15 February, 2018

Theater for the People - An Essay for The X Mag

The Power of Women Issue of The X Magazine by TodayTix 

When the storytelling goes bad in society, the result is decadence” — Aristotle

In olden days, as the song goes, theater was the art form of the people. There were no cost barriers keeping people from the theater. It was simply an expected, shared sociological experience.

Theater’s earliest origins extend back to Ancient Greece, where participation in the Festival of Dionysus, a multi-day cultural event, was a requirement of citizenship. Theater was not about celebrities or spectacle; it was about telling stories for the purpose of the public having a cathartic experience together. Aristotle defined it as “the purification of the spirit…by witnessing the playing out of such emotions or ideas on stage.” The result is positive change.

Flash forward several centuries to Renaissance England, where the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries reigned supreme. While plays were commissioned by and performed at the pleasure of the royals, anyone could get a seat or standing room for a few pence and enjoy entertainment in the company of kings and queens. After all, the whole point of theater is to make it accessible to the wider public.

Cut-to 20th century Europe, where Bertold Brecht, the great German playwright and director, established the Berliner Ensemble and made theater accessible to and for the people as an essential tool for the recognition of social injustice, and  as a means of effecting social change.

Today, Broadway has become a purview of the elite, with premium ticket prices skyrocketing to more than $1000 to certain shows. Theater is, at its essence, a thoroughly social art form, therefore it cannot be experienced in solitude. If we can't get people into the theaters — whatever their socioeconomic reality might be — then we are not doing our jobs as theatremakers.

But TodayTix is helping change the perception of and access to theater, particularly through its rush and lottery tickets. While lotteries and rushes have existed for a while, not everyone has the flexibility to wait outside the box office in the morning or enter their name in a drawing at the theater. With the app, anyone can buy rush tickets or enter a lottery. You can even share your entry on Twitter and Facebook to up your chances of winning.  Theater is a social art form, and social media is making it even more accessible.

But more than ever, in fractious times like these when there is great fear and even greater uncertainty, theater can be a place of emotional and societal healing. The people need the theater, and it is more important than ever for every individual, regardless of circumstance, to bear witness. We need to know that we are not alone.

Photo by: Jenny Anderson (IG: @jennyandersonphoto/Twitter: @jennyanina)
 * * *
Link to online article 
For: The X Mag and TodayTix.com
Photo: Jenny Anderson
Styled: Jake Sokoloff in Karen Millen
Hair and Makeup: Austin Thornton

13 February, 2018

Adult-ing - Part 7

Don't hide your like, you guys.
1. Don't allow people to pressure you into dulling your colo(u)rs to make them comfortable.
     From big fancy celebrity to star of your middle school math class—inevitably, something you innately are will exacerbate another human being’s insecurities.
Your intelligence.
Your charisma.
Your talent.
Your eyebrows.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, it I that you possess a quality another does not, and they are kept up at night about it. Something about you (and likely, something you give very little thought to) is going to make someone else think about nothing else and go get alllll crazy envious and Salieri on your ass.

You cannot change who you are, nor should you, and their insecurities are none of your business.
It happens. That’s life.
BUT:
Sometimes, these insecure people are also very pushy, bossy, intimidating, manipulative or otherwise tetchy, and their lack of inner-peace might motivate them to motivate you to hide your gifts/dull your colors/hide your light, to make them feel more at ease.
That part—the hiding your light part?
That is on you.
If you allow yourself to become small, recognize that you have chosen that. Own that you have taken some part in allowing it to happen. Take responsibility and... stop it!

Don’t do it.
Trust me.
Instead, go about the world being 100% you! Every last scrap of who you are and promise to keep becoming. Don’t get bullied into being small. Don’t apologize for who you are and how you have been gifted. Show compassion for the insecure, they need that more than your obedience, fear or disdain.

