Charles L. Mee
|Charles L. Mee|
|Born||Charles L. Mee, Jr.
September 15, 1938
Evanston, Illinois, USA
|Alma mater||Harvard University|
Charles L. Mee (born September 15, 1938) is an American playwright, historian and author known for his collage-like style of playwriting, which makes use of radical reconstructions of found texts. He is also a professor of theater at Columbia University.
Early Life and Early Career
Mee was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1938. He led a typical middle-class, Midwestern boyhood until he contracted polio at the age of fourteen. His memoir A Nearly Normal Life (1999) tells how that event informed the rest of his life.
After graduating from Harvard University in 1960, Mee moved to Greenwich Village and became a part of the Off-Off-Broadway scene. Between 1962 and 1964, his plays were presented at venues that included La MaMa E.T.C., Caffe Cino, Theatre Genesis, and the Ontological at St. Mark’s.
In 1961 Mee began work at American Heritage publishing company and eventually became the editor of the hardback bi-monthly Horizon: A Magazine of the Arts. He was also the Advising Editor and then Contributing Editor of TDR (Tulane Drama Review) until 1964 and its Associate Editor from 1964 to 1965.
To support himself and his family, Mee turned from writing plays to writing books in 1965. Lorenzo De’Medici and the Renaissance, the first of his many nonfiction books, was published in 1969 by HarperCollins Juvenile Books.
At the same time, he increasingly became caught up in anti-Vietnam War politics, campaigning for anti-war congressional candidates and writing anti-war polemics. He wouldn't return to writing for the theater for another 20 years.
In the 1970s, he became the co-founder and chairman of The National Committee on the Presidency, a grassroots organization which called for the impeachment of Richard Nixon.
His political activism and investigation of American imperialism led to his writing of political histories for the general public. Meeting at Potsdam (1975), about the 1945 Potsdam Conference, was chosen as a main selection of the Literary Guild, and was adapted for film and television by David Susskind. He went on to write other books on summit diplomacy, international power sharing, and American history, including The End of Order: Versailles 1919 (1980); The Marshall Plan: The Launching of Pax Americana (1987), and The Genius of the People (1987), about the 1787 Constitutional Convention;
A Visit to Haldeman and Other States of Mind (1976) was called "part autobiographical meditation, part elegiac crank letter to the American Republic, part confession and part essay on democratic politics" by Time. As recently as 2002, Greil Marcus claimed that it was one of the best books he had read about American patriotism.
Playing God: Seven Fateful Moments When Great Men Met to Change the World (1993) was Mee’s final published work of history.
Mee returned to playwrighting in 1985. His libretto for Martha Clarke’s Vienna: Lusthaus was his first produced script since his Off-Off Broadway days. He continued working his day job (as the editor-in-chief at consumer health publisher Rebus, Inc.) and writing books as his plays began to be produced. Later, in 2002 Mee revised about a third of his Vienna: Lusthaus script. It was reprised as Vienna: Lusthaus (Revisited). Clarke and Mee would collaborate again in Belle Époque (2004).
Another Person is a Foreign Country (1991) was the first of Mee's many collaborations with director Anne Bogart. The En Garde Arts site-specific performance took place in the courtyard of the decrepit Towers Nursing Home in New York City. It was a "multi-cultural freak show." One critic described it as "A Chorus Line for people who can’t get an audition." 
Orestes was Mee’s breakthrough play in 1992. It was directed by Robert Woodruff at University of California, San Diego and by Anne Bogart at the Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI). In the summer of 1992, Tina Landau directed an En Garde Arts production as Orestes 2.0 on an abandoned pier on the Hudson River in New York City. The play was the first of ten plays that would use Greek texts as scaffolding upon which he would stick his new fragments of text and then "throw the scaffolding away and call whatever remained the script." In 1996, The Constitutional Convention: A Sequel, was produced by Clubbed Thumb.
