When Michael George Land lost his sister Anna to suicide in 2018, he reflected on their lives together and the art they had created. Anna was not only his sister, she was his collaborator, friend and housemate. To make sense of her death, as well as her life, he felt compelled to create BLAZE.
BLAZE examines the long-lasting effects of personal trauma and how it alters the dynamic of a contemporary middle-class family. The brother of an alcoholic battles his family history and holds an intervention, in an attempt to save his sister from the fate that befell their father.
In an interview with the Buzz, Land talks about the process of creating the show.
Where are you from originally?
This is always a tough question because we moved around so much growing up. My parents split up when I was 3 years old, and in some ways, my mother is a gypsy nomad. So we moved from upstate New York (where I was born) to Philadelphia (where my mother was born) to Northern California (where my father was born) to Colorado, and then back to Philadelphia—all by the time I was 13.
How long did you and your sister live together?
I think it was 2012 when I started sleeping on her couch. A few months later her then-roommate moved out. She left us at the end of 2018, so we lived together about six years. It was one of those dream three-bedroom houses in the Silverlake Hills, with a great kitchen, a big grassy backyard and parking for days. We always had a roommate filling that third bedroom, typically found off of Craigslist. Like, probably a dozen different people over the six years. I’m actually writing another play about our time there.
Tell me about some of the collaborations you and your sister developed.
There were so many. We created a web series called “Sunshine State” with our cousin, Shoshana, about a jaded fashionista from New York City who moves to LA to pursue her dream of standup comedy, but can’t get out of her own way. Anna was the star, and she was brilliant and hilarious. We also wrote a pilot inspired by her time bartending at the lounge of a geriatric tennis club. It was sort of a Cheers-meets-Golden Girls thing, also brilliant and hilarious. There were at least five others.
Obviously, authenticity is important to you since you chose to play the role of Marty yourself. What led to that decision?
It came on the heels of a life-changing epiphany. So much of BLAZE is about the choices we make in life defining who we are. About taking responsibility, not for the life we’ve had in the past, but the life we want to have moving forward—the life we want to have right now. I always loved acting, and knew I had a talent for it, I was just too afraid to put myself on the line like that.
I had talked to some actors about the role, and while they seemed interested to play it, I knew their own personal projects would take precedence. Nobody I spoke with would’ve given it the passion it deserves. In the end, I came to see this is more than a project to me—it’s Anna’s legacy, and it required unrivaled passion to make great. I realized was the only one with that passion, so I had to put my fear aside to deliver. I felt it was Anna who gave me that strength, and it brought me a new level of trust in myself.
What has it been like to relive the real-life experience in this way as a writer, actor and director?
It’s not been easy. The writing aspect was actually the most difficult because certain moments would be drawn out over days or weeks. As an actor you inhabit the moment, feel the pain, but then you move on. It’s challenging, but the play has a very optimistic ending, so the emotion I feel each performance ends on a high note. I can walk away each night tracing life’s silver lining.
With writing, it was the opposite. I would dig in for these intense, emotional scenes and stay there until the scene was right. And then, I’d have to do it again and again, over 10 drafts. Thankfully, as a director I’m pretty cerebral, so I managed to divorce myself from all that when doing analysis…I feel kind of bad for the writer in me, he did a lot of the heavy lifting, the director carved it up, and then the actor gets all the love.
How did you select the theater and cast to bring this story to the stage?
I knew because it was a family, I had to cast as a whole. I brought together a group of people who felt like they were immediately familiar. It was amazing because by the end of our table work, we were behaving like we’d been working together for months. And by the end of the first week, we’d developed a really genuine shorthand in the relationships. Like a family. It was astonishing. And, this is going to sound crazy, but I have a passion for astrology (thanks to my gypsy mother). It only accounts for maybe five percent of my casting process, but in this case it was majorly helpful to see. Literally everyone involved with the cast & crew, except my stage manager and set designer, were all fire signs—all Leos or Aries. I’d picked the cast because of their talent, but when I looked at their astrology… for a show called BLAZE, I knew it was destiny at work.
What would you like people to take away from the show?
From the very beginning, I wanted to tell a story about acceptance. About how life itself is extremely painful, but we always have a choice in how to deal with that pain. We can let it destroy us, or we can let it teach us. The Blaze is a metaphor for the fire within, the fire of being alive. Fire can burn you or it can warm you—the choice is always yours to tame it.
Blaze opens Sunday, April 10 at 8:00pm at the Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays (except Easter) at 2:00pm through May 8. Tickets cost $25 and are available here.
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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One thought on “BLAZE Playwright Harnesses the Fire Within”
I saw this show and it was incredible!!