Verse daily featured a poem I didn’t want to like. The diction, I guess. Might have been the form itself. A poem a day is a reminder to slow down.

Morning coffee, dates and the blackbirds’ singing in the dark. Saturday. The final weekend before the students’ premiere, I have a few minutes before the working day.

Lear is tucked away until next Friday. And I am scrambling until then.

All these years of student productions, I have learned to do everything in the last minute. I’ve learned to trust. And we’ve always stumbled through. Teenagers are simply amazing.

So there is that.

And there is a kind of personal/professional satisfaction in the work – in the creative demands of chaos. But I think I don’t want to do it anymore. I am stuck in a pattern of panic and pulling-through. The find myself only maybe reaching the same level of artistic competency every year because I’m not even aiming to be better at this particular thing that I’m repeating: the panic and the pull-through.

I love the brainstorming that happens while devising – the whole process is energizing and fun. But then when I am ready to put the breaks on and focus on the details – well. No. Because 15 or so complex lives are being played out in the rehearsal room and the bathroom and the wardrobe room. Because 200 minutes a week for 8 weeks is too little to hold the demands of a full-on from-scratch production – with amateurs, no less – and I have no interest in using students as übermarionetter. I respect their creativity too much to have them mimic my preconceived production. I would lose out. Everyone would. That is not where my strengths or interests lie.

I have always been a person who sees the trees and not the forest. I am realizing how true that is of pretty much every aspect of my creative work.

There are paintings of landscapes with forests or cities that you only see at a distance. Close up – nothing individual exists. I admire them for many reasons. But there are also paintings that give you the experience of sap on a tree branch. That allow you to zoom out on your own: bring the big picture from your own perspective and experience. Even if that means that you say, “this thing, this doesn’t exist in my world – how beautifully strange”. I like juxtapositions. I like intimacy.

When I first began teaching, I worked with creative dramatic teachers who were interested in the theatrical process as a holistic learning process. I have never thought that way. And to be clear, I still don’t. But I realize now that I am interested in process – as a creative, artistic process that is still at heart l’art pour l’art. I’ a’m beginning to understand exactly what I enjoy about collaboration – and what I don’t.

What a weird thing to discover after so many years: to identify what it necessary and what is not. What I am doing this weekend? It is time for me to finish up and move on. There are other ways.

Last night I watched a new play that is streaming on National Theatre at Home. Salomé. A visually and audibly stunning, code-switching performance with Arabic, Hebrew and English. The story is told with repeating poetic text and some dialogue – a retrospective narrated by “nameless” – which puzzles me since not only is nameless obviously Salomé, but the play itself takes her name as its title, so I keep wondering what I am missing.

If I understand the concept of the play, Salomé is presented as a martyr herself – martyring herself by subverting Herod Atipas’ efforts to keep John the Baptist alive. She ignites the tinderbox by allowing herself to be the vehicle for his martyrdom. So the young woman was – not nameless but – not seen for who she was. Political, not lustful. Independent of her mother’s will or whims.

I actually love the premise. Bit puzzled by the Herod-as-Jesus tableau of the last-supper that is impossible not to associate with the staging of Herod’s feast. In this play, Herod asks Salomé to dance, but she doesn’t really dance (thank god). Certainly not the dance of the 7 veils. I am fine with this since it isn’t even mentioned in the bible and the play already walks a fine line of portraying misogyny and surreptitiously feeding it – as does every play that tackles these kinds of issues. The climax of her dance, with the actress holding and moving an almost incomprehensible amount of fabric in her fists, waving heavy curtains that cover the entire stage wall (oh, the colors and textures of this production are so beautiful it’s almost painful), unequivocally falls on the side of right.

The rape scene was probably effective when seen from the stalls and balcony. Herod, kneeling behind Salomé, pulls a veil over her face – she leans forward screaming as he pulls back and thrusts his pelvis forward. The problem was, filmed as almost a close-up shot, it was impossible not to see the Scream mask of popular culture and the whole scene took on a weirdly and certainly unintentional and inappropriate perspective.

I am not thinking about this as a review, but was thinking in terms of theater and filmed theater and the possibilities and what is lost with forced perspectives. I saw this last night after an interesting mentor session with a young director who was describing her directing concept to me before presenting it to her cast. The thing was, it wasn’t a theatrical directing concept – it was a kind of storyboard she was working from. I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until I had watched Salomè.

And it brought me back to writing. What the playwright’s job is vs. the director vs. the actor. How collaborative theater (isn’t always but) can be.

I was reminded again recently how the playwright’s stage directions are followed in the States, where they are so often disregarded entirely in Europe. How much of my mental storyboard can I squeeze into spoken text? How much to I want to? Do I even need to mental storyboard when I am writing?

