Eye of the Matador


EYE OF THE MATADOR was sponsored by 7 Stages for a what was essentially a workshop production, rather than a staged reading, at the 9th Atlanta New Play Project in June of 1986. I don't know who supplied the teaser for the play in the below news item but not only does it not do anything for describing the play, it works against it. To say the play was "a re-telling of the Medea legend that looks at the early stages of her relationship with Jason" comes close to depicting the play as a relationship issues drama, which has been a very popular form of theater, in the same camp as social issues drama, because theater about current affairs elevates the stage above only frivolous entertainment and means being able to clearly tell an audience and the press, "This is what we are doing. It is about this news-worthy issue, that is in the news, therefore we should be news-worthy as we are here to inform and educate the community about it in a theatrical way that will connect with your emotions and intellect." This appears to make theater relevant, which has been the crisis for a while, how to make theater salvageable as an art form. I'm not saying such theater doesn't have its critical place (please remember that I said and believe this), but I wonder about that place when too often it becomes feel-good theater. The theater feels good about addressing issues and the audience feels good when they leave because they paid their ticket price toward another course in wholesome education, they are eating the right things, they can credit themselves with being more aware, which is just words as they credit themselves already with being aware and aware supporters of causes and the arts or else they wouldn't be there. As I discuss the productions of my plays, I will return to these issues and the problem of the uplifting message that finds righteous approval in "we've done our part" applause.

EYE OF THE MATADOR was not any kind of relationship issues drama.

I'm bad about holding on to anything physical from the past, so I don't have materials from that time, but a couple of high profile Atlanta actors had been pulled in for the leads. I ended up not pursuing the play any further after the reading, because time moves quickly and in some respects I felt I was being pressed away from pursuing it, so I left it behind, despite a fairly successful reading, any criticism I might have had of the reading only to do with what I found at the time to be the problem in Atlanta of an acting style that worked against the aesthetic of everything I wrote. Which is not to criticize the actors, because that "I am a play on a stage" style of acting was not only popular in Atlanta, it is simply popular in theater, and how I wrote was meant to be a jarring mix of the poetic with the scratchy mundane, naturally played, sometimes hypnotically and flatly played, with occasional explosions of emotion. The actors were consumate professionals, I was constantly told how fortunate I was to get the cream of Atlanta's crop for a reading, and they and the director were actually eager to realize the play as I'd written it, there was nothing difficult about them. They liked the play, that's why they were doing it. I was present for all rehearsals and my input was desired. When I said, "That acting style is not for this play", they wanted to get it right, and we worked it and worked it, stripping it down, making it cleaner, sharper. As rehearsals went on, the director pulled the actors closer and closer to what it should be, and by the time of the reading it was just close enough, but habits die hard and in front of an audience the actors drifted back to the style with which they were more familiar, which was inevitable though we'd had at least a couple weeks rehearsal, with blocking and were off book. They reflexively drifted back to a style that they were used to delivering to an audience, one they knew the audience was used to receiving. I don't credit this with the vanity of wanting to play it safe, it's instead physical memory, but it was problematic enough that in front of the audience it wasn't the play I had written, and when I was later asked by the director if he could use the play with his theater classes, I said no, because I wouldn't be involved and I was worried about the play becoming something other than what it was written to be. I believe I said that I wanted to work on it some more, I don't know, and I probably was thinking of doing so. The more distance I got, in time, the more I regretted that refusal, but when the request was made I was just too close to the reading, which people had liked, which people had felt was successful, but I had hard reservations. Still, though not as I'd envisioned, this was not a full production, and the play had, in fact, worked. At the time of the reading I only expressed gratitude, and I was grateful. Hard effort had gone into this. I was appreciative. I remember being elated with how certain aspects went. I am only writing about the larger experience now, decades later.

Of course, I am well aware that a writer loses control of one's work as soon as it's out there, but when it came down to it I wasn't just a writer, I had a different style of theater in mind, a different method, and even a different informing goal. My line of descent wasn't through Ibsen or Chekov, it was instead from the Greek Dionysian tragedies to the Medieval mystery and morality plays, to surrealist and absurdist plays, with an appreciation for Artaud's so-called Theater of Cruelty, about which I had my own ideas, as well as about the sacred function of ritual that in college I had been told was apart from the secular function of ritual in theater and never the twain should meet, whereas I argued that institutionalized religious orthodoxy had killed the mystical function of sacred ritual and that so-called secular theater was where that sacred function of transformation could be and was realized. I said the definitions being taught were a dogmatic, academic divorce of the sacred from the secular that had nothing to do with the reality of what was happening on a truly successful stage and what was happening in, for instance, the concrete fossil of a Mass. I remember a very big argument. I remember deciding fuck your academics.I was 19 and was rightly angry about a lot of things to do with college and in my last year was forced out due sexual harassment, but that's another story. I had, however, had enough of academics. Had I been a different school and had different experiences, I might have felt differently.

