We pounded out two readings in one week, and hoo boy, are my arms tired!
Actually, my adrenal glands are tired because I was so freakin' nervous before each reading (senseless, because at that point, I can't do anything about ANYTHING, but maybe that's why), and then afterwards, was high as a kite because the actors were all so awesome and the feedback has been great.
After the first reading, the penultimate event of Ken Choy's BREAKING THE BOW Festival, I got to work on some restructuring. The day before the reading, I told the director, "Man, I can't believe how 'on the same page' we are about the play!" He said, "You say that now...wait until we talk about the text." He's been after me to do some major restructuring, and while I've avidly instituted many of his suggestions, that's a big one. Still, I took a fair-sized step in that direction after that first reading by moving a major confrontation from the start of the second act to the middle of that act, bringing a key moment of the play a little closer to its climax. I think everyone agreed that it was a step in the right direction, and now the director's suggesting I do away with what is now the climactic event, replacing it with new writing and making the source of Ichiro's epiphany his Ma's death. I'm resisting, but he hasn't steered me wrong yet, and his suggestions actually solve some thematic and historical/political problems of the play, so...I think I'll have to be brave and give it a try.
The reading at the Miles Memorial Playhouse was great because I could see that the play works, even in its present form. This is actually a scarier moment than you might think because really, it isn't a play until there's an audience there, and great actors can fool a writer into thinking he's got something when he might not. An audience, however, will let you know if you DON'T have something. It was a friendly audience, but there were a lot of really smart people whom I trust, and they all felt the play captures the book and is a moving piece of theater.
The reading at The Center for the Preservation of Democracy (that's a mouthful - I'm always tempted to say JANM, because it's way shorter) was great in many ways: First off, the aforementioned changes worked, and seeing that was one of the most important aspects of this reading to me. Secondly, the audience was great and even caught some added humor in the piece. Folks like Prince Gomolvilas and Dorie Baizley were in the audience (they've always been incredibly generous with their time and feedback), and friends like Soji Kashiwagi were there, so I plan to talk to him as well when we get a chance. But the most amazing thing were the Niseis in the audience: One of them was a guy who looked to have been in his nineties - he loved the play and the actors, and said that it captured so many of the emotions that he remembers from that time. And then he said, "You got the anger, you got the depth of feeling...because you got a soul!"
Wow. I mean, I don't want to post that to look like I'm bragging (and actually, I should've given the credit to John Okada, who was really the one who captured the anger and the angst), but you know? That was an amazing thing to hear. From an old Nisei guy, no less.
I spoke to a Nisei lady who was a classmate of John Okada's, and she offered to share some memorabilia with me, so I got her phone number and plan to call her one of these days to take a look at it. I also spoke to a Nisei guy I recognized as one of the Heart Mountain resistors - possibly part of their Fair Play Committee. He said he almost didn't come to the play because he had some issues with the book - he objected to some of the historical inaccuracies, and the self-hatred of the main character: "We didn't feel self-hatred," he declared, "We were PROUD of what we did." He was satisfied that some of the changes in the adaptation helped to correct the record, and he thought the play illustrated a broader range of how the war affected people, so he was happy with it. He gave me his card and email and offered to answer any questions I might have (his wife said, "He'll send you pages!"), so I'm looking forward to that correspondence as well.
For today, I'll nurse my adrenal glands, have some chicken soup, and be grateful to have this project and these people in my life.