Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Breaking Point (1989)

This entry is adapted from a piece originally composed in Spring, 2008. The source material for the work that is the subject of this piece was a comic strip I created for The (Ohio University) Post for two quarters in early 1988.

In spring 1988 (before the strip concluded) Scott K. asked for material to use in his radio production class. I adapted the original short story for which I created a character named "Kael" -- something I wrote freshman year -- into a brief script for his radio production class.

The story involved Kael and a mysterious woman named Carolyn with whom he was "psychically linked." Yes, very romantic. I wrote a paper on astral projection senior year in high school and used a lot of the business I picked up during interviews as the basis for my nonsense.

Scott produced the piece which featured himself, Ben D., Monique W., Andrea W. and myself. Kael was played by a friend of Scott's whose name I forget, but I remember his face (which you cannot see in this picture) because he was the drummer in The Humbert Humberts in Springfest series of strips.

Photo: Does the pose look familiar? See below.

As my junior year progressed, I became increasingly obsessed with my comic, which was cancelled without explanation at the end of the school year. I decided to propose a studio production of an adaptation of the Carolyn story, crossed with the Bob/Barbara series for Spring quarter, 1989. So, in addition to performing on main stage in a small role in Romeo & Juliet and a core acting requirement of a Shaw one-act with an MFA director, I was offering to not only write, but direct my first play at O.U.

The faculty actually called me in for a meeting - just me and all of my professors and advisers, where they told me they didn't think I could manage this. I told them I could. Somehow I convinced them. I do not know how.

Having almost suffered a nervous breakdown in fall 1988, this turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to my psyche. I had little sleep, but I spent all my time dedicated to these three productions (skipping Elvis Costello at Mem Aud!!!) learning how to take effective, ten-minute naps, and just having absolutely no social life whatsoever. It kept me out of the apartment, in which the atmosphere was entirely toxic at this point, and that was a good thing, too.

My friends were sick of the strip. When the play was accepted into the spring playwrights' festival, one said, "Good, good. And then will you drop it?"

Did I deserve that? Of course I did.

Promo photo by Sal, which was duplicated on stage for pre-show (see below.)

The play takes place during the same period as the strip - spring 1988. I even incorporated some text from the practice strips I did in 1987 as a flashback. Our cast consisted of fellow school of theater people like David L. as Simon, Nancy F. as Cheryl, and Jill C. as Barbra and Carolyn. That's right, one woman played both love interests because all women are the same woman ... except Cheryl, who is just a doormat. This was something I became embarrassingly aware of during this process, my inability to write women.

We also met some non-theater majors who always wanted to try acting, like Jon M. as Wilson (a big, TALL, imposing Wilson) and the unbelievably awesome Ron C. as Bob. Scott appeared as Roger, which was fabulous because he not only did the best impression of himself, but he also played guitar between scenes in "The Tavern" with drummer Keith H., who we all met through the radio program Sunday Progressions on WXTQ.

And finally, casting Kael. Originally I had promised to role to a good friend. But I discovered very late in the game that due to his poor studies, he had been banned from performance for the year.

Photo: Final dress, from left: Drummer Keith, Ron heading to front door, Brendan on couch, Jill and Jon at right. Note Keith's Church T-shirt.

Instead, a friend suggested Brendan M., who I had met at School Kids Records. Not an actor, Brendan was quiet and unassuming, and not at all the type I would have imagined as the lascivious twerp from the strip. He was sweet, slinky, and game.

Keith and Brendan met through this production, and shortly afterward formed the band Bingo Smith, for which Brendan played bass.

The most important member of the team was my stage manager, Maiharriese. I'd never had a stage manager before. I didn't know what they could do for you. She took full responsibility for assembling a team of artists to do the tech work, which shocked me because I figured I would be doing all of that because, well, who else would?

I was a junior. In the theater department. I still had no idea how these things worked.

The space was what was used to be called the "Little Theatre" in Kantner Hall, which was a tiny, proscenium stage with a working curtain and fifty seats fixed in position facing the stage. In the early 90s it was remodeled into a proper, fully-flexible black box, much more suited to a professional theater school.

The big question was whether or not anyone would see it. Sure, my fellow theater chums would, and that might be enough. There was no money to be made, these were free performances, open to anyone, it's a school, after all. But few outside our community generally attended these studio productions, if they even knew about them.

Opening night, Sunday, May 14, attracted about half a house. That was good. But the next day, there was a photo in the A-News of Brendan as Kael lying on the floor from an overdose of muscle relaxants. That afternoon, we had to turn people away.

For what was supposed to be our final performance on Tuesday, there were enough people in the courtyard to fill another house. And so we were given permission to announce an additional performance the next afternoon.

None of this suggests the show is any good, just that there was real publicity for it. Even THE POST was caught off-guard, reading in the A-News that a comic strip from their paper had been turned into a play. They sent a photographer for the final performance and I got an interview out of it, after the show had closed, which was a delightful vindication.

In addition to directing, which I was terrible at (pacing was really slow) I did all the graphic designs myself ... stand-ups of the characters, the Peter Gabriel and Cure posters, The Tavern logo, all life-size. I remember working on the floor of the Little Theater, by myself, listening to Oranges & Lemons, Three Feet High and Rising, Disintegration and the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ. Vanessa's costumes were just perfect in spite of her working against the fact that so many of my characters wore nothing but jeans and white T-shirts. Bob's chino-commando outfit was particularly brilliant, and Ron wore it so well.

By the time it was through, I guess I really was ready to "drop it." And I had made it through the most taxing quarter of my career at O.U. getting As in every course - except R&J for which I got a B+ because I missed one costume call. Or because I am a terrible actor. Who cares, it was twenty-five fucking years ago.

Through Facebook I have managed to reconnect with many of the original company members.

Brendan died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1997.

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