13 days to go…

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“WASHING MACHINE” opens next Friday – June 20th! There’s never enough time in theater. There’s never enough space either – if that’s a comprehensive thought at all. There’s the chaos of rehearsals and the haphazard nature of marketing. And the unpredictability. What’s going to happen? Who’s going to show up? Who’s going to embrace the show? Who’s going to reject the show? What’s going to happen with the email blasts and the “flyering”? What the hell am I going to do with this blog? Are lights and sound going to work? Is the set going to fit through the door?

Is anyone reading this going to care?

And I’ll tell you something. If we get to the Sanford Meisner next Friday and plug in the lights – and they don’t work – or the sound wonks out – or the set collapses – it won’t matter. It won’t matter.

Because Dana could walk into that empty theater with nothing more than her costume, that pink bandanna, and a boom-box for underscoring and you’ll see something remarkable. Remarkable.

I got into theatre for the unpredictability. I got into theatre because of its immediacy and because of its potential to exhilarate and because of its potential to fail. You fail in most any other creative medium – you edit or you cut around it or you paint over it. In theatre – you breathe the same air as the people who are performing in front of you. And if you fail – but you fail with conviction – it can be just as enthralling as a success. I don’t know if I can completely qualify or explain that in an effective manner. I can only explain by example. How many productions have I seen where an actor went up on their lines? Countless. And more than once I have watched them flounder. But I have also seen some of them use the failure – use the mistake – and create a moment of character that I could never script. They play indecision or they play insecurity. They commit to their circumstance and they use every moment to its fullest.

Where else can you do that? Where else can you use unpredictability? Theatre wants to evade expectation. Theatre wants to revel in the fact that you do not know what’s coming.

“WASHING MACHINE” deals with so much of this. The antagonist of the piece is circumstance. The very fact that we are often at the mercy of things we have no control over. We are blessed and cursed by what we can’t predict.

Come and see the show and you’ll see what I’m talking about. We open on the 20th of June and run thru July 19th. Everyone involved is fantastic! I’m really proud of the work we’ve done here.

they started thinking…

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(STEP-BROTHER is a young adolescent with a rather volatile fascination with zombies)

SHIT! SHIT! Did you see that? He put that spear through the fucker’s head. Schwck! SPLAT! Leguizamo was pinned down in that abandoned shop…and the zombie was holding him down…and I thought he was fucked…zombie food, man…and Leguizamo put that spear through the fucker’s head! Schwck…SPLAT!

Yeah. It was cool. Not as cool as “Dawn Of The Dead” where the zombie bit that woman’s shoulder off. Woah! I couldn’t fucking sleep the night after I saw that. Snuck into the drive-through in the back of Chip’s pick-up – under the tarp.

That was scary. And the bikers. Bikers were as creepy as the zombies.

SHIT! But that spear through the fucker’s head! That was AWESOME!

(silences)

They started thinking. The zombies started thinking in this one. And that freaks me out. Seems the only thing that would make being a zombie okay is that you couldn’t think at all. You just eat and shit. And get your head blown off or sliced in two by some short hispanic with a spear gun.

Do they know they’re zombies? Do they know they can’t be people again?

shit.

I can’t think of anything scarier. Knowing you can’t be people again. Knowing you can’t feel good again.


(Over the next few weeks, I plan to blog in the voice of the characters from Fist In The Pocket’s upcoming production of “WASHING MACHINE”. I’ll find a theme – something that catches my fancy – and then I’ll blog about it from two perspectives. I’ll blog from the perspective of myself – which will be posted at THE EPHEMERAL

And then I’ll blog from the perspective of the characters here at fistinthepocket.wordpress.com

Tickets for “WASHING MACHINE” are available at www.theatremania.com

“WASHING MACHINE” is coming soon!

washer front 800 (somewhat brighter) blog

The experiment is simple. Whether it will work or not is about to be discovered. Will I, as a writer, have the wherewithal to maintain a riveting narrative or the tenacity to sustain a captive audience over the following weeks?

