|In Defense of Cancer
|Guest Column: Don’t Let The Summer End
|The Advocate Weekly
|Violent Hollywood and the Death of Creativity
|The Wall Street Journal
|Dan Cole —An Appreciation
|A Tale of Two Home Towns and a Family
|The Desert Sun
|‘Ten’ Years Later
|Fox News Digital Network
|When Sting Came to Class
|A Filmmaker that Looks to the Future
|A Case for Taking New Paths in Life, Hollywood
|Los Angeles Times
|A Playwright Inspired by Teachers
|New York Times
|Opinion: Hollywood Warms Up to the Military
|Okay, Cut to the Chase
|American Theatre Magazine
IN DEFENSE OF CANCER
By Charles Evered
May 28, 2013
Could there be a more absurd situation in life than sitting across from a friend at a coffee shop and finding oneself defending the very disease that has killed your father, your mother, your two brothers, your mentor, your dearest friend from graduate school, –not to mention many other acquaintances, pets, people whom I admire greatly from a distance and the disease that if you were to view it through the prism of a genetics expert, betting person or insurance actuary, might very well be the one that causes your own death?
And yet, there I found myself, between sips of a grande mocha advocating diligently on its behalf, lobbying for the continued relevance of that age old chestnut—the seemingly out of vogue, “cancer play.”
“Find another disease,” my friend suggested. “Anything but cancer.”
So, as I looked off into the far distance, considering the groundbreaking possibilities of the first rickets or scurvy play, it became evident to me that if social security were the third rail of American politics, so it seems that cancer may be the third rail of American theatrics. It’s just not prudent to go there if you can help it. And if you do, you better somehow deconstruct it, be ironic, clinical, distant, cold, or write through a prism of bemused “graduate school like” detachment if you want the play to be taken seriously.
The problem in my case however, was twofold: 1), I had written a play called Class, about the relationship between a jaded acting teacher and his mysterious new student—that isn’t really a “cancer” play at all. Its a play about how two very different people find a commonality and change each other’s lives forever. At best, cancer makes a glancing but still potent cameo in the story and 2), while I’d like to think I can write outside of my own experience, and have, I don’t quite understand why I should have to insert another disease in the story in order to protect myself from what others feel is a subject begging for a critical drubbing or no longer worthy of theatrical dramatization. In addition, as already noted, by writing the play, I have done what everyone always tells writers to do: “Write what you know.” In the case of cancer, something I know too well thank you very much, and way more than I would have liked. It’s also something that way too many people still know–and are waging an expensive and very courageous battle against on a daily basis.
In addition, within the context of the play, and in real life, the disease represents the most frightening thing of all: chaos—utter “unpredictable unpredictability,” that at any moment, can take everything away from us. No matter how rich, successful, careful, vegan, famous or happy we are, it is still the Russian roulette of diseases, and while we can certainly do all we can to prevent it —and while science is making real strides in managing and even working toward lessening its probability– (Go Angelina!)—it still –in most cases, remains that “invisible bus” that we have no way of seeing coming around the corner. In fact, in a perverse and sinister way, it remains a great “leveler,” as the same disease that killed a youngish billionaire like Steve Jobs, can kill the poorest among us. It just doesn’t care.
In my play Class, I deal with some of those themes, taking care even, to address those very issues head on. In previous productions of the play, it’s been both heartening and surreal to have people who are fighting cancer, and many people who have conquered it—come up to me afterwards and “thank” me for representing their disease in a way, that to them, feels refreshingly honest. They even seem strangely appreciative that the subject is broached at all, without ironic distance, not in the context of a movie of the week and no longer consigned to the theatrical ghetto of the dreaded “issue” play.
I would love nothing more than for the subject to become entirely irrelevent, and I hope someday it is. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if fifty or a hundred years from now, audiences watched plays that mentioned cancer and regarded it with a bemused detachment, as they might today when watching a play about a Victorian era disease eradicated years ago? Personally, I would love nothing more. Until that time however, I’m afraid I’m still obligated to write what I know—while at the same time hoping never to get to know it any better than I already have.
