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We Can't Reach You, Hartford
An investigative history of the Hartford Circus Fire of July 6th, 1944. Nominated for a Fringe First at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Daguerreotype
In the twilight of his life, famed photographer Matthew Brady must choose between the life he has built and the legacy he wants to leave behind.
Tone Clusters
Renowned prose author Joyce Carol Oates explores honesty, perspective, and denial through one couple's harrowing attempt to save the person they love
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Young Americans
So, I know it's been a while since we've blogged. Perhaps you thought we were on hiatus? In fact, dear reader, its just the opposite. This has been four relentless months of theater-making thanks to our new friends at the Ontological (who have renamed our company The Young Americans and America! Fuck Yeah!, and probably other things behind our back). Our poor tired company members barely have time to sober up after the cast party before its time to tech the next chapter in our epic, fractured history of Charles Lindbergh. It's all winding to a close, and if there's anything that relentless theater-making denies you, its any sort of perspective. This is why, more and more, the May performance that once felt like some sort of end feels more and more like a work-in-progress showing. It will be a kind of throwing-lots-of-things-up-against-the-wall and seeing what sticks. More and more, I believe in the promise of this play, of this examination and cross-examination of one man's struggles with control (both mechanical and emotional). I think we'll have a few incarnations before we find the real skeleton of it, but with such an incredible cast, write, designers and brains (and pig hearts) behind this, I have no doubt we'll find it. And we'll rock your socks off. Just give us a few more months...

I have lots more to say about the process of creating the four individual parts vs. the whole, but it's bedtime, so I leave you with this, a quote that greatly inspires part 2:

[Lindbergh's] somewhat nervous "chatter, chatter" at breakfast allowed him to keep his mind off the one forbidden topic. "I daresay I shall get the whole tragic story one day in a flood of confidence," Nicolson reported to his wife.
posted by Jess @ 10:52 PM   4 comments
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Why I (We) Do It

For the best explanation of why playwrights need companies instead of producers, here's Marsha Norman on Tracy Lett's August: Osage County:

Finally, at least for this go-round, I like what this play represents: a life-long association of a writer with a group of actors and a theater. This is why Shakespeare wrote so much, he had a whole gang of actors waiting to do his work. Go down the list — the writers who wrote a lot of wonderful plays were always associated with a community of actors they could write for: Shepard, Chekhov, Brian Friel, Alan Ackbourne, David Mamet, Lanford Wilson, Caryl Churchill, Richard Foreman, Wendy Wasserstein. Playwrights who live apart from theaters and actors have a lot of trouble getting their work done. Playwrights need to be around actors, need to be a part of a theater’s life.

[...]

If we wanted to do one single thing to improve the theatrical climate in America, we’d assign one playwright to every theater that has a resident acting company. People wonder why so much great work came out of Actors Theatre of Louisville in the early days. I was there, so I know it was simply that you had everything you needed: actors who wanted to work, empty stages ready for plays and an artistic director who gave everybody a chance to do whatever they wanted as soon as they could think of it. Playwriting in America has suffered a devastating blow from the development process that keeps writers separate from the rest of the company, working on the same play for years. What playwrights want is what Steppenwolf has given Mr. Letts: a way to get a new play done, see what works, and then go on to the next one.

You can read the entire essay here.

Oh, and yes, Lindbergh 2 is going swimmingly and Lindbergh 3 is on its way down the birth canal etc. etc. etc.
posted by stephen @ 12:50 PM   0 comments
Friday, January 18, 2008
My New Years Resolution Was to Blog More. Oops.
So the blog is back from a holiday vacation that was much longer than I intended. Very very exciting things on the horizon. The first part of WITIMH’s (What I Took in My Hand for those of you not in the know) goes up in just over a week (gah!). I saw my first run-through of the show on Wednesday and I have to say, things are coming together marvelously. Jess has done a really wonderful job of combining a lot of different elements (sound, puppets, a rickety plane, and a new, improved, Core-strengthened Mike James). She somehow manages to make a guy standing on top of a box talking to himself for 10 minutes actually interesting. And for the first time ever, she’s actually following the stage directions I’ve written in (seriously, the first time ever. The girl’s a maverick.). There’s obviously still a lot to be done (I’m rewriting part of the last speech right now), but there’s a lot of promise here. And a ton of ambition. Your little theater company is growing up so fast!