2. Pain is the payment for each precious thing.
     You are a result of someone cooking you up for nine long hormonal months, and then screaming as they physically push you out of their body. Ouch. The point? Childbirth is the very first lesson we all get that you are a precious thing, and the woman who physically gave birth to you endured a notoriously agonizing pain to make you come true. Then? As if that weren’t enough a doctor smacked you to make you breath your first breath. A great big smack on the bottom to suck in nature’s very best offering: air. Again: pain for precious things.

     Now I’m not saying you have to turn in to Gollum here, becoming a lean creepy weirdo living alone in a dark cave crying “preeeeciousssss” in order to appreciate how fan-freaking-tastic your life is, but I am saying that all living creatures endure adversity, handwork, setbacks, and blood-sweat-and-tears if they are truly living their lives.

     Nothing is free in this life. From losing 5 pounds to losing a loved one, pain is the payment for each precious thing, and it is not that the adversity hits us, but how we choose to utilize and view that adversity that defines and polishes our characters.


Which brings me to:


3. The Obstacle is the Way

     Choosing the right perspective is so important; you can see life’s challenges as opportunities.  When an unexpected obstacle is suddenly standing in your way, don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by “The Overwhelm;”  take a breather and regroup. The very thing you feel has stopped you in your tracks might just hold the lesson that teaches you to become stronger and better than ever before.


4. Who you ally yourself with is always the paramount consideration of your life.
     The people you keep close to you both intimately and socially will determine the atmosphere of not just your entire life, but crucially, how you feel about, view and think about your entire life. The people we spend our days with shape and inform our experiences, and it is up to us to make certain that those people are positive influences, or, if not, that their negative influence is minimal.

     Above all, be the best neighbor/colleague/acquaintance/friend/child/parent you possibly can be— your influence on those around you is powerful as well.


5. Happiness is not a train station
     On the great train ride that is Life Itself, we keep pulling into stations we expect, do not expect, and sometimes, loathe. (Incidentally? As I write this, I am actually on a train, pulling into a station…) Some of these are expected (first kiss, first love, college, graduation, first heartbreak) and some cannot be avoided (turning 30/40/50, etc), and some we’d do anything to avoid if we could (the death of a loved one, divorce, a health-crisis or financial hardships).

     Have you yourself ever thought "Once I [get the leading role/make X much money/get married/move to Europe/lose 20 pounds] MY LIFE WILL BE PERFECT!"
...Anyone?
Yeah.
Me too.

But one of life’s great truths is that you never exactly pull in to the train stations of “Contentment,” “Happiness,” or “Success.” Those stations are like Shangri La or Brigadoon: sure, you’ve heard of them, and everyone talks about them and wants to get there, but no one has ever really seen them. Why? Because they don’t exist.

     Dear readers, Now, truly is all we have. We must alter our thinking as much if not more than we attempt to alter our circumstances for it is within the confines of our minds that Contentment, Happiness and Success truly exist. You know the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” It applies here: the object remains the same, it is the thinking around that object that changes its value. A job, a partner, a location, a living situation or an annual income provides as much misery or joy as we choose to get out of it.

     So when I say “happiness is not a train station” I mean: there is no definitive moment where you do or do not “arrive” or “make it.” Further, the belief that once we pull in to that station (or cross that finish line) we will finally be happy or at peace is not only a myth, but a recipe for despair.


31 January, 2018

'Dust of Snow' by Robert Frost

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.


16 January, 2018

Questions from Book Tour, Part 3

1. What are the main differences between working in the two art forms: performance versus writing?

It’s fascinating. Two major observations.

The first is the difference between the social versus private nature of both art forms. (These are not exclusive observations and, of course, there are exceptions).

The theater is an innately social art form— created in collaboration with others, and enacted in the presence of others. Though I suppose you can technically recite speeches into thin air, that is not why theatre was created. In Ancient Greece, the theatre was born out of the need for communal catharsis— a shared cleansing of the mind and spirit, performed to and for the people. Aristotle defined it as “the purification of the spirit…by witnessing the playing out of such emotions or ideas on stage.” The result is personal, as well as sociological, positive change. Therefore it is an art form that cannot be created or experienced in solitude.

