'Plaint of the Playwright

'Plaint of the Playwright

[ Wednesday, July 28, 2004 ]

You know, I don't even remember what the other thing was I was going to write about. 

I'm sure it was going to be wordy and informative, and be a million laughs.

Oh, now I remember.    I was going to write about this guy's movie and then this guy's movie, and then this guy's website.

Well, search that shit out on your own for now, because I've just recently noticed a strange phenomina...

That's right.

People are bitching about an upcoming Broom Street show, and none of those people are me.

Okay, maybe "bitching" is too strong a word.

I've got my own opinions on the matter, but first, a kind of overview:

The MadStage link says:

Audrey Seiler, Where Are You?
By John Sable
Directed by Dana Pellebon

John Sable's new play about popularity, the media, and the culture of the new millennium. Audrey Seiler, Where Are You?, is a fast-paced thrill ride of a farce full of local flavor and an eye-opening look at a modern society that is quick to jump on the flavor of the week, and equally expeditious in denouncing the same. 

Produced by Broom Street Theater at the Broom Street Theater Building, 1119 Willliamson Street

Performances: July 30 through September 5, 2004
All performances will be at 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
Ticket Prices $7, available at the door only (sorry, no reservations).
Call 608-244-8338 for updates or more information or check out the theater's web site:

Sable's script, interestingly, was originally going to be a totally different show called "The Ethical Slut," I think based on the book of the same name by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt.  (The subtitle of that book, by the way, is "A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities."  Zowie.)

Then the Seiler incident happened, and he changed the concept, causing something very major to happen--Broom Street getting nationally recognised.

Papers across the country have had articles about the play, and Joel Gersmann told me that it's even been mentioned on "Good Morning America."  (Though I doubt this, it's not impossible.)  Since it hit the AP, it's basically the same article in every paper:

July 18 - The story of a University of Wisconsin student who faked her abduction can soon be seen on stage.

"Audrey Seiler, Where Are You?" opens at the Broom Street Theater in Madison July 30th.

Seiler captured the nation's attention in March when she disappeared from her campus-area apartment.  Seiler later admitted she made up a story about an armed man
abducting her and holding her hostage.  She was sentenced to three years of probation after she pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of obstructing officers.

Playwright John Sable says her story speaks for everyone who has felt depressed and wanted to escape the pressures of life or just needed a little more attention.

Sable is known for controversial theater.  He wrote "Trench Coat Mafia" after the Columbine shootings and "Why Sex? Why Not the Violin?" about feminist porn film star Nina Hartley.

Source: AP 

Okay, so Broom Street has more coverage than it's had in roughly thirty years, which is a good thing.

The bad thing--and I think this is where the concern is coming from--is that although more people in the country know about Broom Street, it's probably in the context of "those assholes will make a play out of anything."  I bet somewhere, some place, people think we're the ones who did that Jerry Springer opera, and the musical about Bat Boy.

Not that I would ever do a show about Springer.


More on this after a quick quote from Dampha's website:

04:22 pm: The Audrey Play Rant
Joel called me last night at around 10:30 to play Broom Street's first bit of negative reaction to Audrey Seiler, Where Are You? A gentleman left a message on Joel's machine to the gist of "I am an enthusiastic supporter of local theater, and I just wanted to let you know that I think your upcoming production is crass, tasteless and ill-conceived, and I think that it's going to put you out of business." I find it surprising that it's taken this long to get such a reaction. I myself have always been less than thrilled about the general concept of an Audrey Seiler play so soon after her public humiliation, and I've expressed my doubts as to whether the playwright in question is the best man to write it--but still, this message unlodged some defensive feelings and behalf of the theater...and on behalf of what we all aspire to as performance artists.
Anybody involved in the arts knows the uphill climb that it is publicizing your work, and one of the biggest reasons for that is that local, regional, and national media are all so stingy in regards to coverage of the arts. And what does get reported tends to involve contention of some sort, whether it be in the form of a contest such as the Oscars, the latest movie power couple break-up, or the latest "controversal" blockbuster (whose real political issues can usually be dismissed in the time it takes tea to steep). And it's contention that gets people's attention in this town, too: just look what happened with Corpus Christi earlier this season. I hasten to mention that Stage Q's production of that play was exceptional, but the play itself is a mediocre treatment of inflamatory material. And no matter how good the stagework was, does anybody honestly believe that CC's sold-out houses were a result of that good work? No, people bought tickets by the bushel before the show even opened. Some of them might have done it to feel righteous in defense of freedom of expression (such as our Mayor), and some might have been slowing down to look at the evangelical car wreck they had heard about. But in any case, as soon as Stage Q began getting letters condemning the producers and cast to hell, they must have known they had a hit on their hands.Well, it seems that Broom Street has a hit on its hands, too; Audrey Seiler, Where Area You has seen mention in a great variety of regional press and broadcast. And Broom Street can always use a hit. But it will be a bitter accomplishment in light of the pathetic audiences that Untitled Farce and Morality Play saw recently, because it will have nothing to do with whether the show is any good or not. I have no idea whether it's any good because I haven't seen it. And the thing is, neither have you. And neither has the guy who called and predicted that it would be our financial undoing. And meanwhile, most of us won't see--or perhaps even hear about--some of the best work that's going on in this town.Must art be about controversy? And if so, who's to blame? The "public?" The "media?" George Bush? All the culprits that come to mind sound like especially lame scapegoats, even "we as artists."So what am I saying? Do I think you should go see Audrey Seiler, Where Are You? I don't care if you do or not. But for god's sake go see and support something, and don't choose it on the basis of what somebody else thinks you ought to see or ought not to see. Choose it because you suspect it's going to leave you in awe. The good work is out there; now find it.

