Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dear Friend of Global Picket: Fiction by Jeffrey Essmann

Today on the Good News Theater Blog, something very different! The humorous prose piece below is written by Jeffrey Essmann, whom many of you will remember as a stalwart of the indie theater scene in the late 1980s/early 1990s (at La MaMa, mostly, and elsewhere). I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffrey for an episode of nytheatrecast and we've stayed in touch ever since. Jeffrey is a very smart, very funny writer, and a few weeks ago he shared this short piece with me and is now sharing it with the readers of this blog. Enjoy!

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"Dear Friend of Global Picket" by Jeffrey Essmann

Dear Friend of Global Picket:

More than seventeen years ago, Emily Waines stood at her picket fence talking to her neighbor, Doug Emerson. Her apples had the rust, her son had acne, and she was thinking of tearing down the barn. They’d never really used it. It was on the property from back when it had been an actual farm, just part of the lot. It seemed neat at first. They’d had all kinds of ideas about what they’d do with it. Bob was going to set up a woodshop, make bookshelves and things. Duck decoys. Emily was thinking about making candles. Selling them. She’d set up a little shop in the corner and sell candles. Candles and honey. But she’d get the honey somewhere else. She didn’t want to make it herself. She didn’t want the bother. Besides, she hated bees. But somewhere along the way Bob lost interest in wood and Emily totally forgot about the candles. They’d used it as a garage for a while until they got the carport. Bob still kept the snow blower in it. Emily hid Christmas presents up in the loft. But now the barn was getting old. It was getting shabby. Emily was afraid it was rotting. She was afraid it might have bats. It either needed to be fixed up or torn down, one or the other, she didn’t know which. And to Bob, of course, it was just wood.

But to Doug Emerson it was an opportunity. As a communications major, Doug had been fairly active in college theatricals, with several musical comedy and dramatic roles already on his resume. He also already had a penchant for making innovative, surprising choices. The head of the theater department said that his Lenny revealed the dark humor in Of Mice and Men, and his nude scene in Glass Menagerie is, of course, legendary. As everyone knows, he was also very active on the Akron theater scene while he was doing marketing for the meatpacking plant. After several seasons of leading roles with the Porchlight Players, he broke out on his own and founded Phenomenal Theatre, which scandalized Akron with its all-puppet production of Angels in America. Eager for Phenomenal to develop its own material, Doug and members of the company had just begun interviewing local farmers about their experience with syphilis when the meatpacking plant closed. Doug tried to hang in there, funding the new piece from his savings, but economics won out in the end and "Pigsty" never saw production. A couple jobs and a marriage later, Doug found himself, as so many of us have, in western Ohio, looking for some kind of outlet. So at the end of Emily’s lament, he said, “Hey, we could put on a show in the old barn.” And Global Picket Theater Company was born.

Emily and Doug always honored that conversation. They saw all theater—all good theater—as a conversation across a picket fence. The picket fence represents a community of shared stories, folklore, and gossip, and their unique vision was to try to create a theater that was as good as gossip. But their vision was global as well, and they wanted to gossip about the whole world. A big vision. A big dream. At Global Picket we dream big. We always have. But we also know that there’s a difference between dreaming and sleepwalking. Or, for that matter, between walking in your sleep and talking in your sleep. The wonder, though, is that at Global Picket, we manage to do all three.

Emily, as you know, died several years ago in that horrible accident during our production of ’night, Mother (the small alcove to the right of the snack bar is the Emily Waines Alcove and Couch), but we like to think that, wherever she is, she’s proud of us, proud that we’ve stayed true to the Global Picket vision: We’re part of the gossip…

While we of course maintain a full season of mainstage productions at the barn, we’ve also explored exciting new performance venues in the surrounding communities. A surprise hit this season was our site-specific Medea at various locations in the Allerton Mall. Greek tragedy seemed to be exactly what shoppers were looking for, and having Medea kill the children at the food court was a coup de théâtre. (For the record: the issue with Kentucky Fried Chicken has been settled amicably; the court found the Wendy’s complaint groundless.) And we’re into our fourth year of mime workshops at the state correctional facility up in Warnerville. (The DVD of the show developed by the inmates at the workshop, Shut Up!, is now available. Check our website or look next to the soda machine in the lobby.)

While already laying the groundwork for our Islam in Ohio festival slated for 2011, in the past year Global has also done outreach to Amish communities as far away as Pennsylvania in an effort to establish a theatrical dialogue with this highly misunderstood and often demonized group. The effort has been particularly fruitful in that it led to a meeting with Amish performance artist Hebediah Weams, whose cross-cultural one-man show, I’m Here! I’m Queer! I’m Amish!, will be part of our Table for One solo performance series this October in the Emily Waines Studio Loft.

Kicking off that series, by extremely popular demand, will be Menopaws, Jane Putrell-Roberts’ humanly funny, funnily human one-woman show about facing midlife with your cat. As the Weekly Advertiser said, “Ms. Putrell-Roberts avoids the obvious choice of playing the intense loneliness at the core of the piece and shifts the focus instead to an amusing meditation on what we can learn from lower mammals. The cat stories are terrific!” Emily Waines Gold Level Members will have first access to seats for this runaway hit.

And if western Ohio hadn’t been on the map already, Global would have put it there this year with a groundbreaking pair of productions: our all-black Fiddler on the Roof (with several actors imported from Indiana!) in repertory with our all-white Raisin in the Sun. Several critics called the provocative clash of cultural markers a veritable “train wreck” of emotion and theatricality. The intensity of the talkback sessions after these productions showed that we had touched a real nerve in the community and opened up a long-pent-up dialogue. After one particularly intense session, Doug was heard to say, as the fire department drove off, “Now that’s theatre!”

And of course Global is also looking to the future, to a new audience hungry for a new kind of theater. The Emily Waines Play Development Grant has been essential to this effort, and has commissioned our second production next season, Wht?, a Twitter play that could be about not knowing something, needing an explanation, not being sure. Maybe wanting something repeated. Or maybe about identity. Or maybe it’s a whodunit. Whatever it is, it’s an exciting excursion into the limits of language. And more than that: it’s typing. And it’s short. Only fifteen minutes. So please join us for an exciting discussion afterwards with the playwright present by text message and possibly blog.

Global Picket productions have attracted international attention (the Raisin segments on YouTube went viral within hours), and we’ve become the darlings of the state and local press. As the Columbus Dispatch raved, “They’re good for what they are.” And we are. At Global Picket, we may not have changed the world—but Ohio’s a little different.

But cutting-edge work like this can’t move forward without your support. Other than the Emily Waines Gold Membership, we feature donation levels all the way from Producer and Angel down to Janitor. A number of payment plans are available, since we want you to be as comfortable making your donation as we are taking it. You can respond by simply filling out the enclosed form and sending it along with your check, or of course via our website at www.globpick.com (Please note that no donations can be made through www.RememberingEm.com. We don’t have PayPal on there yet.) Or just call Doug on his cell (740-827-9943) and tell him how much you think you can give.

We’ve been bringing top-of-the-line traditional and avant garde theater to western Ohio for more than seventeen years now, and we look forward to an exciting and challenging seventeen more. Because remember: at Global Picket we’re tearing down walls between people—and putting up fences.

See you at the theater!


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Jeffrey Essmann is a writer/performer living in New York. Segments of his one-man show, The Usual Freak Show, are on YouTube, and his radio essays for the NPR affiliate in Chicago, WBEZ, are available in their online archive. He is currently working on a full-length play, The Indifferent Narrator.

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