Thursday, July 12, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 32 (Daniel Judah Sklar)

Sklar, Daniel Judah

Given to me as a going away present by the staff at the 52nd St. Project in Manhattan, where I volunteered from 1992-1994. Inscribed by several staff members. This book formed the inspiration and the basis for the project.

Towards the end of college, and for a couple of years thereafter, I flirted with the idea of working in the theater. I wrote & directed a play as part of the Fordham Playwright's Festival during my senior year. It was there that I met Jerry McGill. Jerry was a quadriplegic who acted, directed and wrote plays. He, too, had a play in the festival and we became friends working alongside one another.

During the summer after graduation, Jerry invited me to a play in Manhattan at a place called the 52nd St. Project. He told me that he worked there and that the plays were written by kids, yet staged & performed using professional actors and directors. I attended with a few friends and found the plays absolutely charming, so much so that I asked Jerry if I could get involved. He signed me up as part of the stage crew for the next production.

Over the course of the next two years, I worked on many productions, mostly helping to put up sets and strike them between plays.

I remember they had an ingenious mobile production set that allowed for an infinite number of simple stage variations. The backdrop was a tri-fold set of doors with, I think, some kind of plastic laminate on the surface that allowed for large sheets of paper-thin plastic to be stuck to them simply by spraying water to the surface and rolling the plastic sheets onto it. These sheets usually contained simple drawings used for backgrounds and so forth.

The props were a set of about ten simple geometric shapes, including a flat, padded, rectangular board often used as a bench, a couple of trapezoidal boxes, a couple of cylinders, and so on. At the time they did not have their own theater, so the mobile set made it possible to move the shows to different spaces.

There was an incredible number of well-known stars of stage and screen who volunteered there, including Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Jeremy Piven, James McDaniel, Martha Plimpton,  et al. I smoked a cigarette with Frances McDormand at a cast party once. We were the only two smokers in the apartment.

One of my favorite productions featured McDormand alongside a young boy. The play was written by Joel Coen, her husband, and was about a cavewoman and her son. It had to do with evolution and the acquisition of language. The pair attempted to communicated through gestures and grunts which were replaced by phonemes and eventually words. Evolutions quickly sped up so that before long their first sentences sounded just like those a modern mother and son arguing with one another about something. It was hilariously written and acted.

Anyhow, I eventually began working with the kids on writing plays. I did this for a couple of sessions before I took off for Ecuador in 1994, which was the occasion of my receiving this book as a going away gift. I volunteered briefly when I returned, but I was going through a pretty seriious emotional crisis at that point and ended up bowing out, never to return.

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