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(Why am I naming days?)
5/11/15, Day 14,250 (Mercena Day 270): To Find the End, Find the Love

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing the second draft of my play The Sea Concerto read at a Lark Play Development Center Roundtable. It’s always wonderful to return to the Lark, and with my schedule the way it is, I don’t seem to be able to complete rewrites on my latest batch of plays unless they’re under threat of some deadline.

It was a productive read-through and discussion, thanks to my actors Phillip Callen, Ken Glickfeld, Melanie Nichols-King, Alisha Spielmann, Chinaza Uche and Kathleen Wise, and my Lark support team, Krista Williams and Andrea Montesdeoca.

Our conversation focused on two main questions:

  • Is there a law of diminishing returns in so many scenes focused primarily on Eric’s decisions? The feedback here landed on the scenes working well, partially because of how Eric’s rhythms were so different than the rest of the family’s, and partially because we’re less interested in what Eric decides than in why. I agreed, and I was particularly pleased with rewrites I had made to the Chappy/Eric scene, which made that scene feel less duplicative, and instead essential to both Eric and Lynnie’s journeys.
  • Is the balance of Lynnie’s journey as narrator versus her immersion as a character in the story tuned right? This was the question that was most vexing me, and the conversation that led to the solution was an example of why I love the collaborative art of theatre. In our discussion, I heard the actors respond powerfully to the final scene between Janet and Lynnie, and less so to Lynnie’s poem that reclaims her creative voice that ends the play. This makes sense: while we have been engaged with Lynnie’s creative block throughout the play, most of our energies have been navigating her relationships with her broken family. Of course that’s what we’d care about most at the end of the play! Hence the name for yesterday, To Find the End, Find the Love.

I’m now imagining a simpler, quieter end that imagines the whole play taking place in the moment between Janet leaving Lynnie alone on the dock and returning with food in hopes she’ll stay. This accomplishes several cool things: it makes our narrator, who has wanted so badly to belong in the world, to step away from her narration at the very end and simply belong; it makes the emphasis of the ending land on the salvaging of some part of her family, rather than on her creative block, which is more emotionally satisfying; and it moves the play away from the triumphalism of the current poem to a more emotionally mixed charge, which feels truer to the spirit of the play.

It’s discoveries like this, emerging from a collaborative process with trusted artists, that make theatre so addicting and rewarding. Now to complete the third draft!

*****

The non-writing related part of my day was surprisingly positive. I had thought I’d be crushed by TCG work after taking Friday and the weekend off, but instead I checked off some major to-dos and we heard great news on two key speakers (more on that anon). I also made it home in time for Mercena’s bedtime ritual, which had the happy addition of Sandra “Mommom” Morgan. After all three of them were in bed, I sat on the terrace and knocked out some TCG, NET and Flux work. It’s easier to work late with a view and a cool breeze!

swim class(Why am I naming days?)
4/30/15, Day 14,239 (Mercena Day 259): (Doing More Than) Talking About Disability

This day is so named for the second conversation I participated in this week regarding movement-building for theatre-makers with disabilities. Last year, we weren’t very successful at creating meaningful space for this conversation at the TCG National Conference, and we’ve also recognized this as a real area for skills-building for the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Institute. I also feel personally that this may be the area of identity about which I have the most to learn.

I came home to a very bright-eyed Mercena, who needed a third nap after her swimming class, which always delights and exhausts her. We were worried that without her space suit, she wouldn’t go down easily, but after an extended bedtime, she slept through the night. It looks like it’s officially goodbye space (sleep) suit for bedtime, but we’re still using it for naps because naps are the devil.

5/1/15, Day 14,240 (Mercena Day 260): Beyond Sacred at Ping Chong + Co

The highlight of this day was finally seeing some theatre! Heather and I are trading off nights to catch up on some play-going, and last night I caught Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity by Ping Chong + Co. I was giddy with delight to finally be seeing a play, and especially my first full-length Ping Chong + Co play!

Oddly, though, the production felt familiar, in part because having read the Undesirable Elements book (of which this production is a part), having seen a Ping Chong workshop and having watched an Undesirable Elements excerpt at a book launch, I already knew what the aesthetics and methodology of the production would be. A simple staging–in this case, five actors seated in front of mics and music stands with their scripts displayed–beginning and ending in multiple languages and birth stories, each narrative intertwined and at times overlapping with the others, reinforced or disrupted by clapping in rhythm. These are the familiar staging elements of the Undesirable Elements series, which Ping Chong + Co has been creating for 20 years.

