Monday, August 24, 2009

Faith Restored

I'm going to be very hopeful and earnest in this post (a real change of pace, ha). Cynics, prepare yourselves.

As you, dear readers (whoever the eff you are), may have surmised from my earlier post, I interned at the Ojai Playwrights Conference this summer. I left Ojai just a little over a week ago (lordy, August has just flown by) and it's still all I can talk about. It was my first year there, but something like 8 out of the 11 or so interns were all Kenyon kids, a few of whom had been to Ojai in previous years, so we were lucky enough to have a great network going. (And I HAVE to take this moment to give a heartfelt shout-out to Kate Armstrong Ross and Japhet Balaban, recent graduates of Kenyon College, dear friends and extraordinarily talented actors, hard workers and generally fantastic people, without whom Ojai would probably not have been nearly the astounding experience it was for me. Watch out for them. They're about to take New York by storm.)

The truth is, Ojai was great on SO MANY levels - being exposed to the amazingly talented minds amassed within the entire company was obviously incredibly inspiring, every single minute; as was having the opportunity to "network" AND work in close contact with one playwright, one director, one cast of actors and ONE PLAY once we started rehearsals; not to mention seeing how professionals really work (this was my first time exposed to anything like that) with each other to create a piece of art - never mind that it was only staged readings, it was still phenomenal and exciting theatre. But for me, as an intern, the most important and heartwarming part was how amazingly open and giving everybody was. It's the most refreshing and wonderful thing I can think of, to experience artists giving so freely of their selves and their craft. I ended up having amazing conversations with professional dramaturges, directors, playwrights, actors - not even necessarily about theatre, but in some cases just about life. (I now owe my fabulous life plan to one Mr. Christopher Breyer, following an extended conversation over margaritas about the true role of a dramaturg and how quickly life passes us by and moving to Chicago and so on - this is probably the best summary I can give of the first week - pre-conference - of Ojai.)

In addition, every year at Ojai (well, this was only the second year it happened, but I get the impression the staff is looking to make it a tradition) the interns put on a show at the beginning of the second week, as a sort of welcome to everyone (the actors) arriving just for the second week, after the artistic teams (and the interns, we like to think) have all bonded. It's, among other things, a sort of way to say, look what us kids have come up with after working with your directors and your playwrights all week: it's gonna be great, get pumped. So for that first week, we had two hours a day set aside to develop our intern show. These two hours were led (and the show directed) by the effulgent Emily Weisberg, who is the Artistic Director of Push To Talk Theatre Company in El Lay as Perez Hilton likes to say. Side Note: Emily is pretty much who I aspire to be five years from now. She is wam and welcoming and giving, but very precise and specific and clear in her search for excellence. She's sweet, but she's straightforward and she doesn't sugarcoat. She's a breath of fresh air to work with. It was under her direction that the intern show became what it was - something for everybody to be proud of. I mean, there we were, standing in front of an audience comprised of people like Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jeanine Tesori, Andre Royo, Stephen Belber, Robert Egan, Patrick J. Adams, Linda Gehringer, so on and so forth - there we were reading out our personal stories vomited up and molded and sculpted and transferred (the best we could within the space of four or five days) into something we could present as theatre. It was ... exciting. But to get myself back on the track I tried to start on, one of the most important aspects that went into that intern show was the fact that so many of the playwrights and directors volunteered to lead us in writing workshops during our assigned "intern show workshop" time - they volunteered, during their free time, to come in and talk to us about writing, lead us in exercises, or just talk to us about their lives and their experiences. IT. WAS. AMAZING. And this is what I love, this is what restores my faith in theatre, in art - to see established artists and professionals willing to give, to share, to teach the younger generation.

I really can't get the words right and it's frustrating me. Let me try to break it down to the essentials. After Ojai, my belief is affirmed that theatre is a community. A global, spiritual, all-reaching community. This belief was affirmed because of the extraordinary people I spent my two weeks with, shared with, laughed with, bitched with, cried with sometimes, took great chances with. I owe them all a lot.

Breaking it down even more: Ojai is the shit.

I would live there if I could, but I'll settle for going back as an intern again next August. And then, someday, a very long time from now, going back as a playwright, with a piece of art of my own to nurture and shape and scuplt and develop and share with everybody.

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