The text in Salomé is poetry. It repeats often, as do some scenes. Like a song’s chorus. The dialogue rarely involves people talking to one another – but rather performing for one another – as is appropriate for this story/production.

Yeah. I am grateful for the National Theatre’s streaming services. But it is not the same thing as live theater. The audience has a choice and is active in any stage production.

No wonder we are seeing so many productions where they use film for close ups to force the perspective. The extreme of auteur theater? The far end of the spectrum for audience participation?

There went the timer.

Hook, Plot 1, Pinch 1, Midpoint, Pinch 2, Plot 2, Resolve.
Start with Plot 2, Hook, Midpoint. Fill in the gaps.

An little exercise in storytelling.
What do you do when the hook is what hooks you as a writer? And the Plot 2 point seems almost irrelevant in your own involvement with the story?

Maybe it is poem, not a story? Isn’t every poem a story, though?

Is retrospective technique a stale way to deliver the necessary exposition?

I watched an adaptation of The Seagull yesterday, and I wondered if they’d hopped over all exposition. If I had come to the story without knowing the story, would I have been confused? (And that is aside from the Russian/Shakespearean thing where characters go by so many names it can spin your head: what did she call him?)

I had to turn off a film halfway through the other day because it was breaking my heart. I still don’t know where the story goes past the Midpoint. It lingers in my mind though, the fairy-tale like hook, plot, pinch. I feel like a kid: “Shhh. Hush. Stop talking. This is too much.”

I lie in bed and the story comes, and I feel like a climber who has barely made it up the first steep climb, and needs to rest and consider whether the second one will be endurable – what makes it worth it? At this point, have I already had the experience?

What is finishing bring to the experience, really, but a sense of finality? There’s nothing in the exposed composition to foreshadow hope.

Are there stories we need, but don’t want? Are there stories we need to break off from the source and finish on our own?

Or is watching/reading part of a story that moves you this much like observing a painting with a corner of the canvas hidden? Impolite? Disrespectful to the individual artist?

It is all individual. Stanislavsky said that generality is the enemy of all art. So where is the fine line of specificity? No one watches the actors and knows all the actor’s work.

I wrote that last sentence twice. Changed it again. No one “sees” all of the actor’s work is debatable, I guess.

It is the invisible stitch of poetry that holds everything together. The backside of the tapestry. Robert Bly talked about it, and so did Aristotle.

Sometimes when I have seen something that really, really moves me, I want to share the space of savoring but say absolutely nothing. I know that the invisible stitch is an individual kind of knowledge. And if you tug at it, it might unravel. Shhh.

So does this mean I don’t trust the storyteller to end it right? Does this mean I fear the storyteller will expose my wild imagination as something too fanciful? Too beyond the pale? Too disconnected from everyone else’s story?

I remember reading as a kid. I could often be completely lost in a book, going through my day with one foot in another world, like wearing a new color or all the fragrances of another landscape as an invisible cloak. Sometimes it was heavy and dark. But always, always magical. Into myself and outside of myself at the same time. A part of my consciousness stitched into an invisible alternate reality. Another reality so individual it opens up into the nothingness of everything.

If I stay here… at the midpoint… I can stay here.

I have a wonderful friend who has had a radio program for years. She used to send me tapes of her programs, now digital files – always a theme. My favorite was Kids. It was on a cassette that we played in the car on road trips until it wore out in a long celebratory ribbon. Pete Seeger. Iris DeMent. She’s introduced me to so many artists I never would have known – never having had the intelligent curiosity to seek out.

My friend has a soft spot for Celtic music and the song “Tam Lin” has also wedged itself in my heart. It is the story of Janet, a kind of proto-feminist figure that I would like to think was probably just an average, spirited woman at the time the song was composed. I think we often look back over history through a lens warped by the damage of post-industrial power struggles and Patriarchal “organization”. But that’s not something I want to argue. So much conjecture.

Listen, explore, create. Do not claim to know anything. – my mantra lately. I’m letting go of some of the meta-perspectives and the need to be right and definite.

In some ways, the song is a reversal of the damsel in distress trope. She saves her beloved Tam Lin, who has been cursed by the faeries. He tells her how to rescue him in the forest on his nightly ride. She must hold him:

Oh, they will turn me in your arms to a newt or a snake
But hold me tight and fear not, I am your baby’s father

And they will turn me in your arms into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear not and you will love your child

And they will turn me in your arms into a naked knight
But cloak me in your mantle and keep me out of sight”

In the middle of the night she heard the bridle ring
She heeded what he did say and young Tam Lin did win

from the folk song “Tam Lin”

It seems to me the whole song is a guise for relationship advice. A newt, a snake, a lion. We are required to change and to tolerate change. To hold out.

