SOON, a play – published and available in paperback June 17, 2010. Perfect-bound paperback, 85 pages.
SOON, music from the play – digital release through Bug Digital July 6, 2010. Pre-release (entire “album”) from Possible Films June 29.
Originally staged in Europe and the United States in 1998 and 2001 respectively, SOON is a fever-dream verbal avalanche about the joys, sorrows, and disasters of “creative religiosity”. Inspired by the Branch Davidian Conflict of 1993, the play explores the turbulent spiritual needs and the tortured reasoning of sectarian “end-time” Christians in America. Hilarious, moving, and sociologically astute, SOON “touched a naked nerve in contemporary American sensibility.” (Western European Stages)
How did you become interested in this subject?
I think the most important things were just the events at Waco. I was making Amateur at the time [Amateur, feature film, released 1994]. I was very busy, rushing around. And meanwhile these events were transpiring down in Texas. Every once in awhile I’d stop and read a newspaper or see a report on TV and (…) Because in the previous ten years I had – on my own – done a lot of reading about Christianity. I wanted to understand it historically, I think. I never really understood the difference between Protestants and Catholics, for instance. So, I did all this reading. And I was one of those people in the first days of the conflict amazed to see journalists not knowing what Koresh and his people were referring to when they mentioned the “seven seals”. I mean, yes, I understand the regular guy on the street might not get this. But, also, professional armed agents of the government had no idea – that first day or so – what was meant by the seven seals, even though they had apparently been studying these Christian sectarians for months. So, I set out eventually to write about American gun laws and freedom of religion. But reading more and more about these people – the Branch Davidians in particular, but Adventism generally – I came to appreciate how these basically radical sectarian religious ideals are pretty tangled up with some of our most commonly held notions of freedom in America.
Why now, after all these years, are you finally publishing the play?
Honestly, I wanted finally to just get the thing off my desk. Really! For almost ten years I’ve told myself I should write up the definitive version – one that made clear what happens in the play. Because the play didn’t come about in the conventional way; that is, with me writing it and then going into rehearsals. I wrote a lot, and a lot of that was in fact texts from different sources (the bible, the historical record, and so on) – and we had a very long rehearsal period where we moved text around, changed lines from one character to another (…) In fact, the characters were only very broadly defined in what I wrote. It was through work with the actors – in both productions – that personalities were gradually discovered or invented. In the end, it is like the two productions were the latest drafts of the play. I could only write the play down once we had done these performances.
As you clearly state in the introduction, you are an atheist.
Yes. I was raised Roman Catholic, taught by nuns and all that. Struggled to understand the world that way. But by ten or eleven I didn’t practice. Still, through my adolescence, my youth, and well into my thirties, I worked hard to articulate for myself what my spiritual life consisted of. I still do, of course, but at least now it is easier to say I am an atheist. I’m not religious. So, I believe this is progress. I’m skeptical by nature. I don’t apologize for that. I’m not dead certain about anything. But I’m clear about my attitude to that uncertainty. It took me a good deal of my life to acquire that.
But you are not perfectly critical of these religious people you portray.
No, I think I am perfectly critical of them. I’m not perfectly judgmental. I make an attempt to understand their reasoning without feeling the need to approve of that reasoning. Frankly, when I spend time with evangelicals I think to myself, these people are crazy. But, on the other hand, I’ve met professional politicians and professional journalists and also feel that the aims and ambitions of these people are often pretty strange too. So, you know, I tend generally to cut people some slack.
Do you identify more with these outsiders than with politicians and media professionals?
No, certainly not. But… I don’t think it’s my nature, necessarily – to try to understand everybody no matter how distant they are from me. Rather, I think it is more a result of having found my calling as a maker of fiction. I found that quite early in life. And I am drawn to imagining myself into the mindset of characters – especially characters I don’t understand. SOON offered me an opportunity to do that in some depth. In any event, it was by imagining myself into the minds and hearts of these sectarians that I began to acquire a greater critical awareness of the media in particular. And that affected the films I made in the following years… In some of my films, for instance, I have made a similar effort to enter into the mindset of politicians and media professionals – No Such Thing, Henry Fool, Girl From Monday…
How was the US staging different from the 1998 production in Salzburg and Antwerp?
Generally, we thought of the European production as large, quiet, and slow; the US version was small, loud, and fast. You can hear that difference in the music I made for the second production.
What influenced you in regard to the music?
At first: Appalachian music. These fiddle and accordion songs one comes across in these things… Shaker chants. But then it was just the needs of the story. The language has a rhythm from scene to scene that is hard to avoid. We made a lot of music after spending time watching the actors work on the scenes.
And the upcoming release of the music is from both productions?
Yes. It’s a mix of the strongest music from both productions. But it’s also revisited. I’ve taken some pieces of music and made songs out of them by cutting in scraps of the shows dialogue. And sometimes I just leave the spoken words alone for twenty or thirty seconds.
Returning to the book: This is your first play. Will there be others?
I wonder sometimes. Writing is what comes easiest to me. I can do it alone. I don’t need dozens of people and lots of money. But I don’t really enjoy plays. We call Soon a play for convenience. But in reality it was some kind of intensively text based dance piece. However, when I see theater I enjoy I remember what encouraged me to do Soon. That would be theater like The Wooster Group, Richard Foreman, Big Dance Theater, Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch, etc… By and large, not plays. So, I imagine I might want to write things that interesting theater makers can use. I guess that’s possible.
You are now in some ways distributing your own works – Possible Films is a publisher. What are the challenges in this?
Trying to reach a wider audience with limited means. That seems to be the challenge. It’s building, though. Each week more people visit the website and purchase music or films. Now it is also books. I’m lucky in that I have a lot of work to present. In some ways everything is different because you can – with constant effort – be in direct contact with your audience all over the world. On the other hand, you are competing for their attention with trillions of other entertainments equally easy to access. So, it’s just as hard as ever to get their attention.