Right at this moment when teachers are striking for better conditions, multi-award winning playwright Tom Holloway recalls “an amazing drama teacher at school” who originally inspired his interest in the theatre. A parent himself, he is very appreciative of the effort made by teachers to care for children during the closure of schools owing to Covid and feels the pandemic has made us aware of “how much we need them”.
He also now sees an intimate connection between the pandemic and Heather Rose’s Stella Prize-winning novel The Museum of Modern Love, which he was invited to adapt to the Seymour Theatre stage by director Tim Jones. A major concern of the novel is the isolation of its characters, who are alone and struggling, siloed in self preoccupation as many of us have been during the lockdowns. For theatre people, cut-off from their artistic community and “addicted” to creative collaboration, such isolation has been particularly confronting.
Initially, Tom had not read The Museum of Modern Art but his partner, Kate, had and was very enthusiastic. The novel made a big impact on him: he felt challenged by it, inspired and sometimes confused by it. A meeting with Heather Rose in New York “opened creative doors” for Tom and he was deeply impressed by the generosity with which Rose let him into her work. He spent some time with her in MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) familiarising himself with the main location of the play but unfortunately, missed out on a lunch with the controversial performance artist, Marina Abramovic who had contracted Lyme’s disease.
The narrative is centred on the performance of Abramovic who staged a physically extreme event called the Artist is Present at MoMA in 2010. Over the course of three months for eight hours a day, seated silently at a wooden table opposite an empty chair, Abramovic waited as people took turns in occupying the chair and locking eyes with her. Why did people wait in line to fill that chair?
While the play explores the “why” from an ensemble cast, Tom sees Arky Levin, a gifted film composer, as the central character. Clearly, Tom is intrigued and challenged by Levin, and by the decision of his wife Lydia to exclude her husband from being present at her dying, and his deep involvement inspires an immediate wish to be present in the audience when The Museum of Modern Love opens.
To be present … a reminder of how much we need the energy and commitment of live theatre for the emotional wellbeing of our disconnected world.
As part of The Museum of Modern Love, at the Seymour Centre from January 22 to 30, 2022, 10 people per performance will have the opportunity to sit on stage and be part of the action. See https://www.seymourcentre.com/event/the-museum-of-modern-love/