Hailing from New Jersey, Dave Osmundsen is a senior at Montclair State University pursuing a BA in Theatre Studies and a Minor in Creative Writing. His MSU credits include assistant directing the department production of Stage Door in the fall of 2011, directing staged readings of The Last Sunday in June and Proof, acting in the new work Crush, and dramaturging a reading of Six Characters in Search of an Author and a production of The Handbook. In the spring of 2014 he will be dramaturging The Big Meal. After he leaves college, Dave hopes to hit the following four careers in his life, in no particular order: Playwright, Literary Manager, Dramatrug, and Artistic Director.
From July 27th—August 4th 2013, Dave participated in the New Play Dramaturgy Intensive at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, in association with the MFA Playwriting Workshop produced in association with the National New Play Network. For one week, dramaturgs, directors, playwrights and actors came together to develop, present and view new work from emerging playwrights. The dramaturgy intensive was an eight day program consisting of lunch meetings with artistic directors, literary managers and dramaturgs from across the country, sessions with the through-line mentor Mark Bly, and rehearsals for presentations of new work. Dave served as the assistant dramaturg to Janice Paran on Michael Yates Crowley’s new play The Tourists, directed by Freddie Ashley. At the end of the week, playwrights in programs such as the Yale School of Drama and Julliard had the opportunity to present new work to artistic directors and literary managers from a variety of regional theatres.
The following is Dave’s journal chronicling his thoughts and experiences throughout the week.
July 26th, 2013
I don’t leave for DC for another day. I have three and a half hours of leisure time before I drive to Corrado’s to complete a four-to-close shift. Only five and a half hours or so. Everyone there is excited for me to go. At least I think they are. My boss, Pat, hasn’t really said much. Last weekend he asked me what I was going to DC for. He wondered if I was going on vacation. I told him I was attending the New Plays Dramaturgy Intensive at the Kennedy Center. He asked if I was going to see any of the sights. I said I didn’t know. I told him I had gone to DC a few times before. He retorted with, “But you didn’t appreciate it”.
And he was right—I didn’t. I admired the monuments, but took little to no interest in the museums my family took me to see. I remember once, we went to the Museum of American History. My sole purpose was to see the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz”. But the ruby slippers literally danced around me as my mom dragged me from exhibition to exhibition, displaying mechanisms that would break and blister under today’s advanced technology. When I finally saw the ruby slippers, I was satisfied. They weren’t the only pair of shoes Ms. Garland had worn, apparently. They were the ones she used for her dance sequences. There are three other pairs somewhere around the world. The whereabouts of two pairs aren’t even known. At least I don’t think so.
There was an episode of “Arthur” once where the Read family visited DC for a family vacation. In it, Arthur is enthralled by the historic sites while DW, his little sister, would rather watch Pony’s gallivanting. During a tour of the White House, she diverges from the group to examine the paintings of horses. There was one in particular she greatly admired, I think George Washington was in it too. A man approached DW and said that was his favorite painting too. He kindly escorted her back to her family, where it was revealed that he is the President of the United States of America. What do you know?
I’m nervous. Not because of the new people I’ll meet down there—that’s nothing I can’t handle. But rather the getting down there. For all I know, a meteor could crash onto earth causing the traffic jam of my life on the way to Newark Station, and I would wind up missing the Bolt bus down there. Or I could get released from the wrap up meeting with not nearly enough time to get to Union Station for the Bolt bus home. I’m worrying too much, as I usually do.
But what about the Intensive itself? I’m intrigued. Gregg Henry doesn’t even know what our assignment’s needs will be, and I’m intrigued to discover what the needs for my project, “The Tourists” will be. I read the script over a few nights ago. It’s basically Enchanted April meets Lord of the Flies. Terry and Carla are cousins traveling to Europe with Terry’s moody daughter, Bethany. They expect all the trappings of a luxurious and convenient vacation—oversexed backpackers, internet cafés and friendly locals. But a ferry strike prevents them from getting off the island they’re visiting, and they’re forced to stay in a hostel with a homosexual named Joe, who’s trying to get over a recent break up, and a one-eyed dog, whose backstory keeps changing. THAT’S a dramaturgical question I want to explore—why does the dog’s story keep changing? Why does he change it himself? It can’t just be to prevent dramatic repetition. There’s got to be another reason.
