil, pencil sharpener, paper, etc).

Join us at for a dimly lit evening of spooky stories told to leave you on the edge of your seat and ready for Halloween.

Friday, October 24th at 8:00 p.m. 

Studio 194 Theatre

Chesapeake Bay Performing Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, MD (http://www.chesapeakearts.org/

194 Hammonds Lane,  Brooklyn Park, MD 21225 

410-636-6597

Cost:

Pay What You Can

The Artists:

  • Steven Barroga is a Baltimore based writer and performer. He is a graduate of Towson University where he studied theater arts. Among his play writing credits is his play Bad Kids, which was produced in 2013 at Towson University. As an actor and divisor, Steve recently toured with White Flag Performance Group in their production of The Bear Loves Honey.
  • Kat Kaplan is a Baltimore based director and playwright specializing in DIY theatre and performance art.  Her work has been seen at the Annex Theatre’s 10-Minute Play Festival (2013) and the One Minute Play Festival at the EMP Collective (2014). She recently graduated from Towson University’s theatre department where she directed Edward Albee’s The Goat or Who is Sylvia? 
  • Ren Marie is a performer and technician. Graduate of Towson University and Generous Company member. Recent work includes Kaspar (Acme Corporation), Where the Whangdoodle Sings and The Beholder’s Share (Generous Company), Herculine and Lola (WordBRIDGE Playwrights Laboratory) and The Glass Menagerie (Towson University).
  • J.D. Sivert: Director:  Where the Whangdoodle Sings (w. K. Frithjof Peterson) at Baltimore Theatre Project in January 2014; The Babel Project (w. Greg Romero and Mike Vernusky) at Towson University in December 2013.   Deviser:  The Beholder’s Share as part of Generous Company’s GUMBO 2013.   Performed in various Baltimore area play festivals and staged readings.  Member Generous Company.  Alumnus of Towson University and Florida State University.
  • Dave White is a playwright, director, scholar, and Associate Professor at Towson University. He is a founding member of Generous Company and was Artistic Director of WordBRIDGE Playwrights Laboratory from 2007-2012. Dave’s plays have been presented in theaters in Colorado, Maryland, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia; ArtFaq in Moscow, Russia; and the Ilkhom Theatre in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Post Card Plays Week 1

September 30, 2014

First week of Post Card Plays

7 plays were written and mailed.

The plays were 100 – 140 words long featuring 2 – 3 characters.

Here’s the process:

Draw a card out of the box.

Write a play.

Find out who the card is going to.

Address the card.

Mail it.

Unexpected discoveries:

Mining material off of the postcards themselves.  From the image of a single mom as a hero…

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…to using words off of a synthesizer as the key words in a play.
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The brief time each day focusing on writing and working to express complicated ideas with brevity, little to no character names, and no room for error when writing out the play has proven meditative.

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 I enjoy thinking about the people who may receive these plays (and also  hearing that they have safely reached their destination) .  I also hope that the opportunity to check the mail and find something other than junk mail–something you asked for, but didn’t expect—resting in your mailbox gives a bit of joy to the audience members receiving the plays (if you do a public or living room reading, please post it on facebook).

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 Connecting with people online; then getting to connect with again via a handwritten play—I cannot quite articulate why this particular transaction is satisfying, but it is–making the virtual actual is satisfying.

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I have reversed my writing process—rather than handwriting my drafts and doing a revision as I type them, I am typing the drafts and then revising them as I hand-write them onto the postcards—either way, nobody is getting a first draft.

Postcard Play #5b (2)Postcard Play #5f (2)

And so after the first week, I’m energized by the daily focus on writing, on putting aside enough time to craft one idea a day.  Let’s see what happens in the next 173 plays in 173 days.

Postcard Play #7f (3)Postcard Play #7b (2)

So…if you’d like a card:

Private message me your address either via facebook, twitter, or davewhiteplaywright(at)gmail.com; I will write a short play on a card and mail to it you (at no cost to you!).

