Crafts of Page and Stage

I list “playwright” in my bio, but truth be told, that isn’t something I put a lot of focus into.

Back in the day, I was pretty much living and breathing theatre.  By “In the day”, I’m mostly talking about 1995-2001, when I lived in a house with three other guys who were also All About Theatre, and ever aspect of our home was devoted to that end.  The backporch was a set workshop.  The living room was a rehearsal space.*  During that time, I did more acting, directing and producing than writing– but I did do everyting.  (Not to mention stage management, sound design, and whatever else was needed to put a show on its feet.)

Now, while I approached theatre with a certain degree of breadth, I was largely unfocused, and with that, undisciplined.  I didn’t have the raw skill to be an excellent actor, or the focus to maintain training and discipline. Most acting exercises bored me out of my skull.

I often had ideas about what I wanted to do– a sense of vision– but I lacked the skill, means or resources to make things happen quite the way I wanted.  I directed an all-female production of Macbeth that came close to the vision I had, and where it failed I put entirely on my own shoulders– my own failure to communicate my vision effectively, my own inability to bring all the performers to the same place.

So, a few months ago, I had the privilege to see Sleep No More in New York. You are probably already familiar with this performance, but if you aren’t, here’s the basics: the performance is housed in a five-story building, made up like a grand old hotel (though one floor is also a sanitarium and a forest– it’s very strange), in which the audience can walk around freely (while masked), and a wordless, movement-based performance (loosely adapted from Macbeth) is enacted around the whole location.  You can wonder around, follow characters, poke through journals.  It’s raw and visceral and interactive and every element is united in making a profound theatrical experience.

It was, quite frankly, like the universe had plucked everything I would have wanted to do theatrically and made it flesh— something I never had the the means, resources, talent or understanding of my own vision to make it happen.

But I remembered, also, why I stopped doing theatre– so I could focus entirely on writing.   Writing novels requires skill and discipline, which I developed over time, but I didn’t need to rent a space, hire designers, communicate to actors, etc., etc. to make them happen.

And now I’m a novelist.  But being the novelist I want to be literally takes all my focus and energy.  Not too long ago, I briefly flirted with the idea of doing some theatre in some capacity again.  I even thought to myself, “Hey, I’m actually the right age now to play _____”.  But I’m not going to do that.

And I’m certainly not lacking in things to work on, writing-wise.  The upcoming year is going to continue to be very bust for me, in the best possible way, and I’m really looking forward to it.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t, every once in a while, miss the theatre.

I’ll be updating my “appearances” page shortly, as well as adding some new news once I can.  But, for starters, On February 2nd– the release date for The Alchemy of Chaos— I’ll be appearing at BookPeople in Austin.  Hope to see many of you there.

Collage 2

*- There were even, on occasion, rehearsals in our home for shows that no one who lived in the house were directly involved in.

One comment

  1. Wow, Marshall,
    One more similarity. i could have written a similar blog about five years ago when I essentially quit doing theatre. I was unfocused, but passionate about theatre for 30 years. I almost did it all, the only thing I didn’t dip my hands in was lighting design. Every other theatre job I did at least once.

    My high point was producing three Shakespeare Plays in a row that I was excessively proud of: Comedy of Errors (set in the 80s), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (with the actors visible as actors backstage), and The Tempest (set in an abandoned carnival island in the Caribbean during prohibition). The Tempest was the last and had my biggest vision. But, alas I didn’t have the budget to pull it off. If I was given a budget, I might remount that one. But the results never quite measured up to the vision. As you said, what’s nice about the novel is you get to create it and not worry about actors not showing up. Though characters do sometimes get testy! 😉

    In noveling, I too have found my focus; though I think it works for me because there are so many different aspects that I can focus on many things..
    Hhhmmm… thanks for inspiring this long response. Maybe I should do a blog post about it!

    Write on,

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