Creation and Re-Creation

I supposed the more you do something, the less holy it becomes. We look back on the vigor of youth not with jealousy or admiration, but with a sort of wry irony. That first time you go out on stage is much the same way that people describe the first time they do coccaine. You keep doing it, hoping it will live up to the first time, but there really is only one first time.

Back ten years ago now, in fact more than ten years ago, in April of 1996 I had the opportunity to basically produce, direct and play a role in “The Fantasticks” back at UNC. I played “El Gallo”, which, if you’re gonna also direct, is probably the right role to try and play since he’s the narrator and basically watches the play the entire time from within the playing space.

It was a magical experience for me, to finally get to be in charge of every single moment of a production. I picked the best script I could imagine, and somehow found this group of totally game awesome people to do the show with. In the end, probably none of the people involved would play the roles they played outside of the setting we did the show within, and I cast myself as El Gallo because I had to, almost no men auditioned.

I’ll never have that feeling again, and maybe I shouldn’t. After all, in the end, I was far less invested and had a much higher possibility for success.

Now, it’s much more complicated, for many reasons. First of all, we don’t just find great scripts, we create them. Actually, I don’t know that we’ve ever created a “great” script, but this last show is certainly as good as we could have hoped for. Only now, in order to maintain control over every aspect, we’ve run out of hours and hands. Even with three of us working as diligently as we can, there are big chunks of our theater company that we have to give over to hired hands.

And so, we are far more invested, because it’s our actual stories, our actual writing. But getting a single good review, or even a stack of good reviews, does nothing for us if the show doesn’t sell and move. It’s nice to be respected, and it’s nice to feel that people you don’t know understand what you’re trying to do, but that isn’t enough now. I remember watching David Yazbeck not win the Tony for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and I though “that guy is crestfallen, I’m sure…” but now, eight months later, DRS just announced it was closing on Broadway. I’m sure there are some who consider it to be not a success. 11 Tony Nominations, a win for Norbert Leo Butz, and a run of over 600 performances on Broadway, and theater folk are talking about it underperforming.

So, our lives are too short to produce other people’s material. If it succeeds, what do we get? The truth is, we’re better at creating content than we are at producing it, we seem to totally suck at certain aspects of it, so why would we re-create other people’s stuff? It just doesn’t make sense.

And so, our victories will continue to be mollified by expectations. We’ve gone from the Lab theater in North Carolina to producing four shows in the last 12 months that we are proud of in the heart of New York. Any one of the scripts we produced has money-making possibilities in regional theaters and college campuses and, I truly believe, in an off-Broadway run, or, in the case of Fleet Week, on Broadway. And it’s that sense of what is possible that creates so much disappointment, regardless of each piece having its own success.