Outside of the rehearsal room, my work on WITIHM Part Two proceeds at its normal snail’s pace. Part Two, tentative title: “First He Giveth…,” (SPOILER ALERT!) is largely concerned with the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping. I’m throwing a lot of different (possibly impossible to actually stage) things at it right now. We’ll see what sticks. A special Trial of the Century edition of Dramaturgical Detritus to follow soon.
posted by stephen @ 4:38 PM   8 comments
Friday, December 21, 2007
Return of the Dramaturgical Detritus
Instead of a list, I would like to tell you a story about Charles Lindbergh's grandfather. Actually, I would like to tell you two:

Lindbergh's paternal grandfather, Ola Mansson, was a 19th century Swedish politician. In 1858, it came to light that Mansson had used his appointment in the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament) to secure a position as an officer in the State Bank of Sweden and was quite possibly embezzling money from the Swedish government. An investigation was ordered, and the case went to Sweden's Supreme Court. Things weren't looking good for Mansson at this point and so, when he was presented on the stand with a fairly damning document of his wrong-doing, he grabbed it from the lawyer, tore it up, and wiped his ass with one of the pieces of paper. In the middle of the Swedish Supreme Court.

Unsurprisingly, Mansson immigrated to America soon thereafter.


After coming to America, Mansson and his wife changed their surname to Lindbergh and soon settled in Melrose, Minnesota, where they lived the lives of American pioneers. On August 2, 1861, while milling wood for his house, Mansson/Lindbergh got too close to the exposed saw. The machinery caught his cloths and tugged him into the spinning blade. The saw took off part of his left arm, tore his back open, and then hurled him across the mill. The gash was apparently so deep that his resucers claimed they could see his lung and his still beating heart. Somehow, he survived.

Wait, it gets better.

Medicine being what it was at the time, in the end, they had no choice but to amputate Mansson/Lindbergh's left arm at the shoulder. But once Lindbergh was able to get out of bed, he asked the doctor for the arm. Holding the lifeless fingers of his left arm, Lindbergh was alleged to have given the following eulogy:

"Gootbye, mine dear hand. You have been a goot frent to me for fifty years. You haf always been goot and true to me, but you can't be viv me anymore."

And then he buried the arm in his garden.


Happy Friday!
posted by stephen @ 2:57 PM   0 comments
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
"...an event of such magnitude that it can grind a clear lens on history into a prism that bends facts here and there"
For me, one of the one most attractive aspects on working on a play about Charles Lindbergh was finally have a lot of reliable primary and secondary sources. Prior to What I Took in My Hand, my dramaturgical research resembled nothing so much as a scavenger hunt. The charm of We Can't Reach You, Hartford was in exactly how little we can actually know about the Hartford Circus Fire. (So little we even decided we should advertise the fact in the title.) And do you know how much information there was about Mathew Brady? Three books. One of which was poorly-written and riddled with errors and another a picture book. And don't even get me started on Juliette Brady, about whom exactly two sentences have been written about since the Civil War. Lindbergh presented a chance to work on a subject people actually knew something about, a chance to write about one of the most famous men in 20th century American history. You would think information would be easier to come by, the truth a little clearer, everything a little less impossibly relative and postmodern.

Well, yes and no.

The chief difficulty in working on a subject so well-known is deciding who among your sources to trust. Researching a play about Lindbergh isn't so much a scavenger hunt as it is like that time in 4th grade when you accidentally threw out your retainer with your lunch tray and had to dig through a dumpster looking for it. I'm going to be honest with you here, there's a lot of crap in the world about Charles Lindbergh. Some of it is poorly written, some of it hopelessly naive or partisan. Most of it is wrong. But if you do history and try and work with primary sources, I imagine you have to get used to this. Mistakes are made in a world of relativity. Bias, access to materials, perspective, the infallibility of memory. There's plenty of factors working against the poor playwright trying to reconstruct history with a dramatic arc.

