Since this is the first post of our rehearsal blog for Leiris/Picasso I feel like talking about beginnings and fresh starts and potential and seedlings and infants and promise and the future. But Sunday's rehearsal was not the beginning, not of the play or of our journey with the play, the characters, the hijinx nor each other. Brimmer Street is infamous (among ourselves) for taking WAAAAYYYY too long to complete projects. We work from start to finish on almost everything we do, from an idea to a finished work, as a group and over months and months of meetings, drafts, preparation and self-inflicted agony and boredom.
But in the end, it usually rocks.
Leiris/Picasso is an example of that process. For those of you who are reading who may not be familiar, Leiris/Picasso is a farce based on a real event during the Nazi occupation of Paris. As the story goes, Picasso wrote a play and gathered the greatest minds and artists in France together in he home of Michel Leiris to read it aloud in defiance of the Nazis. We take that story and make it into a slamming-doors sex farce that makes fun of art and intellectuals while paying homage to our favorite pretentions of avant-garde theatre.
When Mariana Carbonell sent me a copy of 'Desire Caught by the Tail' with its accompanying introduction (and a few letters between Sartre and de Beauvoir, from which I drew the pet name 'Beaver', which I love) I knew right away that whatever this turned into would be in my 'wheel house'. When I brought Picasso's play to the group we thought it was ridiculous. How could any one have risked their lives to read this silly play? Then it me - make it a farce and parody the time and the seriousness of the whole affair and we might just hijack the credibility of war time France and suit it to our present purposes. This was almost two years ago.
Wednesday Night, at the Home of Michel Leiris, a Reading of the Play
'Desire Caught by the Tail' by the Painter Pablo Picasso.
Yes, that is the actual title.
Writing a play about characters like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Dora Maar, and Pablo Picasso (George Bataille very nearly made it into this play as well) was an Herculean task if only for the amount of reading required before I could feel any sense of totality about my knowledge of the subjects. I mostly skipped that part, of course; there was no way I was going to read Being and Nothingness and I certainly didn't want work too much of that stuff into a comedy. Joseph read far more than I did. He gave me the crib notes. I did read my share, including most of de Beauvoir's accounts of her pre and post war relationships with Sartre, Camus and their interminglers. I read tons of accounts of Picasso and Dora, Leiris and Bataille, Leiris and Picasso, Camus and Sartre, all the fun and storied relationships that make up this play. Just like in Witkacy, I bastardized these anecdotes and shoved them all into a single night for the sake of unity and changed whatever details didn't suit the action. C'est la jeu.
I didn't start writing a word of the play until September of last year. Brimmer Street, seeing that after Less than Three* we had no projects ready to go, opened our studio doors to local playwrights who had new ideas for plays but wanted to develop them with an ensemble of actors and bring them to the public. I entered Leiris/Picasso into consideration and the company graciously accepted. After a few weeks of improv and discussion, some brainstorming and plenty of late night red wine benders the ensemble and I worked out the basic gist of the play and started writing. I had it done in time for our first reading in November, which was a great success.
*blogger is not letting me use the 'less-than' symbol. wtf, blogger.
Immediately following the Blueprint Series, we got together and chose our upcoming season: this play and Miles Brandman's Summer in Hell (which I'm also directing, yippee!). We officially added Austin Sayre, Melissa Powell, Jason Sperling, Miles Brandman, Ian Garrett and Marie Lively to the company. And we started production on this beast.
The humble exterior of our magnificent space, Bootleg Theater.
Jenny and the rest of the production team jumped into action right away. We started interviewing designers, looking for venues, nailing down dates, the whole schpiel. It was incredibly difficult to find a 99-seat theater that could support a two-story stage, was available for the dates we needed, and was within in our price range. Eventually we found a home at the Bootleg Theater, and I couldn't be happier. The space is incredible and it will elevate the level of our production. We started to hire our fantastic design team, including Juliana de Abreu and Priscilla Watson. We also started casting, auditioning outside the company for the juicy role of Picasso himself. It took three weeks of auditioning to find the right guy, and again, I couldn't be happier.
And now, after reading the play aloud at least fifty times, and after months and months of development, planning, agonizing, and hope, we begin rehearsals. Sunday night was a fun little soiree. We have a tradition of bringing together the entire cast, production and design team in for wine and cheese and a 'kick-off' reading of the play and this time was no different. The designers got to hear the play aloud, and the actors got to read the play again, this time with a clear sense of who they were playing and how this project is going to unfold. We're already well on our way to opening night, and even though there are some big question marks left (like how the hell do we raise the money for this monstrosity?) it is absolutely clear to me how lucky I am to be a part of this team and to have this play in production. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be the best work I have ever done, and my hope is that it can bring our little company to another level. It will be entertaining and thought-provoking, hilarious and witty and all the things we hope for our plays.
Now we just have to do it.