Plays & Players Ouija Log – 11/6/11

Plays & Players playwright-in-residence Jeffrey Stanley holds a seance using a Ouija board and contacts Mala.

I was delighted last night to hear again from spirit MALA during our Ouija session that was part of my Plays & Players playwright-in-residence presentation. I began with a little shtick I wrote just for the occasion, then called for volunteers, BZ:ABOTD-style, and moved us all across the threshold from the Skinner Studio stage into Quig’s Pub where we all stood around a table watching the two volunteers try their hands at my antique William Fuld original Ouija board. Our goal was to contact one of the theatre’s 3 resident ghosts.

At first, lots of jibberish despite multiple partners and switch-offs and trying to get the board warmed up. There were a few early highlights, like my asking, “Look, is there anyone there who just wants to cut the jibberish and talk to us in plain English using simple words?”

The response was a swift NO.

At one point it blurted out OZ which got lots of oohs and aahs. Later one of the volunteers emailed me that she got home and flipped on the TV only to see that The Wizard of Oz was indeed on that night.

But whenever it was my turn to switch in with a partner it shot back and forth from M to A to L to A to M to A, sweeping a wide arc back and forth across the board nonstop. It wouldn’t answer any other questions. It was, like, in this catatonic state. I’d get up and let a new partner take over, but 10 minutes later when it was my turn again it’d shoot back to M A L A M A L A. As obvious as it seems now (duh) I kept guessing at names…”Are you Mama?…Alam? … Lala?”

Thankfully someone chimed in, “My guess is it’s a child.”

“Are you a child?” I asked the board. At that she finally stopped the chant and went to YES.

“You’ve been trying to talk to me all night. Do you know me?”

YES

“Have we met before?”

YES

“What’s your name?”

MALA

“Oh! You’re Mala. From my show!”

YES

“You’re the little girl.”

YES

(to the crowd) “This is a little girl I met during my show. She was killed by her mother. (to Mala) You followed me here from the Blue Grotto to Plays & Players?”

YES

“Are you in the room with us?”

YES NO YES NO YES NO (this indecision was also evident during her previous session with me; the personality and her reluctance or uncertainty with her state seemed consistent, as did her childlike repetitions of “MalaMalaMalaMala” and previously “MomMomMomMom” for emphasis)

“Your mother killed you, right?”

YES NO YES NO YES NO

(In our previous conversation on 9/15/11 her discomfort with discussing the details of her death (stabbed by her mother) and her insistence that she has forgiven her, felt consistent again with her current indecisive answers. Previously her discomfort was indicated by the constant use of the infinity sign when she wasn’t sure how to answer; tonight it was the YES NO YES NO maneuver.)

I got tired of monopolizing the board so I stepped away for a slice of pizza while two others continued the chat. I told them Mala was a lonely little girl who meant no harm and to chat with her for a few minutes. I’m not sure of the outcome but I know their chat with her was brief because the board was soon abandoned. People kept admiring it and discussing it but no one would dare to use it. I offered to use it with someone but no one would take me up on it. Everyone seemed too spooked by the Mala thing.

So, not exactly an earth-shattering session but a good experience overall and I was happy to chat with my otherworldly pal Mala again. Most disappointingly no contact was made by any of Plays & Players’ supposed ghosts. Maybe they’re just a legend…

TO BE CONTINUED.

 

 

 

Post-crypt

Allow me to take a moment to drop the self-aggrandizing persona that’s part and parcel of our show and break character as it were (even though I was playing myself so try and make sense of that). Even with a one-man show there’s no such thing as a one-man show. Part of the joy of producing theatre is that it’s a collaborative medium that requires teamwork.

First I’d like to thank my superbly imaginative supergenius director Daniel Student who elevated our show from a mere monologue or storytelling session into a true theatrical experience. Our show got great press but rarely is the director mentioned in the chaotic coverage of a fringe festival. So, many thanks to Dan for bringing our show to life while staying true to my vision for the show and to its themes.