What I didn’t yet know was the particular impact of this stripped-down, ritualized approach to documentary theatre. The five actors are telling their real-life stories, but the stories have been ably shaped and heightened by the co-creators at Ping Chong to merge into a single story greater than the sum of its parts. The subject–the diversity and complexity of Muslim identity in the U.S.–is fascinating and, given our current political climate, important to be witnessed and discussed. What makes the play engaging and ultimately moving, however, is the specific stories shared by the performers. I’m grateful for their generosity of spirit in sharing the challenges and beauties of their unique journeys as Muslims in the U.S., and hopeful many more people will see this re-humanizing and healing work

5/2/15, Day 14,241 (Mercena Day 261): Will & Liz’s 15th Anniversary at the Beer Garden

It’s amazing how a single event can take over an entire day once you take into account the baby logistics that surround it. Yesterday, Heather and I brought Mercena to our friends Will and Liz’s 15th anniversary party at the beer garden in Astoria. (A side note of just how much more brilliant a beer garden becomes when you’re a parent–a place where you can be drinking outside during the day with your kid, and it feels social instead of neglectful? Yes, please!) To get there and back, we needed to plan around her naps (she naps well in a moving stroller, but now can’t really sleep on the subway) and the logistics of getting a stroller from Forest Hills to Astoria (not as easy as it should be).

The end result? After a 2-hour+ commute to Astoria that included a deliberate 90-minute stroller walk to Jackson Heights (it was cool to finally see some of the neighborhoods that until now had only been subway stop names), a great time celebrating some of our oldest friends (I remember their wedding well, my first real wedding as an adult human), and then dealing with a wailing and unwilling-to-nap baby on the way home, Heather and I collapsed on the couch, exhausted.

heather mercena

(Why am I naming days?)
4/29/15, Day 14,238 (Mercena Day 258): Goodbye, Space Suit?

It’s not really a space suit, of course, but Mercena’s sleep suit–the padded full-body suit that helps young babies control their limbs and sleep more deeply–bears just enough resemblance to an astronaut outfit that you might think she was headed to the moon instead of her crib. Last night may mark the end of her space suit-wearing days, and so another tiny milestone piles on top of this quickly growing heap of life.

We tried putting her to bed without it, and after about 20 minutes or so of intermittent fussing, she slept well. It’s too soon to declare victory, because she was especially exhausted from the baby picnic cuteness pictured above, but we’ll see how her naps and bed time go today sans suit.

A thing to share and remember about our bedtime ritual: as Mercena breast feeds, Heather and I trade verses of “Hush little baby, don’t say a word.” The verses become increasingly absurd as we challenge each other with stranger rhymes, soothing her and delighting ourselves. It’s my favorite part of bedtime, and maybe the whole day.

As for non-baby matters, it was a 12-hour productive day,  but I haven’t clawed my way out of stressville yet. TCG progress was made on our upcoming board meeting, the National Conference–including exciting meetings about an eco-theatre session and steps to make our plenaries more accessible–Audience (R)Evolution blog posts and the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Institute. At night, I moved a few Flux things forward, including some hopeful upcoming remounts of Breathe Free, our immigrant rights project. I’m still struggling with whether these daily small steps are enough given the magnitude of violence, but I tell myself it’s better to take small actions where I actually have influence than fume loudly about the places where I don’t. Sometimes I believe that’s true…

I also began the process of rewriting Salvage to integrate changes made in tech to send to folks who have requested it (theatre, publishers and friends, oh my!). Heather and I also figured out our play-going for the next month, which takes some serious advanced planning to make happen with a baby!

While I still don’t feel back on track, and have yet to downshift from the frenzy of the past few months, journaling here has really helped, and imagining you reading these words keeps me accountable. So, thanks for reading, and I hope your days have a little less stress but just as much love.

pretty salvage

(Why am I naming days?)
4/28/15, Day 14,237 (Mercena Day 257): The Fruits of Peace

“I am standing at the base of the sacred oak tree where they say you stood,
And the ghosts bloom like flowers among the shouldn’ts and shoulds.”

