without you i’m nothing – when collaboration works
“I don’t like him. I don’t know why she’s with him.”
Two thoughts went through my head, or maybe three:
I don’t like you.
Who do you think you are?
I’m so dysfunctional.
Maybe she’s right.
This was day one of the three-day workshop of my play for The Farm’s College Collaboration Project. Students and faculty from the participating schools (SUNY Brockport, University of West Florida, and Centre College in Kentucky) were present along with actors from NYC and we were digging into my “first” draft (after throwing out 120 pages) of what is currently titled, Your Wings Have Eyes.
Rachel Kent (who I actually did like 🙂 wasn’t the only one who didn’t like him. And that’s okay. I have to say that one of the great things about meditating (along with a modicum of confidence and experience) is that you develop the ability to maybe, MAYBE, take a second and observe your internal reactions before you respond. As I sifted through my reactions, I think I settled on, “huh.” Someone else asked, “why is he an alcoholic?” I nodded, “yes.” My job was not to explain (unless necessary) but to take in their questions, their feelings and observe their reactions inside the room (and inside of me) because I knew they would coalesce into what would become rewrites and development of character, theme and world.
Padraic Lillis, the artistic director of The Farm led the discussion/dissection by asking, “what’s the event?” The conversation would start with examining what was known – what was given in the scene; and what wasn’t know but wanted to be known. They did most of the talking; I did most of the listening, contributing here and there with some questions of my own, as well as answering questions or taking notes. I thought I would go home after the stimulating session and write like a fiend.
I ended up walking aimlessly through the East Village my mind quiet and satisfied like after a good meal. (This also happened after my three one-hour conference calls with the students at the beginning of this project – I’d get off the call and find myself grabbing my keys and heading out the door on my way to I don’t know where. Something was moving inside me after those conversations, and I needed to move my body and environment to keep up. To get right.) The same thing was happening now, so I walked until I came to a community garden in my neighborhood and called a director friend. She suggested I do something totally different like go to a movie. I took her advice and went to see Bad Moms. Then I came home and slept. I knew that something was going on. I think it’s called digestion.
On day two, the conversation continued:
“Maybe sex should be a by-product of trust and partnership…even if you are in college.”
“I started carrying Mace with me but then when something would happen, I’d ask, ‘is it mace-worthy?”
“I love it, in one part of town, they’re called fraternities, in another part of town, they’re called gangs.”
We were talking about college culture, gender roles, sexual violence, consent, and addiction. We were digging deep and I knew what I wanted to change but knew I couldn’t have done it the night before. It’s like trying to eat a steak without chewing.
“She’s a functional neurotic,” says Frank Kuhn about one of the characters. “Mmm,” I respond. It’s a funny thing to hear people talk about your characters. I’m always surprised by how much I know without realizing it. Gaining this perspective is impossible without others. Padraic creates an environment that is as generous as it is productive, and many rooms would benefit from his approach. Every single person is valuable and everybody’s goals are the same: to engage with the material and help it become what it wants to be – no egos, no hidden agendas – just the deep satisfaction of doing work that we all feel is meaningful because we all are personally engaged in the conversation.
After day two, I went to the gym for a quick work-out, came home, ate dinner, then wrote from 6:30 that evening to 3ish in the morning. I also ate a pint of chocolate coconut ice-cream somewhere in there justifying it by saying it was fuel. I had a headache (probably from the “fuel”) and was shaking because I was so tired, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring in new pages to this group that was so committed and inspiring. Not only did I want to hear it and see if the changes were landing; I wanted them to experience the fruits of their labor. I wanted them to feel what they were a part of creating.
I sent the 60-odd pages of rewrites to Padraic early in the a.m.who got them printed and ready to go. The shock and enthusiasm on everyone’s face that morning was delicious.
“I like him. I actually like him!” laughed actor Brian Luna.
I look at Rachel. She nods and smiles, and I’m grateful for her persistence.
This wasn’t (by far) the only change that happened to the script over that three-day period but it exemplifies how no play is written in a vacuum and that with the proper environment, real growth can happen (on multiple levels) within a quick and deeply rewarding period of time.
Next up: Auditions and rehearsals at SUNY Brockport.
The Farm Theater has asked that I blog about the process of writing this play and being a playwright. The idea is to show that a play isn’t birthed fully-formed; plays manifest themselves in miraculous and mundane ways everyday; plays have to be fought for and sometimes it’s messy, startling, and tedious (as is life). Sometimes, when you write (or live), if you do it right, it might feel like you’re dying. As the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, “to live is to be willing to die over and over again.” The one saving grace is that we don’t have to do it alone. For more information, www.MichelineAuger.com #artsaveslives