I first saw Spalding Gray perform in person at Lincoln Center in 1996 when he did his monologue It’s a Slippery Slope about learning to ski and changes in his relationships. He sat behind a table with a notebook in front of him. He spoke with a Rhode Island twang. I liked his voice.
He was performing in tandem with Julie Taymor’s The Green Bird and Taymor’s lush green forest hung above stage like a forest of the mind.
I later learned he never wrote out his monologues. He performed from an outline, so he wasn’t reading. He was engaging the audience. He was telling his story, and this made one feel very intimate with his story. However, this intimacy only went one way. He didn’t know his audience members personally and only told what he wanted to tell. He had control over his material.
Even though he was sitting the whole time, he had physical presence. He leaned forward and leaned back. He gestured with his arms. He could become very animated without leaving his seat.
The second time I saw Spalding Gray perform was at PS 122. I don’t remember the year. It was probably the late 90s. He was workshopping a new piece called Morning, Noon, and Night. He went for an hour and a half, got to late afternoon, and stopped there. He was trying tangents out and still trying to find the structure of it. We witnessed the hours of his day pass in minutes, and it was so rich and lovely that we could’ve sat and listened for another hour.
The last time I saw Spalding Gray on stage was a panel at ColumbiaUniversityon the theatrical avant garde. It was late autumn 2001. 9/11 had just happened, and we were still sorting through the rubble. Other panelists included Richard Foreman, Meredith Monk, and three or four others.
Spalding Gray walked with cane and several times had to get up and walk off the stage, but he always came back. I didn’t know at the time that he had been in a bad car accident that past July. At one point on the panel, he talked about stories and how he use to think they had power but he doesn’t feel that way anymore. Still, he structured his thoughts as a story.
I recently read The Journals of Spalding Gray published by Knopf. Even though I knew how the book would end, I was still very sad when I got there. However, the journal journey to that end has writing and insights from some good time spent on this earth.
He wasn’t just an autobiographical storyteller. He sculpted his story to something beyond even himself. He created a theatrical event with desk, a chair, a notebook, and himself. Adios, Spalding Gray. Thanks for the words.
At the end of my blog week on Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, I’m gonna give Spalding Gray the last words. This is from a journal entry dated June 9, 1995:
. . .eating my old tuna, jalapeno and “hot” hummus sandwich I had a peaceful sense of NOTHINGNESS and that was what I was going to come to. DEATH is NOTHING. It’s not death that’s sad, it’s life. There is nothing sad about nothing. I had a very strong feeling that I am nothing visiting something. Yes, I am nothing visiting something and returning to nothing.