Just three more days to Panther Hollow!

PH - Best Friends

“Everything I’m about to tell you is true. And, fair warning, some of it is upsetting so I’m going to apologize in advance. There are eleven corpses in this show – eight victims of suicide, one tragic accident, one fake dead body and one cat. I apologize for that. I especially apologize for the cat, although it’s not me that kills it. There are references to sex in this show – awkward, humiliating sex or, in my case, the humiliating and awkward lack of sex. I’m sorry. There are also two skinheads, one reference to public fornication, a few ghosts, Satan and Shakespeare. I’m sorry that I take a few potshots at religion although I feel it’s warranted. Also, because of lifelong feelings of self-loathing, I feel the need to say “I’m sorry” for everything you might find offensive and for that, I apologize. So let me just start with the first dead body and you can tick everything off as I go along…”

Can’t wait to bring PANTHER HOLLOW to Luna Stage this Friday (12/15/17). There’s only one performance so get your tickets now at http://www.lunastage.org

In the meantime, here’s an article written by Clara Wilch at the University of Pittsburgh a couple of years ago  –

Bringing Light to Dark Places- Pitt alumnus David Lee White on his new one-person play “Panther Hollow”

by Clara Wilch

In a recent conversation with alumnus David Lee White he explained that theatre has “always been what I’ve done. It’s my medium, it’s the language I speak… the only way I’ve ever really seriously interacted with the world.”

White began studying at the University of Pittsburgh as an acting MFA in 1991. Since then, White’s theatre experiences have multiplied along with his talents, expanding to include director and playwright. Among White’s early experiences playwriting were the “great” classes of Pitt’s Dr. Kathleen George, and a staging of an original piece by the school. He is now the Associate Artistic Director and Resident Playwright at Passage Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey. White’s most recent endeavor, the one-man show Panther Hollow, is the newest fruit of White’s lifelong labor and passion for theatre, as well as a deeply personal return to the landscapes of Pittsburgh.

White recently brought Panther Hollow to our city for a performance at the Arcade Comedy Theatre, and is currently in talks with Pitt about an upcoming, on-campus production, the details of which we will be excited to announce.

Panther Hollow is directed by John Augustine and confronts, in comedic and confessional fashion, the darkest point in White’s struggles with clinical depression. He summarizes the potent concept of his play- “Back in 1995, I had just finished grad school and was still living in this run down house in Panther Hollow. One morning, I found a dead body hanging from a tree down the street from my house. I spent the next year cruising therapists, popping meds and trying to piece my broken life back together. When I turned forty-five, I stumbled across my twenty-year old journal and starting piecing the story back together. This show is the result.”

And this result, believe it or not, is hilarious as well as moving. “I’m unable to avoid comedy,” White said, and he does indeed demonstrate excellent humor in discussing even the most difficult of times. Bringing forward the comedy that surrounds serious issues can be “breathtaking” for White, who cited the work of John Guare and Christopher Durang as examples. White accomplishes this same juxtaposition in revisiting the most “internally intense year” of his life with openness and a readiness to make people laugh.

This is not to say the writing process was easy. White says he struggled with how to honestly approach these experiences, how not to judge such loaded subjects or himself.  He also wrestled with how to portray that period in a dramatic way because “depression is really kind of boring.” Eventually, enthusiastic audiences convinced him that this is a story they wanted to see told and subjects they wanted confronted. They were drawn in by White and his journey as well as the intriguing atmosphere of Pittsburgh, which developed into an important component of the play. In three words, White describes Pittsburgh as “nostalgic,” “confusing,” and “ever-changing” (an intriguing setting indeed!)

Despite the highly autobiographical content of his play, White’s vision is large- the motivation for telling his own story comes in part from his long-time mental health advocacy. White described how the play is a way of sharing information about the deep and unique structures of depression and illuminating ways of emerging out of it- for those who may suffer, and loved ones who struggle to help them. More basically, it is a means of creating communication and openness about illnesses and even treatments still shrouded in mystery and, too often, stigma.