In King Lear, Edgar takes on four identities willfully. More, when one recognizes the absolute validity of a falsely conferred identity. Edgar is a would-be patricide, and a philosopher. The consequences of identity aren’t dependent on the truth. This is the terrifying reality that we all know and mostly deny. What do we trust?

Is there an essence? When Edgar becomes Poor Tom, isn’t he in fact poor Tom? Edgar as he was no longer exists. When he uses that name again, he is changed. We can borrow a line from another play and ask what is in a name.

There is a running theme in Lear about the deceptive (and potentially absurd) nature of language. “Look with thine ears […] And like a scurvy politician, seem to see what thou dost not.”

Ears become eyes. I think of the dadaists and the deconstruction from The Symbolist’s characters: father, daughter – then Tzara’s Gas Heart. Eye. Nose. Mouth.

Beats me if Tzara was searching for an essence. Or exposing the illusion. I think the same can be said of Shakespeare.

Is there meaning only in the wholeness? After all, all Hell breaks loose when Lear splits his crown in two. When his reason and his passion part ways.

And after all, Shakespeare was one of the King’s Men. Maybe in more ways than we want to admit when we shape his legend with our own willful identities.

Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow, 
You cataracts and hurricanoes. 

King LEAR Act 3, Scene 2

There was a television show a very long time ago that traced random connections from one thing to another. I think it was a BBC production, but it could have been NRK. My memory code switches freely, which only proves to me how unreliable memory is. I loved the playfulness of that show. It was like mental hopscotch. Which is called a game of “paradis” in Norwegian.

This morning I was looking up the address of the theater in Washington that will do my play next fall. (I seriously tear up while writing that.) It turns out that it is about an hour away from B’s birthplace.

Enumclaw is the “place of thunder and lighting”. The Norwegian settlers named the area, borrowing the indigenous Skopamish word which also means “he who makes noise… to neigh, bray or sing”. But this is all legend, and I don’t know whose legend.

It is also defined as “the place of evil spirits”. That’s the definition B. told me about. She told me she had been to see the cemetery, and was happy with the place she’s picked out. She’s had Enumenclaw tattooed on her upper back. I’ve googled, and for all the spirits mentioned in King Lear, I can’t find one explicitly evil.

Evil is a very big theme. And while, Edmund says his spirits are “alarmed”, I’m not going to tackle it.

I’ve not been to Washington State, but B told me often that this place reminded her of home, the landscape being so similar. I’ve chosen the themes I want to focus on for the adaptation. Nature being central to everything. There is a part of me that wants to go sit out on the heath during a storm. Method writing. But I won’t. I may read Wuthering Heights again, though. I’ll go hiking in the rain.

I want to be careful to not let the process journal leach too much energy. I’ve kept process journals for poetry books, but this feels different. I don’t know why.

It turns out King Lear is another story familiar to the Jacobean audiences. But scholars think his version was the first to kill off Cordelia. There are sequels to the Lear/Leir story Shakespeare tells, and Cordelia does ultimately hang herself, but much later. In the legends, Cordelia survives her father.

It must have shocked the audiences. I wonder why he would do that? Following the Restoration, Shakespeare’s play was performed with the happier ending. I was taught that had been a kind of sacrilege to the “original”. But now I see that perspective as being historically blind to the very nature of culture. It is almost a kind of idolatry that erases what came before the white Bard that was called an “upstart crow” and plagiarist by his contemporaries.

It is funny what we are allowed to forgive Shakespeare in terms of story structure and dramaturgy. When I read K. my treatment, he kept pointing out cheap plot devices. Yeah, those are Shakespeare’s I kept saying.


It’s a legitimate question. “So?” I think we treat the text with a religious devotion that borders on the absurd. I once took an acting workshop from a now-famous actress and when I asked her what a particular word meant in my monologue, she said she had no idea. The question was academic for her.

One the one hand, I totally get it. The poetry is undeniably genius. Even with an American accent – or the contemporary British accent that has little resemblance to Shakespeare’s pronunciation – it is a joy to speak. You don’t have to intellectually understand every little thing to appreciate the beauty of the whole. It is the human equivalent of birdsong.

On the other hand, time has made a fair amount of the text incomprehensible for a modern audience, especially as a performed work. Audiences were not smarter, but they were familiar. Isn’t the essence of conventional theater the melding of human birdsong and story?

I cannot ruin Shakespeare. Were I to stage it with every plot device a product placement, Oswald’s letter a text message on an iPhone, I could ruin any chance for a career in playwrighting, but “Shakespeare” would be just fine.

If I choose to alter aspects of the plot, to satisfy my own expectations of story structure – or if I choose to flesh out characters and motivations to avoid a kind of academic puzzle or psychological Rorschach as take-home work for the so-inclined who may not know, or who forget, that these things were known already to the audience at the start of the play – it will be okay. I’ts not that everyone will approve, but I am comfortable with this.