The whole point of the play is to respect other cultures. As tourists, we are technically invaders, but only briefly to take part in the culture and learn something new about the world and ourselves—one character states, “You visit Europe and expect it to be just like America. Why?” Why do some people have a more difficult time breaking out of their comfort zones? Is it societal mores? Our primal nature which we always seem to be afraid of? I’m interested to hear the playwright talk about this work, and for the actors in it to offer their perspectives.
This all probably sounds bland, but I’m not trying to create the great American blog here. I’m just trying to capture this moment. I have a difficult enough time living in the moment that I don’t need people criticizing me when I actually do. At least I’m writing something and being productive. Right?
I have arrived safe and sound. I had no issues getting to the bus stop at Newark, I had no problem finding the metro (although it’s really nice when someone who knows the area better than you do just so happens to be going the same way), and while there was an unfortunate downpour on my walk to Thurston Hall, I was able to find it without issue. The subways are spacious and clean—nothing like the cramped, dirty and uncomfortable New York City ones.
I have two roommates. One is Kyle, who is a fellow dramaturg. The other is named Ben, who is doing the directing intensive.. He reminds me a lot of Mike McQuade, the other student from MSU who is here with me. I told him he should talk to Mike—I think they’d get along very well.
When seven o’clock came, we gathered in the lobby of Thurston to be escorted to the Kennedy Center. Kyle and I had already joked that hearts would be mended, lives would be broken, and connections would be made (or shattered). We ventured off to the Kennedy Center for our welcome dinner. There was a giant “The Book of Mormon” poster hanging on the façade of the theatre. We entered the Hall of Nations, where flags from all over the world were lined up along the hallway. We walked to a small corridor with an elevator, and rode up to the café where we were to eat.
During and after dinner, I met most of the people I’m supposed to know. I say most because the playwright AND the dramaturg of my project aren’t going to be here until Monday morning. Michael Yates Crowley, the playwright, is finishing up a stint at the O’Neill. Janice Paran, my mentor dramaturg, is just finishing up at Sundance. However, I met the people with whom I’ve been exchanging e-mails back and forth for the last few months—Gregg Henry, Mark Bly and Matt McGeachy. They all seem like great people, and I hope I manage to do some sort of networking with them for the rest of the week.
I didn’t realize I was in heaven until I was talking with everyone at dinner. This, I realize, is where I want to be—surrounded by intelligent people who are willing to teach both themselves and each other. Everyone is eager to be here, everyone wants to be here, and everyone’s ready to work and have a good time. I was afraid I would come across as too loose, or too stuffy, but I find that, like everyone else, I am a perfect balance of intelligence and quirkiness.
I met a lovely woman named Suzanne, who is also from the East Coast. She’s working on “In Love and Warcraft”, which she told me she had to discuss with her sons in order to get all the references. In fact, it doesn’t seem like a lot of us are really “suited” for the plays that were selected for us. But I feel that part of this intensive is expanding our horizons. That’s something we’re all learning as artists—to expand our worlds so that they are able to encompass more art.
The compliment of the night goes to Cara Beth. All of us dramaturgs were waiting for our orientation meeting with Mark Bly, and she said, “This is the dramaturgs meeting”. I said, “I know! I’m a dramaturg!” She quickly realized her error—she thought I was one of the playwrights. I was flattered—I was glad to have been recognized as a playwright, even if it was a mistake.
Cara Beth and I were also exchanging concepts and ideas for plays we’ve written—she’s written a play about human trafficking, I’ve written a play involving teen prostitution. We get along really well.
Mark Bly mentioned “The Dramaturgical Impulse,” which we’re going to talk about more this week. He also mentioned “dramaturging the week”, which is pretty much EXACTLY what I’m doing with this “blog.”
