Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Meet our Literary Associate: Micharne Cloughley

This post is by our current Literary Associate Micharne Cloughley. Micharne shares some of her experiences working with The Civilians and gives insight into her own work.  Check out Micharne's website here 

Micharne at our Annual Spring Benefit
In the world of investigative theater, the ‘making of’ can often be as enlightening and entertaining as the material being uncovered. If we worked in the medium of video, I’m sure these moments would end up in a DVD extra. As we are indeed in theater, it felt right to share a little about my time as Literary Associate in blog/script form, from the beginning…

DECEMBER 2012: 50th Street Station on the Red Line, Winter, in that little alcove where a man sometimes begs with his collection of cats and hamsters.
STEVE: (on phone) So I just wanted to check in with you as the focus of the role has expanded a bit. We’re going to be doing a project about death, all about death and New York. Would that be okay with you?
ME: (on cell) Yes, for sure, absolutely.

Of course. Totally normal. Back home in Australia I had come to know The Civilians while researching for my final work in the Playwriting Program at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. I was actually looking at plays about contemporary Christianity, so another less common subject for a play was well, what I now refer to as ‘Civiliansy’.  
Also coming from a background in reality/non-fiction TV and development, I’ve researched a lot of different topics of human interest. Death was perhaps less strange than missing persons, gang crime or you know, swingers clubs. One of the most interesting differences in moving into non-fiction theater are the discussions surrounding the creation of a work. In R & D Group we talk for literally hours about questions that simply don’t exist in TV, for example, there is a grey-ness to deciding what is compelling material in a script, that is in practice much more quantifiable on a screen.
JANUARY 2013: The Civilians Office, Brooklyn.
ME: (on phone) ‘we’d just like to speak with you about your thoughts about death, generally speaking … yes that’s right, and we transcribe the interview, and then yes, someone would be playing you, if you were included in the final script… an actor, yes…  you can be anonymous if you prefer?’

This unusual request has been received with so many a cool New Yorker reply of ‘let me look at my schedule’, this city most definitely still believes in risk-taking art and taboo-breaking conversation. While I still feel new (I’ve been here almost 1 year) to be deeply commenting on the overall cerebral state of New Yorkers, I confess that from Jonathan Larson’s RENT, I (along with many of our teen selves in suburban places, I know) declared myself a New Yorker at about 14. While on the subject, if anyone reading this knew Jonathan, I would love to speak with you for the project. My interviews for the project have so far seen me from speaking with different people at Columbia University, to midtown, literally during Act 1 of a Broadway musical, to Bedford Stuyvesant Ambulance Corps that was featured in our blog two weeks ago. So many incredible stories.

FEBRUARY 2013: The Great Room, South Oxford Street Art Space, Brooklyn, the first Share Meeting for the Death Project, where interviewers share highlights of their transcriptions.
ME: (as an ‘oh-so-funny’ aside) And of course, no one needs to actually experience a death first hand for the project… (Laughter as appropriate in a meeting talking about death)

The first ‘Death Share Meeting’ brought the words of transcriptions to life in the voices of their own interviewers. As this was the first time we had had the whole team of interviewers together, we also spoke about the process at large. You quickly realize how limited our use of language is today for dealing with death. How do you say that someone has just shared a ‘good’ story about death? We immediately recoil in feeling disrespectful, but the reality is there are helpful and sometimes humorous aspects of dealing with death as well as terribly hard parts.
For example, after making the comment above, a few weeks later I found out my Nanna died, literally at my desk in the office. I fell apart then, but, now, one can see the irony if not humor in that co-incidence. That laugh/sigh balance of life. And death.

JANUARY – present: Repeated inside my head, Bart Simpson writing on a chalkboard style…
ME: ‘I will not be that literary person that does not get back to you about your play’

In addition to specific projects, I also look after the day-to-day literary side of The Civilians. I have had the pleasure of reading many courageous new voices, wrestling with social issues in a theatrical space.  I look forward to reading more from the incredible volume of new plays that lie often unseen beneath the surface of this city.

Perhaps this was slightly more in depth than your average DVD extra. But then, we are theater. Depth, with the lightness of being, is what we all do best.
Thanks for sharing Micharne!

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