Women in the Arts 2019: Dana UN-Blocks the stigma of mental illness.

Dana Block is doing a one-man show.

Nope, we meant to use “man.” As her show is about one man … her brother, Marc.

MONKEY MAN, showing Saturday, November 2 @ 7:30 p.m., is part of the 10th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, New York City. Tickets: https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/United-Solo-Theatre-Festival-2019/Overview.

Marc hitchhiked across America, calling himself a Highway Man: “I tell my stories to drivers, keep ’em awake at night.” This show is constructed from the brilliant, stream-of-consciousness rants and graphic cartoons Marc made in a diary as he jumped from ride to ride, sleeping on the side of the road, begging for food. He attempted to stay in reality but his mental illness led him further and further down a rabbit hole. “He tried to reason his way out,” Dana says, “finding tunnels, underpasses, crosscuts, but none of it led him back to home.”

Dana Block takes the stage to offer a rare insight into the mind of mental illness. “This subject is still so stigmatized and full of shame,” Block says. “People come to me after the show and open up. It touches so many peoples’ hidden-away griefs.”

Dana’s bravery did not go unnoticed here at D-Q-Reviews. We wanted a moment with the one-woman about her one-man show.

42523234_10157025391725832_2754420131026173952_n.jpg

Tell us about yourself as an artist, Dana Lee Block

It all started when I was a kid. From day one, when there was anything musical or theatrical happening in town, the Blocks were first responders.  We were the Barrymore’s of Community Theater in the cow heart of a redneck cow town in central Missouri. So I come by it naturally.  Mom was also a painter and known for her Andy Warhol style painted toilet seats, and pop-up murals, which she produced on people’s walls at late night parties.  My father loved Shakespeare, performing monologues for the family all the time; he eventually became a professional Actor and Director in Kansas City.

I’ve always loved to perform and have taken every opportunity to be in a show, through High School and College.  I wanted serious Actor Training, which I got from Michael Howard, NYC, SUNY Purchase Conservatory Training Program, and earned an MFA at The Academy For Classical Acting with Michael Kahn and The Shakespeare Theater Co., George Washington University, Washington, D.C. in 2011.

I’ve always loved to act in any kind of repertory, be it Classical or Contemporary, LOVE working in an ensemble situation. I have always wanted to be part of a repertory theater company and do all sorts of roles.  That was my dream, but unfortunately it never happened.  So I started to write my own shows so I could star in super fun, funny and dramatic and interesting roles (and that is why I got so much training: so I could have the best possible skills and theatrically realize my visions). I also realized that I had a lot to say and write about, and that I liked making choices in all aspects of production. It seems to me that this is as close as I can get to really being an artist. 

I have written and performed 4 one-woman shows and a full-length play:

  • “La Vache Sauvage” or “The Wild Cow,” a cow escapes the butcher’s knife and runs through the French countryside for two days, but her big bell gives her away.
  • “My Hair Piece” –- a post-partum/slightly savage Tequila-drenched romp with Richard Gere in a Mexican restaurant;
  • “Queen Kong” – Leni Riefenstahl, turning 103, sets out to do a remake of the Kong epic with a female black Kong, casting herself as the Afro’d Kong, to prove once and for all that she is not nor never was, a racist, despite being Hitler’s personal propaganda filmmaker.
  • “Monkey Man” – about my brother’s schizophrenia.
  • “The Art of Dentistry” – a full length Comedy starring a mad female dentist, Dr. Dragga Salvation, who wants to be the first person to successfully clone and implant, living human tooth clones.

 

Was life with your brother difficult? 

