The beginning of Tangled Roots from playwright Matt Stabile
Last summer the Mangrove Creative Collective gave the green light to two projects for development. Shortly after one of the playwrights, Matt Stabile, wrote a blog. It gives great insight into what many artists feel when they first start creating. It is now a year later and as we are about to enter the next phase of the Mangrove process with Tangled Roots, the time feels right to share what Matt was feeling in the beginning.
~ Joseph M. NeSmith
Let’s start this off with this: I’ve never written a blog.
I’ve never even read one.
If you’re still with me, I suppose you are either so incredibly bored in your current situation that there is literally NOTHING else for you to do…or…you’re like one of those NASCAR fans who goes to the race to see the crash.
Or, maybe, just maybe, you’re genuinely interested in what I might have to say…
No. That’s ridiculous.
And, truthfully, it doesn’t really matter what your reasons are for reading this – because I can only be in charge of my reasons for writing it. And I guess my reason for writing it is to exorcise some of the demons that travel along with me on every writing journey.
Let’s go back a bit.
This past weekend, the Mangrove Creative Collective had our first annual Mangrove Mangal, our version of an annual retreat. The two-day event was an opportunity to better understand our identity as a group, to formulate a plan for our future, and to select which projects will be our “next step.” Oh, and to have some fun together. Because the flow of Creativity is directly proportional and infinitely increased relative to the amount of FUN being had. That’s Science, yo.
We were all asked to bring ideas to the retreat. Stories that inspire us. Concepts for productions. Even just simple imagery that reflected what we would want to see in a future production. After lengthy discussions about each member’s ideas for direction and purpose of our group – all of which, by the way, were really inspiring and, most impressive, very in-line with each other – we ate a delicious lunch and began the process of “pitching” our ideas.
We’d share our thoughts with the group and then place a visual representation of our proposed project (an 8.5x11 picture or drawing) on our “WALL OF IDEAS”. It’s difficult for me to describe just how amazing this process was to participate in.
Here’s the thing: I’m a Miami native. I grew up in South Florida and it has always held a special place in my heart. This group – this Collective – was so important to me because I want to share my love for this place with the world. I am TIRED of Miami being identified as “South Beach”. As glitz and glamour. As neon and Deco. As lacking in any real substance and willing to surrender what is real, and true, and native in order to accommodate what is invasive, and “next”, and often parasitic in nature.
So, to sit and listen to 16 incredible concepts – all about this place that I love – was validation that this group, this COLLECTIVE was needed. And important. And would be welcomed in our community.
I’m going to take a second here to talk about our name and how much it means to me. My mom is a science teacher and I spent many a summer day at “Science Camp” learning about the Mangrove. They’re amazing. They are the nurseries of the sea – protecting the life within their roots from the outside dangers. Our Collective is the tree, the protective roots. The ideas and projects are the new life – we’re developing and protecting them until they’re ready for the “big sea”. That metaphor – is that a metaphor? I need Jane Duncan to double check me on that – is an easy one. But there is something else the mangrove does. It creates new land. It traps silt and sand in its roots and it builds new islands. New homes. It is my hope that we will create new territory with our projects – and create new homes for artists here.
Back to the WALL OF IDEAS…
We got all the proposals up on the wall and we gave ourselves a night to think them over. We came back together the next day and, after some discussion about each project, we began the process of selecting projects to move forward with during this next year.
After much discussion, one of the ideas that I submitted was selected.
I was immediately terrified. Panicked.
Looking back, it was obvious to everyone in the room. As soon as the idea was decided upon, I shut down. I don’t think I spoke for ten minutes. I sat staring at my computer screen. People said things to me. I mumbled responses. I would not have passed an NFL concussion test.
Here’s the weird thing: I wanted my idea to get picked. That’s why I brought it to the table. So what the hell was my problem?
Part of what I want to accomplish with our Collective is to begin to lift the veil that exists between audience member and artist. For too long, both sides have agreed to an established structure of CREATOR and VIEWER. The VIEWER often thinks of the process of creation as mystical and magical – and it is – but it’s not impossible. And, in my opinion, the CREATORS have embraced this mythology because…well…it makes us feel more special that we can do it. Because we fool ourselves into thinking that others can’t.
That’s not the way this is supposed to work. When
we were all cave-people sitting around the fire sharing stories and tales of the Great Hunt or the Ancestral Heroes, we didn’t look to the cave-playwright to see which stories could and couldn’t be shared. We didn’t ask the cave-director to re-interpret that story so it worked better, or hold auditions for the cave-actor to tell us their character “wouldn’t talk that way”. We just accepted that we all had stories to share – and we reveled in the idea that we would all share them.
So, I want to help our audience peek behind the curtain. So, here’s your first glimpse:
Right now, at the seed of the idea, I’m petrified. I’ve got buyer’s remorse. I don’t even want to write this thing.
Why did I pitch it? Cause it’s a GREAT idea. It’s exactly the kind of thing I want to see.
Which is why I’m terrified of it. Cause I don’t want to screw it up.
Pitching an idea is easy. You get the concept. You throw it out there. It sounds AWESOME. But that’s just the beginning of the whole process.
For those of you who have never written anything, pitching an idea is very similar to going to a fancy restaurant and reading the menu. You know what sounds good. You read that description of a beautiful meal and you can almost taste it. You want it. You have to have it. You order it.
Then the waiter says “Great. Kitchen’s back there. Go ahead and get cooking.”
You might know the main components. But that’s basically it. You don’t know the exact proportions of ingredients. The cooking process for each element. The spices. The plating. The infinite number of ways you can take this beautiful idea of a dish and turn it into Tuna Helper. No offense to Tuna Helper.
And that’s where I am right now.
But here’s the next step. You just do it. You grab a pan and you turn on a burner and you just hope there aren’t any flammable items nearby. Because, after all is said and done, whatever ends up on that plate is exactly what was supposed to be there. And you go from there.
I heard recently that it takes 71% of the fuel a shuttle carries just to get out of the atmosphere. What it means is: starting is the toughest part. And it takes the most energy to just get this thing off the ground.
Right now, the IDEA, the pitch is pristine. Its beautiful and clean and gorgeous in concept. And when that rocket starts lift off, tiles are gonna shake, things are gonna fall apart, it’s gonna get messy. But, hopefully we end up in the stars.
Okay, overly sappy. Should’ve stuck with the food comparison.