All posts by Ravenchild

Asking Questions

by Cynthia Wands
Two Reliquaries by Eric Boyd

I’ve been watching this glass artwork take shape for the last five months. It’s a commissioned piece for a reliquary. The two vase like urns are small containers that hold the ashes of someone who was a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a person. I didn’t know her, but the artist, my husband Eric, did. And for five months, I’ve been watching him design and create these whimsical and pieces. Today Eric was able to deliver them to their owners, the two surviving daughters of the woman who inspired these pieces.

This journey of creating a form, out of glass, to hold a memory of a person, captured in dust, has been a profound experience. I didn’t expect the process to resonate so much with playwriting, but it did.

Very much like creating a character for the stage, I saw that the initial design sketches were about the purpose of the pieces: what should it hold? How tall? What colors? To what intent?

The next several weeks were all about questions. Does this glass work, what temperature does the flame work need, how do the two shapes interact with one another.

I saw a central design element, which was expensive and time consuming and complicated become a trap for the design of the piece. And then Eric threw it out. After it was put together and the effect was seen – he went in a different direction. What is it that we hear in playwriting: “You must kill your darlings.” Well, I watched him do it. I was bugged eyed but quiet about it. (I must admit I was also annoyed, frustrated and exasperated watching him do this. “Really? After all that work? All those materials and time and effort?”)

Throughout the process, I saw his questions about the effect of the materials, the way the seals worked, the color of the copper. And lots of questions about the overall effect. Eric struggled through some doubts and judgements about the process, but finally was reconciled to what he could do, and what could be done.

Just like our writing and rewriting and staging and listening process to creating our work onstage, there is this shared process of asking questions, risking answers that don’t work, and going in a different direction. Eric’s work made me think about the ashes in my work, how the words hold them, and the risks in asking questions.

Fear (or was that anxiety)

by Cynthia Wands

The artist is Christian Schloe

Here ‘s a wonderful interview with James Grissom with  the late Marian Seldes. She was a force of nature, and someone who was a fearless artist. Here she talks about some of the facets of fear. And it’s amazing to see that it’s so connected to the process of sharing our work, as artists.

Mandala, original artwork Cynthia Wands

I asked Marian Seldes what she most wanted to teach her students, and she stopped me and said there was something she most wanted to teach everyone. This is what she told me in July of 2008. Always make sure that fear is fast on its feet around you. That’s something Garson [Kanin] told me. You can be afraid, but you can’t stay afraid. Deal with the fear, and I always dealt with it by recognizing immediately how I could vanquish it. Someone somewhere–nearby–is ready to help you with what frightens you, if only because they recognize the fear you currently have. They’ll remember feeling it, and they’ll remember how they got rid of it. Sometimes the fear disappears simply by reaching out to someone else for relief. We are not alone. We are all connected. In an acting situation, I always wanted students–and those with whom I was working as an actress–to firmly believe that I knew they belonged where they were: They had talent and worth and placement. If you make a mistake–even if you fail completely, as we all have–you still have merit and talent and are able to move on. Never be afraid of the work: You can be respectful of the task; you can want very much to live up to the expectations of the writer and the director and your peers, but fear is not a part of this. Fear is poisonous. I can always lose my sense of fear by looking at my partners and remembering that they have talent and resources, and they are my shore, my sturdy foundation on which I can stand. I need them, and they need me. In this sense of trust, great work can be made, and lovely friendships can be built. I heard someone say the other day that greatness lies beyond your greatest fear, and I think that’s true, but that greatness is what you find when you conquer the fear, throw it to the side. Fear tells us to protect a child, ourselves, a neighbor, an idea, but the greatness–or what I call our basic humanity–comes through when we help the child, the neighbor, repeat the idea, get back to work. Maybe fear is our conscience. Just a tap on the shoulder or a still voice reminding us what we should do, but our job is to still the voice, do the task. If we allow the fear to remain and grow, we become mean and suspicious, and we kill everything. Fear destroys us. Fear destroys everything. I think we were put here to restore and protect others, so I always remind people how quickly we have to dispatch fear and help each other and get on with the work. © 2018 James Grissom

Mandala, Original artwork, Cynthia Wands

Fear seems like such deep and overwhelming emotion to me; I think of characters on stage as experiencing fear as a mortal vulnerability. Some of the characters I’ve written seem to experience anxiety, more than fear, and it seems to lower the stakes for the outcome. I’m still thinking about fear. And feeling it too.

