Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Tale of Augie & Marlena

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Sean Williams.

Augie and Marlena had known each other since they were kids. Augie was best friends with Marlena's older brother, and even though they were four years apart, they had gone to neighboring high schools. Augie was a barrel chested guy, took up all the seat on the subway and never seemed to really button his corduroy suit coat. Marlena was cute, but short, tiny really. It seemed as if people were often looking right over her.

Augie moved to New York to be a theater director, and Marlena moved there too, although she wasn't exactly sure what she wanted to do. She just knew she wanted to be there, wanted to be a part of something, wanted to live in the city. She and Augie hung out a lot with a bigger group of friends, some old friends, mostly new theater people, and she saw some of the shows he had directed. After she'd seen a particularly strange piece, one that Augie loved and the critics didn't, Marlena found herself desperately wanting to write.

A few months later, she brought the script to Augie. It was a stage play… sort of. And it was a mess, he could tell, and not long enough to be a full play. But she was his best friend's kid sister, so he said he'd read it. That night he sat on his futon and opened the play with the TV on in the background. Ten minutes later, he turned off the TV. An hour after that, he pulled out his notebook.

He didn't sleep that night.

He called Marlena the next morning. She got off work at 6, they could get a drink, she said. He didn't sleep that day either, and when he saw her at the bar, still in work clothes, he noticed that she wasn't as young as he thought. She was short, that was all, but she was older. She wasn't the same kid he'd known all those years ago.

He pulled out his notes and she drank a beer. There isn't enough here for a whole night, that's really the problem. But why does there have to be any more, she asks, and he tells her that people don't want to pay for a play that is this short, they want an actual play. She says maybe that's true… or maybe other people's plays are too long.

He laughs, because that's not how it works, and he doesn't know if he can explain it to her. And when he laughs, her smile cuts him off, because he suddenly realizes that maybe he's wrong. Maybe she's right… but it doesn't matter, there are some real problems with the script. There's a dog, and it's not a person playing a dog, it's an actual dog. A person can't do the things that a dog can do. And she says that maybe it's a puppet. Or maybe a person with prosthetic dog arms and legs. And he knows there's no such thing, except… then he realizes that maybe there is such a thing. They'd just have to make it.

But… in the play, the girl flies at the end. And he says, "we can't rig it so she flies," and she says, "maybe she can be carried. Or maybe a swing!" and he knows not to laugh, in half an hour he's learned not to laugh, but he also knows she can't be carried, there can't be a swing. He says so.

And she smiles and says, "then maybe she'll just have to actually fly."

And there's no actual sound, there's no physical sensation, but years later he'll remember a deep bass pop like a guitar being plugged in, and a bump in his stomach like hitting the turnstile on the subway…

Have you read this far? Do you want to know the rest of the story? Do you want to see the play they made?

Don't ask anyone outside of theater about marketing. None of you. Do you know what we sell? We sell two hours in an uncomfortable seat, at a time when you'd rather be eating dinner, during which you aren't allowed to speak, whisper, cough or move. That's what we're selling. So why do people buy it?

Because nobody else in America knows how to tell the story the way we do. There are two stories, one is in your play, and one *is* your play, and if you let us in on both stories, we won't be able to turn away. Use your blog, your twitter feed, your Facebook page, any chance you have to talk about your story.

Don't let any business person tell you about marketing, and that includes arts business people. We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dream.

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