Jim Farrell risk taking with L.A. premiere of original script
Published 3:00 am Friday, April 17, 2009
Jim Farrell is one of those faces you see in Tryon. You can see him hauling a load of trees and brush through town or sitting down at the piano in the Gallery Coffeehouse to play a new tune. After many phone calls we finally found time to meet in person so I could ask him some questions about his latest project. He&squo;s written a new play that will premiere in Los Angeles, California this spring. Where did you come from before landing in Tryon? I was born in Washington D.C. After college I taught English in a prep school for two years. I left teaching to pursue a music career and a year or so later I had the good fortune to be cast in a new Broadway musical called HAIR. That must have been exciting! Singing acting and dancing in HAIR was spectacular fun. There were no downsides. The show played around the world to packed houses for years. Eventually, I left the New York to tour the U.S. doing solo and duo performances of songs I had been writing while working in Broadway shows. What kind of roles have you played? I had a lot of good leading roles. In almost all of them I played someone that was absolutely divorced from how I look, think, walk, and stand. That&squo;s acting isn&squo;t it? I played Lennie in Of Mice and Men which is maybe one of my favorites. I played Norman Thayer, the old man in On Golden Pond. Probably if I somebody told my life story it would be interesting, but to me it&squo;s more interesting talking about where ideas come from, like the play, how it&squo;s starts out of absolutely nowhere and now it&squo;s going to be put on and I don&squo;t know if it&squo;s going to be any good. Now it&squo;s in the hands of the theatre and the director. I&squo;ll be candid about it, I wrote it. I haven&squo;t seen it. I&squo;m not going to see it until I see it. So you&squo;re sitting here in Tryon, how did your play end up in L.A.? It would be a cool thing if I was so well known that people in Los Angeles call me up that don&squo;t know me, but know of my name. A guy that I know in L.A., who actually has a house here and a place L.A. is a Communications Professor at West Los Angeles College out there now. Did you meet him here? Bill Buchynski was the music programmer at WNCW before moving West to act and teach. He listened to a bazillion CDs and mine was in his top ten. That&squo;s kind of how I met him. I knew him a little bit before. In 1998, I was living in this little tiny trailer in the woods off Hwy 221 in Western North Carolina composing songs for my CD &dquo;Fallen Angels&dquo; when I was asked about doing a show in Tryon, NC.&bsp; We did the play at the Tryon Fine Arts Center, but the director, Donna Orzano, had won an award to go to New York City and do this play at the Workhouse Theatre. What show was this? I played Grouch Marx in the show A Day in Hollywood a Night in the Ukraine. I got to go to New York where I used to act and Bill &bsp;and I got to go together. He has a Masters in Fine Arts and has done tons of theatre. Going to New York and with the show was a real bonding thing.&bsp;Donna is a very imaginative director. &bsp;She has been a huge help to me on my latest project. She encouraged me to move to Tryon. You were working on a CD, but also do theatre. What all do you do? I have to be careful because right when I was making the CD, which I wanted to make forever, they throw this play thing in there and I actually put the CD on hold. I try to be humble about these things. I know how to do a lot in the performing arts. I&squo;m a poet, performance poet, actor, singer, composer, songwriter, short story writer, children&squo;s story writer, director, and I&squo;ve done all of these things for money. I just do them. Since moving to this unique place, I have written, produced, and directed a full length documentary &dquo;Kitty Hawk to Computers.&dquo; I&squo;ve written and produced three children&squo;s plays, penned a novel, two volumes of poetry, and published a satirical newspaper called the Bullsheet (The &dquo;How Much is a Trillion?&dquo; issue is due out soon). I&squo;ve put on half a dozen shows in Roger&squo;s Park, done a number of artist-in-residence gigs, and expanded my business Farrellworks Tree and Land Sculpting service. But theatre was how you made the connection with Bill who&squo;s now in L.A. And I made the connection to Tryon. With all due respect to the surrounding territory, Tryon is the coolest place within 50 miles until you get to Asheville. I mean it&squo;s not the trailer on Hwy 221. When you get up on a project like the script, I&squo;m going to write this play all by myself. I&squo;m going to make up everything probably including most of the lighting cues and technical stuff. Probably the single most difficult aspect of that is that it&squo;s very lonesome. I call it penetrating loneliness. It&squo;s just so isolating. Then you have the lunatic aspect of it. There are a lot of plays and then there&squo;s William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, and Eugene O&squo;Neill. Maybe we don&squo;t even need another play. If you can&squo;t look at that, you&squo;re missing the point. If your heroes are just so astounding it takes the pressure off. You&squo;re not going to write Midsummer Night&squo;s Dream. If you write music, you&squo;re not going to be Joni Mitchell. It forces you to be yourself. Exactly, I don&squo;t think the stuff I make up is derivative. I wouldn&squo;t make a CD of covers, and I probably wouldn&squo;t write an adaption of a novel. I really only know how to make up stuff. The process of making stuff up is lonely, lunatic, and also hopefully surprising. I drive myself better than I am driven. This is part of where the lunacy comes in. You have to commit yourself even if you&squo;re writing a song. If you&squo;re writing a song, that&squo;s micro, if you&squo;re writing a novel, that&squo;s macro. I&squo;m always looking over my shoulder going, &dquo;What are you doing? Why are you agonizing over scene two? I want to see the end. Come on!