The morning commenced with an orientation session with Mark Bly. Mark clearly knows what he’s talking about—he talked more about the “dramaturgical impulse”, which is knowing when to ask, Why? As Dramaturgs, we are required to do much more than simple background research into a play—we’re supposed to be asking questions that will help shape the acting, design and social values of a production. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic—in order to have these questions, we need to listen until our ears bleed. If we listen hard enough, the questions will come, and when we present these questions, that’s when we’re bound to get answers.
We’re Questioning spirits. Keyword: Spirits. Not critics, not audiences, not whiners. Spirits.
Perhaps the most fundamental question is “What was the spark? What was the ignition behind this piece? Were you angry, sad, calm, collected, what?” I know when I began writing my play “Distance” it came from an angry place—anger that guys I’ve liked would choose their work over me. But to add salt to the wound, their work would take them all around the world, which would leave me alienated and trapped in my own little bubble. Mark Bly told us that he wrote his lecture “Bristling with Multiple Possibilities” from a very angry place as well, coming from years of people denouncing the role of the dramaturg. He said that the best writing comes from anger. I would expand upon this and say that the best writing comes from passion, emotion, feeling. Not necessarily anger, although anger is perhaps the most accessible feeling and the easiest to articulate.
Other questions to ask: What does this mean? How does it matter? Why does it matter? How is it different? What are positive traces we can bring out of this? Mark Bly said “anyone can do research”. Being a dramaturg is about going beyond the obvious—what are the questions that will lead to the deeper meaning or vision of a piece of art?
I did a lot of sightseeing today. We walked around the National Mall and saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol Building, and the World War II Memorial. I bought my sister a postcard of the Vietnam Memorial. Taylor and I said that every American should have a birthright to go to Washington DC, just like Jewish people have the birthright to go to Israel. We need to learn about our history, and be able to say that we’ve seen these incredible and extremely important and indispensable monuments.
Tonight, I had dinner with Freddie, the director, and the assistant directors of my piece. Freddie has had experience as a literary manager and a dramaturg, and I asked him some things he looks for when reading plays. He said that something he looks for in plays when being a literary manager is whether the world needs to see a play or not—does it say something at least mildly uplifting or insightful about the human condition? Or, does its sturm und drang compel so much that we’re able to recognize the purpose of sitting through it all?
Freddie talked about his experiences at the Alliance Theater and Actors Express in Atlanta. It reminded me of something a former writing professor told me: “I really think you should go to Chicago. There’s a great theatre scene out there, and you also have more time to hone your craft, whereas in New York you’re hustling and struggling so much to get your work performed that it defects the work.” I asked him if there was any real difference, and he said it didn’t really matter where you go to school—you can succeed anywhere, although if you didn’t attend a top tier school, you’ll have a difficult time making it in NYC, unfortunately. I could go on a rant about how unfair and classist and elitist this is. But listening to Freddie made me realize that there’s so much more theatre to this country than just in NYC. There are communities all over the country that are dedicated to showing all types of theatre. I don’t have to restrict myself to NYC, although it’s the most convenient option for me, since I live right by there. But maybe I’ll be in a completely different city for the entirety of my career?
One final thing: It feels like all my thoughts are being articulated by others down here, and I don’t feel so alone. Kyle told me that there are times he’s asked if he has any questions during a dramaturgical session, and he can’t say anything other than, “No, you explained it pretty well to me”. I often feel that way too—that everything is neatly explained, no questions are necessary, I have all the information I need. But when something is unclear, I will inquire in order to clear the air. But sometimes I feel like I don’t have enough questions. Hopefully the floodgates will open and I’ll have questions for the rest of the world?
July 30th—August 1st
We had a meeting with Celise Kalke, who is considered one of the leading dramaturgs in the nation and is also the Director of New Projects at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. She said that being a literary manager meant more than just reading scripts—season planning is involved, marketing is involved (which I actually have some experience in), liaisons with the director, artistic director and the playwright are involved… Like all theatre arts, literary managing is about collaboration.
