Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Now Comes The Night (aka, Music Is Dangerous)

Music is dangerous. The upside to using music in a production of one of my plays is that it then invariably becomes imprinted with memories of that production.

“And I am coming home to you with my own blood in my mouth,
And I am coming home to you, if it’s the last thing that I do.”
- Mountain Goats

For me this applies whether the music is used within the show itself, or in the quaint little mix CDs I compile as one of my token gestures of thanks to the cast and crew. (I know, mix CDs. Hey, they used to be mix tapes. I’m slowly dragging myself into the latter half of the 20th century at least.)

“I’ll be there to guide you, when trouble walks beside you.”
– Bruce Springsteen

Forever afterward, you hear the song and moments come trickling or flooding back to you. The downside to using music in a production of one of my plays is that it then invariably becomes imprinted with memories of that production.

“I taste and savor your little ways, the colors that you choose to paint your days.”
– Nancy Wilson

I have spent the last week struggling with music. Music not associated with current production of my play “Leave” seems like superfluous noise. It just reminds me of the music I’m not listening to. Music associated with the production has been an emotional minefield. There were days I couldn’t listen to music at all. Mostly because I didn’t have to. The melodies and voices were haunting me, playing in a constant loop inside my head regardless of what I was doing at the day jobs or out on errands. Actually listening to the music I was certain would make me cry. Often, I was right about that.

“Time will come when we know what happened here.”
- Jackson Browne

As a kind of self-preservation tactic, I tried playing the music repeatedly, to see if I could leech some of the power out of it by repetition. Somehow reduce it to a more benevolent background soundtrack. There was some comfort in that. It didn’t always reach up, grab my heart and squeeze. But just as often it did.

“I wish you had a number where you are.
It’s hard with no one here to help me through it.”
– Mountain Goats

Some of this is tied up in the fact that it’s been such a great production experience, and I’m sorry to see it end.

“There is fiction in the space between you and me.”
– Tracy Chapman

Productions are so rare for playwrights. I’ve been very fortunate, even on a small scale, to get scripts up in front of an audience as often as I do. It seems ungrateful in a way not to relish each and every moment as if it might be the last because, well, you never know. The stories continue to connect with people. Makers of theater find them and want to commit to doing them. Each one that happens is a good sign that perhaps another one may happen after.

“Won’t you wait for me?”
- John Legend

But each production is unique. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. One of
the crew confidently told me, “Oh, someone’s gonna do this again.
Don’t worry.” I hope they’re right. I’ll work to get it out there and prove them right. But this particular production, once over, will not come again.

“Baby, you can sleep while I drive.”
- Melissa Etheridge

There will be a cast party in a couple of days. So this won’t be the last time I see them. There are a couple of productions coming up which people involved in “Leave” will be doing, and I’m tempted to find a way to work those into my schedule and make that road trip out to Morris to see them. Just like a handful of other actors and directors I’ve been blessed with over the years, I have hopes that members of this company will team up with me again and collaborate on something new. But the uncertainty of anything in life means all those vague reassuring thoughts aren’t going to make it any easier to watch everyone pack up the cars and the vans and drive away from the Bryant Lake Bowl tomorrow night. Because they’ve got a two and a half to three hour drive ahead of them, they’ll want to get going sooner rather than later after the applause dies and the house lights come up. The lingering that sometimes happens with a local company won’t be there to help ease me out of it. The rapid evaporation of the experience will be tough. To feel something that deeply is rare, so I should be grateful for the heartache on some level. All I know right now is it’s gonna hurt like a bitch.

“All I want is to be home.”
- Foo Fighters

Some of this is tied up in the fact that the play is about home – being home, finding home, feeling safe in a place, with a person. Long as I’ve been here in Minnesota, my immediate family is all out East in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The extended family is all over the place. None of ‘em here, though. We’ll make tapes and DVDs of the thing, they’ll get copies of the script, but they won’t get to see it live. I won’t get to share that with them. It’s good that I’ve got a task tomorrow night, though. Tucked in the back of the house behind a camera, I’ll be focused on capturing it all just right, and be less swept up in the story itself, or my own internal emotions that closing night brings.

“How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”
- Claude Rains in Casablanca

Some of this is tied up in absent friends – like the friend for whom I originally wrote this story, wherever he is. Like the friends who were all around me, cheering me on, when I got that first grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to workshop the first version of this story. Like the community of writers I used to have in the weekly new play reading series that is no more. Like the writing group, now starting to rebuild itself, which has seen far too many people move on to other genres, projects, parts of the country, or just plain more important family priorities in recent years. With two jobs gobbling up the rest of the time, the reading series and the writing group were often my only social outlets to regularly see and hang out with my friends. I like making new friends, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t like letting the old ones slip through my grasp either. Plus, I feel like with this production, I’ve made a few new friends, and soon they, too, will be out of my daily orbit.