There are 180 cards (maybe more) so from Fall Equinox to Spring Equinox I will write one card a day.

You are welcome to send me a writing prompt or request, but this is not required.

You could have a play sent to a friend.

I will most likely document this project online, but would love to share some work in a form replete with smudges and the impressions left by a pen.

As always, it’s good to be in touch.

Postcard Plays: An Equinox Project

September 22, 2014

While cleaning house this summer I ran across boxes of old blank cards: postcards, advertisement cards, vacation cards, thank you cards, holiday cards, get well cards, blank cards, funny cards, and sad cards.


These cards are reminders of my past ambitions to stay in touch, ambitions that have become more present as time goes by and people scatter to the four winds.

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As I looked at the pile of cards, ready for the recycle bin, I realized that all of these cards have one thing in common: they want to be mailed.

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So…if you’d like a card:

Private message me your address either via facebook, twitter, or davewhiteplaywright(at)gmail.com; I will write a short play on a card and mail to it you (at no cost to you!).

There are 180 cards (maybe more) so from Fall Equinox to Spring Equinox I will write one card a day.

You are welcome to send me a writing prompt, but this is not required.

I will most likely document this project online, but would love to share some work in a form replete with smudges and the impressions left by a pen.

Besides, it would be good to be in touch.

Warts and All: New Pages from Write Out Front NYC

August 8, 2014

Yesterday I spent two hours in the front window of the Drama Book Shop in NYC starting a new play as a part of TheatreSpeak’s Write Out Front NYC.  A “playwright happening” in which 125 playwrights will practice their craft in 2 hour shifts at the Drama Book Shop during the month of August.

WOF Photo 1

In preparation for this event, the previous week, I took suggestions on facebook and wound up with “bringing home a dog + a secret,” “two friends long lost friends catching up + tequila,” “thesis paper,” “checks,” and “writing about people watching me through the window.”  In addition to these suggestions, I also took along an envelope filled with artifacts that wound up in my parents yard after a tornado that happened 60 miles away from their house (some books scraps, a tattered photo, a bible verse).

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After percolating on these ideas for a few days, I spent a bit of the morning on the Highline (the fantastic above ground walkway running near 10th avenue in Chelsea) formulating a plan.

When I arrived at the Drama Book Shop and was welcomed by Micheline, the face and spirit behind Write Out Front 2014, I was ready to go.  So I sat down in the window, typed the title page, and dove in.  My goal:  to write the first scene of a new play, a new comedy.

Two hours and many pages later, I wrapped up my shift energized and inspired.  Below you can find what I wrote: warts and all.  I have not edited this work, other than the revisions and edits I did at the Drama Book Shop, but I did reformat it to save space.  Thanks to those who gave me the ideas, and the friends who dropped by to show support.  I will reflect further on this experience via blog, but for now here’s what I worked on:

 

WOF Photo 2

 

Patrón

A new play

By

Dave White

Written:  August 7, 2014 at Write Out Front, NYC

 

CHARACTERS:

DAHLIA (f)

SYDNEY (f)

LINCOLN (m)

 

PLACE:  first floor apartment in a city.

 

TIME:  Soon  or now

 

NOTE: a single punctuation mark indicated a look or gesture.

 

Scene 1

(Lights up.

First floor apartment,  Window looking out onto the street.  Curtains, but occasionally people pass by and look into the room.

The room is a shambles.

LINCOLN is propped up against a door.

There is incessant barking from the other side of the door.  SYDNEY stands in the middle of the room in a bathrobe, clearly surprised by the barking)

SYDNEY: Why in the hell did you bring that thing home?

LINCOLN: I saw it in the window and the price was right.

SYDNEY: The price was right?  You know that purchasing animals is…there are so many abandoned—

LINCOLN: Not this again.  You volunteer for the SPCA for one month two years ago and now you’re holier than—

(A particularly vicious bark from the dog)

LINCOLN: Holy crap!

