Posted in Reading, Theatre, Writing

“One’s Whole Being Becomes Absorbed”

FTP’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, September 15 – October 8, 2011

The Firehouse Theatre’s September 19 staged reading of The Night of the Iguana and its current production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof–both part of Richmond’s Centennial Celebration of Tennessee Williams–sent me back to the pages of Williams’ plays, which I’ve been rereading in the Library of America edition: Plays 1937-1955.

Williams’ Plays 1937 -1955 (2000)

I keep thinking of these words of Big Mama’s: “Time goes by so fast. Nothin’ can outrun it. Death commences too early–almost before you’re half-acquainted with life–you meet the other. . . .” In a recent Fresh Air interview, actress Margo Martindale told Terry Gross how saying those lines as a student differed from saying them decades later:

“I played Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when I was 20 years old at the University of Michigan. And then I played Big Mama on Broadway in 2004. The speech at the end of that play — ‘Time goes by so quickly …’ — boy did that have different weight from when I was 20 years old to when I was 50-something-odd years old. It’s all about what you’ve experienced. You can’t teach that to a younger actor. You have to have lived that.” In the current Firehouse production,
Jacqueline Jones
speaks Big Mama’s lines from experience as well, delivering one of the cast’s strongest performances.

In his introduction to Camino Real, Williams writes of the all-consuming nature of play writing: “It is amazing and frightening how completely one’s whole being becomes absorbed in the making of a play. It is almost as if you were frantically constructing another world while the world that you live in dissolves beneath your feet, and that your survival depends on completing this construction at least one second before the old habitation collapses.”

Today when I was completing an application for a grant, I thought of how it would enable my whole being to become absorbed–at least briefly–in the writing process in a way that it can’t when I’m teaching. Grants buy us time, which “goes by so fast. Nothin’ can outrun it.”

Posted in Writing

Writing 26.2, and Tennessee Williams, Too

Chop Suey Books, 2913 West Cary Street, Richmond, VA

Local writers gathered for workshops on the second floor of Chop Suey Books this weekend, and in between sessions sipped Tall Bike Coffee on the sidewalk and ordered burgers and hot dogs from store owner/grill master Ward Tefft–all as part of  a 26.2 All-Write, All-Night Writing Marathon and Cook-Out to benefit the Richmond Young Writers.

At Saturday’s opening session, “Write Now,” workshop leader Valley Haggard, Executive Director of Richmond Young Writers, led us through a couple of timed writing exercises from Natalie Goldberg‘s Writing Down the Bones, a book that I read years ago and now realize that I need to revisit.

Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando as Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film adaptation of the 1947 play /

Early in the afternoon, I left Chop Suey to focus on another writer’s work across the street: To mark the beginning of Richmond’s  Tennessee Williams’ Centennial Celebration, the Byrd Theatre hosted a free screening of A Streetcar Named Desire, introduced by Carol Piersol, Artistic Director of the Firehouse Theatre (and my acting teacher), and John Knapp, Artistic Director of Richmond Triangle Players.

After Streetcar, I returned to Chop Suey and to my own writing, catching the end of a Writing Sampler workshop followed by a free-writing session.  I noticed something that I hadn’t seen earlier in the day. On the curtain that serves as the door to the closet in the back corner of the writing room, someone had pinned a sign that read “Enter the Fort of Solitude.” Throughout the free-writing session, one of the Richmond Young Writers wrote there, behind the curtain.

At the end of the free-writing session, I retreated to my own Fort of Solitude on Grace Street but returned to Carytown before daylight.  On the sidewalk across from Chop Suey,  author Eliezer Sobel led  a small circle of writers through a sunrise meditation and writing session. When we closed our eyes to begin, it was still dark. When we opened our eyes, it was light, and we wrote about 9/11 and other numbers on our brains.