I have this potent, fierce need and urge to participate. That’s probably why I’m not a very good listener—I just want to jump into a conversation and have the final word, be right once and for all. But Mark Bly has told us to “listen until our ears bleed”. However, there have been times in my rehearsals when I haven’t been listening—when I go off into my own mental tangents about changes I need to make to my own play, how I’m going to figure out my August schedule, etc. I need to remind myself, and I do, that I am not here in service for myself as much as I am in service of the play and the playwright.
Rehearsals for “The Tourists” are going very well. I’m starting to gain a sense of what it means to really “develop” a play, and it’s very similar to when I did “Their Own Good” at MSU. I encountered very similar dramaturgical challenges when mounting that play as I did with the other plays that are being work-shopped here. I would love for one of my plays to get a workshop with a group of professionals and dedicated performers. Something that annoys me is actors who nitpick and question the script. True, there are generally some logistical things that need to be changed and altered in order to clarify the character’s relationship and the story. However, when an actor goes “Why would she do that? I would never do that!” I just want to stand up and scream, “This is not YOU. This is the CHARACTER. YOU are not the CHARACTER. YOU are trying to BE the CHARACTER, but you don’t have to be IDENTICAL to the character in REAL LIFE”. My advice to these people is to pipe down, let the director do their job, and figure it out yourself.
One of my fellow dramaturgs said that one of her stage managers had a great metaphor for it: It’s like visiting your grandma’s new house, being in the kitchen, and trying to find the plates. You can either call your mom for help, or you can open a few cabinets and find plates (and other utensils) yourself.
My mentor dramaturg is very good at fixing the script and communicating with the playwright and director. One project I’ve been working on is compiling a timeline of the Eurozone Crisis and the impact it’s had on European society. We think we have it so bad over here, their unemployment rate is 27%. If there was ever a case to prove that dramaturgy could be sobering and edifying, it’s this one. But the research isn’t what’s the most important in this play—it’s about finding a shape for the play, and clarifying the character’s story arcs. Clearly, this is a different method of dramaturgy than I am used to. Perhaps I should just go with it then? Of course.
One night, we had a meeting with everyone involved in the intensive, and one of the directing mentors had a great quote: “If I do my job right, the best idea in the room isn’t mine”. I find this incredibly humble and humanist of him. While it’s important for directors and dramaturgs to have questions, it’s stage-hogging to keep all the great questions to yourself. You need to use your questions to push your actors and creative team to think “beyond the obvious” and ask the questions that cut to the heart and arteries of the piece. This relates to one of my theatre mottos of generosity. Being onstage is nice—letting others have the spotlight shows you’re a great collaborator.
Then, we got together with our assistant directors and discussed how we would collaborate on an abstract piece called “Which Witch Hwich”. We were asked “How would you make a production that would be significant for an audience?” My assistant directors and I agreed that the piece is about living life in a routine manner—not taking advantage of the years you have, but rather sacrificing them with a mundane job until there’s no way out. Our vision would be “don’t fall into a godless routine!”
I feel that this is exactly what we need — harsh yet nimble discussion about plays and the visions we have for them. We also need to learn about the art of collaboration first hand. Prompts such as these will help us learn these aspects of the business, and will help us to improve our collaborative skills.
I told Mark Bly about my tendency for my mind to go off on tangents during rehearsals. I asked him if that made me a bad dramaturg. “Oh God no! No no no!” He shook his head profusely. “That doesn’t make you a bad dramaturg at all! It’s completely understandable, since the dramaturg has a lot of down time in the rehearsal room anyway. It’s just knowing when your input is necessary that counts.”
Thank God for that.
Today we had a meeting with Anne Morgan, the literary manager at the O’Neill Center. She told us about how she approaches a play—with the same enthusiasm as she would one of her favorite novels (at least, that’s how I interpreted it). Falling in love with a play is like falling in love with a person—you can fall in love with a play’s mind, body, or heart. In an ideal play, all three would be combined for a sensual and thrilling encounter.
