Over the years, my search for Tennessee has led me to many places I never expected to end up. I have always seemed to come out on the other side though, learning more than I ever imagined to begin with. One of the most recent unexpected journeys my search has led me on is that of the writer, James Franco.
In the past few years, I have come to be acquainted with the lyrical and visual artistry of James Franco. He is an artist who has a multi-layered creative vision that allows him to pursue acting, writing, painting, directing...basically anything he puts his mind to. For better or worse, he does not seem to care about the outcome of his personal creative endeavors. He seems to just write, because he loves to write; paints because he loves to paint; performs because he loves to perform.
Unlike James, Tennessee seemed to write, because he felt he had to. Yes, he loved it, but he seemed to have felt cursed at times. He also cared very much as to what people thought of his work and allowed their opinions to be a driving force in the later years of his life. That being said, that did not stop Tennessee from writing exactly what he wanted, no matter how taboo it may have been at that time. Even though he cared very much about what people thought, he could not stop from writing plays that spoke of truths about human nature and what drives us at our core that nobody else wanted to talk about .
The Glass Menagerie is the best example, in my opinion, of Tennessee using his writing to talk about the painful truth of his beloved mentally ill sister Rose, his controlling mother, and how he as a young man wanted to be the writer that his family was not willing to accept.
In November of 2011, James Franco and Laurel Nakadate, a filmmaker and photographer, collaborated together and created a mixed-media performance with The Glass Menagerie as the basis. Three Performances in Search of Tennessee was a three-part project that took place in New York City.
As part of this project, James went to the Elysee Hotel in NYC where Tennessee died and hosted a spiritual meditation session in which he tried to channel Tennessee’s spirit. The other two segments of this project took place at a theater and included actresses auditioning for the role of Laura against a video projection of James playing the Gentleman Caller and male actors auditioning for the role of Tom.
This project was the first I had learned of James’ interest in Tennessee’s work. His take on exploring Tennessee intrigued me. Being that I was on my own journey with Tennessee I wanted to learn more about this seemingly shared passion. I wanted to know how James felt about Tennessee and his work, and what kind of journey his search had led him on.
Following Three Performances in Search of Tennessee, I read that James was working on various Tennessee Williams projects in Detroit. James was also in talks to star in Sweet Bird of Youth opposite Nicole Kidman, but unfortunately that never came to be.
In March 2011, I attended the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans. It was my first time visiting New Orleans. I took master classes with authors who I had admired, like Amy Hempel, and authors who I never heard of, but received great inspiration from like Constance Adler. I felt like I was channeling Tennessee’s spirit over the course of those few days. When I returned home I felt more inspired than ever.
Not long after my return, I learned that James was going to be hosting an event at The Strand bookstore in New York. April 13, 2012 and Friday the 13th. The event was described as an evening with James Franco that included a performance, a Q&A session, and a book signing of his book The Dangerous Book Four Boys. I knew I had to at least attend the event even though I knew my chances of having an opportunity to talk with him about his exploration of Tennessee’s work was slim to none.
As I thought, I did not have the opportunity to talk with him, but it was still a memorable evening. I did however, have the opportunity to talk briefly with Laurel Nakadate, who worked on the Tennessee project with James. It only fueled my fire more to continue my own journey.
Fastforward to Friday, September 6, 2013. I was scrolling through my instagram feed when I saw that James was going to be hosting a screening and book signing at Pace Gallery in New York the next day. You had to buy a book on Friday in person to guarantee admission into the event. There was no way that was going to happen; I live on Long Island and I had to work. I pondered all day on Friday just taking a chance and going into the city. When I woke up Saturday morning, the first thing I said to myself was that I was going no matter what.
I called the gallery Saturday morning to see if they had any books available. The woman on the phone said that she didn’t know anything and was no help in sealing my decision. The lack of information did not phase me. I hopped on the train and headed into the city. On the ride in I just kept telling myself that even if I was not able to get in I would make the most of the evening and shop, have dinner, or maybe even go see a play.
I arrived at Penn Station at 4:00 p.m. I grabbed a cab down to the gallery. I could have easily walked, but something told me that time was of the essence. I walked into the gallery and a woman greeted me and asked me if I wanted to buy a catalog. I said yes and she called to another woman. The new woman, who I will call Ameile, because that’s what it sounded like, and I can’t remember what her name really was said hello to me and asked me if I was there to buy a catalog. All I kept thinking in my mind was that it was a like a scene from a “Seinfeld” episode.
She picked up a book and proceeded to tell me the book I was getting was their very last copy of, Moving Pictures / Moving Sculptures: The Films of James Franco. I guess time really was of the essence. She told me people were to be let in four or five people at a time and James would be signing the books one on one. I instantly thought maybe I would have an opportunity to finally ask him about his Tennessee Williams projects. I had a list of three things on my mind I wanted to share.
When it came my time to meet with James, I started our conversation by telling him I was a fellow writer, and as a writer, I truly enjoyed his book Palo Alto. This was the first thing on my list. I told him I enjoyed Palo Alto so much I had insisted to my dear friend, mentor, and former journalism professor she read the book. I shared with him she loved the book so much she had her students in her creative writing class read the book as well. He reached his hand out to me and thanked me for telling him.
I think everyone needs to hear sincere compliments on their talents no matter who they are. I meant every word I said and I hope my sentiment came across as true as I felt. This was the second thing on my list.
After I finished sharing those stories with him, I felt a panic, and thought I was taking too much time. I did not want to be rude to the other people who were waiting. We said goodbye and I walked away.
Number three, and what I had thought to be the most important thing on my list before talking with him, to talk Tennessee, was not spoke of. In the instant I began talking to him my mind shifted and all I wanted to do was tell him how he inspired me as a writer and how I appreciated his work.
In speaking of truths, the truth is I wanted James to know how much I admired his work more than I wanted to talk about Tennessee in that moment. I also figure, three’s a charm, so maybe someday my journey will lead me to talk Tennessee with him. Besides, my search for Tennessee keeps taking me to great places I could have never imagined on my own.