MY ART STORY by

David Barker

Tempe
Arizona

Dodging Bullets letter.jpg

Man holding up a letter on stage.

David Barker's solo performance Dodging Bullets. Photo by Larry Stone

Years ago I was asked to present a lecture/demonstration on stage movement for a magician’s conference. The first line of my lecture was “I am not a magician,” which prompted enthusiastic applause. And so I begin this writing with “I am not a writer.”

You can’t really count the underwhelming scandal during my junior year at Duquesne University. Infuriated by two years of having my poetry rejected by the campus literary magazine, my roommate and I lampooned such luminaries as Thomas Hardy, e. e. cummings, and Carl Sandburg under the pseudonym S. S. Yuko, submitting about twenty insipid send-ups. To our shock and sublime amusement S.S. Yuko was the most published poet of the next issue, with nine submissions printed. Our sophomoric vengeance hit its target.

And you can’t really count my textbook for stage movement, Connected Motion: A Common Sense Approach to Movement Training for Actors. First, I still have not found a publisher after many attempts. (But I've been rejected by some of the top academic publishers in the world!) Second, I wrote the book on a sabbatical from Arizona State University in 1997 and found the process torturous. I had to force myself into my office, in front of my desk and onto my computer; repeatedly. I gained admiration and respect for writers and vowed never to agree to write anything ever again.

But a university sabbatical is an institutional gift of great awe and wonder. Imagine this: nine months of no meetings, no classes, and no schedule; but with full pay and benefits. And so when I became eligible for another sabbatical seven years later, I jumped at the opportunity but made sure my proposed project would be a labor of love and not a dreary sentence to force words out of my head. I entered the summer of 2004 knowing my sabbatical had been approved and the project was the development of a new solo show, a show more personal and revealing than my previous solo shows. But alas, I lamented “Nothing unusual ever happens in my life, certainly nothing worthy of theater.”

But on Friday July 6, 2004 at 12:15 p.m. outside the front door of an upscale suburban Boston home, that changed forever. At that moment my brother-in-law tried to kill my sister and me as my sixteen year old niece watched. During the months after the catastrophe, whenever I would share the story (albeit the Reader’s Digest version), the listener would respond with stunned silence and then mutter something the likes of which you hear when people react to horrific headlines. The tale passed the litmus test for dramatic intrigue every single time. Early on I understood the events of 7/6/04 had audience impact, rich story line and stranger-than-fiction characters (my brother-in-law was a successful, highly respected brain surgeon). And even though the story flowed easily from my lips and onto the page, I needed a structure. Around this time I saw the 2004 Paul Haggis film, Crash. Several unrelated groups of people are united by a fatal car accident, but their stories are told independently, episodically. I had found my structure and a means by which I could weave together two other stories occurring simultaneously: my father recovering from emergency stomach surgery and my mother slipping deeper into dementia.

My fears about developing a new show were allayed. Weeks later I ran into a colleague at the store and we chatted about the beginning of a new school year. I told him I had missed the annual faculty retreat due to a “family issue” on the East Coast, but that I was delighted to miss the retreat, which I detest. Not knowing what had happened to me, my friend replied, “Wow, looks like you dodged a bullet there.” I knew I had my title.

My sabbatical project landed soundly in my lap, complete with form and content and it could/should not be ignored. And for the first time I have actually penned something I do not need to qualify.