Size Matters

In my early thirties, in the months after my divorce, while living in a tiny studio apartment in San Rafael, I finally started writing about my loss of faith, those experiences as a believer that defined a large part of who I was for so long, and the painful break that distanced me from that life. There in that apartment, healing emotionally in so many ways, I knew it was time to face, head on, some of those other feelings I’d been nervous about facing down. One of my very first efforts in that regard was this poem. I discovered it recently. There was at time when I’d thought I might use it in ‘Wretch Like Me,’ might recite it or weave it into the narrative. I never did. But I think you will see that much of its tone is reflected in what became the script of ‘Wretch.’

SIZE MATTERS

God was so big
when I was a boy,
too big to fit
in my little boy’s life. But
I liked him,
all gigantic like that.
Little boys
need big Gods.

God got smaller
as I grew up. For a time
he was just
my size. So we wrestled
all the time,
wrestled
every Sunday.
But neither of us ever won.
And I liked that too. Sometimes
the match was so close,
so even, God and I forgot who
was who.
The first time I beat God
it broke my heart,
broke it into pieces.
Who wants a God
you can beat by
yourself?

He kept getting smaller,
and I kept growing
older, and now I’m not
very old, but he’s so damn
small. And he keeps getting smaller.

Now I keep losing him.
I lose God
almost every day.
I can;t put him anywhere,
or he rolls off again,
and ends up under the rug
or something.
I don;t know where to put him,
where he won’t get lost. Maybe
I can buy a real nice jar.

I was told by a man
I met at my door,
that God was kept safest
when locked in one’s heart.
So I tried it.
But either these cracks in my heart
are too big for God, or He’s
gotten even smaller,
because I still keep losing him.

It happened again this morning.
I finally found him, caught
in a cobweb
next to the stove.
I washed him off, checked
for damages, and put him back,
back in my heart.
But the cracks, I think, are bigger than before
and God looks a tiny bit smaller.
Oops. Look at that.
I’ve lost him again.

 

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Rectangle

Last night, I measured out a 6-foot by 15-foot rectangle on the carpet, marketing it in place with masking tape. I brought in a chair and a stool and a green sock, and placed them inside the rectangle. I set up several chairs outside the rectangle, facing towards it, and that was that. I was ready.
When ‘Wretch Like Me’ director Sheri Lee Miller arrived for our rehearsal, she now had an approximation of the same environment we’ll be working with in Edinburgh, where my performance space (Theater 2 at the Surgeon’s Hall museum) will have a 5-meter by 2-meter stage in a room big enough for 51 audience members. Cozy and comfortable, and perfect for a one-person-show.
The limited space has given Sheri and number of challenges, and we’ve reduced the furniture and props to a bare, spare minimum, which puts the emphasis on what is happening on the face of the performer, aka ME. I have certainly grown as a performer since taking this project on half a decade ago (still think of myself as a “performer” more than an “actor”), and Sheri’s faith and encouragement over the last six months has been invaluable. She demands a lot of me, and little by little, during intense, sometimes powerfully emotional rehearsals like last night’s, I am finding ways to break out of my own rectangle of doubt and caution, and am able to give my director at least some of what she’s asking of me.

It’s funny. I’ve been performing one version or another of this story since 2009, and though I have had the occasional emotional moment on stage (performing it with my mom in the audience was one of those times), I was sure I had moved past the point where the show stirred up any new tears, insights or memories. Something about stripping the show down to a lean, mean 75 minutes and placing it inside a box the size of a U-Haul truck bed has brought the show home, and I’ve had a couple of moments in the last week where this show has reared up and kicked my butt all over again. By performing ‘Wretch Like Me’ with less and less, this very personal story is returning to its roots, and is gradually becoming more and more and more.

I have just a few days till I trot it out again at the fundraiser in Sonoma. I hope I have a nice little group of fans and curious supporters on hand to watch this next step in the evolution of ‘Wretch Like Me,’ of the effort to get the show to Edinburgh, and of David Templeton, the performer.

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Click here to see a sketch of what the performance space in Scotland will be like:

https://production.thespaceuk.com/venuespecs/VenueSummary2014.pdf

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The Brutal Edit

Image

Edinburgh is now about 3-1/2 months away, and as we focus on fundraising and other plans, there is another serious matter at hand, one Team Wretch is working on every day: making sure that ‘Wretch Like Me’ fits on the stage when we present the first show on the stage of Theater Two, inside the Royal Surgeon’s Hall museum, where the show will have fourteen performances beginning August 1. For one thing, the stage is 5 meters by 2 meters, or fifteen feet by six feet. When rehearsing the play, we’ve taken to taping off a 6×15 box on the floor, and working within that. It’s not a lot of space, and Sheri Lee Miller has been working hard to to take what had once been a sprawling parade of stage-wandering clocking directions, and condensing it down into a small, more intimate, playing space. 