But, uncertainty in the face of creating anything seems to be a benchmark of these kinds of endeavors. And since I’m not reinventing the wheel and simply dressing one up in slightly reorganized hand-me-down clothes – this should all prove to be fairly harmless if it fails.

Do, or do not. There is no try.

Fist In The Pocket, a theatre company I founded with Michael Chamberlin last year, is presenting a revival of “WASHING MACHINE”, a one-woman show I penned detailing the grisly death of a five-year-old girl who was mysteriously trapped and asphyxiated inside a Laundromat washing machine in a small, unnamed town somewhere in Middle America.

And there was many a desperate night writing this thing where I knotted every internal organ trying to keep it from being a downer!

One of my solutions was to show the small town and how it was impacted by the tragedy. And if you have ever stopped long enough in a small town to actually exchange a few sentences with any of the population, you know that it’s a veritable culture dish of strange, eccentric personalities.

Of course, small towns don’t have a monopoly on eccentric characters. As I write this, sitting in this uncomfortably cold, heavily air-conditioned coffee house in New York City, I’ve just seen two blue-haired dwarfs walk by that actually put me in mind of punk Billy Bartys.

The difference is that the small town eccentrics are often less obvious. When everyone in town knows your name and your address – I think you have to keep your kinks, perversions, and closeted skeletons much closer to home – and far more hidden.

But, believe me; they come out – often in extraordinary ways.

This was how I managed to keep this horrific story from getting bogged down in inevitable despair. I showed the light and life of this small town. I thought back to the strange, wily characters from all those youthful drives my family would make to Willow Springs, Missouri. I remembered the stories my grandparents would tell me about the town oddities. I though back to the aging waitresses at the greasy spoon just off the highway. The “old coot” (as someone affectionately called one of the characters from the show the other day) who would sell fruit out of the back of his pickup. And I wondered – who takes the time to stop and buy this stuff? And I realized that someone must stop – there’s a reason he keeps coming out here.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to blog in the voice of these characters. I’ll find a theme – something that catches my fancy – and then I’ll blog about it from two perspectives. I’ll blog from the perspective of myself – which will be posted at THE EPHEMERAL

And I’ll also blog from the perspective of one of the characters from the play here at fistinthepocket.wordpress.com

And hopefully, with a little bit of luck and a little bit of burnt midnight oil, I might just have something interesting.

And perhaps I’ll get a few of you to come out and see this bizarre, enigmatic, experimental, at times wonderfully funny little show that I’ve created with my director Michael and our wonderful actress Dana.

And so we begin….

Tickets are available at www.theatremania.com

From THE EPHEMERAL…Jason’s new, ongoing column…”Tragedies in Virginia”

‘I was in a coffee shop in Alphabet City, furiously typing away on the umpteenth draft of “Washing Machine” when news of tragedy at Virginia Tech came to my attention. Intensely hunched over my laptop – looking rather comical – I finally came up for air and a stretch. I glanced at the muted television across the room, noticed footage of a college campus obviously shot from a news helicopter, and began reading the closed captioning that seemed to stutter across the bottom of the screen. Updates on the estimated dead scurried across – almost as if they were stock results scrolling underneath a CNN report. And the number slowly climbed.

va-tech01

Others in the coffee shop watched the same newscast with that certain empathetic detachment that we all have most of the time watching others tragedies in such an impersonal manner as on television. We appreciate how horrid the things we are witnessing are. Yet, there’s only so much real emotional investment we can afford to make in a single day. It’s survival. We can’t weep for every single injustice in the world. We need to spare our resources for the injustices in our own little circle of offenders.

But I was touched deeper than I was prepared to be.

I turned back to my laptop. The cursor was blinking at me – anticipating my next key stroke. I had literally just finished another run at the character of the mother. The character of the mother has lost her five-year-old child in a freak accident involving a Laundromat washing machine in a small, unnamed American town. The incident in the play is very loosely inspired by a Washington Post article my director stumbled upon while he was packing dishes with newspaper for his move from D.C. to New York City.

The character of the mother is wrestling with how to proceed with her unyielding grief following the death of her daughter. How does she deal with this horrid thing? Does she ignore it? Does she wallow in it? Does she surrender to it and allow it to consume her?

