Monday, April 23, 2012
The serendipity of life is sometimes overwhelming…could be a tidal wave or a wave of applause! This time it was attending the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans.< http://www.tennesseewilliams.net/> It’s a unique way to experience the arts…relaxing in the metaphorical arms of the Crescent City and feeling the mood and emotions of Tennessee Williams' writing embracing you as well. I’d always felt a kinship with TW since I took a class in college, Williams-Miller-Albee, and realized that TW was gay and could see that the teacher was working overtime to keep students from noticing! (Albee didn’t peek out until much later.)
At the Festival I participated in a reading of lesser performed Williams work along with a sky full of stellar performers. Somewhere there’s now a recording of me playing Zelda Fitzgerald in a Williams play…not something one would ever imagine coming across in an archives! I managed not to act like a complete rube when I met Piper Laurie (The Hustler) and Cristine McMurdo-Wallis who I’d seen in “Angels in America.” She proved to be an angel in person too! (Sorry couldn’t stop myself and it’s true.) Meeting iconic actors is like stepping backstage and seeing the magical process of the art form curled up waiting to unfold.
Even more fortuitous for me was serving on a panel about contemporary playwriting and meeting three playwrights: John Biguenet, a nationally known New Orleans writer who’s plays (including “Shot Gun”) have explored the complex culture of the city and its people post-Katrina. Now I have a set of new plays to read.
Also on my panel was John Guare, whose “House of Blue Leaves” turned American theatre on its ear. And after seeing Susan Sarandon’s sensual clean up routine in the film “Atlantic City” (which he wrote) I’ve never looked at a lemon the same way.
But sitting next to Martin Sherman, the author of “Bent,” proved to be a turning point in my theatre life last month just as viewing his play on Broadway (w/Richard Gere) was in 1980. When I saw the play (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bent) I was devastated by the gay ‘almost’ love story in a concentration camp and thrilled by the writing so I bought a copy. When I started working on W4G I dug it out of my boxes so I could remember what had moved me and try to figure out how the writer did it!
Meeting Martin Sherman, who had unwittingly (along with Lorraine Hansberry) been my theatre guru was life-changing for a couple of reasons. It wasn’t just because he agreed to read my play then praised it…though that would have been plenty! What made my day was that he was able to talk about his experience of playwriting still as a practice. His work was living inside him as well as on the page. He was doing work that he wasn’t sure was good! He was finding his way through work that needed seasoning and sometimes suffered from overly critical responses. I didn’t expect that.
It’s not easy to stand in front of an audience and talk about your own work whether it’s successful or not. In his words I found the inspiration to go back to the W4G script and re-enter it. I need to bring the life I still feel about the work back to it and not feel so anxious about it failing in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago that I can’t really do the re-writing it needs. I hope to be accepted into a play development program in NYC this fall and we’ll see how deep I can go. On the trip I’ll be carrying my aged copy of “Bent” as well as some photos I always like to have nearby—the historic figures my characters portray.
I’ll be adding to the pictures: Martin Sherman and, of course, Tennessee Williams!