Occupy the Arts

On June 10th at the St. James Theatre I will finally see a full-length play brought to life. A full-length play by me, that is. It has been eleven years of real exhausting work and many heartbreaking disappointments to get this far. It would maybe have been easier not trying to do this while working as a general counsel and raising two children and managing bipolar but then the plays would not be so good. You see, I feel now that all I have been through has made my mind so much bigger than it was when I started writing plays. Not to say the first plays were not good. The ones I wrote with people: Out of Left Field with my law school roommate and her husband and Damnation of John Smith with Augie Matteis are still really good short plays. Baggage and Baby Love Time -especially Baby Love Time - are great plays in their own kind of sprawling emotional way.

Then I moved here and in eleven years I wrote three or four full-length plays, a sitcom pilot and drafts of eleven subsequent episodes (workplace drama based on my experiences in early wifi called Empire Blue), a back-breaking effort to place at Verity Bargate in 2011 called Mother Daughter Holy Spirit.   I had received a bizarre commendation letter from Soho but then got shut out with MDHS. I have experienced a lot of rejection, I think a lot of that is because I am American and it is assumed as a matter of course that Americans have inferior aesthetic sensibilities, less sophistication in the arts. I can't speculate. I was not helped by a lot of people, though.

Luckily I was helped by one person. Guy Masterson. After my husband and I saw Kevin Spacey in Inherit the Wind, I was inspired to write to someone way out of my league, the theatre impresario Guy Masterson, one of the most famous names on the Fringe for a decade. I had seen his production of 12 Angry Men at the Fringe  - comedians played the jury. I emailed a heartfelt plea that he work with me on a new courtroom drama. For years I have wanted to find a way to tell the story of Brad Williams. I was his lawyer in Williams v First Government, which was coincidentally (not at all coincidence - C. Jung) the subject of the first post ever on this blog.

He didn't answer the email for two years. In that time, I wrote MDHS. Then came October 2011, a month we should all honor. I watched the livestream on the Brooklyn Bridge and wept with hope and fear and got as involved in Occupy as I could. I organized Occupy Half Term.  I worked hard on what I thought would be a huge and necessary gain: an alliance with the churches. I met with Bishops, I embarrassed my relatives, I blogged like a mad woman (You are a mad woman - C. Jung). I had hope for real democracy and justice. But most of the doors were closed on this path. Ears are stopped by commerce and culture and distrust is the order of the day. I was just trying form and keep some kind of alliance (to be fair the dude who is Archbishop of C now was actually receptive and I went to Durham cathedral to meet with his people).

Then Masterson answers the email. We meet. We talk about justice and a play was born. Writing it was really very hard but also very satisfying work.  The play is an imagination of the jury deliberations at the Federal Court trial in May 1997. It was an eight person jury.  So here is my Occupy the Arts. I have put a banker on the jury. I have put a politician. A politician actually was on the jury, a guy who worked for Newt Gingrich, who at that time was like the Scrooge of DC if you were a Democrat.

Each juror also plays a trial participant: witnesses,  lawyers, Judge, court reporter. Brad himself. The trial scenes have many exchanges that took place during the actual trial. In fact I worry those are the best lines.

Writing this was very challenging. The first two sets of pages I gave to Guy were actually kind of rejected out of hand (in the most charming way you can imagine). He really forced a structure that has a forward flow. In the best moments of the reading in DC in November, I felt like the play was like a sparkling brook flowing over stones. (What do I even say to this? C. Jung).

And I got to write a lot about justice, about Lady Justice with her blindfold and her sword and her scales, I got to really think about the rule of law and why it matters. I happen to think that the adversarial process for getting to truth is a very good thing, and if we had more of it in our government, we would have a lot fewer problems.  I hope people are inspired by this play, because the point of the play is that in our own existing institutions - like our courts -- much good is actually possible. Justice is possible. But only if people are willing to listen and change their minds - which is both the heart of the jury deliberations and the heart of the Occupy movement.

I do not know what happens to this play after the reading, but the prospects are exciting. I hope I will be able to invite you to come see it sometime soon.


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