The moment above was one we found for Salvage in tech together. The transitions were looking beautiful, but they weren’t propelling the story forward. After a late night brainstorm with Heather, Will and Becky on the train home, I realized that by adding Akiko’s tape recorder voice-overs to the transitions, I could accomplish three goals: 1) make the transitions an intrinsic part of the story-telling, 2) track the passage of time more clearly, and 3) deepen the audiences’ relationship with Akiko’s recorded voice as a vessel for her spirit, which was essential for the end of the play to land.

The moment above is the tail end of the transition into scene 3, right before they spring from the ritualized, out-of-time transitional space Heather and the designers created into the real-time world of the play’s action. Kia’s red LED light juxtaposes beautifully against the practical light illuminating their faces from the Tox Tester. Heather choreographed a rise in movement tempo and sharpness at the end of each transition, as if the characters were suddenly materializing from the out-of-time space. In the revised text, we hear Akiko’s voice say the first variation of her father’s favorite untranslatable poem (the line above), and for a moment, with her recorded voice living in that out-of-time place, they are themselves ghosts.

It’s one of my favorite moments from the show, and I’m so glad Isaiah captured it in the pick-up photo shoot we did.

*****

“…and they brought back the girls from Boko Haram (but maybe not those girls) and Joni Mitchell is in a coma (or she isn’t) and there’s a state of emergency in Baltimore (better post your take on Facebook) and the Supreme Court is deliberating on marriage equality and and and…”

I’ve tried to engage less frequently on social media with the Grand Parade of Troubles and Opinions not because I don’t care about the troubles or lack opinions, but because I don’t want social media to be the primary place I act on those thoughts and feelings. I don’t want to let out the steam that should be driving the engine like a tea kettle shrieking.

If it were possible to persuade others on social media I could justify engaging more frequently, but all that seems to do is cast me down rabbit holes of echo chambers and self-righteous posturing (I include myself in those echoes and postures). I still believe that social media engagement can, in the context of other actions in the non-digital world, have a significant, positive impact. It’s just that I used to believe social media could heal the offline world, and now I see it more the other way round.

*****

Yesterday my stressful schedule returned with a vengeance. Several somewhat frantic meetings laid bare just how much work needs to happen in a short time for the National Conference. At the same time, several opportunities re-knocked with a “now or never” rhythm. I did have a beautiful half hour with Mercena in the morning (she’s nearly a two-nap baby now), and a lovely visit from Heather O’Brien, so the day wasn’t all stress and hustle. And I know the old busy-busy is the oldest humble-brag in the book, but if we don’t talk about the crunch we’ll keep getting flattened…

Mercena Terrace

(Why am I naming days?)
4/27/15, Day 14,236 (Mercena Day 256): The Fruits of Peace

It was a day of rest and recovery. After work, Heather and I sat on the terrace and watched a bruised sun send golden pink ships sailing over our heads. We talked of our days: Mercena’s trip to tiny tumblers class and refusal to take her third nap, my day of long meetings. We talked of Salvage and what it means for that production to be closed, and what’s next for Flux. We laughed at the crazy idea of a whole week where we’d be home at nights together.

And these clouds, this sunset, these babies rolling around, our baby sleeping, these meetings, this theatre, this laughter, this time at home together, safe; these are the fruits of peace, and they are too sweet for only some of us to have them.

How can we spread these fruits of peace, a peace which isn’t the absence of conflict but the presence of justice, of community, of creativity? It’s not enough to have Baltimore in my thoughts if it’s not in my deeds…

“I am a pacifist” I said, feeling sure that this would answer all of Piscator’s demands. “So am I,” he answered, rather dismissively. “But what kind of pacifism do you imagine in a world at war? What kind of society can you suggest that would be a peaceful society? How would you regulate life, food, work and water in a pacifist world?”

I was startled. “I…don’t know…” feeling as humbled as Piscator once did in the trenches of Ypres, when he said he was an actor…

“This is what I have to study,” I said, brazening it out.
–Judith Malina, The Piscator Notebook

This quote comes early in Judith Malina’s diary of her time as a young student studying with famed teacher and director, Erwin Piscator. I have been reading Malina’s The Psicator Notebook to honor her passing, and to learn myself about what kind of peace I can imagine for this world. I am studying, and feel that I’m getting a little closer, every day.

