Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Notes on Fringe (Day Six)

Dobama’s Night Kitchen presented my wife’s play, Angst:84 at FringeNYC in 2001. Now that was an undertaking, the cast consisted of 14 actors, maybe half of them teenagers. With Director, ACR, stage manager and sound board operator our company came to eighteen.

I was the sound board op. I had nothing to do for ten days but run the show and other than that I ate sushi, and saw about sixteen other fringe shows.

One of our company members turned sixteen while here. That’s Leah. Her experiences that week solidified an interest in making NYC her home.

The last full day of Fringe (for us) the company saw some show, I can’t remember what it was, but then everyone wanted to get back or go party, but Leah wanted to see another show, and I offered to escort her.

We saw some trailer trash drama (they handed out PBR at the door) but that still wasn’t enough, so we journeyed back to the Present Company Theatre -- where Angst:84 was also performing -- to see the Israeli docu-performance Studio.

An actual sculptor modeled clay for an hour while his chosen model sat. Slides showed his studio in Tel Aviv, and recorded narration featured artist and model ruminating about the artist-model relationship.

One of the major themes of the work was on the importance of repetition. The familiarity of the subject to the artist in each subsequent work … well, it’s like theater, recreating the same performance over and over, and building, refining, developing deeper and deeper understand of the character, the subject, the work.

As we found our way back to the subway (that’s a story for a different time) my companion mused that she would like to someday have that kind of relationship with an artist.

“Well,” I said, somewhat paternally, “perhaps someday you will."

Leah, 2003
Leah and I also have a relationship in writing. She was the youngest member of The Gulf ensemble, and she was brilliant, she wrote some of the most poignant and humorous and intelligent pieces of the show, at fifteen.

But we did get together for events, and she learned that I, uh … fancy myself an artist, Somewhat. After a fashion. I mean, I draw. Every now and then. I mean, I used to.

A few years later she asked me once, and then twice, if I would like her to sit for me. After what I felt was an appropriate interval, I finally said yes.

However, you will notice that I am not currently what anyone would think of as a visual artist. In fact, since Leah and I entered into an artist-model relationship, her effect on my work has manifest itself more in my writing than in illustration sketching.

 Emily as Xanthe in "On The Dark Side of Twilight"
She was the inspiration for the character of Xanthe in On the Dark Side of Twilight, and she figures memorably in And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years). In addition, she has been very supportive of my writing, sampling scenes from The Times as I created that however many years ago.

Meanwhile, Leah did move to New York, and she has made a good life for herself here. Like a lot of people in her tribe (and from Cleveland Heights) she lives a pretty bo-ho lifestyle in Bed-Stuy, working as massotherapist and a doula, and also as a live model, a career in which she mas become muse to several highly talented and reputable artists, including (but not limited to) Daniel Maidman and Patricia Watwood.

Daniel Maidman, Blue Leah #2 (2011)
My own drawing practice revved up again for a few years (midlife crisis?) but then went stagnant, pretty much around the time I began writing plays in earnest.

Returning to New York for Fringe I made sure to connect with Leah, and she invited me to join her at Spring Street Studio, where she has been modeling for around five years, for an open life drawing session this evening.

Whoa. Spring Street? I know its a professional studio, and I know they invite amateurs for these sessions, but Daniel M. drops in there from time to time, guys like Fred Hatt … I mean, that’s crazy talk, right? A four-hour drawing session. I had to say yes.

Meanwhile, she had other business in Manhattan, and there was time for us to catch a FringeNYC show together. And only one fit our timeframe. And, what do you know, twelve years later (yes, her twenty-eighth birthday was yesterday, please don’t say it) we’re going to see a show about life modeling.

Human Fruit Bowl
Andrea Kuchwelska’s Human Fruit Bowl was, I believed, a memoir of working as a live model. The fact that I believed the performer in front of me was telling her own story is a credit to both actress and playwright, but they are different people, something I was surprised and even delighted to learn after the show when I met the latter.

At the beginning of the show I was a little oppressed by the idea that I was sitting next to a professional model, who would be modeling a just a couple hours (how meta) but soon abandoned that self-conscious line of thought as I was drawn in by familiar themes, issues I respond to, mainly: Why do people have to make up shit to explain the world around them?

To wit: Bonnard created five hundred of paintings of his wife in the bath, and later his mistress killed herself in the bath. Only she didn’t. And it wasn’t five hundred paintings. Shakespeare never made that joke about William the Conquerer, Washington didn’t chop down a cherry tree, and Obama didn’t send Bo on a separate jet on the taxpayers’ dime.

“People don’t know things,” says our naked protagonist, “they jusy think they know things.”

Pertaining to art, why must we crete sordid tales of artists’ lives to make the work exciting, isn’t it exciting on its own? Aren’t the true, meaningful relationships between artist and subject present in the work, without making up stories, can’t you just see it, right there?

These things should be true about writing, as well. In spite of the positive things she had to say, I was not impressed by the critic from Time Out New York who suggested Double Heart suffers “scars of months spent touring schools and nursing homes.” We didn’t tour schools and nursing homes for months, we performed at five schools and absolutely no nursing homes during four weeks of performance, so whatever point you are trying to make (because you then do not elaborate) you begin by being inaccurate, which is, to be generous, unhelpful.

Leah, 2013
Meanwhile, we proceeded to Spring Street. I have never participated in a session before. I have taken classes, but not life drawing classes, just self-motivated discovery. I found the experience liberating. No one judging my work -- especially not me. One-minute poses, then two-minute, five, ten, twenty and then forty. I didn’t think I could do it. Then I realized I could.

Repetition. Familiarity. Consistency. Time. Trust. Confidence. Friendship. Nothing worth having can be easily won.

Leah has occupied a very important place in my life, encouraging me and encouraging my work, and I love her for that.

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