Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

Posts Tagged ‘Bob Jaffe

Ensemble Studio Theatre is giving BREATHING ASH breath..

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..exciting -excited! -and feeling proud.

Through longstanding support of Bob Jaffe, Ensemble Studio Theatre is giving my play Breathing Ash a workshop, and then rehearsed reading, on Tuesday the 25th October.

The company have gathered a terrific group of actors, and I have a fearless and deep thinking director in Christopher Burris!

More to come on the details and journey of this work, whose themes and narrative profoundly resonate, in the chilling nature of culture today..

 

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

September 22, 2016 at 8:51 AM

In the still of the hurricane…

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..how odd to find stillness in a hurricane; to find that moment’s peace in which to catch up with oneself.. –listening, past the howling and rattling windows..

Yes; oddness.

It is not as if nothing has been happening since my last entry; a great deal has.. But in this great deal were opportunities that I was uncertain would come to fruition, and who wants to nail dreams down on a page, in a viewable journal?

Not me. Not my style. And so silence, and playing things close to my chest turned into a reticence of communication and chronicling. Perhaps not only for regard for the potential of things not coming to fruition, but in consideration for the various synchronicities that were involved; an open eager word can avert connection.

I have patience, but it holds best in the quiet and observation of expectation.

Months ago, I handed a play to chance. A weighed chance, I’ll admit. I handed it off to be read, knowing that it would intrigue, and hoped more; to engage.

It did both; and on the conversation of acumen with a director, Steven Mazzola, I tinkered with a work (I must admit) I’d always held in sacrosanct and inviolate state. Steven’s advice offered re-entry; I worked quickly, and the result was a more unfussy view into the work.

The culminating ambition then was to hear it, in front of an audience, in some full state of its text; a way to weigh myself, as the last and only time it had been heard was in a private reading, through Joe Cacaci’s effort, and with Bob and Jill Jaffe’s graciousness facilitating a last minute move of ‘place’, to their New York apartment.

This occurred this past January.

Hearing the words, there, spoken for the first time out loud, I was overwhelmed; this particular work had been gestating since the late 90’s, and first written out in 2004. Few knew of it; fewer, beyond my support of Berkshire Playwrights Lab, had “heard” it, or even seen its print.

The play is called Reconstruction.

Though a ‘free standing’ work, it also sits as the third ‘panel’ of a triptych, whose first panel is entitled The Orion; the play which was my introduction to BPL, and a Great Barrington audience. Reconstruction is also the first time I have ever returned to the journey of a particular character; in this case, Ioni, the woman (in The Orion)  who was the cable network executive who created a break out, hit show. With Reconstruction, and in the full mien of her achievements, we catch up with Ioni; the many successes of her life have failed to prepare her for the experience of facing personal challenges.

Her mother, just before the narrative of this play begins, has died; Ioni is in a dark fugue of isolation, feeling the oppression of being alone and facing the unexpected realization of being the last of her family..

But it happens that she is not alone; ghosts pry into Ioni’s grief, and compel her focus on a portrait in her mother’s bedroom, that has been in the family since ..well, ever; memory coalesces legacy, and forces secrets, long hidden, to be urged toward a reconstruction.

Memory is the fluid of the play. We move back and forth in time -2008 America, to 1871 America; as well as across continents: America to France.

In the ‘past’ of the play, we follow the journey of an artist, Charles; a fair man of color, who makes opportunity in the period of cacophony at the end of the civil war. Discovered, he flees America –for France; leaving behind his father, the man who had placed him in line for better chances to begin with.

The only mark of connection Charles left to his family, or to even detail his existence in America, is the portrait, titled “The Artist’s father”.

___________________

..the work is an immense chew; the very idea of journeying, with “fluidity”, between time and cultures is challenging enough, but the play’s core narrative -of ‘choices’; of ‘degrees of color’; of the voice of an artist; of the urgency of ghosts- all these ramifications of choice, is material that jerks many hands off the text.

