09 April 2007
I can't recall whether or not I've written about this previously, but I have had a disturbing tendency of late to choose movies to attend at the theatre that contain torture sequences. Surely a lot of this is owing to a certain renewed relevance torture has come to attain in contemporary American media, but part of it feels almost comically fated to me. I mean, I went to a freaking James Bond movie, and the torture was there, and grisly, and . . . ugh. I should have known better when it came to Syriana, but James Bond? Couldn't you guys just lay a titles sequence over that jonx so I could choose to look at the pretty silhouettes instead?
The answer is, of course, no, they couldn't. Because that movie (Casino Royale) ruled, being all character-driven and fantastical at the same time. Torture should not be made part of a montage, or music video. It's irresponsible representation. It makes it sexy, or conjures memories of Ralph Macchio doing switch kicks on harbor posts. (Oh Macchio...you truly are The Best Around.) Torture is the most vile of human behaviors, if it can indeed be called a behavior. The word covers so many actions, referring more to the intention than the deed, that it is probably better described as an attitude than as a behavior.
Last Thursday Joint Stock Theatre Alliance held a meeting to discuss changes to our ongoing work on The Torture Project. How significant are these changes? Well, significant enough to warrant the change of the name of the producing company (though I don't know if that was motivated one by the other). Goodbye, JSTA; hello Uncommon Cause. As I've mentioned previously (see 4/7/07), one such change is that they may be dropping me from the roles as an actor, in need as they are of someone who looks the correct age (19) for my character. But there were many more changes already made, and I suspect dozens more to come.
In the first place, there was a lot of serious talk about making decisions about exactly what kind of show we are trying to make. Historical account? (Most likely not.) Dramatic re-enactment? (Closer, methinks, but perhaps too close to what Tectonic did with the ever-famous Laramie Project.) Fiction inspired by true events? (That's what it's mostly been until now, and I suspect is going to change.) The director even presented us with a brand, spanking new "organizing principle" (Thank you, Moises.), which . . . I really wish I had written down at the time. Because it was too long for me to memorize. This is all for the best, as far as I'm concerned. I've been craving a sort of ruthless focus in this process for a little while now, so it is at least dramatically apt that such a change in direction might mean the end of what I came into it for in the first place: to collaboratively create a world and perform in it. Some part of me is crushed, sure, but it is rapidly over-ridden by the excitement for the TP becoming its butterfly. Its war-inflicted, quasi-grieving butterfly.
But the family of our inspiration, real-life soldier Keith "Matt" Maupin, does not grieve. They believe. We (dare I say we [hell, I dare say it a second time]) We will get a big second-hand dose of just how everything progresses in his hometown of Batavia, Ohio when Producer/Director Laurie Sales and Producer/Actor Kelly Van Zile return from there. They have spent the weekend--and today, the third anniversary of Matt's capture--in his hometown. One has to presume such an experience would be revelatory anyway, but already we've gotten hints at just how affective and effective a dose of reality can be. A couple of days ago Kelly wrote to inform us (amongst other things) that the town they live in isn't actually Batavia. It's something else, skirting Batavia. She did not go in to detail. Presumably an explicit explanation of that will be included in whatever information they return with.
And this, as far as I know, is how the rest of us stand: poised for intensive listening upon our heroes' return. I would be surprised if any of us had any expectation less than that our worlds, theatrically and personally, are about to be rocked. Imagine imagining a world for two years. Then imagine arriving there suddenly, and not recognizing it at all. That's what I imagined, anyway. Kelly also wrote to us about some amazing sympathetic coincidences between what we created and what was really there, which only goes to show that the only thing one can count on in life is being surprised.
Amongst such surprises arising (phoenix-like) from the Indian food and conversation in Faith Catlin's apartment on Thursday, was one that makes my tenuous position in the company seem downright comfy. Namely, one of the characters we've spent a lot of time and interest on in our process had been cut, meaning in addition that the actress playing her was cut. I'm sure many factors contributed to this decision, but the primary cause was that the character (the "girlfriend" left at home) was decided to be tangential to the story we were trying to tell. A rough call. We all knew, I think, that things would eventually play out this way. We even signed contracts about a year ago solidifying our rights to back-pay and creation credit. Still. Good work hurts.
Many of these tough decisions were the result of a meeting held between our producers and the good people at The Public, following our last presentation. The feeling at our meeting (and I may not be well-tuned to this, leaving early as I had to for that night's call for A Lie of the Mind) was that we were collectively interested in advancing the project. Not just finishing it and getting it produced anywhere, but doing what had to be done to make it a valid bid for a place like The Public, or New York Theatre Workshop, etc. It's an important topic for us, and obviously very important work, and we want it seen.
For those of you who think context unimportant in comparison to good work, who believe a project of any kind will be appreciated in its turn no matter what kind of exposure it gets, I beg you to read this article I was led to by Anonymous: Pearls Before Breakfast. One could argue of this article that it only solidifies the value of the artistic struggle within a generally unappreciative environment. Such a one, however, would be both stupid and wrong.
What does it all mean? Nothing yet, silly. It's a work in progress. But it's all dreadfully exciting, and I mean that expression very specifically. I was reviewing my entries up until this point that addressed The Torture Project, for fear that in my 'blog-enhanced sense of self-righteousness I had somehow cast it in a negative light. Whether I have or not, it's clear that I've been frustrated and uncertain about where we were headed, and how much longer it might take to get there. Now there's a charge to the work that's almost threatening, and I have the experience of both being very excited for it, and dreadfully concerned about whether I will continue to be involved in it.
I want to be. It's when it gets scary, the stakes raised, that things like this get really good.