I don’t believe in the paranormal, but we live in it. One needn’t swear to belief in astrology, ghosts, gods or psychic double-shuffles to behave as if we do. Too much is unpredictable, defying logic, incapable of proof. We’ve adapted two Greek myths to the stage as well as the Sumerian Inanna myths, the Norse myth of the Ragnarok, not to mention Frankenstein, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, and other frail human attempts to control the inexplicable. We’ve written several historical plays whose characters—Marie Antoinette, Sir Francis Drake—have attained mythic status, at least insofar as their capacity to generate fabulous stories.
The enticing “legend of Winchester House,” which brought us to write the play that led to our new novel BLIND WALLS, was largely a potpourri of speculation by journalists who quoted one another until the “legend” was born. Indeed, one looks for motive in the construction of a mansion of over three hundred rooms (until the 1906 earthquake honed it down to 160). No different from the myths that tried to explain the rising and setting of the sun. You can’t do a guided tour of the sun, but it’s always there.
A lot of our work, both in theatre and in fiction, involves stories within stories. What’s our motive for the stories that we tell? How does that motive shape the story? That was the genesis of the Tour Guide in BLIND WALLS: a man making his living, his whole life, telling a story that he knows is false, though it’s such a damned good story.
As with many of our projects, BLIND WALLS came about through cross-pollination—two stories that intersect—not a whole lot different than our temperaments as collaborators. When we read that one workman stayed on the project for 38 years, until the wealthy widow’s death, we started to piece out the story of someone in the grips of service to another’s vision, and found personal experience of people caught in the pressure of advancement, like the gifted teacher who becomes the feckless principal because that’s the only way he can get a raise.
Those multiple layers of story create a potential dog’s breakfast, and it’s taken many drafts to let it flow. Like most of our work, it defies fitting readily into a genre. The only terrified person is herself a ghost, haunted by the fleshly tourists swarming about her, and a villain desperate to deny her villainy.
Myth is just reality distilled to a very sharp liquor. That’s what’s so tasty.
Traveling can be harsh. Not so much when getting into our Prius to drive 600 miles a day to cross the country, it’s a comfy car and we have each other, but it does take stamina. On the other hand, grabbing a last-minute ticket and flying from San Francisco to Scranton, PA with a change in Charlotte (Chicago on the way back) was a symphony of Harsh. It was OK because every minute of the trip was warmed and colored by its purpose. I went to visit Camilla Schade.
Camilla is quicksilver and color, a luminous presence on stage, someone who can take a character onto a roller-coaster and bring every audience member along for the ride. Beautiful and funny, the embodiment of warmth. I flew to Scranton, drove to upstate New York, parked by their little woodland house, and went in to sit on a couch with my friend for five hours. The last embrace was the hardest, because it will have been the last one.
We met in 1975, when she was to be our newborn Johanna’s babysitter as we created a show called Knock Knock with a student cast at the University of Delaware. She wound up in the cast and we found another sitter. When we moved our theatre’s base to Lancaster PA, we asked Camilla to join us, and she did. We worked together for years, everything from Macbeth to cabaret comedy, and the stories are endless.
Five rich and beautiful hours. Some of it in silent presence, some of it giggling like schoolgirls, some of it soggy with kleenex, some of it telling funny old war stories to sister Carolyn and husband Bruce.
Warmth, color and closeness in a place of quiet beauty. The rituals of greeting and farewell, the essentials of human closeness, softness, vulnerability.
And then the grotesque circus of O’Hare airport, miles of noisy halls and beeping trollies and four-dollar water bottles. Rattle and clang under fluorescent lights, hurry up and wait, staring at the smart-phone, trying to ignore Fox on the screens. What wildly different stage sets we humans create to enclose the multiple stories of our lives. For five hours I was in a place of beauty.
At art fairs, I’ve often wondered how it feels for artists to sit by their work as they watch the world pass by with barely a glance. Must be what I felt at the BABF this weekend, as we sit in our outdoor booth hawking our wares: two anthologies of our plays, three novels, and a memoir. First day, two books sold.
We exhibited here two years ago, with not the slightest illusion of breaking even to match the exhibit fee. And there’s the issue of stamina: getting up at 5 a.m. to drive down to the East Bay, set up the booth, sit there all day with lunch and porta-potty breaks, say hello to anything that moves, tear down and pack up at 5 p.m. to make the drive home, then do the same thing on Sunday. But it’s a kind of fatalistic fun.
First, the booth looks damned good, with some of our puppets, stand-up book racks, beautiful signage, and Elizabeth. Lots of conversations and hopes that some of our proffered brochures will result in online sales. This year we had the inspiration of printing 4-1/4″ by 14” broadsides containing two of our flash fiction stories to give away free—more relevant than offering free lapel buttons or breath mints, and hopefully at this very minute someone is reading five minutes of our words and freaking out.
But it is a humbling act to be among 280 exhibitors offering thousands of books—a small fraction of the nearly one million published in the USA in a single year. With our plays, we could either produce them or find another theatre to hoodwink into doing it for us. With books, it’s pissing against the wind.
Which I remember. As a small child, maybe five or six, my mom and I took a road trip to Denver. Nebraska’s a very long state, and about the 15th time we crossed the Platte River, I had to pee. Badly. Once she got started driving, my mom didn’t like to stop, so she just told me to stand up on the passenger seat, roll down the window, and pee. I complied. Never try it. It blows back all over the back seat, not to mention your face. Ah, the trials of manhood and authorship.
A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning.
Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller
a novel of blue-collar ghosts
a novel of puppets & renewal
50 Years in the Making
A Memoir of the Creative Life
35 Snapshots for the Stage
A Novel of Dystopian Optimism
From Inanna to Frankenstein