Daniel Getzoff is a Los Angeles-based community activist and organizer, a playwright, personal essayist/blogger, a multi-faceted nonprofit sector worker, a recovering actor, and a recovering addict. In the past few years, he has added fiction writer to that list. Danny was awarded two residencies at PLAYA in 2014 and 2015 to work on his first novel, Nicknames for Harold, the first draft of which is approximately 95.27% complete. Give or take.
As a playwright, he has been called “an unmistakable talent” by the LA Weekly, and Backstage West stated that “his writing grapples with the eternal midnight of the soul.” In the summer of 2014, Danny was commissioned by the University of California, Riverside, to write a short work of fiction, “Parlo(u)r Game(s),” as a companion to a work of ethnography-based theater in development there. His play At Least Until You Die received high critical praise and a Garland/Backstage West Award nomination for Playwriting.
In 2009, during his 4,200-mile solo bike trek from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles he published a travel-blog that can be perused here. “Yo!,” Daniel says, with his usual enthusiasm. “My blog has now come alive alive ALIVE! again, this time at handlebarconfessional.com.”
Danny, what led you to PLAYA?
The path that led me to PLAYA was like shooting a Batman-esque grappling hook from down here in Los Angeles into the Oregon desert and scaling my way up north. In the pitch black. I had never applied to a residency or fellowship program before. And I didn’t know that Oregon had a desert! I first encountered PLAYA on the Alliance for Artist Communities website. I chose to apply to PLAYA because of its remote location and, therefore, drastic reduction of urban stimuli. I was yearning for an experience where I could write in solitude, with a small community of other artists on their own individual paths, in an expansive environment.
Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it?
Yes, I was (and still am!) working on my first novel. That was the project I proposed to work on (both times I was a resident), and I made progress over two residencies totaling eleven weeks. Looking back, it’s actually quite shocking (considering my normal daily output) how prolific I was at PLAYA. The progress was both organic and obligatory, if that makes any sense. I walked through the door of my cabin, unpacked, opened myself up, and gushed. Blood letting for 4 weeks straight. The book is a memoir written by a fictional character who is sort of pathologically isolated (he’s a meth addict) and, as a result, isn’t 100% sure that he’s real. I believed that PLAYA’s way-outta-the-way location in a county with fewer than one resident per square mile would foster a (safe, purposeful, immersive) experience of isolation. My experiment worked, for sure. Both times.
How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work?
When I arrived at PLAYA for the very first time at 8am after driving twelve hours overnight from Los Angeles, I was dumbstruck by the landscape surrounding the property, the ridge looming above and its trees, some of which had burned in a wildfire the previous year, the pond, the wildlife, and the lake, which is still so mysterious to me. Either I didn’t pay that close attention to the images on the website, or what I saw online couldn’t prepare me for the experience. Coming from the city where we humans are so crammed together, the expansiveness of PLAYA’s environment, just its vastness and emptiness alone, was inspiring to me. Finding ample time and space to write and be productive is something that I find to be quite elusive at home. Procrastination. Attention deficit. Dueling priorities. Having to make money other ways. Relationships! Procrastination. Attention deficit . . . and on. Within the Summer Lake landscape, I felt like I was a tiny yet vital part of an ecosystem, fueled by mud and wind and snow and rain and sun and carbs. And rainbows. There was a series of days when they just would not let up. How can you not be distracted by the allure of #($#& rainbows? I’d take some photos and get back to work, and then thirty minutes later another one. I remember shouting to the sky, “Are you serious?!” I was also affected by how others – particularly co-resident poets and visual artists – incorporated the landscape in their work. I see an image once in a while posted by one of those artists on Instagram or Facebook, and I recognize Summer Lake and that horizon immediately. (Every evening I was out on the back porch curious about what the horizon would reveal on that particular day.) It makes me feel both proud and humble to have been an organism buzzing around the Oregon outback for a time.
Describe a typical day at PLAYA.
Wellll . . . I’ll tell you, but please don’t think I’m making this up, because I sound like such a super-disciplined Zen Master. Here’s the gist: Woke up, did 30 minutes of yoga/stretching, a ten-to-fifteen minute meditation, and about ten minutes of journaling inspired by daily meditations from a book I was reading. Made coffee. Ate breakfast. Cleaned up. Starting at about 8:30 or so, I’d write for a period of about four hours, taking meaningful breaks throughout. Then make/eat lunch, work another hour or more, and then do some sort of workout: hike up the ridge or run or ride my bike on the main road. (I brought my bicycle with me both times – much better in the spring than the winter, I must say.) Also, I rode or drove to Paisley a couple of times per week to write and use their wireless in the saloon. In the evenings, I cooked – mostly for myself, sometimes for others. Sometimes I hung out with my co-residents (the second time I was there, not really the first so much). Sometimes I wrote in the evening. Sometimes I just read. Generally, I worked for a total of five hours each day over a period of about ten to twelve hours. Nowadays, when I have difficulty concentrating (which is every second of every day), I try to channel my PLAYA experience (not in some formalized, ritualistic way – but not a bad idea not for the future!). It’s impossible to recreate PLAYA in L.A., unfortunately, but if I put on my noise-canceling headphones and close my eyes . . .
What were some highlights for you?
Hmm, see all of the above. Additionally, I must say that the absolute most useful aspect of the experience was witnessing my own capacity to really, fully engage my writerly self in a disciplined and laser-focused manner and take advantage of this amazing opportunity. Another highlight was the collegial and supportive environment, inclusive of my fellow residents and the staff as well as the facilities which are so lovingly maintained and so freakin’ special. My first time at PLAYA, I was less social than the second residency. I was able to relax a bit more, in part because I had seven weeks up there, and I’d already proven to myself the first time around that I wasn’t going to fritter my time away. I didn’t go on any outdoor excursions (besides hiking or cycling nearby) except one toward the end of my time there (first time around) – to Fort Rock and Crack in the Ground near Christmas Valley. That was a fantastic day. During both residencies, most everyone was enthusiastic to explore each other’s work, to see and to be witnessed, and we read a lot to one another. I love reading my stuff aloud and hearing others read, and I especially loved hearing the visual artists, in particular, articulate the meaning and purpose of their work. It was academic – in the best way possible – and inspiring. I am so, so grateful for PLAYA, and hope to get up there again sometime soon.
Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.