Interview: Michael Norton & Sarah Blush
The show has a bit of an origin story: Norton and Blush went to school together and shortly after graduating decided to collaborate. They began working on a play about a year ago about the Bretton Woods Conference, a conference to regulate the state of the global economy after the conclusion of World War II. But it started feeling too much “like a play,” so they kept the more abstract themes that had emerged and changed directions.
DL: So you went back to the drawing board.
MN: We went back to what even was interesting about [the Bretton Woods Conference], because it wasn’t interesting how we were writing it, and it was the idea of legacy. Because the legacy of this conference was the International Monetary Fund and the US dollar becoming the de facto currency. But the idea of legacy was more interesting than all of that. It was the idea of being remembered and crafting your legacy and crafting the idea of the self.
SB: And the idea of who is remembered and who isn’t. It’s something we personally relate to because this is a time in our lives when we’re trying to figure out what it is we want to do.
DL: What are your thoughts on the intersection of legacy and art?
MN: I came to theater as a child because I wanted to be immortal. That’s actually how I phrased it in my head. “I want to be immortal. I want to live forever. Art is the only way to live forever.” And so I made decision to go to art school and do art shit…but I don’t feel that way anymore. I no longer have the desire to be immortal, or be remembered, but I’m still carrying out these choices I made as a 15 or 16 year old. Now I just want to live in the present.
SB: I think there’s a connection between legacy and ego. We had conversations initially about the type of people who are drawn to theater, you know. It’s when you’re a kid and want to be looked at. How does that continue on in your life? I think for most people around this time, you start to make choices around, you know, “Am I working towards something I’ll reap the benefits of in my lifetime? Am I interested in creating a life for myself that I will see, or am I interested in something even more, which is having something live beyond me.”
DL: Were you surprised by anything that came out of this process that you didn’t set out to do or say?
SB: One thing that surprised me is that the play became so much about death. Legacy is inherently a conversation about mortality. If you’re talking about something living past you, you’re talking about your death. We were interested in how the play itself dies – the ending of the play. The way the characters deal with the play having to end becomes a sort of frightening conversation about death and having to die and having to confront that. We didn’t realize that that was going to be so forward.
MN: The play sort of forced us into the conversation.
DL: What do you think about legacy and death in relation to yourselves?
MN: Legacy ultimately lives in the mind of other people, and most of the things I struggle with involve me being anxious about how I’m perceived by other people. But I can’t read someone’s mind and know exactly how they feel about me, how they feel about what’s happening, so the quest to live more within my own self and own mind is important. Legacy has become this idea of living for the future, the future, the future. I’m an anxious person, so I’m done with the future. I’m also done with the past! So between regret and anxiety there’s this very narrow island of present.
DL: Speaking of perception, as theatermakers we spend a lot of time being anxious about what the audience thinks. What do you make of that impulse?
SB: To be totally honest, the number one thing that’s important to me – and it angers me that this isn’t a priority for more people – is entertainment. At a very basic level, I only care about making shows that people enjoy and don’t regret having to sit through. Michael and I recently saw a show that we both hated, and there’s a feeling of resentment, of utter hatred that lives inside you for having to see it and not feeling taken care of as an audience member and feeling like, “How dare you…”
DL: It’s like “How did you think I would be okay with this?”
MN: And you’re trapped!
SB: I respect people trying things. There have been shows that I’ve disliked but have had plenty to say about and enjoyed going to. But boredom is something that I have absolutely zero tolerance for! My mission statement is not to inflict that on other people.
MN: We’re lucky that our actors are very funny. We didn’t talk so much about comedy in our initial conversations, but it’s really funny.
DL: What are you most proud of about the show?
MN: That it’s happening! No, no. But there were actually a lot of points where the project could have ended, and it didn’t.
SB: Even after we were in the rehearsal room. That’s the thing that scares me about devised work. I think you have to have a certain amount of faith in yourself as an observer and an editor that you can shape it and curate it and mold it into what you want it to be. And also just to generate it, because so much of the process happens once you’re already in rehearsal. Michael and I walked into the room with four characters, some images, common sense and some research and very little else.
My Favorite Character Was the Talking Vase is a new work about how we invent ourselves and re-invent others. The show runs at HERE Arts from July 15-19.
Conceived by Sarah Blush and Michael Norton
Written by Michael Norton, Sarah Blush, and the cast
Directed by Sarah Blush
Produced by Rachel Christiansen