Charles Evered’s play CLASS is playing now at the Penguin Repertory Theater in Stony Point, New York until June 9. It was published by Broadway Play Publishing, Inc. For information about that production, go to: www.penguinrep.org.
DON’T LET THE SUMMER END
The Advocate Weekly
By Charles Evered, Guest Columnist
A writer/director looks back at his time at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and offers advice to the throngs of theater artists arriving in the Berkshires.
Last summer I had the pleasure of heading up north, from my home in Princeton, N.J., to the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where I saw the last performance of Steve Lawson’s fine adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Valley of Fear.”
Though the show was wonderful, it was a moment about half an hour after the curtain came down that really struck a chord in me. In the world of the theater, it was nothing unusual, basically the moment just before “strike,” (the final dismantling of the set,) where everyone — actors, ushers, apprentices, the director, etc. — will take a moment, pop a bottle or two of perhaps not terribly expensive champagne and offer each other a well-deserved toast.
They talked about how much it meant to work together. They talked about what they learned, and what they would take away from their experience. It was sincere, it was moving, and it brought me back.
It was after all, creeping toward the end of the summer. And as I stood apart from these talented artists, my mind and heart couldn’t help but race back 20-plus years — when I was as young and hopeful as them — and when being part of a festival (also in my case, Williamstown,) was literally, my saving grace.
In 1986, I sent my first little collection of plays to Bonnie Monte at the festival. Since that time, Bonnie has become the venerable artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Back then however, Bonnie was the “gate keeper,” in a rush all spring long to pick a season full of apprentices, actors, assistants and interns. And that summer, miracle of miracles, she picked me.
When she called the apartment my mom and I shared in North Arlington, N.J., it was a turning point for me. She told me she thought I had “some talent,” and that perhaps she could find a place for me that summer. To me, that was monumental, and the first time someone not obligated to like my work had liked my work.
I spent several summers up at Williamstown, “Playwriting Intern,” “Directing Assistant,” whatever title they threw at me that seemed remotely appropriate. The point was not what I was called, but where I was. I was “in the room” with professionals. And while yes, I was usually getting them coffee, I was at least there to soak it all up and learn.
The highlights of my summers still loom large: Paul Giamatti starring in my play “Running Funny,” being there the night Chris Reeve first laid eyes on his future wife, Dana, assisting Joanne Woodward, who brought to life for me the history of the Group Theatre. My mom dying during the 1987 season, and being sent a huge condolence card signed, it seemed, by everyone at the festival. People I knew and didn’t know. But all of them family.
The most confusing moments of my summer? Being sent to fetch sandwiches at Pappa Charlies, the well-known sandwich shop on Spring Street that names their sandwiches after actors who appeared at the festival. That meant I could be asked by Austin Pendleton to get him a “Joanne Woodward,” and Olympia Dukakis might very well request a “Jimmy Naughton, hold the mayo.” Talk about a mind twister. I remember walking toward Spring whispering to myself: “Austin wants a Joanne, Olympia wants a Jimmy.”
But visiting last summer, looking at all those fresh faces, made me wish I could go back. I wanted to tell all of them, actors, apprentices, directors, everyone, to never let their summer end, (metaphorically at least). I wanted to warn them about the thousands of compromises they may find themselves making down the line, the walls of existential exhaustion they’ll have to climb, and most of all, the heartbreaking rejections sprinkled only intermittently with enough successes to keep going. And keep believing.
Some of them will think stability is possible in a life such as ours. And they will learn that really, it is not. I also thought — ironically — that my “self” back then, 20-plus years ago, would probably consider my “self” now, to be successful on some level. Which of course only tells you how little my “self” back then knew.
But, going back was important and I resolved to make a little promise to myself: “Keep a little of those summers inside you. No matter where you go.” It’s a promise that “old self” of mine would no doubt have heartily approved of. And that’s good, because I plan on listening to him more often.
Charles Evered’s new play, “Class,” was recently published by Broadway Play Publishing Inc. “A Thousand Cuts,” a film he directed starring Academy Award nominee Michael O’Keefe, was nominated for a Saturn Award and released by Kino-Lorber.
VIOLENT HOLLYWOOD AND THE DEATH OF CREATIVITY