SYDNEY: Holy crap is right.  Why did you bring that goddam animal into our home.  The boss said no animals and now you have a seething, snarling, ball of canine terror locked in your room.

LINCOLN: He’s a good boy.  He told me with his eyes.

SYDNEY: And he’s telling me something else with his bark.

(The dog quiets down)

LINCOLN: There.  See.  I told you…it a dog, but it also has a home—

SYDNEY: And also a secret…apparently.

LINCOLN: I read my horoscope today and it said—

SYDNEY: Horoscope?  Like signs and visions falling from the sky?

LINCOLN: Yes…and they said that today I would make a new friend.

SYDNEY: And you think that dog is your new friend.

LINCOLN: No one else wanted it.

SYDNEY: And that’s the qualification for a new friend.

LINCOLN: You’ve got a better idea?

SYDNEY: I don’t know why I ever suggested that you come a visit.

LINCOLN: I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

SYDNEY: And now you have a dog, which means that you have even fewer options.

LINCOLN: But I thought you’d like a dog.

SYDNEY: I do like dogs.  You might even say I’m a dog person, but I don’t want a dog now…I want a dog later…like when I’m ready to settle down.

LINCOLN: Maybe I am ready to settle down.

SYDNEY: You don’t even have a place to live.

LINCOLN: All the more reason to settle down.

(beat)

By the way…Dahlia called.

SYDNEY: Dahlia called?

LINCOLN: Yeah…she’s back in town.

SYDNEY: Back in town?  But we haven’t talked in…years.

LINCOLN: I know.  You missed her wedding.  That was not well received.

SYDNEY: You think it was any easier on me?

LINCOLN: You could have at least shown up.

SYDNEY: I was busy.

LINCOLN: You were not.  You were making excuses.

SYDNEY: I can’t stand up for something I don’t believe in.

LINCOLN: You didn’t believe in Dahlia?

SYDNEY: I couldn’t see their happiness.

LINCOLN: Did you need to?  Isn’t that making it about you?

SYDNEY: You’re a bastard.

LINCOLN: I’m sorry, but we all knew each other for so long…and then you…you went and ruined it my making it all about you.

SYDNEY: I’m trying to be better, I really am.

LINCOLN: I know.

SYDNEY: I let you live here.

LINCOLN: A selfless act if there ever was one.

(Dog snarls and growls through the door)

 SYDNEY: And now you’ve brought home a dog.

LINCOLN: I think it’s going to be a good match, besides, we’ve needed someone to complete our trio.

SYDNEY: Our trio?

LINCOLN: You, me, and …we’re always better when we have someone—

SYDNEY: That dog is not a someone—

LINCOLN: Something—to round us out…to balance us out.   Like Dahlia used to.

SYDNEY: And now she’s coming to visit.

LINCOLN: She’s back.  From Hong Kong.

SYDNEY: Hong Kong?

LINCOLN: You really don’t keep up with facebook.

(The dog begins to bark again.  The door shakes as the dog tries to twist the handle and open it)

LINCOLN: Damn dog.

SYDNEY: Is it trying to open the door?

LINCOLN: I think so.

SYDNEY: You think so.

LINCOLN:  (holding onto the handle)  It’s definitely trying to get out.

SYDNEY: I’ve never seen a dog open a door.

LINCOLN: Neither have I.

(LINCOLN steps back to let it happen.  SYDNEY watches)

SYDNEY: What are you doing?

LINCOLN: How often do we get to see something we’ve never seen before?

SYDNEY: Are you mad?

LINCOLN: No, but if we’ve never…maybe we should.  I need your help.

(Dog shakes the door again.  Quiet)

SYDNEY: So…when is DAHLIA getting into town?

LINCOLN: Today.

SYDNEY: Today?

LINCOLN: Yeah.  Soon.

SYDNEY: When did you find out?

