When I first began dreaming up The Puzzle, my son was very young. I was living in a bizarre world of unusual behaviors that became my norm, and aside from the pain and worry and sadness, there was joy and laughter. It felt like I was living in some absurd play that constantly swung between that pain and laughter. There were so many stories of children 'coming out of autism' and recovering completely. I believed that we would be able to bring our son out of his autism, too. I wanted to document this journey in a play about solving a puzzle from the perspective of a boy with autism.
"Widener is a unique place. The school was founded in 1902 and is specifically for students with physical, medical and mental disabilities. The student body represents a wide range of abilities and socio-economic backgrounds. Regardless of a student’s individual needs, the goal is to help each pupil reach their potential through the various programming and therapy offered at Widener. 1812 Outreach gets to be a variable in that equation once a week throughout the school year."
"Empezó de hablar sobre imaginación, como puede ver cosas en sus mentes pero no tiene que ver los en realidad. Yo digo a todos que cierran los ojos y imaginan París. Digo que por 30 segundos nosotros usamos los imaginaciones, y en este clase no hay examen, no hay libros, estamos aquí para divertirnos, y imaginación es la alma del ser humano. Todos tiene imaginación, y especialmente cuando eramos niños, y el mundo han dicho que es tonto o no es tan chido, pero ni modos todavía los tenemos, adentro."
"I suddenly launch into a speech about imagination, about how you can see things without ‘seeing’ them. I make everyone close their eyes and imagine Paris. I talk about how for the next 30 minutes we will use our imaginations, that in this class there are no tests, there are no books, that we are here to have fun, and that imagination is at the very soul of human experience. That we all possess it, and especially when we were children, and that we’ve been told it’s stupid or not cool, but we still have it, buried beneath us."
"The first rehearsal for a collaborative piece is always slightly nerve wracking for me as a designer. I am walking into a room where there is already a dynamic in place, and it is even worse when everyone is funny and smart. This Is The Week That Is is a show that’s been annually happening longer than I have lived in Philadelphia; if my puzzle piece is to properly fit into this institution I have to go above and beyond as a designer, and get into the brains of these people who are churning out the characters..."
"I guess what I love about this play is that it's very tightly written. The comedy is punchy, the characters are very vivid, and from this bizarre opening premise of this weird detail of Barbra's mall/basement, we get to plunge into a world where all the characters are sympathetic and flawed and complicated."
On November 23, 1963 the cast of the British political satire show, THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS, scrapped all the material they had written that week, went on live television and publicly mourned JFK who had been assassinated the day before. There were no jokes, just tearful and sincere testimonials about an American president these Brits described as a “gigantic marvelous present”.
I make my way to South Philly to meet for the interview. When I arrived, I could hear the rehearsal. This was the first run-through with an audience that consisted of the production team. I wanted to walk in but chose to listen through the door. I heard about ten minutes or so of the ending. He’s ready and I do not plan to waste his time.
Jilline was always the smartest person in the room. Her Bryn Mawr pedigree, love of the Greeks, inexhaustible knowledge of movies and songs from bygone eras as well as religious iconography was inspiring. I think of that 1970’s Enjoli perfume commercial, where a sexy woman in purple sauntered toward the camera with a frying pan while a songstress crooned, ‘I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.’
I’ve been an audience member and fan of 1812’s since Box Office of the Damned. A year later, Jen Childs was my acting teacher at the University of the Arts and I always wanted to work with her and this company. I’ve never recovered from losing the part of Batboy to that damn Ben Dibble. (Who knows, if I had landed that role, maybe I wouldn’t be designing today.)
Jen Childs and I were sitting in the balcony of Plays & Players during the run of The Carols last season when she told me that she'd been thinking for a year or two about this Barbra Streisand play by Jonathan Tolins. I'd heard of it when Michael Urie did it in New York in 2013, and I said it sounded like fun...