Silverton. Day Two. And three (so far).

Yesterday, Tuesday, I was chauffeured in Lou King’s big silver pick-up truck through a downpour three blocks to The Wingate House to transfer my bags (otherwise I would have walked, it’s just rain, maybe some thunder and a little lightning) and boxes of props and dressing for the film shoot. Which is being shot RIGHT NOW, AS I TYPE, in the room above me. In fact, it’s being shot in the room in which Rebecca Krebbs, the actor portraying Irene, is staying. 

I finally had the pleasure of meeting Sinjin Jones, director, Ben Mattson (Dennis), Rebecca Krebbs (Irene), and crew James Richard Padilla and Tressa Smith yesterday afternoon, if only briefly as the first session of the writing workshop was, also, yesterday. Also, in the living room at the Wingate House, which is also now torn apart, dressed for a scene that will be shot in two hours. It will then have to be put together for session two of the workshop, which begins at 5pm.

Are you dizzy yet?

I am. But I’m blaming it on a combination of Silverton’s extreme altitude and my total joy that this is all taking place.

With ten attendees, this is the largest writing workshop I’ve led on my own. Two straight hours of ME talking? I was anxious. However, that is not how it went down. All the participants, ages 12 through older than 12 (early seventies?) and everything in between, were so incredibly invested in our first exercise that we didn’t quite make it through half of what I’d lined up on the itinerary. With all the excitement and the creativity flowing, I just couldn’t put a stop to it, managed to stay on topic, all the same, and simply rearranged the homework assignment for the evening.

Bonus, since I have to redesign tonight’s itinerary, this writer only dressed the set and is not ON set. This is a good thing as the set that is Irene’s bedroom is tiny, hot and claustrophobic as it is. Plus, actors out there, is it nerve-wracking to have the writer on set during a tight shoot? My instinct was to make myself scarce.

Still, I can hear them above me, and it’s thrilling.

The morning culminated in a private tour, led by the artist herself, of Wingate House owner and host Judy Graham’s art studio. The painter side of me was green with envy over her beautiful workspace and inspired by her moving oil pieces, landscape after landscape, full of depth and wide strokes to leave room for the imagination.  Aware of the shoot going on not far from where she paints, she whispered to me the inspiration for her next series.

These are moments I won’t soon forget.

I hear applause upstairs. Guess that scene’s a wrap!

My endless gratitude to Judy, by the way, for opening her home and business to us this week, a notoriously busy week for tourism in Silverton. And to Silverton officer Steve Lawrence for bringing us some much needed props, and for sticking around during the shoot to supervise our use of the (unloaded!) gun we had on loan. I am really feeling Silverton.

Silverton. Day One.

Arrival in Silverton yesterday! Many thanks to Lou King, who picked me up, frazzled, disoriented and filthy as I was (having spent the previous hours sleeping on a plane AND on the floor of the DFW B terminal, gate 49, and trying, without success to sleep on a second plane, the short connecting leg from Dallas to Durango). Lou found me at baggage claim and swept me up the winding road to Silverton, sometime during which the extreme altitude made me dizzy enough that I hardly noticed the thousand-foot drop inches from the edge of the road. I spent more energy marveling at the beauty. It is so nice to be back.

The day was spent planning for the shoot as much as was possible without everyone else yet being here. A few more participants signed up for the workshop which was nice and Lou’s and my idea of driving to look at stars from Molas Pass was thwarted less by a light cloud cover and more by my not being able to keep my eyes open over dinner. It was lovely to meet Steve Fearn, the brother of A Theatre Group founder Marianne Fearn, who, unfortunately, passed away 8 years ago. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to refer to Marianne as mentor to the greatest theatre teacher I have personally known, Mollie Mook-Fiddler. Marianne’s presence has been felt over the past day.

And Mollie, just eight hours away in Denver, is in my thoughts and actions during every step of this project. Her powers of coordination are ever-present, even without her presence!

Still I will readily admit to missing her terribly as the only time I’ve spent in Silverton has been with her. I should be hanging out with her, catching up over a long-awaited glass of wine, here, at Rudy’s, where we sat just four years ago in 2012, the first time she asked me to work with A Theatre Group. 

