"That was uh... kinda dark, wasn't it?"
"What made you wanna write something like that?"
"I enjoyed... some of the lines about betrayal..."
"This is a confusing play."
Ah... sweet, sweet success. The above are Just a few of the responses we received from our first production. Amusing, but not surprising. Wolf, by it's very nature, is a play intended to challenge the members of the audience - It asks them to actively pay attention to the story. Our narrator is unreliable and her ability to perceive and trust reality is severely fractured and this is true from the very beginning. This play is jarring, unapologetic, and confrontational. Suffice it to say, we stuck out like a sore thumb at the 2018 IndyFringe Festival. This was an incredible accomplishment for Monument.
Before I continue, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the team. Our fearless sponsors: Past Impressions, The Witching Lair, Schatz by J. Nicole, we couldn't have even gotten off the ground without you. Our director Cherish Rhodes, our stage manager Mariah Spragg, our cast in Riley Leonard, Raven Newbolt, Michael Tingley, Mac Wright, our design team in Caleb Clark, Molli Ellis, Sami Ginoplos, Jenna Houchin, David Marcia, and of course Chris Berchild, Arthur Feinsod, Mark Frederick, Chloe Morris, Molli Ellis, Miguel Lewis, Ally Miles, Kiara Dowell - all of whom played significant roles in developing this play and bringing it to a place where it could be produced. For that all of them will forever have a place in my heart. I don't know if as a playwright that I can ever be truly satisfied with anything I create, but to see the commitment and enthusiasm displayed by this team has been nothing short of breathtaking. Every single one provided so much to this process and I couldn't be more grateful. The foundation of this company has been cemented by their dedication and many selfless contributions. As for the many, many others who deserve to be thanked and have helped in the development of our company, just know how much I love and appreciate all you've done for us. You'll always have my sincerest gratitude.
As with any undertaking this process proved to be a remarkable learning experience. A trial by fire. And given all that we encountered I couldn't be happier with what became of our show. From something of a botched tech, unsaved cues, what appeared to be a concert outside our venue, and truly remarkable lack of communication from our staffers, we persevered though quite a bit to deliver this play.
Much like the company as a whole, our production team was largely made of highly committed but inexperienced members who completely submerged themselves in this process. Now, the question: what does "success" mean here? The answer, in short: we showed this community what we're about and we did so without apology, pulled punches, or anything that would leave our beliefs uncertain. That is and will always be the single most important goal in anything we do. We can't waver from our mission, values, or vision. The moment we do is the moment we have failed both the audience and ourselves.
THE FIRST REVIEW
Something that I think is important to acknowledge right away was the response we received. As I write this post there were three reviews. The first was nothing short of scathing and when I first read it I was floored. I shouldn't have been, but in the moment I had no idea what hit me. My script was dragged and no effort whatsoever was made to examine what was actually presented onstage. At first I was humiliated. "Of course. Naturally my play would be the only negative review I've read by this critic." But after about an hour of fury tears, expletives, and coffee it finally dawned on me what a golden opportunity we were just given. I realized that we had been given an itemized list of what we were trying to fight to begin with: close-mindedness and apathy. The entire point of the play was missed. The moment we asked the critic to piece together what happened there was immediate rejection. "This is confusing... no character development... one moment Danny is on the phone and the next he's on the ground dead. How did he get in her apartment to begin with?" We were given exactly what we needed: a reminder of what we're up against.
The critique also provided a much needed example of why it is absolutely imperative that a process never be half-assed or quality to be sacrificed. Preparation must be taken seriously and one must always be looking ahead. In Terre Haute there are no theatre reviews or serious critics (to my knowledge) and therefore many elements of the production are taken for granted. The mentality of "Oh, well. It's not that big a deal, nobody's gonna notice anyway." has permeated within the various processes I've witnessed. Not in everything, of course, just in some of the details. When time is of the essence, when folks are tired, overworked, and frustrated - that's when, complacency kicks in. That's when we allow ourselves to accept less than what we want/need/envision. I learned firsthand that we cannot settle. We mustn't allow ourselves to lose sight of the needs of our vision because Monument's basis is on creating great work. Unintentionally sacrificing that quality automatically prevents us from accomplishing our mission. Furthermore, by doing so we make ourselves vulnerable to unnecessary criticism from those who are offended by our mere existence. If we allow critics to hone in on trivial matters that we should have taken care of then it will give them something to latch on to, as opposed to forcing them to address our work and our goals for what they actually are. Lesson learned.
I have never been more motivated in my life. I took the above mentioned critique and I framed it. I have it in front of me whenever I work so that I can never lose sight of the goal and the obstacles we'll face in trying to achieve that goal. The company has talked at great length about our experience with Wolf and have refocused our efforts, doubled down on our planning, and are pursuing the rest of our inaugural season with more determination than we ever could have imagined. We are prepared to fight like hell to break through to our audiences and reclaim theatre for what it was meant to be: a means for the masses to connect with each other and the world around us. It's sacred, it's powerful, and it should never have been allowed to descend into the state of meaningless frivolity and useless pandering that it has. We'll fight that with everything we've got.
We have plans to not only introduce meaningful stories to new audiences but also with new audiences. We will fight to dispel the notion that this is only for the wealthy elite or that it's only made up of superficial storytelling. We most likely aren't for "theatre" people and if we're rejected by our contemporaries then so be it - we're at peace with that. This company will not participate in the same practices that undermine what we hold dear. If this means alienating the existing base that attends/is involved with theatre, so be it.
We are striving for something greater. We are striving to save the soul of this ancient tradition and it is our hope that we can return it to the common man. We must inject theatre back in the culture of the masses. You will know what we believe. You will know where we stand. I hope those of you reading this are already on board and will continue to support our cause. For those of you new to our company - I hope you'll read this and take the time to consider us, our commitment, and come to our next show to see for what we're all about.
No matter what, stay tuned. You don't want to miss what we've got up our sleeve.