The big news right now is that I have been commissioned by SpeakEasy Stage Company to write a new play called Born Naked for the inaugural Boston Project, with a workshop and staged reading in February 2016. I am so honored and excited to be working with them, and to be developing this play with their support. So far the play is proving to be a scary, funny, ambitious new endeavor that is feeling really great to sink my teeth into – researching and scribbling, planning and questioning… and as the world outside is slowly getting colder and darker I am inside writing writing writing. Happy fall!
After you close a show, you can feel bereft. No more late nights hanging lights, no more communal snacks, no more emergency-dragon-puppet-making. But you can take little bits of wisdom with you for the next project. Here is a line from SHIVER that sticks with me. It boils down the message of the play, and was poignantly delivered by the brilliant Scot Colford as Wilhelm Grimm to the delightful Louise Hamill (also “one of most tireless forces in the Boston theatre scene” –Edge Boston) playing the heroine Charlotte , a character who was so caught up in her own fears she was pushing the people in her life away. This is a mantra I will carry with me far beyond this one production. Project: Project, this one is for you.
Sometimes, when making devised theatre on a shoestring budget, you work for two long years to see your production premiere for just two short weekends. You make postcards and posters, you promote your show through a press release and social media. You even hire an amazing designer willing to work on a tiny piece of that shoestring to help market the show. You hope people will come, that word of mouth will be positive, and that the various ways you promote the show, mostly online, will result in a live audience of humans sitting in seats.
Image courtesy of LidecPhoto.com
Ultimately though, you expect to see your friends, colleagues, people you’ve seen around town at other small theatre companies, a few folks from the press, and that’s about it. It’s about the work, after all, making something you can believe in with your whole soul, and hopefully creating meaningful work for your collaborators and the actors and designers you love.
But sometimes when you are posing with your mom in front of the theatre so you can remember this day and how she got up at 5am to drive to Boston to see your show, a stranger comes up to you. And he has an accent and he says he’s new to Boston, and you say welcome! And he wants to know – how do you buy tickets? Is the show any good? And of course you say it’s great and that you in fact made it and that the theatre will be open soon and he should come!
And then an hour later just as you begin to wonder if he will actually find his way back to the theatre – he walks in and buys a ticket! And as you walk him down the hall to the theatre you find out, yes, he’s a student. But you kick yourself later for not asking him more – a name, what he’s studying? Who is this guy who just wandered in with so much interest and curiosity?
And after the show, the audience is flushed from laughing and also from the heat, and you are thanking people for coming as they file out. And he comes up to you, his hair seems to have become – wild – and you think, did the show do that? It is a wild show. And he is BEAMING. He’s SO happy!! And he says the show was great!
And you think: Did we do that? Did we really make this stranger flushed with laughter and heat and happiness? And you think: Yes! Yes we did!
And that, my friends, feels like success.
Five more chances to see Shiver: A Fairytale of Anxious Proportions
Thursday, June 25, 8:00pm
Friday, June 26, 8:00pm
Saturday, June 27, 2:00pm (use SHIVER10 at checkout for $10 tickets)
Saturday, June 27, 8:00pm (POST-SHOW TALKBACK)
Sunday, June 28, 2:00pm
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.
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)
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!
[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.
Elizabeth Streb takes a look at the everyday movement of walking. Reminds me to look at performance from – literally – new angles, and to think about context and the value of looking at commonplace things out of context to see them anew.