LINCOLN: A few weeks ago.

SYDNEY: A few weeks?

LINCOLN: Okay.  A month.

SYDNEY: A month!  Why didn’t you—

LINCOLN: Because I figured you’d blow town again.

SYDNEY: Blow town?

LINCOLN: Your excuses are abundant.

(Dog barks)

LINCOLN: Shut up!

SYDNEY: You brought it home.

LINCOLN:  For you.

SYDNEY: For you.

LINCOLN: It’s self-preservation.  Pure and simple.

SYDNEY: Uh-huh.

LINCOLN: You love the dog.  You love me.  You keep the dog.  Maybe you’ll keep me.

SYDNEY: Keep you?  I don’t want to keep you.  You are not worth keeping.

LINCOLN: That hurts.

SYDNEY: It’s 8:45 in the morning.

LINCOLN: Yeah…and that hurts.

SYDNEY: Where did you even find a dog at this hour?

LINCOLN: The pet store opened early.

SYDNEY: The pet store?

LINCOLN: Guy on the corner.  He told me that he got the dog from a friend.

SYDNEY: And what kind of friends do you think the guy on the corner has?

LINCOLN: Sketchy friends.

SYDNEY: That’s right…sketchy friends.

LINCOLN: But they’re interesting.

SYDNEY: He’s a guy on the corner.  Of course he’s interesting…

LINCOLN: And he told me that this dog…this dog was a winner.

SYDNEY: You bought a dog fighting dog!

LINCOLN: I’m not going to fight him.  He needs a good home.  He needs love.

SYDNEY: You are loyalless and impossible.  You are the opposite of this dog.

LINCOLN: The opposite of dog.  Is that god?

SYDNEY: Why are you home?  Shouldn’t you be at the library?

LINCOLN: Yeah, but I can’t work there anymore.  The lights…they hum at a constant b-flat.  It’s driving me batty.  Why are you up?  Shouldn’t people be watching you sleep?

SYDNEY: That’s not funny.

LINCOLN: Last night I was out at this bar…and this woman in an Eskimo Joe’s shirt was dancing with her Marlboro…alone…on the dance floor…Some Ten Years After song is playing and she’s dancing…Red coal her only partner…her connection to reality.

And as I looked at her, I realized that behind her…Just behind her…At a table…Drinking a beer…Was a clown.

And not a clown like a person being silly…A clown with 8 colors of hair and white makeup and overalls and big shoes and too many handkerchiefs and a Budweiser.

And that’s when I lost myself…I wondered, what am I doing in this bar…with this clown?

(beat)

I brought you a present.

SYDNEY: Besides the dog?

LINCOLN: Oh…the dog.  Right.  Yes…besides the dog.

(LINCOLN produces a bottle of tequila)

SYDNEY: Tequila?  But it’s 8:45 in the—

LINCOLN: Dahlia is going to be here this morning.  This is for you two—

SYDNEY: So…let me put all this together:  You thought I needed a surprise.

LINCOLN: Yes.

SYDNEY: But you didn’t know how I’d respond to one surprise so you—

LINCOLN: Brought you two.

SYDNEY: I know you probably thought that you were being considerate, but–

LINCOLN: This morning I woke with a start, horrified at what I’d done…hours must have passed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that clown–

SYDNEY: You were going to bring home a snarling dog,

A bottle of tequila,

And my old friend whom I haven’t talked to since, since she married that, that—

LINCOLN: You can really hold a grudge.

SYDNEY: What were you thinking?

LINCOLN: I was hoping that you would be distracted enough by the dog and the tequila, that perhaps you and Dahlia would forget about the past and start dealing with the present.

SYDNEY: Deal with the present?  You come in here before 9:00 in the morning talking about gin-soaked clowns.

LINCOLN: Beer-drenched clowns.

SYDNEY: And you want me to start dealing with the present.  How about you start dealing with reality?

LINCOLN: I start to move.  Then I stop.  We see each other at the same instant.

