A WALTER IN A PEAR TREE

December 23

I recently came across imaginary tiny Walter Bilderback (Wilma’s Literary Manager/ Resident Dramaturg), nestled between two branches of a holiday tree in a hotel lobby. Tiny Walter was perched on a bulbous red ornament and fixing a defective Christmas light.

PLAYWRIGHT
Here we are.

TINY WALTER
The end of the year.

PLAYWRIGHT
Cheers, to 2017.

TINY WALTER
What a terrible year this has been.

PLAYWRIGHT
It has also been a great year.
I got engaged, for example.
The world has many narratives.

TINY WALTER
You wrote our play.

PLAYWRIGHT
I did! First draft.

TINY WALTER
How do you feel?

PLAYWRIGHT
Proud. Happy. Tired. Baffled.

TINY WALTER
Baffled?

PLAYWRIGHT
At the end of a draft, I often don’t feel like I wrote the play.

TINY WALTER
Did you manage to forget yourself, while writing?

PLAYWRIGHT
Yes, despite endless hours of conscious effort and revision.

I know of a poet who doesn’t look in mirrors on days when he’s writing, that’s how urgent the need is, to forget the self.

Walter plugs in the Christmas lights.

PLAYWRIGHT
Sometimes I think we would be a much kinder and wiser species if we just got rid of mirrors.

The lights turns on.

TINY WALTER
Aaah! It’s like looking at the sun!

He turns the lights back off.

TINY WALTER
I am blind.

PLAYWRIGHT
I’m sorry.

TINY WALTER
Contemplating the self is like looking at the sun.

They drink tea and think about that for hours.

PLAYWRIGHT
All I know is, we are most alive when we are inflamed with passions that draw us out of ourselves.

TINY WALTER
The self is greater than the self.

PLAYWRIGHT
The self is greater than the selfie.

TINY WALTER
May we discuss sleep and creativity. You sent me this draft at 3 am.

PLAYWRIGHT
I don’t keep banker’s hours.

TINY WALTER
No regular writing schedule?

PLAYWRIGHT
It’s never the same. Last week, I took a two-hour nap in the evening, then woke up and had five new insights about the play. A few days later, I implemented some of those intuitions from 5 am to 9:30 am. Another day later, I wrote down the rest of it from 10pm until 3 am.

TINY WALTER
I hope some day you are blessed with a regular writing schedule.

PLAYWRIGHT
Me too.

TINY WALTER
Do you want to talk about dreams.

PLAYWRIGHT
No.

TINY WALTER
Let’s talk about dreams.

PLAYWRIGHT
Let’s talk about Picasso. He said something true about process. He said (I paraphrase): The first brushstroke is always a mistake. The rest of the work is trying to correct it.

TINY WALTER
Have you had dreams about Picasso?

PLAYWRIGHT
I used to have one recurring dream. I would dream he was trying to seduce me, in his studio. He wouldn’t recognize me as an artist.

TINY WALTER
Picasso looms large in your personal mythology.

PLAYWRIGHT
I think these dreams had something to do with giving up painting.

TINY WALTER
To me, Pablo embodies that collective modernist dream of the male artist as a tempestuous, lecherous, drunken man-child.

PLAYWRIGHT
Yes! He represents this enormous life force. Unapologetic, enormous drive… the walking id… the seducer who does not worry about social norms or expectations. In my commission play, there is a character named Polybus. I drew him partly from the ribs of Silenius and Picasso. Both are handmaidens of Dionysus.

Walter?

Walter?

Walter is asleep on the branch, dreaming of sugar plum fairies.

PLAYWRIGHT
See you in the new year, Walter.

Alex Katz, Winter Branch, 1993.

RELEVANCE

December 4
How is the weather relevant?

In the light of America’s regime change, playwrights and theaters are inevitably asking themselves,  “How is what I am doing relevant?”

How is this play relevant?
How is this season programming relevant?
How is buying holiday gifts relevant?
How is taking a bath relevant?
How is this toothbrush relevant?
This chair. Relevant, or not?
How is going about my day relevant?

Awareness of The Thing is, naturally, already finding its way into my post-election writing, and I’m sure it will continue to do so in many guises.

I am thinking about it constantly and yet, I do not believe every second in our heads should become about The Thing. I also will get bored if every American theater programs Rhinoceros. Although then I suppose I can write a play called “100 Productions of Rhinoceros,” satirizing our times.

The Thing is so intrusive. The Thing is a constantly blundering fool. The Thing is a master of distraction. How to address The Thing without letting it shrink the landscape of our minds?

An offering:

In Victorian and Edwardian days, the theatre had curtain raisers. Programming would include short pieces at the beginning of the evening, or sometimes after pieces following the main event.

Why not bring this back?

It would allow theaters and writers the ability to respond swiftly to our political situation in the face of ever-shifting circumstances.
It would expand civil discourse.
It could spark debate and engagement.
It might even lead to greater understanding.
It could get your patrons talking to each other.
You could program voices you don’t necessarily agree with.
Even if you have already programmed your entire season, you could still make this change.

It could be a way to celebrate the voices of emerging playwrights whom you’re not quite ready to program but whom you fanatically adore.
Emerging directors, too.
It could spark ideas for plays to commission and develop in depth over the next season.

You could program international writers, because what is happening to us is happening in a larger context and it is easy to miss that fact. One of the weaknesses of American theatre is our paucity of exchange with other countries.

It could be a way to expand the breadth of voices that get heard in the theater.
It could be a way to defend artistic freedom and freedom of dissent.
It could be really fun.

I have programmed a sum total of zero seasons in my life. I speak only as a concerned citizen and writer.