Friday, November 28, 2014

For the Joy of It

Contributed by Daryl Lathon

When Shay asked me to write for this blog I was taken aback. I'm an actor. I don't write.  That's not true. I do write. I've written plays, screenplays, poems, theses, etc. I wrote some of them out of joy most out of necessity. Nowadays I write only out of necessity. I don't get any joy out of it.  

However, it helps that I know so many people who do find joy writing plays screenplays, poems, etc. Clay McLeod Chapman of Pumpkin Pie Show fame, et al. is one of those people.

For those not in the know the pumpkin show is a "rigorous storytelling session.... No sets. No costumes. No nothing beyond the text" and the actor telling you their story. 

It's so much about the words. They are thick with imagery. Like any good oral storyteller, Clay uses words to paint a vivid picture in your mind. You can easily get lost in those pictures to the point you're not in the theater anymore but rather in your mind's eye visualizing the scene, moment, etc, the storyteller describes. Such visual storytelling seemed ripe for filmmaking. After my first Pumpkin Pie Show I told Clay as much. I knew I couldn't do it though. At the time, I was only an actor. I didn't make movies. I'd certainly fuck it up. But after every subsequent Pumpkin Pie Show I saw, that feeling stayed with me.

Some years after my first Pumpkin Pie Show, out of necessity, I took up filmmaking. I was frustrated with my acting career. I wanted to do more film work but was having trouble booking work I found interesting. I was friends with some like minded actors. We thought it was time to take the bull by the horns and create more acting opportunities for ourselves.  We had no experience making movies but we did have a desire to learn. So, we committed to make a movie a month for a year. 

That year I produced 11 short films, wrote 4, and directed 2 and performed any and all other roles one could be called upon in making a film. Since then I've made a number of shorts, sketches, spoofs, industrials, etc. But I don't do it out of necessity to help my acting career.  The work I do behind the camera is artistically fulfilling in and of itself. Now, I do it simply out of joy.

A couple of years ago I'd just wrapped a web series I wrote and directed and was looking for a challenge. I was desperately in search of material that I didn't write. Simply put, I was looking for something good. I called Clay hoping I'd be lucky enough to be entrusted with one of his babies. To my surprise he sent me some Pumpkin Pie Show pieces to choose from. I chose President of the Fan Club. Clay told me I could do that piece with one caveat.  I had to use Hanna Cheek in the lead role.

Daryl Lathon receives the NYSFSO Audience Award

It was a joy to make President of the Fan Club. Again, I'm not a writer but In adapting the script I could lean on the insight of Clay and Hanna who were exceedingly familiar with the material. I had the benefit of working with an actress who’s performed the piece for at least 8 yrs. Her supporting cast was equally as talented. The hardest part of making President of the Fan Club was the physical act of shooting and editing. Shooting because I was my own crew, and editing because I had to say no to so many wonderful moments Hanna and her co-stars created.

I feared making President of the Fan Club. Not only did I hold the material in high reverence but Clay is an established writer. Hanna Cheek is a supremely gifted actress who should already be a star. I was an actor who took up filmmaking. Again, I didn't want to fuck it up. 

I don't know if other artists should seek to diversify their artistic endeavors. I don't know if the pros out weigh the cons. I do so because I find joy in it. Ultimately that's good enough for me.


Daryl Lathon is an accomplished actor having performed with numerous theatre companies including The Shakespeare Theatre in D.C.,  Gideon Productions, Pearl Theatre Company and Red Bull Theatre.  After receiving his MFA from VCU Daryl moved to NY and expanded into film production working as a writer, director and editor. Daryl has developed into an accomplished filmmaker receiving accolades for his work on a number of short films including Anniversary Dinner, Sunshine, the web series Clean Kill, and his most recent work President of the Fan Club.

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