The thing you always forget about performing is how quickly it happens. There’s an interminable amount of stuff that has to take place before a production, whether we’re talking a short film, a play, or a reading involving five performers converging on an old-time prestige venue like the Cornelia St Cafe.
That third one is a little specific, isn’t it.
Yesterday we had a live reading of Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change here in New York City. And by “we,” I mean everybody, with the exception of RJ, who wrote to us from New Zealand. Before about 4pm, the day is a blur. Literally a blur. I remember the gist of what I did: mostly sleep, since the night before was a rush of adrenaline and preparation and as with all these things, there never seems to be enough time. (Note “seems” – this is significant.)
A little after 4, Eric and Erin showed up at my apartment. As I barked things like, “DON’T JUDGE ME, MY APARTMENT IS A MESS,” (they assured me they did not) and “SHOULD I BRING MAKEUP FOR THE GIRLS COMING STRAIGHT FROM THE TRAIN” (deemed considerate, but ultimately unnecessary) and “WHICH PAIR OF BOOTS SHOULD I WEAR?” (sooner or later there will be pics on the internet, I’m pretty sure) – peppered with weightier issues like, “WILL THE VENUE HAVE A WAY TO PLAY OUR MUSIC?” (shout-out to Emerald, who is amazeballs, and actually phoned the venue while I slept to find out because I’d sent her an email asking her to remind me about it) – they sipped water and answered my questions with patience. Updates from Sare Liz and Miranda came fairly regularly, via text, with one stuck on a bus (not that we ever expect Megabus to be on time) and the other stuck in a line 200 people deep at the taxi rank at Penn Station. I didn’t take my blood pressure (ONE MORE THING TO FUCKING DO?) but I’m guessing it would not have been at an all-time low.
The great thing about having a long-time co-writer around in the minutes before a live production is that they kind of get where the freakouts are coming from. As I tore back and forth in my shoebox apartment, as often as not forgetting what it was I was trying to make sure didn’t get left behind, I got reminders of issues that were popping back up that we’d already solved (music is gravy), had someone to check in with when “Wait, this issue is already resolved, isn’t it?” became an issue, and so on. Lots of patience. Plus when it came time to actually head to the venue, I didn’t have to carry everything myself.
The venue. The venue was awesome. The venue was the Cornelia St. Cafe, a West Village institution when it comes to live performance. They’re a cafe/restaurant at street level, then downstairs is a sort of cabaret/performance space. Here is what it looks like before it’s filled up with people.
Looking at the photo, I realize we probably should have had a live piano player, too. BALLS!
So me, Eric and Erin got to the cafe a little after five. Setup was quick, thanks to the staff at the cafe (I admitted having nerves, at this point; they told me everything would be fine and got us all giant glasses of water, and we started setting up.
Setting up for a live reading when you’ve never seen a space and don’t really know how many people are coming is weird. Super, super weird. Super weird. I’m so grateful to have had E&E around for this part of the process. Because two of our writers were still missing in transit, a fact which I think I was still in complete denial over until about 5:40, when something (I honestly don’t remember what) clicked and rolled over.
Sare turned up halfway through this part of the preparation, and I can only imagine what she walked into: at this point I was having a very intense discussion with Eric about the order of stories and what the f*ck will we do if Miranda’s bus is so late she misses the reading.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful for having Eric for a co-writer in my life. (I say that a lot. The dude’s a fucking rockstar when it comes to keeping a cool head in a tense situation when the person freaking out needs to know WHAT THE HELL DO I DO WITH THIS FUCKING SCRIPT. Which is basically what one wants in a co-writer. And talent. Talent doesn’t hurt. (He’s got that in droves, too.)
