Playwright Timothy Nolan is no stranger to the New York International Fringe Festival, having participated thrice before with his plays The Way Out (FringeNYC 2002), Acts of Contrition (FringeNYC 2003 Award for Best Playwriting), and Wrong Barbarians (FringeNYC 2004). If history is any indicator he may very well be on his way to more Fringe glory. Timothy’s latest endeavor, Not Dark Yet – which opens at this year’s festival on Wednesday, August 13th – tells the story of a writer at war with his muse (who appears in the form of a big hairy bruiser wearing a skirt) and his wife (who’s falling out of love with him). Christine Simpson directs the production, which runs at walkerspace.
During a momentary break from the final week of rehearsals, Timothy visited the ol’ blog to give us some more insight into his play, talk about Christine’s strengths as a director, and his previous Fringe experiences. Read on, Macduff…
Your play borrows its title from a Bob Dylan song and is about a writer who is terrorized by his subconscious. Did you draw any inspiration from either the Dylan song or your own life for this one?
Funny, when I wrote a play about a wrongly imprisoned black man (The Way Out) or a pedophilic priest (Acts of Contrition) nobody said, “That’s really you, right?” Whereas, in fact, they all were me.
Norman Mailer once told me – and the hundred other people at the reading – “You should take it as matter of faith that your unconscious is smarter than you.” You take in everything you see and hear and feel and process it. It’s a little limiting to say, “oh, he’s just writing about his life.” No matter what you’re writing about, it’s a much bigger process than that.
In the case of Not Dark Yet, I was taken with watching my friends who start leave their art behind, or have to redouble their struggle to hold on to it. People underestimate the power of youthful naiveté. You can really draw strength from it that has no connection to logic, but can lead you to great things others would think are impossible. When that burns off, it leaves a lot of open holes. That’s when the real test comes. Life gets complicated, and complications create strange situations, which actually make for good plays.
As for Bob [Dylan], what can one say? The song has a beautiful melody that holds lyrics that you want to slit your wrists to.
“Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer,
it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there…”
It’s heartbreaking, but you can dance to it, sort of.
Anyone who’s ever tried to create something doesn’t have the luxury to stop. They go to bed realizing it’s hopeless, then get up in the morning and find another reason to push on. Artists, creative people in all walks of life, are the strongest, toughest people in the world.
People should listen to Dylan more.
You tapped director Christine Simpson to work on the production. What does she bring to the table as a director that fits this play?
The biggest thing Christine brought was an appreciation for the humor of the play and the ability to bring that out in the staging. It really is a very funny play, and Christine found laughs that I didn’t even know were in there. It’s been great to discover just how strong the connection between truth and humor is and in many ways Christine has brought that to us.
Christine also shares a belief in the power of live presentation. You can write all the magic into your script that you want, but at some point someone has to figure out how to get the rabbit into the hat so the characters can pull it out. It requires a very literal head, but at the same time a strong belief in the magic in order to figure out how to pull it off.
You’re a repeat visitor to the Fringe. How has your previous experience (or experiences) with the festival been, and what made you want to do it again?
The Fringe gave my work a home, and not just for three weeks in August. In the play, Tom, the lead character, talks about how before he met his wife and found a support system he was “writing in his basement.” Our group, Present Tense Productions, which was founded by myself and my wife and fellow playwright Susannah Nolan, felt that way when we first found the Fringe. We’d sort of knocked around wondering if we fell in the forest would anyone hear us. You need three things for a play: the words, the actors, and the audience. I knew we could take care of the first and work to find the second, the Fringe gave us the third and a bonus: a community. It’s at the point where the camaraderie and safe environment of the Fringe Festival is just another part of my process.
The first Fringe Festival I was in, in 2002, I used to say it felt like Christmas in August. I still feel that way. Except Santa was in fishnets. It all got very strange. But we had fun.