Tuesday, July 21, 2020
AJ's Virtual Party, an interview with the director
As we gear up for the opening of AJ's Virtual Party I took a minute to ask Nathanael Card, the creator and director of this event a few backgrounders questions about the show.
Kim: Who is AJ?
Nate: Indeed. Who is AJ?
Kim: This was originally supposed to be a live play event based on the poetry of Joseph Moncure March. Where did you encounter the poem and what made you want to bring it to the stage as an immersive play (and not, say, a third musical)?
Nate: I was introduced to the poem in 2012 by a friend. At the time I was familiar with the musicals (myself more of a fan of the Lippa version), and the revelation that they came from this old jazz age poem which was itself "show-length" got my wheels turning. The poem has a clear storyline, with defined characters and beats, and even dialogue. I tend to like to turn common assumptions upside down, to challenge norms, and to me that meant that there may be something in staging the poem as itself, without need for novel adaptation. At the time, I was also in the business of creating immersive theatre in the form of parties, so it naturally occured to me to use this material in that way. As the concept developed over the years, I sought to use the poem as a means of facilitating conversations about toxic behavior and the ways it's enabled by friends and bystanders in party environments. I also started incorporating some of the history surrounding the work, most especially it's status as a "banned book" and its relationship to the Beat Poets of the 40s, 50's and 60's. That's how Ginsberg's "Howl" got involved.
Kim: When it becomes apparent that a live event wouldn’t be legal or safe, what gave you the idea to pivot into this particular direction away from the poem?
Nate: By April 1, it was clear to me that Covid-19 wasn't going away any time soon, and even if it did subside "by June" as the state predicted, it felt like a huge risk to count on audiences flocking back to theatre, much less theatre in a "party" setting. And then when George Floyd was murdered, the subject matter of The Wild Party felt like a poor, if inappropriate, fit for the moment.
Kim: What got you into poetry in the first place?
Nate: In 7th grade, I had a fantastic English teacher - easily my favorite of that year - and poetry was part of the syllabus. I was inspired by the revelation of the malleability of language. In 11th grade, I again had an excellent English teacher who got me into reading more poetry. At the same time I was falling in love with a band called Incubus whose lyrics were very poetic. That was perfect timing to inspire angsty teen Nate to start writing and reading more poetry and I've held onto that hobby ever since.
Kim: Who are some of your favorite poets?
Nate: The first "favorites" I can recall having are Sylvia Plath and Langston Hughes. Edgar Allen Poe. Lewis Caroll. Patti Smith. Shakespeare is on another level entirely, but definitely an inspiring linquist. There are a number of musicians who I'd count as poets too, but there are too many faves in that category to start listing.
Kim: What about Ginsburg’s “Howl" resonates so deeply with you?
Nate: It's a raw, guttural, rallying cry of identity pride and exasperation, absent of any need to sound pretty and "poetic." It bucks all sense of formality. And even though we've had decades of "progress" since it's publication, our society (America) is still stuck fighting the same things Ginsberg howled about in 1957. It feels uncomfortably prescient, as though we all might be on the verge of penning our own ranting lament to the heavens, echoing Ginsberg and his generation 63 years later.