So I’m sitting on the edge of the stage in my carefully-styled reading outfit, and I have about four pages of “intro/outro” material for the bits where I have to stand on stage and read and tell a room full of people what’s going on. Except that now we might have to move one of the stories. We ran through a few different options. Ultimately we decided that the only way to accomodate a late arrival was going to be being an egotistical egomaniac and reading from both of my stories (the plan, till this point, had been just to read “Haute Mess”). I was not cool with this. I don’t like reading in public. And I don’t looking like an egotistical egomaniac when it comes to collaborative performances. (She says, using more “I”‘s in a sentence than she can actually count.)
And then the rewriting began. Furious, intense, shit-fuck-what-goes-here-what-gets-said-next rewriting that spanned four pages and I think six individual segments, maybe seven, all of which were going to move, comments that weren’t going to make sense, and so on.
Creatively, I do a lot of thinking out loud. I don’t know if that’s always been the case or if it’s something that’s grown out of playwriting, but having somebody whose creative judgement I trust almost implicitly (and I only say “almost” because, you know, I’m the editor and I’m always right) give me in-a-snap responses to different possibilities is something that seriously shortcuts the frankly awful process of rewriting something for the fifth time, five minutes before you’re going to read it on stage.
And then Miranda’s bus got in, and somehow this woman, who has never been to the city before, dealt with what I later learned was the following series of events:
– late bus (over an hour late)
– flagged her first ever NYC cab, which had a driver who was apparently such an asshole he told her his meter was broken and “how much was she willing to pay” for her trip, and by the way, he’d only take cash, because his meter was broken. (Dear cabbie who did this: FUCK YOU, BUDDY. That’s not me saying that. That’s karma saying that. What goes around comes around and what you did was a shitty thing.)
– Via cab, getting through traffic in NYC on a Thursday in rush hour to the venue.
– Turned up at the venue looking calm, collected, and cool as a cucumber.
(She rocked her reading, by the way. Everybody rocked it, but she deserves a particular shout-out, because I’ve had experience, Sare’s got ten years of public speaking in her pocket, and Eric had a gin and tonic – and none of us had the same high-pressure trip in, and to rock it the way she did under those circumstances is the effing bomb.)
The thing is, that made all the rewriting irrelevant. I didn’t have to read both my stories, the order didn’t have to be jumbled up, and the script-as-written, with the minor edits I’d made earlier when I realized, standing on stage staring out at the empty room (which is sometimes the only place you can realize these things, I’ve learned over the year), could stand.
Except I’d marked up the holy hell out of it.
This is why you always bring MULTIPLE COPIES OF YOUR SCRIPT TO A READING.
The thing was, at this point people were starting to come in. I was sitting at one of the back tables as the room slowly filled up, scribbling and trying to sort out pages and re-edit the unfunny parts back out and be polite and say hello as people walked in, but at one point I distinctly remember flipping out. “I CAN’T FIGURE THIS OUT,” I said. (“I can’t do this!”?)
Eric stepped up AGAIN. Yes, he said, I could. What did I need.
I swear to fucking god, a calm, genuine, capable “What do you need” is the best question any producer can hear when she’s on the verge of absolutelyfuckinglosingit. It’s quick. It focuses you. It reminds you, in that moment of insanity, that everybody in the room is there to help make this work, and that while you have forty thousand things flying through your head, if you can’t get them out of your head, they’re not going to happen. I needed page two. Whether from nerves, adreneline, or what, at this point I was literally shuffling through pages and unable to figure out which ones correlated. I needed the next page. He passed me that page, I made my fixes.
People were still coming in, saying hello, being wonderful and supportive, and bitchface producer lady (wait, that’s me, isn’t it) suddenly snapped across the table, “WHY IS EVERYONE TALKING TO ME, I CANNOT REWRITE THIS WHEN EVERYONE IS TALKING TO ME.” Bitchface producer lady is not fun to be around. I think she mostly talks in my head, so maybe most people don’t realize she’s there, but she’s awful. She’s good at what she does, partly because she’s awful, but she’s awful. And on this occasion, the bitch got past the mouth-censor, which in turn somehow resulted in two minutes of absolute silence and me actually finishing the re-edits.