Literature is the opposite. Its nature is of solitude— both in its creation and in its consumption. It is an art that must occur within the confines of an author’s inner world. Though collaboration may occur in the later parts of the process, the majority of the writing experience takes place (necessarily) in utter solitude, quietly attempting to capture a universe before it escapes from your fingers. Further, literature (specifically) is experienced in solitude. The relationship between a writer and her reader is among the more intimate relationships that exist. The reader is being taken on a journey, often experiencing many emotions along the way, all taking place within the confines of the “theatre” of their imaginations. Writer and reader in a private, intimate space for a period of time. I have relationships with authors I will never know or meet, but have had more of an impact on my life than certain boyfriends or family members.

The second has to do with the form of creativity that is exercised.

Both art forms are, of course, creative. But being an actor in the theater is, at its essence, an interpretive creative art form— one is interpreting (and hopefully, elevating and breathing very real life into) characters that one did not write, dress, light, or direct. Your role in the creative process is to interpret. This is in no way to diminish this art form, it is merely to clarify it. Interpretive artists are among our highest contributors in society, shedding an illuminative light upon the intricacies of life.

Whereas writing, I contrast, is innately creative. A story, a character, a sentence, did not exist before the writer created it.

Something about these artist dichotomies deeply enriches me— it provides a satisfaction across the spectrum of creativity. I wouldn’t want to be without one now that I’ve tasted the gratifications of both.


2. What is the reaction of readers who attend your book signings and events? 

I’d say less than 5% of interactions are a little unpleasant and have included such gems as cornering me about politics, presenting me with pages of critical notes they have on my book (one woman even told me she’d “wait” so she could go through them with me in person, thought by thought), pearl-clutching about the darkness of the book, dozens of people trying to set me up with their grandson/the Rabbi’s son/literally anyone. Those were mostly sort of hilarious and happened quite rarely (okay, the setting-me-up part happens every time...). But pah! Worth it.

The best parts are always meeting people who have had an emotional experience with your book, who have spent hours in this world that prior to a year ago, only I lived in. Now these characters that I love as if they were real, are known and sometimes loved by others. These readers share their insights, stories, their vulnerabilities, and reflections, and sometimes illuminate my own work to me in a way I had never considered.

Further, though many of these people are incredibly cultured, not all of them would have the chance or funds to make it to a theatre, let alone a Broadway theatre, let alone to the stage door after the show. I am meeting so many people I would never otherwise cross paths with because literature is the ultimate democratic art form—thanks to libraries, the written word is accessible to all. There have been some people I met in Austin, St. Louis, Naples, Saratoga Springs, that I have formed lifelong connections with, and will be indebted to for the rest of my life. Connections I would not otherwise have.

Above all, I endeavor to share my story with as much authenticity as I can with both the organizers and the attendees of these events, and when they respond with the same generosity back, when they hold your personal story and honor the depth of love that went in to creating a project like a novel, there is no greater transaction— gratitude always begets gratitude.



3. Other than writing, have you got any hidden passions you’d like to pursue?

I love the accordion and have taken lessons! I passionately love travel of all kinds— Antarctica is at the top of my list.

I would also love to spend more time creating visual art of some kind— I once took a collage workshop with my idol Nick Bantock several years ago now, and I’d love to try my hand at engaging with the visual on a more consistent basis. But apartment living + curious cat = not conducive? Still worth a try! I just have visions of Tati-shaped paint paw prints all over the place…



4. Do/did you feel any extra responsibility or pressure playing and writing about Hodel/Tzeitl in London/Broadway— seeing as they are among very few overtly Jewish characters in musical theatre?

I believe that if you portray any character or story with honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability, the work will resonate. Our only responsibility as artists is, to tell the truth.



5. Your next book is White Hot Grief Parade, about the death of your father. How has After Anatevka impacted that book?

They say that all fiction is in some way non-fiction, thus, yes, these two works are very much companion pieces.

