Hungry for Words

I spent a weekend in Vermont recently, working with young writers who were hungry to try new things.  Their pens were constantly poised, their voices spoke out clear and strong from circles of eager ears.  Their energy, diligence and openness will be with me, living and breathing in the crisp spring morning of my mind.  And it was very cool indeed to hang out with some fellow writers of other genres.  Big thanks to the fine folks at the Champlain College Young Writers’ Conference for inviting me along for the wild rumpus.

Some great news hot off the presses is I am a new member of Accomplice Writers Group along with James C. Ferguson.  Thrilled to be joining these fine folks cooking up new plays!

 

New Year, New Plays

When I first began to think I wanted to be a playwright/actor/director/theatre maker, I was told to be patient, to stick with it, to learn to define my own success, to work together – and that it would probably take me 10 years to get where I wanted to go.  Here I am, ten years later, and there are so many exciting projects to look forward to in the New Year, my first New Year’s resolution is to stay healthy so I can do it all!

The 3rd Annual Boston One Minute Play Festival will feature a couple of tiny plays of mine, among many many other tiny theatrical moments by many other local playwrights.  I love how this festival captures our local zeitgeist and asks playwrights to write plays that speak to each other, and speak volumes, collectively. If you can’t make it in person, you can watch it on Sun Night at 11PM Eastern on Livestream.com/newplay where it will also be archived for later viewing.

Speaking of collective voices, I am working on a couple of devised theatre projects.  These collaboratively crafted pieces are unfolding bit by bit, and I’m very excited to see where they lead… but there’s no telling when they might be ready for public consumption… I’ll keep you posted!

The 6 Weeks 6 Plays challenge – I am looking forward to leading this as well as trying to write a new play each week myself!

Master Scriptwriting  – professional actors, visiting artists, team teaching, cross-genre discussions, and a public reading are all pretty thrilling stuff, not to mention the plays and screenplays that these students are going to be working on.  I’m beyond excited to see these things grow.

The Spring Play at Mount Ida – I’ll be directing again at Mount Ida College this spring. Following last year’s successful One Act Play Festival, we are putting on a full-length play!  I have been thinking about plays with flexible cast sizes, strong female roles and a minimal design aesthetic for the entrepreneurial band of talented young thespians that is the Mount Ida Drama Club… more on this soon!

Here’s to challenges, full plates, and the pay-offs of long-term resolutions – happy & healthy holidays to you all!

Writing Raw Materials

Unlike Edward Albee, who famously doesn’t write a word of a play until he’s perfected it all in his head, I often write things that don’t end up in a play. A monologue to get to know one of my characters better. A scene from before the play begins. A scene that the audience won’t ever see but hears about in another scene. The “bad” version of a scene.  Raw materials – all the things I need to work through, explore, practice, build before the polished version emerges.  Most of this stuff is happy to live “in the drawer” forever, never intended for an audience.   When I am just starting to write a new play, I sometimes don’t know which stuff will end up in the official first draft, and which stuff will end up getting cut. This month, some of this unpolished, in-process material will be getting public readings.  So if you want a window into my process, or if you just like to hear new pages hot off the old inkjet, and you live in the Boston area, check out some of these exciting events:

Bostonia Bohemia’s Fly On The Wall Festival will feature a couple of my site specific monologues

Interim Writers’ Have You Read?  on November 16th at 7:30pm at the Democracy Center in Harvard Square – Reading of raw materials from play-in-progress Forever Home

And for a reading of a full-length play a little closer to polished, but still in process check out: Wax Wings Productions’ Reading of Mad Props on November 17th at 7pm (also at the Democracy Center)

Playwriting and Math

One of the many amazing things to come out of the Freedom Art Retreat back in 2011 was that one day, somewhere in between swimming in Pea Porridge Pond, eating grilled corn, drinking cocktails, singing along to ukeleles, hiking mountains and making group projects, I asked the group a question that had been on my mind for a while.  Actually, no, I tried to ask the question, but it was a barely formed, half articulated, bizarre mumbling thing in the general tenor of a question.

It was something like:  “So guys, I’m working on this 8-character play, Mad Props, and it’s a lot of characters!  But I was wondering, if I have 8 characters in a play, how many, um, if I wanted to know, like, how many different scenes are possible, with you know, different characters in different configurations, um, how would I figure that out?”

Now I used to be a math person, back when being a math person meant basic multiplication and division.  So, essentially, elementary school was when I peaked.  But I’m still a person who likes to figure things out, even if it’s not something I know how to figure out. That’s where the amazing powers of friendship and collaboration come in handy.  Thanks to the help of my fellow retreatants, particularly Jason Weber, we figured out what my question was, and then he even came up with the answer in the form of an amazing excel spreadsheet that figures it out for you using formulas.  Formulas!  On a theatre-in-the-woods retreat!

The key was remembering a math concept called “combinations (without repetition)” – just coming up with the right concept took a little while.  Did I mention I was having problems articulating the question?

It turns out what I was asking for was the total number of possible scenes, depending on total number of characters in the play, using different combinations of characters.  So, for example, if there are 8 characters in a play, then the total number of 1-character scenes possible in that play is 8.  The total number of 8-character scenes possible is of course, 1.  The trick is figuring out all the combinations of 5-character scenes and 3-character scenes, etc.  In an 8 character play, there are a total of 255 unique combinations of different characters on stage.  The only thing is, the formulas only give you the number of combinations.  You would have to figure out yourself what each of the unique combinations are.

For example, here are the 28 unique combinations for 2-character scenes in an 8-character play: ab, ac, ad, ae, af, ag, ah, bc, bd, be, bf, bg, bh, cd, ce, cf, cg, ch, de, df, dg, dh, ef, eg, eh, fg ,fh, gh

Here is what the basic formula looks like in my fancy spreadsheet (thank you Jason Weber!!):

=FACT(B7)/(FACT(A10)*FACT(B7-A10))
with B7 containing the total number of characters and A10 containing the # of characters in a scene

Ah, math.  Sometimes you are so helpful.

Knowing and Not Knowing, Part I: Direct Address

When should you let your audience “in” on what’s happening?  When should you keep it a big, heavy, elephant-in-the-room secret?  All plays have some elements of both – one of the jobs of the playwright is to measure the balance between what the audience knows and doesn’t know, and how and when to withhold or impart information. Sometimes when you want the audience to know something, the quick and dirty way to accomplish that is to just tell them.  Why bother with fancy tricks to get your most important exposition across?  Want your audience to know that one character thinks the other one is crazy?  Just tell them!

LORD POLONIUS

[Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.

This is a nice little essay about the use of direct address in a few contemporary plays.

A couple of my favorite examples of plays that use monologues spoken straight to the audience (aka an aside or in a slightly different sense, a soliloquy) are Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation.  These plays are a story being told and acted out for the audience.  The play is aware of itself being a play, and the characters consistently break the fourth wall.  Like a Greek chorus, they narrate story as it goes along.  So, yes it is an old contrivance, and a very effective, if blunt, instrument.  And yes, sometimes blunt is an excellent thing.