It all started with two overlapping events in childhood.
To amuse the five-year-old me, my father drew a face on the inside bottom of a large water thermos that he used for tennis. When you looked into the empty container, you could see a swollen horizontal slit at the end where the halves of the plastic mold came together. With a long pencil, Dad drew two black circles above the slit, now a “mouth,” and my imagination was triggered: the resulting expression was weird, cute and mildly foreboding all at once. That simple water bottle became a sentient oddity for which to compose a strange and entertaining backstory, so I began sketching my own surreal daydreams as a series of unusual faces, sometimes writing little captions beside them or inventing longer fantastical stories to accompany each character.
Around the same young time, we inherited an old upright piano. For some cosmic reason, I instantly knew how to play it by ear and began composing my own music as an additional artistic outlet.
I’ve been at it ever since, finding unexpected messages and narratives in the ordinary details around me, and expressing them through ekphrasis, which is the technical term for art inspired by text and vice versa. Along with those illustrations and writings, I shape worlds of musical sound that tell their own instrumental stories.
thanks to those who’ve helped water the plant that is my soul. Without them and the artmaking they encourage, I would surely wither…
It’s taken me until my 40s to finally focus these creativities into one vision: a solo multimedia act of spoken-word vignettes with matching artwork on every topic from the stigma of liking scrapple to the meaning of life. The show is really about anything and everything in our human experience, the overall point being to set mind in motion. What connects the pieces is that they each start with a projected image of a face—human, animal, alien, abstract—to prompt reaction and thought, and to act as a catalyst for the spoken material that follows. The show is punctuated by original piano compositions to heighten the experience and to offer the audience additional space for reflection.
I am so passionately excited to share these visions with the DC theatre scene! The Face Zone is a perfect show for our time. We live in an overloaded ADHD McWorld of shallow (mis)information coming at us in relentless quick bursts, and increasingly few have time for long-form prose. To that end, The Face Zone is a fun, moving, intellectually stimulating space where, for just minutes or seconds of your time per piece, you get memorable and useful kernels of usable truth—deep, entertaining revelations “to go.”
When the final curtain descends, I want the sights, sounds and insights from the experience to continue glowing in the audience’s mind like a camera flash you continue to see after your eyes close.
Though I’m the creator, there are things about the material I don’t fully appreciate until I’m in the midst of getting it ready for a performance. A poem or story might look perfect on paper, but when brought to life in rehearsal—as I hear and feel its rhythms in my voice—I notice new things about the piece and adjust it accordingly. Since I perform my own work, I benefit from an immediate informative feedback loop, like a chef tasting a recipe, reacting and making changes on the spot. That’s the essential lesson I’ve realized through rehearsal: performing is a crucial step in the creative process. On a simpler note, I’ve found that doing my set in the car on the way home from work is not only a great way to prepare, but it also keeps me sane in Northern Virginia traffic!
I don’t know if all that time practicing in my Nissan Juke along Route 1 will lead me to a Tony award, but if it ever does I would dedicate it to my family, teachers, friends… everyone along the way who has celebrated my spiraling creativity versus trying to reign me in toward something more practical such as accounting or hanging drywall. Obviously, the world needs engineers, lawyers and the like, but it also needs art. What is industry without inspiration? So, thanks to those who’ve helped water the plant that is my soul. Without them and the artmaking they encourage, I would surely wither…
Martin Graff is an illustrator, author, musician, high-school teacher, and extreme-chin-beard enthusiast living in Arlington, VA.
He imagines and illustrates faces, and writes poetic prose to associate with each. His live spoken-word show adds original piano compositions to heighten the experience.
Donna Hanback says
Awesome marty! Donna here. Reading city paper after work I saw your picture of your face zone picture in it advertising fringe festival!
Robert Graff says
Marty is articulate in explaining his calling..