You want to come see Traveling Light. I haven’t been writing much lately, but other people have been, and the hard work of the production team and actors is coming to fruition in a delicate and multifaceted setting. Fortunately, so far our coins in the wishing well are echoing and rippling rather nicely. Playwrights work in planned obsolescence; you write and hope that your work will be handed off to others who will include enough of themselves that the piece can live on its own. So far, this theory holds up beautifully.
Last night, Kyle Cassidy came and took photos of the final dress rehearsal. Having a photographer present seemed to give the actors a strong sense of how they relate to space and each other and remind them of physicality. Kyle has an excellent ability to use light to create texture and palpability in his photos. It also felt like having Obi-Wan Kenobi with us, at the beginning and at the final dress, to bookend the creative process.
I’m going to put photos in a separate post, because they’re big and beautiful and speak for themselves, but for now, here’s a taste:
It’s not often enough that you have to say this sentence, “Electric fences don’t work on my brother.” Not because my brother is Iron Man, but simply because he is who he is. By way of explanation, I wrote the following story, and it seemed good enough to share, so enjoy.
My brother, Ted, has an official diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder with autistic-like symptoms. He’s relatively high-functioning and his behavior tends to be somewhere between Rain Man and Forrest Gump, with a fair amount of Captain Jack Sparrow and Vincent Price thrown in for good measure.
When Ted was in his 20s, he had all the same daredevil urges that most guys that age do. Fortunately, he wasn’t interested in kegstands and extreme sports (although he did like to ride around on a mountain bike, until he was run off of a road by an asshole aggressive driver and broke his collarbone). He also liked to spend a lot of time walking around in the yard in costumes or his pajamas, talking to himself.
His pajamas at the time consisted of a red V-neck giant t-shirt that (thank God) came down to his knees. I got used to it. Looking back I realize that it may have seemed odd to others. At the time, he was over six feet tall, blond, and built like your basic frat boy. but he would wander around the yard scheming about his imagined future career as a late-night horror movie host.
My father had a swimming pool built sometime around 1991 or so. We now call it Lake Mistake. Ted would spend his afternoons by the pool in his concept of a pirate costume with all of his stuffed animals and his Playmobil pirate ship set (which he acquired when he was about six or seven and in which he didn’t lose interest for another 20 years or so). His pirates would do battle and then he took a wooden plank, weighted it with bricks at one end of the pool, and made all of the stuffed animals walk the plank to meet their watery graves.
We were finding teeny tiny pirate accessories in the pool filter system for years. The stuffed animals never quite dried out.
Now that I think about it, Ted went through a period where he built a wooden raft in the barn out of whatever scrap wood he could find, and he and his teddy bear would set sail on Ridley Creek (which is about 2′ deep at the most near our house). The raft was about 3’x4′, had a mast and sail, weighed a ton and was as seaworthy as a cinderblock, but he kept dragging it down to the creek and back, along with his teddy bear, Captain Junior Foozergraph Bear, who also wore a pirate costume, and who bore many knife wounds from various steak-knife skirmishes with the other stuffed animals. Between the old rusty nails and the questionable cleanliness of Ridley Creek, the whole thing was a massive testament to hepatitis and tetanus, but somehow Ted survived. He did get really sick from playing in the creek too much, but he managed to sleep it off somehow.
as a result of the sickness he got from too much creek swimming, he tried to launch his raft in the swimming pool once. I don’t know how he got it out, but he never did it again. He and my mother managed to reach a compromise that the raft could be next to the pool and he could imagine sailing it across the ocean more enjoyably than actually trying to float it in the pool.
so, for a couple of years, we had this treacherous pallet of scrap lumber and found nails sitting next to the swimming pool, along with the chaise lounges and chairs.
“oh, that’s Ted’s pirate ship.”
I’m totally digressing away from the point.
