Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"White Rabbit Red Rabbit": A Very Vague Post-Mortem


Last night, I walked onstage, with a prop I didn't know the purpose of, to perform a play I knew nothing about. Cheryl Kimmi, Executive Director of the Kansas City Fringe Festival and producer of the play I was going to do, right then, handed me a sealed manila envelope with my name on it, and took a seat in the audience.

I was alone onstage, with a few props and a couple of set pieces that I hadn't known about before arriving, and didn't know how they were going to be used. I opened the envelope in front of the audience. I knew that it contained the script, and that's everything I knew about what was about to happen.

Moments before, I was alone in the Green Room backstage, pacing and drinking honey straight from the bear, trying to calm down, loosen up, and coat my scratchy throat. I felt very alone. Then I looked around at the show posters around the room. I saw a photo of my dear friend Marcie.Then another close friend, Parry. And sweet Amy. These are people who are very close to my heart, and one reason for that is that they've been part of some of the most moving artistic experiences of my life, all at Fringe. And there was a photo of Coleman, an actor I hold in high regard, who was in Red Death last year. And there was darling Karen, whom breast cancer took away from us a few years ago.

Suddenly, weirdly, and very sappily, I fully realized that I wasn't alone. Everyone in that theatre was rooting for me. Even people who couldn't come to the show, like my aunt, Jean, in Salt Lake City - they were rooting for me too.

So I opened the envelope, and started reading: "White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour."

In 1994, someone asked me how many plays I'd done. At that point, I counted around 200. Of course, I've done far more since then, than I'd done up until that point. I can't begin to count, but that was over 20 years ago.

The point is, I've done a lot of theatre. Add to that the number of plays I've seen and the number of scripts I've read... I contain a lot of theatre experience.

And White Rabbit Red Rabbit was an experience like none I've ever had before. Nothing even comes close.

I took a journey last night. I'd never seen this land, so I had to trust the playwright, Nassim, a man I've ever met, never heard of, in another country, to keep me safe. I also knew that Cheryl never would have asked me to go on the journey with him if it meant I'd be in danger.

Trust is a very fragile thing. We've all been badly burnt by putting our trust in the wrong people. But going into this play, I had to choose trust. For no good reason other than Nassim and Cheryl chose to trust me.

They chose to trust me. At least Cheryl knows me, and knows how I work. But Nassim doesn't. Still doesn't. It's a fair bet that he still hasn't heard my name, even though I somehow feel very close to him now.

I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to him. Even as a playwright myself, I've never felt this sort of responsibility to someone's work.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit, in my opinion, is a deeply moving piece of theatre. Nassim sets out to accomplish a number of things, and does so with a surprising variety of tactics and emotion. There was a lot of laughter last night. And though I can't speak for anyone else (because stage lights are bright), I know I cried many tears.

I had a transformative experience last night. Maybe because I let the play be what it was. Nassim was exactly right about how his work needed to be presented. Without any previous knowledge from the participants.

I hate being vague about this. But you need to know nothing about this play until you are there, onstage or in the audience.

My life expanded last night. And for that, I am exceedingly grateful.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"White Rabbit Red Rabbit": The Play I'm Performing that I'm Not Allowed to Know Anything About

"The play they are not allowed to talk about. Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour was denied a passport because his status as conscientious objector. Unable to travel, he wrote a play which, since its premier in 2011, has taken audiences by storm and been celebrated worldwide as one of the most transformative and original evenings in theatre. Every performance is unique - and a surprise for the brave actor who is not allowed to see the script until the moment they arrive on stage, joining the audience on a journey into the unknown; stumbling upon the personal and profound, the limits of liberty and ultimately where theatre can take you, with or without a passport."

Now you know as much as I do about the play that I'm performing on Monday. No, really.

The Kansas City Fringe Festival is producing this run, with a different actor every night. Why? Because the playwright, for what I'm sure is a very good reason, doesn't want the actor to see the script until it is handed to them, onstage, in front of their audience.