Other People’s Process

by Cynthia Wands

This interview for the Clubbed Thumb production of PLANO brought up a lot of feelings regarding the noisy (and public) collaboration of a director and new works.

Other People's Process, Original Artwork, Mixed Media, Cynthia Wands 2019
Other People’s Process, Original Artwork, Mixed Media, Cynthia Wands 2019

The interview from the magazine:

Director Taylor Reynolds on Plano, Clubbed Thumb, The Movement Theatre Company, and More

April Fish

by Cynthia Wands.

I meant to do some research on a current writing project this evening.

“APRIL FISH”

But no. My sister reminded me that today is April 1st. April Fools Day.

And so, instead of researching my play, I fell into the internet and found out that today is April Fish Day.

Okay I’m exaggerating a little bit.

Actually it’s not April Fish Day. It’s a day where strangers can yell “April Fish” to you on this day. Really.

In France.

This is what happens when you need to write more on your play but you find out about the April Fish Day story.

Some history suggests that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Now the New Year would start on January 1, rather than the last week of March through April 1.

But for those poor dullards who failed to recognize that the start of the new year had now moved to January, they now became the butt of jokes and hoaxes on April 1. (Leading to our culture’s shout out to “April Fools”.)

Throughout France (though mostly among children) April Fools’ Day is observed by sneakily sticking a paper fish to someone’s back. These pranks are referred to as “Poisson d’Avril” (April fish), and are said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

When the hapless victim discovers the prank, (meaning that they discover that there is a paper fish on their back) the successful prankster will yell out “Poisson d’Avril”  which means “April Fish!”

I have never had anyone yell out “April Fish” to me. Mostly, I suppose, because I have never been in France on April 1, and therefore the French pranksters couldn’t find me.

(Can I use this in a script somewhere? I will have to file it in my folder called “Holidays” and then never find it again.)

I also found out that April Fools’ Day is linked to a Roman festival called Hilaria, (now there’s a theatrically festival day: Hilaria). This was celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. (Again, another holiday note for the archive.)

But one of the best stories about these first days in April come from Scotland. In the 18the century April Fools’ Day spread through Scotland, and the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk” day, in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool).

This is followed on April 2 by Tailie Day, which involves pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on their rear ends.

So on my day of research, where I meant to find very different stories, I found stories about April Fish, Hilaria the Festival Day of Disguises, Hunting The Gowk Day, and lastly, Tailie Day.

I will be checking in mirrors tomorrow to make sure that I don’t have a fake tail pinned to me. Or a paper fish on my back. And then maybe I’ll be able to get back to writing again and not looking up stories on the internet…

Belonging to the blog

An image of the book I’m reading, and some of my belongings that watch over me

By Cynthia Wands

I’ve just finished reading the book “Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home” by Toko-pa Turner, and it’s a wonderful examination of attachment and identity. She’s an interesting writer, and really includes the reader in her journey to find her place in the world.

Belonging is such a loaded word for me right now, as I’m looking at characters who suffer from hoarding, or from a detachment in belonging to family.

I’m examining issues of belonging to friendships, memories, blogs, exile, debts, illness, cats, theatre companies, journeys, writing groups and teams.

I’m particularly interested right now in the sense of belonging to a house, witnessing a sense of our personal history there, and the attachment we feel when we find it as our “home”.

I found this quote from Toko-pa’s book just as I was thinking of the imprint of the place of home:

“It’s said that after arriving in a new place, we will have replaced the entirety of the water in our bodies with that of the local watershed in just a few days. Though these adaptations happen at a biological level, we are vastly unconscious of the implications a place has on our psyche. Just as humans carry an energetic signature, so too do geographies. However, like fish swimming in water, we are rarely aware of what energy a place holds until we leave it, or return to it after time away.”

