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.

 

 

 

 

The Yellow Hat has Been Unpacked

I have a yellow crocheted hat. It usually makes its first yearly appearance in mid-to-late September. It is THE only thing that makes the end of summer somewhat bearable.

With the arrival of fall, I revisit some favorite beach scenes. I might have to find another one to paint so I can lose myself in summer as winter threatens arrival.

 

Mike one-ups Wes Craven – Trust Me, He’d Say the Same Thing

Horror director Wes Craven died today, Sunday, 8/30/2015. This is news I would have shared with my friend Mike. The text convo (because, I think, in text, it’s a ‘convo,’ not a ‘conversation’) would have gone something like this:

ME:  WTF!? The Freddy Krueger guy died!? I can’t deal.

MIKE: Condolences. But I never really liked horror films. LOL.

ME: It’s FREDDY KRUEGER!

MIKE: My job is scary enough.

ME: Good point. Let’s watch Caddyshack tonight. OH WAIT. We live 1200 miles apart.

MIKE: Next time we get together. Send me some stuff to watch tonight at work. And no spoilers about MasterChef.

And then I would have sent some recommendations of stuff for him to laugh at during his night shift as a jailor.

The only trouble is, Mike passed away yesterday, one day earlier than Wes Craven. So I can’t text him about it. I mean I could, but I don’t know if my plan covers the next world. What I do know is that there are going to be many moments ahead during which I am moved to tell him about something I watched that he would like, or tell him about something I ate that he would like, or tell him about something that was going on in my life that I just need to talk about. He was there for all of that. And he shared his life with me in that way too. Mike and I were friends.

Mike and I graduated from high school together. I (first) remember him from Senor Johnson’s Spanish class in seventh grade. In fact, oddly, Mike holds a strange distinction in my life as one of four people I remember seeing for the first time, in fact, I remember what he was wearing! A grey sweatsuit! Senor Johnson had called him to the blackboard to answer some sort of question and I remember him begrudgingly doing so. When Mike and I connected many years later (he sparked by his interest in my movie recommendations and I sparked by my interest in the green chile recipe he posted on Facebook one Christmas three or so years ago), I told him that I remembered that. Guess what I got for my birthday? A grey sweatsuit.

Mike was thoughtful like that, and loved connection with others above all material goods. He also loved chicken wings. And beer. And baseball. And his dog Max. I painted a portrait of Max for him that he framed and hung in his apartment.

He remembered a print I liked when we went to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, OR,—it read “Write drunk, edit sober – Ernest Hemingway.” He had it sent to me. He treasured a late evening we spent gossiping in his Cousin Paula’s basement one night, drinking cheap wine I’d packed in my bag (for the train journey) and a bag of Skittles my son had tucked in there as well, and sent me the same wine along with a 2lb bag of Skittles to enjoy during the Superbowl (Marshawn Lynch! Beast mode!).

In January, Mike, tragically, had a good friend who was killed in a traffic accident helping a woman with her stalled car. I made this rough video for him because he loved when I sang (even put up with me karaoke-ing!) and I sang this song at my stepfather’s memorial years earlier. He told me he loved the video and that he knew the moment at which, during the song, I had trouble not crying. He said he thought I was looking right at him at the end of the video.

It’s odd to me that, now, this song applies to Mike.

This all happened far too fast. I received a message from his sister a week ago today that he only had a few days to live. The most recent text message I’d received from him indicated that I shouldn’t worry but that he’d had his lungs drained after “puking blood.” That message came two days earlier.

And then silence.

My last text to him (before I received the message from his sister) was “Miiiiiiiiiiike?!  Bueller? Bueller?”

On Friday morning, thanks to the surprise kindness of a mutual friend from school, I flew to Denver to see him in hospice. I don’t know if it was denial or dumb hope but I didn’t really think that I was flying in to say goodbye. I sat with him as he slept or at least as he lay there on the bed not talking, eyes closed. But as I talked to him and held his hand, though he felt very far away, there were slight attempts at squeezing my hand back. Attempts at moans. Still, it was difficult for me to find him, difficult to connect the Mike I knew to the vulnerable, naked, body, still breathing, moaning, trying to communicate, unable to, responding to the many visitors, basketball and football players I hadn’t seen since high school (MY GOD, their eyes all looked the same as they did 23 years ago), Mike moaned each time someone spoke to him. I wondered where he really was in the room. I felt like he was somewhere above me.

The only time he opened his eyes was when I told him that his hair was ‘getting too long.’ Mike would regularly send me selfies of when he would shave his head, accompanied by “I shaved my head tonight, as I do.”

And yesterday, Saturday, I arrived at the hospice 30 minutes too late. It was instantly clear he had left us. His family stood outside his room. I walked toward them, asked his sister “is he gone?” and was met with a hug and tears. Hugging his father was like hugging him, Mike, their bodies were like carbon copies, and their emotions were equally strong and clear. His mother was also strong, tears in her eyes. I was amazed by her fortitude and her generosity in comforting ME.

I asked if I could go in the room and say goodbye.

