The New Yorker
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I was unfamiliar with Robert Coover's writing when I encountered his short story, Matinée, in a 2011 edition of The New Yorker. I don't recall much of anything else in that particular edition, as I read, reread, and read again Coover's deliciously complex tale of a lonely woman: "Weary of the tedium of her days, her lonely life going nowhere, she skips work and steps inside a half-empty old movie house showing a scratched and grainy romantic film from her youth."
A few weeks after my introduction to the story, my company and I were in residence at Tofte Lake Center, an artist retreat in Northern Minnesota and a short canoe outing to the Boundary Waters. Accompanying my bug spray, wetsuit for open-water swims, and a box of Costco groceries, was Coover's story, which was already looking quite worn. I spent the week lending further distress to the story's pages as I began to imagine how Matinée might have a life on stage. I was gently encouraged by friend Liz Engelman, the director of Tofte Lake Center and an established dramaturge and teacher at the University of Texas at Austin. At the end of our retreat, I had a first draft of a performance script adapted from Coover's magical story.
I have been creating original performance works for nearly forty years. The majority of these works have been created with the artists in my company, Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (SPDT), while many have been commissioned by other companies, colleges, and universities. My creative inspirations have continued to emerge from the personal and political with specific nods often given to a movie or a newly discovered literary gem. At times those literary inspirations have been more fully realized, resulting in full-on adaptations.
Skeptics, including literary purists, sometimes take issue with the process of transferring literature to the stage. Readers may listen to words on the page differently than how audiences experience them as spoken lines. Some of my most compelling reads have occurred when the author has described a moment, a situation, or a world wherein I can visualize, feel, and imagine being a participant. From these literary experiences, I have often wondered how they can become their own stage domains, with the story's original verbal language informed by the non-verbal strategies of movement and acting —how to create new performance oeuvres which juxtapose layers of specificity with intentional, intuitively-formed renderings of emotional states. My literary-driven works, including Rooms of Disquiet (2008), based on the short (one- and two-paragraph) stories of Franz Kafka; At it Again (2015), a monologue-conversation with Philip Roth; and The Ends of Love (2007), with a child-narrator sampling passages from Plato's Symposium, were opportunities to stage literature and create publicly viewable worlds beyond the privacy of the page.
When a specific literary opus has been the point of departure, I have wondered how the attributing authors would respond to seeing their stories brought to life in a different form. In the past, Kafka and Plato were unavailable and Roth never responded, but for my newest work, Matinée, I was fortunate to have the blessing and support of the author, Robert Coover.
After obtaining Coover's permission and securing rights with his publisher, I continued to imagine Matinée's stage life. The complexity of the stage-work is caused by the ways in which many of the characters assume multiple roles, sometimes appearing in a particular live location and then later as an actor in a specific film that the main protagonist is viewing or is featured in. In a myriad of locations —from train cars to shabby hotel rooms to wilderness vistas—the main character desperately seeks to "experience once again the consoling power of sudden uncomplicated love…a pure and immediate enrichment of the soul and delight of the body." Each new location and film provide new...