I want this blog post to be about my new short film in order to promote it, but my creativity has it’s own mind and will take my initial salesman pitch, pull it a part, add it’s own agenda, and then cast it out into the world in multiple directions, making, what I believe to be, an interesting read, but a not so wise promotional tool. So I will just say now before tangents invade, that this short film was first created for the stage with the help of the Chicago Neo Futurists and the film version, itself, was created with the help of the New York Neo Futurists. It is about my dead friend, Peter Flynn. He killed himself one day in New Orleans. He hung himself from a rope on the edge of an outdoor staircase at his house, then supposedly tried to kick himself loose but then “accidentally” tumbled down the stairs, breaking his neck. Peter liked to live on the edge and that is what makes this outlandish interpretation of his motives believable. The script’s goal was not intended to be cathartic, a device to release the pain of his loss. It was intended to acknowledge the persistence of loss’ tight grip on the living, whether we like it or not, and to face it with a more understanding respect, permitting this knowledge of the unquenchable nature of loss to help us grow more mature rather than to stagnate in denial.
Being a writer and a performer for me has always been more of a fluid process than one about achieving specific goals marked and solidified by time. I am one who floats simultaneously in multiple directions through ambling space more so than I am an artist traveling down a specific path planting mile markers, cementing my views in concrete, and sketching it out in my detailed topography map book. But if I really try hard to contemplate my life long enough I can gather together blurry patches in my past and view them as stages towards being a better artist.
1. When I first started writing long form plays, I would let it pour out of me without self-reflection. I would leave it up to my actors to help me figure out what the fuck I had just written.
2. Before the point of meeting Peter Flynn, a friend, musician, artist, mad man, pain in the ass, I would refuse to call myself, writer, performer, actor or musician. It was a bit pretentious, not wanting to be labeled. Yet I still feel to this day there is something correct about that attitude. But this hesitance to be labeled, I had felt then, was also based in a fear of disappointing myself and others, of claiming to be something I could never truly live up to. Peter would often give me the most gnarly angered look, with a grin tucked within, when I mentioned this, and he would say, “Fuck you! You’re a WRITER. Grow up!” One night while at a friends wedding Peter wrote in the guest book, “The Road”, and then when I saw this I chose to write “The River.” This began my furiously quick scribbling down of a play called The Road & The River. On one of its more hidden levels the play explores the balance to be struck between unbridled spontaneity and well thought out intentionality. This was one of the most important stages of admitting I was a writer amidst the memories of my blurred past.
3. The next stage of this viewing of my process was during my most well received play called, Living In The Present Tense. It’s a somewhat nonlinear play that begins at the end and moves back and forth to its beginning. (And yes this was written before Memento and Pulp Fiction, but way after Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal. I say this to defend my influences.) I chose this structure so that I could spontaneously come up with a scene, but instead of building the mystery forwards, I could let it unfold revealing it’s beginning. I created it backwards so that the beginning was well thought out and planned and was a direct product of it’s ending. And through analyzing this choice during it’s staging I began to realize that my structure choice was a mirror of emotions evoked. It created confusion, but entertaining and enthralling enough to want to search out its meaning. Its meaning was the betraying nature of seeking out meaning, and the structure and content were harmonious in this goal. This was an accidental product that from now on in my work had to be thought about in advance and incorporated intentionally, there were no more excuses to NOT know what I was writing. And here I can mention Peter again. I was so excited to have him come see this play. He hated it. He thought I was cheating, that it was grand for the sake of being grand, and that it was simpleminded, and beneath me. This could be true, in some ways I knew what he meant, but I also knew that he knew me well enough to know that that criticism would only make me fight harder to make those same choices work even better in my future projects.
4. I could go forth exploring stages that I make up as I continue to write, but I will jump to the end. The end was near the beginning of my work with the Neo Futurists. Here there is a whole other series of blurry incidences that I could construct into a narrative about my growth as a writer. I won’t. I will just say that when Peter died, I wrote quite a few plays talking about his life, about our adventures, stories that I could never deny make me WHO I am today. But like coming to understand the balance between spontaneity and intentionality, I started to realize these plays were good but lacked something, on some level all these plays fell flat. To describe Peter was to NOT bring him back, it was a flimsy recreating of a complex human being. The only way to turn Peter into a meaningful play, at the time, was to write about how I FELT about his loss, to express the emotion in actions and tightly scripted futile, metaphor laden, directions, “how to remain friends with a dead man.” I took all the things I learned about how short pieces should have multiple layers and meaning, and that you don’t have time to dilly dally, so make every moment count, be abstract but also tangible, personal but also universal. This is the closest I think I ever got to all those goals and the closest I will probably ever come to sharing the affect of Peter with my audience.