I am very excited (and I gather, so are the others) to make this project something special and so happy to be working with the great group of artists Mollie has assembled. Looking forward to finally meeting Sinjin Jones, our director, for the first time in just one hour, then a brief hello to our cast, Ben Mattson and Rebecca Krebbs, before I head to Day One of the workshop!

And now, our IRENE.

Last March, when Mollie Mook-Fiddler and I sat  in a hotel room in Seattle, hatching this project over a bottle of wine, one of the first things of which she was certain was the actor who should play Irene.  Mollie had recently directed  a production of The Diary of Anne Frank and was blown away by this actor’s performance as Mrs. Van Daan. 

Here is a little character sketch I wrote for Irene last year during our fundraiser for BLUE BUNNY, the short script that inspired IRENE. Mollie was certain that this actor would be more than able to walk the fine line between vulnerability and stubborn strength required for Irene. 

I’m thrilled that Mollie’s choice, actor Rebecca Krebbs, in The Diary of Anne Frank production shot above, top left corner, has agreed to contribute her talents to our title character. We shoot one week from today in Silverton, CO.

Rebecca Krebbs’ bio, here:

Rebecca Krebbs makes her living as a theatre technician at San Juan College in Farmington, NM, where she also teaches a number of theatre classes including Acting I and Introduction to Lighting. Rebecca is a veteran stage actor. Her most recent appearance as Mrs. Van Daan in “The Diary of Anne Frank, under the direction of Mollie Mook-Fiddler was one of the most meaningful performances of her career.

Actor/Director/Teacher Ben Mattson: Bringing Dennis to Life

Introducing one of our two actors, Ben Mattson. As you’ll see below in his bio, he has embodied some seriously classic and challenging roles on the stage. I’m proud that he is adding Dennis to his list. Here is a character sketch I wrote for Dennis during our fundraising campaign last year, when BLUE BUNNY had yet to shift its gears and become IRENE. Very excited to see what Mr. Mattson brings to the table.

Take a look, here he is now:

Ben Mattson is a theatre artist who performs and directs in the four-corners area. Some of his credits include Tom Collins in Rent, Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd, and Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror and he co-directed The Fantastiks at San Juan College with Mollie Mook-Fiddler.

Most recently Ben has become the theatre Director for Durango High School, where he gets to pass his love of theatre on to a new generation of immensely talented artists.

Directing IRENE: Sinjin Jones, on the Scene

And now, announcing the director of our project!

I am very much looking forward to meeting him, as he was hand-picked, with praises sung, by Mollie Mook-Fiddler herself. Sinjin Jones will be bringing the short script IRENE, truly a lost scene from BLUE BUNNY, to life, shooting June 29th in beautiful Silverton, Colorado.

In fact, here is a shot of Sinjin in beautiful Silverton, as well as his bio:

Sinjin Jones is a writer, director, and performer for film, theatre, and multimedia production. He is Co-Founder and Head of Operations for Perplexity Pictures, a Denver-based production company that specializes in story-driven narrative and music video work, and Artistic Director for Otherworld Collective, a new nonprofit multimedia collective dedicated to immersive, multimedia theatrical experiences in Denver. To date he has directed several short films and countless music videos. Recently, he has been developing and performing in a series of theatrical productions centered around veterans’ issues entitled Operation Parachute. His first feature film, SUN, MOON, STARS, RAIN, had its premiere for cast and crew in March of 2016 and is headed into the film festival circuit this fall.

Mollie Mook-Fiddler, artist and catalyst and friend

As mentioned in my previous blog, the brilliant Mollie Mook-Fiddler is the catalyst for my good fortune in being a part of A Theatre Group. She is a longtime friend of mine, and I have had the absolute pleasure of watching her grow in the theatre arts from a student with a natural gift and a hunger for the stage to a performer, director, teacher and mentor who has made, and continues to make, an indelible mark on the lives of others.

As part of my series on this upcoming week in Silverton, CO, I would like to present the bios of the main players. Naturally, I begin with Mollie because she is the one who brought us all together. And here is her bio. While impressive in its scope, it does not touch the magic that she is. You’ll have to meet her, be in a room with her, experience her work firsthand for that. And there she is, on the left, a shot taken just last March when she flew to Seattle and took me to see a new play at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Mollie Mook-Fiddler is a director, actor and producer. She currently serves as the chair of theatre at San Juan College in Northern New Mexico, while concurrently serving as the Artistic Director of Silverton’s A Theatre Group, an organization dedicated to the development of new work by American playwrights.  

