I have been journaling about the experience of working on a one-woman show for a while and now this blog needs to play catch-up. So, here are some memorable entries from the past few months:
January 6, 2011
I told my mother I was terrified of doing this play. I think her advice is worth sharing.
[06/01/2011 3:25:50 PM] Michaela Di Cesare: I am getting so nervous
[06/01/2011 3:27:55 PM] Mom: why,it is great,not only what you recount but how you recount,and all those ,i dont know right word ,forgot,references to great writers,i hope your mentors realize what a great writer you are!!!
[06/01/2011 3:28:39 PM] Michaela Di Cesare: so the writing can be good...I think it is
[06/01/2011 3:28:49 PM] Michaela Di Cesare: but then it's a whole different thing when I have to perform it
[06/01/2011 3:29:00 PM] Michaela Di Cesare: just me in front of a whole audience...people could not like me
[06/01/2011 3:31:23 PM] Mom: you have to make them love you,you must carry a certain vulnurabilty,and all you must say,i know it will come easy because it is insalled in your memory,you really lived this.you could not have recountad our life more adequately.
[06/01/2011 3:32:09 PM] Michaela Di Cesare: Mommy, is that you?
[06/01/2011 3:32:22 PM] Michaela Di Cesare: you sound like Lee Strasberg
[06/01/2011 3:32:32 PM] Michaela Di Cesare: Wow mommy...you're such a smart lady :)
[06/01/2011 3:32:37 PM] Michaela Di Cesare: I'm so proud of you
[06/01/2011 3:33:05 PM] Carmine Di Cesare: i hope you know you get some of it from me!
Jan. 13 2011
I knew for a long time I was going to tell this story to people. I tell stories about my whacky family every day, to whoever will listen. And in fact I have often told the story of my mother’s conception to (seemingly) interested listeners. However, transferring it to the stage kept falling through. It went through many versions: filmed mock-umentary, sketch comedy piece, lyric ballad…they all failed. The way I really wanted to see it incarnated—as a stage play, was missing an important factor to make it work. Why would a young woman stand on stage and tell this story? I thought, it might be a monologue, as a toast at her wedding, perhaps as part of a larger piece called My Big Fat Italian Wedding (I'm joking), but these ideas never worked out in the end. The question “Why tell this story?” never had a satisfactory answer for me.
When I started writing this version, I was angry. The story is old now and we all know it. We know it from the play. An immature little boy breaks up with me and my family starts spewing the patriarchal nonsense that makes me feel like I ruined my whole life. In my anger, what I was writing was straight parody and self-pity. Those were the only two colors in the piece. The conception story was a farce and my personal life was a tragedy that I would never overcome. This tone didn’t last very long. Much like my character in the play, I had an epiphany about the true injustices in this story that other women were forced to overcome and mine wasn’t so bad-- at all. So, yes, while I still remembered and cared that I had been treated unfairly, I began to see the threads of a bigger story coming together. A story about women in a Roman Catholic immigrant family. The play took on all sorts of new colors. It even went somewhere very dark. If you had asked me when I started writing 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived if it would have a scene in it about a child being molested, I would have thought you were crazy. No, this piece was only supposed to be about griping and ridicule. A lot of people snapped me out of it. My mother was one of them. Though I included her initial feedback about the play as part of a funny scene in it, she was right. It is both hilarious and true when she said I would scare my boyfriend away with this play. I didn't listen to her then but after my epiphany I realized I was doing a lot of complaining and if I wanted to teach anyone anything I’d have to wake up and look outside me for what’s important. I wish I had a brilliant story about how this epiphany happened, but in the end I think it had to do with me realizing I was fully recovered from heartache and a gnawing feeling of mistrust and remembering that I had undertaken to speak for my grandmother, who could not speak for herself.
Jan. 27 2011
Someone told me I wasn't being brave. Re-focus.
Feb. 7 2011
Paula asked me to look up cervical cancer to make sure my information was correct. I ran a google search and then couldn’t stop crying. I cried for an hour. I think saying over and over that something is unfair, you forget what you’re talking about. But then I stopped to think. It doesn’t matter in the end why she passed away…but she did. It always makes me sad to think about it because she’d be 65 now. That’s very young. I could still have a grandmother. She didn’t deserve to die at 46 when she had been dealt so many blows already. I can’t help but think everything would be different. I mean, especially for my mom. I can’t imagine not having my mother, and she hasn’t had hers for a very long time.
Something good came out of my little breakdown, though. I found, all over again, a reason to speak this play. I am being brave.
Feb. 16 2011
I’m off book for 7 pages! And we blocked another 9 or so today. I can’t believe the way this is coming together. Paula’s ideas for the set and the blocking are bringing to life something I’ve only ever imagined on the page or as my memories. I feel like I could never really see the production until now.
Feb. 23rd 2011
I made a huge cut to the play. I couldn’t accept that the play was running half an hour before even getting to way #2 (in 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived)! And then I had to think a lot about the romantic relationships aspect of the play. I’m at such a different place in my life right now and I found that acting out the scenes of the beginnings of my ill-fated and naïve relationship were so far removed from anything I cared about or the message of this play. I realized that dramaturgically it sufficed for me to start this play at the point of being scorned and moving ahead from there. No rehashing necessary. No need to show how inadequate he was. I can tell you he was and that’s that. I also had a moment of moral reckoning, perhaps I only really forgave him now. I realized that I am so happy, I don’t need to tour this show, to stand up in my hometown and tell him, or people who might know him, how badly he treated me, and make it seem as though I was still angry or even embarrass him with those details being made public. So I’ve dropped it. And I feel lighter. The play feels lighter. My body feels lighter. It was like I rolled a big heavy dead body off from on top of my play and plunked it down in a river. Wooosh.