DHALIA: (from outside the window)  Hello!

SYDNEY and LINCOLN: She’s here!

SYDNEY: Crap!

(SYDNEY runs to out of the room)

LINCOLN: Crap!

(LINCOLN answers the front door)

LINCOLN: Hi.

DHALIA: Hi.  It’s been a—

LINCOLN: Long time.

DHALIA: Yeah.  I…uh—

LINCOLN: Tequila?

DHALIA: It’s barely 9 in the morning.

LINCOLN: Just trying to—

DHALIA: Trying to get me drunk?

LINCOLN: No…I just—

DHALIA: Is she here?

LINCOLN: Yeah…she’s—

(DAHLIA goes to the door)

LINCOLN: Not in there!

(The dog begins to go crazy)

DHALIA: What do you have in—

LINCOLN: I got a dog.

DHALIA: Sounds like a big dog.

LINCOLN: Yeah, and Syd’s not too happy about it.

DHALIA: When did you get it?

LINCOLN: This morning.

DHALIA: This morning?

LINCOLN: I went out to get the tequila, and the guy on the corner—

DHALIA: Nothing’s changed with you.

LINCOLN: That’s not true.  I’m working on my Master’s Degree.

DHALIA: By going to buy tequila at 8 o’clock in the morning?

LINCOLN: 7 o’clock.  And it was a surprise for Sydney.

DHALIA: I’m sure she loved it.

LINCOLN: You know her as well as ever.

DHALIA: I thought I heard her voice when I—

LINCOLN: Yeah, she had to—

DHALIA: You still making excuses for her?

(VOICE FROM STREET comes in the window)

VOICE FROM STREET:  Can you tell me where a bodega—

LINCOLN: Down at the corner—

VOICE FROM STREET:  Thanks!

DHALIA: The master of distraction has returned.

LINCOLN: Look, I just wanted us all to get along.  How was Hong Kong?

DHALIA: Amazing.

LINCOLN: The photos looked amazing.  What were you doing there?

DHALIA: You know, this and that.

LINCOLN: This and that?

DHALIA: Nothing nefarious.

LINCOLN: Did I say nefarious?

DHALIA: No, but you were—

LINCOLN: I was.

DHALIA: I’m not in college anymore.

LINCOLN: Hey, that’s not—

(SYDNEY enters from her room.  She is dressed: half-presentable)

SYDNEY: Hey.

DHALIA: Hey.  How are—

LINCOLN: Tequila?

DAHLIA & SYDNEY: Shut up!

LINCOLN: Ok.  Fine.

DHALIA: (simultaneous with SYDNEY )  So are you—

SYDNEY: (simultaneous with DAHLIA)  What have—

DHALIA: .

SYDNEY: .

LINCOLN: Anybody want—

DHALIA: !

SYDNEY: !

LINCOLN: I’m going to my room…for a minute.  Let you two catch up.

(LINCOLN touches the handle and the dog goes crazy)

LINCOLN: Easy.  Easy buddy.

(LINCOLN gets pulled into the room.  Dog is snarling)

LINCOLN: Easy buddy!

(LINCOLN exits)

DHALIA: Hi.

SYDNEY: Hi.

DHALIA: It’s been a long time.

SYDNEY: Yeah.  It sure has.

DHALIA: You been–

SYDNEY: You’ve been living in Hong Kong.

DHALIA: Yeah.

SYDNEY: That’s incredible.

DHALIA: It was.  And now I’m back.

SYDNEY: Back for what?

DHALIA: Back forever.  I think.

SYDNEY: But why?

DHALIA: Parents.  Stuff.  Unresolved stuff.  What’ve you been up to?

SYDNEY: Ya know.

DHALIA: Yeah.  You working?

SYDNEY: Yeah.

DHALIA: Where?

SYDNEY: Here.

DHALIA: Here?

SYDNEY: Yeah, my boss, he—

DHALIA: Are you okay?