What's amazing to me here is that he actually said a lot of what I would have said.

FountainAl had this to add:

I have made no bones about the fact that I agree with the caller (except for the part about it putting the theater out of business), and I will definitely NOT go to see it. Want to parody the situation? Fine. But to use the girl's actual name and to do it right here in the town where it happened immediately after it happened is everything the caller said it is - crass, tasteless, and ill-conceived, not to mention cruel, mean-spirited, and shamelessly opportunistic. No, I haven't seen it, but the idea of this show is offensive, even without knowing the content. It is a cheap stunt to fill seats at the expense of a troubled girl. Everyone was quick to criticize and poke fun at Audrey, and to draw their own conclusions about the case, but the fact is that none of us really know the facts or her pscyhological or emotional state, then or now. Bringing attention to the theater is one thing, bringing more attention to the one that is trying to put this behind her, and who has to live with this for the rest of her life is shameful. And you are right of course, this is not the right kind of attention for the theater. This kind of press just perpetuates the notion that Broom Street is the kind of place that does everything but the kinds of quality shows that have enjoyed such positive feedback lately from the precious few people who saw them. I am embarrassed to even admit it when I get asked (and I have been asked) "Hey, isn't that theater doing the Audrey Seiler play the same place where you did your last show?" Everything about this disgusts me.  
Al brings up a very good point.  This not only happened here, and recently, but Seiler still lives here.   She has family, and friends, and, well, let's face it, a lot of people whose feelings might be hurt.

At the same time, after the national news coverage, jokes about her on talk shows, plus the general embarrassment of starting a half-a-day manhunt and going to trial of it, the play may just as well seem like an amusing afterthought.

How much you wanna bet, right now, that there's a part of Seiler that's just dying of curiousity about the show?

At the same time, it's interesting to get a sense of what the rest of the public--not just the Madison theatre crowd--thinks of this.

Some comments from the Yahoo news board:

Sucks To Be Audrey!
by: thunderfoot920 (45/M/Fort Atkinson, WI)
07/16/04 10:06

 First, she makes up this wild abduction story, gets nationwide press, just reappears with a description of her "abductor", sets off a massive search involving lots of heavily armed police. Then she admits it's all a hoax, pi$$es off a whole bunch of people who are now screaming for her head, and then they make a play about the whole fiasco.
Ok, she's probably not playing with a full deck, so it wouldn't surprise me if this pushed her over the edge. Hope not, but it may.

I'll be there!
by: somethingspecialfromwisconsin_eh
07/16/04 08:06 pm

I'll be the guy with the big nose who lives in the swamp!

(Whatever the fuck that means.)

Giver the attention she deserves...
07/19/04 01:09 pm 

Glamorize Audrey!, she needs the attention.

And then there's this post, which is pretty direct and to the point:

07/19/04 09:50 am 

What a bunch of idiots!

Which just may be the out-of-state, general sentiment.

Oh, yeah, and then there's this response from the tongue-in-cheek weblog "Farm Accident Digest:"

In other words, he scans the headlines, picks something that is sure to get himself attention, and scribbles something out. I applaud him.

Hmm.  Once again, sort of what I had been thinking.

Oh, he also adds, "I hope there's nudity." 

Well, Mano, given the playwright, you may be in luck.

