Logan Cutler Smith is a Cleveland-based playwright and the author of The Panther Dancer, premiering at Playwrights Local on May 11. A series of inventive vignettes, The Panther Dancer parodies the rise and fall of a familiar pop archetype. Following a life as portrayed by a frenzied media, the play becomes a playful synthesis of biography and tabloid journalism.
The Panther Dancer is directed by Jimmie Woody and features Andrea Belser, Robert Branch, Corin B. Self, Kim Simbeck, and Anthony Velez. It runs May 11 – 26, with a half-price preview on May 10, at Creative Space at Waterloo Arts. Find more information at http://www.playwrightslocal.org/the-panther-dancer/.
Before earning an MFA in Creative Writing at Cleveland State University, Logan studied Theatre and Sculpture at Marlboro College. His past writing credits include Of Straw Dogs, directed by T. Paul Lowry (Playwrights Local, 2015), and How To Fuck Like a Flower, directed by Geoff Hoffman (Convergence-Continuum, 2015). Logan is currently developing a solo performance, a “departure” from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods.
We’re thrilled to relay Logan’s responses to the following 3 Questions.
The Panther Dancer has a unique form and scene structure. Can you explain what you were going for with that?
At issue for me in writing this piece was pacing, the issue of speed. I was attempting to tell the story of a life: how best to do it without taking a lifetime? In apparent solution, I adopted a strategy of acceleration and compression. Short scenes, almost one per page, so the play moves as if in fast-forward. And rather than writing the story of a life, I found myself writing about these stories. The Panther Dancer ended by being a play composed of mediated images of celebrity, a kind of biography of images. A life told in headlines drawn from the Enquirer, and how they’ve changed over time.
Characters portrayed end up flattened for that reason: they take on all of the dimension of a still image. Both dimensions. E.M. Forster would take one look at them and laugh. But for the purposes of this play, it’s not necessary that actors be able to disappear into their roles. There are some fifty characters, and actors need to be able to move between them with ease.
Writing The Panther Dancer, I wasn’t trying for well-seen studies of individual psychologies. And I don’t think I’m in any danger of having succeeded. I wanted to stage social pressure, fame, fanfare, social forces, that sort of thing. Not as spectacle but information, at the level of language. Which is why nothing would please me more than for audiences to say in one voice that I’ve authored a superficial play. What you see in the play are surface effects. It all takes place on the surface, is pure surface.
Tonally this play asks difficult things of its audience. There’s a great deal of humor in the play, but it’s a [dark] humor. You find yourself laughing – if you’re laughing – at that which is not happy. To keep from crying? I hope not. I hope you’ll cry, too. And that’s the difficult thing. Though a great many distancing devices are deployed, the subject of this play is a human life, in the end a very fragile thing. And you watch while it becomes so much wreckage.
The Panther Dancer traces the rise and fall of an archetypal figure. What was your motivation or intent with that?
There are very few people you can point to who have elevated what it means to be a celebrity. It’s a short list. Charlie Chaplin’s name might be on it. This [character] is someone raised in entertainment, who was shaped by limelight. Their life was coeval with their career. There is something so public about even their private life that its episodes and incidents are known to us, a common language. This gives him something of the character of a myth, but a highly specialized myth, a mass-market paperback. How do you do justice to the man in writing that life? Or, if you can’t, how do you commit an appropriate injustice? That’s the task I set myself in writing The Panther Dancer.