&dquo; The play is probably finished, but I was working on it last night and have been working on it since last April. How did the project start? In April 2007 I got a call from Bill Buchynski my buddy who I met doing A Day in Hollywood a Night in the Ukraine. He&squo;s kind of a fan too, which is strange thing to say. I have brothers and sisters and my one sister in particular is just a fan. She really likes my stuff. In no way is it demeaning, it&squo;s a big deal that my big sister is a fan. That&squo;s so important because you might only have three. Bill had called to ask if I would write a play for him to direct at the college. They put on an original production every year and last year was a David Mamet play. He said, &dquo;I think there should be a Jim Farrell play.&dquo; I said, &dquo;Yeah, me too. Just have someone write it and I&squo;ll put my name on the bottom. I&squo;ve got to go.&dquo; He said, &dquo;Come on, write a play that I can direct and we&squo;ll use the nice theatre on campus in the heart of Hollywood. We&squo;re right down the street from Sony Pictures and National Public Radio.&dquo; I said, &dquo;Bill, I&squo;ve got trees to fell.&dquo; But you ended up writing it anyway? I hang up and I go to Google to bring up a pie chart of L.A. and look at the demographics, Caucasian, Latino, African American, and Asian. I thought if I was going to write this play I&squo;d like to have 20-somethings with dynamic energy and enthusiasm. I&squo;ll bet that this college class could be really multi-ethnic. I&squo;ve been carrying this character Muhammad O&squo;Hara around in my head since I wrote a poem about him on 9/11 who is American with a Muslim mother and an Irish Catholic father. I decided I wanted that to be one of the layers of the play. I made up
a couple other characters like Emilio Chan who has a Chinese father and Mexican mother. I started with that and began writing Flight 2009 that same day. One phone call sent you google-ing the pie-chart and&ellip; Flight 2009 promotion flyer (photo submitted) I wrote him a one page treatment that same day and emailed it to him. He said, &dquo;I have to show it to some other people. I&squo;m not the only one to decide. I love the idea.&dquo; Then he said, &dquo;Can you write two or three pages of dialogue to get some feel for it.&dquo; I said, &dquo;I guess so.&dquo; I did and that&squo;s all it took. That was last April and we knew it wouldn&squo;t start rehearsing until February. Where did you put these characters? The play centers around ten college students stranded at Los Angles Airport waiting for their charter flight to the United Nations where they will read their individual essays. Each student&squo;s essay deals with the big questions war, money, ethnicity, God etc. During the play they share their social opinions and their individual opinions about themselves. To boil it all down, it&squo;s about perspective and the blending of cultures and ethnicities. You finished the script by February? Absolutely, I don&squo;t know of any crucible that is as demanding and unpredictable as a play that will now become a theatrical performance. The creeping doubt comes in, wondering if it will really work. There&squo;s something so frightening about the part of the process where you&squo;re going to do it and it&squo;s going to open on this day. This play opens on April 22 and I&squo;m not in L.A. I&squo;d like to be there, but it would be prohibitively expensive. It&squo;s a collaborative art form. If you write a novel, it&squo;s not like you sit next to everyone who reads it. It&squo;s the same as in the movies except there you have so much more money on the table. You&squo;ve been making edits during rehearsals? I was out there for the casting and have started seeing these characters now as people. You start thinking something as simple as, &dquo;I don&squo;t need that many words to come out of his mouth right now. He&squo;s got that kind of energy that he can just dash off this one liner and it will make sense rather than having to explain.&dquo; It&squo;s a leap of faith, a risk. It takes nerve to put your work out there. But you&squo;re also nervous to some extent. In April 2006 I got married and moved to a beautiful farm in Green Creek. I wondered what effect this radical change in my lifestyle would have on my creative work. I spent a lot of years alone. One of the things that excited me about this was that I could write in this family house. It&squo;s a totally different environment for me. Obviously my &dquo;new life&dquo; with Laura, Sammi, six horses, three cats and two dogs is a source of inspiration. My wife Laura and her daughter Samantha Hasse will be flying with me to L.A. for the opening of Flight 2009 at the West Los Angeles College theatre. It will run five nights and we&squo;ll see what happens with it. I intend to take it other places. It&squo;s very expensive to be creative. There was no compensation when you started on the idea. In the movies writers get an advance, but that&squo;s a bit of a myth. It&squo;s like farming. When you get all the stuff in bushels and take it to the market, then you&squo;ll get paid for it, but not until then. There&squo;s where the lunacy, loneliness and risk come in. You have to believe in the quality of your work. Somebody asked me once what the headlight was at the end of my tunnel and I said, &dquo;It sounds crazy, but I guess if someone laughs and falls off their chair or they burst into tears, that&squo;s the payoff.&dquo; That&squo;s what I&squo;m working for, that catharsis. When people ask me where the ideas come from I can only say a tiny bit of imagination, a seizure if you will, sets off a long tedious process that I can only describe as &dquo;blue collar work.&dquo;&bsp; If you think &dquo;making up stuff is easy,&dquo; think again. Visit www.farrellworks.com to find out more about Jim Farrell and the multitude of his creative projects.