Tomorrow night, two different things are going to be done to one of my plays that have never been done before, and I’m really excited about both of them.
Thing one is this: my play is going to be bootlegged. No, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be secretly recorded on a cassette tape (remember those?) and traded among theatergoers in seedy black markets. What it means is that the Taffety Punk Theatre Company – of which I was recently named Resident Playwright – is going to mount a full, one-night-only production… with only one day of rehearsal.
Yes, you read that correctly: one day. And yes, that includes tech. It includes everything except the play’s four actors getting off book, which they’ve valiantly done on their own. The cast will arrive at the theater at 10 am, block the entire play, do a queue-to-queue, take a lunch break, do a complete run-through, take a dinner break (and hopefully a nap), then put the whole thing in front of an audience at 8 pm EST. That’s what I mean by “bootlegged.”
This act of derring-do isn’t new for the company. They do this once a year, in fact… until now, always with Shakespeare. Last year it was TWO NOBLE KINSMEN… which required a whopping 36 actors. The event, which is typically held at the Folger Theatre in DC, is immensely popular; last year, a line of would-be ticket buyers who had to be turned away stretched all the way around the block.
This year, thanks to the second thing that’s happening to my play, those unfortunate patrons have another option: they can watch the production online via Arena Stage’s #NewPlayTV channel. Yes, not only is the company performing without the new of a proper rehearsal process, they’re doing so in front of a potentially huge internet audience. Quite brave, if you ask me.
So… why am I taking up space here on 2amTheatre.com to promote this event? Because this bootlegged and live-streamed event is actually the first in what’s going to be a series of 2AMT readings featuring new plays and new companies from around the world, all of them streamed live online. Our hope is that the series will help showcase new work, connecting playwrights and theaters in a new way.
Each new reading is going to be introduced, furthermore, with a brief “Playwright’s Notes” introduction here on 2amTheatre.com, which will also host an archive of prior live-streamed readings. (In other words, if you can’t tune in tomorrow night at 8 pm EST, you’ll be able to watch any time thereafter.) Which brings me to the very thing I’ve yet to talk about: the play itself.
I first started thinking about the play that became REALS with the release and subsequent popularity of The Dark Knight. I thought to myself: half a billion dollars worth of tickets for another Batman movie? I love the caped crusader as much as anyone — probably a good deal more — but I was nonetheless astonished by how powerfully America craved him.
I began to believe that there must be something in the superhero trope that our culture needs. What are people looking for? What are we missing? It had to be something. Why, I wondered, shouldn’t I try to tell a superhero story on stage? I couldn’t think of a reason.
I’d read an article about a costumed crusader in DC named Captain Prospect, a man who dressed up in a costume and walked around cleaning up parks and doing good deeds, so I started to do a bit more research. I was quickly immersed in the world of real-life superheroes, and I knew I had my subject. Of late there’s been a tremendous surge of coverage, too – notably about a Seattle-based real-life superhero named Phoenix Jones who stopped a car theft. The story won’t go away.
What has continued to compel me about the subject is the psychology of the transformation involved in becoming a real-life superhero. What makes an ordinary person decide to devote such care to creating an alter ego and inhabiting it so fully? Is it escapism? Fantasy? Is it the ego boost of being a hero and upholding the law, or the secret transgression of taking the law into your own hands? How much of the whole thing is theater, and how much is meant to be taken literally? Does the costume create strength or hide weakness? And finally, when you take off the costume, what’s really there?
REALS isn’t anything like some of the recent pop-culture stories that have been told about similar subjects: the film Kick-Ass, for example, is far more cartoonish; the television series Heroes and No Ordinary Family feature actual super-heroes, which (sorry to have to be the bearer) don’t exist. My story is darker and more introspective… though also, I hope, very funny. If you want to read a synopsis, you can do that here. You can also tune in and watch for yourself!