By Sarah T. Schwab
Originally published in The Buffalo News on Sunday, April 30, 2017
My dad had a Hollywood crush on actress Karen Allen. One of his favorite films was “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I grew up watching her character, Marion Ravenwood, on our small-screen TV, often while sitting on the living room floor playing with my Barbie dolls.
Her natural beauty was apparent: those big eyes, that glowing smile. But it was her courage and relentless attitude that drew me in. “This is a strong woman,” I’d think. “That’s what I want to be.”
After graduating from Eden Jr./Sr. High School, I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SUNY Fredonia. I then moved to New York City in the hopes of becoming a professional writer.
To neutralize the stress of working three part-time gigs and still barely making rent, I saw as much theater as possible.
In the winter of 2013, I saw a Lyle Kessler play at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in the West Village. To my surprise, Karen was there. I introduced myself after the show, praised her work on stage and in film, and from there blossomed an unexpected friendship.
Over the course of the next three years, she mentored me on a play I wrote titled, “Until Death.” Inspired by the death of my father, the story is about an elderly man who is dying from a terminal illness. In the hopes of sparing his wife emotional distress, he makes the decision to rent a trailer outside of town so that he can die alone.
The piece has had a handful of public readings, the most recent being at Cherry Lane Theatre. Karen played the lead role. Opposite her was a Buffalo native, actor Jeffrey DeMunn. Directing the ensemble was celebrated acting coach Larry Moss. We are currently shopping the play around to producers.
As a way of saying, “thanks,” I helped Karen this past summer on the set of her short film, “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud,” adapted from Carson McCullers’ short story. My official title was “dresser/set buyer.” Basically I worked with the prop department doing anything and everything anyone needed.
It was Karen’s directorial debut, but her grace and skill at communicating with the actors and crew was masterful. Her vision was clear, her attitude collaborative. Everyone respected her, and thus ensued a beautiful film.
During the two-week long experience of making the pieces of the ever-shifting puzzle fit, a single thought kept running through my mind: “I want to do this.”
So I wrote a short film, one that I will also direct.
“ ‘A’ My Name Is” takes place on the cancer ward of a children’s hospital. The narrative centers on an 8-year-old girl with cancer who has a late-night adventure that culminates in the realization of her mortality.
Film and theater producer Brian Long, former managing director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, and I have begun to assemble a team. We are currently looking for a location to shoot in Buffalo, and are actively raising funds for the Independent Filmmaker Project-fiscally sponsored project. (For information, visit AMyNameIsTheFilm.com)
Sometimes while taking a break from writing, I’ll think back to the living room floor of my childhood home. I can still feel my father’s and mother’s presence with me, I can feel my Barbie doll in my hand, and I can still see that small-screen TV and those big eyes – the eyes of a relentless woman.