THE DAYS ARE STRANGERS

Oct 16                                                                                                     

Kinderhook Farm, NY.
“Are you here for the tour?” asks a man in overalls. “Yes, is the tour happening?” “It’s happening if you want it to happen,” he says, and walks off.                                                                                                Another woman walks up, and as it happens, she is the shepherdess. For most of the next two hours, there is no one on the tour except for my partner and me. It is blissfully useful. I learn about orphan sheep. She curls her finger into a tongue, to demonstrate the difference between how cows eat grass and how sheep chomp. I ask her bizarre questions and she recommends a movie.

Oct 17

Philadelphia, PA.
10 am – 3pm. Observing the Hothouse. Yury Urnov is leading the room. They are doing relatively straightforward text analysis on a decidedly unstraightforward play about hacktivism. I think: hell yes hacktivism, hell yes, anarchy, hell yes, Wilma. The play, for me, does a brilliant job at highlighting the aggression behind internet humor and memes. It’s a window into disaffected emotional chaos when it is directionless, and how it gathers incredible force when it takes on targets. I think about what it says about me, that I am drawn to that playfully destabilizing energy. Rage is powerful. Collective rage even more so. Collective Rage is also the title of a play by Jen Silverman. In the elevator, people talk about that play.

I also think, f**k… The Internet Is Serious Business and Dionysus Was A Very Nice Man are similarly structured titles.

New York, NY.                                                                                              6:30pm. I am at a fancy party. I found out a couple hours ago that I won an award. Now the award is being announced at the fancy party.

Oct 22

New York, NY.                                                                                              8:30am. Heavy rain. I am getting drenched at this Megabus stop.

Philadelphia, PA.                                                                                               11:30 am – 5:10pm. At an Academic Conference in a UPenn Library.           It is called Timescales: Ecological Temporalities Across Disciplines.            I wish they’d called it something more rocknroll, like                    Collective Academic Rage: Climate Change Is Beyond Real (If You’re Poor) I am there with Pig Iron, as a collaborator on their music-theater project, A Period of Animate Existence.

I find the conference comforting, especially on the heels of the presidential debates. Even though I’m looking at charts of catastrophe, I am relieved just to hear people define their terms and organize their discourse. I make a note to self, to read Dale Jamieson.

We are reminded, in concluding remarks from Paul Saint-Amour, to think of climate change as a condition, rather than a problem. Let’s take our time developing our thoughts, he urges, because this particular condition demands a deeper engagement than panic.

6 pm. Dinner with Walter. Walter has just come from leading a discussion about climate change at The Wilma. Talking with Walter is also comforting.

7:50 pm. Ten-minute nap in my audience seat.

8 pm. When The Rain Stops Falling, at the Wilma. It’s stunning. They’ve carved out a dark dreamspace. I feel the plot working on me, the slow ritual movements working on me.

Oct 23

Philadelphia, PA.
8:50 am. I realize I am collecting a lot of memories at this Megabus stop.

New York, NY.                                                                                                    11:30 am. Wildlife sighting! It’s the elegant crested tinamou. Ok I’m lying, it was an author, I spotted an author: Rebecca Solnit. My primary hobby these days is reading essays by Rebecca Solnit. She ducks into a clothing store. I follow. I observe her over a stack of sweaters. Have I correctly identified her? I’m not sure. “Excuse me, are you Rebecca?” The condition of admiration also demands a deeper engagement than panic. But I stumble over the few words I can muster. How do you casually say to someone:

“Thank you! I know you don’t know who I am, but I think you’re one of the great thinkers of our age. I am blown away by the breadth and depth and style of your work, by your redefinition of non-fiction, by your bravery, by your honesty. You have gifted me a framework for thinking about activism and optimism that keeps me going. Your words have been a significant wedge for me against despair.”

I am overwhelmed. I say something like: “I’m Kate Tarker, I’m a playwright, I love your work, thank you… for your optimism, I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry.”

Total failure of speech. Who wrote me?

I buy two articles of clothing.

Oct 24
New York, NY.
Drinking coffee. Writing.

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AN IMAGINARY CONVERSATION WITH TINY WALTER

October 4, 2016

I sat down recently with imaginary tiny Walter Bilderback (Wilma’s Literary Manager/ Resident Dramaturg) over tea and biscuits in a spare room, where I keep him. Tiny Walter was wearing corduroy pants and his trademark glasses, and drinking mint tea.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                  So my writing is going well, actually.