Nine years later, without a theater degree, with THE EYE OF THE MATADOR, I began trying to brazen it out in the theater world. I was ill-prepared in that I had little regard for the a good deal of the academic world, and things were increasingly shifting so there wasn't a single medium of art, with the exception of some pools of music, where academia wasn't considered as essential. No degree? What the fuck do you think you're trying to do in any of the arts. What ill-prepared ultimately means, without the academic degrees, especially from the proper institutions, is you are without connections and are shut out of everything that requires a degree. Which is pretty much everything. What the actors did certainly get was they loved the language of the play, its richness, they spoke about this a good deal. EYE OF THE MATADOR wasn't a relationship issues drama and it wasn't southern-fried, which meant two big strokes against it.

This wasn't a "southern" play, I wasn't born and raised in the south, I wasn't interested in "southern" writing, and I was continually having to fight the expectation that every piece of literature and theater that came out of the south was southern-oriented and had a southern voice.


Atlanta Festival Fosters New Productions

Now in its ninth year, the Atlanta New Play Project is rededicating itself to its original mission— to foster the production of new plays by area theatres. This year, the Festival's scope is broadening to include works that represent all stages of the playwriting process. As in years past, the bulk of the Festival will be given over to staged readings and workshop productions. Two of this year's scripts, however, are in very early stages of development. Festival attendees will get to hear portions of these plays, followed by discussions of where the writer hopes to go with the material. Conference registrants this year also will be given the option of purchasing tickets at a reduced rate for as many as two productions of new scripts at area theatres.

The nine new scripts to be read at this year's Festival are:

AMANITA by Frank Martignon — an exploration of the tangled emotions underlying a man's search for his wife's murderer.

CHAMBER MUSIC by Andrew C. Ordover — a play in two parts about a family whose members have lost all sense of communication and a group of strangers forced into communicating with each other.

THE EYE OF THE MATADOR by Juli M. Kearns — a re-telling of the Medea legend that looks at the early stages of her relationship with Jason.

FROM TYBEE LIGHT by Bonnie Pike — a Southern Gothic comedy about murder, sex and dreaming set on Tybee Island near Savannah. The first act of this work in progress will be read at the Festival.

THE NUNNEHI and THE UKTENA by Gary Carden — two plays that combine storytelling and mime to re-create Cherokee myths and legends.

PARTNERS by Geralyn Horton — a contemporary comedy about the changes in the relationship of upwardly mobile young couple.

SURVIVORS by Kent Whipple — a one-man, multi-character study of the survival instinct. A reading of this one-act work in progress will be followed by a discussion of the author's plans for expanding it into a full-length play.

TO GLEAM IT AROUND TO SHOW MY SHINE by Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner — an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's classic novel THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, a poetic comedy about a black woman's quest for a satisfying life in 1920s Florida.

Outside productions for which Conference registrants will be able to purchase tickets are June Jordan's BANG, BANG UBER ALLES at Seven Stages, Frank Wittow's HEADLINES at the Academy Theatre and Tom Huey's THROUGHLINE at the Alliance Studio Theatre.

In addition to the new scripts scheduled for readings, the Festival will include discussions of the plays read and workshops will be two guest facilitators: Suzanne Bennett, Literary Manager for the Women's Program at the American Place Theatre in New York, and Jeffrey Sweet, playwright, critic and Associate Editor of the Dramatists Guild Quarterly.

Festival participants will also be able to attend a free workshop presented under the auspices of the National Archives Atlanta Branch and the Society of Georgia Archivists. BEFORE THE PLAY'S THE THING: Archival Research for Playwrights will intro- duce playwrights to the availability of archival materials at govern- ment and private collections for use in general period research or in researching specific topics. Among the materials on file at the National Archives-Atlanta Branch are reports dating back to the 19th century from Cherokee reservations in the Southeast and TVA cultural studies of Appalachian life.

The1986 Festival of Plays will take place at Georgia State Uni versity in downtown Atlanta. The campus is within walking distance of the Five Points MARTA Station and on several bus lines. All read ings will be held in the Alumni Hall Auditorium at Courtland and Auditorium Drive. The Archival Re- search Workshop will be held at the Georgia State Archives at 330 Capitol Ave.. SE.

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Header image: Televised Dinner Theater of Mortals and Gods Featuring Janus by Juli Kearns