February 25th, 2011
Interview with my Mother #1, after she came to Toronto and watched one of my rehearsals
Me: What were your overall impressions watching this rehearsal process?
Mary: I saw great storytelling. I also saw so many points, is that the right word?
Mary: Yes, so many new meanings to the story. The more I see it, the more I understand.
Me: How did it feel to watch?
Mary: It hit home because it is about us. It was emotional because everything told is the truth. I became very emotional when you said you look like Nonna because, in fact, you do…except for the nose. That’s your grandfather. The description of you is exactly her. The character, your character, is her. She was a good person.
Me: Do you think there is any value in telling a story about a person after they’ve passed on?
Mary: There is big value because sometimes stories tend to be forgotten, but this one will remain in our family for a long time. For more reasons than one.
Me: Are you saying that the play is one of those reasons?
Mary: The play will reignite the conversation.
Me: Yeah, because I was shocked that Gabriel and Luca [my cousins, aged 11 and 8] had never heard the story.
Mary: It’s lost its place. For me, it was a fairy tale. You didn’t say the part about how Nonno would walk to Nonna’s house for two miles with his shoes in his hands. So he wouldn’t ruin his one pair of shoes and could look presentable for her.
Me: Sorry. Did your view of the story as a fairytale ever change?
Me: Does this play change that for you?
Mary: The play that my daughter [my mother was addressing an invisible 3rd party it seems] has written makes me think and reflect on the way that I was perhaps naïve in believing my mother. The story she told me. But to this day I still believe and live by my mother’s words. Her version. But the doubt is in my head.
Me: Would you rather not have that doubt?
Mary: I would rather not. But, that’s impossible. Whatever way it happened, I know that if it hadn’t I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t have my daughter.
Me: Does seeing it acted out this way, with props and costumes, take the story further away from you? Do you feel removed from it watching it this way?
Mary: Not at all. The opposite! And I’m not saying that because my daughter is an actress. I can see our lives on the stage. It makes it more clear. More real. It’s like everyone is living and breathing, even though it’s just you.
My impressions on the rehearsal: There was an added level of self-consciousness performing this piece for my mother, that is absent under regular circumstances when I’m performing. I can imagine it would only intensify when other members of the family will be present. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because in a way it feels like my target audience is there and the experience is no different than carrying on this conversation privately. Though I’m sure that would change with other audience members present. It only felt “wrong” in a sense because of acting theory and everything I have ever been taught in an acting class. With my mother in the room, I was not present in the moment of the play, but was constantly thinking ahead, dialoguing with myself, saying things like “oh this part is coming, I wonder what she’ll do” or “I can’t believe I just said this in front of her”, etc…
After watching she said, “You let the cat out of the bag about me and daddy having sex before marriage. I mean, you confirmed it to those who don’t know.”
I said, “Yeah. Consider it revenge.” She laughed. I can’t be sure, but I think a weight was lifted off her.
Ethnographic observations of my mother coming to watch 8 Ways rehearsal: Her trip to come visit me and sit in on these rehearsals was the first trip she ever took alone in her entire life. Every other time she'd been accompanied by at least one male (father, brother or husband). She’s 49. I find this to be very very significant.
6 March 2011
-weeping for half an hour after reading Leo’s [my uncle] reply to questionnaire. He said I was a good example to his children. It's what I wanted to hear all along.
March 21, 2010
Blocking of the entire play is done, now it’s all about getting off script! This is proving to be an odd challenge in that sense because since I wrote the play, I generally know what’s coming next and what story I’m telling. I’ve also told these stories a million times each in real life outside of the context of this play. So in a sense that should make memorization easier, but I am also finding it more difficult by the same token. It is proving harder to distill these speeches to the exact version that is on the page, rather than tell the stories extempore as I’m used to.
The questionnaires have been interesting. I found myself having second thoughts because many of my family members expressed specifically that they hoped I wouldn’t touch upon the “darker” family stories. The “more private” ones was a common way of designating them. By this, they meant stories of infidelity, sickness and death, which I do touch upon. I don’t think they expect that the entire idea behind my play is the juxtaposition of the naïve, innocent family legend with the harsh realities this and every family lives through. One person indicated on their form that they would see no correlation between the conception story and any of these and hoped I didn’t “go there” simply for shock value or “in the name of art.” That is quite frightening indeed. It made me second-guess myself for a while. I wondered if many of the secrets didn’t have a place in my tale, or whether even if they did, I had a right to tell them at all. I’m reminding myself that the reason I wrote this was to challenge the idea so pervasive in mine and other cultures that there is “one truth.” I reminded myself that this obsession with truth and good and how it can only and invariably mean one thing to everyone is dangerous, it is what hurt me and continues to hurt others (especially women) all around the world. I don’t know if this sounds like a delusion of grandeur. I know I can’t possibly hope that my play will even take one step towards eradicating this mentality, but I did set out to try.