Welcome! What would you like to talk about?
First, let me just say, thanks so much for this interview. Most artists, I think, just want to be taken seriously, to be given some real consideration and thought. Attention must be paid and all that. So it's a real privilege to get the opportunity to share some of the thought behind my work.
Should we start at the beginning? The Absurdity of Writing Poetry, in 2006. I've heard you refer to that as a manifesto for Available Light.
That was certainly true. If you wanted a one-hour mission statement, that was it, for the company, and for me. It's shamelessly direct sometimes, right there in the end, I just list out my reasons for making art, plain and kinda simple. The show is dumb in that it's just me putting all my issues front and center with very little artifice.
Where did that show come from?
I had left my first grand venture, BlueForms Theatre Group and wandered out into the wilderness of Iowa City, where I hung out with the only dude I knew who was a big a nerd for theatre and rap music as I was, Sean Christopher Lewis. Sean and I were working on his first one-man opus, I Will Make You Orphans, and getting to know each other's ambitions. He had a friend, Jennifer Fawcett, also a playwright, who also had a one-person show. (They're married now. She might even have been his girlfriend then, I don't know.) I spent a week there making work and hanging out in the library and visiting the art museum and wondering what the hell I was going to do with myself.
I was inspired, to say the least, by their willingness to put their own stories onstage and to put themselves on stage. I hadn't really been willing to do that. I was also re-reading a lot of Anne Bogart stuff. Anne had been my mentor, had given me a big push into Starting BlueForms, and the end of her first book (A Director Prepares) gave me another big push. "Don't wait," she says, until you have the right people, the right platform, the right space, the money even until you know what you're doing. I took that very literally.
I looked around and asked, "What have got?" I had me, I had some emotion I could put on stage, I had a lot of things to talk about. I had been reading a lot of poetry and watching a lot of Def Poets, slam poetry hosted by Mos Def. And I had a couple of friends I knew could count on, including my great collaborator, Dave Wallingford.
At that time, I was spending a few afternoons per week taking care of my new niece, Natalia, from ages 0 to 3. And while she would nap, I would write and read, and copy and paste. I had some ideas collected, but no central thought. I was listening to Bloc Party's fantastic first record and a lot of Talib Kweli.
And then I read Wisława Szymborska's amazing poem "Possibilities," which contains the line "I prefer the absurdity of writing poetry to the absurdity of not writing poetry." There it was, my entire life, a perfect explanation of who I am and what I do distilled into a single, perfect sentence. And that became the title and the organizing principle of the show.
Something else. On the day we started rehearsing the show, in a basement room at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, Dave's father was diagnosed with cancer. Dave told me when we met up to work. We talked for a bit. We're both shy, so don't imagine an overly emotional scene, but I can picture it perfectly, right down to the scraps of carpet the covered only some of the floor. The show contains the line, a question, "What would you do if you knew that you would die very soon?" I am always thinking of Dave and his dad and his family at that moment. And the entire show is an answer to that question because it was so present the whole time Dave and I were making it.