Entry Number #2 of Countdown to the Classical Theatre of Harlem Production of FIT FOR A QUEEN
How do you get to and from the people you love?
What are the modes of how you transport your body through space?
how does HOW
you get around
WHO you are
when you arrive?
If you fight through crowds on a subway and perhaps shove a bit when people standing in the doorway don’t make room for you WHEN THE MIDDLE OF THE SUBWAY CAR IS EMPTY,
what does it do to your soul?
When you hop in a car and exist in a capsule that (mostly) insulates you from facing how you aggressively or gracefully you might act no one makes room for you,
what does it do to your sense of self?
National borders mean so little to me,
but they seem to even mean even less
when I move from city to city in America.
If you are alone with your thoughts as you think about a play,
(and not trying to speak the language of the people populating your space)
Moscow and Paris are more like New York
than New York is like anyplace in America
where you have to have drive to get around.
These are the thoughts I think as I navigate through two different cities with the same play in my head within the same week.
In a subway, I carry my play with me everywhere.
Weird, because it gets heavy and makes my purse cut deeply in my shoulder.
(plus, am I really going to make groundbreaking edits on a subway rather than reread emails? Who am I kidding? Apparently myself. Because it seems the right thing to do every morning I’m in New York.).
In my car,
(where I have all the space in the world to store a draft but no travel time to read it),
I don’t bother.
In a subway, you’re confronted with how much work you don’t do
when you have time to work
But, in a car,
I find you are more alone with your worries.
Instead of thinking about the rewrites
(replaying the sounds of wonderful actors’ voices
nailing poetic lines and bawdy jokes I thought might never work) -
I’m anticipating what is going to be written about FIT FOR THE QUEEN.
Every bad review I’ve ever read
of every play
I’ve ever written
is playing in my head these days as I drive.
Those voices fall away when I am actually writing,
but never when I am commuting.
Even the word is ugly.
I love it when my fellow playwrights say flippantly,
“I don’t read my reviews.”
To me, that’s like someone saying,
“I never eat anything I hadn’t planned to eat.”
O-KAY. Nice for you that – in the age of googling –
you have that kind of self control.
I – on the other hand – do not.
I eat many things I do not plan to eat.
I engage in many political conversations I know I should not.
I let my emotional temperature fluctuate from reading Facebook more than I should.
I can’t stand not knowing what “everyone” knows has been said in print about “me.”
I think – if I had to describe what is the difference between an emerging and midcareer writer -
I would say…
an emerging writer doesn’t have the positive or negative critical reception
of their work in their head
as they move through physical space.
Any arrogance or self-loathing (and we all have both)
comes from other kinds of life experiences.
Maybe moving beyond the midcareer point,
becoming a “master playwright”
(as some grants dub you when they give you some cash)
means being able to get back to
writing with the innocent wonder, confident exuberance and unbridled joy
in which an emerging writer first tells their first stories
while also having the craft and experience you’ve gained from years of productions.
My last few productions have been in Europe in translation.
Watching a play you wrote
performed in translation
feels like a dream.
You understand everything that is going on,
but it’s like I should not be able to,
because you really have no idea what the words actually mean.
When I watched my plays in translation,
I was surprised that I could tell when an actor jumped a line.
I guess it makes sense
that one would recognize the patterns of each scene,
that you crafted and cut and shaped endlessly.
Those productions were not in the place that I will always call home,
the place I worked so hard to make my home,
the place I know will eventually always call me home.
They’re not in New York.
The reviews aren’t in English!
I can’t even really read them.
Sure, I can ask someone to translate them or babblefish ‘em,
but they don’t stick and live in my body in a way that makes me physically cringe
when I think of them.
FIT FOR A QUEEN, however, is going to premiere in New York.
And the reviews – for the most part – are going to be in English
and (setting aside how reviews might make me feel since – for now – I believe it’s part of the gig of being a playwright to stay open enough to deal with criticism in the hope it might make you a better writer if the criticism doesn’t also happen to entirely kill in you the confidence to write, knowing I partially believe that to justify the fact that I – unlike many of my fellow playwrights - can’t help reading my reviews)
those reviews are going to affect how many people see our show.
But, you know what also affects how many people see the show…
how well we sell it.
I just had to write the blurb for FIT FOR THE QUEEN for the workshop at New Dramatists, the description for the website and e-blast that is supposed to entice folks to see it.
Writers often notoriously suck at writing pithy descriptions of their work for press releases.
I describe the story as being about Hatshepsut,
a woman who became pharaoh.
She’s the sexy historical figure, right?
“Whose story is it?” is a question that drives me up the wall.
I’ve gotten rejections from theatre companies
who were initially totally jazzed about my “pitch”,
but read the play and said that I need to make clear who is the protagonist.
When you get rejected from an institution that could give you a lot of visibility or resources to put up a play for a specific reason like that,
one’s first inclination is to give their suggestion a good hard try…
until you realize you don’t write or think in those terms.
I can rarely do what I’ve been pushed me to do since graduate school,
which was make one person’s trajectory clearly the most significant
and the one we need to track most heavily through the play’s entirely.
For better or for worse,
in my plays, some people need more lines to tell their story,
but every person I put on stage for me feels like central.
FIT FOR A QUEEN is about the women around Hatshepsut
- her lover and her daughter –
who manipulate and use her to gain power.
For me, the hunger for power is always linked to pleasure,
and the ability to compel others to do only what makes us feel good,
to love us,
to listen to us,
or to have the courtesy to pretend to do so.
It’s a play that shows that women have all the complexity of men
and we don’t need to apologize for it.
So, it is not about a revolutionary figure.
It’s about how we use revolutions for our own purposes.
But, you can’t tell my Hatshepsut that.
She thinks it is all about her.
How often are we thinking we are central,
when we are just a part of someone else’s plot?