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Eric Bogosian

Bitter. Sweet!

For her February column, Shelby-Allison Hibbs and her students meet Eric Bogosian, and she gets inspired anew by his performance and a career of climbing, working and engaging.



published Wednesday, February 17, 2016

 

 

Dallas — Climb. Work. Engage.

On Friday night, I went to Eric Bogosian’s Bitter Honey: The Best of 100 (Monologues), presented in AT&T Performing Arts Center's Off Broadway on Flora series, with a group of my students at UTD. Many of them are in rehearsals right now for Bogosian’s subUrbia (which opens next week); and I thought: how serendipitous. These students have the opportunity not only to meet the playwright but they also get to watch him perform.

As I distributed tickets, I felt relieved to engage with students beyond the typical:

 

How many points is this worth?

What is the due date for this paper?

Why did I get points counted off?

 

Points, points, points.

Due, due, due.

Why, Why, Why?

 

Because where does that way of thinking actually lead? I’ll ask my students: what are your goals, what do you see for yourself in a few years time, what are you passionate about? What do you want to bring into this world? Those answers can’t be quantified, nor can they be answered within arbitrary time restraints.

One of them told me that they just decided to pursue law school. This student spoke of concerns for pursuing teaching or acting because of the low paycheck. (I did want to say something to the effect of “You do know I’m standing right in front of you, right?”) It would be too hard or the rewards weren’t big enough. They also mentioned opportunities for lucrative paychecks within a few years’ time. With the right school, the right entry job, the right score—he would be set.

 

I kept thinking in my head:

Points. Due. Why?

 

When Bogosian’s performance began (with a monologue appropriately titled “Intro”), he took us on a journey, a waterfall of imagery about the condition of man. He illustrated how we’re all just little snowflakes swirling about, “each one of us a frozen droplet of potential.” And then we transform: into raindrops, into streams, into the Ganges! Equally in weight, he brought up our inevitable death. He noted that we’re all going to die and that even he could die right in front of us on this very stage. BAM.

As he started to interchange characters and flow through monologues, I began to see a series of beings, ones that had made distinct choices for the outcome of their life. They pursue drugs, they pursue comfort, they pursue false narratives, they pursue money. Always seeking something, never quite getting there.

Bogosian closed the performance with a monologue called “Highway” (which you can see in the video above, as performed by Sebastian Stan). It’s about a hitchhiker, one who has more wisdom than the doctors or rich tools that Bogosian depicted earlier. He said: “…I’m a first-class passenger on the spaceship Earth. I’ve got a one-way ticket so I have to make the ride count, you know? And as far as I figure it, you can either take the service road or the scenic route. And, man, if I only have one ride, I want it to be beautiful.”

 

This is your ride. You only get one. And you don’t know when it will stop.

Photo: Susan Johann
Eric Bogosian

Consider that for making decisions.

What is the legacy you want to leave behind?

 

Is it on the service road, the path of least resistance?

Are you taking the Google Map route that someone else outlined for you?

Are you allowing yourself to get a little lost?

What happens if you reach your destination as quickly as possible?

Then what?

Have you really considered what living in that world will be like?

Can you really know?

 

From the speeding highway, you’ll never truly see the creeks,

or the various hues of the rolling hills

or the hidden paths.

 

Points. Due. Why?

 

Even though you pursue something, there are no guarantees. There’s no true finish line of accomplishment, you’ll want something else, you’ll pursue other things, we’re all in pursuit.

I keep hearing that eventually all adults reach some sense of stasis or balance, but I have to agree with Bogosian when he says that it’s all just “anarchy.”

So when we had a meet and greet with Bogosian after the show, I hoped that my students realized that the man sitting in front of them is a real example of not accepting a straight path to “success.”

(And I’m not really sure that road is even real to begin with. Back in the day, I was an intern with many people who went to very intimidating universities, Ivy-New-York-Out-Of-My-League places. I felt like a nobody/professional screw-up around them, and I thought that I would spend years catching up with them, since I went to a small Baptist school in Bill Clinton’s county. As the years go by, I’ve seen a significant amount of them give up. But I’m still here. I’m still going.)

Photo: Shelby-Allison Hibbs
Shelby-Allison Hibbs

Bogosian embodies the act of telling your own stories, getting out of your boring existence by any means necessary, and using the medium of theatre to articulate your own voice.  To me, that is success. That’s the dream. Now, you have to define success for yourself; and sure, many people think that automatically means financial stability.

But you’re on spaceship earth.

And money doesn’t grow on trees.

I mean that literally. Nature does not breed money.

We do.

I really loved that he performed two monologues in particular that comment on the life and work of an artist: “The Audition” and “The Ladder”. In the first one, Bogosian plays an actor who fumbles his way through a film audition where we imagine the invisible row of casting directors are saying everything but “PLEASE LEAVE NOW.” Since I have been on both sides of the audition process, I appreciated the humor and arbitrary decisions that happen when you judge a person by 30 seconds of work. In “The Ladder,” Bogosian explains the ridiculous nature of celebrity, but the image that jumped out to me most strongly concerned “paying your dues.” When does that end? When have you “made it?” Where are all of my free first class airplane tickets?

As an emerging artist, I know that concept very well (through internships, low-paying gigs, and assisting directors). I think I’m still paying them.

It feels like you’re only as good as your last project. It feels like you are always climbing up rung by rung. It feels like a struggle to get to another breakthrough.

Also, this imaginary ladder we’re talking about. It gets higher. All the time.

Work a little bit longer, go to another audition, prepare just a bit more, write another scene, research for an hour more, update the website again, send that email, study that script, make that follow up phone call. Keep climbing.

And don’t be so confident to feel entitled. You climb. You work. You engage. You choose where your effort needs to go. That’s where you have power. You choose where you put your energy.

Climb. Work. Engage.

And it doesn’t end.

When Bogosian talked with us, he mentioned how in the midst of rehearsing this collection of monologues, he’s also working on Baz Luhrman’s The Get Down. I’d say Bogosian’s made it? Wouldn’t you?

He’s still climbing. He’s still working. He’s still engaging.

 

» Shelby-Allison Hibbs is a Dallas-based teaching artist, playwright, director, performer and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. Each month she muses on the intersecting worlds of teaching and making art. But that will change. Look for an announcement soon on TheaterJones about an exciting new direction for Hibbs' column.

  • February 2015 "Teacher/Artist" (Capers for Kids)
  • March 2015 "Parental Guidance Suggested" (WaterTower Theatre)
  • April 2015 "DaVersify Your Life" (DaVerse Lounge)
  • May 2015 "The Work in Art" (Tax time for an independent artist)
  • June 2015 "Learning to Say YES" (Cara Mía Theatre)
  • July 2015 "Exploring Language" (Dallas Children's Theater and Junior Players)
  • August 2015 "Transforming Through Dance" (Junior Players)
  • September 2015 "Walking Tall" (Amphibian Stage Productions' Tad Poles)
  • October 2015 "They Care a Lot" (Kids Who Care, Fort Worth)
  • November 2015 "Who Tells Your Story" (male narratives and gender disparity)
  • December 2015 "Shut Up and Listen Part One" (Cry Havoc Theatre)
  • January 2015 "Shut Up and Listen Part Two" (Cry Havoc Theatre)
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Bitter. Sweet!
For her February column, Shelby-Allison Hibbs and her students meet Eric Bogosian, and she gets inspired anew by his performance and a career of climbing, working and engaging.
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