Then there’s Randy Dalton, the sculptor behind the Blue Grotto, a lost gem in Philly’s art scene into which I was thrilled to help breathe new life. The Grotto is Randy’s baby but he was extremely welcoming and accommodating, letting us remove or relocate certain objects to improve sightlines, letting us come and go as we pleased at all hours, letting me summon the dead and offer them a new place to live, and even letting us replace some of his blue bulbs with white light to add a high contrast, flashlight-under-the-face, campfire ghost story mood when I stepped into certain areas.

Also I must thank CEC Executive Director Terri Shockley and Building Manager Scott NAME for their assistance, flexibility and curiosity about our show.

I must also thank Shiva3 Productions and Iggy Rocketboy, a fellow newcomer (even newer than me) to Philly. This young man’s unorthodox approach to publicity and marketing put us in the limelight — no easy feat when competing against literally dozens of other fringe shows on any given night. The Rep Radio interview, and coverage by philly2philly.com, the City Paper, the West Philly Review, the Daily Pennsylvanian (who named us one of their 5 Must See shows) and the Philly Daily News all happened largely due to iRock’s quirky machinations and tendency to write his own playbook as went along, delighting in breaking nearly every rule of what passes for professional theatrical PR in this town.

I am deeply indebted and grateful also to my beautiful rocket scientist superwife Pia whose patience and willingness to let me disappear night after night to rehearse and to perform, her willingness even to curtail our summer vacation plans for the show, and her eagerness to sit in on dress rehearsals and offer feedback, went stratospherically above and beyond the call of spousal duty.

And lastly there are my eternally beloved guest stars who shared the stage with me night after night on extremely short notice — SHALEE, DAVID, MALA, F.R.A., “NAMAZ,” “KHEF” and all the other nameless souls. God bless them all and may they find peace, wherever and whatever they are.

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Allow me to take a moment to drop the self-aggrandizing persona that’s part and parcel of our show and break character  (I know; even though I was playing myself).  Even with a one-man show there’s no such thing as a one-man show. Part of the joy of producing theatre is that it’s a collaborative medium that requires teamwork.

I must thank my superbly imaginative supergenius director Daniel Student who elevated our show from a mere monologue or storytelling session into a truly theatrical experience. Our show got great press but rarely is the director mentioned in the chaotic coverage of a fringe festival.  So, many thanks to Dan for reading my mind, for bringing our show to life while staying true to my vision for the show, and for helping me stay true to its themes.

Then there’s Randy Dalton, the sculptor behind the Blue Grotto, a lost gem in Philly’s visual art scene into which I was thrilled to help breathe new life.  The Grotto is Randy’s baby but he was extremely welcoming and accommodating, letting us remove or relocate certain objects to improve sightlines, letting us come and go as we pleased at all hours, letting me summon the dead and offer them a new place to live, and even letting us replace some of his cherished blue bulbs with white ones to add a high contrast, flashlight-under-the-face, campfire ghost story mood when I stepped into certain areas.

Also I must thank CEC Executive Director Terri Shockley and Building Manager Scott Maits for their assistance, flexibility and curiosity about our show.

And I must thank Shiva3 Productions and Iggy Rocketboy, a fellow newcomer (even newer than me) to Philly.  This phantasmal young man’s unorthodox approach to publicity and marketing put us in the limelight — no easy feat when competing against literally dozens of other fringe shows on any given night.  The Rep Radio interview, the coverage by philly2philly.com, the City Paper, the Daily Pennsylvanian (who named us one of their 5 Must See shows, I might add) and the Philly Daily News all happened largely due to iRock’s quirky machinations and tendency to write his own playbook as went along (how many plays have a jingle?), delighting in breaking nearly every rule of what passes for professional theatrical PR. It was also Iggy’s idea to give every audience member two free gifts; a ouija board homemade by Jeff and a copy of one of Jack Chick’s fundamentalist Christian comic book tracts, Bewitched? because of its thematic relevance to the show.

I am deeply indebted and grateful also to my arts-loving, beautiful, rocket scientist superwife Pia whose patience and willingness to let me disappear night after night to rehearse and to perform a dark, diabolical (some would say profane) show, her willingness even to curtail our summer vacation plans so I could make martinis and play with ouija boards, and her eagerness to sit in on dress rehearsals and offer feedback, went stratospherically above and beyond the call of spousal duty.