TINY WALTER                                                                                               Oh, excellent!

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                But I keep having these thoughts, as I shape this play, along the lines of  “what can I get away with….”

TINY WALTER                                                                                              Fun! What have you decided?

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                             Well, I’ve made a list of potentially offensive things that I’d like to include in the play.

TINY WALTER
Do you want to share them with me?

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                     I don’t want that to be mistaken for asking for permission.

TINY WALTER
Let’s talk in the abstract, then.

PLAYWRIGHT
I find myself once again returning to Bakhtin, to the grotesque, to the rude and crude –

TINY WALTER
Love him.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                But I do want you to do the play. So I just wonder sometimes, what is “too much” for the Wilma? I ask this in the context of wanting to totally revolutionize the theater.

TINY WALTER
Is that the only context?

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                 My dad used to tell my mom that she was “too much” and that she “overdid everything.”
Then they divorced.

TINY WALTER
Eat more biscuits.

PLAYWRIGHT
No!

TINY WALTER
I sense what you really want to do here is talk about the very idea of  “good taste.”

PLAYWRIGHT
Yes! Yes!

TINY WALTER                                                                                                  Is good taste built by consensus…. should works of art even be in good taste… how much do class and childhood shape someone’s aesthetics… not to mention the odd connections between personality and political views…. that sort of stuff.

PLAYWRIGHT
Yes. And, naturally, I find myself once again thinking about that sensory metaphor: that we experience a work of art through taste – as if through the tongue –
But if it’s really good we are “touched”  –
And if it’s extreme in some way we are “shaken” –

TINY WALTER                                                                                           Those are of course words we use for real emotions that we have in our everyday life too, whereas taste as a metaphor seems to be reserved for aesthetic experiences.

No one says, that rape was not quite to my taste.
That cloud formation. Not to my taste.
A joke – can be tasteless.
A walk in the park  – probably not tasteless.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                 My point exactly.                                                                                           But then, offensive is often equated with tastelessness.                       Which is funny to me because offensive things are not things I would describe as devoid of flavor. If anything, they leave an unpleasant taste.

So really if I go to the theater and I’m bored, it makes more sense for me to leave and say “ugh that was tasteless.”

TINY WALTER
Don’t eat more biscuits.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                You can’t tell me what to do.

(She eats all the biscuits.)

TINY WALTER                                                                                                    I think I understand the basic tenets of your psychology.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                              Let’s not dissect that.                                                                          America, since the Great Depression, has struggled with its food. We made bland food choices that still haunt us.

TINY WALTER                                                                                                 As a dramaturg, I assume you are referring to this NPR piece:
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/15/489991111/creamed-canned-and-frozen-how-the-great-depression-changed-u-s-diets

PLAYWRIGHT
Yup. It is also true that we are in a food renaissance.
AND it is also true that we are still confused about basic nutrition.

Do you think America’s tastes in plays are connected to its tastes in food?

TINY WALTER
That also brings up: How is art appreciation related to our understanding of nutrition?

PLAYWRIGHT Yes.                                                                                                                And what is the meal that we are preparing.

Do we, as playwrights, want to cook to individual’s tastes?
Are we making individual meals?

Or do we try to get a sense of how the whole pot tastes – the whole pot being the culture – and then try to serve a side dish that is in conversation with that.

TINY WALTER
So that if the main dish is bland, you might intentionally make something that is over-salted, not because you love over-salting but because you are in conversation with the main dish.

PLAYWRIGHT
Yes.
…                                                                                                                       …                                                                                                                       …
Sometimes I think about, would I rather someday win an Obie, or an Obscenity Charge?                                                                                        And I kind of think, Obscenity Charge has more potential.

TINY WALTER
I think you would really enjoy an Obie, too.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                 Do you want to talk about digestibility?

TINY WALTER
You know Kate, blog posts are supposed to be short, and digestible.

PLAYWRIGHT
I’m not by temperament a blogger.

TINY WALTER
Let’s continue our conversation another time.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                Can we retitle this blog “SPOILER ALERT!”
As in –                                                                                                “SPOILER ALERT! Dispatches From The Desk of Kate Tarker”

TINY WALTER                                                                                                 Do whatever makes you happy.

PLAYWRIGHT
Do you think Home Depot should be retitled Home Despot.

TINY WALTER
Goodbye, Kate.