The writing of After Anatevka felt like a necessary personal exercise for me because of the extraordinary significance playing Hodel had in my personal life. That significance was directly related to my experience playing Hodel, and “saying goodbye” to him every day (whilst singing “Far From the Home I Love”)— an experience I felt robbed of in my actual life, approximately five years after the death of my father. White Hot Grief Parade is a direct account of the experience of that loss.

So you see, one could not truly have happened without the other. In fact, if I were to chart the writing in real-time: I wrote the first two-thirds of After Anatevka very quickly, got terrible writer’s block for over a year, marked the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, then, almost in a frenzied trance I wrote the first draft of WHGP in about three months. It came galloping out of me! Then, almost as if the writing of WHGP had shifted something essential within me, the finale of After Anatevka became clear to me and I felt ready to complete it.

There are definitely crossover characters as well—Hodel is in every way a combination of myself and my mother. Perchik is a version of my father (particularly his experience in childhood). Gershom is modeled after my paternal grandfather. And Rabbi Syme is a real man who oversaw my father’s funeral service and gave me the great gift of advocacy when I need it the most—I wanted to honor him in After Anatevka by making him Perchik’s advocate as well (thus Rabbi Syme is the only actual character in both books).

But to answer the question directly: I am a direct descendant of these people from the Pale of Settlement. Their legacy of suffering, endurance, oppression, and persecution trickled down and affected the generations that eventually touched my life directly. To write about their trials helps me feel compassion for the “characters” in my actual life. We all come from somewhere, and these two books, though wildly different in tone, genre, voice, and setting, have threads that reach across all barriers and interweave.



10 January, 2018

Coulda-been-ku 13

13.

Breadcrumbs are savage. 
I am nobodys just in case.
Hear this: Crumbs arent food.


31 December, 2017

from The Once and Future King by T.H. White

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."
—T.H. White, The Once and Future King


19 December, 2017

"The Impossible Dream"

Last night I performed in a concert version of Man of La Mancha at Merkin Hall in Manhattan for The Transport Group. It was one of the most moving nights of theatre I have ever participated in and among my 'Top Five New York City memories.'

I was fortunate enough to be tasked with Aldonza's big emotional scenes at the finale of the piece but also partnered with longtime friend, the golden-throated Jason Danieley in the "Impossible Dream" scene at the finale of Act 1.

Quixote says:
"Love not what thou art, only what thou may become.
Do not pursue pleasure...
or thou mayest have the misfortune to overtake it.
Look always forward.
In last year's nests...
there are no birds this year.
Be just to all men, courteous to all women.
Live in the vision...
of the one for whom great deeds are done.."

As the scene progressed, it became abundantly clear that Don Quixote's idealism and vision of fighting for a better world was painfully relevant and poignant in a way none of us participants were prepared for. Jason and I came prepared to embody a scene, not knowing we would be embodying a philosophy for our age—lifting the audience to a higher, more hopeful place.

The scene began, and with it, the music.

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the un-rightable wrong.

To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

This is my Quest to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!

And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars.”

Jason singing with his glorious voice, that song, with those lyrics accompanied by a full orchestra, in this moment in history? All with the emotional aid of our friendship and connected “eyeballs”... it was one of the greatest artistic moments of my life thus far.
I will never, in all my life, forget it.

Thank you, dear dear Jason, and Jack Cummings III for giving it to us.


Highlights from the entire spine-chilling evening are captured here:

13 December, 2017

Coulda-been-ku 12

12.


We endured so much.
No one else could have done it.  
I loved you. Im sorry. 



04 December, 2017

Questions from Book Tour - Part 2

I wanted this to be the cover. I... didn't win that one.
1. The novel exposes much of the social change and violence in Russia that the characters experience. Did you feel that you wanted to create a different and perhaps more realistic story for the characters than the more sentimental one that existed in Fiddler On The Roof?

I did absolutely. The tone of the world changed dramatically in 1905 after the first Revolution—and Fiddler on the Roof nods to those changes directly with the program, the inter-marriage of Chava, the presence of Perchik and his ideals, and subsequent imprisonment.