68589457_10157882579960832_7600871913711206400_n.jpg

I was extremely close to my little brother, we are only two years apart.  As kids, we were together all of the time, playing football and running around the neighborhood. I protected him and I got him into trouble, depending on my mood, but he was mine.  I don’t remember that much about middle school.  In High School, everything seemed normal and although people have told me recently that they thought him strange or weird at that time, I wasn’t aware of it.  Our whole family was regarded as a little oddball, because we were so artistic and intellectual amidst an otherwise quiet farming and business community.  It wasn’t until Marc’s final year of High School that I began to see changes in him.  But what I saw was confusing more than anything.  We had been experimenting with drugs- weed mostly- and we were used to acting crazy and laughing at each other’s behavior.  When Marc began to manifest bi-polar schizophrenia, he became aggressive and non-sensical.  We would sometimes wake up to a house that had been completely re-arranged by him- one day all the kitchen linoleum had been torn up and the refrigerator was humming away in the middle of the living room.  I also remember that Marc used to steal dad’s car and drive out of town all the time, and that my father had to talk the cops into letting him go free when they found him stalled out on the side of the road.  Dad would always go and rescue Marc, bring him home, quiz him and try to make sense of what Marc was thinking. I remember how deeply saddened my parents were.  It pretty much did them in.  Really, all of us withdrew from the community, and while my parents lived their lives out there, pretty isolated in their grief, I and my sisters left for college and life in other cities.  My parents were desperate to figure out a way to help Marc, they tried mega-vitamin treatment, hospitilzation, my father put him in business selling musical instruments, they took him to the Mayo Clinic… nothing worked.  They were not able to help him and he eventually hitchhiked out of town, calling himself a “Highway Man” and he never returned.

What made you write about him?

9972_874822225964683_8488785127316404761_n.jpgIt seems to me that because the Block home was so filled with art and theater that it was entwined with Marc’s mental illness and how he expressed himself as it changed him into a different being. He wrote notebooks and notebooks full of theories, dialogues, essays, rants, diatribes, and he drew hilarious cartoons of what he called “small character humans.” After Marc left home, all of his material sat on a shelf.  I always knew it was there but didn’t pay attention to it.  And then one day, I started to look at what was there, and wow, I was blown away.  I felt I’d found a treasure trove and a key to him, and I wanted to show his brilliance and originality to others.  So I pieced together about 10 selections from the hundreds of things he wrote and I created “Monkey Man”, which does contain some of his writing verbatim.  Some of the other stories I created are derived from his material.

In creating this piece, did it bring you more insight into your brother or possibly some form of closure? 

That’s a good question, a great question.  There will never be closure.  I continue to mourn the imagined life that I think he could have lived, but all the while I know this was his destiny.  I love performing this piece and the first part of the show contains stories of when we were kids together, and these stories are hilarious (I built these from some of his writing and also, photos and momentos) – we got into all kinds of hi-jinx-=- it’s almost like I can experience our innocent lives again;  the second half of this 55-minute show is darker and leads to a mental and spiritual space of deep loss, and that is painful.  I think every time I perform, I get a little closer to the truth, and a little closer to him, so I thrive on it.  Marc is still alive and presently lives in a motel room in Mesquite, Nevada. I have never told him that I have written this solo show about him.

Do you imagine telling your story in a more elaborated form (longer play) or something more widespread (film)? 

Yes, I’d like to do add about 30 minutes to this stage version and wow, I’d love to turn this into a film. I think that the source material, Marc’s writings and drawings, is so pure, and that it offers a very rare insight into a sort of Cubist reality of a mental world. Also, much of this story is rooted in an experience of being artistic and Jewish in a small Mid-western town, and this tale in itself, is film-worthy. I recently returned to St. Joseph, Mo. to perform “MM” at the Robidoux Repertory Theater Co., which is now in residence at my old Synagogue.  Yes, I performed this show in my old Synagogue in St. Joe.!  Over 200 people attended, including a handful of octogenarian Jewish people, the last Jews still living in St. Joe—they all came out to find out what had become of Marc Block. In our small town of 70,000 people, 800 Jews were like family, we all knew everything about each other.  What was a tragedy for our family was also a tragedy for the community.   We got a lot of publicity in the papers and on radio for this show in St. Joe. The response of my old friends and family, was stupendous, very thought-provoking and somewhat healing.  It helped me to see different perspectives of Marc, because many people knew him and had anecdotes.  I would like to make the story of going back home and doing a show about my brother, part of this show. The storyline could encompass the idea that an actress returns home to perform a show about her hometown and her brother’s mental illness and face down some demons.  I think this would work very well for film!

What’s next? 

I will finish editing my full-length play, “The Art of Dentistry” and get a reading of it.  Then I will submit it to festivals for production.  Also I am working on a show about Women of the West.  And of course, as always, auditioning and looking for acting work.  In the trenches. J

14589715_10154172066928922_8154250748037168873_o.jpg

UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL is an annual international festival for solo performances held in New York City. Through a variety of one-person shows, the Festival explores and celebrates the uniqueness of the individual. Its audiences see one-person performances from all over the world, experience foreign cultures and traditions, and learn the perspectives of people from various walks of life.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s