Condensing is the word of the day, actually, because in addition to making ‘Wretch’ fit on stage, it has to fit within a very tight 90-minute window, which has to include time to set up, get the audience in, do the show, break down and vacate for the next show to come in and get ready. Given that set-up and break-down should take about 15 minutes, that give just 75 minutes for the actual show, a daunt in task, given that since launching the new version of the play last August, ‘Wretch’ has been running 105 minutes. Getting it down to size means cutting 30 whole minutes of text, which amounts to 28% of the script has to be excised. That has meant making some pretty brutal editing decisions, cutting more than just fat. The current revision has the words “The Brutal Edit” at the top of the title page, and we’ve made plenty of jokes about how fitting it will be to perform the show at the Surgeon’s Hall, given how much metaphorical blood has been shed in cutting ‘Wretch’ down to Edinburgh-size. Some major scenes have been shortened or eliminated, speeches trimmed (remember Jesse P.’ off-the-wall ‘wow-and-a-half’ prayer? gone), some characters have been merged (I now have one brother instead of two), events that were once acted out in full are now referred to in a single line, and a few beloved characters have been sent to the big editing room in the sky. One especially hard decision was made just yesterday, when Sheri and I made the difficult decision to cut one of the show’s most memorable scenes, when I accidentally almost drown a kid named Eddie during a spontaneous baptism at the beach. Though the scene showed David’s progression from newcomer to respected member of the Jesus Club, it’s detail-rich luxuriousness was actually slowing down the drive of the show at a time when it matters more to show how fast and furious David’s life is becoming. So it’s gone. For now, anyway. There will always be the non-Edinburgh version of the show, but for now, it’s important to keep our eyes on the prize, and that means making serious sacrifices now and then. 

That’s part of the price of art, I have been told. And it’s a reasonable price to pay. These characters are, after all, real people, who continue to live on in my memories, regardless of whether I conflate two into one, change their accents, shorten their story-lines, or eliminate them completely. And ‘Wretch Like Me,’ in the end, is a better, faster, tighter, more engaging story because of their “sacrifice.” After years of work as a journalist, I’ve gotten used to “brutal edits” of my writing. 

That’s just part of the job.

So R.I.P. Eddie. Thanks for the memories. :  )

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Catching Up to the Present

Pinkystage

Puppeteers at work—an archival photo from 1976

In 2009, after talking for years about wanting to write a one-man-show called ‘Wretch Like Me,’ I finally did it, I wrote the show—and my life hasn’t been quite the same since. If I could travel back in time—and it’s probably a good thing I can’t—one change I might make is to have begin blogging way back at the beginning, when I first took on the task of facing my childhood years and teenage days, back when I was a committed, overly earnest young Christian puppeteer (that’s me in the picture, behind my puppet stage; I’m the one on the right), and turning that time—and my eventual decision to walk away from the church—into a wild and wooly, dramatically comedic, one-actor performance piece. I’ve performed it something like 60 or 70 times, for thousands of people, and the feedback has been extraordinary.

All of that—the process of developing the show,  bringing it to the stage, performing it all over Northern California—will likely be covered in the future, as I attempt to catch the past of ‘Wretch Like Me’ to the present.

Since writing the show, I’ve written three other plays: an radio-theater adaptation of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space,’ an unauthorized adaptation of Saint-Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince’ (nope, no one can read it until certain rights issues are worked out; but it’s pretty good, I’ve been told), and my award-winning romantic comedy ‘Pinky,’ also based on events from my teenage days. Here’s a fun tidbit about ‘Pinky,’ by the way. See the picture up there at the top? See the long-haired girl to my left? That’s the real Pinky. Or the back of her head, anyway.

Anyway . . . eventually, as I moved on to those other projects, I always knew I’d return to ‘Wretch’ some day, in part because from the very beginning, my goal for the show was to take it across the Atlantic Ocean, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I am currently back in the rehearsal room, working with director Sheri Lee Miller, taking a newly revised script through the steps of getting it battle ready for Edinburgh, where it will be competing for audience eyes against something like 650 shows a day. And I’ve been acquiring all kinds of new skills as I launch a crowd funding campaign, build a new website (www.wretch-like-me.org), create promotional videos, and all kind of other things that have pushed my creative side to its growing edge.

So, I thought it might be time to start that blog.

In these pages, over the coming months, I plan to do more than just tell the behind the scenes stories of Team Wretch, as we go through the next five months of preparations, then travel to Edinburgh and do 14 shows over 16 days, and finally return home to whatever other adventures await for ‘Wretch Like Me.’ I plan to use this blog to tell other stories, to remark on current events that intersect with the subject matter of my show, to follow whatever conversational tangent my brain takes me on.

I hope you will become a follower, which you can do my clicking on the button FOLLOW. It’s somewhere on this page. I hope, too, that as I post new information about the show, new videos and photos, and new links to interesting sites, that you will take those little field trips with me, and check out some of the stuff I plan to share.

Thanks for joining me in the roller coaster car. I think we’re going to enjoy this ride.

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