Through the process of developing the play and facing its challenges, it became “liberating” for the playwright and audiences. White explained, “staging the worst year of your life, and having people laugh at it… to put this out there and share this with other people who’ve experienced this” is a way “to say, ‘Let’s not be embarrassed by it.’” By “it” White does mean depression and mental illness, but he also means any experience that causes people to feel isolated and embarrassed. White’s speaking honestly about difficult and lonely times, the sort that had once ashamed him but in fact help define us all, becomes a way for audiences to regain compassion for themselves and openness towards others. This simple but very important transformation of perspective and emotion is just that sort that theatre is able to create, and a testament to White’s multi-faceted commitment to the form.

Asked to advise young artists less far along on their paths, White offered “don’t wait.” “Don’t worry about whether or not it’s going to make you famous,” he said, “do what you want do as soon as possible. Right away.” It’s a good lesson from someone who has not stopped exploring and discovering his creativity and himself, and who has strengthened and contributed to communities in the process of hard work, honest bravery, and an eye for the humor to be found just about anywhere.

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PANTHER HOLLOW – This Friday!

PH - Robin

This is Robin (not her real name). She’s one of the people I talk about in PANTHER HOLLOW. Once again, the amazing Ian August drew this picture.

Panther Hollow is this Friday (12/15/17) at Luna Stage. For tickets, go to http://www.lunastage.org

Below is a review of the show from last year when it was performed as part of Passage Theatre’s Solo Flights Festival.

From the Princeton Packet – Bob Brown

   “David Lee White’s Panther Hollow is a perfect example of going out on a limb. Mr. White, Passage’s associate artistic director, has written several plays that were produced by the company, but as far as I know, this is his first solo piece.

   And what a performance piece it is! Talk about terrifying, Mr. White does nothing less that get up on that stage with a chair, a table, a white-board, and two cups of water, then proceed to disrobe his psyche for the next 70 minutes. After an opening joke about suicide to loosen the crowd (ba-da-boom), he warns us that his story — all true — will contain 11 corpses, 8 suicides, 1 abused cat, and sex — the awkward and humiliating lack of it. It also offers up loads of self-deprecating humor.

   The story goes back to Panther Hollow, an other-side-of-the-tracks Pittsburgh neighborhood. There, Mr. White lived the life of quiet desperation familiar to all 25-year-old virgins. He informs us that Pittsburgh is a sort of “suicide central” whose many bridges are a constant temptation to the suicidally inclined. Mr. White punctuates his story with diagrams and photos that he pops onto the white-board.

   Interspersed with a history of obscure suicides, one of which he encountered by accident, Mr. White recounts his theater gigs. He directed the bloody Jacobean revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, and he once filled in as a corpse for a performance of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. He dives onto the floor to demonstrate the stifling posture he had to maintain through most of that play.

   He talks of his limited relationships with women. Among his acting students in years past had been a marvelous young woman, who kicked her cat across the room for peeing on her leather jacket. He had tentatively kissed her. And he developed an obsession with Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose alluring picture on the cover of her memoir Prozac Nation had aroused him enough to make some rash moves. But there is no sex on the horizon. “Constantly thinking of sex,” he says, “tends to dull your empathy.”

   He dips into his bouts of depression and the pain of loneliness. He decides that as diseases go, “clinical depression” has a PR problem. Why can’t it be called something like suicidal cogitatis? He toys with suicide methods that are appropriately theatrical. He explores self-cutting. And he enters therapy with a counselor, a woman who will (horrors!) likely probe his nonexistent sex life. Cognitive therapy follows, and prescribed drugs, which lift him out of depression and up to euphoria. They have given “a false sense of well-being,” the therapist says. But isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

    Inevitably he meets a woman with whom he can talk for hours. She isn’t even deterred by the fact that he lives in a neighborhood frequented by skinheads, a place where you might stumble upon a rutting couple or a fresh corpse on the ground any given night.

   Mr. White’s darkly hilarious story has a light at the end of the tunnel or he wouldn’t be left to tell the tale. He’s a marvelous storyteller and, although the details suggest otherwise, his telling crackles with wry humor. Laughter in the face of death is the best medicine. Ultimately, the story is about the redemptive power of love and, yes, sex with the right woman. The content is about adult matters, but I’d give it a soft R for content. No language that would shock a 13-year-old.

   White pulls you into a slice of his life so seductively that you feel each agonizing moment with him — laughing all the way. ”

Panther Hollow! Next Friday!