Mollie received her BA in theatre from The University of Colorado, and her MFA in Acting from the University of Iowa, a program that inspired her love of new-play development.  She has directed and performed in regional theaters in the U.S. and Russia.  Favorite projects include acting in The Nina Variations at the Alexandrinski Theatre in Saint Petersburg Russia and Anton Chekhov’s estate in Melikhovo.  Mollie has workshopped and developed numerous new works, including  adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario, adapted for the stage by Anthony Garcia.The play won The Denver Post’s Ovation Award for Best New Work.  She has served on the theatre faculty at San Juan College, Actor’s Academy for the Performing Arts, and The University of Colorado at Denver.  Awards include Meritorious Award in Directing from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and The Tarpley Award for Teaching Excellence. 

From BLUE BUNNY to IRENE

 

You might remember BLUE BUNNY? It’s been awhile. But it’s back in an exciting new evolution, thanks to all of BLUE BUNNY’s followers and contributors and to the vision of A Theatre Group, an organization located in Silverton, CO, dedicated to the support of new, professional and emerging artists and its efforts to expand participation and appreciation of the arts. I feel very lucky; the ball is in motion. Here’s more:

BLUE BUNNY was a little number I wrote and submitted to the inaugural Destiny City Film Festival Screenplay Competition in 2014. In one of those magic moments, I received an email that my script had won. I received $150 and was promised a staged reading at the festival as part of Story Alchemy, a storytelling event designed by festival co-founder Brook Ellen West. After the reading, it was suggested we set about…actually…filming the piece. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. We started planning. I’m just a writer, but I figured we probably needed some money to do that.

When originally putting together the crowd-funding campaign for BLUE BUNNY in early 2015, the campaign video director (and director of the aforementioned fantastic reading at DCFF) Rick Walters asked me what my inspiration was for the story. The answer I gave was genuine, though admittedly off the cuff, because this was a story written during a sleepless night, with characters that emerged and spoke and I planned none of it. It was only the second short film I’d written at that point, both of them far too expensive and complex, with their numerous sets and upwards of ten (ten!) characters, to reasonably be shot. I didn’t think of that at the time. I just wrote them. On top of that, BLUE BUNNY had a second challenge. At 17 pages, it was too long. Not TECHNICALLY too long to be considered a short, but as someone who had screened shorts for film festivals in the past, I knew, logically, in retrospect, it was an awkward length. Not only for a tired and over-worked screener to get through, but also for a discerning programmer to place. Again, I wasn’t thinking of any of that when I wrote it. At three in the morning, Shane was just there. And Donny. And Dennis. And my favorite, Irene.

I know that, among our children, we are not supposed to have favorites. But along with Irene’s simultaneous strength and vulnerability, I found her love for someone who had taken something very precious away from her with little remorse and with, in fact, an entitled sense of his own victimization, to be both painful and admirable.

BLUE BUNNY is about Shane and his journey in finding that remorse and empathy and, in domino effect, redemption. But–in the background, supporting him along this journey, quietly, tirelessly, Irene. Unconditional. Compromising her vision for her future to fix the wrongs of his past, living the whole time in a tiny ranch house dressed up and decorated with ‘modern’ furniture and art from faraway places. She decorated her surroundings like the life she had wanted all along, a time capsule and art gallery of her hopes. She’d stand on her porch in a worn silk kimono drinking coffee every morning. Dreaming of world travel, though she’d simply found the robe at the local thrift store. Smoking cigarettes that tasted like high school, before all of this started. That’s Irene. Despite (maybe because of?) her background, stand-in persona, I couldn’t get her out of my head.

During the campaign, with over 100 generous supporters, a handful of who even contributed more than once to keep the campaign going, it became clear that we were not going to be able to raise enough money to shoot the sprawling 17-page script. It occurred to me that I should write a contained version, something that could be shot for the money raised. Something that could encompass the emotion of the piece in a smaller package.

When I thought of the emotion of the piece, I thought of Irene.

Back to Rick’s question about ‘why’ I had written the piece. I felt a little disingenuous talking about ‘theme’ or ‘why,’ because for some reason it felt like it was cheating if the ‘why’ hadn’t come beforehand. But in this case, it didn’t, and it was in retrospect that I realized that, with BLUE BUNNY, I was exploring the extent to which you can remain yourself when you’ve lost something that means everything. Whether you can maintain strength, focus, purpose, and where to direct those virtues.

