Yesterday I was out running when without warning my right brain exploded.
It began as I was listening to a piano concerto and randomly thought, “What if we had a toy piano in The Tempest?” And something about the concreteness of that image began to open up a series of others, piling on top of each other: from set pieces to staging visuals, ways to solve a problem moment in Act IV to songs that would completely underscore a given moment at the beginning. These ideas began to vomit up so fast, so rapid fire that I was actually afraid I would forget them before I was able to get back home and write them down. I spent the next fevered four miles trying to create a mnemonic to help me remember.
It’s things like this that make me angry at my brain.
For the past week I’ve been slowly and methodically working my way through a script, trying to come up with potential cuts and updating the text to reflect the cross-gender casting choices I have made. I wanted to make sure I understood all the language, the references, and that I would be able to speak intelligently about what the play was about. But more than any of those functional things, I was looking through this text trying to get to the heart of the thing. I wanted to know the texture of this piece, I wanted to find the essential flavors of the thing.
I think of it as tasting the play. Until I know that feeling in the mouth, until it is tangibly sweet or crunchy or spicy, it’s only surface level research. Until I can really bite on the qualities and chew them up, anything I say feels paper-thin and insubstantial – something from brain but without soul.
I can’t explain exactly how I know when I’ve found that texture. The form the inspiration takes is never the same. It’s been many things – a song, an image in a book, a color pattern on a building, a series of words in a script – but whatever it is, it’s some tiny thing that opens everything else up. It’s the trickle from which a stream begins to flow. When I find it, it seems like a dam breaks, like a tiny hole bursts in the wall between me and the piece. It’s a way that I can start to glimpse the other side. And rather than a feeling of randomly trying to move forward on all fronts, my direction finally has purpose and, well, direction. I can use that momentum as a vector to channel my efforts and start to chip away and the division. It’s the first step to getting closer to the thing I seek.
The trick is finding that crack. Without it, it’s just banging away at a brick wall.
Yesterday, while running, I felt something crack (“We split, we split!”) and I truly had the impulse to yell “Eureka!”
As if I were in some Renaissance laboratory with my alchemy agents. As if I’d just turned steel into gold. It felt like something had just been bequeathed to me, magically, divinely, I’m not sure, but totally random and out of my control.
This “Eureka” is not singular, there will be more to come. Always, one finds them multiple times throughout a production’s life, a random punch that busts through a plateau a given stage of the work has hit.
But weirdly, as grateful as I was for the ideas and their clarity – ones I had felt in desperate need of in order to tackle this play – it also reminded me of how out of control the whole process of inspiration feels. If I’ve found any pattern in the Eurekas I’ve had in the past, the consistent thing about them is that they’re frustratingly indirect.
I have committed myself to time and space to work with collaborators only to have the Eureka come in the last hours together. I have had them about a project I just finished during the project I should be currently working on. I’ve had them randomly and intensely about pieces that do not yet exist and that then vehemently demand themselves into being. I have had them in the midst of giving a interview about a piece, suddenly knowing I will shift things in a massive but yet untried fashion. I have had them on the bus while randomly chatting with someone about the play.
They are sometimes convenient. They are sometimes not. They are almost always unexpected.
In the shower, while running, cooking, traveling, whether I have pen and paper or not, whether I am able to remember them, sometimes in vivid nightmare, sometimes in distracted day dream, they come when they feel like it but never ever ever when I ask them to. And the more desperate I start to feel, the more intensely I crave the Eureka, the faster and tighter I try and grasp for it, the more elusive they are.
It makes me a little nuts that I can spend 20 hours in a week trying to pull the play apart and it’s only in the moment that I take a break that my brain floods in with the amazing perpendicular and unexpected ways of seeing the thing. It’s in the moment I’m thinking about something totally different that I start to make connections.
Gods of Eureka, I don’t mean to anger you. But I spent all week offering sacrifice of time and thought. Why are you so random? Why must you wait until I don’t have a pen and am really sweaty and out on Festival Pier?
It’s no longer is a surprise. And in some ways, I can see that the sacrifice of the research was not wasted, it was simply percolating. But it’s still maddening. It feels like I’m just doing all this work in order to distract myself. I wish I could just get to the meat of the thing head on.
I’m trying not to hate on this. I’m trying to just relax, and let it be, which probably helps the thing come quicker.
But it’s hard. It’s so hard when you put in effort and don’t see an equivalent result right away. I want to be able to just DO the thing, not do and do and then suddenly have the thing appear in front of me.
It’s hard to sit there hammering away at the wall.
Of course now I’m picturing you going everywhere with a voice recorder – JUST IN CASE – like Lloyd Dobler or something. I think I’m lucky in that I tend to get these moments in the shower, which is just a few steps away from pen and paper.