More specifically, PANTHER HOLLOW is Friday, December 15th at Luna Stage. You can buy tickets at http://www.lunastage.org

This is Elizabeth Wurtzel –

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Wurtzel wrote the book PROZAC NATION, which became a cultural touchstone for those of us coming of age young and depressed in the 90s. I tried to call her once to tell her how much I liked her book. It was a bad idea. The whole story is in my show. If Elizabeth Wurtzel is reading this – don’t worry. You’re my hero and I don’t say anything bad about you.

Here are some comments about PANTHER HOLLOW from Lauren Weedman. If you’re familiar with her work, you know Lauren is one of the funniest women on the planet.

“What makes David show so unique, and his show so compelling, is his honesty. He’s such a good writer.  I laughed 44 times and cried twice.  The perfect solo show ratio. Corpses…dead bodies….depression…suicide – subjects that are tough to pull off but David does because his humor is so self–deprecating, and so honest.  Most importantly, for a solo performer, he’s a really likable guy.  Panther Hollow is a personal story of imperfect humanity perfectly told.”Lauren Weedman, HBO’s “Looking,” “Hung,” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Award winning solo performer and creator of the solo show “Bust.”

So come see it next Friday. http://www.lunastage.org

 

 

Eight days until PANTHER HOLLOW!

There are a million reasons to go see “Panther Hollow” at Luna Stage next Friday, December 15th. But let me narrow it down a little, spacing them out between now and then. First of all, there’s this drawing by Ian August – PH - Cognitive Triad

Playwright Ian August is also a damn fine cartoonist and his pencil scratchings are all over the show. It’s a bonus! Come for the show, stay for the artwork.

But what is PANTHER HOLLOW about I hear you cry? I’m gonna let the incomparable Scott Sickles – playwright and three-time Emmy nominee for his work on General Hospital – tell you in his own words:

As profound as it is funny, David Lee White’s PANTHER HOLLOW is an intimately personal tale that should be experienced by everybody. An account of the playwright/performer’s first salvos in his battle against clinical depression, the piece sheds light on a condition people still seem to think happens in a vacuum. Even Mr. White’s younger self wonders why he feels down in the dumps “for no reason.” But there is a reason. “You have an illness.” It’s a very thorough illness, too. At best, one becomes doubtful, anxious, and mopey. At worst, one finds oneself with a rope around one’s neck or staring down from a bridge into the abyss. Again, there is a reason: your brain is essentially trying to kill you.

But this is no medical travelog. White takes us back in time to early 1990’s college life in Pittsburgh. You can practically see, feel and smell his old neighborhood as he describes the awkward, uncertain, hilarious, grisly, and emotionally (and physically) naked events on his quest to find health, happiness, and even love. We get a mind’s-eye view into his dreams, anxieties, and youthfully questionable decision making process. There are even a few moments where we the audience wince with regret at decisions he’s about to make 20 years ago. It’s these moments among others that imbue the darkness of the subject and story with much, much laughter.

As a performer, Mr. White commands the stage with the same energy, wit, ease and charm that he had when he was actually in his early twenties. PANTHER HOLLOW feels like an entry in your best friend’s diary that you weren’t supposed to read, but now that you have, you need to share it with another friend whose life literally depends on hearing it. The lessons it teaches are crucial for anyone who has experienced or knows someone who has undergone this struggle. It’s also entertaining as all get out! – Scott Sickles, Writers Guild Award winner and three-time Emmy Award nominee

Got it? Good. For tickets, go to http://www.lunastage.org. See you next Friday!

 

Panther Hollow at Luna Stage!

PH luna ad

Hello, friends.

I’m doing my show solo show “Panther Hollow” at Luna Stage on 12/15 at 8:00 PM.

“Panther Hollow” is the show I’ve been performing for a few years now. It’s a comedy, believe it or not, about coping with clinical depression (Good Times!). It’s been performed at the United Solo Festival, Passage Theatre, Dreamcatcher Rep, The Arcade Comedy Theatre, Point Park College, and the front seat of my car.

“I haven’t seen the show, David? What’s it about?”

I’m glad you asked!

Storyteller and monologuist David Lee White details his struggle with love, sex and clinical depression at age 25 while living in a one hundred year old house in Pittsburgh’s hidden neighborhood, Panther Hollow.

“Sounds great, David! But does anyone famous have anything nice to say about it?”

Why sure they do!

