“You need a win,” my fiancee Sarah observed. And, like on so many situations, she was right. Yet for a long time, it didn’t look like that would be probable.
“Mine”, my play about the life of a woman following an assault, originally came to life as part of a improvisational show in 1995 called “Razor Spirits” (there was a brief dalliance with dramatic improvisation in Chicago that year). It was a short scene I had devised, and the actors at the time grappled with the subject matter but it never really took off. It was perhaps too heavy. I was somewhat saddened by that, as I thought the idea was a worthy one.
My 2015 play, “Bully”, collapsed under its own weight – despite taking great steps to make the show unique by having two casts (one black, one white) and permitting the actors to play with the language and action to reflect their experiences/cultures, the show devolved into a series of ever-shifting alliances and factions which I couldn’t control (one actor wrote me, saying “fuck them” about the other cast, and then within weeks, shifted to saying “fuck you” to me along with the other cast; another called me racist and then sent me pictures of her tits). This led to folks showing up late for shows, sometimes not showing up at all, skipping pages of dialogue during the shows, etc. Even during the run of the show, there were angry Facebook tirades from a few of the actors, followed by blocks and deletions. I am still struggling with what went so wrong.
So when 2016 came along, I really wanted to write and perform something solid and good. I had thought about the improv scene from 1995 for years; early versions of “Mine” were written in 2013 and 2014. Knowing that at least the concept was solid and good, I focused on this script over a few months and had a workshop in the spring. It didn’t look good. In the 2016 early draft, the lead character Amber got over her assault by use of therapy, reconnecting with a loved one, and re-establishing a relationship with a guy she had a date with early in the play. One participant accused me of some form of misogyny by having a woman’s life improved by a man, and she promptly defriended me on Facebook. And I thought, fuck, I’m not going to be able to get out of this failure cycle.
I did take her – and everyone’s – thoughts on board and reworked the script so there were a few less happy endings but a lot more exploration of psychology, ultimately the core of the piece. I removed any pat explanations and other bits of tidy writing, and just let the characters bash into each other. And then it worked.
My first two executive decisions were to cast Kimmy Higginbotham in the lead role as Amber, as I needed someone I could trust in that role, and to cast myself as the voice in her head, as she needed someone she could trust in that role.
Auditions went smoothly – which made me suspicious, as I was expecting the experience to run as shakily as my last year’s experiences. Then, when the cast and I sat down, it was discovered that we were all writer/actor/directors and the show became a thinktank. Everyone chimed in with observations and criticisms, and everything was taken onboard. We all suggested edits and additions, emphasis and subtle brushstrokes. It was a goddamned team.
Suddenly (nearly), the show grew its own momentum and everyone gave their all for six intense weeks of rehearsal. And suddenly (not nearly), we were performing at the Chicago Fringe Festival and every single person we spoke to had complex things to say – there was no “way to go” or “I enjoyed it” but long paragraphs starting with “I think…”. It was beautiful! We received one review – 4 out of 5 stars – and many big houses. I got my win. And, I hope, so did everyone who saw “Mine.”
I want to thank the cast of the show for helping me – and all of us – get this win. Elliot Lerner, standup comic/charming guy/actor. Kathleen Urbanski, director/actor. Athanasia Jennifer Sawicz, dancer/actor. Mark A. Child, storyteller/actor. Kimmy Higginbotham, director/actor. If you’re in theater or film, you should find these people and find a way to work with them. Thank you, guys.
And, last but by no means least, thanks to the Chicago Fringe Festival for bringing me back to life, for helping me get to a place where I can proudly say, my name is Vincent Truman and this story is Mine.