SYDNEY: Yeah, my boss, he—

DHALIA: He what?

SYDNEY: Hong Kong must have been incredible.

DHALIA: Yeah.  It was.  What about your boss?

SYDNEY: I work from home.

DHALIA: That’s great!  I dream of working from home!

SYDNEY: Not like this.

DHALIA: What do you mean…

SYDNEY: Talking about it makes it weird.

DHALIA: Weird how?

SYDNEY: I haven’t left the house in three years.

DHALIA: You what?

SYDNEY: This is my job.  People watch me live.

DHALIA: And your boss…

SYDNEY: I met him once.  When he set up the cameras—

DHALIA: So I’m…

SYDNEY: Being broadcast live.

(Long pause.  DAHLIA looks around for cameras)

SYDNEY: What’s wrong?

DHALIA: Nothing…I…uh…didn’t know.

SYDNEY: You’ve been in Hong Kong.

DHALIA: Do people watch you?

SYDNEY: Lots of people.  Why?

DHALIA: I need to go.

SYDNEY: But you just got here!

(LINCOLN enters.  Scrambling out of the room)

LINCOLN: What’s happening?

DHALIA: I have to go.  You should have told me about—

LINCOLN: You can’t go…we’re just catching up…old times and all that…

SYDNEY: If she needs to go, she should go.

LINCOLN: No.  I’ve worked hard to make this happen, and now—

DHALIA: We may all be in trouble.

(Dog barks)

LINCOLN: If you leave…I’ll…I’ll kill the dog.

SYDNEY: You will not.

LINCOLN: I knew you’d change your mind.

VOICE OF THE BOSS:

DHALIA: We take her mighty ideas along quietly so that we may come right.

 

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Show and Tell: Last Chance

August 6, 2014

S&T backyard photo

Last spring, I was approached by a group of former students eager to begin their lives as artists and hungry to make art.   I am lucky to work with students whose art I respect and I was honored that they would look at the work of a professor and be eager to make it their own.  So during a series of meetings over coffee at the Evergreen Cafe, a plan was hatched to present weekly readings during summer 2014 of  several episodes in Last Chance, my theatre serial.  Only one hitch…they didn’t have a space.  So I did what I thought was the logical thing…I offered them our house.

S&T

Our house is a rowhouse in Baltimore (basically three single-wide trailers stacked on top of each other–a basement and two upper floors 14’x40′) with a backyard roughly the same size as the footprint of the house.  We often entertain and our home has been featured in an article in What Weekly Magazine and in an article by Moscow critic John Freedman on the Trust for Mutual Understanding website, but this was a weekly commitment to using our home with the potential for invited audience…our central air was out…and it was summer in Baltimore.

A bit of backstory:

Last Chance: tales from a broken heartland is a series of episodes about life in the fictional rural town of Last Chance.  I began writing the series in 2001 with the episode “Trash” and every year or so have written additional episodes.  There are currently 10 episodes about Last Chance:

  • “Trash”*
  • “Ain’t Nothin’ Quik ‘n Easy”*
  • “Watersheds”
  • “Loser”
  • “Ninjas & Squirrels”*
  • “Cut Once
  • “Measure Twice”
  • “Trailer” !
  • “Enough”*
  • “Tall Buildings”

Each episode looks at a different aspect of the community.  In this series, there is no central character, and people have commented that the town is the protagonist in this series.  Some episodes (*) stand alone and have been produced at festivals, universities, or community theaters.  One episode is new for summer 2014 (!).  Only once before, at Generous Company’s Gumbo 2012, had anyone attempted to present more than one or two episodes as an event; at that time seven episodes were presented.

I worked through scribbled notebooks of notes from the 2012 Gumbo event and began to think of this as Last Chance and not a bunch of separate plays.This summer I worked to make these full length plays part of a series; part of a new whole.  I worked to give each episode a greater sense of focus and urgency from the plays that had previously seemed a bit meandering.