The small town in the Post article was in Virginia – a small distance from Blacksburg.

Of course, the enemy in that little five-year-old girl’s demise – as well as my own scripted piece – was circumstance.

The enemy in Virginia Tech’s story was an individual who had committed a heinous act.

I remember thinking about the nature of grief. Do we really deal with it? Or is it like a virus? There is no cure. We simply wait until it works its way out of our system.

The friends and family of the Virginia Tech massacre have very specific places to direct their anger. The have very specific places they can direct their ire.

But what – ultimately – do we do with grief?

We wait it out. We let it die. We wait until we have accumulated enough distance and enough distraction and we let it go.

And it’s the most unsatisfying realization I have ever had.

I leaned back over my computer and followed the only path that made any kind of sense to me. I did one more pass on the mother’s monologue. I found new ways she could ask her questions. I found new dramatic ways she could wrestle with her dilemmas.

That’s what we do. We make order out of chaos while the virus works its way out of our systems.’

Fist In The Pocket’s Playwright-In-Residence, Jason Stuart, has just started a new, ongoing column – THE EPHEMERAL – dealing with art, science, life, and the occasional recipe…

Please come visit at http://www.theephemeral.wordpress.com

What about the boy…?

“She had a fever. She was burning up like a hot coal in my arms. I was cradling her and I started singing it mindlessly to her. Softly singing, ‘Got a feeling ’21 is gonna be a good year…especially if you and me see it in together…’ Like it was the strangest lullaby.”

The mother sits quietly at the kitchen table. She looks like she’s collecting thoughts or stifling an imminent outburst.

“I’m singing, ‘I had no reason to be over optimistic…but sometimes when you smile I could brave bad weather…’ Cause that girl would smile and you’d think you could do anything. You could…you know…risk anything just to keep that smile happening.

“That song comes on the radio the other day. I hear the middle section…you know…’What about the boy…what about the boy…he saw it all…’ I get a chill run through me. Cause our boy…what he saw…he ain’t gonna forget. I wish to God he hadn’t seen it. I wish to God…”

She stops speaking and silently drinks her black coffee.

The song’s running through my head for the rest of the day. I sit down at my computer and pull it up to listen – in hopes of silencing it in my skull. The contemplative ending. “What about the boy?” It just makes it harder to forget it.

Doghouse Speaks…”If Memory Serves”

3pm in the park.  The tattooed girl that I catch out of the corner of my eye resembles a girl I affectionately called “Sullen” – a girl I remember during the haphazard days I not-so-affectionately called my adolescence.  I would see Sullen walking down the afternoon street with a safety-pinned backpack slung over her narrow shoulders.  Sullen wore a long black trenchcoat, painted her pale-white face with even whiter make-up foundation – contrasting sharply with the jet black Egyptian lines that she drew around her dark, dark eyes creating the visage of a Goth Cleopatra – and dyed her fine hair blue back.  She was remarkably pretty.  She struck me as a girl who was wholesomely pretty – pretty like something from a cheerleading squad – before she gave the wholesome look the proverbial finger and covered it in her dark, disaffected regalia. 

Her head was always hanging low as she walked down the afternoon street.  She walked and hung her head as if watching the movement of her combat boots and dark leggings.  She walked as if what was in front of her – slowly drfiting towards her – was irrelevant.  And what was truly important was down at her feet – sliding beneath her as she trudged across the concrete.

I wondered if she was sad.  Or was she simply looking sad to hide?  Her blue black hair hung down and practically obscured her pale face.  The image of this would have been stunningly breath-taking if it wasn’t underlined by a sense of despair.  Well.  I have to concede there is striking beauty in despair.  Whether that’s a universal truth or a romantic concoction – I leave to the reader to decide.

I watched this black-clad girl walking from school for so many days.  Always the same posture.  Always the same despair.

And then – one day – she vanished.  I didn’t see her anymore.  And I wonder what happened to her.  Did she move?  Did she flee school?  Was it something more menacing?  Did despair overwhelm her?  Claim her? 