“What makes David show so unique, and his show so compelling, is his honesty. He’s such a good writer.  I laughed 44 times and cried twice.  The perfect solo show ratio. Corpses…dead bodies…. depression…suicide – subjects that are tough to pull off but David does because his humor is so self–deprecating, and so honest.  Most importantly, for a solo performer, he’s a really likable guy.  Panther Hollow is a personal story of imperfect humanity perfectly told.”Lauren Weedman, HBO’s “Looking,” “Hung,” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Award winning solo performer and creator of the solo show “Bust.”

“David Lee White’s solo piece PANTHER HOLLOW USA tapestry of hilarious and poignant stories (among them a bout with depression, a group called “Teens For Christ,” and White stalking the author of Prozac Nation). White is an engaging storyteller, who’s expressive and a lot of fun to watch.” Nancy Giles, Commentator, CBS News Sunday Morning

David’s take on depression and suicide will have you laughing in the aisles and crying in your soul. Panther Hollow is a deeply personal work of bravery, joy and honesty. A truly inspirational tale that does what the best theatre can, showing that we are all human and even the deepest wounds can be healed. Better than CATS, better than ET.Robert Carr, Director of Programs and Services, The New Jersey Theatre Alliance

As profound as it is funny, David Lee White’s PANTHER HOLLOW is an intimately personal tale that should be experienced by everybody. An account of the playwright/performer’s first salvos in his battle against clinical depression, the piece sheds light on a condition people still seem to think happens in a vacuum. Even Mr. White’s younger self wonders why he feels down in the dumps “for no reason.” But there is a reason. “You have an illness.” It’s a very thorough illness, too. At best, one becomes doubtful, anxious, and mopey. At worst, one finds oneself with a rope around one’s neck or staring down from a bridge into the abyss. Again, there is a reason: your brain is essentially trying to kill you.

But this is no medical travelog. White takes us back in time to early 1990’s college life in Pittsburgh. You can practically see, feel and smell his old neighborhood as he describes the awkward, uncertain, hilarious, grisly, and emotionally (and physically) naked events on his quest to find health, happiness, and even love. We get a mind’s-eye view into his dreams, anxieties, and youthfully questionable decision making process. There are even a few moments where we the audience wince with regret at decisions he’s about to make 20 years ago. It’s these moments among others that imbue the darkness of the subject and story with much, much laughter.

As a performer, Mr. White commands the stage with the same energy, wit, ease and charm that he had when he was actually in his early twenties. PANTHER HOLLOW feels like an entry in your best friend’s diary that you weren’t supposed to read, but now that you have, you need to share it with another friend whose life literally depends on hearing it. The lessons it teaches are crucial for anyone who has experienced or knows someone who has undergone this struggle. It’s also entertaining as all get out! – Scott Sickles, Writers Guild Award winner and three-time Emmy Award nominee

That was a long post. Thank you for reading this far. And thank you for helping me get the word out there. Thank you, again, for just being you.

D.

Rodney Gilbert

A couple of days ago I decided I was fed-up with the Facebook/Twitter rage machine and was going to start writing about the people I knew who were actively changing the world for the better. This morning I woke up to discover that my friend and collaborator Rodney Gilbert had passed away. Rodney probably changed the world more than anyone I’ve ever met, in ways that were largely invisible to much of the world, but profoundly significant to the those of us that knew him.

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I woke up one morning back in 2007 to a voicemail from Rodney Gilbert. He said “David White, it’s 2:00 in the morning. I’m in Newark. I’m in my house and there’s police tape across the street. This kid just got shot. We need to get to work.”

Rodney was an actor, director, producer, activist and advocate. When you worked with him, you got all those things. He never left any part of his personality outside and you didn’t really want him to. His activism brought power to his acting. His advocacy brought passion to his producing. His work as an actor brought sensitivity and compassion to his direction.

I met Rodney in 2004 when he worked as an actor in Passage Theatre’s adaptation of “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich” directed by Nick Anselmo. After that, I hired Rodney to come to Trenton to act and work with kids every chance I got and he was always willing to do so. Our collaboration solidified when he played the role of King Navarre in my play “If I Could, In My Hood, I Would…” Rodney was more than just an actor in the show. He was a mentor to the eight middle-school kids in the cast. The show revolved around the problems of gang violence in Trenton – issues that Rodney was familiar with because of his history in Newark.

