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.
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.