Friday, July 22, 2016

Adaptor's Note - The Iron Heel

The adaptor's note for my production of The Iron Heel, opening July 28:

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” as Mark Twain supposedly said. More accurately that quote belongs to our collective unconscious. It’s an idea that sounded so true it had to be put in the mouth of one our most important satirists. The Iron Heel, which many consider the first modern dystopia, is also a satire of sorts—like many dystopias, it is an exaggerated portrayal of our society, of Jack London’s America. It was written in 1908, and it was science fiction when it was written, although certain incidents have the ring of historical fact. It predicts World War One, Pearl Harbor, the stock market crash, even the term “the 99 percent” (though, awkwardly, here, it would be the 99.1%, with London preferring mathematical accuracy to pithiness). In many ways, it predicts the dictatorships that will arise throughout the 20th Century. One of the novel’s fans, Leon Trotsky, who rightfully called it “prophetic” (when reviewing it in the journal Art & Revolution) might have been wise to heed its warnings. But more importantly, it presented a distorted mirror to reality, distorted quite deliberately by socialist propaganda. London was a Marxist, and he openly stated that propaganda was his purpose. Thus, though there is a clear connection between his prose and that of Hemingway and Orwell after him, I prefer to make the connection to Brecht’s political satires, theatrical parables calculated to outrage the audience about the consequences of unvarnished capitalism. Like Brecht, my adaptation is consciously theatrical, though it reduces the theatricality to costumed actors, words, and music—folk songs written mostly after London died, but during the time in which his story is set. It is a show built to travel and reach multiple communities, rather than to dwell in a single theater. It is a show whose naked purpose is to examine political issues, couching them in a story. London’s novel is a fascinating historical text, but of course my deeper interest in it is the way in which the American society of a century ago rhymes so closely with so many of the issues we face in this most fraught political season. It is about an election between a socialist and an oligarch, shaped by terrorism. It would be too simplistic to say the oligarch is Trump and the socialist is Sanders…or that the Democrat is Clinton. The world isn’t repeating, not quite, our world has changed since London died, exactly one hundred years ago. But the rhymes…they are everywhere.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

City of Glass (Paul Auster) Director/Adaptor's note

Program note for City of Glass:

Robert Honeywell as Daniel Quinn
The first time I read City of Glass, I had the strong sense that I had written it. Somewhere in a half forgotten dream, I had deposited all my thoughts about language and identity and mixed it with styles borrowed from detective fiction and theatrical absurdism. It even started with one of my favorite devices—mistaken identity, via a misplaced phone call.

What I did know for sure is that it seemed the perfect text for me to adapt for the stage. Its central staging problems seemed like opportunities. Fortunately, I was able to talk briefly with Paul Auster about my thoughts, and he kindly gave me the go ahead to try it out. You are about to see the results.

Most of all, for me, this is a play about brokenness. Daniel Quinn is a broken version of the author, haunted by the ghosts of his wife and son. Peter Stillman Jr is an example of a man who is deliberately broken by another. Do we have the language to express that brokenness?

With every adaptation I create, I ultimately reconceive the context and make it about myself and my art. Who am I, and how does it relate to the play? Who are you, the audience?

All I can say is this: listen to me. My name is Paul Auster. That is not my real name.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Why I'm back on kickstarter (Paul Auster's City of Glass)

So, here I am, back on kickstarter for a fourth time

In many ways, I hate being here. I hate being here because, by necessity, any stint on kickstarter involves the mild harassment of friends and colleagues, most of whom themselves have limited resources, asking them to devote some small part of those resources to your campaign so you can devote resources to their campaign so that they can...and round and round it goes.

I also hate being here because of the time and energy it takes, time and energy that I really should be putting into the massive job of directing and writing and producing, not to mention the side efforts of grant writing, publicity, etc.

But, nonetheless, I am back. Here’s why:

1. We need money. We always need money, it’s true, but this year our NYSCA grant got held or (or cancelled) because one field on it did not, apparently, save, when it was submitted. There is an appeal in progress, but it will take a year.

2. This is an expensive show. One reason: It involves video, and unlike previous shows at 3LD where the video resources are massive, The New Ohio (wonderful in many other ways) does not have a huge video inventory.

3. Kickstarter attracts the attention of people who would never know about our show otherwise. At least a third of our donors to our previous campaigns were strangers who learned about our project via the kickstarter. A Paul Auster adaptation seems a likely candidate to draw similar interest.

4. Most of the contributions to the kickstarter campaign are NOT ACTUALLY DONATIONS, BUT A WAY TO BUY TICKETS AT A DISCOUNT. A very important point to me, that tempers my guilt when asking for contributions. Because honestly, I’m going to be harassing everyone to buy tickets eventually, the process is just starting a bit early. The discount isn’t big, it just takes away about $5 in fees, but it’s cheaper than buy via our ticket service and helps us by getting us money early, and also fills the theater during the oh so important first two weeks of the show.

5. It helps spread the word about the show early. Half the trick to filling theater is creating buzz…we have a few cool videos, and this helps us let people know about the show. Which will be very, very cool, and very, very worth the money.

Which is all to say: Here’s our kickstarter. Contribute to it and get a discount ticket to the show. For all that I hate the promotion, I’m pretty proud and excited about what we’re creating. I am acutely aware that no project we have ever done could have been achieved without the donors and ticket buyers who made it possible. My last project, Money Lab, was created with the premise that art has a value, something our supporters have proven they believe many times over. Let’s prove it again.