Friday, April 27, 2012

NATF Reneges, and We Retract

Last month, we joyfully announced in this space that the National Audio Theatre Festivals was going to produce Ricardo and the Whale, a play for radio that I drafted between 2008 and 2012.  To make it even sweeter, guest artist Philip Proctor of the Firesign Theatre would likely be performing in the piece.

Earlier this week, we received an awkward phone call informing us that the play would not be performed after all.  We were offered an apology not for the reneging itself, but for the failure to communicate the fact to me sooner than six weeks before the workshop.  The story about why NATF was reversing itself came out slowly in the course of the phone call, and left enough ambiguity that I suspect more went on than they disclosed -- perhaps organizational politics have come into play.  Notably, the president of the organization has not made any contact with me, even to offer a standard graceful "so sorry this happened" statement.

One legitimate reason to reconsider the play -- which could have been communicated to me at the outset -- involves a staggering coincidence.  Indeed, I think this will lead to the play returning to its virtual drawer again for a long time.  There is a book by Christopher Moore entitled Fluke: or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings which I had never heard of.  I hear tell it has been optioned by Disney for a film.  The story contains several story elements in common with Ricardo: the plots are very different, but both stories involve a whale used as a vessel, whale songs, and Atlantis. 

It is a writer's nightmare: you spend a long time working on something, only for you to discover that a bigger fish has come out with something similar.  Similar enough, at least, to bury your work.

Ricardo and the Whale is the second play in a longer playwriting cycle I've been thinking of as the "Algerstophanes Plays."  I've taken an interest in producing fanciful plays on socio-political themes in the spirit of Aristophanes.  The two plays I've written so far have had trouble getting anywhere.

The first one, The Dung Beetle of Mitchell County, recreates the initial premise of Aristophanes's play Peace.  But it doesn't succeed at straddling the whimsy of its inspiration with a modern anti-war statement and it is also difficult to stage.  I've submitted it to a few venues as a stage play and a radio play, but nobody wants to do it and it is shelved for now.

"Algerstophanes" has also written a play for children entitled Revolt of the Lobsters that has been performed on stage twice here in Deming.  Kids playing lobsters, how could it fail?  The play continues to be reworked occasionally.  (It's a caper comedy reminding us that we are eating living things.) 

Ricardo is much more whimsical and full of fun, lampooning American politics and media culture, and includes an ecological message.  But, you know -- this other book and Disney and -- well, crap. 

In a separate post, we will offer a synopsis of Ricardo and the Whale so that the story can be told and you can meet some of its characters.  In its current form it will not be performed and it will be a while before I decide whether to revisit it.

This might have been a good reason for NATF to pass up on the play at the outset.  But they accepted it and then, several weeks later, reversed their decision.  Ooof, bad.   We wish them well from our Burning House, but hope they will learn from this and improve their communication and procedures.  It smells to us like there might have been dissension about producing this play from the beginning (perhaps its social commentary was a factor), a question whether the play's acceptance was premature, no communication with me about any stage of this process, and a reneging of a production that would have brought me to Missouri to work with and learn from some impressive people in the world of radio and audio books.  Not nice.


Bob Singer said...

I understand how you feel. In 1980 my friend Mark and I broadcast (and I still have the casette) a radio play called If You Believe on station KNCR. We had written this Christmas play about Santa taking a vacation and picking a good man to tale his place. Mark became a lawyer and circulated the script in L.A. hearts later betting no bites. In 1994 Disney came out with The Santa Clause, incorporating most of our plot devices and making a fortune and several sequels.

Algernon said...

Holy smoke, Bob!