It unsettled me.  Somebody like that becomes a part of you.  You watch somebody like day after day after day.  They develop some kind of identity for you.  They exist for you.  You build a story for them.  You imagine what they might be after they turn a corner and leave your vantage point. 

The tatooed girl watching me singing – I wondered if she watches me with the same sense of curiosity.  Does she watch me with the same inquistiveness?  Does she imagine what I might be after I pack up and leave the park?  Does she wonder why I’m singing a joyous song…a sad song…a rauchious song?

It’s strange – I think Sullen must be okay.  She must be fine.  I can’t explain why this is the case.  I just imagine that she must be okay because the universe has just sent me this moment of clarity and why would it do that if she was not okay?  And I know that sounds uninformed and – perhaps quite enchanted.  But it’s no different than the countless people who have left notes in my jar telling me that my voice made their days or saved their days or gave their days hope.  “Who the hell am I?”, I wonder.  How is my voice – barking from a corner or in some station or on some stage – supposed to save anything.  But – for those few individuals who needed the universe to tell them that their plight is manageable and – they hear the universe where they need to hear it.  And if it’s through my voice or the voice of a friend or the voice of a politician or the voice of a stranger on the subway…if we’re smart we hear what we need to hear.

I needed to hear that Sullen was okay. 

The tatooed girl dropped a few bills wrapped in a white piece of paper in my jar.  And she walked away. 

The piece of paper was a note.  The note was a thank you.  The thank you – at that moment – was enough to know that Sullen was okay.   

To begin with…

It feels a bit like throwing a bottle containing a message into the void of space. It feels like hoping that bottle will float through the ether and find someone. It feels like hoping the someone who finds their hands wrapped around that space-borne bottle will take the time to read the enclosed message. It feels like hoping that they’ll care.

I remember – as a child of 11 or 12 – sitting up in my bedroom late one Saturday night watching an episode of “Doctor Who” on the local PBS station. The companion was leaving the wayward Doctor and preparing to embark on her own travels across time and space. The Doctor, obviously moved by the bittersweet parting of the ways – wanting her to find her own way but still knowing that he would miss her terribly – asks earnestly how they might meet again. The companion laughs and says she’ll throw a message in a bottle out into space. “It’ll find you…in time.”

Imagine an 11-year-old trying to come to some kind of grips with that prospect. Time – eternal as it is, along with space – infinite as it could be, existing for these travelers like oceans. And the enormity of eventuality for these people. EVENTUALLY…yes…this bottle thrown into space would find this man who seemed to infinitely wander through eternity. The very word “eternity” had a terrifying sound to a young child trying to wrap his infantile mind around new concepts to him: concepts like mortality and finality.

I’ve always thought of the internet as having qualities similar to what I can only imagine is the Universe. It never seems to end. I’m sure it must be finite on some level. But for us mere mortals who simply wander through it’s seemingly vacuous ether and don’t even attempt to fully understand or control it’s goings-on, it might as well be the awe-inspiring eternity that I tried so hard to internalize as a child watching “Doctor Who.”

Two decades later and here I am writing a message, scrolling it up and slipping it into a bottle to be thrown into space…

My name’s Jason Stuart and I’m Playwright-In-Residence for an NYC-based theater company called FIST IN THE POCKET. Associate Michael Chamberlin and I started this company, in part, to produce a show I wrote called “WASHING MACHINE.” As is the case with all in the 21st Century – you want people to notice you – you got to make noise on the internet. You’ve got to shout so as you might be heard throughout this intimidating eternity. And, between the two of us, I’m the more web-savvy. Oh…if that’s the case…dear God 😉

So, reader, travel with me over the next few weeks as we prepare to re-mount our production of “WASHING MACHINE” at the Sanford Meisner Theater. I’ll be regaling you with tales gathered from our fictitious, unnamed, little rural, American town where a five-year-old girl was sadly, strangely and macabrely trapped and killed inside a Laundromat washing machine. Nobody knows the full story of how she got in there or how the machine turned on or who might have been responsible. Very loosely based on a Washington Post article from a couple of years ago…

It strikes me as a tragedy that could only have happened in the States.

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