It was the end of another long day at The Second City, and we had just finished scripting all the jokes the actors would pretend to ‘improvise’ the following night. On my way out, I noticed light from under Kelly Leonard’s office door and stopped in; Kelly had fallen into another of his late night brainstorms and I couldn’t resist taking part. After considering such concepts as The Second City’s Guide to Emergency Rooms and Hubbard Street Rebooted: The Art of Getting Back Up, Kelly asked a simple, compelling question: “What if the characters of classic American theatre… met?”
There is a meticulous, time honored process by which projects are assigned to writers at The Second City. If we can ever track it down, I’ll be fascinated to see what it says. In the meantime, I was assigned to this one. Leaving Kelly’s office, I said, “Hey, you might not want to leave that candle so close to the edge of your desk… you never know.” He ignored me.
First, it was back to the books. The greatest hits of American theatre came down from my shelves to be studied anew. Thankfully, Universal Studios had just opened their ‘Devastating World of American Theatre’ theme park and I took copious notes while riding Tennessee Williams’ Emotional Roller Coaster and Plunge Into Depression: An Arthur Miller Log Flume Experience.
What amazes me is how these shows have insinuated themselves into our lives. Someone might not remember when they last saw A Streetcar Named Desire, if ever, but they can tell you all about Blanche DuBois. They’re a part of us now, a part of our common history and nostalgia, and that’s where this show dwells: with these lovely, complicated, timeless characters milling around in our collective psyche, it’s not too difficult to imagine them meeting up for a drink. Or twelve.
Researching and writing Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf: A Parody was a wonderful education in itself—fun fact: did you know that, like spiders, you’re never more than eighty-feet from a high school production of Our Town? But to have Writers Theatre take an interest brought to the project a new level of excitement and authenticity. It also forced me to write a better ending than, “…and eagles swooped down and carried them back to their homes or something.” Hearing the show performed by the Writers’ cast at our first table read, I made two important realizations: One, they know what they’re doing. Two, I read everything in my head in an unnecessary Cockney accent.
Welcome to the Gillian Theatre. I hope you find something familiar and something new. To share a quote from Michael Halberstam, “If you screw this up, we’ll just knock the building down and start over.”