A Ready, Willing and Aibel Home
This level of comfort and sense of belonging is "the best gift a theater can give an artist," Warren believes. "You only do your best work when you're not working with fear. It's easier to make bad decisions when you're afraid that you are going to be replaced or not asked back again. [At the Vineyard] when something isn't working, we can all be very free to talk about it. I always know Doug's on our side."
Not only is the production process of a play affected by a trusting relationship of playwright/director/theater, but also the writing process itself. "I would say that having an artistic home has given me a certain amount of artistic freedom," Silver says. "If I had a role model in terms of work, it probably would be Woody Allen, because he makes a movie every year. And very few people in the theater approach it that way, yet I've always done a play a year. It lets you experiment and feel free because the next play doesn't have to be a masterpiece."
And knowing that the yearly play will also have a yearly place at the Vineyard, ironically, can contribute to making it that much more singular. "If I went to Manhattan Theatre Club and did a play, I would think that this has to be wild and fantastic and special, but really, feeling that this is just this year's play helps you to create something that is wild and fantastic and special."
Honing in on Artists
For the artist, the connection to a theater clearly has advantages, both inside and outside of the rehearsal room. According to Aibel, who last year received an Obie for his work at the Vineyard, it is also something which defines not-for-profit theater in general, in addition to the definition it gives each particular theater. "I feel that the non-profit theater has been infected with this sort of hit-or-miss mentality that is often placed upon the commercial theater. And one of the most valuable parts about working in the non-profit theater is that you can establish a long-term relationship with an artist," Aibel comments. "And your involvement with them, as with a particular work, has as much to do with the bigger picture as it has to do with whether a particular play scores."
And how did Aibel recognize Silver as a Vineyard writer? "He's audacious, daring, original, passionate. You never know where he's taking you. And I'd like to think that our work does all of those things." And by forming a relationship to Nicky, it does. According to Aibel, the Vineyard's relationship has "also contributed to, I think, a real educational experience for our audiences. I think after a show or two they began to expect the unexpected from Mr. Silver. And that's neat too: to see mainstream theatergoers relate to his work, and dig it."
For Aibel himself, the relationship that began with his commitment to produce Pterodactyls has also been a very satisfying one for him personally. "I've been very, very honored, for instance, to have produced Nicky's play the Maiden's Prayer a couple of season's ago. And I'll never forget when he gave me that play to read. I had a very emotional reaction to it, because it was seeing an artist stretch, and try for something new, and trusting you enough to understand that they wanted to go to a different place. So I feel quite a responsibility, in a sense, when an artist entrusts their work to me to such an extent. And by same token, I also feel a responsibility to support them in the various journeys that they take."
The committed, collaborative relationships between Nicky Silver, David Warren, and Doug Aibel, developed through six years of work together at the Vineyard, are characterized by trust and respect, breadth and depth. But even knowing Silver's work as well as he does, when Aibel first read The Altruists he says, "I was floored by it. I was particularly surprised because it's the most purely farcical of his plays on a certain level. It also, without giving away the plot, makes some twists and turns stylistically that are stunning."
And in addition to admiring the piece itself, Aibel had the history and sensitivity to realize the play's significance in Silver's development as a writer. "I was very impressed that he had the courage to try that--in a sense, leading the audience down a path to one journey, and then suddenly taking them on another. I think that excited me the most about it."
While still the midst of previews for Altruists, Silver comments, "I don't think I'll open another play in New York for a few years." And what does Aibel think about the prospect of his absence? "I haven't talked to him about it," Silver pauses (well, exhales...does Nicky Silver ever really pause?). "But I could go home tonight and write a play, so who knows?"