All of this going on, remember, while people are coming in and I’m trying to let the other writers know who’s who. This is a fun game when you’re in creative industries, because the connections (particularly with my little collection of talented amazeballs people) are so diverse, and I recognize all my friends’ voices. “Is that a petite brunette with kind of a 1940s air about her?” I asked, not taking my eyes off the page. Got an affirmative reply. “That’s E____,” I said. “She’s the one who helped put us in touch with (super secret fall venue redacted). Another voice. “And that’s a very polished blonde?” Affirmative. “That’s S___, we’re going to her house party on Saturday.”
Sarah, who designed the book cover and poster for yesterday’s reading, who stepped in at a last-minute request to read RJ’s short because (did I say this earlier in the post?) RJ lives in New Zealand), was doing her vocal warmups in the background. Vocal warmups are awesome. And, I discovered yesterday, both relaxing and focusing.
I am probably screwing up some of the chronology of all this, by the way. Hope you’re all okay with that. It’s a blog, not a news article.
The performance is a blur. A blur that ran like fucking clockwork. A blur where every single writer read the fucking shit out of their piece, a blur where I had to keep reminding myself to watch the audience, because watching the audience tells you whether you’re doing it right or not. And they were. You get up on stage and can’t see a damn thing with those lights, but when you’re sitting out in the back you can see every single audience member, and every one of them was listening and engaged in the work being read.
And then it was time to transition into the post-reading discussion, and I had to be a little off-the-cuff here, and felt like I was stammering my way through the whole thing, although apparently I wasn’t. And then the discussion was awesome, because people talked and asked questions and Eric joked about wine and Sare joked about the church, and Miranda joked about forgetting a Jeff Goldblum quote from Jurassic Park, and an audience member knew the exact one we were talking about, and people asked questions, and my dad said the “S” word and I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT, and my mom let everybody in the room know that NONE of her children had gone into biology, and I love them both for it far more than I can put in a blog post. My parents and their support of my career and dreams as a writer deserves its own blog post. It deserves a fucking book. My parents are awesome. No, seriously.
And then the discussion was over and we’d talked about the Whole Earth catalog, and the motivational properties of guilt and fear when it comes to changing how human being live in the world, and the egoism of thinking we, unlike almost any other complex organism, might be able to help make the world a better place. We talked about our motivations in writing the story, and were invited to talk about our future projects. We did.
I told the story of my co-worker, who came in the day after she read RJ’s story and said, “It’s that line about how it’s nobody’s fault or it’s everybody’s fault. I feel so guilty about my Keurig coffee machine now. All that plastic! I’m part of the problem!” (Apologies if I’ve mis-quoted her, hopefully she’ll forgive me.) And she went and bought a re-usable Keurig coffee cup, and her own coffee. Because of this book.
Sometimes, talking about things turns into its own action. One of the things I love about the Occupy movement is that there is a lot of sharing and communication embedded in their technique of General Assembly. Talking – and writing, and art, in my opinion – has the power to introduce new thoughts, help us make new connections, and in turn leads to evolving attitudes and changes in behavior. As I said at the close of the reading last night, I think all the writers involved in this project would be thrilled if people talked about the book and the ideas in it. Even if that’s just to one person.
Because while it’s just a small thing we can do, it’s something everybody can do.
And the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one in the first place.
Amazeballs. Awesome, awesome amazeballs. Thanks to Eric, Erin, Sare Liz, Miranda, Sarah, the Cornelia St. Cafe, my parents, my friends who came, my amazingly amazeballs stylist friend who you’ll all have heard of as “@mycoolroommate” (now defunct, sadly), my current roommate, her friend, my downstairs neighbor, colleagues from old workplaces, friends of friends, @CLImagiste, my two cousins-twice-removed from my grandparents’ generation, and the bartenders, who were amazing and whose names I forgot to ask. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This post is now over 2500 words long, so I will save tales of the wild evening debauchery until another time. Not like you people like to read about wild debauchery, anyways.
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