Each year, I come home from the Minnesota Fringe Festival with dreams of doing a show myself. Some years my dreams are impractical, like the year I imagined creating a dance show with my son based on a song I loved. The idea was so strong that it even inspired me to take a class in modern dance, where I naïvely expected I would learn what I needed to know to create the dance I had in my head. (Instead, I learned that I can’t dance.) One year I had a concept that I thought would work, but when I sat down to write the script, I got about three pages in and decided the story really had nowhere to go. It was a cool concept that turned out to be merely a clever stage device.
So for the past year or so, I have been thinking about maybe getting involved with someone else’s show instead. It would give me a bit of social esteem to be “with a company” at the fringe rather than just a random audience member, and it would allow me the sense of belonging that I love about working in theatre. I wouldn’t have to invite myself into random conversations at the after parties, or stand around with a beer in my hand trying to look like I really do have someplace to be and I’ll go there as soon as I finish my beer. I’d have people I’d already feel comfortable with to join when I ran out of others to talk to. And it would give me a little more information from an insider’s perspective of what it takes to be in a fringe festival, although I assumed I had probably figured most of it out already.
So this year, after seeing the lottery results for the MN Fringe (i.e., finding out which applications were accepted into the festival), I approached the two theatre companies I knew from Milwaukee who were going, and offered to help in any way they needed. Bad Soviet Habits took me up on my offer, and asked if I’d stage manage part time and help them build social media relationships to develop audiences in Minnesota. After a few minutes of insanity where I almost turned them down “because I have Irish Dance classes on Thursdays”, I jumped at the opportunity. (Dance can wait. It will always be there. And remember, I can’t dance!)
It’s been a fantastic experience. Andy and Kurt have such an incredible rapport; sitting in that room with them night after night was like having season tickets to my own private improv comedy show. But more than that, the most valuable thing for me to see was how they worked as writers, discussing their characters in terms of how they had originally written them, how characters have developed and fleshed out and sometimes changed from how they’d been conceived. I watched them brutally slash and change dialogue. I sat quietly through entire minutes of silence as each would retreat into his own head to work out a problem, then throw out a suggestion and discuss it in the context of the initial conception of the project. I thought it was all so fascinating, and wished I had been a fly on the wall for the entire process of writing. I have so much to learn. Andy assumed I’d be bored during rehearsals that only consisted of line-throughs, but at least in the earlier days, I felt that those might be the best chances to be privy to the work of development in progress. I hated to miss out on any of it.
I mean, I love the show now, but I quit learning much from rehearsals two weeks ago because it’s pretty much set in the form it’s going to be. I don’t know that it’s going to change much between Prague and Minnesota. It doesn’t need to. Although I selfishly kinda hope it does so that I can see more of the development process again.
So after opening night, Kurt sat down with me over a beer and asked me what show I’m going to take to the Fringe next year. Not “if” I take a show, or “wish” to take a show, but “going” to take a show. I spilled an idea or two and he gave me suggestions and encouragement. As we talked I recalled more ideas that had excited me in the past. One of them bubbled up and stuck with me even after I went home, so I decided to commit to it.
I love the authors of the Spanish Golden Age, and last year (when I had thrown my back out and was in bed for a week) I had read Lope de Vega’s “Fuente Ovejuna” and felt an immediate connection with the language. Ironically, I’d first heard about the story when I was Kurt’s student in theatre history class, although he’d only spent about two minutes giving a short overview of the piece before moving on to other things. I was intrigued enough to write down the title of the play in my notebook with a note, “investigate this.” It’s an old Spanish script, a classic, a story I could easily visualize. I want to update it, still using the elements of the story that captured my imagination when I first read it. My “pet cause” for nearly my entire adult life has been to rail against the domination of one human over another, especially when it comes to domestic violence and/or the abuse of women and children. I’m thinking right now that I want my little “Fuente Ovejuna” to stand up against the injustices done to women who have been raped and infected with HIV, or kidnapped into the sex trade and manage to escape, only to face social scorn, sanctions, or even punishment in their homeland. Which is basically what the original story is about, only different.
My Grand Dream is that I will write an easily accessible story that can be told by a few ordinary people in any space whatsoever, and I will release it into the wild and it will find its way to the little african villages and iraqi courtyards and indian slums and american playgrounds that need to hear it, where it might do its little part in changing the world. More realistically, I hope to have a little story that I can take to a fringe festival or two and people will watch it and it will make them think.
So I spent the week after opening night re-reading the script, breaking it down, creating a synopsis of the story, and formatting it so that I have a physical structure to follow that I can map my new story onto. Now I have a piece of paper I carry around, with blank spaces under story elements that I can jot down whatever ideas that come to me.
Right now I’m kinda stuck, though, on the self-critical idea that I might hammer my audience over the head with my subject matter. Lope de Vega handled the topic marvelously. Me, I’m not so confident I can.
This is the project I intend to work on through the long hours I spend on the train in Europe. Wish me luck. And good dialogue.