“There is a shipwreck lying at my feet,
Some weary refugee from the rolling deep.
Could you lose it all and fall for me?”
- James Taylor

A lot of it, though, is tied up in something I just haven’t been dealing with, something that writing and helping produce plays like this force me to confront.

The hardest part of doing all this, is doing it alone.

I have collaborators, I have family, I have friends.

My characters have someone to hold their hand.

And I miss that.

Being your own cheerleader and your own support system is possible. I do it all the time. But it’s exhausting.

“Now I’m standing on this empty road where nothing moves but the wind.”
- Bruce Springsteen

The upside of being pointed by my doctors back in the direction of a gym, and getting a trainer, and working out and running over the last six months, is that I can see the results. I need new clothes. I had to get a new belt because I ran out of notches on the old one and it was still loose. I’ve lost a couple of inches off my waist and suddenly all the slacks I own feel like clown pants. I don’t mind having pictures taken of myself anymore. I see that, with a little determination and focus, anything is possible. If I can make thirty pounds vanish, I can get those plays out into the world. I can organize the apartment and my life in general. Maybe the rest of it is possible, too. My body, the plays and the apartment I have a lot more control over, however. Other people need to cooperate for me to pull the rest off, and I’ve been notoriously bad at presenting myself in a way that makes that happen. Or at least possible.

“Don’t leave me alone in the twilight. The twilight is the loneliest time of day.”
- Shawn Colvin

A friend recently had the same lament and we agreed on one thing – we’re not looking for anyone to “complete us” or save us or do the heavy lifting for us. We can do our own heavy lifting, thank you very much. We’re not looking for anyone to take on our burdens. Our lives are pretty great as is. We just want someone to share the good stuff with. We’re not looking for a superhero or a knight on a horse. We’re just looking for someone to walk down the street with. We’re looking for someone who’s there at the beginning of the day, or at the end, or both. Right now, I never feel lonelier than when something is going really well, like this production has gone. Is going. Will be gone.

“I don’t regret where life has taken me.
But it’s fall.
Autumn is burning.
And I do miss those woods.”
- Wonder Dave Crady

Just like death onstage, just like intimacy onstage, some well-chosen music can elicit great emotion, earned or unearned. My director on this one seems to have chosen just the right mood and pace-setters for the beginning middle and end. I feel kind of good about having a hand in steering him toward the three closers for the end of the evening.

“No, you will not be forgotten.
And you will not be alone.”
- Rob Thomas

When he played the three options, all out of my library, I had to grin. I liked them all enormously. Two would be post-show to see the audience out, but only one could take us in the darkness at the final moment of the play. One started too slow and quiet to be the cue we needed. One started so bouncy and upbeat it seemed jarring, though the sentiment in the song was perfect. That left the third, to which I first responded, “Well, yeah, if we want them sloshing through a puddle of their own tears on the way out the door.” The song used to make me cry even though I had no person associations with it. The voice, the words, the lush sweep of the plaintive melody backed by ever more imposing orchestral accompaniment. The thing was designed to push every weepy button I’ve got. Now, even more so.

“Fare thee well, my own true love.”
- Mary-Chapin Carpenter

After that had been settled on, the director turned to me and smiled and said, “I’d really like to do a show someday though, where I could use this one as the final cue…”

And he played that bouncy number. Jackson Browne, covering Little Steven Van Zandt’s song “I Am A Patriot” which begins with a drum sting and then the insistent chant…

“And the river opens for the righteous,
And the river opens for the righteous,
And the river opens for the righteous,
And the river opens for the righteous,
And the river opens for the righteous,

And I got that little tingle on the back of neck that goes with the little voice in my head that whispers, “Hell, you could write that story.”

Music is dangerous.


If you want to hear for yourself what I’m talking about, stop by the Bryant Lake Bowl tomorrow night Thursday, September 25, 2008. We’ve got one more performance of “Leave” before we close up shop. Show starts at 7pm. Doors open at 6pm. The production lasts 90 minutes – one act, no intermission. Tickets are pay what you can on a scale of $12 to $15, or $10 with a Fringe button. You can make reservations by calling 612-825-8949 or visiting or

You can find more about the production at, and you can find sample scenes and monologues from the script over at my site,

If you do come, and I’m a little weepy, you’ll know why. As Rufus Wainwright would say…

“So please be kind, if I’m a mess.”

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