We had a golden retriever named Chowder (my family’s never been good with pet naming), who was completely nuts, a jumping, barking, running tornado of blond hair and love. My parents installed an invisible electric fence to keep him from running up to a particular house about a mile away where there were two golden retrievers, where, of course, he would fight with the made dog and have sex with the female dog. he was a four-legged viking (There is no such thing as a story about my family that stays on one tangent for long. It just doesn’t work). Chowder managed to figure out that if he made a beeline from the front porch to the furthest downhill corner of the yard, he could build up enough speed that he could zip across the fence with little to no ill effect. Either that, or his dog brain just said, “GO! GO! GO!” and he was going so fast that he didn’t even realize he was in the danger zone until he was out of it. The invisible fence people kept telling us to crank the signal higher and higher, and we said that the electric shock was now high enough to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, but it wasn’t stopping Chowder when he put his mind to it.
So, one day, my boyfriend Dave and I were at the house wandering around the yard, as was Ted, and of course he was in his red V-neck t-shirt, covered in food and ink stains. Thank God Dave also had an autistic brother, so he understood the behaviors pretty well.
TED: Have you tried out the electric fence yet?
ME: What do you mean, ‘tried out’?
TED: Have you walked across it while wearing the dog’s collar?
ME: No. Have you?
ME: You did, didn’t you?
ME: What does it feel like?
TED: Like Frankenstein being brought to life!
Yes, my brother took a dog’s collar with an electrical box with two metal prongs sticking out of it on his neck, lined up the prongs on his neck, and walked across an electrical fence cranked up to its highest setting. For Science. you know. as you do. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t seriously hurt him, but I’m also kind of not surprised.
Anyway. A few minutes later, the dog decided to take a run from the front porch to the far downhill corner of the yard, again, and of course he made it across the fence and off to someone else’s yard. We ran after him, and back then Ted was a really fast runner, so he managed to make it across the yard, the bridge over the creek, across the street, and into a neighboring yard, where he grabbed the dog and dragged him back. We caught up with him about ten feet away from the other side of the electric fence.
Now that the dog was moving at a normal pace, he refused to cross the invisible fence. The collar makes a warning sound, a high-pitched beep, when it gets in close proximity to the fence, so the dog has some warning before it gets zapped. The collar was beeping, so we took the collar off of Chowder and hung onto his indoor collar to see if he would let us drag him across the line that way. Nothing doing. Chowder was a big dog, and he settled his full weight down and would not budge. Finally Dave picked up the dog and carried him across the line. Dave was not a big guy, and the sight of him carrying a giant yellow dog half his size was hilarious.
It was so intoxicatingly funny that I completely forgot that I was holding the collar, by the box, with the two prongs stuck between my fingers.
The image that flashed through my mind was a giant gold and silver rattlesnake biting my hand off. I screamed a high C bloody murder and threw the collar as far as my arm would flail. I also probably levitated about four feet off the ground. Dave dropped the dog, who went back to his usual routine of jumping up and down and barking and rolling in the grass. We managed to get the collar back on the dog, and the adrenaline rush made me completely useless for about the next four hours.
So, in the great scheme of things, I will never know which is the biologically superior being, my brother or me, but I’m pretty sure it’s him.
Last night, as I was getting ready to leave for rehearsal, Vince was sitting on the couch eating a big plate of poached haddock and brown rice.
VINCE: I found out something really important.
ME: What’s that?
VINCE: The truth about Billie Joe McAllister and The Tallatchee Bridge.
ME: What’s that.
VINCE: He didn’t jump.
VINCE: He was pushed.
VINCE: Think about it.
ME: I am.
VINCE: Why would the narrative voice be filled with so much guilt in the second half of the song, if not to cover a crime for which she’s nearly caught?
ME: But… she’s got an alibi. She was down in the field balin’ hay. Or her brother was balin’ hay and she was chopping cotton or something.
VINCE: But Billie Joe McAllister didn’t just jump off the bridge. Not that morning.
ME: When did he jump?