But what Fiddler hints at, but does (and can) not directly display, are the true horrors experienced by individuals across the country during that post-1905 era. These are the brutalities endured particularly by women, children, the elderly, political activists and the religiously displaced. I wanted to add those very real adversities realistically to the plot, to throw light on a profoundly dark era, and in doing so, give our protagonists the dignity they deserve for they have the strength and capacity to endure such horrors.

I receive some strong "criticism" that the book is "dark" or "not like Fiddler—" both of which I don't interpret as criticism at all. Not only because those points are both accurate, but moreover, I am extremely proud of them!

Everything changed in 1905. The world became a harsher place. By hiding those truths, by brushing them under the rug, avoiding the horrors entirely and treating them like mere historical 'unpleasantness,' I rob Hodel, Perchik (and the millions of human beings they represent) of their strength and capacity to endure. Historical fiction is fiction, yes, but it is also historical. A history that was real, and thus must be accurate because the authors are choosing to set their tale truthfully in a time and place different from our own and it is important that we tell the truth. Details matter. Truth matters.


2. When did you start writing After Anatevka and did the writing process affect how you approached your role in the play?

I began writing the book about a year after I completed playing Hodel so it did not have an impact on her portrayal. However it did have a great impact on my portrayal of Tzeitel on Broadway, and subsequently, I utilized that knowledge and put it back into the manuscript before finally submitting it. It truly was stage to page, page to stage, and back again.


3. If you were writing/editing during the New York production, how did your role as Tzeitel affect your writing of hat is basically Hodel's story?

I realized that I had judged Tzeitel! Not unlike the way siblings judge one another growing up and come to understand the complexities more finely as they grow up.

One of the things so fascinating about being a human being is that we can all experience the exact same upbringing, parental guidance (or sadly, sometimes, lack thereof) the same birthday parties, high schools, teachers, elections, vacations… the list goes on. We can have identical experiences, and yet, interpret those experiences totally differently for a myriad of reasons. It’s one of the great joys of growing up— reconciling those differences and hopefully making sense as well as peace.

I suppose that is exactly what happened between Hodel and Tzeitel for me, the only difference was the experience occurred at the same geographical address. The result is a real dialogue between my older and younger “selves” and I believe one of the strongest parts of the narrative.


4. What is a fun fact people might not know about you?

I’m an introvert. In fact, according to the Myers Briggs personality test, I’m a super-introverted  INFJ (which is a very rare personality type, about 2% of the world’s population).

Many—if not most—people challenge me on this, based on their misimpressions of not only me but introverts in general. They meet me for 5 minutes and perceive me as "gregarious" or "friendly—" both of which I am the majority of the time. But those qualities are not antithetical to introversion. Introverts are not necessarily aloof, shy, people-hating trolls, we simply recharge our personal batteries in solitude.

Some unsolicited advice? If a person shares with you that they are an introvert, never say “But you’re so friendly” or “but you’re not shy” or, the worst of all: “No you’re not!” Comments like these are degrading to Introverts (who are not necessarily aloof, shy, socially anxious or rude). The final statement especially attacks the person’s sense of self, and knowledge of self. All of these comments are presumptuous and abrasive.

If you are surprised to learn that a person declares themselves to be an introvert, it is perfectly appropriate to respond with “Oh really? I find that very surprising, please tell me more,” but to deny what an Introvert is, or worse, that a person does not fully know themselves is rude at best, particularly if the individual prides themselves on their self-awareness. It is wise to assume that you are not the expert on anyone but your self. Ask questions before making any statements.

Despite my highly developed extrovert behavior, I still require (and enjoy!) lots of time alone to process life, abhor small talk, love to socialize in small groups, treasure my closest friends, and enjoy quiet, solo activities above all others. These all indicate that I am a powerfully introverted person— it does not mean that I don’t have highly developed extrovert behavior! But that behavior is energetically “expensive,” and I must always recharge from it.


