Thursday, February 16, 2012

RADIO GHOSTS Experience at the Painted Bride

On Wednesday, January 25th, 2012, collaborators Mike Vernusky (electronic music composition), Cara Blouin (director) and I presented Radio Ghosts at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia.

In what was supposed to be a "staged reading", I am proud to say we created and shared something much bigger, much more memorable than that. We created an event, fed by a wonderful process, that was one of the more satisfying creative experiences I've worked on in some time.

Photo from the back of the Painted Bride Gallery. Breaking bread and making an ocean.

To describe it, I borrow some words from a letter I wrote recently to a dear friend:


Radio Ghosts was quite an experience.

Cara and I (and then later Mike joined us) worked very hard for weeks, meeting regularly (and at some point, nightly) where I would share new pages, we'd explore them, ask hard questions, etc., and then I would keep writing.

The result was that the script is something I am now much happier with than I was when we started. The stories all connect with much more resonance, the challenges that all of the characters are facing are much more real and compelling, and the theatricality of the play was heightened in really satisfying ways. In short, I think I found the guts and the art of the play, though I know there is still work ahead.

As for the presentation, it was something I was really proud of as well. We did our best to really make it an event, not just a something that people show up to watch and then leave. This is a passion that Cara and I share and worked hard to make present in this event-- to create something personal, something purposeful and intimate for everyone who was there, a gift that would last forever.

So we made choices like: sending out personal invitations only, asking people to write or record us a personal story of someone or something they've lost. We received about 20 of these in response, all incredibly moving, all better than any play I could write. And then we took these stories and added them into the composition, layering stories all through the play, finding moments in which some of them could be heard clearly. But they were always present, always, at the very least, inspiring all of us working on the performance.

We also asked people to bring objects with them-- personal items that contained memories. The objects could simply accompany the audience member, or we could also find a way for the objects to work their way into the performance, thereby allowing it to hold new memories if it wanted (or to offer their memories a new place to roam).

And then we asked the producers, Painted Bride Art Center, if they would waive their $ 5 admission fee, which they graciously did in favor of "passing the hat" instead.

And, of course, we and Painted Bride (who were wonderful hosts and I love them for that) made food and brought wine and mingled with guests afterward (instead of doing a "talkback", which I loathe).

It was one of the more satisfying experiences I've worked on in some time, and for many reasons. The work was rigorous and personal, we all took big risks, we were all demanding but loving toward each other, and we actively expressed a lot of care for the audience. It was a gift-exchange in countless ways, and I think everyone involved grew in some way because of the experience.

And the people involved local professionals as well as a handful of my Drexel students, who were all wonderful in their contributions to the work.

We also made choices to seat Lorna in the same space as the audience; to have Lucy pull string from the hole in her chest, threading it through the audience, creating an ocean out of it; and they, the audience, also responded well to William Tell's lecture, participating in all ways that he asked.

So our performance was pretty memorable. It was quality material (and I haven't even mentioned all the excellent work that Mike did on the composition), it was generous, it was intimate and personal, it was challenging, it was unfamiliar but inviting, it was full of lots of people's naked souls, and I think it was really moving.

The play ended with me, as Tell, trying to hold everything together, turning to a blank page on the drawing pad, taking a deep breath. And then walking out of the gallery space.

I remember waiting behind the door for people to begin applauding so I could step out with the other actors to take a bow, but nothing happened. Everything was silent. Everyone was silent for minutes. Eventually people began clapping and we took a bow and thanked everyone, and then me, Mike, Cara, and Theresa (the actor playing Lucy) had a few drinks to celebrate what we all felt was really satisfying work.

So I don't know what the future holds for Radio Ghosts, other than Mike and I have one more shot at working on it and presenting it in Chicago in March. Beyond that, we don't know. But I will be satisfied knowing that we will always have what we created and shared on that night at the Painted Bride. And that night is why I live the way I do.

much love,