The Prince of New York… evolution of a screenplay
I have adventures in New York City. One such adventure, as inspiring to a writer in process as viewing the latest Robin Hood, began in October 2008 and led to the writing of a screenplay… an enchantment experience.
That day I set off to see what lay at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 65th Street. It was a location I had used in a poem about Duo Concertante (a love story) and the address had come to me out of the blue. Why had that location come to mind? I didn’t know what was there.
As I walked east from City Center I saw the number 140.
In a somewhat willy nilly fashion (using an intuitive hit the likes of which author and intuitive Laura Day might have), I decided to be at that corner at 1:40 p.m. I took pictures along the way as I do, noting how certain themes arose in my head as I walked.
At 1:40 p.m., I noticed the scaffolding on one side of Fifth Avenue at 65th. Though I discounted what I saw, it still worked on me from behind the scenes, for scaffolding means something is being built… At that time for me, I was building a story around a man who follows a fairy into the woods… the story of La Sylphide.
On the other side of Fifth, however, I noticed roofs within Central Park. What is this, I wondered.
The trees had a mystical, almost faerie-like appearance.
My heart sang. What is this, I asked again. I reached a series of steps going down and as I began my descent saw to my complete amazement, the actor Russell Crowe talking to a slighter man. They were talking about how Crowe was to walk through the area for what I was certain was his next film.
I had an internal dialogue with myself that went something like this: “Shit, it’s Russell Crowe. What do I do?”
I discounted asking for his autograph as being simply moronic and something that someone who’d grown up in Bowling Green, Ohio, would do. Having lived in the New York metro area for some 20 years before my latest trip, I knew I simply would not do it. I felt like Carrie from Sex in the City enamored of all the possibilities this city of enchantment holds.
I flashed to my camera as I had been taking pictures all along.
Do I ask him if I could take his picture? Most people would not have questioned. They would have just snapped the picture. But I switch from impulsive to let’s see how long I can stew about it.
As I stood there, I finally allowed the feeling of the scene to wash over me instead of focusing on some need to act. I knew he would not want his picture taken. I knew somehow not to intrude. I also felt and would process later the most incredible power coming from him, and without knowing what I was doing consciously, I honored it.
I let the two men go ahead, still wondering what this was all about for me. They disappeared into a crowd like a scene out of Shakespeare or a painting by Renoir.
I began to see England and the Chalice Well. Then I turned a corner and went nuts with all that greeted me. I wished I were the best professional photographer in the world, all the while taking pictures. Children swarmed around me.
A little girl in pink came toward me and said, “There’s a slide over there. A slide!”
“I know,” I said, spying it. Of course, I took a picture with my trusty little Kodak. And then I saw them… bridges… bridges everywhere… in silver chain, lined with tree stumps and stones… some narrow… some you could never walk across your self as they bridged space and other dimensions, and the enchanted fairy realms. I had seen the sign that said, Children’s Zoo, but somehow had never been in there.
After seeing Russell Crowe, I saw a crow crow, not so unusual really as crows are everywhere. But this crow was different. This crow was quite a show-off, tilting his head animatedly. His bright yellow beak took my attention and the word, magpie, flew out at me. I was stunned that he didn’t fly away as I stood so close to him. I snapped a picture, but it came out dark and blurred.
As I continued to walk and glanced upward, I saw two pinkish-orange parrots up high that did not move. I knew immediately that they were fake.
I kept walking. I was now wondering if I really saw the crow, if the crow was real or some paper mache animated thing, and for a brief moment felt as though I were in some incredible dream. But I wouldn’t allow it to be only dream. Russell Crowe had been real, as real as this writing is today.
At some point during my walk I began to hear swashbuckling music. This along with the feelings of ancient England continued to imbue me and I wondered what kind of intuitive information this was for me. I knew it felt like the most magical visit to New York City I’d ever had.
I return to New York in June, only for a few days, but this time I carry the finished story about an English actor, a musical theater star of the Broadway stage who risks all to be the dancer he always wanted to be. That story is the one that evolved from my encounter with Russell Crowe. Even though I said nothing, even though I took no action toward him, something happened. From then on I knew I wanted to write a screenplay for him–that great an actor. I felt the challenge, the kind one feels with a great dance partner.
I write dramas but often have a slew of ideas that I play with. I have an idea for Ben Stiller that could work much better if I were a comedy writer. I was told by a colleague to find a high level comedy writer in the industry to be a writing partner. I feel the comedy in my bones.
You see, Ben Stiller is a one form of dancing actor. And though it’s not obvious if you look at his physicality, Russell Crowe is too. The main character in my story, Alek Patel, is this kind of actor. He is not a Robin Hood or gladiator, he sings, dances and is a celebrated Broadway musical theater ham who in some sense loses his beautiful mind.
To recover, he goes to England and meets The Witch, Tild White, on the suggestion of a little girl, a girl he adores who he calls Fairy.
Want to lead or shall I?
Alek doesn’t move.
Hate to break it to you but this is a
rehab center and I use dance to get
you where you want to be, even
when you don’t know where that is.
(she takes his hand)
The question is, will you take a step
in some direction?
Tild attempts to pull him. He resists.
Charming. A bullfighter.
He pulls her into him.
That’s right. Don’t let me lead. And
if you sense me back leading, stop
the whole dance. We can’t get
anywhere like that.
What is back leading? My ballroom instructor said it’s when the woman doesn’t allow the man to lead as he should. In conflict, the pair look like they’re not a good match. Alek Patel begins his return to the stage at this point in the story. Of course, he has many more adventures ahead of him, especially when he returns to the city he loves.
Who will read of my adventures? Will my screenplay be made? Who believes in the power of ballroom dance… ♫♪ the power of music ♫♪, character, film, the written word, language… to move us beyond time and place?
My adventures continue as I live and write each day. I’ll be in Manhattan June 10-11-12-13, and I can’t wait to be imbued with the sequel to my encounter with Robin Hood, not in Nottingham but still, in an enchanted glade.
The Prince of New York.
Logline: An award-winning stage actor finds himself pitted against the friends who feel betrayed by him when he risks his career as romantic leading man to fulfill his dream to dance.