Anisa George Plumbs the Darker Side of Super-fandom
Anisa George – Founder and Artistic Director of the Philadelphia-based company George & Co – is no stranger to the power of art. She grew up performing with her parents’ theater company, Touchstone Theater, and her short films and plays have traveled the world. In Holden, coming to FringeArts October 8-17, she explores the darker side of artistic impact. Salinger’s obsessed super-fans have taken up residence in his writing bunker, dead-set on convincing him to publish again. As the play unfolds and violent impulses are revealed, their mission spirals into a bonfire of longing and delusion. We caught up with Anisa earlier this year, before Holden premiered in New Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival in New York City, to ask her what inspired her to create this dark and extraordinary play.
FA: Why is the title Holden? Where were you when you thought of it?
AG: Holden comes from Holden Caulfield, as in the protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye. Not that the play is so much about Holden, as it is about a number of people who were obsessed with him, and believed that they were him. Starting with Salinger himself, who said that if Catcher was ever adapted into a play or film he’d have to play Holden himself, but he’d never do that because he feared “that would make Holden unhappy”. I don’t know where exactly I was when I thought of it, but it’s been called that since the very beginning of the piece’s development. We’ve never wavered.
FA: What’s the world of the piece? Both literally (as in the set/setting) and the “world” the characters inhabit mentally.
AG: Well those two things go hand in hand, because the world of the piece is very much a mental space and not a literal space. I mean, on one level you could say it takes place in Salinger’s writing bunker, which he built for himself in Cornish, NH – but our bunker is very much a bunker of the mind.
FA: How much are you playing off the book, and how so?
AG: We’re not quoting the book at all, nor are we playing characters from the book. That would be highly illegal, and a sure way of insuring that our play had no future. The book basically changed the lives of many of our characters, and that gave us a point-of-view when we were creating them. It was like a dowsing rod in sourcing the wellspring of their rages and their obsessions.
FA: What led you to be interested in the obsessed fan, particularly the literary obsessed, who seem to be their own brand of weird?
AG: Yeah, it’s a very specific brand of weird, but I think as an artist they appeal to me because their lives testify to the power of art, even if it’s a negative, corrosive kind of power. We’re much busier in our culture talking about the transformative power of art in a positive sense, but transformation can look destructive as well, and I’ve always been interested in people’s shifting relationship to authoring art with that kind of negative potential. Like the fact that Jonathan Demme didn’t want to direct the sequel to The Silence of The Lambs after he had kids. It’s very inspiring to me that acts of fiction can feel so consequential – that art is not just for inspiring dinner conversations, but can bound into the world like a slobbering beast.
FA: What are you (or what do you think you will be) fine-tuning in the latter parts of putting the show together?
AG: Well, we’re making changes all day every day right now. Changes that feel both big and small. I think the basic world of the piece, and the constellation of characters that exist within it, will remain the same – but because it’s such an unconventional world – that dwells within this impossible time and place that is both real and psychological – clarifying the logic of the words and actions of our characters is very complex. Most of what they do and say needs to mean two or three things simultaneously. We’re anchored to real history, but we’re not making a historical drama. We spend a lot of time sifting through possible layers of interpretation, and every time we show the piece to some new people more layers emerge and have to be integrated.
Thank you Anisa! Can’t wait!