Tonight, we began the reading process. First up was “An Almanac for Farmers and Lovers in Mexico”. It was a whimsical story filled with magic realism and a profound sense of humanity. The story was of a soon to be bride whose fiancée turned into a bird. The hurdles she has to go through in order to get her husband back to human form—and the revealing love triangle among her friends—make up the dramatic arc. Its use of magic realism was incredible—this wouldn’t work on film for fear of being too unbelievable and potentially pretentious.
A lot of the characters said “This isn’t my play”, and then the play would go on tangents about those characters, so it wasn’t just one story. I never felt that this derived from the main plot—perhaps because the piece had such an ensemble feel anyway. The only deviation I felt was detrimental was the farmer who had lost his land. For one thing, I wasn’t sure if he was protesting or homeless—he was handing out pamphlets, but for all I knew he could’ve been spreading information rather than protesting. He was trying to find his wife who ran away from him, after all. Also, what was he protesting? Government takeover of land?
The most beautiful part of the play was the monologue that compared corn to a tomato. Heirloom tomatoes, to be specific. Corn is something that become useful in many other practices, but it’s still manufactured. Heirloom tomatoes remain natural throughout their “natural” lives. The question the play asked is, “Are you a corn, or a tomato?” Which being are you—manufactured or human?
Some questions I wanted to ask were about the symbolism of the piece—why a hummingbird, for example? Also, what inspired her to write about the apocalypse that wasn’t worried that the world was going to end? Had she been to Mexico, and how did that influence the play? Did she look into any other pieces with magic realism in them (a la “Like Water for Chocolate,” or anything that Garcia Lorca has written)?
And it’s the final night I’m here.
So much to type about. We had three presentations today: (a love story) by Kelly Lusk, Flesh and Blood by Tatiana Suarez-Pico, and The Tourists by Michael Yates Crowley.
First, (a love story).
I had many emotions during this play. It’s the type of theatrical experience that takes its audience on an emotional journey—it begins at the beginning of a relationship, which is a very good place to start, carries us through the tempestuous waters of love, and finally, violent heartbreak. I found myself engaged for 95% of the play. There was only one point where I felt it deviated from its plot, but since it’s still a work in progress, it can be fixed.
The play tells of three couples, two young and one old, who are experiencing love for either the first or second time. The chorus throughout are three sprouts, who are tendered by the otherwise violent bully Richard. They also double as ants and twigs throughout, adding to the whimsical feel of the piece.
Admittedly, there were a few points where I felt the dialogue sounded very mature and poetic coming out of the mouths of… well, actually, we don’t know the age of these characters. I assumed they were in high school, others assumed they were in middle school, I feel it will depend on the director. Also, a few of the plot contrivances (a delayed tryst, for example) could have been solved by the use of cell phones. The playwright establishes that in this world, there are phones. Maybe there are only phones in the kid’s rooms and aren’t cellular phones—wait, the mother of one of the characters makes a call from her car, which we can assume is a cell phone. So cell phones DO exist in this world. Ah, I’m thinking too much into this—if we bring reality into the alternate world of plays, we wouldn’t have theatre. We’d just have real life, and quite frankly, that’s not what most of us really go to the theatre for.
At one point in (a love story), an ant told the aforementioned sprouts about how Richard’s spit caused a Noah’s Ark-like flood in his community, killing his wife and children. This brought the sprouts the news that their caretaker may be betraying them. But I wonder if they could realize it in a different fashion—maybe have them recognize a wound that isn’t his father’s? (His father beats him, by the way). But the ant was only in the first act, never to be seen again in the second act. He had such a detailed story—if the story was going to go into that much depth, I would’ve enjoyed to see it carried even further.
The first act ended with a climactic tempest of dreams, where the characters had nightmares involving one another. There was debate that this should’ve been cut. While I feel this made the play reach its climax perhaps a bit too soon, I don’t think it should’ve been cut solely due to the foreshadowing and theatricality of it all.
Next up was “Flesh and Blood” by Tatiana Suarez-Pico. This was a much more didactic play, but nonetheless packed an emotional punch. The first act of the play felt very stilted —however, the play is still in its early stages, so this can be forgiven. It was also easy to follow, and wasn’t the slightest bit pretentious, but there were parts I feel would’ve worked better as a film.
