Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Writing in a Bar...

So I'm doing these two one-acts for NoHo Arts.  I'm doing this before Praying Small opens.  They run with six other one-acts in an evening entitled "Sanity Squared."  At least I think that's what it's being called.  The name keeps changing so I'm not quite sure.  I suggested they call it "The Lion King" simply for marketing purposes but no one seemed to like that.

One is an amusing little script about dinner theatre and all the little self-important foibles that go along with it.  And the other is about what might have happened if one of George W. Bush's daughters had come out as a lesbian.  Both comedies.  I think.

I'm not a fan of one-acts even though I've written a few myself.  Mostly because they're quite the rage these days with a lot of theatre companies.  The "Ten Minute Play."  I've churned out a few over the past few years to pick up a little cash.  I don't take them very seriously.  I suppose an evening of one-acts has its charms although I don't really know what they might be.  An actor can't really stretch his legs in one.  A director does little more than block.  And a good writer is bound to be frustrated if the subject matter is worth exploring at all.

Nonetheless, I'm doing them.  Solely as an actor.

Having said that, I was involved in an evening once in NYC that featured two one-acts.  The first was entitled "The Relative Importance of Jeri" by a very fine writer named Jim Uhls.  Jim has since gone on to quite a lucrative career out here in LA - he wrote "Fight Club."  This was a long time ago and I don't remember a lot about the play except that it was a tad misogynistic.

It was directed by my buddy Jeff Wood and starred the late Robert Fiedler in probably his last hurrah as an actor.

The other one-act on the bill that night was one I wrote and acted in called "Golden Eggs."  It was essentially a forty-five minute, one-person show.  It was kind of a warm-up act for the other one.  In those days I was a bit enamored with a couple of writers that I no longer care for.  One was Sam Shepard.

Shepard is an enormously gifted playwright who apparently, early on at least, didn't believe in re-writing.  His Cafe Cino (I think that's what it was called) stuff in the sixties and early seventies was really surrealistic and fun.  But I suspect Sam wrote that stuff the same way I wrote "Golden Eggs."  That is to say, sitting in a bar writing long-hand.

In those days, and I don't even know if this place is still there, there used to be a great little dive bar right around the corner from The National Shakespeare Conservatory called The Spring Street Lounge.  Actually, I don't even know if that was the real name of it.  We called it that because it was a lounge on Spring Street.  I hung out there  a lot after rehearsals with Bob Fiedler.  You had to know the bar was there because there were no signs, no lights, nothing.  Just a big, red, metal door.  It was an "insiders" bar.  A lot of actors and writers hung out there. Saw Norman Mailer in there writing one day.  Saw Brett Easton Ellis writing in there one day.  Saw Martin Sheen in there learning lines one day.

So, as I recall, Jeff came to me (he'd already directed a few of my pieces by this time) and asked for a one-act to go up along side "Jeri."  So a few nights later I traveled down to the lounge and sat in the corner and just began writing on this big, yellow, legal pad.

Let  me tell you why The Spring Street Lounge was my favorite place to write.  It was a musty, dusty old bar.  Mismatched tables and chairs.  Sawdust on the floor.  A big, oak, wrap-around bar at the front.  Only two drinks available there - Budweiser and Jack Daniels.  And only two artists on the jukebox - Springsteen and Sinatra.  I was in writer's heaven.

So I sat down and ordered a couple rounds (I didn't like getting up to get more drinks back then so I always ordered two rounds at a time) and began writing.  Four hours later I had a one-act play.  Honestly, that's how I used to write.  I think the next day I showed it to Jeff and he read it and nodded and said, "Okay, that's fine."  That's how we did things back then.  No re-writes to speak of, just write it, get on your feet and rehearse it, add water and voila, a brand-new, one-act play.  What were we thinking?

And here's the kicker: they all turned out to be really good.  I was always a bit embarrassed to admit how I'd written it.  Someone would say to me after a performance, "Why, that was incredible!  How long did you work on that?"  And I'd lie and say, "I've been working on that piece for over a year now, trying to get it exactly like I wanted."  For some reason I somehow thought it dishonorable to admit I'd written the damn thing sitting in a bar over a few hours.

I no longer have the script (actually there never really was one) or the tape of that performance.  There is one floating around out there somewhere because I've seen it.  But I don't know who has it.  Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing it today.

So here I am learning lines for these two comedic one-acts for NoHo Arts.  They're not bad.  Funny, even.  But it's hard to work up any passion for them.  It's hard to invest.  I think once we go into tech and start getting ready for an audience, I'll get more excited about them.

Just a few meandering thoughts today.  Life is good and no doubt the sun will shine in Southern California.  Angie just got up and is feeding the puppies.  The TV is droning in the background.  I have a great outlook following my visit to the doctor yesterday.  I even got a little sleep last night.

Things could be worse.  Things could always be worse.  But they aren't.

See you tomorrow.