Mercena Closeup(Why am I naming days?)
4/26/15, Day 14,235* (Mercena Day 255): Salvage Strike; or, “Thank you, baby!”

I have been a long time away from this naming of days. Mostly, I’ve been a breakneck kind of busy, and behind on so many projects I felt I should always be doing rather than remembering what I’ve done. You can only receive so many emails that begin, “I know you’re busy, but…” before every spare second feels double-or-triple mortgaged.

That feeling hasn’t gone away, but with the closing of Salvage it felt necessary to at least try and take more regular stock about the sum of all this frenzy. So much has changed in so short a time, especially with Mercena, and while I know that all will be lost in the inevitable heat death of our universe, these precious moments of her first year don’t need to disappear in quite such a hurry.

And this daily blogging has never been so much about remembering the past as situating my soul in the present; to find a presence of mind in this daily discipline to notice my life as it’s happening.  So here I am, dusting myself off and hopping back in the saddle.

There’s no way to cover in a single blog post the events of the past three and a half months, but I’ll try to weave in little moments over the next few weeks (before the TCG Conference totally consumes my life again). Mostly, my focus will continue to be on the day that just happened, and yesterday happened to be a beautiful day.

From basically 10am to 10pm, I was at Flux’s strike for Salvage. My legs ache, my feet are sore, my hands are cut up with splinters…and I couldn’t be happier. It seems absurd to call the logistical clusterfuck of strike sacred, but in spite of all the trucks stuck in traffic and the compounding stress of deadlines missed, it has become a cherished ritual for me.

Mostly it’s the people. We were short-handed but not short-hearted, with Alisha, Jodi, Kia, Heather, Isaiah, Matty V, Rachael and Sol putting our bunker to bed. Mercena was there for the first half of tech, and the stage manager-like cry of “Baby on the floor!” was appropriately met with the response, “Thank you, baby!”

Mercena loves rehearsals and tech and strike especially. There’s so much to see, and so many people to interact with for this blessedly social baby. She was content to roll around on her blanket, banging her empty orange juice bottle (her odd new favorite toy), for hours at a time. For her nap, I wheeled her around in the courtyard of The Loisaida Center (she naps best in motion) for over an hour, breathing in the beautiful day and thinking about how lucky our family is to be a part of this theatre family.

Chinaza

We were short-handed because so many of our Creative Partners were involved in other shows, but we still found a way to involve them, with Sol finding an old headshot of a young Chinaza and affixing it as a guardian spirit to the door. Balancing the abundance of opportunities our Creative Partners are finding outside the ensemble with what it takes to keep Flux moving forward always been a challenge for us, but this process felt healthy and full of love throughout.

Because we were running late, we missed our window at The Sand Box and waited for a rehearsal to finish before we could load everything into our storage space. This was our most environmentally responsible production, with almost all of the set pieces productively reused or recycled. As Alisha and I waited for the Sand Box rehearsal to end, I remembered all the other late nights of Flux strikes, driving with Jason in the truck on various late night misadventures…

Maybe that’s why strike feels sacred to me; at twenty one Flux productions now, this strike struck the memories of the others and they rung out in an exhausted harmony, marking the passage of time and the loss of something beloved, and reaffirming the life of the community. And what’s a few splinters or sore feet to that?

*I have not actually begun reversing my age like Benjamin Button; because of a typo my day count got off track. If there’s ever time, I’ll go back and correct the mistaken posts…but there probably won’t be time. I’ll be picking up with the other pieces of this daily blog tomorrow.

(Why am I naming days?)
1/12/15, Day 14,532 (Mercena Day 150): Dinner with Jane and Escape from the Snake of Snakes

These were, thankfully, events separated by the always tenuous wall of life and fiction. In life, I had a wonderful catch-up dinner with my friend Jane (yummy South Indian food at Pongal), and in After Earth, Zhou and her brother are having a heck of a time escaping from the snake of snakes (yes I do sing the hallelujah chorus in my head every time I write “snake of snakes”). The writing on this novel is really picking up, but we’re about to launch into a new area that will require some advanced plotting to get right.

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 178 out of 230 days (After Earth)
Spanish: 149 out of 230 days
Music: 78 out of 136 days
Yoga: 11 out of 20 days
No alcohol: 10 out of 12 days

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?”
)

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