I’ve just finished version 4.1 of the Whitman Piece having worked on it for well over a year now. It’s amazing, frustrating, and downright weird how a script can evolve and evolve and evolve. Endlessly. You just run out of time, that’s all. That’s not entirely true. Progress is made. One does get to a point where things aren’t better, they’re just different, but I’m not there yet. Tomorrow we’ll talk through the script with Christopher (the Director) and the rest of the Touchstone Ensemble—Lisa and JP—and then I get one more hack at it before rehearsals begin in a week.
I’m pretty happy with it, right now, but I expect once it’s “inflated” into three dimensions, there’ll be any number of “leaks” that have to be fixed. We’ll see.
First, break a leg with this ambitious project. I certainly hope to get a chance to see it, despite the fact that my nest show opens on the same night this one does…
My sense of how I’m working toward that national dream is by keeping up with the news of current events, and by voting, signing petitions, writing letters to congresspeople and corporations and cabinet members pleading with them to do this or not to that, all in the hope that the country will continue to provide a greater range of equality and freedom (evn when those ideals conflict…). I also think I help this dream along when I teach students to be more aware of the world around them and to be aware of the moral choices being made around them.
Hope that’s helpful somehow. Maybe banal, but it’s the best I can do.
Coordinator of Theatre and Dance, theatre professor
Mariel Iezzoni commented on your post.”I once had a cab driver in Washington DC who was from Ethiopia. He ended up telling me that when he came here was no water and no way to get work in his village. He said in America, you can work hard and get somewhere. There is opportunity here in a way that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. America as an entity represents opportunity. It was easily the most eloquent way anyone has described “America” to me.”
I have a question for anyone who might pass by. What does the American Dream mean to you, personally? I mean, I don’t want you to tell me what you think the American Dream is, but, do you participate in some way in a Greater Vision of how this nation is moving forward? And if so, how does that manifest itself, day by day, in your life? I’d love to hear from anyone who might take a few minutes to share their thoughts.
—you can contribute directly by clicking on the “submit” button on the upper left corner of the page and typing in your thoughts. Thanks.
Tonight and Tomorrow Night--The Whitman Piece Readings
Dear Friends, As you may or may not be aware, I am writing a play to open in the first week of April about group creation of art, the United States of America, and the “Spirit of the Age”. This play will have interesting implications for any who might see it, but certainly for those interested in “America’s Destiny” and the struggle of creating “art”. We’re doing two readings of it for comments from general folks before I start working on the “final” draft. Tonight at 7 p.m. at Touchstone Theatre, and tomorrow at 8 p.m. You are cordially invited. Please come out and help make the play. Touchstone Theatre, 321 E. 4th. St., Bethlehem, PA 18015 Bill
Spent over eight hours working on the script today, working all of Act I. Five scenes, each scene three, four times. The work goes on and on.
When I was in Third Grade, I think it was, my teacher had us take a “nom de plume”. I chose, forgive me, Winnie-the-Pooh. I thought that that was a particularly clever, aristocratic and sophisticated name of which I was quite proud—that I was familiar with such exalted literary figures. I remember writing my first creative piece, signing it with big letters—WINNIE THE POOH—and handing it in, confident of its brilliance. A few days later it came back with a C, maybe it was a C+.
That one experience is something, strangely enough, I’m still trying to overcome, but at least I know I’m a bear of little brain, that the only hope for me is work, work, and more work.
The final public reading (only public readings, really) are January 20 and 21 at Touchstone Theatre. 7 p.m. on the Thursday, 8 p.m. on the Friday. Come on down to Pooh Corner.
Not So Late Night Ramblings on Squishiness and Bad Horse
I’m somewhere in the midst of draft three, and it feels like the play is squishy. Push it in here, it pushes out there; work on this section to get definition and texture, turn around and it’s all melted together into a glob. Advance this character, these other three diminish.
In the beginning of the writing process, I included everything plus the kitchen sink—it was all possible. Then some huge decisions needed to be made as the play tried to focus. And now, still, three drafts in, major plot lines are emerging, banging into each other. There doesn’t seem to be enough play to glue all the stories together. It’s three plays in one.
And the rhythm, the rhythm! Where is it? I’m hopeful it will emerge if the story will just settle down and gel.
I’m at my desk at Touchstone, 7:42 p.m. Downstairs it’s Dr. Horrible’s final dress. I’ve been drafted to take Bad Horse to and from the stable. (Yes, there is a live horse in this production. Thank Christopher Shorr and his secret desire to own a horse. He’s taking it out on us.)
Too tired to work on Whitman, I write here (where I don’t worry about the consequences, sorry.) But on squishiness, not much to say really, other than, that’s where it’s at with Whitman right now. That’s where it’s at; it’s all Bad Horse.
Below is a primitive example of how my writing evolves. I’m a great believer in letting lines be worked over a long period of time, eroded by the forces of ever varying consciousness, nervousness, and a kind of soaking or tasting. Eventually, one stops tweeking (a lot), and things are sort of done. Zak, an apprentice in the Concord Theatre Company has a closing line at the end of Act I, Scene 1. In the first draft, he had no line at all. At the end of the scene in:
July 2010, Draft 2, the line appears for the first time:
It is only we shadows, blinded by the illusion of our own existence, that, without leaving a trace, come and go.
Early September 2010 –two months later:
It is but we shadows that, blinded by the illusion of our own existence, entangled in the conflicts of our convoluted egocentricities, having come with marshal and festive noise, blood and clench-ed oath, now trailing but ghostly echoes of laughter and tears, forever in silence, go.
