LOCKER ROOM TALK: A LIBERAL FANTASY
JULY 24 @ 7:15 PM; JULY 27 @ 7:15 PM; JULY 29 @ 1:15PM
BY JASON PARIS, DIRECTED BY EMILY TINAWI; STARRING JASON PARIS AND AVERY BAGENSTOS.
AT THE WORKSHOP THEATER, 312 W.36TH STREET, NYC
So maybe the recent presidential DID do some good.
It prompted a slew of projects examining what brought us here.
Jason Paris explores how the current political climate in the United States impacts personal relationships. His parable puts us in a locker room with a recent grad and a disillusioned coach.
Taylor (Avery Bagenstos) finds his high school football coach (Jason Paris) contemplating resignation due to a past decision, one that sits on the scale between progressive and conservative values.
Teacher and all-around stage artist, Jason Paris, a celebarted speech teacher, btw, shares some well-spoken thoughts with us.
What inspires you as an artist?
I think the job of any artist is to be constantly on the lookout for inspiration because it can be anything. It’s about your reaction to the world around you. That means the moment of inspiration tends to be different every time. It depends on where you are and what’s happening, and how you’re responding. Certainly with this play, I’m working through my experiences and observations around our politics, particularly as a liberal from a conservative part of the country. I mean, I’m from Oklahoma. That’s an extremely red state. So with Locker Room Talk, specifically, inspiration came from a real world event, the election of President Trump, that I needed to wrap my mind around. I don’t think I’m alone as an artist here. I think there are countless artists right now, in every media or genre, who are finding inspiration in our politics. But as both a writer and a teacher, I’m in the business of explaining things, and this was something I just couldn’t explain. I don’t just mean the election, or President Trump the man. I’m talking about how we communicate with one another when we don’t agree on reality. We don’t even start with the same baseline. How do you get past that? How do you hold two contradictory truths in your head at one time? So in some ways, I was inspired by a need both to understand it myself, and then to let the play wrestle with it in a way that respects the various points of view.
Also, very specifically to Locker Room Talk, I was inspired by a desire to work with Avery Bagenstos, a former student who’s now a Los Angeles-based actor. We’d been talking about doing a short film together, so I had that in mind as I began writing. Avery’s an athlete, he’s got a whole series of state titles in football and track to boast about, so it made sense to fold that into the play, particularly if I was calling it Locker Room Talk.
Then, you layer onto all of that the need to entertain. If I were a painter, I guess I could paint my way through these issues, and it might not matter so much if people liked it, at least from an artistic vantage point. With theatre, there’s always the need to entertain, even while challenging. That doesn’t require comedy, although there’s plenty of humor in this play, but it does require that you keep the audience in mind. Otherwise, it would just be an essay or something, an editorial.
The point, I guess, is that there’s no one thing I can point to and say, “This is what inspires me.” It’s a matrix, and it’s specific to each work. In general terms, though, I like what Steven Pressfield says. He thinks of it as tapping into the Muse, whatever that is. It may sound crazy, but when I’m writing well, or teaching well, or doing anything well, it doesn’t feel like I’m the one doing it. It feels like it’s happening through me. So much of Pressfield’s writing as a novelist is grounded in Greek and Roman history, it makes sense he calls it the Muse. Whatever you call it, I think inspiration comes when you’re kind of quietly present and aware of the world, or a situation, or an experience. And when you get into that state, literally anything can inspire your work. At that point, you’re kind of just along for the ride.
I think my work’s most inspired by really tough questions. This problem exists, and what can we do about it? Where did it come from? Is it real? Do solutions exist? The beauty of the arts, generally, and in this case, theatre, is that they allow us to work through those questions, and share the experience of that working-through. Hopefully, at the end of the process, then, we’ve all arrived somewhere new together, and we’re better for it.
So festival-newbie, why independent theater?
You know, I’m new to the festival scene. I went to NYU for my master’s in educational theatre, and I had several friends who regularly participated in festivals and independent theater projects. My focus, though, has been teaching. I spend a lot of time talking to my students about the importance of contributing your voice to the world through the arts, so I’m kind of putting my money where my mouth is this summer. The really wonderful thing about festivals like MITF is that they give voice to a whole gamut of playwrights whose work otherwise might not be seen. Speaking as someone who lives in the rural midwest, I can tell you that the opportunity to produce your work can be hard to come by. Independent theater provides a venue, frankly, for talented artists with something worthwhile to say, but who might be a little off the beaten path in terms of name recognition.
I think, too, there’s a freedom in the independent theatre space. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for some famous producer or literary agent to see my show and whisk me away to a life of riches, but I’m not holding my breath. And that’s the beauty of it, really. Obviously, I hope people see my work and find it meaningful, but I’m not burdened by the need to reach some commercial benchmark for success. It’s about sharing the experience of the play. I’m saying there’s a real art for art’s sake vibe. It’s about playwrights and other artists doing their work at a really important time in our history.