5. It is highly unusual for someone to both act as a popular character (Hodel) and then to create a novel. Are you hoping to continue as a writer by creating more novels or do you prefer to continue more of your career in acting and singing?

I do not intend to stop professionally engaging in either! It has been my honor to enjoy such a varied and ongoing career on the stage, and writing has brought be extraordinary creative pleasure—We only get one life. Why limit oneself? I desire a rich and textured life full of a variety of experiences from the personal to the professional.

Is it at times challenging juggling doing multiple things? Certainly.
Rewarding? Inexplicably.

An example: Motherhood is an expansion of Womanhood, not the definition of it. So too is becoming a professional writer an expansion of my artistic identity. It is an expansion of my artistry, not the definition of it.

Society often associates “success” with a very vertical trajectory of accumulated rewards. “More." More things, more wealth, more possessions, more accomplishments, Broadway shows, fame, followers, etc. But I desire a wider trajectory of “more." More experiences, more connections, more skills, more cultures, knowledge, satisfied curiosities, and, I suppose, more careers. I’ve said it before, but success is not about what you do, it is about how you feel about what you do, and I feel my best when I am contributing to the world, and connected to a sense of attempting to fulfill my maximum possible potential for one lifetime.

When I am done with this life, I want to feel like I wrung every last drop out of life's washcloth.


30 November, 2017

“since feeling is first,” by: e.e. cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis


©Nick Bantock

28 November, 2017

Day of Giving Thoughts

On this Day of Giving, I wish to state that not all activism is created equal. Activism is a *deeply* personal act of courage, and, in my opinion, the best and most effective activism is always done with civility, and comes from a place of peace and a desire for greater understanding.

I am not saying that there is no place in this world for outrage—great changes have been made upon its back. But violence, angry outrage; thoughtless, knee-jerk tweets, and the making of enemies from every micro-issue, is not a world I personally wish to live in.

So on this Day of Giving, I welcome and challenge you to give not only of what is in your pockets, but give of the generosity within your hearts, and in the opening of your minds.
Sometimes a soft touch can achieve far more than an angry blow.

27 November, 2017

Questions from Book Tour - Part 1

1. What’s your writing setup like? Do you have a certain playlist you listen to or a drink you always have?

Yes. I have a beautiful vintage pull-down writing desk! It has been handed down from my mother— she found it on the street when she was in college. When she discovered it, it was covered in layers of paint that she stripped away to reveal a beautiful raw wood. The desk has been in my home since childhood, and the handle where you “pull-down” is the face of a lion, that I always thought was the face of Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia.

I write first thing in the morning, with my morning coffee or tea (poured from my perfect tea-for-one teapot gifted to me by beloved pal and actress Lara Pulver). I start by what I call “sitting with” my writing for at least an hour—internet free—and spending time in the that innately creative world while I’m waking up, still feeling a bit “dreamy.” I’m certainly not the first artist to start the day with their creativity, “morning pages” is one of the primary tenants of The Artist’s Way, and though that was not where this ritual began for me personally, it is no wonder! There is a certain creative freedom that comes to us just as we first start to stir—a lack of internal editor, a connection to a more playful and innocent place of total possibility.

After that, I usually immediately do my vocal (singing) warm-up, followed by working on any music I have going on/coming up. And that means I have all my creativity “chores” done at the very beginning of the day and everything else achieved is gravy.

I’m not a slave to regiment— sometimes this all goes out the window, sometimes I’ve been known to write (literally) all night long and fall asleep at 8am after a particularly long lighting-bolt of inspiration. Sometimes (especially when I have a deadline and it’s like the Wild West with da’ rules,) I will include parts of m neighborhood and city into my writing “set up” — the city has a number of beautiful cafes with back gardens, sidewalk spots to park a laptop or a legal notepad, and write. It helps to “air yourself out!” Staying in your apartment and writing for 16 hours is something I can only do when it is a deadline RED ALERT, or when the spirit of inspiration had really struck. That image of Michael Douglas as writer Michael Chabon in Wonder Boys? You know the image I speak of: of a writer in their under-pants padding ceaselessly around the book in The Bathrobe of Shame? Yep. Been there. All with my perfect little tea pot, under the “supervision” of my cat, Tatiana.