In other plays, Mee explores twentieth-century American history and culture through the points-of-view of contemporary visual artists in: bobrauschenbergamerica (Robert Rauschenberg), Hotel Cassiopeia (Joseph Cornell), soot and spit (the musical) (James Castle), and Under Construction (Jason Rhoades and Norman Rockwell).
His comedies and romances, include Summertime, First Love, True Love, Big Love, Wintertime, Fetes de la Nuit, A Perfect Wedding, and Fire Island. As source material, Mee would use Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Molière, Anton Chekhov, René Magritte paintings, Bollywood musicals, and his own writing. His play Full Circle is based on the Bertolt Brecht play The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
He is the only resident playwright of the theatre ensemble SITI Company, for whom he wrote Orestes, bobrauschenbergamerica, Hotel Cassiopeia, Under Construction, and soot and spit (the musical). Mee was the Signature Theatre Playwright-in-Residence for the 2007–2008 season.
He currently teaches playwrighting at the Columbia University School of the Arts.
Style and Method of Writing
On Mee’s web site, the (re)making project, he says “There is no such thing as an original play.” and that his plays are “composed in the way that Max Ernst made his Fatagaga pieces toward the end of World War I: texts have often been taken from, or inspired by, other texts.” 
Use of the Internet
Mee began using the internet as a textual source for composing his pieces in the early 1990s. He first began making his own work freely available by posting three of his plays on Carnegie Mellon’s humanities gopher/ftp/telnet English Server in the mid 1990s. By 1996, with the help of his friend Tom Damrauer, the (re)making project, a web site with his full scripts was launched. It contained an invitation for people to “do freely whatever they want with them.” He is the first and only playwright to make such a large body of theatre work available on the internet.
This was not viewed by Mee as a challenge to the current copyright law or a vehicle to raise issues of intellectual property. It was done as a populist gesture towards his utopian vision of a free and democratic internet. In 1996 he said "I’m attracted to the idea of things being owned in common." It also represented "Mee’s Golden Rule: of do unto my writing as I have done unto the writing of others."
National Public Radio called Mee the "Public-Domain Playwright" in 2000 and credited him with touching "a raw cultural nerve" by making his work freely available.
Writer Jonathan Lethem credited Charles Mee as one of the inspirations for his "Promiscuous Project" in which he made a selection of his stories available for filmmakers or dramatists to adapt at a dollar apiece.
In an explanation about the (re)making project on his current web site, Mee says that his plays are protected by copyright if they are “essentially or substantially performed” as he has composed them. He continues, however, to invite others to freely pillage his texts to make their own work, without any attribution to him.
In 1998, Mee’s friend, former chairman of Morgan Stanley and philanthropist Richard B. Fisher and his wife, Jeanne Donovan Fisher, offered to provide Mee with enough money to support himself. The rare arrangement imposed no stipulations or conditions upon Mee or his writing nor did it specify how long the relationship would last. Although Richard B. Fisher died in 2004, Jeanne Donovan Fisher continues to support Mee and his work. The Fishers patronage has been hailed as one "without parallel or precedent in American theatrical philanthropy."
Sometime in 2013, concurrent with the launch of a redesigned website, the language regarding patronage changed to the past tense: "Charles Mee's work has been made possible by the support of Richard B. Fisher and Jeanne Donovan Fisher." It is now possible to directly support the project.
Among other awards, Charles Mee is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award in drama from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two OBIE Awards (Vienna: Lusthaus (1986) and Big Love (2002)), PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Award for Drama for a playwright in mid-career, and the Fisher Award given by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Lorenzo De’Medici and the Renaissance. HarperCollins Children's Books. 1969.
White Robe, Black Robe. G.P. Putnam. 1972.
Meeting at Potsdam. New York: M. Evans & Co. 1975.
A Visit to Haldeman and Other States of Mind. M. Evans & Co. 1976.
Seizure. M. Evans & Co. 1977.
The Ohio Gang. M. Evans & Co. 1980.
