Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Hate This: Seeking Publication

John Dayton is David Hansen
For the better part of five years, I was performing I Hate This somewhere. First I created opportunities, through CPT's Big Box series, a couple of theater festivals, and as word began to spread I was being contacted by medical professionals I knew, and then those I did not know, to perform at hospitals and conference centers across the Midwest, culminating in a seven-date tour of Great Britain.

This could have been my gig. If I had promoted the piece who knows where it could have taken me. I could have made some well-needed income marketing the production, and told our story much farther afield. I did receive email once from the UAE asking if there was a video available, and I was like, Dubai? Can't you folks afford to fly me there in person?

I did suggest this but also told them about the radio drama, and they said the free audio version would suit their purposes just fine. So, oh well.

The question, "Would you let someone else perform this script?" did come up from time to time, and the answer, at the time, was no. It was my story, our story, it was far too personal, I had complete control over its presentation, and besides, who would want to tell it?

If you have been following along, you know a small, professional touring company in England, Freerange Theatre, inquired about I Hate This. I had last performed the show myself in 2011 at Cleveland Public Theatre, and had no immediate plans to ever perform it ever again. Also, I am entering my late 40s, I was in my early 30s during the events depicted. Allowing a younger performer to work with these words may add life to what I feel is an important work.

I did try to get it published, by sending it to a few high-profile theatrical rights management companies back in 2010. The response was pretty much the same from each of them, this work is too intimately tied to its author, no one else could do it justice.

You could say the same thing about The Santaland Diaries, but people keep dragging that threadbare holiday chestnut on stage. Ditto the monologues of Spalding Gray, and that big, sweaty, liar guy. But those are funny, or at the very least not about dead babies. Well, except for the Sedaris piece.

Perhaps emboldened by the impending Manchester performance at the Lowry, I sent the work out one more time, to one of the nation's largest play rights distributor. My query letter must have been something because they requested the complete script almost immediately - and almost as fast received a kind rejection letter, not from their editor, but from the President of the company himself.

His main point was this:
"While we found it often very moving indeed, the consensus here was that it would be a difficult play to place in our market, given that it is so deeply personal. The power would seem to rest a great deal in knowing that the person telling the story is the person to whom these things have happened."
I could not argue with this opinion, it is one I have heard before. Having said that, a little over a month later John Dayton and the folks at Freerange proved him entirely wrong.

The blog Write Out Loud had this to say about John's performance:
"Performing autobiographical work of course has its challenges but one can only image the difficulty of immersing yourself in such heart-breaking content. Yet Dayton explores this grief fearlessly, without pander ... To feel and experience the same as the portrayed protagonist in such a way, is down to honest writing, bold directing and fearless acting – which was certainly the case with Freerange Theatre Company’s production."
One very interesting development in this one-night-only performance at the Lowry was that Mr. Dayton was contracted a mere three days prior to the show, another actor having dropped out suddenly. More props to him for the work and what great notices he received putting this performance together (with director Hugo Chandor) on such short notice.

But he was "holding book" as we say, performing script-in-hand. Hugo explained this to the audience, with apologies, but according to audience member Paul Kleiman (who also moderated the post-show discussion) no contrition was necessary, not even for holding book. On his blog, Stumbling With Confidence, Paul wrote:
"What fascinated me was not only did the fact of reading from the script not detract at all from the play, it actually – in a strange way – enhanced it, aided by a very strong performance from the actor ...

"The actor obviously isn’t David Hansen, but he is telling David Hansen’s story. Rather than playing the ‘pretence’ game, by holding on to and acting out the script the actor introduces what, in Brechtian terms, might be referred to as an ‘alienating’ element, providing both a certain distance and also an opportunity to really empathize with the story itself rather than the performer/performance."
When Cleveland Play House performed Dustin Lance Black's 8 in 2013, the company also held book. This was out of necessity, it was a political-artistic statement presenting the piece, and done so through the generosity of all involved. There was not the time to memorize.

But also, we were reading the actual words which had been spoken in open court. Reading from texts visually reminded the audience that we were not asking them to suspend their disbelief, but to always be aware that this really happened, these words were actually spoken.

Following the performance of I Hate This Paul said he: "suggested (to the Freerange company) that the play works really well keeping the script in full view."

Most gratifying was Write Out Loud's observation that I Hate This is "laced with levity; there are some great one-liners and jokes that were complimented by dry British wit in their delivery."

The tagline I created back in 2003 states that this play is honest, horrible and even humorous, though I never felt I was able to convince anyone of the latter. And now it all makes sense ... I may write British, but I need a real Englishman to play it.

I Hate This blog (2003-2011)

UPDATE: The Write Out Loud post was written by Kate Morris, and edited version appeared on the Manchester entertainment site The Skinny. Four stars!


  1. That is extremely cool. Since I've dropped South I haven't been up on the Theatre Scene (not that Manchester would ping on my radar.) I will try to keep up with any future engagements.

    1. I will keep you abreast of future developments.