Gooseberries. Nine Inch Nails. Jeremy introduced Jenny to both. They picked gooseberries in Jeremy’s backyard when they were just kids, a couple of fourth graders playing around. Jeremy played Jenny Nine Inch Nails in eighth grade as they were wading into the treacherous waters of adolescence. These moments of Jeremy sharing his tastes with Jenny are among my favorites in Cinnamon and Cigarettes. Audiences tend to laugh at each. We all remember the pressure to like something unfamiliar when our best childhood friend shared it with us for the first time. And we can all relate to the way matters of taste felt so central to our identity as teenagers. During the show Jenny plays piano and sings snippets of songs she and Jeremy loved. The way Cinnamon and Cigarettes integrates music feels very familiar and true to life: from the way music bonds friends to the way we reach for music to alternately amplify or sooth our pain.
Jenny and I are good friends as well as collaborators. Nine Inch Nails, though, is a point of disagreement. Closer is a great song and all, but I just have no interest in the rest of Reznor’s oeuvre. When I want to indulge my pain I turn to country music, say Kasey Chambers, when I want to spit on society it’s The Coup. Back in high school, Tori Amos would have occupied the first category and Hole the second and if you disliked either artist, I probably mistrusted you and harbored the suspicion that you were against all things good, or at least women.
All of this pondering of musical taste during Cinnamon and Cigarettes has made me realize that perhaps one of the best, or at least most under-appreciated parts of adulthood is the way that we retain the ability to be passionate about our tastes but lose that gut sense that differences of opinion are an attack. Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to Nine Inch Nails, you can relate to the joy and pain Jeremy and Jenny feel in Cinnamon and Cigarettes and how the music woven throughout the show spoke to them. Also, Jenny is a beautiful piano player and vocalist.
The Portland run of Cinnamon and Cigarettes ends September 7th. Hope to see you at The Backdoor Theater, or you can catch us at the Exit Theater in San Francisco, Sept 11th, 14th, 15th, 20th and 21st.
Jenny and Jeremy, age 6
Cinnamon and Cigarettes ("the remount") opens in five days. I'm terrified and excited to be sharing this story again. As I have worked/played with my dear co-collaborators Cassie and Asae to discover what the story has become seven months after I first performed it, I'm realizing that the story is me. It's funny: although I do play "myself" for parts of the play, I spend much more time as other characters -- and the story I'm telling is not specifically mine, it's Jeremy's. But the more I tell it; the more I explore what the characters are saying and how their voices define them and shape the story, the more acutely I feel the reasons I needed to tell this story in the first place. It's the story of my first love; it's the story of my deepest loss; it's the story of my rawest joy -- and it's a story I can't keep silent. I hope you'll let me share this story with you.
We just completed the second week of rehearsals for Cinnamon and Cigarettes. Jenny premiered the show at The Fertile Ground Festival this past January and Cassie Greer directed. Helping Jenny revive the piece for a second run in Portland and a run at the San Francisco Fringe Festival is an incredible gift. Cinnamon and Cigarettes is an intensely personal story – it is based on real life events and quotes actual people – and Jenny has fitted those events and quotes to the theatrical form with integrity and artistry. For inspiration, I read Jenny a quote from one of my favorite memoirs at the start of our last rehearsal.
A little background, when Mary Karr was writing her first memoir, The Liar’s Club, about times in her childhood when her family fell apart, author Tobias Wolf wrote her these words of encouragement:
“Don’t approach your history as something to be shaken for cautionary fruit. Tell your stories, and your story will be revealed. Don’t be afraid of appearing angry, small-minded, obtuse, mean, immoral, amoral, calculating, or anything else. Take no care for your dignity. Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth.”
Karr offers them to us in her third memoir, Lit, about her alcoholism, her recovery, and her emergence as a poet and memoirist. It strikes me that all of Wolf’s advice, save the first sentence, can be boiled down to a common piece of advice given to actors: don’t worry over the audience liking your character. It’s simple and therefore difficult. And of course the maddening paradox is that once actors give up wanting the audience to like them and get on with it, with the story-telling, with the being who they are and where they are, we love them for it.
While it's a truism that no show is complete without an audience, that is even more the case in solo shows.
Solo shows are all about that actor-audience dynamic and some of our best rehearsals have been spent exploring who the relationship the narrator of Cinnamon and Cigarettes imagines having with the audience in each moment. Who are they to her? What does she want from them? What are the consequences of getting or not getting it?
“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.
Time is flying these days, and that feels directly related both to the palpable level of inspiration our plans are providing, and to the amount of passion-work that looms before us. For us, sitting down to do our work means many things. We began rehearsals for our upcoming production of Cinnamon and Cigarettes last week. It felt so good to be back in our theatre space, which still smells of sage from Fool for Love, and feels like home. The first rehearsal was deeply intimate, revealing how the piece has changed since January, and uncovering human connection in unexpected ways.
And, we spent this past weekend in Ashland, taking in some truly excellent theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We saw five plays in three days: King Lear, The Tenth Muse, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Unfortunates, and The Liquid Plain. It is a privilege to witness top-notch artists making exceptional theatre, as part of our research and development. It doesn’t feel like work, but it is part of our work. We are following in the footsteps of founding theatre artists before us. We are staying inspired with the work being done and the possibilities ahead. We are dreaming and formulating and getting specific. We are sitting down and doing our work.
Our fourth play this season is What Every Girl Should Know by Monica Byrne. Salt and Sage’s production will also be the fourth production of this show (ever) about the lives of four underprivileged girls who adopt Margaret Sanger as their patron saint. The time is ripe for re-examining the world prior to the widespread availability of contraception given the numerous battles across the country over reproductive rights. What Every Girl Should Know does just that. The play is set in 1914, the year Margaret Sanger, indicted for violating obscenity laws in relation to her advocacy for birth control, fled to Canada. The play is no docudrama. It is a play full of play.
The girls are dreamers and within the confines of their friendship they create an imaginative space where they can travel the world, have adventures, and assassinate their enemies. The world is big and they are brave. They have to be. There are dangers, not just out there, but in their pasts, and even the reformatory that has become their home. What Every Girl Should Know is in Monica’s words about “the world that is possible when young women have sovereignty over their bodies, and the reality they face when they don’t.” Amen.
I read What Every Girl Should Know for the first time, last summer, when the play had just closed at Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and Monica was in the middle of submitting the play to literary managers at theaters far and wide in search of the show’s second production. (Read about that process on Monica's blog.) And in just over a year, the play has found three more homes – New York City, Berkely, and Portland.
Under different circumstances, I might experience a bit of producer panic at all the company. The production here in Portland won’t be the second run of What Every Girl Should Know, that honor belongs to the New York production. It won’t be the west coast premier, Impact Theatre in Berkley beat us to it. (And yes, the fact that I even have those fears speaks to how crazy the state of new play production is in this country.) In this case, however, the company feels GREAT! The other productions are an affirmation that other artists see what is going on in the world and share my anger and fear that our country is becoming a more difficult and hostile place for women. What Every Girl Should Know is such a beautiful response to this moment that I want it done everywhere.
It seems that Monica and director, Jaki Bradley, feel the same way. They are both hard at work on the New York City Fringe Festival production of the play. Both have donated their time and are absorbing the cost of renting in NYC. They are raising funds for the show on Indiegogo and have stipulated that excess funds will be used to increase stipends for their cast and crew and FUND FUTURE PRODUCTIONS. Including ours.
The campaign has ten days to go and is about seventy-five percent of the way to its goal with almost a hundred backers. Get on this bus, you know you want to…