Sable himself responded on this site, saying:

I write about life and the world around me. I believe that theater should reflect the times in which we live.

Some of you may chide me, but I make no money from my work - I give it away to area theaters for free. Once you start taking payment for your works people think they own you. I write the way I want, about the things I want... That way I answer to no one... I don't want a Nike swoosh on my forehead any more than a swastika on my arm. My reward is in watching the script brought to life; listening to an audience react to the words.

Some people pin-stripe their cars, some dye their hair purple others post on blogs. I write plays. That's how I express myself.

Audrey's motivation as I see it were heartbreak, a desire for attention, depression and fear. Anyone who has ever experienced any of these things has a bit of Audrey in them. Most of us don't act out in such an extreme way… but remember … we were all 100% certain that she had been abducted long before she uttered a single word of confirmation. We wanted, maybe even needed her to be kidnapped. Why is that?

- John Sable, Playwright , Audrey Seiler, Where Are You?
Posted By
John Sable on Jul 22nd, 2004 at 9:44am

Wow.  "I don't want a Nike swoosh on my forehead any more than a swastika on my arm."  This from the guy who once put the Nike swoosh on the Broom Street website.

Okay, okay, he did it as a joke, it's just none of us thought it was funny.

Okay, so, what's my take on this whole thing?

Well, first, I wasn't going to mention it (mainly because everyone knows), but in the interest of full disclosure and honesty, I should preface all this by mentioning that John Sable and I haven't gotten along since...oh...probably 1999.  Both of us have our reasons, but we pretty much openly hate each other.  (And I guess that's putting it mildly.)

That said, I honestly didn't have that much an opinion when I first heard about it--Broom Street has done this sort of thing before--and hell, Sable himself has done this before with "Trenchcoat Mafia" opening a mere five months after the massacre. 

Prior to his rehearsing that show, I had made the decision to not lend any guns at all to the production.  I thought it was too soon, and Sable had told me (possibly as a joke) that he had intended to "glorify Eric and Dylan."  He chuckled as he said it, and I pretty much decided that I was going to have nothing to do with the show.

Sable one-upped me by waiting until the director's meeting before he asked me formally for guns, so he could do it in front of Joel.  

Both Joel and Sable looked at me, and I was cornered.  "Of course he's going to lend you the guns," Joel said, smiling, "After all, he's The Gun Guy!"

Since I was a chicken-shit when it came to Joel, I caved in almost immediately, and I lent guns to the production.  

Later, Sable and Gersmann had an idea for promoting the show, and it was to send invites to the staff of the school and the families of the victims.

I freaked. 

I told Joel that I was very uncomfortable with that, and that it would make the theater look ghoulish.  Joel wouldn't bend, until I threatened to go down to the theater and remove my guns from the show.  Okay, it wasn't a great threat, but Joel and Sable ended up not doing it.

So this kind of insensitivity is sorta par for the course with Broom Street.  These days I just don't take it that seriously. 

Broom Street has a reputation for pushing the envelope, and in the words of Bill Murray, you never know where the line is until you cross it.

So as far as "Audrey Seiler" goes, I feel sorta like been there, done that. 

Besides, I've just heard the show isn't really about Audrey Seiler anyway.  In the same way that "Trenchcoat Mafia" wasn't actually about Columbine (that show was actually about an unrelated fictional shooting) and "69," the anniversary show, wasn't actually about Broom Street (it was about a fictional theater which eventually becomes a sex club), "Audrey Seiler, Where Are You?" is really about two geeky losers and their plan to get laid, which involves Audrey Seiler.



Well, now, I'm lost. 

So, the show isn't about Audrey Seiler, and it's another "hairbrained scheme to get laid" play, like "Men Suck!: The Amuse-icle" or  "CandyLand, You Slut?"

Okay, so what we're probably looking at is a show that actually isn't offensive in any way that we might have thought, but in a totally different way.

And, it's hard to deny, it really does seem like the cheap stunt Al referred to.

Oh, fuck it, I'm totally going to see it.  Maybe even opening weekend.  (And if you see me, say the words "Conga Line."  That way, I'll know you.)

For those of you coming here looking for information about the show, or wanting to know if it's any good, I really can't help you, since I haven't seen it yet.

However, if you want to get a sense of the writing style, here's an early draft of the script to Sable's "Candyland, You Slut."  That should give you some idea as to what you're dealing with.

On a side note, gee, I hope this post doesn't get me banned from the theater.  Again.

posted by Rob on 2:24 PM | link



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