Stephen Adly Guirgis: The communion of plays
Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis has been working like crazy on his new play, which will go up Saturday night at the Ojai Playwrights Conference. But he's taken time to give Culture Monster one last report before the big night. Here's a schedule of all the offerings at the conference, which ends Sunday.
A couple of days ago, before we all got to know each other and get down to work, all the talk up here was, like; "Yo, isn't that the guy from 'Lost'?" "Hey look, there goes Bubbles from 'The Wire." "Isn't that the guy from that movie?" "Oh, that's the girl who busted heads and shot people up next to Colin Farrell in 'Miami Vice'!" "You see that woman -- she supposedly had an affair with Brando." "That dude over there, he was nominated for an Oscar back in '93!"
But the other day, Helene Gordon hosted a pool party at the Twin Peaks Ranch, and everybody got to know each other over drinks and swimming and chatting in the hot tub and commenting on the howling of the coyotes or the meteor shower up above. So now, it's all about warm hellos and let's get down to business.
And what's the business?
The business is all about new plays -- Dave's and Steve's and Frances' and Bill's and Leslie's and Lisa's and Jeanine's, and, um, mine -- which I just finished scrawling a draft of. And hopefully my director, Bob Egan, and the great actors, 'Dre, Tony, Nikia, Gary, and E-rod, won't hate me for
turning it in the day before the show. But, that's theater, and that's process, and that's what -- on a good night -- can make events like this conference way more exciting than opening night on Broadway. It's all new, and it's all now, and it's about the communion of the actors bringing a new piece of work to life for the very first time before a fresh-eared audience.
Why does an audience come up the mountain to see this stuff? And why do well-paid L.A. actors give us their time for 300 bucks and "bring your own sheets and towels"? I don't know. But I can tell you why I do it: I do it because I saw John Malkovich in "Burn This" when I was 20, and he made theater seem like the most exciting, dangerous, dramatic and hilarious place you could ever want to be -- and it changed my life.
I do it because my upstairs neighbor told me about seeing Laurette Taylor in "The Glass Menagerie" five times in a row because she thought a crazy person had taken over the stage because she couldn't see any "acting" going on.
I do it because I never had a good experience in church, but theater, and the community it engenders on any given night -- and like it prolly will tonight when I see Dave's play -- can be like church. In the best sense of the word.
It's a community of audience and actors and scribbled pages and maybe some lights, all assembled for an experience -- an experience that celebrates and examines and mourns and laughs and cries and affirms and helps organize our collective humanity and the life we all walk through, more often than not alone. And sometimes the play sucks, and sometimes it's great, and sometimes you don't want to talk to anyone afterward for a while because it somehow reached into some part of you and you're not ready to let it go. That's the best.
And also, it's fun. And there's drinks afterward (here at Ojai, there's free beer at the yurt!); and by participating, whether as an audience or an actor or as an usher, you are saying "Yes" to the creative act. Because without you, there's no theater. Just a dark building with a bunch of hacks and hams fighting for a spotlight. It's only together that it can become a church. In communion, we are one. And it can be holy. Or bawdy fun. But it will be real, and it will be live, and it will be for the very first time. And even if it's drudgery, it beats sitting in front of a computer or watching TV.
So, here we go, the big weekend. New plays with great actors on the hour. And on Monday, we all go home, and the church becomes a darkened auditorium again. Until you come back. Then we have a shot at making it a rip-roaring church or temple or mosque again. Because that's the last component. When the seats are filled and the actors are working and the writers are sweating and the bartenders are popping corks for intermission and all of the sudden something beautiful and crazy happens up on that stage (and it always does), at that point, no matter who or how you worship, God has entered the room. I've seen it too many times not to tell you the straight truth.
Hope to see you this weekend. And stay for a beer!
--Stephen Adly Guirgis
Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times