The story was about a group of Hispanics who are forced to confront the dangerous working conditions of the factory they work at after tragedy strikes. Kalla (Carla?) is engaged to a recently divorced tortilla factory owner who, shocker, oppresses his workers in greed (even though he says it’s to support Kalla’s destitute family). Kalla also carries on an affair with fellow factory worker Everisto, who is in turn married to Avril. Don’t worry, the story turns out too politically to be a soap opera. There is a man named Jim, a former drug addict who is trying to organize a union for the factory workers to stand up against their conditions. Some whined about the white savior, but puh-lease, the workers probably wouldn’t have a clue about their rights if this person didn’t inform them about their rights. They’re very set in their culture of honor and respect for the higher ups. They wouldn’t ask for more if it wasn’t provoked.
The characters felt like mouth pieces throughout the first act. It was when the bloody first act finale came that they began feeling like “flesh and blood” to me. From that point through the second act, I was completely involved with their story. The ending felt very abrupt, but it was a smart decision—the central character, Kalla (Carla? I wasn’t sure) decides to march against her husband. She could be deported, or go to jail, or lose all financial backing.
It’s a story that needs to be told, for sure. However, one man questioned what the audience for the play was—the type of people this play is about wouldn’t be able to afford the ticket prices, and it probably won’t land among the wealthy people who would pay the big bucks to see it with much impact. I feel it would make a better film.
Then “The Tourists” went up. It wasn’t until this reading that I realized the arc that Michael realized with the play—it felt like a roller coaster going upwards and upwards until it made its first dip into high-speed velocity. However, aspects of the play didn’t work for certain people—the incestuous, borderline molestation between two cousins in the play bothered some with its treatment—it’s not portrayed as terrible or harmful in the conventional sense, but there’s more of a sense of abandonment.
I fielded a lot of questions about the play from my fellow dramaturgs, which was gratifying because I got to explain and discuss the play to them. And that’s what this week—discussing, debating and examining theatre with a group of intelligent people who are just as driven to succeed as I am.
It’s wonderful, but at the same time I’ve never felt lonelier in my life. I feel I know what tools I need to be a good dramaturg. Now I need to figure out how to get them. How to have a mind that constantly questions and wonders, to spend my life preparing for God knows what.
I had my final meeting with my mentor dramaturg and director. They asked what I learned. I said I developed a new definition of dramaturgy—initially, it was just taking a play or production and putting it into context. But now, when working on new works, I said that dramaturgy was about developing the world of the play, its rules, its characters, its flow, and how it works. My director told me that what I described was more the playwright’s responsibility—the dramaturgy was there to help them. So does that mean I have the mentality of a playwright? I don’t know. But I now know that as a dramaturg, it’s not about me. It’s about the playwright, and serving his work and vision. I have nothing to give except myself.
We also had our final meeting with Mark Bly today. Something he said that stuck out to me was, “You’ll spend your whole life preparing for something if you’re a dramaturg. So acquaint yourself with everything—high culture, low culture, any culture. Go out, see stuff, do stuff. You can never know too much if you’re a dramaturg.”
We had three more readings today: “The Claire Play” by Reina Hardy, “Lingua Ignota” by Johnna Adams, and “The Memory Tax” by Chad Eschman.
“The Claire Play” was an intellectual, but nonetheless whimsical look at a life that lacked closure, sustained grief, and infinite possibilities. The first act was a two character play between Claire and Devin, a childhood love who died very young. It’s hinted that he died due to his allergies to candy (Snickers, to be specific). The timeline alternated between an encounter they had, and Claire’s future career as a poet and professor. The second act, in which Devin whisks her up to the Heavens, brings in historic characters, Aristophanes among them.
