The ice crystal method.

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L to R: Jeffrey Detwiler, Tamara Kissane, John Martin Jimerson, Dana Marks, Tony Perucci, Victoria Facelli.

As a playwright, linearity is a crutch for me. So is naturalistic time. The events in three of my four full-length plays—Nightwork, Poor Ball, and The Pentaeon—occur within hours of each other, and mostly in real time. I think this is because those are comfortable constraints for me in general, but also because I often work on tight deadlines, and a predetermined structure makes the work go faster.

I keep trying to get myself out of this mode of working, just because it’s good for me to grow as an artist. And I’ve never been so inspired as by my theatre company‘s last play, The Wooster Group’s The Diary of Anne Frank. I keep feeling amazed and lucky that this is the group of artists I cast my lot with. I didn’t have much to do with Anne Frank because I was finishing the novel, but I went to see it four times. I don’t see anything four times! I felt like I had so much to learn from it, because it was trying to teach me a new kind of theatre, a new way of working.

The play mirrored The Wooster Group‘s signature nonlinear style, with a series of individual sketches with names like “Sweet Secret,” “Tiger Dance,” and “Jesus Falls.” Like Anne Frank, they’re stuck in an attic, playing dress-up, passing time on a rainy Saturday afternoon that lasts forever, and they laugh and cry, but it amounts to nothing.

Nothing matters but the present fellowship.

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L to R: Jeffrey Detwiler, Tamara Kissane, John Martin Jimerson, Dana Marks, Victoria Facelli, Tony Perucci.

I’m currently at the Millay Colony for the Arts in upstate New York, working on a new play called Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo. I wrote a first draft of it, but it was oppressively linear and expositional. So inspired by Wooster, I threw it all out and started over, making individual unnumbered files like “Icebreaker,” “Pillow Talk,” “Esteban’s Story.” I’m trying to hold off on arranging them for as long as I can, or even filling in connective tissue between scenes; and first, growing each separately like a ice crystals on a window. They obey their own rules, but they’re not the rules of linear mathematics; rather, of chaos.

Why was Wooster so satisfying to me in a way a linear play could never be? Maybe chaos is my deeper language. So I have to find the deeper patterns.

We’ll see what happens. : )

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3 Comments on “The ice crystal method.”

  1. eightdecades says:

    Neat project, good story, thanks for the post

  2. Bret says:

    An inspiring source might be on Mac Wellman’s website–particularly in his speculations about theater. He talks about fractals and overlays of time. I, too, find myself wanting to write in a deeper ‘chaotic’ way; however, my “so what happens next” thinking always seems to kick in. It’s a bit of a struggle.


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