May 4, 2004
All over the Map…

Much news after a long delay.

A sterling day residency at Northwestern University, our alma mater, presenting a three-hour workshop, using improvisational techniques to explore themes from ”King Lear”, plus a video talk about past productions and a performance/demo for the Dept. of Drama. Extraordinary work by students in the workshop, and just a general love-fest all around. One of our long-ago classmates is a prof there, so it was also a wonderful reunion.

Hot Fudge has come and gone. Working with 9 members of our local Hitchhikers Ensemble, we selected a bunch of comedy sketches from the past 30 years–yes, 30 years–of The Independent Eye, and played them in Sebastopol on four Mondays in April. Our brand of sketch comedy is, I think, the most challenging sort of performance for an actor, demanding instant characterization, setting up the situation in about 3 lines, really precise timing, and the capacity to twist a mood on a dime. A huge challenge to actors unused to this kinda thing, and they really came through. The little theatre on Main St. rocked.

And a week ago, Elizabeth was in New Mexico. First, to the conference of National Federation of Community Broadcasters to accept an award (the Silver Reel Award) for our radio drama “Outside the Dying.” A friend from Philadelphia had entrusted us with the story of her husband’s dying of ALS–one of the most inspiring gifts we’ve ever received–so we were enormously gratified to have this piece recognized, especially given the fact that most radio awards are for journalism and radio drama is a frail second cousin in the mix. And then a whirlwind drive to a remote region of Southeast NM, fording the same river seven times, to visit friends Jesse Wolf Hardin and his partner Loba (see the Now we’re back and working on many things. In the office, we have a new part-time assistant, Joan White, a retired woman from Santa Rosa, who’s working with us through a program of AARP. It’s always a challenge to make the transition from an office where, yeh, you sorta know in which pile of garbage to look for that essential document, back to a system that’s actually a system human beings can understand–but we’re doing pretty well.

And right now, sitting in a dim black box theatre in Grass Valley, CA–Gold Rush country–a few minutes before rehearsal. Several days ago we started rehearsing a staged reading of our new play Long Shadow with actors of Nevada City’s Foothill Theatre Company, with whom we’ve been doing exploratory improvisation on it for the past six months. This Friday and Sunday, it’ll be presented script-in-hand, no set, minimal costume & lighting, with discussions following, and a year from now will have a full production in Nevada City’s historic theatre.

The Foothill company is increasingly oriented toward new plays and an ensemble approach to creation. Each May, they present four staged readings of new plays, plus one full production, in their “New Voices of the Wild West” festival. Two years ago, our play Hammers–based on the Winchester “Mystery” House–was part of this, and we all hit it off so well we started talking about a collaboration. Long Shadow is the result–a story they suggested, based on a local incident from 1944.

A local war veteran was shot in the forest while hunting. The suspect is “Wild Bill” Ebaugh, a long-haried vagrant rumored to run naked through the woods, serenade the hills, have many lovers, and kill livestock. A free and gentle soul, or a dangerous predator? A citizens’ group posts a dead-or-alive reward, a hunter goes to his cabin and shoots him dead. And over fifty years later, an elderly resident warns us, “Don’t touch that.”

In the 80’s, our Marie Antoinette reflected on the slippery nature of truth in a time of tumult, and in a series of realistic plays (Full Hookup, Mine Alone, etc.), we examined the human capacity to tell oneself enormous lies. Since today’s politics recapitulate that time, we’re moved to return to these old questions ourselves. How do fear and justice interact? How does a community justify injustice? The incident divided the town deeply and left scars that are still remembered.

So our play with Foothill speaks to what’s known of the past in terms of what concerns the present: violent responses to violence, the rush to polarization, the formation of accepted belief, the effects of war on the homeland.

One of our recent characters said, “Conspiracy theories are only ways of creating a unified reality from disparate facts.” Theories abound in the Ebaugh case, but the discord of realities is worthy of a Joe Orton play–whose shadow might lie just under the surface of this story. Realistic and serious on the surface, we think, but black comedy in its undertow. Our recent work is more visionary, and we’ll return to that anon, but this story deserves to be told.
More anon.
* Conrad