Origin Myths


Last night I was privileged enough to attend a private reading of Christina Gorman's work-in-progress. Christina -- as you may recall, Loyal Reader -- was the playwright attached to our process in creating As Far As We Know for the 2007 NYC Fringe Festival. She has since become a part of a play-development program hosted by The Public Theatre. So last night I strolled into the Public, to the downstairs rehearsal room, and tried as hard as I could to look like I belonged there. I think I did okay. My practiced nonchalance bordered on disdain, especially while wandering the back hall while all around me well-employed theatre folk busied themselves about rehearsal, and workshopping, and probably warming up for a performance at Joe's Pub. Yeah, I was cool. I didn't even stain my shirt at dinner beforehand.

(I made sure my coat was closed.)

I won't say too much about Christina's play, except to say that I enjoyed it. I'm not saying much more because it is, after all, a work in progress, and who the hell am I to out it prior to Christina's releasing it upon the world at large? She expects to be presenting it in some kind of final form in the Spring, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it again after she's incorporated whatever notes she took for herself from this reading.

Whenever I see it again, I may also see a few familiar faces again. Going into this reading, I was preparing myself to be reunited with some AFAWKers (that really doesn't read well, does it?), most of whom I haven't seen in a year or so. To my surprise, I was the only one from that crew there. I did, however, see Gaye-Taylor Upchurch again, my director from the reading of Burning Leaves we just completed. She and Christina have apparently worked together in the past, hence Christina's attendance at the BL reading. Christina also knows Tom Rowan. It is, I tell you, a small world after all. As if that weren't enough, one of the actors performing in the reading attended The Big Show. I didn't recognize Bhavesh Patel as he sat directly in front of me and I read his name in the program. He had to come over and clear things up for me. So. Pathetic. I'd rather have spilled pizza sauce on my shirt.

Bhavesh did a great job, as did the rest of the cast: Reed Birney, Carla Harting, Brian Wallace, Alex Webb and Halima Henderson. The whole affair was directed by Michael Goldfried, and to good effect. It was simply done, with the actors remaining seated and with music stands in front of them. I often find it a bit stifling to be seated for a reading, but no one seemed to feel repressed by it on this occasion, and I appreciated being allowed to focus on simply the actors' choices. Christina is writing a play that has very much to do with characters being nudged out of their comfort zones through discoveries about the frailties and failings in one another. The relationships are very distinct, and the action largely achieved through conversation and various storytelling forms, so creating a space in which we as the audience were left to focus in on faces and the minutiae of expression was very smart. Afterward, I was very briefly introduced to Goldfried, and discovered that he had seen As Far As We Know and thought it to be good work, which was certainly a nice note to leave on.

Christina's play concerns itself with origins in a variety of ways, including the origins of personal passions and America itself. It was strange for me -- and I do hope she will understand where I'm coming from with this -- to find familiarity in this new play. At times her new play reminded me of the style or even thematic content in AFAWK, and it's a difficult chicken-or-egg deduction to make. How much of that was Christina's influence on our script, our story, and how much of it was an effect of her experiences working on our play? Ultimately, I don't think it's an important question to answer. She and I both invested a lot of time and energy into AFAWK, and it's only natural that prints will be left and continue to be made long after our involvements ended. Still, I am curious about origins, in general and as they pertain to creative expression.

Many, possibly most, of my favorite stories are origin stories, and I've written here before about how fond I am of that earliest stage of a collaboration, when the ideas are ALL good and the response is ALWAYS "Yes, and...!" The first of a superhero movie franchise is generally the best, because it's like watching a tragedy in reverse: Inevitably, the hero will become something greater than he or she could have imagined, and we get to watch it all happen, to appreciate intimately the progress, the journey. Maybe we're transformed too. (Talk about your adolescent power fantasies... [Seriously - talk about them.].) But what of the origin of a story? There's a popular idea that there are really only about nine (or so; the number varies) stories in the history of the world, and every supposed "new" one is just a retelling of one, or a hybrid of a few. That's as well as may be. I've got no argument with the idea. However, I believe each story told has the potential to spark "new" stories, and that the culmination of these quite literally changes our reality. In this sense, stories are made new all the time by our ever-changing belief in them. Take, for example, our Founding Fathers. Were they as we describe them now? Certainly not. Will they become further mythologized (is SO a word) a hundred or so years from now? My bet is for yea, and those new beliefs will affect the world as we know it.

So I am, irresistibly, inevitably brought back to that tired question that caused me so much grief nearly a year ago: Who owns a story? Or, to be more neat to this particular entry: Does the originator of a story own it and, if so, how do we say who originated that story? All glory be to Allah, I suppose (Welcome to the DoD web surveillance, Odin's Aviary! Here's your complimentary pin, with GPS included!), but how do we claim ownership of a story when we're little more than synthesizers of other stories, and stories themselves exist to be shared? I'm not talking here about commercial ownership -- that question bores me, immediately necessary though it may be. Rather, I wonder about the ways in which we attribute credit in what may be essentially a great dialogue between storytellers that reaches back thousands of years. Maybe we only borrow the stories we "create." Maybe we're just helping them along to the next stops on their journeys.

But hey: Christina's play is Christina's play. Don't step up to that, 'cause girl will mess you UP.
 
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