But Saturday, 20th October, at The Shop, at Fort Fringe, in DC, Reconstruction had its audience for a reading. There were about 30 folks present; a diverse 30, who witnessed an assembled talent of actors deliver a deep glimpse of characters, who then fully drew the parameters and context of this work. The result: an engaged audience; and a feed back session that ‘unknit’ its seams of PC reticence, to engage discussion in the hot corners of race and American culture.

This talk back was astonishing; civil; unreserved; unscripted. And to be honest, I am still unpacking all the details and currents I witnessed from the “hot seat” on stage..

I can say, unreservedly, that I am very proud of the work; it proves it will engage; it will conflict; it will give opportunity for conversation, dialogue, and journey.

And one other thing I took away from the presentation is that.. –once it is on its feet, in production, it will wreck its own havoc.

Whittling

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..last week I attended S.C.A.M.P., an opening at Gallery Plan b that included the works of friends of mine; each, visual artists. Standing in that gallery I enjoyed their success as much as their work, and felt a cathartic joy at seeing the walls of the space hosting such a diverse and complimentary collection of completed thoughts.

..savoring it I realize: each time I sit at my computer, being a visual artist has compensations no playwright can claim; in hanging a work, it is presented. Even hung in a room of the artist’s home, the work is ‘alive’ and available to be seen and enjoyed.

A play only comes to life after many hours and days, if not (hopefully), weeks of rehearsal; it stands by way of the grip of a collection of professionals, many of whom participate unseen –designers, technicians- all of whom work in phalanx to the director-..Only in the crucible of a performance space can a playwright’s mettle be weighed. Because of this, a work isn’t finished once it is complete; it has merely reached a ‘lodging’ –a drawer, or thumb drive, until it is given full opportunity.

.. this is not a whinge on the unsung plight of playwrights; at our best, we manage the parameters of our genre. It is, in fact, part of the package in our art, this extended (and protracted) climb to true ‘existence’.

..it’s just..the abiding challenge to a playwright is not to ‘create’; but, I believe, to shrewdly ‘construct’. For in some future, in presentation, the work must prove the writer’s intentions, while bearing the weight of interpretation.

For me, it is very much about architecture. Being a ‘good’ playwright is about presciently countering the nuances that will be found in a performance, which might give opportunity to distortion of the work’s dimensions. It is about being aware, and anticipating collaboration.

No matter what I write, I know that it is not going to be onstage in the very strict contours of my thinking; it is going to be breathing through the wit, timing and intelligence of the actors, as well as the impulse and scheme of the director interpreting the whole.

..Pinter is a master architect; his writing is a level of manipulation that only the most adroit and adept can steer by.

It is not about placing non sequiturs in a ratcheting string of emphasis, modulated through strategic ellipses; it is about conscious dimensions of construct, and crawl; a specific psychological stairway. And the actors who must climb this track know to connect the unseen beats, and words, and find the tensile, invisible architecture.

They know to be prepared for challenge, from the moment of reading the words “written by-”.

But the majority of we who write have no such eminence; until our work is brought into the hands of others, the arrow we’ve fashioned only hits its mark in the perfection of our own minds..

-so, when scripts were placed on the table, for the first read through of strawberry dwarfs and other lies, I could only know in the abstract- the dimensions of the piece I had written.

On that Thursday, June 7th, 2012, the voices in my head listened to words finally spoken.

Jack Cutmore-Scott hit the sass and swagger with Painter’s character; Charlie Tirrell gave grounding to Glassman’s comedy; while Charlie Socarides detailed Evan’s calm, into inexorable..

All while Amy Van Nostrand’s Lillian..

-unnerved me; her journey being a descent through two interactions, seemingly nothing more than salacious, but, in truth, hurtling this driven character into a clear contour of desperation..

With the last words spoken, a cloying sense of ickiness draped us at the table; I had to stand, and shake it off, literally!

..and this was just a first read through!

The work given four days rehearsal and full concentration by the artist and its director, Bob Jaffe, stood up in blue wash onstage, leading the audience to laugh, chuckle, and then swallow disconcertedly ..

