A RECONSTRUCTION writing residency with Jessica Almasy
this past November I had the good fortune to stay up at a farm cottage in northwest New Jersey to write for ten days towards the TEAM’s current / upcoming project RECONSTRUCTION (still working but the devil might be inside). it was a vivid, visceral, and deeply intimate experience focusing in on response material to the TEAM’s 2009 play Architecting, which originally looked at Gone With the Wind, rebuilding after hurricane Katrina, and in large ways the ethics and politics of gentrification that occurs in America when corporate / capitalist aims, largely under the direction of white affluent citizens, dominate a landscape still writhing from the inequities and racial divisions stemming back to the civil war. now, in 2019, we call back to that origin work with a response recalibrated to incoroporate a parallel company of artists of color (our original production was largely populated by non black artists) to (post Charlottesville) handle Gone With the Wind as more than just a literary artifact but as a Confederate monument –– and to potentially surrender Architecting’s experimental storyline (but a narrative nonetheless) for a form that is more dance theatre piece with tech and poetry and rigorously scored original music and song.
during my time at the farm, I wrestled with what voice I could give or produce for the project writing solo as a 38-year-old female fourth generation Eastern European / European immigrant American who has come to be known on most if not all standardized forms as white, when the story in 2019 is undeniably so deeply identity-centric and the complications of writing for anyone else’s experience are undeniable, representation and authenticity being – in my opinion – one of the foremost political pursuits of art makers today. with an exacting and at times overwhelming sense of responsibility, I waded into very muddy spiritual waters attempting to write and create from both a hyperconscious and unconscious place of unknowing. the beginning process of generating art for and with the TEAM is always for me mystical and uncharted. but this experience was exquisitely separate from my prior 15 collaborative years in that it marked the first time I was sent to keep the flame of the project lit as an individual rather than in a typically heavily populated democracy-driven writers room of on average 13-plus wildly distinct humans with madly divergent aesthetics and processes. in some instances I was able to exchange materials electronically with collaborating artist Jerome Ellis who would riff on audio files and videos I haphazardly edited and he’d re-edit and send back. this was the first time I worked largely with voice memos as my medium. it felt like the text didn’t want to live solely on paper IE in one dimension. in my private work as a writer I’ve been deeply interested in the concept of seance, ghost invocations and rituals, having felt that the inundation of social media, frequent updates, podcasts, linear and subjective narration have run their course and in many ways exhausted their promise. the American musical as being retrofitted in the work Rachel Chavkin is collaborating with on Broadway to me is a cipher for the experimental world’s forms: how do we get to a new nontraditional sound and structure that speaks to the heightened state of our current American awareness without insisting that at any moment only one thing can occur? how do we access and amplify the danger and positive potentiality of the racially charged American psyche of an audience thro performance architecture in ways we have not seen before? so I feel like I was writing a ghost story, by lighting candles and sitting in the near dark alone in the woods and trusting whatever voice started to pour forward. sometimes that was a tormented note of Margaret Mitchell, dead but unburied, failing to atone for her sins or falling short of truly being able to reckon consciously with exactly what she had done, modernity of the now not being her forte. sometimes that work was a lament and a chest pounding, drawing from the images of a funeral march for New Orleans from our play in 2009.
when I emerged from my writing on day 7 or 8, beginning to see my journey home in 48 hours sight, it was only then that I realized I had actually gone some place. it was like I had burrowed into this somewhat deep and damp tunnel just below most of this country’s ground, where the dead live – the recent, the ancient, all the bodies that have been slain and continue to be slain for reasons of capital and control. I feel that on this ten day reclusion, I found that my contribution to the project may be to sing the voice of the dead, more so than the wrong or the right, but to chime in and resurrect some imagined call from them to us, the living. so for me, it’s not about what anybody’s tweeting out. it’s a call from the beyond that makes me want to write anything down in 2019.
while at the cottage I also spoke to everyone I could see – waitresses at the local small-house-like diner, the groundskeeper, an itinerant actor (visiting from out of state). these people told me about their lives and the lives of the dead who’d come before them, and I listened with the thirsting ears of a blind seeker feeling out their path, and their wisdom and humanity made it into the blood of everything I thought up. for me, to write IN a place is inevitably to write that place down. even the trees.