No, I don't get any time to look it over before I start acting. Zero minutes.

Yeah. 'S craziness. I know.

I've talked to a few of the other people slated to perform this piece, and they seem quite casual about it. Sort of a "No rehearsal? No problem!" kind of thing. I guess part of me feels that way, but it goes against my natural tendencies.

I've always been one, when faced with a challenge, to research the heck out of it. It's akin to knowing your enemy, I guess. Google is my best friend.

But for this play? No. No research! Bad Tara!

It was a very difficult urge to contend with at first. As time passed, I got used to the idea of not worrying about it so much. (That's quite a feat, in and of itself, because I worry about everything.) But then...

It opened. Last week.

And now, I'm scared that I'll accidentally learn something I'm not supposed to know, by some well-meaning audience member letting details slip.

For instance: Here's KC Fringe's Director of Development, Brent Kimmi, discussing the project on Kansas City Live. My name might be mentioned once. Or twice. (The selection they perform is not from "White Rabbit Red Rabbit." It's from our 2012 play, "Sexing Hitler." Obviously, since it's on daytime network television, it's not as racy as it sounds.) But Brent uses the word "interaction," and now I feel like I know too much.

The suspense is killing me.

Then suddenly, last night, a thought: What if there's more than one script, and an audience doesn't know which script they'll see performed until they show up? I mean, how would I know? How would the audience know? An audience member could see it two or three times, and just always see the same script performed, luck of the draw? Then I could get up in front of the audience on Monday, get handed the script, and just say anything at all. The audience would pretty much HAVE to believe me! I could recite pieces of audition monologues I've done over the years, or describe my breakfast in great detail, or confess deep secrets, or relate stories about students, or anything! AND I wouldn't have to wear reading glasses! ...oh. Well. There you go. If I'm not wearing reading glasses, it's a pretty good bet that I'm making it up. Now you know my secret.

It has not escaped me that this theatre experiment is something of an analogy for life. You never know what's coming, you can never fully prepare. You show up, and deal with the script that you're handed.

I mean, I teach improv, for crying out loud. I know about jumping in. I know about saying "yes." I know about not knowing.

So how is this project different? It's... not, I suppose. Hm.

If you're interested in seeing this fascinating experiment, here's the link to the Facebook event page, where you can read some of the fretful thoughts and conversations, and here's the link to purchase tickets.

If you're interested in the possibility of seeing me fall flat on my face... well, the same links will work.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Project Pride presents: Meet Me in the CafeQUEERia

I apologize profusely for not posting about this sooner, but my life has been a crazy neck-and-neck race of projects recently. (And let's not even talk about having time to do my taxes. Oy.) But I have to share this deeply meaningful project with you, and it opens tomorrow.

Project Pride is the teen LGBTQ+ and straight allied theatre troupe of which I am co-director. The intention of the group is to give teens a vehicle to express themselves, to educate audiences about the challenges of being a queer teen, so we can give them what they need for support (not what just we think they need). They spend months devising scenes, which the directors then help shape into a cohesive performance piece.

I've done a lot of theatre in my life. I've done a lot of all kinds of performancy things. I've directed a lot. I've had a lot of acting students.

Project Pride has been one of the most important and profoundly moving experiences of my life. These young people astound me on a regular basis, with their acceptance of each other, their passion and enthusiasm, their strength, their compassion, and their determination to make the world a more loving place.

It is not easy for them. Nor is it always easy to support them. The world is full of people who are too-ready to jump to conclusions, be proud of their ignorance, and reject things they don't understand.

But these young people need us to be on their side.

And I need them. They are beautiful.

Here is the link to our Facebook event page, for more information about the show this weekend: https://www.facebook.com/events/879041238785172/

Please join us. There is laughter and silliness, and poignancy and depth. But mostly, there is love.