October 2010—two months later:
Be not afraid! It is but we shadows, enchanted by the illusion of our own existence, entangled in the conflicts of our convoluted and blinding egocentricities, having come with marshal and festive noise, blood and clench-ed oath, trailing but echoes of laughter and tears, that now forever in silence, go.
December 2010—two months later, the character, Zak, now called Tony:
OOOoooo… The eternal stage!
Stop it, Tony!
Be not afraid! It is but we shadows, enchanted by the illusion of our own existence, entangled in our convoluted and blinding egocentricities, having come with marshal and festive noise, bloody and prayerful oath, trailing but echoes of laughter and tears, that now forever in silence, go.
All exit carrying various stuff.
February 9, 2011 Two months later, after the January public reading, when everything is getting hammered down. It is now Act I, Scene 2.
Halloweeny, inspired by the magic of a 4 by 8 platform and trying to impress Catherine.
OOOoooo… The eternal stage! Be not afraid! It is but we shadows, enchanted by the illusion of our own existence, having come with marshal and festive noise, trailing but echoes of laughter and tears, that now forever in silence…go.
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.
(Screaming.) No! Hold off! Stop! Don’t… (The music comes to an abrupt halt.)
He’s not dead! You fools. Get away. Get away from him. Open this.
Danny! (Chadd tries to stop Danny and he clocks him.)
Whoa, whoa, there Danny.
Get the fuck away. (The coffin is entirely his now.) Don’t touch me. Don’t touch this coffin, do you hear me!
No one’s going to do anything, Danny. It’s alright.
It’s not alright! It’s not alright! You’re burying my son, can’t you see that? And he’s not… He’s not… …Garland! (He’s trying to pry the top of the coffin off.) Garland! Do you think you can fool me? Oh, you laugh! You laugh! Do you think you can stop me? I know what you’re doing! You think you can bury him when I’m not looking? You don’t know. You don’t know my child. I know my boy, and he loves me. He loves me, alright? Open this up! Now!
Just step back Danny.
This is my son you’ve got here! My son! You’re not putting him in the ground. You’d kill him; you’d kill me too, if you could, wouldn’t you? Don’t say you wouldn’t. (He gets the lid off…it’s empty. Long pause.) It’s empty. (Silence.)
(Coming forward through the crowd, offering Danny a cigarette.) Hey, Danny…smoke? (Danny looks up.)
Yeah, sure. (He slowly climbs out of the grave with a hand up from Francis, takes the cigarette.)
I thought they were burying Garland.
Yeah, we know.
Wha’do you say I take you home, Danny?
…get a cup of tea.
(In a whisper…) You sure that’s a good idea?
(Waving him off.) Shhh. Get Beau. I’ll meet you back at the theatre.
”—The Whitman Piece (Draft 2.2) Act III, Scene 1 The Graveyard Scene
Will there be a performance during school hours that our English class can see after we follow your progress on this work?
The performances are in the evenings of April 7, 8, 9, and 10, and an afternoon performance on the Saturday. If you’re interested, we can arrange a special performance — assuming there’s enough interest — or we can have you come to a rehearsal. Most rehearsals will be in the evening because we’ll be using a number of community performers.
The Civil War was a struggle between the collective will (the Union) and what was deemed the greater good for all (no slavery, no succession) vs the individual will (freedom for states to continue with slavery, to succeed from the Union) as a means to get to the greater good. The struggle between these two principles will always go on, and they go on today. In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, the stress of the conflict in society (combined with the inadequacy of the the political machinery) made it impossible to peacefully reconcile the opposing forces of these two principles, thus war.
This play is not so much about Union over State or individual over the collective as it is about the two principles, part of a whole, striving for an “ideal”, being at the heart of the creative process. —the American Dream being the “ideal” when it comes to the Nation and Transcendent Beauty on stage, when it comes to the little theatre company. As with all dreams, it is ultimately unattainable in any absolute or complete sense due to the limitations of physical reality. But, it all being neither this nor that, there is something that stands between—what of long lasting value is only accomplished through love; everything else comes and goes.
This is an excerpt from Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed — the brainchild of Jerry Bidlack and myself, recorded back in 1994 or 1995 I’d guess. It’s a single take, live. Jerry’s doing all the keyboard and sound work on the fly. It was this piece that made me think of doing something that would feature a “play within a play” about Whitman.
In the beginning, there’s always a bit of groping, bumping, and knocking over of things (hopefully not to a painful degree) until one finds the lights. I haven’t quite found the light yet.
If you’re interested in art, if you’re interested in theatre, this may prove to be a rewarding journey; this blog, at least this initial part of it, is to let people in, to be a part of, the act of creating The Whitman Piece, a Touchstone Theatre Production—a play for thirteen actors, musicians and chorus about…; well, let’s not get dragged into that quite yet.
I’d say it’s going to be messy, and a lot more like building a house or digging a ditch than anything sexy or profound. At least, that’s what it looks like from here, sort of on the bottom of things. Still, I think the experience of the play will be deepened by following its growth. You tell me.
Over the next few days, weeks, I’ll be posting and drawing your attention to these pages. Please forgive me if I, by mistake, step on your toe, or accidentally do something that has unfortunate or unintended consequences. Just tell me when you think I’m off (or on), and I’ll adjust. Welcome to the creative process.