The Thousandth Night
by Carol Wolf
A waiting room in a railroad station fifty miles east of Paris
I was working as the documentarian
Grove Shakespeare Festival in 1991 when I met Ron Campbell.
"Documentarian" is a position that simply allowed me to watch all the
rehearsals and shows that season, and I was there because watching
rehearsals is the best and fastest way to improve one's craft as a
I'd spent the previous year researching Occupied France for a play I had just finished. So, steeped in the French Occupation, I looked at him sitting there, plastered with sweat and exhausted, but still lit from within and radiating energy (see Ron after the show, you'll understand); and I saw Guy de Bonheur. And I had the experience that I've only had two other times in my writing career, of the whole story piling into my head in that moment. I told him I could, and that I would, and on the way home, told my friend the whole plot of what is now The Thousandth Night.
I spent a week researching
Occupied France, and French theater, and other specifics I needed for
the story, and then I spent a week reading the Arabian Nights, and then
I spent a week nattering that the play couldn't possibly be ready to
write yet (prep for writing a play usually takes a year). But it was,
and I wrote it the next week and sent it to Ron. In one of those
fortuitous events that happen in writing, I invented the Café
Shaherazad to justify the Arabian Nights tales, and then discovered it
was a real place. Ron found pictures.
The Grove Shakespeare Festival hosted a reading of the play a few months – and three drafts – later. The theatre was full. Ron read the play from a music stand, but was so enchanting that a number of people afterwards swore there was no music stand there, that he was off-book. The reading got a standing ovation, and the Grove Shakespeare Festival produced it the following year – and five drafts later. Jessica Kubzansky directed the original production (and I watched Ron spoil her too, with his ability to add emotional layers at her wish).
The Thousandth Night, as I promised Ron, is right-side out: the overall plot line is the heart of the play. Guy takes the audience away from his dire situation into the wonders of the Arabian Nights, relieves the darkness, creates a world of joy and laughter, and then at the end of each story the audience is redelivered with Guy to the great problem of the play, until the two plot lines meld in the second half.
After the Grove production, we took the play to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where we made the Hit List, and were offered a production in London. We tried out a new draft briefly in L.A. at Playwright's Arena, and then played at the Old Red Lion Pub Theatre, and won a London Fringe First. The script endured a number of cuts and alterations to fit slots in Edinburgh and London; it was redrafted from scratch for the Delaware Repertory Company. Since then the most distant production was in Sydney, Australia, and the most notable was the Habimah Internetto, when The Thousandth Night was invited to the theater festival to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the nation of Israel. In its history, four other actors have played Guy de Bonheur, but the part was built with Ron Campbell's range in mind, and other performers seem to be wearing someone else's clothes.
A college professor once told
me that the
purpose of art is to instruct and delight. That always sounded
backwards to me, as how can you instruct your audience if you have not
delighted them first? But now I understand that the purpose of creating
is to instruct the creator, and delight the hearer. I hope you enjoy
- Carol Wolf, 2007