Which is exactly why I got upset reading this:

75 Years Later, the Memory Lingers

It's inevitable that in the moment, we make mistakes (intentional or otherwise) in documenting events. That's forgivable. But what isn't forgivable is to knowingly create a false history 75 years after the fact. And for what reason? So that a bunch of old people can get a certificate saying that they were somewhere that both the historian and the alleged witness know they were not. Was it really necessary to give every person who claimed to be at the take-off a certificate verifying this? I know I sound cranky saying all this, but it matters. It may not matter now, but years (decades? even centuries?) down the road, its going to give some poor researcher a headache if it ever comes time to sort out who saw Lindbergh's take-off and who didn't.

So please please please, don't rewrite history just to make somebody feel better because they bicycled six miles to Roosevelt Field on the wrong day and didn't get to see Lindbergh.

And on another point, for the love of Pete: "some confusion also persists over the exact location of the takeoff!?!" [exasperation my own]. His takeoff was filmed (in fact, the first newsreels with sound were of Lindbergh's takeoff) so you would think we could at least nail that one down. Sometimes history is an elegant and revelatory act of remembering, and sometimes its just a bit embarrassing.

And don't even get me started on how Curtis Field (the runway where Lindbergh took off) is now a Best Buy and a parking garage.
posted by stephen @ 1:05 PM   2 comments
Man of the Year, 1927
Since we now know that the Time Person of the Year for 2007 is Vladimir Putin (Al Gore is robbed once again!), I figured this would be as good a time as any to revisit the first Time Person (or "Man" is it was known in the days before women were apparently capable of doing something noteworthy) of the Year: Charles A. Lindbergh


Quite a looker, no?

For anyone that's interested, here's the article that ran inside the issue. (The entire beginning where they give his statistics and characteristics is pretty priceless, but my favorite part is where his feet are just described as "large.") Reading the article, what's most interesting is how, by the end of 1927, Lindbergh was already a national treasure, something too precious to lose. That there even was a debate over whether "the interest accruing to the national welfare by his flights is worth the calamitous crash of principal which would accompany his death" is telling in these modern times where the public actually takes a sick pleasure in watching its celebrities self-destruct. Different times, my friends, different times.
posted by stephen @ 12:06 PM   0 comments
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Dr. Seuss on Lindbergh
We had a great (though surprisingly long) production meeting for What I Took in My Hand last night. At one point in the evening, we inevitably got onto the topic of Lindbergh's politics before and during World War II. Predictably, nothing was resolved (oh, History!) and we concluded the conversation with an agreement to all read more about this controversy before deciding anything.

To that end, I've spent a good part of the morning reading other speeches Lindbergh gave before the war, as well as looking at his involvement with the German Luftwaffe. But it's the weekend and we don't need to get into that now. Instead, on a lighter(?) note, I've collected some political cartoons about Lindbergh authored by none other than Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss). As I'm sure many of you know, prior to being a famous children's book author, Geisel was a political cartoonist for the New York City daily newspaper PM. What you may not know is that Geisel hated Charles Lindbergh with a firey passion.

Here, take a look:


It's hard to see in this one, but the name at the bottom of the sign is "Lindy Ostrich Service, Inc."


So I'm betting the Lindbergh children never got Horton Hears a Who! as a bedtime story growing up.
posted by stephen @ 12:43 PM   0 comments
Friday, December 14, 2007
Dramaturgical Detritus
-Time editors created the Man of the Year Award in 1927 and awarded to Lindbergh specifically to make up for the fact that they had failed to feature him on the cover when he completed his trans-Atlantic flight. Lindbergh was not only the first person to be featured, but he is also the youngest. ("You" doesn't count.)

-The first person to achieve powered controlled flight was actually Richard Pearse of New Zealand. The Wright Brothers' flight occurred several months afterwards.

-On November 3, 1926, Lindbergh became the first aviator in America to have his life saved by a parachute on four seperate occassions.

-The 1927 Tin Pan Alley song "Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.)" features the first audio sound effect on record. At the beginning of the recording what sounds like a propeller is in fact a deck of cards being struck by an electric fan blade.

-Greek aviator Arniotis Karamanlakis holds two claims to fame: the first private aviator in Greece and the first aviation-related fatality in Greece. (That is, if Icarus doesn't count.)
posted by stephen @ 11:50 AM   0 comments
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