Friday, December 28, 2007

The obligatory end of the year post

Following my good friend Don Hall's example, I think now is the time to start reflecting on the year that was and the year to come.

1) The "Walkabout" that ended.

It was approximately 2 and half years ago that I decided that I needed a change of scenery. My decision was to leave Chicago, travel as much as possible, and try a new city. I had decided on Atlanta. There was an art scene there. I had many friends who had settled down there. And the area, especially suburbs north of the city were lush beautiful country. Next to Chicago, Atlanta seemed to make the most sense as a base of operations. But before nesting in the ATL, I wanted to stretch my wings and see parts of the country, I never had before.

I quit my job at the AMA (A job I had held for 6 years), and I had movers put my stuff into storage. I then cashed out my 401k and flew to Seattle to start a 3 week trip down the length of the West Coast (Seattle to LA). That was a truly remarkable trip, and I can't wait to do it again (except next time I'll start in LA and head up to Seattle).

After a week in LA, I flew to Atlanta bought a car and started my job search. I got a software training position, which required 50% travel so I would get to see even more of the country. However, this position also made it difficult to start putting down any roots in Atlanta's art scene.

Six months into my stay in Atlanta, I started to realize that I was missing Chicago. Like a line from Nelson Algren, Chicago was a part of me for better or for worse. It was time to return. And so return I did, approximately one year ago. It was hard to do, fearful financially, but that too shall pass.

Since coming back in Dec of 2006, I owe so much to my friends. Ron Kroll and Lisa Ruhland were good enough to tolerate me sleeping in the basement at Lisa's home in Berwyn until I got a deposit together for my apartment in Ravenswood. Don Hall and the folks at WNEP welcomed me into the Armageddon Radio Hour. Between that and Jen Ellison's Write Club, the network of already established friends in the windy city grew and grew almost effortlessly. It didn't take long before I was assistant directing WNEP Dada, and even contemplating a possible joining of their company. I was seriously indebted to those folks and that organization for helping me to get my feet wet again, to start flexing those artistic muscles I had let atrophy since the last Mammals production in 2005. So when I was asked if I would be interested in joining (more like asked if I would like to be asked) I felt incredibly torn. I enjoy collaborating with these people. I have so much affection and respect for them. They are my kind of people, but the visions of the type of theater I was meant to make, visions that abandoned me back in 2005, those visions were returning. My dreams and ambitions were coming back. And newer ambitions were accompanying them. I remembered that the reason I returned to Chicago was not only to work with wonderful people like the folks at WNEP, but to start up again The Mammals Theatre Company.

2) Getting back to the Mammals

After deciding that the Mammals Theater Company was where I had to put the bulk of my energy, I got the company back online albeit with a different website ( I also set about to get a production scheduled. The decision was to do Clay Continent in April 2008. Clay Continent seemed a natural choice since it is the classic sort of Mammals production. It incorporated a creepy horror based narrative. It was emmersive, it used performance art strategies but still was a traditional straight play. And last but not least, I thought it would be fun. It is a signature production of the company first fully realized during the Mammals first year of production in Chicago. The piece is challenging but still accessible, and it was both a crowd pleaser and a critical success.

There will also be a fall show TBA for the Mammals. I am not sure if it will be a remount of a previous production (Mexican Wrestling Macbeth comes to mind), or if it will be a new production or one of the three full length projects I have (The Meatlocker, Animal Control, or Seven Snakes). I think it would be best to wait until Clay Continent opens before settling on the fall project. One thing going forward that I am not doing is announcing seasons. For a small group like the Mammals I don't see the point. People who want to see our work already come to the shows. Selling a season takes work and too much time and locks a small company into a situation that to be blunt it might not be interested in pursuing 6 to 9 months later due to more exciting material appearing in the interim.

Back in the day, The Mammals had their own rehearsal space which was a real boon when it came to putting together our own productions and workshops. It was however, an albatross around our collective necks at all other times. The overhead and upkeep during 3 to 6 month stretches where we weren't in production was too much ultimately. If a company can be in rehearsals and in production 9 months out of the year, then I think having your own space is worth the financial and otherwise commitment. However, even without the space, the Mammals are going to have to do workshops of new pieces and new projects. Among them this year, the Mammals will be having workshops on the presentation of speculative fiction (aka science fiction) with particular emphasis on dystopia in the theater.

The biggest administrative project that needs to be addressed in the new year for the mammals will be re-establishing our 501c3. I have heard that this is not too hard. I shall soon see.

Aside from that, I think the biggest challenge will be not get re-addicted to coffee. That and keeping myself in some sort of shape.

3) Shape up jerk!

I started working out 3 months ago. I got to keep it up. I haven't worked out the past 2 weeks, sort of taking a workout vacation during the holidays and I can feel it. I do feel alot better when I workout. I have an exercise bike now at the house (got it out of storage in Atlanta) so I want to start working out even just a little bit in the morning before I head out to work. Even just 15 or 20 minutes. Get the blood pumping though the veins before the day starts.

And, I know it is a ridiculous cliche, but I got to eat better. I'd be seeing more results with the working out if I wasn't still eating for two.

4) Want to do my show?

After having completed my first full length play, I realized that my ambitions as a playwright needed to be re-examined. There was a time when I was content to direct all my own scripts. More than content, I wanted to be the only one to direct the work. I was obsessed with control over all aspects of the piece. But, even if you can control the production, all the minutia of a live event (forget it man), I am of the mind that I want rather to be obsessive about communicating with as many people as possible. In order to do that I need to get other people interested in directing my scripts. To that end, I joined the Chicago Dramatists. I need an avenue in which to network as a playwright and Chicago Dramatists is the best possible venue for that. The Mammals gives me and opportunity to explore my vision as a director, producer, a dramatist over all. Much of the work I do with the Mammals requires the sort of gestalt approach to creation, works of theater that ride the fence between straight plays and performance art. Chicago Dramatists will give me place where my main focus, all the effort will be towards marketing my work and thinking of myself as a playwright first and foremost ahead of any other role that one performs in the theater world.

5) Is there anything else to live than theater?

I always spend time wondering what sort of things I can do to be a better person, to improve my mind, my soul, in short... me. I plan on learning new languages, pursuing new artistic mediums, paintings I want to brush, people I want to meet, etc, etc. This year I started editing my 2006 NaNoWriMo novel. I didn't finish, but did get half way through a 2007 NaNoWriMo novel. Perhaps, I could think more about committing some time to writing first draft prose in a month other than November. I'm also interested in reading all the science fiction that I haven't picked up since childhood. This is the year I want to finally get a passport and see somewhere outside the US. I want to get to more baseball this year than I did last year, both Major and Minor league. I want to start following Japanese Baseball. This year I could try to get published or to at the very least self publish. I could do that one man sock puppet remembrance of Charles Bukowski. Ingest more science news. Start playing a musical instrument. Get an i-phone, or maybe get those hair plugs I've been dreaming about. Will I do any of these things? Maybe, No the worse for listing these possible resolutions.

Back to theater this year

Clay Continent
WNEP's Hopper Project
Fall Production with the Mammals.
Dystopian Workshops
Continue with WNEP Write Club
Chicago Dramatists

Alright...happy new year to all!!!!

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