VINCE: The song doesn’t say. But he had to have jumped the day before, otherwise how would the mother know and bring it up so casually at the lunch table?
ME: Okay, but an admission of guilt doesn’t mean anything, what’s the motive?
VINCE: Well, that’s the big mystery, isn’t it?
ME: Where did you get this information?
VINCE: I just thought of it, right now.
Now that I think about it, and after double-checking with lyricsmode.com:
Billie Joe McAllister couldn’t have been pushed by the narrator, because the mom reports “Today Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchee Bridge,” and the narrator has an alibi and a witness.
But you know who doesn’t have an alibi? The mom. I think she pushed him.
Oh, sure, apparently, she was cooking, but none of the food she served is stuff that requires close supervision: the black-eyed peas could have been on a low simmer and the biscuits could have been in the oven for a long time on low heat, as could the apple pie. And there’s no proof that the food was served hot, she could have cooked it the day before. Also, the father mentions that they have forty acres; a family living on a farm or ranch that large wouldn’t have found out about a suicide investigation that quickly without first hand knowledge.
And, Mama does have a motive, because she’s trying to set the narrator up with the preacher.
And she shows absolutely no remorse. Clearly, Mama is the cold-blooded killer.
I know nobody’s looking at the Internet on a Friday in the summer, but allegedly the announcement of what actor will play the 12th Doctor comes out this Sunday, and all the Whovians are all a-flutter. Not the least of which are us; here at Stately Friel Manor we watch episodes on DVD going back to William Hartnell, and we get excited about new Doctor Who episodes coming out like civilians get excited about baby showers. Of course, we know there’s all kinds of specific criteria for who the next Doctor simply has to be, and all kinds of a wish list.
So, without further ado, here’s our dream wish list for The 12th Doctor.
Bob Newhart as The 12th Doctor. As Dr. Bob Hartley, he dealt with the greatest enemy of all: indifference and narcissism. He did it coolly and calmly, for the most part, but when things did get out of hand, it was always legendary (see Season 4, Episode 11, Over The River and Through The Woods). While Bob Newhart is Vince’s choice for The 12th Doctor, he’s not mine, because every episode would be 14 hours long and the Daleks would just get bored and go away on their own.
George Clooney as The 12th Doctor. As Dr. Ross, he handled a chaotic Chicago emergency room and made painful and difficult decisions, including assisted suicide for a child, with panache and grace. Also, that’s a hell of a lot of eye candy, which should give Tennant a rest from the heavy mantle of The Hot Doctor Who. Besides: he’s Batman.
Hugh Laurie as The 12th Doctor. He’s already posh, he’s already mad, but as Doctor House he’s been the guy who’s scarred and scarring. He’d cut the Ood’s shiny balls off to spite their inborn need to serve and say, “You’re welcome.” I actually can’t take this idea too seriously, because if the BBC had ever really wanted Laurie to play the Doctor, they would have gotten him to do it when they got Eccleston (my favorite) to play the Ninth Doctor. But he definitely fits the mold of irreverent and cute, yet damaged by the weight of history. Which brings us to the perfect fit:
Mike Farrell and Alan Alda as The 12th Doctor. The Korean War was hell, and it’s still ongoing. Doctors McIntyre and Pierce faced bombs, snipers, rage-propelled adversaries, young kids bleeding slowly to death, inhospitable landscape, adverse climate, bureaucratic knots, limited resources, inner demons, and Frank Burns, with charisma, swagger, and faith. If Soufflé Girl can split into a million different somebodies, why couldn’t the Doctor split into two? He often disagrees with himself, and maybe the writers will have an easier time keeping the Doctor from sounding like an idiot.
Okay. Before you rip me to shreds over canon and BBC Guidelines and your intense need to prove what an expert you are on Everything In The Whoniverse…
IT’S A JOKE. GET OVER IT.
