The Thousandth Night

by Carol Wolf

The Thousandth Night

Performed by

Set Design
Lighting Design
Sound Design
Properties Design
Marketing/Public Relations
Production Stage Manager
Master Carpenter
Lighting Crew

Scenic Artists

Costume Mistress
Light Board Operator
Sound Board Operator
Stage Crew
Cover Art
Cover Photograph

Ron Campbell

Jessica Kubzansky
Susan Gratch
Jeremy Pivnick
John Zalewski
David Elzer/Demand PR
Leesa Freed
Derek Bjorenson
Danny Barbosa
Jeremy Bryden
Sean Kozma
Danny Watson
Alex Calle
Karen Jordan
Kathryn Horan
Spencer Howard
Brian Cordoba
Andrea Dean
Ricky Vodka
Michael Lamont
David Allen


A waiting room in a railroad station fifty miles east of Paris


March, 1943

From the Playwright

I was working as the documentarian at the 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 playwright.

Ron told me in passing that he was going to be doing a show in which he played 26 characters. Curious, I went to San Diego Rep to see him in A Tale of Two Cities. This is the first time I saw the technique where one actor plays multiple characters in a single scene. For the playwright, an actor is a single unit of energy. The more actors on stage, the more energy directed at the audience (onereason why twelve or so actors dancing toward the audience is inevitably a show-stopper). What amazed me about this technique was that by playing 26 characters, Ron created 26 units of energy on the stage. As a writer, I had to learn how to do that.

I was deconstructing the play after the show (an evil habit of mine), explaining to Ron and a friend of mine that the script for his Tale of Two Cities was built inside-out – the powerful Tale of Two Cities was the divertissement, while the internal action was the main character getting dressed to go out; the energy dropped every time the character stopped telling the Tale of Two Cities and returned to the main story, and it should be the opposite. Ron said, "Well, can you write a better one?" And I said, "What about?" And he said, "The Arabian Nights."

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 actors in 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.

That was only the beginning, of course. When writing for basement theater, a playwright learns to actor-proof the play by writing every emotional transition into the text, so that the play will work no matter the level of the production. One of the first things I learned writing for Ron was that all those transitions had to go. If you put one emotional note in one place, and the second – in orbit – Ron can still go from one to the other, and make the transition work. From that day, I was completely spoiled.

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 the play.

- Carol Wolf, 2007