Saturday, November 29, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 709: Michael Gorman



Michael Gorman

Hometown: Warren, Massachusetts.

Current town: Palermo, Maine and NYC

Q:  Tell me about "If Colorado had an Ocean … " 

A:  Colorado is the third and final play to be produced in my trilogy, "The Honor and Glory of Whaling", that deals with opiate addiction in the commercial fishing industry. It is actually the first play in the chronology. The previous two plays—The Honor and Glory of Whaling and UltraLight were produced at La MaMa. UltraLight had an extensive New England tour following its premier at La MaMa. In style, Colorado is kind of a cross between the first two plays. It combines imagery and music with physical storytelling to create both a realsitic and a mythical realm. In watching rehearsals, it seems to me that the play, and the direction that Director David Bennett has taken it in, has taken on an almost primitive Irish quality. Dave has chosen to have all the actors play instruments, in addition to having recorded music as well as two live accompanying musicians. Watching and listening to some of the scenes reminds me a great Irish session. There have been times when I've closed my eyes just to listen to the performance. That said, the play is very physical and gets quite raucous—the action is set on a commercial construction site in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a major and historical fishing port. The action of work—the actors actually employ construction tools—and the punk/progressive rock music era and attitude of the characters contrasts sharply with the mythical moods created by the music. The shifting energy allows us to flow back and forth between time periods easily. It just feels like a great story is starting to take shape. One that I think Melville couldn't help but enjoy.

Q:  What else are you working on now? 

A:   The biggest thing that I am working on now is getting all three of my plays—the full trilogy— to the next level to be performed in repertory. All three plays stand on their own but it would be quite an epic production to see them performed together. That's our goal at La MaMa and we've been working cooperatively with other theaters both regionally and in NYC to make that a reality. I feel a sense of destiny with these plays that's been pushing me for some time to see them complete their full journey as a trilogy. It will be both interesting and exciting to see where and when the full trilogy ends up and where I end up as a consequence. I fully intend to "get to the next level" with these plays, whatever that means.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person

A:  I recently had the opportunity to publish a bunch of my plays with Martin Denton of indietheaternow and through the process I found myself looking back and going through a lot of old archival stuff to glean information that I needed to include with publication of the plays: time and place of the premier production, actor credits, etc.. In the process, I came across a really early childhood essay that I wrote called "The Path". It was something that my mother had saved and tucked away for me—a habit of hers that used to slightly irritate me as I found my adolescent writing quite embarrassing. But in re-reading the essay, which was hand-written in red ink on white lined paper, I started to feel a sense of pride at the courage of this little kid who used to walk out alone into the woods (on the Path) with his pen and paper and try to capture, above all things, POETRY, and a connection to nature. And in re-reading that little essay I discovered that all the threads of my writing ever since were contained in it. At a little later point in my publishing excavation, I came across another essay entitled "Fishing" that I was actually able to incorporate into my new play, which was pretty exciting. The actors seem to be very impressed and quite touched by this bit of writing, even before they knew that I had actually written it as a kid.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be? 

A:   I would get rid of a lot of the show-business business, the noise of fame and over-emphasis on marketing. It interferes with the directness of theater and the encouragement of people to think for themselves and see with their own two eyes. Theater is such an amazing, deeply seeking process. There's nothing like it, and there is no end to the things you can discover through the dedication of working with a creative group. Outside distractions with results which can only come from a completion of the process itself can be very frustrating and ultimately ruin the joy. That is not to say that reviews and marketing aren't good and necessary. It just means that these things need to be kept in balance. The most important thing is the work and sometiimes it doesn't feel that way.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes? 

A:  My theatrical heroes WERE J.M. Synge, Samuel Beckett, all the absurdists, Sam Shepard, Ellen Stewart … My theatrtical heroes ARE the wonderful and courageous people who have undertaken this production with me, from the director and actors to the designers, stage manager, marketing and graphic designer … honest to God, that these people have the generosity, trust and faith to follow me down this PATH, amazes me and touches me very deeply. We have to accomplish something amazing. What are the other options?

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:   I like physical theater with a strong story but I don't really like straight or traditional theater. In fact, Ellen Stewart wouldn't allow it in her theater. I guess that's where my fascination with myth and the altered logic of the absurdists comes in. I like language and dialogue but I often use it to other purposes. I do like the presence of the physical story-teller, like the old Irish Shanachies who used to practice their gestures by watching their shadows on the white-washed wall of a sunlit cottage. I like to feel that the storyteller is in the same room as us and can reach out and grab us by the collar if we're not paying attention. I've actually adopted the mythical name Michael Seamus O'Gorman in my letter-writing correspondences and alter ego text messaging. Seamus is both a good and bad influence on me. He's fond of a pint or three and a bit loose lipped with the women but a willing scapegoat for my failings.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out? 

A:  Get your hands on a old GMC pick-up truck with a rack and an eleven foot long wooden whaling boat. That appears to be what a playwright needs from my experience with this play. In lieu of that, write a play, if that's what you're inspired to do, and put it on. Don't wait for someone else to do it if you feel strongly about it. You learn everything by doing, and the sooner the better. David Mamet once said that the one thing he remembered from his first play is that he knew that he had written a play. He didn't know how good it was, but it was indeed a play. No small accomplishment. If you can build a boat that floats, you're on your way. As you master certain things you can craft a beauty that really starts to "sit on her lines".

Q:  Plugs, please 

A:  I would like to give a big shout out to La MaMa, Martin Denton and Indietheaternow and the thriving culture of original independent theater.

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