Personally I think the next Doctor will be either Ben Whishaw or Richard Ayoade. They’re both youngish and good-looking, inherently British, early enough in their careers to not have something else overshadow them to people who have never seen Doctor Who before, and both of them can have the Tom Baker hair (with the right stylist). Vince thinks it will be someone that no one has ever heard of, who has just enough film and stage experience to give them some credibility.
However, there is absolutely no question as to who the next Master will be.
I’m sorry I didn’t get their performance of Leiber and Stoller’s “Houn’ Dog,” which included some great Preseleyesque dance moves on the part of some of the Miracles. But, I did get some footage of a couple of their songs.
The last time I had to do anything resembling performing in front of a room full of people, I had to read a piece I’d written for my Solo Performance class. I had to read the script in front of twelve supportive classmates and one supportive teacher. I was so nervous I thought my uterus was gonna fall out.
This should give you a bit of an idea of how proud as punch I am of my baby brother, who sang in front of hundreds of strangers. The State Street Miracles are a pretty darn good group.
Now, if I can just get Ted to eat spinach salads without covering himself in salad dressing, it’ll be a great week.
Today I was going to post more of the beautiful photos which Kyle Cassidy took for us, photos not only showing off the beauty of Mount Moriah Cemetery, but also the beauty of actors Kyra Baker, Doug Greene and Bob Stineman. Oh, your Monday could have been full of a visual cornucopia of symbolism debating the struggle between life, death, fecundity, sterility, society vs. chaos, Oh, the visual feast for your senses. You would have transcended your blue Monday and felt like you were in Midnight In The Garden Of Good and Evil, but more sexy and British.
In fact, today I was also going to take my hastily scribbled notes and start work on a new play, about hoarding and alternate dimensions. But you know what? Nope. Not today.
Today, my brother’s caregiver is running late. This is a trend with him. If caregivers for people with special needs were paid a living wage, then it would be worth their time to arrive on time. But no, today he’ll arrive “sometime late this afternoon,” and we really have no idea when we’ll see him. So, instead, my brother Ted and I are taking this opportunity to go clean my house.
Ted can’t go without productive activity for about 15 minutes at a shot. When he gets bored, lonely, and feels like things are meaningless, he’ll wander around town talking too loudly to everyone he meets and demanding that they back his next production of the all-puppet Citizen Kane or something. which, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad idea. in fact, some days I’d like to print up a whole bunch of T-shirts saying “My Caregiver Called Out Today, Now You Get To Entertain me,” find every single special needs person I know, get them all hopped up on M&Ms and Red Bull, and let them wander singing all over the Capitol building until someone steps up funding for people with mental disabilities, so they can have structured care and meaningful activity.
But, obviously, I must be nuts to think such a thing might be a good idea. Better that mentally disabled people should just be heavily medicated and left to watch tv all day, right?
P.S. Ted says, “Oh my God. I think that’s gonna start some shit. You should post that.”
I promise, this isn’t going to turn into The Traveling Light Blog. Really, it isn’t. I really do have other things to write about besides this. But, when life hands you Good Collaboration, you shout it from the mountaintops as much as possible, as well as wrap it up in cool cotton blankets and feed it nice things and take good care of it.
Yesterday afternoon, the cast (or, three-fourths, anyway; Kyra, Doug and Bob), the director and producer (Liam) and photographer and man-about-town Kyle Cassidy packed into the back of Toshiro Mifune (our tough, versatile and quiet Honda CRV) for a drive through the back alleys of South Philly, Grays Ferry, West Philadelphia, and finally, beautiful Mount Moriah Cemetery, for a photo shoot.
Mount Moriah Cemetery is one of those things that everyone should know about, but when you go there, you want it to be kept a secret and only invite your few close friends who will be inspired with the same wonder and respect you do. It inhabits a dreamlike between-space: its ownership is currently legally undetermined, it provides burial space to all faiths, its monuments are of many different aesthetic styles, and it’s wild and cultivated at the same time. The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery have established a volunteer committee, responsible for cleaning, gardening and care. However, its 200 acres and decades of neglect can’t be fixed overnight, so despite its accessibility it still has some parts where the wilderness rules.