And lastly there are my eternally beloved guest stars who shared the stage with me night after night on extremely short notice — SHALEE, DAVID, MALA, F.R.A., “NAMAZ,” “HABIB,” “KHEF” and all the other nameless souls. God bless them all and may they find peace, wherever and whatever they are.

 

 

Ouija Log – 9/17/11

Beautiful Zion: A Book of the Dead’s final ouija board chat transcript. Egyptian, khef, Holocaust. Israel stele.

Jeffrey Stanley in Beautiful Zion: A Book of the Dead. Photos by Steve Kelly.

Egypt and Israel Dominate Talks

The closing night show was so overwhelming it’s taken me an extra day to calm down enough to write about the Ouija session with some clarity. After 7 evenings of supernatural dissatisfaction for me personally during the brief run of the show and having to close every evening using the nuclear option I was about ready to give up on the spirit world as being able to reach out directly to anyone.

Enter M.

M. was an eager audience member in the final show who joined in with audience volunteer  S. to person the Ouija board. They were escorted away and left alone for awhile as usual to try their hands at the board, reaching out to the netherworld in the Hell Room before I returned with the rest of the audience to rejoin them and see if they’d tuned into anything. Here is the main highlight that left us all haunted, especially M:

QUESTIONER (M) (to Jeff): I’m really freaked out right now. I have goose bumps and my hair’s standing on end.

JEFF:  That’s normal when you’ve brought someone into the room. Something’s here with us. Do you want to quit?

M: No. I’m just letting you know that I’m freaked. My hands are shaking, I’m afraid I’ll mess up with the planchette.

JEFF: Why don’t you stop? I can take your place.

The power of theatre commands demons up from Hell and Angels down from Zion.

M: No, I want to keep going.

JEFF (to Ouija board):  What’s your name?

SPIRIT (or subconscious ideomotor impulse depending on your beliefs):  KHEF

JEFF: Khef?  I bet that turns out to be Arabic or Hindi (why I thought so).  I’ve seen a lot this week so let’s assume it’s a real language and not gibberish. Are you Khef?

SPIRIT: NO

JEFF: Oh.  Well, do you know what’s taped to the back of the grave photo?

SPIRIT: NO

M: Do you know anyone here?

SPIRIT: YES

M: Who?

SPIRIT: M—- (spelling out M’s name)

M: Oh wow. Do you want to tell me something?

Stanley seated before the everyouija.

At that the planchette shot down at breakneck speed to GOODBYE and refused to budge for anyone. Game over. We ended the session and all returned to the Blue Grotto and I wrapped up the show as usual, using the nuclear option — a personal disappointment for me but a fun way to end a show about Ouija boards.

Afterward M. stuck around as  I began to strike the set for the last time, eager to talk to me at length about her first mind-blowing experience on a Ouija board this evening. She needed to unburden herself; I’ve been there, I know what that’s like so I stopped my work and listened.  She was highly unsettled.  She explained to me that she’s Jewish and said that in the Jewish tradition it’s strictly forbidden to contact the dead.  I asked why she did it and — bless her heart — she said she did it to help me find the closure that I need. That was selfless of her but I hated that the experience had left her freaked out. In the end it’s only a show and not worth the trauma.

She said she has immediate ancestors who died tortuous deaths in the Holocaust and that she’d always been afraid to think about how they’d perished. Facing their cruel fate is her worst nightmare, and the thought of hearing directly from them about how they suffered has always been more than she could bear.

“Maybe it appeared to let you know they’re there, but went to Goodbye so quickly to avoid having to tell you what it knows you don’t want to hear, ” I suggested, “to spare you the pain.”

M: That’s exactly what it did. That’s what I’m telling you.

Then I get home and find out that KHEF isn’t Arabic, Hindi or even Urdu.   It’s  Egyptian.  It’s the name of an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph that means “to be laid waste or destroyed.”  A reference to the Holocaust in our case?   And this hieroglyph appears on the Israel Stele of all things, so-called by archaeologists because it’s the only ancient Egyptian document mentioning Israel by name.  And if you don’t know, a stele is a monument to the dead… Yeah. You tell me.

Good luck, everyone, with your own nightmares and ghosts, and thank you for your support for Beautiful Zion: A Book of the Dead.