December 21, 2003
Physical Distress

It’s Sabbath, sorta. Drove into San Francisco this morning to visit our son, for purpose of planning session about retuning and launching our new website. Got some rest last night, but still very heavily under the grip of a cold that’s lasted two weeks now. Energy drains early in the day, and the rest of the time depends on summoning fragmented will power.

We get there early, drive down to schmooze around the Haight. Look for shoes and shirts in a resale shop, no luck, and then split up to meet back at the car at 12:30. I camp in a coffee shop to continue work on the first draft of Lost City. Not exactly a draft — that happens when we start improvising with the actors. But the process of writing something, anything, brings me into an engagement with the scenes and characters that greatly helps the focus when we get into the actual work. Making progress on this, but each line seems squeezed out of an exhausted toothpaste tube. EF likes the first 19 pages, though. Still haven’t finished the redraft of the scenario – second act highly resistant.

Amid the proliferation of projects, we’ve taken on another: a series of Monday night performances in April at Sonoma County Rep. We need the money badly, and also want to use the occasion to develop some pieces that could be performed by the larger Hitchhikers Ensemble at summer festivals & non-theatrical venues, e.g. Oregon Country Fair. Some ideas for this, but it’s going to be an extreme challenge.

December 2, 2003
Wild Bill

We’re in Nevada City for our monthly workshop with actors from Foothill Theatre, creating a play about a murder case in the 1940’s that left a severe scar on the community. Drove in last night, and found this morning that a combination of rehearsals and illness has reduced our workshop, so we won’t do it today – tomorrow’s will suffice. So we have extra time for our other task, research at the local historical library. To unearth articles about the case and try to get a better sense of life in Nevada City in 1944.

It’s 7 solid hours of staring at a microfilm reader. Should we take a break for lunch? No. We’re immersed. The war news, the ads, the prices, the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, the Roosevelt/Dewey campaign with the same bogus rhetoric we’ve heard at four year intervals all our lives.

Next day, the workshop. We start with the actors grouped around a microphone, free-associating to phrases I toss out: What I’m really afraid of is… He looks dangerous because… It was such a relief to… It’s a way of connecting themes in the story to the very direct experience of the story-tellers. Then a series of dream improvisations. The supposed murderer–himself shot by a bounty hunter–was an elusive figure, characterized by those who knew him in vastly different ways. So we haven’t previously tried to explore him directly. Now we creep up on him sideways: in the dreams of the other characters, where he appears, of course, simply as their projection of him. The dreams are loopy and bizarre, strangely evocative.

At 5 PM we pack up, say goodbye for another month, score a barbecued chicken at the local deli, and start the drive home, brainstorming about the play and what we’ve discovered in the working. Home, it’s unpacking, checking the email, a glass of wine, then oblivion.

After a scattered day of writing on Wild Bill, which we think about calling Dreaming Wild Bill, I turn to another project. Search for the Lost City, which will be produced in March by Boston’s Company One, is in very early stages of creation. The intent is to have a scenario by Jan. 1, a first draft by the time I arrive Feb. 2, with extensive improvisation and actor input for the process of rewrites and staging–a very intense five weeks up to opening night. The scenario is giving us a lot of trouble. We’ve conceived the character, Freddie, on four levels of reality: a famous film director making a film, the character in the film he’s making, a bored suburbanite named Freddie fantasizing wild adventures, and a teenager frantically trying to write the same adventure story for an English class. Everyone cross-references everyone as fantasy, and we wonder which is the reality, or if reality is multiple.

Or do we just get bloody confused. Early morning I get up, pack my laptop in my shoulder bag, and walk the mile and a quarter downtown, intending to work over coffee and muffin at Coffee Catz. at the counter I find I’ve left my wallet at home. Supremely disgusted with myself and the capitalist system, I trudge home. Something about my deprived mood jogs something loose, and I start rethinking the scenario, simplifying and focusing.

Elizabeth is taking advantage of the narrow window we have between work on last month’s radio show and beginning work on this month’s, to dismantle and completely reconfigure her sound editing setup. So the back room is in turmoil, but she’s making progress. Talking to her about the scenario, then sit and do some writing, then shift over to notes for our web development team, who are in the last stages. As the day proceeds, we both are getting sicker. The flu? At last I have to crash, at the unheard-of hour of 9 PM. Tomorrow I’m getting on the plane at 6:05 am to do a site visit for the NEA to a theatre in Minneapolis, and I’m at death’s door. Elizabeth makes me the traditional cure-all: a big bowl of chicken broth, heavily laced with ginger and garlic. It’s the most beautiful taste in a lifetime of beautiful tastes. I go to bed lulled by the divine spirit of the chicken goddess.