The forecast called for a 70% chance of rain, so Liam and I brought a total of six umbrellas, to be sure that we wouldn’t need them. It worked. The sky was just cloudy enough to give us diffuse light, keep the temperature not unbearable, and give the sky some rich color.
Kyle specializes in journalistic photography, portraits, and fast improvisation. I’ve participated in one of his photography workshops, and he is extremely good at taking what’s available in a space and using it to great effect. He’s efficient as heck and carries around a positive attitude and sense of humor that is contagious.
So, we turned off of the road and the sight of a lush green hill dotted with stones, punctuated with columns and framed by mausoleums (mausoleii?) made us all squeal like teenaged Goth chicks at a 2 for 1 sale on black lace fingerless gloves.
LINDSAY: I don’t know, you guys, is this grave-y enough?
BOB: Is this grave-y enough?
I turned the car onto the least-beaten path, and then again, and within a minute or so, we were surrounded by Mid-Atlantic Jungle.
On what must have once been brick platforms, rising to either side of the path, were clusters of rich green forest, and a vine-embraced tree that was twisted in the way trees will when their roots defy stone and their branches combat for light. It made a canopy around a granite memorial column from probably the late-Victorian era, and we said, “Yep, that’s it.”
You know you’re making risky art when you’re changing your clothes by the side of a car, using a window for a mirror and someone is offering you bug repellent. The lantern I’d brought was deemed not period correct (I agreed, but it was the closest thing I could find), so Kyle made some magic happen and slid an electronic device up Kyra’s sleeve, and voila: the illusion of a period-currect flashlight.
We played around the monuments for a while and Kyle took pictures, Liam was the Cheez-Itz powered voice activated light stand, and it was a lovely evening in the land of the dead.
and then we packed it up, and went home to brick boxes in which people live.
I don’t think there’s anything better than having good collaborators. There’s a quote about writing, often attributed to Dorothy Parker, which goes, “I don’t like writing, I love having written.” The first draft, and second and third, are always a bear, a tiring process of grunt work, made worse because it’s lonely. But, when you get together with creative collaborators and actually do something with what you’ve written, and they bring their own ideas and resources to the project, that’s the real reason that I write.
TL:DR; Another life peak experience. Coming soon: Real Photos!
Traveling Light makes its Philadelphia premiere this September in the Philly Fringe.
Once upon a time there was a young man who heard some really beautiful music. He’d dedicated his whole life to aesthetic pursuits, but when he went down into a dark cavern and heard the beat and the harmony, he knew he had to bring that beautiful music up out of the dark and polish it and present it to the whole world. This music became bigger and stronger and more beautiful, until finally it could move on its own, and it was too heavy for him to carry any more, and it threatened to break him.
At the same time, there was another young man, almost exactly the same age, who liked to tell stories. Unlike the first young man, he’d been surrounded by a lot of ugliness and anger for most of his life, and the best way for him to deal with it was to create stories in which tricksters gave the bad people the badness they created right back. He went to a school that taught all about beauty (strangely enough, the same school that the first young man attended), and the first time he tried to make something beautiful and strange, it was so strange that people got scared, and he was sent to prison. While he was in prison, he polished his process, and when he got out, he continued making things that were strange and odd and funny and sad, with a vengeance.
This was all at a time when the world was changing. It was easier to make your voice heard over miles and miles, and the world seemed to be getting smaller, and people were starting to realize that maybe if they started treating each other as equals, kindly, amazing things could happen. But sometimes, even that was abused, because it’s awfully hard to get rid of things like greed and jealousy.
