Sunday, October 26, 2008

Opening day.

It's been the most intense tour of our lives, bringing IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING up into the light. We did it for the very first time in Santa Fe at the Lensic Center on June 26th, just 72 hours after closing HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street. We'd never anticipated the response to HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA would be so intense that it would result in it transferring and extending, until the two monologues were right up against one another. I remember doing a lot of work on IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING onstage while performing HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA, feeling the images slide and click in my my mind, elements sorting and falling, coming together in new combinations nightly while I performed another show entirely.

We've never had so much support for a new monologue, and that became part of the difficulty and high-stakes of its creation: after Santa Fe, where it was performed for many scientists from the weapons labs of Los Alamos, we took it to Washington DC, where we played at Woolly Mammoth. There it sold out to an absurd degree--every single show was packed, and it then extended to nearly double the original run, and we couldn't fit everyone in. In the theater people gave standing ovations, and then after the show in the lobby I heard from many people who felt the opposite--they were furious that I had talked about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I had an audience member tell me that I was what was wrong with America one night, another tell me they were disgusted with me, and the American Spectator published a smear piece that said I was aiding and abetting terrorists with my seditious language, and that I was a traitor to the American people.

Behind the scenes things were just as contentious. Every night we'd do the show, and then the next morning, early, Jean-Michele and I would do hours and hours of notes—usually about three hours a day. Then I would spend another hour or two rebuilding the outline in response to the discussions...and then it would be time to do the show. There was no time for the show to breathe, as it was constantly up—and there was no time for us to breathe, either. We started to fight during notes, which always happens to some degree, but the arguments became more edged than the past, and both sides starting withdrawing from real discussion, eyeing each other across the table as though it had become a battlefield. Then Jean-Michele's grandmother, whom she's always been very close to, passed away—and this disrupted whatever equilibrium was left. So despite incredible responses and reviews, internally we were really hurting by the time we left DC—and the show was running too long, and needed to come into focus, but no one was left on the team to bring it into focus.

We had August "off", but instead of resting I was a cultural envoy for the US State Department to Tajikistan, which ate up most of the month—it was harrowing and fascinating and life-changing, but it didn't help the work in any way. Then 36 hours after returning from that journey we were on the West Coast, performing at the Time Based Art Festival in Portland. A fantastic experience—tremendous crowds, incredibly live and brilliant audiences, but again there was not a second in the day for reflection and work between performances, and we could feel it was still just beyond our reach.

Then we took it to Maine, for my alma mater in a one-night performance, and then to Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art...and this was now just ahead of us beginning previews at the Public. This was our last stand, and we stayed up late, every night, and worked all of every single day—the three performances in Chicago were completely different, with sections growing and shrinking, and the shape finally starting to emerge out of the mist. It had always been there, and that's why the reviews and response had always been good, but there is a difference between the rumor of a thing and the thing itself, and it was here that we wrestled it to the ground.

We also made our peace. We'd imperiled our work and even our marriage, because our collaboration is complete and total. We rededicated ourselves to listening to each other, giving space for ourselves and for the work. A lot of the suffering was because of schedule, overwork, and not giving enough time for us to help the show develop. Only in retrospect is it really clear how dangerous this had been, and how perilously we had threaded the needle.

We started previews at the Public an absurd 48 hours after landing back in NYC—our lighting design was forged and created in one intense day, and then audiences began arriving. We had five previews to shake out bugs before press started arriving, and the press gauntlet has been brutal—every day we wake up and it feels like this is the most important day of our lives, which is what the day before felt like, and the day before that, and onward and onward. What I am most impressed by is Jean-Michele's professionalism and demeanor, which has been a tremendous inspiration to me, and has really helped get through this period.

And now we give it all to you.

This is an illusion, of course—we've been giving it to everyone for night after night, for four months exactly since this monologue was born. But this night is a ritual of completeness, and we take our hands off of the machine, to let it be the monologue it wants to be. I am so happy that we fought hard for it, that we persevered, and I'm deeply grateful to everyone who has helped us on this path—family, colleagues, friends, audiences and you, generous reader.

I will see you on the other side,


1:02 PM