I drove down to Cal State Fullerton last week to speak on a panel at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. I was on a panel with a colleague of mine, Ann-Giselle Spiegler, who is a “first call” director for new plays. She is smart, witty, eloquent, and full of life. It makes perfect sense to me why she would be on a panel. However, why I am asked to sit on panels eludes me. I am always nervous, sweating even, terrified that I will have little if nothing to say. And I always have to pee right before the panel starts, why is that? Plus, I have no witty repartee and nothing that comes out of my mouth is planned, rehearsed, or lets face it, even thought about. It’s not that I don’t want to be there, it’s just that by the time the dreaded day arrives, I have barely had time to eat breakfast that morning, let alone prepare for the panel. On the way down to Fullerton, I am feeling guilt ridden about my perpetual state of unprepared-ness, and I am praying to God to let me get through the panel without incident.
This particular panel was on “directing new plays” which is something that I have a lot of experience doing. However, I have absolutely no idea how to articulate that experience into any kind of cohesive sentence. Thankfully Ann started the conversation, which I was then able to dove-tail off of. As usual, Ann spoke eloquently about directing new plays and working with the writer in the room. She expressed her passion for the work she does, and explained her process with ease.
“There is no way I can do that!” I thought silently to myself. I wonder if this is a common thing? Do other artists have this affliction or is it just me? I find it nearly impossible to explain how I work or what I do in a rehearsal room. Partly because I think it changes depending on the play, the playwright, the cast, the material, etc. The work is almost always instinctual, there is no plan really, no rhyme or reason to the process, but more of a reaction to what is happening in the room. Oh shit! Ann is done speaking and it’s my turn to speak…here goes nothing!
After I stumbled over my words, and recited some sort of basic idea of what a director does in a rehearsal room, Ann suggested that we open up the room to questions for the panel. Ah ha! At last! Questions are good-I can handle those! Then, out of nowhere, a sudden stroke of panic hit me! “What if I don’t know the answers to the questions” I thought to myself. Once again, thank God Ann was there to make the question and answer section go a lot smoother. There was one question however, that resonated with me-it came from an older woman who was having her play produced at the festival for the first time. Her question was rather simple-“How do I get my plays produced?” Hmmmmm, that is a good question. Based on my blank look, Ann jumped in and attempted to answer her, while I was having a sort of surreal flashback…
Post Traumatic Theatre Disorder…
I suddenly flashed to almost 16 years ago when I and some other colleagues founded and ran a small theatre company in the valley dedicated to producing new work. Some of the playwrights that I still work with today were produced in that theatre back in the early 90’s. Talented local writers like Jon Bastian, Tim Toyama, Ken Hanes, Dale Griffiths Stamos, Leon Martel, and more. Despite the risk of producing new work, we supported their work. Our passion kept us going and we pushed through the lean times and made sure those controversial shows were mounted no matter what! We even got good reviews! Eventually The Road Theatre Company grew into one of the best 99 seat theatres in Los Angeles. And then it hit me-could it be true that I have known and worked with these writers for over 15 years now?
I thought about the upcoming production that my current theatre company, The Syzygy Theatre Company, is scheduled to produce. Written by Jon Bastian, Syzygy and the Los Angeles Writers Center have been developing this 6 hour epic for over 2 years now. And then it hit me-could it be true that Jon and I have maintained a relationship for over 15 years? Does that really happen in Hollywood? I mean who does that? Maybe that is what happens when you find your tribe? I quickly realized what the answer to the question might be….
Finding Your Tribe…
When it was my turn to reply, I was able to say without any doubt, “I think it is about the relationships that you form early on in your career that build a firm foundation for friendship, trust, and like mindedness.” The students looked at my blankly. I continued, “In other words, work with people that have an investment in you, in your talent, your friendship, and your success. Playwrights-find a director who believes in your work and let them champion it. After all, it is directors who push new work into production because of their passion for the writer and the piece. Without the director’s passion, new American plays might not get produced!” They looked confused, but my spark was ignited, and now I could not stop talking! “Plays are not to be hung on Museum walls, they should reflect the concerns of the present time!” Even I was shocked by how passionate I was becoming, but now I was on a roll! “Write about what concerns you! Write to discover the truth! Then, find someone who believes the same things you do and partner with them. Find your tribe. You are the future of the American Theatre!” Ok, even I knew I was getting carried away, so I turned the conversation back over to Ann.
After a slight pause, one of the student writers raised his hand and asked “but what if I don’t know any directors?” I thought about this question for a moment and then said with confidence, “Well, now you know us.” After the panel was over, the student came up and asked for my card. I handed it to him knowing that even though I barely have time to eat breakfast, I would read his play.
Written by Che’Rae Adams for NOHOARTDISTRICT.COM Feb 2009