Posts Tagged ‘ghostbox’

GHOSTBOX: 4

September 14, 2010

I love the Bible. That is something I will say.

I used to read it every night before going to sleep. When I finished it, I reread my favorite parts, then my less favorite. That is something I am proud of. I feel the same way about Ulysses. These are books that take a certain amount of fortitude to finish. These are books that last with you. I love the way they look, all highlighted, marked up, scruffed. I scribbled the names of Ulysses three main characters (Bloom, Stephen, Molly) on the three thick paper edges. My Bible has a dedication at the beginning:

To: Me
From: Her
Date: May 25, 2003
Occasion: I love you.

These are books with character and I turn to them for inspiration in the same way I turn to my friends. My upcoming play with the Right Brain Project needed a title a few months ago as we readied a press release, but we had no title. The play was not written.

So I opened up Ulysses.

The first word I saw? Halfshut. BAM. We’ve got ourselves a title.

I was reluctant at first to crack open my Bible as I worked on Ghostbox. I’m often mocked for the frequency with which I write about God. And sex. And sex and God. But I’m okay with it. Better the passionate musings on a single topic than some bloodless diatribe concerning a topic I’m indifferent about. What I’m actively fighting against in drama these days is the contrivance; whether it’s the need to manufacture plot, motivation, backstory, or even importance, like our desires don’t make good drama, that need to put some kind of “stake-raiser” or “hot-button issue” in there for it to matter. Theatre is about passion. None of us are getting PAID so what the fuck, right? Let’s make what we want.

ANYWAYS…

I did crack open my Bible. Because buried in all that twisty mythology, all those parables, all those contradictions are words that can mean almost anything we want them to mean. I’ve heard the same verse preached on in three different ways, three different messages for three different times and they were all valid. Fundamentalists say the Word is the Word, but the Word is as fluid as the rest of language, something that is as horrifying as it is liberating. I’m constantly at war with my dual desires: one for stability, one for spontaneity. I wouldn’t be surprised if most Christians felt the same way.

I began pulling verses I thought were relevant to the play. Oftentimes, I was disregarding the traditional interpretations of these verses and looking at them through the eyes of either the woman, a lifelong Christian suddenly thrust into lust, or the man in my story, someone who is approaching Christianity fresh after an unstable youth, filled with some kind of unspoken trauma.

Some verses I was playing with:

“He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” –Proverbs 5:23

“For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” -Mark 5:8

“‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food’—but God will destroy them both.” – 1 Corinthians 6:13

It’s my goal to take these out of context. Through the man’s eyes, these verses can all point to the idea that he is a man doomed, that he is one of the unlucky. Possessed by a spirit, perhaps. Worthy of God’s wrath. Some people get saved never feeling God’s love. They hope it will permeate their souls over time, it will cleanse them. But time passes, that feeling never surfaces, and we think there must be something wrong with us. Why didn’t it work? We look to our past. We wonder: Did I commit the unforgivable sin? Or am I simply damned, and was damned from birth?

I spoke earlier of contrivance. I find myself doing it sometimes, wondering: “What can I do to justify this person’s actions? What happened to him as a child to make him this way?” Sometimes it’s One Big Thing. Sometimes nothing happens. Most times it’s a lot of little things that are inherently undramatic. Mamet once said that “Backstory is bullshit” and I think I agree. While I love a good monologue about a beautiful or traumatic moment from someone’s past, I don’t desire them for the purposes of justification. I simply want to know them more.

In the case of the man, I’ve embraced ambiguity and have, instead, allowed the Bible verses to serve as an inner monologue of sorts. This wasn’t a conscious decision as I inserted them into the video element of the show, but a revelation that arrived this week as some dramaturgical questions surfaced.

There are two fragments of verses I had the man repeat on a few occasions. I pulled these specific fragments because I think they speak most to his inner turmoil. The first:

I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

-2 Corinthians 12:21

In the script I just focused on the first part of the verse, setting up a terror of judgment, both of the God and the one he will be humbled “before.” Is that the woman? His unborn child? Someone from his past? All of them? It’s fear. Fear of something he does not understand. I initially did not include the latter half of the verse, but I think it’s inclusion could go far in setting up the character’s past, a place that he may not regret, per se, but is painful to recall. To give the audience this clue and allow them to piece together his past themselves is so much more interesting to me than giving him some monologue about (insert trauma here). I want the man to be a mystery. He’s a mystery to our protagonist, and I want our audience to identify with her.

The other verse I initially only offered fragments of was the following:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

– 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

“And that is what some of you were.”

That line sends chills up my spine. There’s something otherworldly about it. And even though it says “were”, it still feels condemnatory, almost as if it’s being spoken with a sneer.

“And that is what some of you were.”

