Friday, July 23, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Hiatus


This is the problem with me. My obsessive compulsive disorder. I have to put things in boxes in order to be able to concentrate, to look at them and to understand them. This is fine when it comes to things that can be put into boxes, like paper or cats. It does not work well for me when it comes to things like time.

This year is my “Fellowship Year,” when I have been given a special responsibility by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture to develop my career as a playwright. I have been able to manage this in many ways, including packing and delivering previous work to rights distributors, to apply for awards, to interest theater companies in producing my work. I have actually been successful at two of these three pursuits, so far, and you know what they say about two out of three things.

My relationship with my employer allowed me the opportunity to take time off to pursue a special project, the CENTENNIAL project. Four weeks to do, well, whatever. To do those things I cannot do working a nine-to-five.

Others have traveled around the country, or the world, to conduct research, to work with mentors, the get the lay of whatever land they wanted to write or create about. Silly me, I told everyone I wanted to write a play about Cleveland. That meant staying in Cleveland. Oops.

Seriously, however. For years I have wanted to spend time in the Cleveland Public Library, reading newspapers, or discover the library at the Western Reserve Historical Society. I have done these things. What I have not done - yet - is write. Anything.

I am trying not to feel bad about that.

What I have logged into this blog is only a small part of what I have learned, just by reading. And that is most of what I have been up to this month. Reading. Reading a single year’s worth of newspapers, and books, and plays. And in doing so I have retrained myself to read. I have always had poor reading habits, and have not read the smallest part of what most people who know me assume I have.

The number of plays I have ever read is shameful. I am still playing catch-up after blowing off Dr. Condee’s theater history class my sophomore year. To put it another way - I am still playing catch-up from blowing off all of my sophomore year.

The good news is I have successfully spent four weeks reading, and a lot. And I have connections to the time I have spent this month that will stay with me especially into the long Cleveland winter. Sitting crouched on a marble slab near the fountain in front of the 1916 wing of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Feeling the back of my neck bake at 9 in the morning on a bench further away from the museum, by the lagoon. Taking in the Ness family memorial, and walking over to Wade Lagoon to read there. The reading garden outside the Cleveland Public Library, where I first got the news about Pekar. The impossibly chilly microfilm rooms in the library, and at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

And where it all started, in late June, in the New York Public Library Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center. It took over an hour - seriously - to get situated, knowing which room to go to, who to hand reference slips to, finding out I needed to get a temporary library card, waiting for the materials to come. I think I actually looked over materials for ninety minutes.

But what a valuable ninety minutes. I found an article in Variety magazine about The Living Newspaper in Cleveland, which led me to the names of the authors of that plays, which led me to articles they had written, which pointed my research in an entirely new direction. I wasn’t aware of it yet, but those ninety minutes set me on the course for the entire hiatus, ninety minutes which gave this fragmented mind focus.

The other day I took a walk with someone from work down Euclid Avenue to Fourth Street for lunch. I have walked that stretch many, many times. It makes me sad, wistful, to think of this street, Main Street Cleveland, as it used to be. The recent restorations are promising, there is a lot of rehab going on, we have have hit bottom and are on the way back up. But seriously, it will never be the way it was, not in my lifetime.

Reading the daily newspapers - the Plain Dealer, the Press, the News - and the Call & Post, and the Gazette and Citizen, is to read about a large, teeming metropolitan city. Many were poor, struggling to get by, but they were together, there, in a city which no longer exists. I occupy the same space, but the earth has turned so many times since then and so much has changed. I would like to recapture some of that for the stage, to latch onto a story to tell, about real people in a real place, and make it feel like what I have felt reliving it for these four weeks.

When I draw, I remind myself to make my hand create my eye sees. Now in order to write this, I need to make my hand create what my heart feels.

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