Sometimes, queasy silence is affirmation of effectiveness, and Lillian’s ebbing stole the breath of those watching..

-until their applause broke with the subsequent dark.

…my father used to quote a phrase of his mother’s: “..you sit by the door of opportunity, sit and wait, but be prepared, because once it opens, you’re going to rush in ready.”

Playwrights may create in a vacuum, but “prepared” is a good password..

riding the rail

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…there is no real way of giving the full description of a writer’s life..

It often wobbles somewhere between obscurity and, in a subsequent second, for an evening (or a phone call), celebrity. The daily pulse, however, is the whittling of character, and the connection of point to plot. Good days involve finding the rail through the subject of the moment, and riding it evenly, creatively, and effectively, hammering together all the seams of narrative and leaving no scars to derail an audience on a tight curve.

Most of this occurs in the writer’s mind, or, if particularly lucky, on the page. And, when luck is involved, there are instances of serendipity, where that page gets handed to interested parties who feel the need to expose the words to a live gathering of folks, who will applaud it, or leave you with nightmares of an experience to gnash and blush over..

But, either way, the whole point of writing anything is to reach out –to lay down words which connect to other people’s hearts, minds, wonder, and curiosity.. and facilitate a journey they’d not contemplated taking, one, hopefully, enjoyed.

My connection with the Berkshire Playwrights Lab came as a true gift of serendipity, and has only reinforced my belief in that, every time I’ve been fortunate to work with them.

This is the third year of the Lab’s existence, and last Friday evening, 21st May, was its Gala Opening event.

A ten minute work of mine, Groundwork, was in the roster of the evening, and last Tuesday I drove up to Great Barrington with Joe Cacaci, one of BPL’s artistic directors, and Carol Schneider, another of the playwrights being plat-formed.

Joe was directing Carol’s piece, and, once we got to Great Barrington, they disappeared into rehearsals and weren’t seen again until evening, at a terrific dinner at the Old Mill, a local restaurant. It was the first time for the whole company, minus a straggler or two, to come together and learn of one another’s presentations.

Though I knew of the two actors assigned to my piece, it was at this dinner that I first met Dan Lauria and Jay Thomas.

Bob Jaffe, another of the artistic directors of BPL, was the director of my play. We started rehearsal the next morning at 9.

..ok –you’ve got to know that having Dan and Jay in the same room, not to mention sharing the same stage, is an event of hysteric proportion; they’re old friends, and have wanted to have a whack at one another from the same script for some time!

Jay, is ever ready with a story; from New Orleans, ‘fable curling’ comes off his lips like limitless honey, while Dan, a solid northerner, cuts to the chase of a tale with a no nonsense delivery, and always has the listener rapt. I filled volumes of notebooks on stories these two let fly, and read them now daily, to savor the ribald, wrenching, and unbelievable that I was witness to, laughing uncontrollably.

But the process, of Dan and Jay finding their feet in my words, was a privileged one to watch.

The rehearsal started at a long table, in a large classroom at the Great Barrington Community College, where they first read through the piece. There was a bit of back and forth afterwards, about ‘word reading’ and word meaning, and then Bob asked if they were feeling like they might like to ‘move it’. They were ready to, and so Dan and Jay walked about for the second reading. In the course of this came movements, connected to particular lines that shaped an action in a particular moment.

Bob massaged these moments, and asked Dan and Jay to see if a different connection could be made to a word, facilitating a different action.

..the rest of us in the room, Abby Edber, BPL intern, Don Kimmel, stage manager, and I, would be silent and hanging on every instance, watching these two actors create, from nothing but words, characters, relationship, comedy and entertainment.

We ran the piece several times in that first rehearsal, and each time round I was able to marvel –what had first existed as a conversation between two voices in my head, was now in the flesh in front of me, pulsing with a wit and life I’d only sketched as guide.

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When the connection is a good one, magic happens. It came in that first rehearsal, and stayed rich through opening night!