Toko-pa Turner, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home (belongingbook.com)

Some comments on Good Reads about this book:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36982696-belonging

I’m working my way through a maze to find where my characters belong in this script of mine. And I’ll keep you posted if I arrive there.

When research for your play becomes personal

This is what research looks like…

by Cynthia Wands

I’m writing a play about hoarding. Ghosts. A truly evil woman who might have been in my family history. Trees. Slaves that were bought and sold by the Quaker families in Upstate New York. And the gravitational weight of objects that define our place of belonging.

Yesterday I said goodbye to almost one hundred friends. Enemies. Reminders. Nags. Planets that rotate around the center of my memories.

I gave myself the project of cleaning out my closets, where I keep all my clothes from the last several years.  Okay, the last dozen years. Okay, okay. The last two or three decades. I tend to keep all my clothes. This includes the denim jacket with the studded rhinestones, the embroidered black pants from Chinatown in Manhattan, the fuzzy sweater that is the size of a refrigerator.

They’ve all been living in my closet. Taking up space. Reminding me that I don’t use them, but they have a claim on the real estate in our small house with the small closets.

When I started researching the pathology of hoarding, I was horrified by the awful consequences of this difficult behavior. I know I’m not a hoarder, I don’t have the space.

But I do tend to keep all my clothes. I’ve bought clothes in thrift stores, online, at Nordstroms, Macys, designer outlets. Even though my size has changed a lot in the last few years: cancer, chemo, hip replacement, plantar fasciitis, getting older, gaining weight, getting less agile. I don’t fit into most of these clothes anymore. So, I thought this was a simple challenge: get rid of the clothes that I haven’t worn in a year. Or two. Or Five.

I had a kind of conversation with every item as I held it up to review its life span and value.

Hello darling. The Evan Picon suit, silk and wool, with beautiful trim. Last worn in 1992. I love you. But I can’t keep looking at you if you’re not going to get out of the closet.

Baby: My vintage hippie denim jeans with the wonderful patches all over them. Purchased in some thrift store in Hollywood.  A size 8.  (My friends will know that I have not been a size 8 in a long time.) I loved looking at these. That was the basis of our relationship.

An azure blue silk Henri Bendel tunic, tiny jewel like buttons for trim. Worn once. Loved the idea of it. It didn’t love me as much.

So many jackets and blouses and pants and skirts. I’d forgotten about most of these. We didn’t have much to say to one another.

White Victorian linen shirtwaists, high collared blouses. Gorgeous. Not useful in my current lifetime. Maybe if I was going to do another play on Emily Dickinson.

The black jet tulle dress I wore on the night we went to the theatre in the West End in London and met Judi Dench backstage. We had champagne in her dressing room. I have a picture of that night and that dress. So I’ll keep the image and not the dress. I’ll always have London.

And so it went. I had to rally my flagging spirits and cart all the bags of clothes out of the house before I could change my mind. I really didn’t think it would be this difficult to let go of my stash, my collection, my hoard, of clothing.

It was.

Optional Line Readings

I love these alternate line readings.

by Cynthia Wands

I’m including this amusing graphic of “Reading Between the Lines”, as a warning that the “provocative” ( – irritating) story I’m about to tell, could be seen as something written “in the tradition of” (- shamelessly derivative) as multiple points of view. Like every story. Like every play.

In November I was invited to the opening night of “THE HARD PROBLEM”, by Tom Stoppard at Lincoln Center.  (I know how posh that sounds – I loved writing it.) When I was a young actor I performed in a couple of Tom Stoppard plays and I’ve always delighted in his witty characters, the mental gymnastics, the world of words in his writing.

My sister was taking me to this opening night performance, and we went out to an early dinner, (yes, she got us a table at Joe Allen’s). Someone I love very much was in the cast, and like a lot of writers, I tend to live vicariously through the lives of others, this was a peak experience. Flowers for opening night. Joe Allen’s. My sister. Lincoln Center. A star performer I have always championed doing incredible work in the show.