I walked into the room and it was buzzing. With his energy. He was all around me. More at peace than I’d ever seen him alive, as we, when we would get a chance to meet, would sit across from each other and talk about happiness and life. Those conversations were, truly, never about peace. Unless they were about how each of us would endeavor to find peace in our lives.

But yesterday, as he lay there, already passed, I found it was easier to talk to him, even easier to hold his hand, really, than it had been the day before and in fact, maybe, it had ever been. I thanked him, told him how much I would miss him, and let him know if he felt, you know, like haunting me at any point that would be cool too.

But, as I know, he never liked horror films, so I’m pretty sure he just, somewhere, smirked, and went along his way in search of humor.

And, I hope, peace.

 

 

 

We are so proud…

…we have added, so far, 61 new team members, aka supporters, to this, the original Blue Bunny team, director Rick Walters, writer Jenni Prange Boran, producer Heather Pilder Olson and DP James Winters.

Not to mention 74 new followers on Seed & Spark and 337 followers on our Facebook page. Our campaign ends in 2 days and we have a daunting number of dollars to raise in order to benefit from any of the generous contributions that have been made thus far. It goes without saying that crowd-funding is a nerve-wracking emotional roller-coaster, but I’m pleased to report that, funded or not (and we DO still have two days!), there are many more highs than lows. Having built so much new interest and support in our project is thrilling, validating and humbling. We are so grateful! Stay tuned for our Plan B, should it come to that!

When Blue Bunny main character Shane, embittered and totally bereft of hope, says to Maria “Look around you. We’re in a place called the Serenity House and I don’t see God anywhere. What does that tell you?” her response “It tells me you need to look harder…”  seems fitting for the position in which we find ourselves. Never give up, and always look at the positives! We are so grateful for the team we have gathered, and look forward to continuing this process until we get this story on the screen.

Shane

And now, in just the final few days and hours of the Blue Bunny campaign, we take a closer look at our main character, Shane. Director Rick Walters could not have cast Shane more perfectly when he approached the incredible Anthony Phillips to read the part last August at the Destiny City Film Festival. It was fascinating to watch Anthony’s transformation. Once Shane’s words started coming out of Anthony’s mouth, his entire body language changed, his face darkened and his eyes became those of a young man who had spent the past six years in prison due to an incident for which he has yet been able to accept personal responsibility. As the writer, this metamorphosis was beyond satisfying and truly thrilling to witness. 

Shane, the “…entitled, embittered, young ex-con…” who is at the center of Blue Bunny has been released back into the cautiously optimistic arms of his mother Irene and his emotionally unavailable brother Donny. Having been convicted of criminal responsibility in the death of his six-year-old niece, attempting a fresh start with the girl’s grandmother and father is not an easy endeavor. Especially painful for those around him is his brazen attitude that it was somehow their fault that he was put in the position he was in those many years earlier, that he should not have been the one held responsible for the girl’s death. He has hardened himself and convinced himself of this bad hand he’s been dealt, because it’s a lot easier than dealing with the fact that his niece is gone. And he was there. And she was there because of him. And he couldn’t, didn’t, stop it.

Part of Shane’s parole program is to work in the backroom of the church thrift store that acts as something of a halfway house for ex-cons and those coming out of rehabilitation programs to find their way back to what is known as a normal life. The situation is nothing more than a tedious necessity for him. Something he’ll deal with begrudgingly until his ankle bracelet comes off. All that changes when Maria enters the scene. Her blind faith throws him for a loop, mainly because it is the first faith he’s ever seen in someone that he actually takes as genuine. And of all people, Maria should have lost her faith long ago. Finally he sees something he has to fight for, even if, on the surface, that something is getting a little Blue Bunny back where it belongs.

Thank you, once again, to Ben Slavens for the use of his images.

 

Maria

Just a few more days to go to raise the 80% needed to secure all the generous donations from our Blue Bunny campaign supporters. Thank you to everyone who has donated and shared and followed and supported our efforts! We hope that we are exhibiting grace under pressure, much like Blue Bunny’s Maria, read with an impressive balance of conflict and serenity by the incredible Eva Jane last August at the Destiny City Film Festival.

Maria, “…who looks like every painting of every sad Mother Mary you’ve ever seen, beautiful and devastating…” is the strongest representative for faith among Blue Bunny’s characters. She bends but doesn’t break under the most extreme pressure one can possibly imagine. She is the mirror image of Donny, both having lost children due to their own actions and choices, but Shane notices with a bewildered and fascinated curiosity the peace Maria has made with this circumstance. When that peace is threatened, Shane must make a choice whether or not to sacrifice his own freedom to preserve Maria’s faith, the blind like of which he has not witnessed before in his world. Of which he would like to witness more.

As always, thank you to Ben Slavens for the use of his beautiful photography.

Donny

We are getting into survival mode with just 9 days to reach 80% of our funding for the Blue Bunny campaign. Blue Bunny’s Donny knows about survival, having lived in a state of do or die most of his young life. Today we put Donny under the microscope, captured on stage last August at the Destiny City Film Festival by Shane Regan (below, left), whose quietly intense performance spoke more than words.