The first young man said to the second one, maybe this beautiful music I manage and your odd and strange stories could be put together to make something amazing. and the second young man said, I’ll see what I can do. so the writer went home and wrote a story, and brought it back to the music manager.
and the music manager said, this is too much. this is just too extreme, and rough, and unusual, and I don’t even know how to describe it.
and the storyteller said, but you’re just the same as this kind of story, you’re indescribable in the same way. you’re also that which can’t speak its name for fear of prosecution.
Later that summer, the storyteller came home, to find the person he expected to be waiting for him, waiting, as always, but this time with a hammer and a jealous rage, and by morning, the storyteller was dead.
and twenty-one days later, the music manager took too much medicine that he thought he needed, and the next morning, he was dead too.
the story teller kept a diary. so did the music manager. those diaries are kept secret, as diaries should be. but some things happened that summer, and some of the diaries’ pages are believed to be destroyed. and nobody knows why.
that summer was called “the summer of love.” which is an odd name for a summer in which there were a lot of fires and war and riots and protest. there were also a lot of warm, sexy nights where people broke rules and did what their hearts told them to do.
this isn’t a dissertation. it’s a play. less factual, more fun.
It feels weird to be promoting this play in Philadelphia, now, when I wrote it years ago. The production in Minneapolis, by Theatre Pro Rata, directed by Natalie Novacek, is still extremely close to my heart, and had a lot of magic in its site-specific production at Layman’s Cemetery. Carin Bratlie and I still brainstorm and I still miss Minneapolis, the people I met there, and their commitment to making fun, brilliant theatre. After that production, I somersaulted straight into Temple’s MFA program, and it’s been hard to come up for air at all ever since.
I don’t want people to think this is the only play I’ve ever written, but it seems to be the one people like the most, and I’m deeply grateful that Liam Castellan said, “I am going to pick this play up and run with it.” and finally, this play gets to happen in my home town.
We have a cast. They’re beautiful. We’re still looking for designers and crafting press releases and planning photo shoots and so on and so forth. for now, I get to be so excited about it that I am forced to be experimental with capitalization.
It’s exactly what you think: an evening of short plays, all of them one minute or less, a highly concentrated, haiku-esque dose of solid theatre. Creator Dominic D’Andrea has been making this happen in cities around the country, and I’m pleased as a pig in mud to be included on the same bill as these playwrights and directors. Some of them are longtime friends, some I’ve admired from a distance, and some of them are people I’ve never met, and we’re all crunching ideas into delicious tasty cake pops of emotional substance. Or, you know, coal into diamonds. Your mileage may vary.
I have created this kind of super-short theatre before, and “short” never means “simple.” For several years I was a contributing playwright to Night of 1000 Plays, produced by The Brick Playhouse. In that case, each performance piece was three minutes or less. Some of my favorite work came out of writing for N1K, especially Juliet Balcony, Let’s Call Him Matt, Not Without My Pumpkin, and Car and Driver. Writing Car and Driver let me play with a vocal style to give a car a personality, which later became the voice of the Lotus in Phoebe and the Lotus. So, I sort of knew what I was getting into when I started creating pieces to submit, and how they could help me in the future. It’s not that you’re creating a sketch: these are full, finished, stand-alone works. They exist best as a smaller piece of something big and diverse. and provide great opportunity for imagination, because your limitations are so severe.
So far, I have to say, writing a one-minute play is harder than writing a three-minute play. Basically, you get in, make meaning, and get out. Then remove the first and last ten seconds. Then condense, and condense, and condense. “Excuse me, but I need to buy a plant, can you help me?” has to become “Can you help me buy a plant?” which in turn has to become, “How much is the green thing?” or, “Please help me.”
Alternately, you just come up with the most concentrated dose of meaning you can think of. BAM.
So, anyway. Writing this kind of thing is fun, and it looks like the performances will be, too. They take place on Monday July 29th, Tuesday July 30th, and Wednesday July 31st at 8PM, at Interact Theatre Company, at The Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $20 and the significance is all-you-can-digest.