CHP Turns Five

Edward P. Clapp, Co-Founder, Playwright

“It's already written in some foggy little history book somewhere, but when asked to reflect upon the past five years I can't help but recount the origins of the Hole. For me, the genesis of Collective Hole happened in three different episodes, each occurring in a different watering hole within a three block radius. Act I: Rebecca drunkenly threw down the gauntlet at the Scratcher (and I believe this was mid-day, not late night) saying, "if you write a play, I'll direct it." Words she would soon regret. Act II occurred in the back room of St. Dymphna's Pub when I picked up the hitherto mentioned gauntlet as I plopped down the first 24 pages of a manuscript that would later become Run the Maze, Burn the Maze. Soon after that, Act III took place at Mary Ann's in the East Village. Rebecca and I had been arguing over a name for our new endeavor. Finally, over margaritas, refried beans, and an unhealthy amount of cheese, collective met hole. CHP was born.

But genesis of the organization aside, there are so many other good memories I have of the Hole—too many to prattle on about here. Among them, how Lloyd Todd Eddings used to pour shots of Jameson and talk to me, all bleary-eyed and mystical, about the Flamenco concept of Duende, which later became a partial inspiration for our first play. Or how Rebecca and I would stay up late at night staring at the psychedelic dog-earred Beatles’ poster in her apartment, bantering about who would be the last Beatle standing (don't let me down Ringo!). Or the day she and I roughed up a cassette tape and then took to the streets of the East Village to shoot the cover image for Tucker in a Box. Of course it is hard to forget the weeks my mother spent on the phone with a dubious character named "Joey" at the South Brooklyn Casket company, hustling him to see if he had any spare coffins we could borrow as a prop for our second play. Somehow, he did—a powder-blue beauty with a tone-on-tone paisley pattern reminiscent of the texture of a 1970s tuxedo. It had the faintest grass stains on the bottom—Rebecca and I swear it was used.

While CHP can largely be discussed in terms of the four landmark plays it has birthed, the semi-dormant playwright in me can't help but think about the ones that got away—all of the scripts that went unfinished—mostly because Rebecca nixed them before they had a chance. Unrealized works of genius like the epic Raise Plow I was co-writing with the great William K. Scurry, Jr., a marvelous piece that involved walking miles in the snow, working gasoline pumps, a station wagon, and a variety of pick-up trucks. Easily stageable… Rebecca said it would never happen. Then there was Fed Like An American, a three-act gem I wrote in attempt to develop a more convincing female character.  This one was about a tomboyish woman named Caitlin who may or may not have convinced a minor character named "The Gecko" to eat his bully of a friend Gunner—cannibalism being de rigueur in the summer of 2008. And who could forget the promise of Tongue Kiss the Wookie (or TKtW for short), a story about—well I'm not really sure what that one was about (let's call it a "concept-piece"), but the title appeared to me in lights whenever I thought of it. Most recently there has been the fast-paced Don't Piss Off Al Pacino. Another dramatic masterpiece mistaken for dross by Nellis—though I still get a kick out of sending her emails with subject headings like "Don't Piss Off Al Pacino: Tickets Now On Sale!" just to piss her off/keep her on her toes.

But CHP has been about so much more than just the plays it has (or has not) produced. When I think about CHP turning five I remember all of the great actors we've worked with, and all the painters' tape I've laid down on the floor of the Abrons Arts Center to symbolize the boundaries of a stage with a grand set they may or may not work in. Then there were the sets we actually did build—and all of the light carpentry that yielded temporary structures, at least one of which still stands today. The act of licking dozens upon dozens of envelopes and waiting in infinite lines at the post office are snapshots of CHP that likewise still live fondly in my memory. So, too, does the process of hiring CHP's first intern, then receiving that intern's letter of resignation, then rehiring that intern… or something like that.  

But perhaps my favorite memories of the Hole come from the last season I worked with the group. After every rehearsal Rebecca and I would walk home together. Invariably I would convince her to stop for a drink. Invariably she would. This usually happened back at St. Dymphna's—one of the scenes of the original crime. Habitually seated at a corner table by the window, we would debrief, decompress, and get down to work—and somehow we nearly always finished the New York Times crossword puzzle, too. A beer never tasted better than it did on those nights—not because, well, because beer tastes good, but rather because everything seemed to "click." 

Making independent theatre never got any easier, but on those nights, sitting, probably sweating (from lugging a one act play-full of props across the Lower East Side) in St. Dymph's, it felt like this was the work we were meant to be doing. And we were meant to be doing it together. I'll never forget what it was like to be sitting by the window chewing on a pen, the amber glow of candle light through beer. Rebecca would be wearing a hat she'd stolen from me, trying to get me to change a line in the script or looking for a more precise estimate of what a trip to Home Depot was going to cost us. In response to her questioning I would say something like, "six letters, fourth letter F." To which she would reply, "DOOFUS!" And everything felt right and good in the world… 

I'm being silly here, but I'm also being serious. Collective Hole has been about a lot of things: banter, beer, crossword puzzles, mail merges, summit meetings, fostering a community, making compromises, making deals, challenging ideas, watching the food network, managing a team, crying, and doing "the work." But back when I was with the group it was always about one thing before anything else: making art with my best friend… even when she called me a doofus.

Congratulations Rebecca. Congratulations CHP. Long live the Hole.”

Read More:

Erin D. Coffey, Audition Management
Matt Huffman, Actor
Julia A. Middleton, Resident Stage Manager

Nina Morrison, Casting Consultant

Brian Morvant, Collaborator, Actor
Barbara A. Nellis, Chair of the Board

Rebecca V. Nellis, Co-Founder, Director

Stacey C. Rivera, Production Team

Paul Sapp, Playwright

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