I learned many things from this process, but here are a few that stand out and reflect the reward for taking the risk:

  1. The deadlines were great, generating a new play and strong revisions of other plays.
  2. As a small, but faithful, audience gathered we found our community growing…new friends welcomed into our home to see an evening of theatre.
  3. The energy and thrill of having a performance in our home must resemble the joy that people hosting house concerts feel, but there’s another energy with theatre: risk and danger… and the heartpounding reality of people fighting in your living room when you have a 90-pound dog.

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During their six week residency at our home, the Show and Tell Collective presented seven episodes from Last Chance: Trash, Ain’t Nothin’ Quik ‘n Easy, Loser, Ninjas & Squirrels, Cut Once, Measure Twice, and Trailer.  Charlie Herrick also penned an article about the summer called Home Theater, and it captures much of the spirit of the Last Chance experiment in presenting theatre in our home.

As a culminating event to this summer series, the Collective rented Church and Comany, a dynamic and homey space in the Hampden area of Baltimore.  A great end to a great summer.

S&T event photo

 

 

Exploring Community in the TCG Crossing Borders Blog/Salon

July 16, 2014

From Building Bridges, an article I contributed to the TCG Crossing Borders online blog/salon:

I can now act and think both globally and locally, creating theatre that is vital to more people because it is theatre that bridges communities, finds connections, and waits for society to catch up.

 

 

Dancing on Bones at the Ilkhom Theatre

May 26, 2014

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One month ago today, (exactly one month ago down to this minute) Rebecca and I drove from Baltimore to Dulles International Airport, boarded a plane for Istanbul, transferred to a plane to Tashkent, and arrived there in the wee hours of April 27th.  In many ways, our journey was all leading up to the evening of May 1st, when the Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil and The Seagull Project would present their collaboration, an improvisation around my new script Dance On Bones.  As you may remember, Dance on Bones was initially supported by the Likhachev Foundation with a cultural fellowship in St. Petersburg (see blog posts from May 2013), and was in an early draft when selected by The Seagull Project and the Ilkhom so I had arrived not knowing exactly what forces we were mingling with in this script.

Dance on Bones is 37 interlocking poems inspired by the jazz scene in St. Petersburg, Russia (see my Dance on Bones research page as well as numerous posts from May/June 2013), but set in a world in which cities have disappeared: are we in St. Petersburg or New Orleans or St. New PeterOrleansBurg?

An early draft of Dance on Bones was prepared for the Festival of American Culture at the Ilkhom Theater of Mark Weil, Tashkent, Uzbekistan in April/May 2014.

Cast of Characters:
1 – 4 actors; 1 – 4 musicians; Shadows, puppets, and advertisements
Notes:
The pages of the script are the template for performance.
Some can be performed as monologues.  Some can be performed as dialogue with indentation indicating changes of voice…Some of the pages may be stage directions. Some of the pages may be told through images, movement, or puppetry.

The pages included after this point can be rearranged or shuffled into a random order or performed in a different order each time or arranged to articulate different ideas.
or
Read around a campfire.  (from blogpost dated May 12, 2014)

The Ilkhom Theatre paired the four actors and co-directors from The Seagull Project with four Uzbek musicians who were well versed in jazz idioms.  Watching these ten artists, plus lighting designers and costumers, dive into Dance On Bones, was an invigorating experience.  Tyler, with his insights from living in Uzbekistan, chose to underscore the piece with specific references to Soviet history, while Gavin worked with the actors to connect the numerous dots that the script presented.  The set was a group of staggered, stacked, square platforms, and X-rays spun in the air above the platforms, an homage to the origins of Dance on Bones

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Speaking about my own work is a challenging prospect.  Naturally having one’s work brought to life by interested and interesting artists who dig deep is a humbling experience while also being a moment of tremendous pride.  Rather than reflecting or waxing poetic (or simply waxing my own ego), here is what I learned from this experience:

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  • Music is a character in this play.  Music shapes the structure and themes of the play.  I can imagine a version in which a Superman-esque theme is played under the Adverts rather than a Stalin-esque theme; they are, after all, both Men of Steel.