The End of Order: Versailles 1919. Dutton. 1980.
The Marshall Plan. Simon and Schuster. 1984.
Genius of the People. HarperCollins. 1988.
Rembrandt’s Portrait: A Biography. Simon & Schuster. 1990.
Playing God: Seven Fateful Moments When Great Men Met to Change the World. Simon and Schuster. 1993.
History Plays. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1998. (collection consisting of Vienna Lusthaus, The War to End War, The Investigation of the Murder in El Salvador, Orestes, The Trojan Women a Love Story, Time to Burn)
A Nearly Normal Life. Little, Brown and Co. 1999.
(Note: Charles Mee's complete scripts are freely available on his web site, the (re)making project. Dates listed are provided by Scott T. Cummings. They do not reflect when the work was actually written. Mee often writes the plays a year or more before they are produced. The play categories are Mee's own. He also makes his unproduced (undated) plays available on the (re)making project.)
- Morrow, Lance (June 13, 1977). "The '60s Trip". Time Magazine. Retrieved July 25, 2009.
- Marcus, Greil. "Real Life Rock Top 10" (see item #9) Slate, September 23, 2002, Retrieved July 27, 2009.
- Cummings, Scott T. (2006). Remaking American Theater: Charles Mee, Anne Bogart and the SITI Company. p. 54.
- Stuart, Jan (September 12, 1991). "Muted Waters for Sea of Outcasts". Newsday. p. 61.
- Cummings, Scott T. (2006). Remaking American Theater: Charles Mee, Anne Bogart and the SITI Company. p. 60.
- Lester, Gideon. "All About Mee: Charles Mee Discusses the Creation of Full Circle". Retrieved July 28, 2009.[dead link]
- "A.R.T. Past Productions - Cardenio". Retrieved July 26, 2009.[dead link]
- "Theatre Faculty - Columbia University School of the Arts". Retrieved July 29, 2009.[dead link]
- "about the (re)making project - Charles Mee's web site". Retrieved July 29, 2009.
- Cummings, Scott T. (2006). pp. 84–85. Missing or empty
- "Charles Mee, Public-Domain Playwright". All Things Considered. August 17, 2000. Retrieved July 27, 2009.
- "Promiscuous Materials Project - Jonathan Lethem's website". Retrieved July 26, 2009.
- Schlueter, Jennifer. (author. (2007). "Patronage and Playwriting: Richard B. and Jeanne Donovan Fisher's Support of Charles L. Mee" in Angels in the American Theater: Patrons, Patronage, and Philanthropy (edited by Robert Schanke). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-8093-2747-8.
- Cummings, Scott T. (2006). pp. 277–290. Missing or empty
- "the plays - Charles Mee's web site". Retrieved July 28, 2009.
Mandell, Jonathan (September 2, 2001). "Falling In, Falling Out: Love's Cycle Of Rebirth". New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
Mee, Charles L. (October 24, 2004). "Shaped, in Bits, Drips and Quips". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 26, 2006.
Reilly, Kara (Summer 2005). "A Collage Reality (Re) Made: The Postmodern Dramaturgy of Charles L. Mee". American Drama 14 (2): 56–71.
Schlueter, Jennifer (2007). "Patronage and Playwriting: Richard B. and Jeanne Donovan Fisher's Support of Charles Mee". Angels in the American Theater: Patrons, Patronage, and Philanthropy (Southern Illinois University Press): 88–103.
Schlueter, Jennifer (Fall 2005). "Staging Versailles: Charles L. Mee and the Re-Presentation of History". The Journal of American Drama and Theatre 17 (3): 5–77.
Signature Theatre. "Getting to Know Mee". Signature Edition (excerpts). Retrieved July 26, 2009.
|Wikiversity has learning materials about Collaborative_play_writing/Time to Burn|
- the (re)making project - Charles Mee's website
- Booknotes interview with Mee on Playing God: Seven Fateful Moments When Great Men Met to Change the World, November 7, 1993.