Adirondack Theatre Festival Presents Premiere of ‘Filming O’Keeffe’
When Mark Fleischer, the artistic director at the Adirondack Theatre Festival, approached playwright Eric Lane with a commission for a play inspired by photographer Alfred Stieglitz and painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s life on Lake George, the offer could not have been more timely.
“I was clearing out my shelves and was about to donate a lot of these books on O’Keeffe and Stieglitz to the local Salvation Army; but then I met with Mark Fleischer,” said Mr. Lane, who is from New York City and, incidentally, a long-time admirer of both artists. “So I went to my basement and brought all the books back upstairs.”
Lane’s play, called Filming O’Keeffe, will have its world premiere on July 12 at the Charles R. Wood Theater as part of the Adirondack Theatre Festival’s 2013 season.
Directed by Martha Banta, co-founder of the Adirondack Theater Festival, Filming O’Keeffe envisions a contemporary family living on Lake George at the former Stieglitz estate where the painter and photographer spent much of the late 1910s and 1920s. The play centers on an art gallery owner, captivated by Lake George for that history, and her son, a filmmaker, who must come to terms with the past upon the arrival of an estranged grandfather.
“I felt like the Stieglitz and O’Keeffe play had already been done,” said Lane, so rather than write a historically set bio-epic, he incorporated the history as a backdrop to an original, contemporary play. “It was very important that the O’Keeffe and Stieglitz information came from the point of view of the contemporary characters rather than sound like a history lesson.”
Lane has done previous work with the Adirondack Theater Festival. Most notably, ATF premiered his play Times of War in 1999. It was, like Filming O’Keeffe, directed by Martha Banta. Prior to the premiere, Lane had the opportunity to stage a reading of Times of War. “It was one of the best readings I’ve ever done, the discussions afterwards were really smart,” he said. “In New York City, criticism comes from actors and other playwrights, so it’s very prescriptive about how you need to fix your play. But at ATF it was more about how it affected people.”
Times of War’s premiere took place before Mark Fleischer became artistic director at ATF. Fleischer, however, had seen a performance of Lane’s play Heart of the City, which he regarded as “a really touching show.” “Eric always came back to my mind as someone who could handle complex human relationships,” said Fleischer. He offered Lane the commission over a cup of coffee, attaching the one loose condition: Stieglitz and O’Keeffe at Lake George.
“I didn’t know what the play was going to look like,” Fleischer said. “We just let him go free.”
Besides reading through stacks and stacks of books, Lane came to Lake George to complete his research for the play. When his guide, the Glens Falls artist Victoria Palermo, used certain phrases to describe O’Keeffe and Stieglitz’s time on the lake, they inspired whole scenes that found a place in the play, said Lane.
Newly in love, Stieglitz first brought O’Keeffe to his family’s estate on Lake George in 1918, and continued to do so in the summers thereafter. Oaklawn, as the estate was called, served as a backdrop to what became an increasingly delicate relationship between two artists. O’Keeffe and Steiglitz were fiercely in love, but also fiercely independent, and fiercely ambitious. Neither artist was ready to make many sacrifices for the other.
“I seem to be only a very small fraction of a person when you are around — and I believe I like to be a whole one all by myself,” O’Keeffe wrote to Stieglitz in 1922, pinpointing that central stumbling block in their relationship. O’Keeffe’s frequent trips to New Mexico, and Stieglitz’s unconcealed love affair with the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia clothing manufacturer, Dorothy Norman, only added more damage to the relationship. But the two artists, separated by thousands of miles, remained married until Stieglitz’s death in 1946.
Despite the substantial amount of research and history involved, Filming O’Keeffe remains a decidedly personal work for Lane. “It’s probably one of the most personal plays I’ve ever written,” he said. “Having as a writer that surface distance allows you to make the play even more personal. It allows you to invest yourself more into it.”
Filming O’Keeffe received a workshop and reading at ATF in 2012 as well as other developmental readings at Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST), New York Theatre Workshop and Wellfleet Harbor Actor’s Theatre (W.H.A.T.) in Massachusetts. Yaddo, the artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, supported the playwright and the creation of this new play through an artist residency.
In addition to Times of War and Heart of the City, Eric Lane’s plays include Ride, Floating and Early Morning, which was published in Best American Short Plays. With Nina Shengold, Eric has co-edited 13 contemporary play anthologies for Penguin and Vintage Books, earning a Lambda Literary Award nomination. He wrote and produced the short films First Breath and Cater-Waiter which he also directed. Both award-winning films screened in over 40 cities worldwide. He has won a Writer’s Guild Award, the Berrilla Kerr Award, Yaddo fellowships and the La MaMa Playwright Award.
Filming O’Keeffe will be performed from July 11 through July 20. Tickets may be purchased by calling 518 874-0800 or online at ATFestival.org.