We thought you might like to hear from Michael Brandt, the Writer/Performer of our upcoming presentation of A SPALDING GRAY MATTER, about his creative process and how he came to write this play. Insights & Revelations Series Producer, Anna Becker, asked him a few questions about that, and about what he finds interesting as an artist in general. Hear what Michael is thinking about in terms of the creation of this piece, then come see the show and share your thoughts with him in the post-performance discussion and reception.
Anna Becker (AB): What moved you to write A Spalding Gray Matter?
Michael Brandt (MB): It's the true story of something that happened to me over the course of a few months two years ago, and why I felt the need to write it is actually part of the piece that you'll hear. But, here's how it happened... I sent a couple of mass e-mail messages to people at the time everything was happening, just as a way of explaining where I was and what was going on. And I started to get letters back from people saying that I should turn the events of the story into something more substantial. I wasn't really interested in doing that because I felt like I'd already said everything I had to say in the e-mails. But then, I got a message from a professor I had in college whom I have the utmost respect for, and he said "You have to do something with this. It's an amazing story." So, I wrote a preliminary draft of it and gave it to my friend Ian Morgan (who was one of the people I had sent the original e-mails to) because he runs the New Works play development program at The New Group. And, once he agreed to direct me in it, I knew we had something. And that's when the work on it really began.
AB: How has the piece - and you - changed or evolved during the creative process?
MB: The creative process for this show was amazing because we weren't tied to anything other than an event that actually happened. So, I would tell the story over and over again to Ian, and we would figure out what elements of the story needed to be told and which parts weren't as crucial. Occasionally, he would ask me a question about something that was missing, and I would stop and explain it to him, and most times, he would say "Well, put that in." As for how I've changed, personally, over the course of it... I'm normally wary of any theatre (or acting performance or whatever) that can be described as "therapeutic," - because it implies a greater importance placed on the performer than on the audience - but I can certainly say that the writing of this has helped me a great deal. Even though it's primarily a comedy, the show is about coming to grips with things I don't normally think about on a daily basis, and it's been a good way to wrap my head around them.
AB: What will you be looking forward to when you perform the piece for us?
MB: I'm still very interested in reactions to the piece. The few times that I've performed it, the reactions have been both varied and fascinating. I've had people want to share their own experiences in hospitals with me or want to show me their surgical scars. I've had people want to talk about seeing Spalding Gray perform and what his work meant to them. I've had people who are most affected by the relationship with my parents in the piece. I've even had several doctors see it and give me their professional opinion on various aspects of it. Right now, I'm still just anxious to see how it plays, and if it plays differently in different places. One of my fears at the beginning of the process was that people who didn't know me, or didn't know the piece, would assume that it was just somebody trying to imitate a Spalding Gray piece, or even worse, trying to somehow capitalize on what happened to him. Performing it still gives me the opportunity to prove that that's not the case.
AB: What is interesting to you as an artist these days?
MB: I don't traditionally like musical theatre all that much, but I saw a great piece in the city recently called "[Title of Show]."* It's about the creative process, or, more specifically, it's a musical about two guys trying to write a musical. And there's a line in it that is something along the lines of: "I'd rather be 9 people's favorite thing than 100 people's 9th favorite thing." And that's a fairly accurate sentiment for everything I tend to find interesting. I need art to be vital. Something that's created from a need besides commercial success. And something that comes from a place of honesty. That's also why I'm proud to be working with The New Group in May. That theatre company, in particular, routinely does something unique and exciting, and I'm honored they think my work fits in with their artistic vision.
AB: What isn't (interesting to you)?
MB: The converse of that. I'm not interested in anything that underestimates the audience. The so-called jukebox musicals. Turning 1970's television shows into feature films. Remaking movies you can already go out and rent. And, everything else without anything new to say.
Note: "[Title of Show]" is currently running through April 9th at the Vineyard Theatre in New York City.