Friday, June 26, 2009

Pulling the Trigorin

For the last month and a half I've been immersed in the world of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, having served as Assistant Director for Theater J's brand new adapatation of the play, The Seagull on 16th Street, which just opened. (Click here to read a very nice review of the production care of The City Paper, and here for info on how to order tickets at the Theater J website). For those of you who haven't read or seen the play, a brief synopsis - Konstantin Gavrilovich is a young writer and the son of famous actress Irina Arkadina. He is also most in love with his youthful muse, the beautiful Nina from across the lake, and the actress in his debut performance. Along for the ride is Irina's consort, the famous and established writer Trigorin. Nina falls for Trigorin and we're off to the races. This particular adaptation includes an added layer of Judaism to the show, entirely absent from the original, portraying Treplev as not only an emerging artist but also a young man trying to find his faith while his mother has abandoned hers.

But what struck me is a very specific moment in the play on a topic that Chekhov knows more than a little about, and is present in any version of the play you may read or see. And while watching the play on opening night, my friend Elan heard the exact same lines that I respond to, and looked over knowingly at me without prompting.

Finally alone together, Nina has begun to ask Trigorin how it 'feels' to be so famous, to have such a wonderful, brilliant life - which catches Trigorin entirely off guard. As she pushes and prods on how incredible his life must be Trigorin finally unleashes one of the most brilliant monologues I have ever read on the subject of writing and the incredible weight it puts on writers - from the obessesion to endlessly continue; the overwhelming need for approval from a hostile, faceless audience; to the constant pressure from both oneself and one's loved ones, real or imagined, to create the next literary gift from god. The entire thing is incredible, especially as performed by Jerry Whiddon, but this excerpt speaks to me and my experience especially - courtesy of The Seagull on 16th Street by Anton Ckekhov, translated by Carol Rocamora, and adapted by Ari Roth (the most important part highlighted in Bold):

TRIGORIN: For example, here I am with you, perfectly intriguing, and yet the
whole time, I'm also thinking about the unfinished work that awaits me at my
desk. I'll see a cloud, up there, the one that looks like a piano? And I'll
think: "Hmmm. I've got to put that in a story somewhere; how a cloud was sailing
by, a cloud that looked just like a grand piano!" Every phrase; every
word you and I are uttering right now, I'll snatch them up as fast as I can and store them in a closet: Perhaps I'll use them one day - I'll use this entire conversation!
And when I'm done working, I'll run off to the theatre,
or go fishing, to rest, to lose myself - but no, there it is, already casting
about in my head like an iron cannonball; a new plot, and already it's pulling
me back, and I'm racing to write it down; write it down. And that's the way it
always is; I have no peace from myself and feel like I'm devouring my own
experience, cannibalizing it; and what's left? Who knows? Who can tell?

Every word of that is true. Absolutely true. And especially - "Every phrase; every word you and I are uttering right now, I'll snatch them up as fast as I can and store them in a closet: Perhaps I'll use them one day - I'll use this entire conversation!"

I'm letting all of you know that right now.
It will happen.
If I know you, if you read this blog, chances are one day you'll be reading and you'll find yourself in here. And if not in here, certainly in a script, or onstage. Just the tiniest piece, or an entire story - traslated, adapted, transmuted into someone/something entirely new and yet exposingly familiar.
It will happen. If you didn't already know, I'm telling you now.

I was hanging out with a girl once, a girl I don't even know all that well, and there was a pause. She looked at me and said "You're just writing a play in your head all the time, aren't you?"

I am.

And I'm sorry. But everything you say, everything you do, every worthwhile line or thought or conversation, everything my friends are, their ticks and habits, quirks, catchphrases, and mannerisms - every single bit is stored away for use one day. Some of it is written down in endless half filled journals, most of it is kept conciously or unconcsiously in my head until I have to write it down. I lay at night mezmerized by a simple sentence - haunted for days, weeks, or months by a simple toss off until I have to write, simply to process, simply to deal.

I wrote a play a year ago, a one act, inspired very much by the relationship between me and my ex. The characters were not us, the dreams and images were inspired by songs, the plot of my own invention.
But I took the words. I took a lot of words.
And I regret it. I wish I had never, ever written it. And if I had to write it, I wish I had locked it away. I put too much on the page that time, too much too soon. I feel like I betrayed a trust, the most important trust I've ever had, a trust I know I've kept in every other way. That was a valuable lesson. It is, quite possibly, the greatest regret of my life.

But make no mistake, I will take words again.
Deep, personal words. Experiences. Lives.
And none more than my own.
Every time I sit down to write I feel fear because I'm not quite sure what part of me I'll be exposing once I actually start to type.

That's what writers do. We do cannibalize ourselves, our experiences - we tear into every aspect of the world we know and rip it apart looking for a shred of truth or beauty to share.

It's a terrifying, painful process.

I've been having trouble actually calling myself a 'writer'. Identifying myself with that craft, that title. It has felt arrogant to do so, above me, something I still have to prove; to work to become. A mantle to claim.
But in Trogorin's lines, in Chekhov's words, I saw myself.
I'm a writer. Maybe more of a director, certainly a storyteller in all it's forms first and foremost.
But I am a writer. Blessed and cursed. And so -

I will give, and I will give, and I will give.
I will be respectful. I will honor trusts. I won't betray, I won't mislead, I will use judgement.
But I will take, and I will take, and I will take.

A promise and warning.


~brennan said...

I would be flattered if you ended up taking any portion of my words or life.

Jason Heat said...

actually - i adapted a story of yours for a movie script i wrote a few years ago that no ones ever seen