BY JAMES STILL, PLAYWRIGHT-IN-RESIDENCE
Writers are often/always asked about the origins of their plays, where the ideas come from, what it all means.… And I’ve spent a lifetime (in interviews and program notes) obediently and patiently trying to answer those unanswerable questions. The cheeky response is that the play itself is the answer to all the questions. But here’s some personal stuff I can share, fragments that became feelings that became fuel that was transformed by urgency and that then somehow, miraculously, became this play.
1. Some years ago running in Central Park and being passed by a guy twenty years younger than me and realizing he was actually ME, that I was in a race to catch up with myself.
2. Living in Italy and every morning seeing an old man who looked exactly like my great-grandfather. I loved greeting him “Buongiorno!" It made me believe that if I kept running long enough I’d run into other people I’d lost and still loved.
3. The surgeon who performed a life-saving transplant on me when I was a child in Kansas and who half a century later would name a race horse Appoggiatura in honor of my play. It turned out my surgeon had grown up in Indiana and asked me to write the foreword to his autobiography.
4. And of course my own time spent in Venice, Italy, which is a place that rises up out of the sea like a dream, where I watched a man and his dogs sing to each other in the moonlight, where the sunlight is gold and violet, and where sorrow and grace and wonder all mingle effortlessly with memory and mystery.
Someone once asked me why my play is set in Venice. I found it such a strange question, because Appoggiatura could ONLY happen in Venice. If the play were set in a different place, it would be a completely different play. Venice is a character in and of itself. That’s another thing I love about Venice: somehow it convinces us that we are the only ones who have ever seen it, that we are the first to discover its beguiling beauty. Why else do people take photographs of Venice that have been taken millions of times by millions of people? Maybe my play is like one of those photographs: Venice convinced me that I was the only one who had ever truly seen it and could tell this story.
I always hope that audiences will find themselves in my plays—maybe not literally, but in spirit. That’s especially true with Appoggiatura. What I’ve learned in Venice is that sometimes you have to get lost in order to be found. That’s true as a writer too. I didn’t know I was going to write a play called Appoggiatura. It surprised me. I hope it surprises you too.
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