2. Speaking of which, what do you do when you are creatively blocked? How do you deal with writer’s block?
Practically I do three things:

First, I return to some of my original sources of inspiration.
For After Anatevka specifically, I drew from several sources of inspiration you’d likely never even imagine: Rosencranz and Guildestern Are Dead inspired my writing of the “scenes between the scenes,” the J.J. Abrams TV show Lost was on television when I first began the novel, and directly inspired the “flashback” structure of the story-telling. The prose of John Steinbeck and Boris Pasternak (particularly East of Eden and Dr. Zhivago, respectively), the stories of Yiddish oral tradition and other Yiddish writers in addition to Shalom Aleichem such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, and I.L Peretz. I return to the masters and pray for a jolt by “praying at the altar.”

Second, I “phone a friend.”
I also have a small circle of (very) trusted friends that I will call and talk through the troubles with. That can be anything from story, plot, conflict, to trusting them to comb through the words themselves and tell me if I use too many italics. Or Whatever. Sometimes I scream into the phone while this friend talks me off the proverbial ledge. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we do victory laps. The best part is, I always enjoy returning the favor. To give the two most important credit: I have been bouncing ideas with Santino Fontana since we were teenagers, and I don’t know where I’d be creatively without Bobby Steggert. Which is why both are thanked in the acknowledgments of my book by name only, without any need for explanation.

Third, I walk. Everywhere. Until I drop.
I usually get the heck out of my “space” and walk and walk and walk. Anywhere. Often commingling #1 and #2 whilst power-walking my way to publication. Have you ever seen the episode of The West Wing where CJ can’t sleep so she exercises on a stationary bike until she sweats out her spleen? Yeah. It’s like that. With less political consequences.



3. Do you have to be familiar with the play or Sholom Aleichem's stories to appreciate the book?

Not at all. The piece is accessible to all, and a stand-alone story. If you know the Sholom Aleichem and the musical, even better.

I truly wanted to create was an utterly original story based upon and inspired by, but not tied to, the source material. My research makes clear that the sentimental shtetl world altered hugely in 1905— right after the first Russian Revolution. The safety, security and rules of life-as-they-knew-it changed suddenly to a stark and harsher reality— I wanted the story, as well as the prose itself, to reflect that reality. That makes this a story about Hodel, but one that takes up its own mantel and carries the story into the 20th century and hopefully, beyond.


4. Many questions are left unanswered at the end of the play. Why did you choose to make Hodel's story the basis of your novel?

Hodel took on a deeper significance for me than any other character I’d ever portrayed, mostly because when I began rehearsing her in London I was coming to terms with the death of my father 5 years earlier at the age of 18.

Hodel’s final scene is not only an assertion of her adult autonomy, but it her chance to say goodbye to her father, a chance I was personally lacking in my real life. When Hodel said “Papa God alone knows when we shall see each other again” it was more than a piece of dialogue for me. It felt mythological, primal even.

I suppose I only now see the direct connection between an 18-year0old girl who boards a train to Siberia, and an 18-year-old girl who boarded a plane to Scotland. By exploring and assuring Hodel's future, and her capacity to endure, I was in some deeper way doing the same for myself.


5. You’ve made the transition from West End to Broadway and from acting to writing so well. What would your advice be to people hoping to do similar / any advice or aspiring creatives?

Being a “multi-hyphenate” is simultaneously straightforward, and tremendously complex.

To “do” something other than what is listed on, say, your tax return, there is very little required other than to just do it. You want to write? Don’t wait for a permission slip from the Gods of Writing; just write. An essay. A blog post. A Tweet. It doesn’t matter what you create as long as you actually create it, and create it from a place of authenticity.



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