That’s the top line of this story.

Other threads in the story: I’ve been in and been to dozens of opening nights in my lifetime. This one was intense. This Lincoln Center opening night had celebrities (Rosemary Harris – who I have always loved as an actress – sat in front of us), a new play for New York, a famous playwright, a glamorous setting. You could feel that live wire electricity in the audience.

I was sitting next to my sister on one side, and a very elegant gentleman on my other side. I had a brief, theatrical conversation with him. (He reminded me of Colonel Pickering in “MY FAIR LADY”; very cultured, articulate, and handsome. Perfect casting.)

Another thread: I was feeling very protective about my sister that night; she had recently sprained her ankle and was walking with a cane. She fearlessly walked into the theatre. I was on high alert watching out for her; something I have to try and hide from her as she hates to be fussed over by me like that.

The connecting thread: when we entered the theatre, we saw that a young man in the seat next to us had his large suitcases wedged in our row. We hesitated – this seemed odd. But there were no ushers to be found to sort this out, so we had to climb over his suitcases to get to our seats. We eventually were able to sit down, and we waited for the play to begin. We were in high spirits, and I suppose, rather nervous.

I love opening nights: the whispers in the lobby, the ebb and flow as the audience comes in, the scuttle of the ushers up and down the stairs. I know what it feels like to be backstage waiting in the wings before the lights come up. Nowadays I see myself in the audience as a kind of satellite receiver, boosting the transmissions being beamed across the theatre.

But on this night…

Yes, on this night, I had my first case of sudden and severe gastric distress.  It started as soon as we sat down in the theatre and I started reading the program for the play. Like the first scary music in a horror film, I heard this growling sound. And then more noises, like a garbage disposal chewing up your forks from a dinner party. But then I realized that these thumping noises were coming from me. I’d never heard these sounds before. And then this wrenching bolt of intestinal pain shot through me. It was a spontaneous gastrointestinal nightmare.

(Thinking back on the dinner at Joe Allen’s: it was a simple supper of chicken and vegetables. And a glass of champagne. And then a cup of coffee. And I seem to remember that we split a dessert of some kind. It all seemed like an innocent menu at the time. Was it the chicken? The coffee? It couldn’t possibly be the dessert, could it, the one I can’t remember?)

But back at the play: an announcement was made that all cell phones should be turned off, the house lights changed, and the play started. I seemed to be okay. I focused on the words from the actors. I used mindful meditation breathing. The play was unfolding into twists and turns, I thought I was good.

But during the play, the young man sitting next to my sister, the man with the big suitcases, pulled out his cell phone, turned it on, and started to watch a soccer game. On his phone, during the play. The sound was off, but the flickering light from the phone lit up the entire row. You could see the audience members turn around as they tried to gesture to him to turn it off. He ignored them.

The people next to him asked him to turn off his phone. He shrugged his shoulders. They left to find an usher. They returned, without an usher. He continued to watch his soccer game on his phone. After a moment, my sister turned to him and in a sotto voce tone like the serpent in the Garden of Eden (after the fall), she told him to turn off his phone.


He turned off his phone.

The audience’s attention returned to the play. It was a Rubik’s cube of ideas, characters, and intentions. I’m still thinking about it two months later. At one point there is a revelation of betrayal in the play, underplayed so quietly, you might not be sure you heard it.

There was a moment of quiet in the audience.

And then it started up again. My growling noises. It sounded like the rumbling sounds coming from a brass cannon in a far away civil war. Or: It sounded like a huge garbage truck digesting a weeks worth of garbage. Or: I was the only person who could hear it and I was mistakenly afraid that others were bothered by it.

I’m not sure which version is correct, but I tried to look unfazed and focused on the play.

And while I tried to make it look like it wasn’t me making that noise, inside, I was trying to scold my digestive system into silence.

Knock it off! You’re as bad as the guy with phone watching the soccer game! Stop that! I mean, cut it out!