So, it’s like, “You’re not anymore, right?”

And we say no.

But of course we are.

For him, the fear that he is doomed to be a sinner (or a ‘shadow’ or ‘demon’).

For her, the realization that she always had the soul of one.

“And that is what some of you were.”

Him trying to repress, hoping to find salvation in the innocence of his child.

Her allowing it to flow forth, pouring herself over him, showing him that in the absence of salvation: “love and desire are enough.”

There are other modes of salvation than immersing one’s self in innocence.

Embracing that, yes, “that is what some of you were.”

And that’s okay.

Whew.

Language is fluid. So is salvation.

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GHOSTBOX: 3

August 11, 2010

The Antlers: Two

In the middle of the night
I was sleeping sitting up
when the doctor came to tell me
enough is enough
brought me out into the hall
I could’ve sworn it was haunted

he told me something that I didn’t know that I wanted to hear

that there was nothing I could do to save you

the choir’s gonna sing
and this thing is gonna kill you

The Antlers kick ass. I’ve seen them three times now, once last weekend at the House of Blues opening for The National (great show, AWFUL crowd). The song above, “Two”, was my favorite song of 2009 (and I still can’t put it on without looping it five times). Their first full-length record, Hospice, still blows my mind, a sort-of concept record juxtaposing a home-care professional’s desire to save a doomed (and hopeless) cancer patient with a crumbling relationship (that neither parties are able to leave). What I love about it is how it ends, with the narrator accepting the fact that sometimes things can’t be saved. Sometimes things die and there’s nothing you can do but let them die and move on. A lesson learned, sure, but in the record’s chilling epilogue, it becomes clear that it will still haunt the shit out of you.

I love it for its honesty. I’m bored with all these stories about miraculous recoveries, about people being saved from their pits of despair. Often, that doesn’t happen. Often, we die. Things die. And we think, perhaps, that we’re beyond saving at all.

With any play that I write, I try to think of the obvious ending and then go the opposite direction. It’s an inherent quality to my process, and one that brings me all manner of freak-outs. Ultimately, though, I think it makes my writing better. Audiences/critics often tell me my plays went a route much different than where they thought it was going to go. OR, if it did, when we arrived there the characters were of a different mindset than they had thought would be the case.

I take this as a compliment.

Dissatisfaction, I think, is a recurring theme in my work. Those who have found salvation often find themselves bored with it. I’ve seen it happen a million times. I’ve done it. We attach ourselves to destructive personalities because we either want to save them, too, thus giving us more power in our salvation, OR we’re fascinated by their potential to destroy our carefully constructed worldview and give us something new, something fresh, something dangerous.

GHOSTBOX dabbles in the latter, I think. We just want to FEEL something, I think. And we’d be willing to sacrifice everything in order to do so. The woman in the play remarks to the man near the end, “I could see my damnation in your eyes.”

Sometimes we die so we can find a new savior.

Sometimes the old savior isn’t enough.

Sometimes we just want to be turned the fuck on.

It’s a romantic idea, sure, but I know I’ve denied something exciting in favor or something familiar more times than I can count. And part of me regrets that. Part of me wants to give myself over to desire. That’s what the woman does in GHOSTBOX. She sacrifices her salvation.

She lets it die.

Thanks, Antlers.

First reading is this Sunday. A little nervewracking. Mostly exciting. The play is there. Now it’s about tightening, sharpening, focusing. It’s about sacrificing some cool stuff for some resonant stuff.

Also got interviewed for an article in Chicago magazine about some of the horror plays opening this fall in Chicago. Will post and such when there is something to post. Hoo-ray.

More Antlers:

AON Sessions: The Antlers, “Two” from All Our Noise on Vimeo.

GHOSTBOX: 2

August 2, 2010

Okay, here’s what scares me: God.

Lame, right?

(PS: This shit’s gonna get rambly. Bear with me.)

God scares the living holy hell out of me. It wasn’t always that way, though. I was raised sorta-Catholic-not-really, but still prayed every night. I prayed for girls to like me, I prayed for presents, I prayed for friends, I prayed for parts in plays. I renounced Him in eighth grade after not getting cast in the role of Gutman, a villain in Hurricane Smith, a melodrama my middle school put up.

I remember praying to God and telling him I no longer believed in him.

Sweet Christ, I could never do that now.

Do I believe in God anymore? I don’t like that question. I don’t know how to answer it. I’ll say this: I don’t think I’m “saved.” And while I would never say the religion I spent three years of my life immersed in was wrong, I couldn’t now say that it worked for me or gave me any kind of assurance in either the universe’s fullness or emptiness.

I meet so many people who are so confident in their declarations, that there IS a God and there IS a heaven or WE ARE ALONE and WE ROT IN A BOX.

