The day Donald Trump was inaugurated and became the United States of America's 45th president, I was trying to write a scene for "How To Kill An Elephant" in the rehearsal studio at Dixon Place. It was difficult. I wish I had been using a typewriter because having the world in other windows made it difficult. I kept switching over and watching the coverage on various news outlets. I grew panicked and unfocused. After two hours of feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to do I left early. I need to take a walk and look not at the pomp and circumstance of the changing of our president but what was actually happening around me.
I went home feeling depressed and completely unmotivated to continue working. I started thinking about scrapping the entire project. Isn't my duty as an artist to make work that reflects the times back to the audience? I should be making a piece about Trump and his administration and his policies. What the hell am I doing making a show about an electrocuted elephant with silly characters and dance numbers? How is this helping anything?
Being a fellow in the Target Margin Theatre Institute provided me an opportunity to ask other artists how they were dealing with this or if they were dealing with the role of the artist after Trump. Someone said that the audience will be viewing the work from that lens of Trump as president so in effect my piece is a piece about our current times. That was astounding to me. I've been conditioned as a maker to work on crafting the audiences experience, as much as can be crafted and manipulated, but never thought about manipulating the lenses they are already bringing into the theatre. Of course the audience brings in their day, their jobs, their commute, the fight they had with their teenager over using Snapchat too much, and with Trump being a huge daily disturbance, they will bring him in and watch my piece possibly with the same fear, worry, dread, and anger I am feeling about the future. I have always tried to get the audience to drop their outside daily lenses but maybe this time I shouldn't? Maybe this time I should find a way to remind them by using a quote or image that brings Trump into focus for a second and then disappears.
This blog is not a place of articulate perfection. It's a place for me to try and figure out ideas and pose issues and questions while I struggle with making work. It's also becoming, today anyway, a place to talk myself into being bold. As Richard Foreman told me, "Courage. You have to have courage to make what you want to see." So today I embrace the current political nature of my piece. I will dive into that murky water even though I am scared and I'm going to have my main character wear a white pant suit at the end.
Some political links I am currently looking at for inspiration:
Florida Gov. Removes State Attorney From Death Penalty Case
Timothy McVeigh Executed
The Chair: An Update
The Shocking Truth About The Electric Chair
For the past few months I have been allowing this story to twist and turn and lead me to places I didn't think I'd ever go. My teacher Dan Hurlin said once that when making work it is important to identify the autobiographical element in a piece. When I stumbled upon the story of Topsy in the book, "Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant" by Michael Daly, I had no idea how it was autobiographical to my life. After four years of thinking about it, starting and stopping, and then having the opportunity here at Dixon Place as an artist-in-residence to fully dive in and commit to figuring it out I still didn't know how it resonated with me. I kept trying new ways to approach the story, new ideas for what I could do on stage, even going so far as thinking about making it a cooking show. I wrote it all down, sketched out scenes and how they would look and then after a few weeks I wouldn't like where I was headed. I didn't know where I was going but I knew it wasn't quite right. I have kept following my hunches like, "I think Tony Robbins belongs in this play," and following the paths and trying not to judge the journey. And then it finally hit me! I know how this piece is autobiographical..at least for now. Who knows what will happen tomorrow but for now, I'm sailing ahead with dance numbers, cardboard wigs, a dash of Tony Robbins, and at least one elephant costume.
Making cardboard wigs is harder than I thought it would be. Dough Donuts and coffee helps.