Donny has only one memory of his father. It involves a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru, a Happy Meal, and a walk on the chilly waterfront of Port Angeles. No words were exchanged, as far as Donny can remember. Rocks were thrown into the water. His father took off his hat and put it on Donny’s head when the wind kicked up. Donny was 4. The next day his father was gone. Two days later, Donny’s baby brother Shane was born.

Donny knew his mother never wanted to make Donny feel like he was the man of the family, but even at such a young age he felt the self-imposed responsibility of replacing his father. He wanted to grow up faster than he could. This attempt at adulthood too early in life resulted in the birth of his daughter when he was just 15 years old. He had gotten what he had wished for, he was now in the adult world. He left school to work as a cashier at a gas station to support his daughter as well as his mother and, as a result, his little brother Shane. Six years later, tired of scraping by, he went back to school to get his mechanic’s certification.

Maybe it was an expectation that Shane feel the same drive for adulthood, the same sense of responsibility that Donny had at the age of 16, or maybe it was just plain desperation to get to class to take the test that would determine the status of his mechanic’s certificate, that inspired Donny to leave his daughter with Shane that night. It seemed reasonable at the time, Irene was supposed to arrive home just an hour later. Delayed when she ran into an old friend at the grocery store, Irene came home three hours later to an empty house. Donny came home an hour after that to flashing lights, tears in his mother’s eyes and a somber police officer whose face held the expression of a man about to deliver the worst news of his career.

Thank you to Ben Slavens for the use of his gorgeous photography.

 

Victor

With just 10 days to go to reach 80% funding for our Blue Bunny campaign we take a closer look today at the story’s antagonist, Victor, who was embodied on stage last August at the Destiny City Film Festival by gifted actor Don Taylor.

When writing a character like Victor, phrases like “you should love all your characters” and “there is no such thing as a true villain” sit on my shoulder and whisper in my ear to keep me from reverting to ‘types’ of people I have known in my life: the narcissistic control mongers who sometimes run places like the halfway house church thrift store in Blue Bunny. They seek out and take over positions of easily won command by virtue of the fact that those they are ‘helping’ have nowhere else to go. They prey. They are opportunists. But they are human and just as every hero must have his weakness, every villain must have something he loves and either wishes to gain or doesn’t want to lose. For Victor, that something is power.

Victor grew up an hour or so from Port Angeles in the smaller port town of Port Townsend. His father was the beloved Lutheran pastor at the Missouri Synod church in town, his mother a schoolteacher. Victor’s younger brother quickly overshadowed Victor’s mediocre performance in everything from sports to academics to friendships with peers. Once the brothers reached high school this disparate experience extended, naturally, to relationships with girls. Victor became withdrawn and quietly angry as he witnessed what felt like success after success at his brother’s hands.

After high school, a stint working on the ferry between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island ended in a clumsy attempt by Victor to woo a female co-worker. The incident could have led to legal action had the girl’s parents not attended Victor’s father’s church. Victor’s father gave Victor enough money to pack up and excuse himself from the situation. He managed to get him a job at the charity thrift store run by a sister Lutheran church in Port Angeles.

It didn’t take long for Victor to realize he had landed exactly where he needed to be. A new town, a place where no one knew about his brother, no one knew about the girl on the ferry, and an opportunity to rise to the top of an organization in which he could be the big fish in a little pond of souls who needed his help, at almost any cost.

 

Deb

Here we are with 11 days to go with our Blue Bunny campaign and we are keeping all of our fingers crossed for a miracle. Not everyone believes in miracles though. Take Deb, for example. Deb was brought to life on stage last August at the Destiny City Film Festival by the insanely creative and versatile Jen Page, who fleshed the character out with a truly complex sensitivity.

A lesser actor might have taken Deb for what she appears to be on the surface: a mid-thirties addict whose meth-damaged skin and yellowed teeth make her look twice her age, who is transparently bitter about still being alive, wishing she had been allowed to fall into the dark hole she’d gone down long ago. But Jen looked beyond that to the unseen. She found the part of Deb that, begrudgingly, remembers what it was to be happy, to feel safe.

Born and raised in Port Angeles, the first five years of Deb’s life are a patchwork of now blurry but cautiously bright memories of fishing with her father, gardening with her mother and afternoons setting up tea parties for imaginary friends in her backyard. The first year of school, kindergarten in the little brick schoolhouse that has since been replaced, was cozy and filled with creativity and security.

By the second year of school, though, she sensed, even at such a young age, her mother slipping away. Her mother’s depression-fueled addiction to pain killers sent Deb’s childhood spiraling out of control and set an ineradicable example for Deb: this is how to deal with pain.

Unlike her mother, though, Deb survived her suicide attempt. Deb is not sure why. Her reward of life is some sort of limbo, an existence sifting through the discarded property of others in the backroom of a church thrift store among other damaged souls hoping to get back to the real world. But Deb has no eyes on escape. The real world causes the pain for which there is only one solution. A brief connection with Shane challenges her resolve to stay cold and removed. But the appearance of Maria, beautiful and pure and open to the possibility of hope, reminds Deb that she is who she is and that, in her heart of hearts, she does not believe in miracles, and she does not believe that her second chance was anything more than a life sentence.

Many, many thanks to Ben Slavens for the beautiful photo.