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  • The connections between many of the poems in very clear, some connections really opened up my eyes to possibilities: such as the pairing of “Gavri’s Losing Voice” with “The Invention of Jazz,” making that her story.  But there are whole arcs that remain muddied, that I can work to strengthen the connection now that I’ve seen where the gaps are and how clear connections provide the network by which artists and audiences navigate this piece.

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  • This is a funny play and a sad play.  I knew it was dystopian and political, but I didn’t know how funny it would be, or how the totalitarian aspects of the script would draw sadness from the actors.


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There are many more ideas, but it is with these ideas that I now head back into work on this script.  So here are three segments from the Improvisation of Dance On Bones at the Ilkhom Theatre in Tashkent, Uzbekistan; a glimpse of the live experience via the reductionist form of video.  The video contains three excerpts: “The Man With the Ham Part 1,” “The Floods, Part 1,” and “The Man of Steel.”  This video was recorded and produced by the Ilkhom Theatre.

Directors:  Tyler Polumsky and Gavin Reub

Actors:  John Abramson, CT Doescher, David Quicksall, and Alex Tavares

Musicians:  Sanjar Nafikov (piano), Saidmurat Muratov (sax), Andrey Prosvirnov (bass), Alibek Kabdurakhmanov (drums)

From the Program note (which I did not write):   Dance on Bones is a fragmented glance at a dystopian world, where authoritarian control reigns supreme, the world fights back against the loss of culture and memory, and jazz remains the soul and saving grace of the people.  Inspired equally by George Orwell, William S. Burroughs, American Poetry, and Miles Davis; Dance on Bones is a unique look at the importance of humanity in a world of lost souls.

Special Thanks to the Ilkhom Theatre’s tech and design staff whose quick work and acrobatics helped everything come together quickly, and especially to Boris Gafurov and Irina Bharat for opening up the Ilkhom Theatre to Dance on Bones.

After the presentation of Dance on Bones there was a talkback with Tyler, Gavin, John, CT, David, Alex, and me.  Here’s a few highlights:

  • An audience member compared the work to that of Ken Kesey, esp Cookoo’s Nest world populated by the inmates.
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Dance On Bones audience member asking a question.

  • Another audience member asked why jazz music and I discussed the connections of New Orleans and St. Petersburg (built in swamps, the heart of jazz in their respective countries, cities of cultural amalgamation and European roots)
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Dance on Bones actors, directors, and playwright take questions from the audience.

  • Someone asked if I wrote this piece about Uzbekistan, because they have their own stories of the Man of Steel and Trees and Jazz.
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Dance on Bones audience member asking a question.

  • The actors spoke about their work on the piece: a journey from disorientation to connection.

Then we journeyed down the street to Chez Aziz where we used every table and ordered so much beer they ran out of mugs (new mugs were there the next day).

Sanjar Nafikov and Jazzirama

Sanjar Nafikov on left, and me at Ilkhom Theatre.

Sanjar Nafikov was the musical director for Dance on Bones and was working with the team from my first rehearsal.  He is a versatile musician who in a member of a quartet that blends jazz ideas with Uzbek instruments and tones.  Below is a video from their concert at the Ilkhom Theatre celebrating the release of their eponymous CD.

 

Travel Tip

The day after we the presentation of Dance on Bones, Rebecca and I joined The Seagull Project folks for a trip to Samarkand, a mystical city filled with magical architechture.  We managed to get the high speed train there which arrived in 2 hours.  On the way home we took the regular train (3.5 hours), which was enough time for a remarkable conversation.  The train cost round trip was $40 and the tour of Samarkand with a guide and bus was $55/person.  But that trip will have to wait until the next post.

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