I wrestled with the idea of getting up, climbing over my sister and the man with iPhone and the large suitcases, scrabbling over the other audience members, and taking my borborygmus with me. (I found out later that what I experienced has the scientific name borborygmus, which is related to the 16th-century French word borborygme, itself from Latin, ultimately from Ancient Greek. It sounds better than the other available diagnostic titles: bubble gut, bowel sound, or stomach rumble.)

But then. The play ended. The applause and the ovations were over. And as we left, my sister turned to the young man and in a low voice, gave him such a warning that I don’t think he’ll show up with his iPhone and soccer games in an audience again.

We made our way to the opening night party, and eventually my digestive system quieted down. Or it might have been that the music and the noise from the party was so loud that no one could hear me and my personal rumblings. I guess it all depends on what line reading you choose.

The night before the 2018 mid-term election…

by Cynthia Wands

The night before the mid-term election, and my cat, Ted, is sensing some troubling words..

 

Yes. No. These are decisions I get to make tomorrow. I get to vote.

I’m particularly anxious about this election, (as many of us are), but I think Ted is picking up on a sense of helplessness, and pent up rage. And apparently he doesn’t like to hear me read the ballot out loud. I call this his “Fur Emotion Sponge” posture.

When I’m writing, and he’s sitting next to me, he likes me to play new age soundtracks so he can listen to the sound of rain, and frogs, and maybe some thunder. If it isn’t too ominous.

So, I’ll write more later. Right now, I have some cat paws I have to gently reposition on my political agenda. And I’ll get to vote tomorrow.

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When your play follows you around the house…

Nocturne, Artwork by Cynthia Wands, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Cynthia Wands

The last few days I’ve been hearing some wild stories, and revisiting memories that seem directly broadcasted to the rewrites I’m doing . Some of the stories and phrases stalk me and won’t leave me alone until I write them down.  It’s like being followed by a twenty pound cat that just wants to escort you around the house and walk in between your legs.

(That would be Ted.)

 

 

 

 

And I’m hearing unexpected stories about ghosts and hoarding and old houses.

I know it’s because my antenna is on and I’m hearing the words I’m looking for. But it is a bit overwhelming: is my writer’s radar on and that’s why I’m hearing these things? or is a form of psychosis? previous lives manifesting themselves in voices?

It seems a bit mad, to be obsessed with sorting through imaginary conversations and places and things, and witnessing such electric connections.  But that’s the assignment here in the rewriting. I have my work cut out for me.

I’ll just have to watch out for that cat walking next to me in the hallway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Cynthia Wands

On Sunday afternoon, I had a chance to listen to a reading of my new script.

Ouch. Opps. Really. What.

Intermixed with:

That voice! That actress! Love that guy who’s reading. Wow. Oh – I hadn’t thought of that line that way. What? These actors: wow.

And also:

Wait. Where’s that scene? Did I drop that scene? That’s right, I dropped that scene. Maybe I don’t need that scene. Do I need this scene? Where is that scene, the other one – did I even write that other scene?

It was, as is usual for me, an astonishing and brief and intense experience to hear imagined words read out loud. I was alternately delighted and horrified by what I’ve written, and what I heard. I’ve learned to expect to be overwhelmed by staged readings of my work – and I was.

And the comments afterwards –  I wrote them down in snippets so I can remember them, as I tend to rephrase them in my own memory. And it really helps to have a gifted moderator manage the conversation, – Jennie Webb helped guide the talk so I could hear/rather than react to the thoughts about the script.

And the best part about hearing really gifted actors read your script out loud:

They bring their feelings about lost love and attachment and isolation and they’re able to articulate what that sounds like.  They can make a phrase really zing. And if it doesn’t, and you hear that it doesn’t, you hear that too.

I love seeing actors create characters out of memories and hopes and sadness. I’m grateful to hear the voices of longing and anger and jealousy and vulnerability.

At the end of the day, I felt a bit pixie mazed. But that’s a good thing. It’ll help with this next rewrite. My cat, Ted, will be in his chair next to me listening to his rain song.

 

 

 

 

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