I remember a house party about four years ago. I remember being very drunk, standing with my friend. I remember us telling a group of eye-rolling hipsters about our nightly trips to the various dives around town.

“Why,” the hipster asked, “have you been drinking so much?”

I smirked, swimming away in my swooning head: “Because there is no love or God.”

I wasn’t serious. I think I was trying to make fun of their apathy.

But still.

That was the first time I’d ever made such an assertion.

And I left soon after, stumbling through residential streets, praying for forgiveness, not necessarily out of contrition, but out of fear.

I can’t make these assertions. I freak the fuck out.

When people ask me what happened, why I gave up the religion I often say, “I failed. I failed at believing in God.”

And they balk. “Well, you failed in that way, in the church’s way. There’s other ways.”

And I know they’re right, sure. But it feels safer somehow, to put the blame on myself. I don’t like blaming God. Not only is it lazy, but it feels like I’m fucking with the universe. I know I believe in something bigger. I most assuredly do not think we are alone in all this energy. I believe something made us the way that we are. Does that mean I don’t believe in free will? Of course not. But I believe that some people just weren’t made to believe. I think I believe that some people just weren’t meant to be saved.

And that scares me, writing that.

And I write plays about that idea. About damnation. About people who are failed by their salvation.

We want salvation for the same reason we want job security. We want an unchanging identity.

Holy shit, somebody just posted this on Facebook:

“We forget that God has never had an identity crisis. He knows that He’s great and deserves to be the center of our lives.”  -Francis Chan

Isn’t that the appeal? We worship people because they know exactly what they are, and we want some of that assurance. But with that assurance comes a desire for rebellion. We want to disrupt.

We want an assured identity so we can go and destroy it again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Lately, when I’m feeling rebellious, I tell people I’m gonna get saved again.

It’s funny.

I’m joking, but I’m not. I’ve got a great base here in Chicago and overall, I’d say I’m much happier than I’ve been in years past, but I haven’t loved anybody in years. I haven’t been, like, crazy bonkers-ass excited about anyone in years.

There’s danger there. I mean, what will happen when that does happen? I’ve felt flashes of it. A kiss that stirs things up, a few days of panicked expectation, the lack of a phone call, the lack of an e-mail, and then an eventual settling after some bitchy drinking with close friends.

But where does it go if it doesn’t settle? To God, maybe? That’s what happened last time. I put the face of a heavenly savior on that poor girl. And it fucked both of us up, I think, the sheer intensity.

So.

How does this relate to GHOSTBOX?

Simple. What I just said happens. Sort of.

Kierkegaard always wrote about the “leap of faith,” and there is nothing more terrifying to me than that leap.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last ten years it’s about stakes.

The stakes, my friends, are high. We so very rarely come out unscathed from belief, from commitment, from worship .

Like becomes love becomes worship becomes disillusionment becomes destruction.

We choose someone (or some God), and we accept eternity. Heaven or hell. We often think we’re choosing heaven. Why else would we get involved? What if we’re choosing hell?

What if there is a hell and I go there when I die because I gave up my faith?

I am haunted by that shit.

But it’s necessary. To live. I think.

“I think.”

Have you noticed an abundance of those?

“Maybe.”

“I dunno.”

“Who knows.”

I live by these words. I didn’t used to.

But I’m gonna have to make a leap of faith again at some point.

Damned to heaven.

Damned to hell.

Damned = Preordained.

We’re all damned?

I think.

I’m scared of choosing.

Okay.

See, I finished the rehearsal draft last night and these ideas permeate the whole script. I am so, so, so excited to hear them, to dissect them, to bring them to life. We have a great cast that I can’t wait to work with. I’ve seen Vicki Gilbert in a ton of shows, most recently Curse of the Starving Class at New Leaf, and think she just rocks. It’s nice writing these crazy-ass monologues and knowing you’ve got someone capable on hand who’s totally enthused about the whole thing.

I’ve never worked with Kevin Crispin before, but I’ve known him for a while now. Not only a helluva nice guy but has a killer reputation and a sharp mind.

Most importantly, they both strike me as actors who are willing to go there. Celise Kalke from the Alliance, one of the most wonderful proponents of theatre out there today, told me once that I need good actors for my plays. I’m not Neil Simon. You can’t just say the lines and make it work. It takes a real immersion. I’ve been so blessed with Pretty Penny and Hesperia, my last two Chicago productions, to have actors that were so willing to dive headfirst into the material. I know it’s not easy, especially when I’m going to the dark, dark places I go. Looks like Ghostbox will continue that trend.

And speaking of Hesperia, we’ve got two weekends left. Check http://therbp.org for details.

Okay, I should probably do some work now.

Stay tuned.