Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Edward Einhorn did to my play TAM LIN and why all American authors should be concerned - part 2

So as I discussed in part 1 of this series, I was a big fan of the song Tam Lin. Not just the music but the lyrics, which told a very unusual fairy tale - instead of a brave knight rescuing a beautiful damsel, the brave damsel rescues the beautiful knight. This, I thought, would be a perfect subject for a play for the 21st century.

I thought this as early as 1993, soon after I decided to write plays, but it wasn't until 2001 that I wrote TAM LIN. As a huge fan of Shakespeare I was highly influenced by the Bard in the way I structured the play - five acts and with interwoven plots, a favorite technique of Shakepeare's comedies. Consider A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, which is the most obvious influence on Tam Lin, so much so that one review of the play was entitled "A Midautumn Nights' Scheme." In MIDSUMMER there are three plots - the quarrel between Oberon and Titania; the unrequited love of Helena for Demetrius; and the "rude mechanicals" and their plan to perform for the Duke's wedding. Shakespeare brings them all together by the end.

I attempted to do the same, although with four plots: Janet's plan to win Tam Lin; Margaret, Janet's lady-in-waiting and her plan to win Aberdeen, Janet's unwanted betrothed; the Elven Knight's plan to get rid of Tam Lin who, in spite of his mortal origins, has become the favorite of their beloved Queen of the Faeries; and finally Janet's father, Lord Dunbar and his plan to steal the Roxbrugh family lands. At the end all the stories come together and are resolved together.

I also threw in a bed trick, a staple of Elizabethan theater and used by Shakespeare in ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL. And as in ALL'S WELL this bed trick results in a pregnancy.

Critics may decry the absurdity of someone having sex with the wrong person by mistake, and as Cracked pointed out, it could get you serious jail time if you tried it today, but audiences love it, even now.

Admittedly TAM LIN is no MIDSUMMER, but it was my first full-length play. A COMEDY OF ERRORS is an early play by Shakespeare and that's no MIDSUMMER either. But you have to learn your trade as a playwright by seeing your work on stage, there's no way around it. And since I became a playwright at the age of 30, and well out of school, I couldn't count on a college production to learn the ropes.

Once I finished TAM LIN I sent it out to several theatre companies and it was picked up for a staged reading by the Deptford Players in 2002. Lorree True was the director.

But since the Deptford Players wasn't going to do a full production, Jonathan Flagg, my boyfriend at the time, suggested we do a low-key production ourselves. However, based on the staged reading I made some changes to the TAM LIN script, expanding the role of Lord Roxbrugh, TAM LIN's grandfather, and changing the gender to Lady Roxbrugh. This was actually a very good thing in many respects, not the least of which was because it gave a role to a female actor over 40. TAM LIN, like most plays, including those by Shakespeare, has a lopsided male:female ratio in favor of males, and even with a Lady instead of a Lord Roxbrugh, TAM LIN had six roles for males and four for females. But it was some improvement, anyway, and all the female roles are pretty juicy for a change.

So we produced TAM LIN in 2003 and it was an education in what not to do. But you have to learn somewhere.

We began Mergatroyd Productions for the purpose of producing this play and recruited Synge Maher to direct, which makes her the director of the world premiere - one more reason why it was absurd for Edward Einhorn to claim that we owed him money every time we produced the play.

We didn't pay Synge or any actors in this Equity Showcase production, which is a very common practice for Off-Off Broadway shows. But in the end neither Jonathan nor I felt comfortable with that, and we always paid the actors in every other production after, a convention that I have kept right to the present.

In my experience you don't get treated more respectfully when you're paying actors than when you're not. But whether I am treated with more respect or not doesn't matter, because it's the principal of the thing - the attempt to honor actors' professionalism to the best of your ability to pay. I've always paid everybody what I said and on time. Sometimes both Jonathan and I have paid bonuses.

Certainly I could get away with paying actors nothing, for that is the rule rather than the exception. Many Off-Off Broadway producers don't feel the need to pay actors and Edward Einhorn is one of them, at least at the time I knew him. As he wrote to Jonathan and I when he wanted us to take some of the money budgeted to pay actors and give it to himself instead:
Well, I think the theory behind it all is that the actors get the glory of having being on stage, which is why they are usually happy to work for free...

Now Edward Einhorn, as he admitted on his own blog, lives off an inheritance - how self-serving and self-absorbed to assume that since you don't have to work for a living, money is not a big concern for other people. I was once a single mother and lived for a time on Aid to Families with Dependent Children - aka "welfare." I understand how even small amounts of money can make a difference. And especially for anybody living in New York City.

Synge Maher is a good director and did what she could with one of my big mistakes, which was to cast a not-very-good actor in the lead role of Janet. And of course in hindsight I would have hired Synge for the 2004 production of TAM LIN and never had anything to do with Edward Einhorn. But I was disappointed with Synge's approach to the big magic scene at the end of TAM LIN in which Tam Lin must appear to turn into a snake, a lion and a burning rod of iron. It was a very minimalist approach and I wanted something bigger. And on paper, Edward Einhorn looked like the right candidate...