"I love rivers. I love the way they just go wherever they want. If they get too full they just overflow and flow wherever they want. They make up their own paths. New Paths. I tried to make a dam once in a river...Then one day I stopped it... I was really proud...Then it started to rain. It rained really hard. All night long it rained. The next morning I ran down to the river and my dam was all busted to shit. That river was raging like a brush fire. Just gushing all over the place. Gushing up all over the sides and into the woods. I never built a dam again." - Sam Shepard, Cowboy Mouth
On a metaphorical level, this is a really nice philosophy.
And then you find out you can’t do the one thing you’ve been looking forward to for three years.
You find out that you have to direct a film over FaceTime.
Actors are sick. We don’t have lights. You didn’t finish the shot list in time. The script is terrible.
And then. And then you finally get what Bruce Lee was saying. Dude. Life is crazy. And every day something will come at you that you can’t control. So, you have some options. You can fight it. You can run away. Or, you can flow with it.
Way back in December 2019, I decided that my Fordham directing debut would be Cowboy Mouth by Sam Shepard. Honestly? I chose it because it was the first play Elizabeth suggested to me and I didn’t feel like reading any more than I had to. It was enjoyable, and just edgy enough that I could convince myself I was better than your typical emo college director. (Spoiler alert: I’m not.)
And then 2020 happened, and theatre was no more. Initially, I proposed this project as a virtual exhibit detailing the lives of the characters in the play. However, as I researched Cowboy Mouth, I began to feel a calling to switch directions.
In one of Slim’s early monologues, he describes how he once built a dam to stop a river, only to come back the next morning to find that an overnight storm had completely destroyed the dam. Meanwhile, Cavale recounts a time in which she built a waterfall.
Water is life. That’s not a metaphor, that’s a scientific fact. Carbon-based life as we know it literally would not be possible without H2O. And like Slim says, no matter how much we try to control water, it’s going to do whatever it wants. The same is true about life.
At the same time that I was trying to make sense of this play, I also found myself dealing with an immense load of personal turmoil. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s say that I spent the better part of this semester crying on my bedroom floor. Pretty much everything that could go wrong happened while we tried to put Nineveh together. Every day, something else told me to quit, just call it, leave with my head down.
Then I went back to the text. I learned that I was Slim, trying to force some impossible idea of perfection. So I let go.
I gave up on being an Artist. What does that mean? It means I learned that I am no genius creator, no source for ideas. The art doesn’t come from me; rather it is my job to help it come into the world. In other words, I am a sort of midwife for truth.
I can’t tell you what this project is. I don’t need to. This project is, and that is what matters.
A LOVE LETTER TO MY TEAM
I cannot thank my team enough for all of the insane work they put into this piece. Filmmaking is hard. Filmmaking for the first time, in the middle of a pandemic, with a director literally 3000 miles away, is basically impossible. And yet. Somehow, we did it.
From the beginning, we knew this piece would be a rollercoaster, but we had no idea how terrifying it could get. I am completely blown away by the resilience, dedication, and good attitudes that the crew brought to this shoot. Throughout all of the cold nights, the pizza gorging, the location foibles, not one of them complained. When I decided we should call the whole thing off, it was in fact the team who insisted we keep going! I really cannot put into words how grateful I am to have worked with such an incredible group of people.
A director is only ever as good as their team. In this situation, the work literally was my team. The script was written completely based off of conversations I had with the cast and crew, while most of the scenes were shot by Scott and Casey’s mind-reading, Liam and Koty’s cinematic vision, and Lauren and Nate’s creative ingenuity. In other words, I bought the groceries, but they made the meal.
I could spend twenty years detailing all the reasons I am thankful for this team. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for joining me on this journey and elevating this process beyond my wildest dreams.
Character journaling and image drawn by Lauren Santos
CAST AND CREW
Written & Directed by: Claire Talbott
Executive Producers: Casey Powers, Scott Yezzi
Lighting Designer: Will Rossiter
Sound Designer: Lexi Spera
Co-Directors of Photography: Liam Kenny, Dakota Vooys
Props Lead: Peter Chan
Assistant Sound Designer: Micah Waid
Production Coordinator: William Adams
Production Assistant: Sarah Zwart