Monday, September 10, 2012

Panda Diplomacy

Panda Diplomacy

Or Why A. Zell Williams doesn't like pandas

I am the new guy in town, sort of.  I had the pleasure of having my play, In A Daughter’s Eyes, premiere at InterAct in the spring of 2011.  I spent a few weeks in town for rehearsals, interviews, and the occasional visit to Pat’s.  And just as I began to develop a crush on Philly, I was torn away to finish grad school in New York.  So it is a thrill to spend the next ten months living in the home of The Roots, Billy Paul, and Terry Gross.

I know the importance of making a good first impression.  But I also I know that great relationships are built on foundations of truth and honesty.  So while this declaration may distance myself from a few of you, I say it to display my conviction:

…I can’t stand pandas.

Never have liked them.  Never understood why other people seemed to be endlessly enthralled by a creature whose main hobbies include sitting, stick-chewing, and not mating.  The scientific community will not even fully classify the panda as a bear or a raccoon, which I find insulting to the cunningly sly, scrap-sorting, sexual dynamo that is the noble Trash Bandit.

According to today’s sole source of knowledge, Wikipedia, the concept of giving a panda to foreign countries has been looked upon as an act of diplomatic graciousness since the days of the Tang dynasty in the early fifth century.  Chinese leaders would bequeath the “bear” upon unsuspecting diplomats, calling it a show of friendship and admiration.  But I ask you in all seriousness, what did the recipient country really receive in this exchange?  An animal the recipient country would have to take care of all for something that was not only a laggard, but that the children could never interact with.  China got others to pick up the check for their pet care bills.

Those of you who have heard of theatre companies hosting playwrights-in-residence may have noticed some overly harmonious similarities between that position and the description of the day-to-day life of the semi-comatose “BEAR.”  You hear that your local theatre is paying a writer to come into the office and... be writer-y, or whatever.  The same institutions constantly soliciting you for donations is hiring someone whose work - or even presence - you may never see?

Well, Philadelphians, today I make you a promise: There will be no pandas in InterAct.  I am not here to be stared at from a safe distance, nor am I meant to be a photo op for the company’s website or donor events (though I am more than happy to take a picture with you, should you drop by.)  I am here to learn about and from you.  Yes, I have thoughts, concerns, and non-panda related opinions that I hope to share during my tenure.  But I want my residency to be a period of exchange, not of exhibition.

The company’s Artistic Director, Seth Rozin, and I have begun to outline events to welcome in both the current InterAct audience, but the surrounding community.  I will be seeing shows by and visiting other theatre companies in Philly and asking them to share in conversations around issues affecting the cultural landscape.  I will also be presenting new plays and partaking in the celebration of the company’s twenty-fifth anniversary and the fifteenth anniversary of the National New Play Network.

I have nothing against the existence of lackadaisical, quasi-ursidae.  I understand that the numbers of patrons that visit the San Diego, Memphis, and D.C.’s National Zoos simply to observe the wanna-bear make me an outliers amongst a great deal of Americans.  Nor do I harbor any ill-will toward playwrights-in-residence who are rarely seen or heard.  The act of writing alone is emotionally taxing, life-consuming, and often undervalued.  Both the panda and the dramatists-in-hermitage are what they are.  But so am I.  And my goal for the season is for us to show each who we are.

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