Shortly after that  phone call, Rodney and I started talking about doing a production of “If I Could…” in Newark. Before we could start work, however, he wanted to show me what Newark was like – he told me that if I wanted to improve a community, I had to understand it from the inside-out. Early one morning, I parked my car near his house on Spruce and Rodney took me on a walking tour of his city.

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Separating Rodney from Newark is impossible. I’ve rarely met an artist so symbiotically linked to his hometown. Rodney grieved the problems his city went through, but never lost faith in the people that lived there. On our walk that day, I saw Newark from Rodney’s eyes. We couldn’t walk more than a few blocks without hearing someone shout his name.

Rodney directed “If I Could…” so many times that I lost count. During the first performance at a Newark community center, Rodney moderated a discussion between at least sixty gang members. ( a discussion which ultimately saw a poor representative from a local foundation scurrying for the exit.) I saw another production at a local church and yet another at a Newark art gallery. More often than not, though, I got messages after the fact – “Hey, David White. We did ‘If I Could’ last week. I forgot to tell you it was happening. My bad.”

Rodney did multiple shows and classes for Trenton kids – so many, it’s hard to remember. He also appeared on Passage’s mainstage in “Trenton Lights,” – an oral history based show about the city of Trenton (written by myself and June Ballinger, directed by Adam Immerwahr). He also directed a workshop of “Profiles,” a follow-up to “Trenton Lights” on the subject of race. Last summer, he and the Yendor (read it backwards) acting company produced a workshop of my play “Fixed.” Even after I stopped working at Passage, Rodney continued to come to Trenton and work with students at Trenton Central High. Somehow, he continued to find the time to champion African-American, Jersey-based playwrights, promote the artistic talent in Newark, and beautify his city by producing murals by Newark visual artists. Rodney didn’t rest. Rodney knew the arts made a difference. Rodney never gave up.

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I have been blessed with many amazing collaborators over the years, but Rodney was one of people that helped me grow as an artist, an advocate and as a human being. When I doubted that theatre could change lives, Rodney was there to prove me wrong. The world is a bit darker than it was yesterday, but Rodney’s work made everything so much better and brighter that it will ultimately make up for all the grief and mourning. My heart goes out to the folks at Yendor Productions, the Company, Rodney’s friends and family and the hundreds (thousands?) of young people that Rodney mentored over the years. Rodney was eloquent, intelligent, passionate and hopeful. He believed in the power of youth and fought for them to receive complete, well-rounded educations and equal access to opportunities.

Rodney – I suppose I should say “So long” here, but I’m not going to. You see, there are an awful lot of people that are still carrying pieces of you around with them. So I know you’re not gone. Your spirit has simply been divided and distributed among the people that knew and love you. I will grieve and mourn, but not for too long. Not because I won’t miss you, but because at some point it will be 2:00 AM and it will be time to get to work.

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Conversations with Nick About the Ape God

048

NICK: Daddy?

ME: Yes.

NICK: Who were the first people?

ME: No one really knows. There’s a Bible story that says the first people were Adam and Eve. God made them and they lived in a garden. But that’s just a story. Probably, there were no first people. We evolved over thousands of years from something that looked like ape.

NICK: What the frick? We were apes???

ME: Not exactly. But we probably had a common ancestor with apes.

NICK: WE USED TO LOOK LIKE APES?

ME: Thousands of years ago.

NICK: I’M GONNA HAVE NIGHTMARES!

ME: No, no, no. It’s not scary. It just means that humans were different. We looked different thousands of years ago.

NICK: LIKE APES???

ME: Probably more like apes, yes.

NICK: Lord, God! I don’t wanna look like an ape!

ME: You don’t look like an ape! I mean people and apes have a common ancestor. And some people became apes and some people became people.

NICK: What the frick? I’m gonna have a nightmare where God comes down and HE HAS AN APE FACE!!!

ME: No, you’re not.

NICK: Yes! And the ape God comes down and he kills the human God!

ME: They’re the same God! I mean…no one knows if God…Okay…listen –

NICK: There are two Gods! The ape God and the human God! They have a common ancestor!

ME: That’s not what –

NICK: I don’t want to go to heaven, now.

ME: Why not?

NICK: Everyone there will have an ape face.

ME: No, they won’t.

NICK: Yes, they will. Because heaven has all the dead people so if people used to look like apes, most of the people in heaven will have ape faces.

ME: (pause) You make a good point.