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Perfectly Norm-iLL People
Backstage Gossip

After my first solo, Diary of a Madman which was an adaptation of a classic Russian text, I took some monologues I had been working on and developed them into a series of different characters. There were several homeless characters in it - and I knew why - living in the lower east side of NYC, in Harlem, in the 23rd Street YMCA, I had seen a lot of homeless people. IN fact, the first day I stepped off the Long Island Rail Road to start my first day of classes at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Program in NYC, I was walking down 7th street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue when I saw this old woman pulling a long piece of gross red meat out of a garbage pail and holding it over her mouth and eating it. My artist's voice said "welcome to real live, John" the other part of me wanted to go back to North Babylon and the secure throws of suburbia (now I knew why mom and dad moved to the suburbs!). My empathy for these people, as well as the fear of my own potential demise to homelessness if the right circumstances hit my life too hard, moved me to write about them. I didn't know what the over all theme was of the piece, I knew there would be a common human thread via my unconscious mind being in the place it was when writing it, and we'd find out how to string it together later. I wrote a lot of monologues. I had seen Bogosian, Gray, and other performance artists and I liked the idea. I didn't know what I'd be able to do, but I enjoyed writing the monologues. I found interesting themes, and they sort of wrote themselves as is the case with playwrighting - you just learn to get yourself out of the way, let the characters do the writing and guide the structure of the piece the best you know how. I know that this is all an unconscious/conscious battle to find some balance, via the use of character as the main notes of the piece, and that the poetic soul we all have merges into some idealistic perspective (even if it's a play about total devastation there is usually an idealist wanting others to see this so they stop behaving in a devastating fashion so the idealism is hidden, it's the catalyst, not the subject of the piece).

I had to get a Masters degree to continue working at Dol3wing. I had a BFA which was the same degree as the MFA at NYU If you had all of your academic work done which I did (long story), so I went to Adelphi and got the M.A. in 2 semesters. I met Denise Welborn there, a very talented actress and director possessing a high sense of organization, theatrical presentation and was a dream to work with. A truly great lady, and gifted artist who also was a good friend. She helped me edit the texts and she added some of her own wonderful humor to the texts. She worked with me on the Characterizations and knew I was capable of doing them. My work in this (and I suppose in most of my acting) doesn't bear down heavily on "realism" solely. I think this is very limited. I hear a lot of film actors and spouses of them, saying "it was such a great SUBTLE performance" which means the untalented asshole that somehow got to be a star, who can't do anything beyond mumble or under act, has created a persona of greatness when he or she is really just boring and incompetent" but leave it to the Republicans :)

I have a natural propensity for humor - and I believe that any art form using human characters especially long art forms like plays and films, without humor, is missing more than 1/2 the experience of being human. Satire, is a form of sarcastic humor, an elevated perhaps sometimes Comedia Del Arte' physicalization of character, of moments, of physical comedy and so on. From Theatre of Realism to Theatre of Alienation, we span the gap between using human empathy to connect to the character and the technique of alienating the emotional connection, the empathetic response to place a person into a thinking mode, rather than blurring his or her rational thoughts about the issues. There are many ways to elicit a reaction in the audience, and that is what I am after in my work - I am not interested in making someone cry or laugh simply to make them feel SOMETHING. Unless it is in response to something happening, that connects and makes them raise their experience, I feel I have failed - it has to be organic to the piece. This might sound like an intellectual dialectic, but it's not - it's how I write, and perform.

We decided that the characters were of two origins - the Victims of society and the Victimizers. They were all disconnected but at the same time participating in the same time, therefore their presence dictated the experience of our society - so we minimalize it. One of my monologues which originated in my play PRISONERS IN PARADISE, was about a homeless man who was being thrown out of the outside of Madison Square Garden because it was the Democratic Convention and he was not wanted by the politicians who were attending and running for the highest office in the land, The keyword here was GARDEN... a cement garden, an urban garden of people interacting. So we place the characters in Washington Square Park, where the audience would meet each of them on their own human turf. Denise helped me work with simple props and costumes, but I really didn't want to use any costume other than perhaps all black. I thought in my third production (which never happened) I'd explore the use of the actors instrument allowing the characters to exist, without any costumes or props. But for this piece she was right - it worked well. The result of this piece, was critical praise, and standing ovations. Again, I was surprised but annoyed at the ovations - I felt the audience was appeasing me, praising my talent. I wanted them to not be able to clap, to have to be brought out of the theatre in stretchers from the emotional, psychological, human opening that would occur and not go to the diner for a bagel and "discuss the ..."... Of course that was absurd it was lovely that they appreciated the work.  I never did anything more with this piece, life was getting difficult, but I thought I'd perhaps start a solo career. This was a 2 hour piece, so I had advanced from 1 hour with Diary to a full evening and a positive reaction. You never know what someone is going to think of your work. Courage is about moving forward in the face of fear - and I had my fears to be sure. But it was all just the work to me to be honest - and I enjoyed rehearsing more than performing. There is this obligation to finish the performance - and I rather stop and go over it again. I had thought of pieces that did that - that improvised with the audience around a theme, and I saw a string of pieces emerging over  years of time titled, TRAGIC AND I'M STILL LAUGHING 1, 2, 3 and so on until I reached the end of my life - and the title of that final solo in the series would be TRAGIC AND I'M NOT LAUGHING ANYMORE! And that would be it.

This piece offered characters that were in the process of doing terrible things to others, who were deeply indifferent, as well as hugely human and loving. It's about the Garden of Eden placed in Washington Square Park on the eve of the new millennium. I think the tree was the garbage pail center state - maybe an existential image who knows.

The last line of the play is said by STARGAZER who plays his harmonica, a homeless man who remembers a moment of connection to someone he met in the navy years earlier who lived in a mud hut in Africa - someone he fell in love with and who's souls connected on the most basic human plane - as he walks back to his large box which shelters him from the cold night, he says:

"We're all miracles"...

I'm probably too afraid to do another solo - it's not easy to create, and, you're there alone. Being the kind of artist I am, I'm not there to make the audience happy - by far, I want them to be twitching and squirming even while they laugh. People do hideous things to other people, they act badly in a social context and pain is ugly and usually unnecessary. I believe an actor and writer, have the power to make people see these things in themselves and plant the seeds for positive awareness thus better choices - how we take our vast and often the ugliest parts of our humanity and make life work. It's easy to kill, it's very hard, to understand. I do believe theatre is a teaching arena - and I suspect my attachments to it were for my own lessons, the art of teaching others as I did for 18 years, as well as being a writer and performer attempting the impossible.  Which is a noble pursuit I suppose.

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