Monday, December 09, 2013

Henry Miller in The Paris Review, 1961

During my senior year of college there was a slot available for anyone who wanted to present a workshop production of an original play. No one, not one other person, had any interest in taking the slot.

The second semester of my junior year, I studied in Paris, or more truthfully, had a great time taking Art History, Theater, German, Music Composition and Speech/Acting, a needed break from the other seven semesters of hard sciences with the occasional modern dance class thrown in. While in Paris, I made extra money busking in front of the Pomipdou and bravely played songs that I had written on the guitar. I sort of figured out I was a writer of some kind so when this slot opened up, I felt confident that I could write a play and I grabbed it.  One of those seize-the-opportunity if it feels right kind of things.

I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to take out a book on how to write a play. I had read most of the full length plays by Tennessee Williams, a ton of other plays, and had acted in a whole mess of them by that age, too. I looked in the card catalog for a book about writing. I looked up Arthur Miller and I went to the stacks and got the book by Miller, On Writing.

Lo' and behold, after reading about twenty pages, I thought, This doesn't seem like Arthur Miller. It's too out there or something. It's actually better than Arthur Miller. I felt more aligned with what I was reading than I ever had while boring down into Death of a Salesman.

Turns out, the book On Writing, was by Henry Miller. I mistook my Millers. I stole the book from Tufts and I still have it here on my book shelf. (I also stole some Williams and Pinter Collections---but long ago mailed them back.) I just couldn't give up my stolen Henry Miller and I feel like Henry would have liked that.

In the meantime, many years later, I am following The Paris Review on Twitter and here I run into the 1961 interview with Henry Miller. I find him very inspiring. Tropic of Cancer was one of the best things I've ever read.

I did write my first play for that slot. It was called Be Daring Now Miss Prism. It starred Corin Nelson, who became a television producer. And Beth Seriff, who became a television writer. Charlie Freeman made the papier mache oversized vegetables. He now does international work with China. The play was an absurd story about a disintegrating family. It was funny. The second act decayed into a dreamscape of circus types tormenting the remaining characters who did not die in a car crash in the first act. It was messy. But it was worth it.

I think the ballsy nature of Henry Miller was helpful, if not for structure, for verve.

Sometimes you make a mistake and it's a good one.


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