The play brings in mythology, which is a term we’ve played around with a lot this week, something I’ll have to think about. I don’t know as much about mythology as I should. I own a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Greek Mythology, but I haven’t read it yet. I define mythology as a story that details the human condition in very specific circumstances, usually through elevated storytelling or larger than life characters. The scope of mythology is wide—family, friendship, love, war, and peace. We derive our mythology from the Greek and the Romans. Where else will be derive our mythology in the future? Maybe Claire knows?
I was unclear about the last twenty minutes—Claire falls into a hole that she’s warned not to look into so as to avoid heartbreak. She does, and meets a boy named M—is this M, an entirely different entity, or Devin? It turns out to be Devin, but I was still very confused by this. I’m sure this will be resolved in rewrites.
The playwright, Raina Hardy, said something interesting—she wrote “The Claire Play” in an attempt to improve upon another play she had already written. An assignment she was given was to write an alternate beginning to her play, which resulted in Claire’s first monologue being churned out.
“Lingua Ignota”, or the English translation as “Unknown Language”, told the story of two artists, a photographer and a novelist, who are forced to face their pasts and futures. The photographer has two daughters, one of whom wants to write an epic, complex series of novels, or make it a TV show, or a film. The other one (Delphine) is an artless real estate agent.
Not much happened during the story of “Lingua”. In fact, a good portion of it was the characters describing or reading aloud stories they’ve written. Naturally, this leads way for a revelation or two. The revelations never felt forced, though. One of them was that Delphine is pregnant with the child of a man whom her sister dislikes. The other was that the mother was going blind, which is not good for a photographer.
Towards the end, a figure named the “Wild Woman Doll” entered and danced. I was confused at the meaning of this figure. When I discussed it with the dramaturg after the performance, I was told that it represented inspiration, “the must” who finally came to the characters after lack of artistic fulfillment. This made sense to me. However, I wonder if, it were a full production, I would’ve understood the intention behind it.
“The Memory Tax” was the most disturbing of the readings today. It told the story of Jason, who, against his mother’s wishes, takes a job at a “Memory Tax”, where people’s memories are stored away so that he can gain some sort of understanding as to why his father left them. There, he meets a girl whom he falls in love with.
One of the questions the playwright asked was, How did Jason’s behavior change from the time he began working at the Memory Tax? I would say that he became much more passive—during the play, he gets his girlfriend pregnant, and when she takes actions to abort the baby, he doesn’t really bother to stop her.
His dreams are also haunted by the “Hat Man”, played by the same actor who plays his father.
There was a lot in this play that didn’t make sense—what were the “check-ups” about? Were they his job trying to render him less sympathetic? Were they trying to take his memories too? I felt this wasn’t sufficiently explained. I may try to see this in NYC, just to see what I pick up on a second viewing.
I feel so fortunate to have been invited to the Kennedy Center. It was an edifying experience to work with incredible artists from all over the country, not just New York. I asked the lady who was a part of the National New Play Network if they had a home base in NYC. She said that they purposefully didn’t, which I found interesting—it proves that New York isn’t always the center for new work. However, she said there was a home base in Madison and the New Jersey Repertory Theatre, and she encouraged me to knock on their door, introduce myself, and see what comes of it. If I learned anything from this experience, it’s that I don’t have to restrain myself to NYC for good theatre—some of the readings I’ve seen this week were superior to some of the theatre I’ve seen in NYC, both Broadway and off-Broadway.
Something we were encouraged to do was “listen until our ears bleed”. I now know what that means. After the reading of “The Memory Tax” ended, I wasn’t sure what to make of it—my opinion of the piece was still up in the air. However, I decided to listen to people’s reactions to see what they thought it was about. One of the plot points involved Jason murdering his father. One of the questions the dramaturg and playwright asked was whether it was necessary. A few of us, myself included, were unsure what it meant, or if it was even necessary.
I added my own interpretation that it was assisted suicide—if his father had no memories of his son, how could he face his grandchildren if he had any? I felt that the father was asking his son to murder him, and the son was an accomplice in it.
However, I realized that I felt my ears bleeding with words that needed to be said. And they mattered. And they weren’t forced or unnecessary. They contributed to the conversation. So now I know what it means to listen.