In our Writers and Music series, authors discuss the music that has either been included in their most recent novel/play or the influence music has had on their work overall.
Gary Winter’s plays have been seen or heard at The Chocolate Factory; The Flea; HERE; PS 122; The Cherry Lane Alternative; Playwrights Horizons; The Lark; defunkt theatre. His play I Love Neil LaBute was recently published in Shorter, Faster, Funnier: Comic Plays and Monologues (Vintage Books, summer 2011). From 1998 to 2008 Gary volunteered as Literary Manager of the Flea Theater, where he currently helps organize Pataphysics, workshops for playwrights.
Taking matters into one’s own hands
I think one thing that characterized the New York art scene in the 80s was the "DIY" zeitgeist. In that spirit, my friend Scott Lewis & I created the Scott & Gary Show. Inspired by the live dance shows of the 60s, we wanted to produce a TV show with a sense of energy and joy. The concept was simple: Experimental bands performing live.
Some of the bands we had on were the Beastie Boys, the Butthole Surfers, Shockabilly and ½ Japanese. We taped “as live” and friends came down to the studio to dance. I directed and Scott hosted. A reviewer in a music magazine aptly called it “The American Bandstand from hell.” We taped twenty episodes in all, fourteen in NYC and the final six at a public access studio that Jeff Krulik (Heavy Metal Parking Lot), ran in Maryland. (You can find clips of the show on YouTube).
We operated with a team of volunteers and a $135 per show budget. In spite of minimal resources (or because of), we were able to articulate a vision and carry it through. In his book Unbalancing Acts, Richard Foreman clearly articulates what he’s attempting to do, and I think this is one of the most important things a playwright can ask of him/herself. Not everyone is going to connect with your stuff and that’s fine. If a few people are genuinely affected by your work, you’ve done your job.
I’ve had the privilege to be part of 13P, the theater company founded by thirteen playwrights whose mission has been to produce one play by each of its members. Taking control of one’s artistic vision has been our goal, and towards that end each of us has served as artistic director of his/her own show. At the time of my show (AT SAID), I was exploring a way of writing that was new for me, and I needed to see the show sixteen times to figure what did and didn’t work. The process proved invaluable to my learning curve.
I think 13P has been part of a larger movement over the past decade of intrepid artists turning the focus away from relying on the institutional model (away from development and towards production), and putting the focus back on the individual artist. This is not a dig at established theaters or performance venues; it’s a way of saying that when individuals feel empowered, they will make vital work and steer institutions towards a more flexible model. Call it trickle up theory, if you will.
There’s only so much you can control
Five minutes before the Butthole Surfers were scheduled to go on they told me they needed to drop acid. I said fine, just be back in five minutes. You can’t be in control of every contingency, but you can keep a cool head. (They returned in five minutes, and none for the worse. Probably better.)
We taped twenty episodes of Scott & Gary (1984-1987), and then it was time to move on. One more show and 13P implodes. That’s been the plan all along. You’re all invited to the implosion bash this fall (date and place TBA).
Everything ends. Why not end on your own terms?