Irene.

So BLUE BUNNY gave birth to IRENE. A study of a woman deciding whether or not to give up her freedom one final time. Weighing her future against her past and against everything she’s believed in that has betrayed her.

It’s 6 pages long.

Much of the content is left to the audience, to see where they connect with this question. It’s designed that way, and it’s necessarily that way as short films are, at their best, beautifully demanding of the concise. They are SHORT films, after all.

I wasn’t sure how this new version would resonate, particularly among those who had read BLUE BUNNY, but was so honored that a group of artists with whom I’d worked in 2012, a group who supported BLUE BUNNY, no less, saw the value in this shorter piece, this, truly, lost scene from the BLUE BUNNY script. This intimate moment between Irene and Dennis, her son’s parole officer. And her lover.

It was suggested that using the money we’d raised (raised with the help of award-winning writer/director/producer Heather Pilder Olson), and the additional and more than generous support (both financially and emotionally) of the New Artist Series program at Silverton’s A Theatre Group, we take the production to Silverton, and shoot it there in tandem with an introduction to screenwriting program and create a week in film for the creative community of Silverton, CO, a town of just over 500 residents that sits at 9,318 feet above sea level.

9,318. Feet. Above. Sea level.

It was four years ago that A Theatre Group Artistic Director Mollie Mook Fiddler picked me up at the Durango airport to drive me to Silverton. I was fortunate to have been selected as Artist in Residence that year and was ready to set out on a week of developing a play with a group of community actors. I had taken the red eye, and I was buzzing with fatigue and excitement. I remember, as Mollie pulled out of the airport parking lot, pointing at a road clinging to the edge of a hill and saying “I hope that’s not the road to Silverton.” Mollie became very quiet and said, “No. It’s not.” Then she said, “But I’m so afraid for you right now.” After which we began to climb a road worthy in its epic scope of perhaps serving as the backdrop for an attack of white walkers in Game of Thrones.

I don’t remember a lot of the drive. I remember lots of curves. Narrow roadways, thousand foot drops and ZERO guard rails. According to Mollie I was both laughing and crying and repeating “Why did they put a road here? Why did they do this to us?”

Once there, though, I was blindsided by beauty. The week was an incredible process of discovery. I’d brought with me just one piece of inspiration, a treasured broken wishbone I’d won from my older brother decades earlier. Between the community and Mollie and me we managed to create a quietly magical, and rather troubling play, WISHBONE. I thought to myself, I can’t wait to come back here.

But that road!

I know what to expect this time, and I’d climb that mountain (maybe I should?!) for the opportunity to spend a week with Mollie and treasurer Louis King, both who have kept close contact with my work since we spent time together in 2012, a fact that is both humbling and which inspires me to keep writing and listening to characters and thinking about questions to explore.

The week I spent in Silverton in 2012 happened to be the week before Sturgis. As a result, epic gangs of motorcyclists would roar down the main street, the street in between the hotel where I wrote half the day and the theatre where we’d meet and continue to develop WISHBONE in the evenings. While motorcyclists populated the road by day, I saw more than one bear on that road by night. Stars like someone spilled flour in the sky. I look forward to my return, taking an hour to peruse the antique shops and eating elk sliders on the rooftop of Montanya, one of the nicest restaurants I’ve ever been to.

So here begins the journey of bringing a slice of BLUE BUNNY to life with IRENE. My goal is to bring the story to screen, to thank BLUE BUNNY’s many supporters, to praise the amazing work of the actors who originally embodied BLUE BUNNY on the stage of the Blue Mouse Theatre that summer, the excellent casting and direction of Rick Walters and the support and mentorship of Heather Pilder Olson, and to work once again with the dedicated creative people of Silverton, a place and people I have dreamed of many times since I was last there.

I have not yet met our new director, handpicked by Mollie, Sinjin Jones, but we are now officially FACEBOOK friends. Mollie has also already cast the play with two actors with whom she’s already worked with and whose praises she’s sung, along with Sinjin’s, and she sings praises with such exclusivity that I am very excited to see what they all bring to the project.

More on the progress later. This is just the beginning.