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.
Painting Music with Andy Strain
Turns out April really is the month to get inspired to write that new play. Budding playwrights (and dialogue-based script writers of all forms): meet Script Frenzy! Script Frenzy dares you to write 100 pages of a new script in the month of April. So, if November and NaPlWriMo is too far away and you’re ready to get started right away, in fact, you were ready yesterday… www.scriptfrenzy.org looks like the way to go.
They have some great resources on their website, like information about script formatting, a list of all the free and not-so-free software available, and all kinds of articles and advice. I love love love that all this is available for free online. And I love that I can share about it here on this blog of mine.
But dare I say it, the more computerized my everyday world becomes, the more I treasure my work as a playwright. After all, I spend all those hours on my computer alone writing because a play brings people together – bodies, imaginations, emotions, and intellects – in time and space. And because nothing beats being in a room with a bunch of other people hearing the brand new pages of your script you just wrote last night out loud, sharing ideas and feedback, debating and discussing and deliberating and eating brownies while bawling and guffawing and holding our collective breath and leaning in close…. I suppose there’s probably an app for all that now, minus the brownies. And I am indecently attached to my iPhone. But I’ll take a room at Grub Street any day. BYO brownies.
The magnolias are blooming, the sun and the rain are playing hide and seek. Clearly April is right around the corner. And with April comes more light, more color, the promise of summer and a reprieve from all that darkness and cold that keeps us cooped up all winter. But don’t trade in your computer and your thinking cap for flip flops and sundresses just yet, because April is the perfect time to start writing a new play! Maybe you’ve heard about those folks who try to write the first draft of a whole novel in just one month for NaNoWriMo. Maybe you’ve even heard about the folks who do this same thing, but for writing plays, also in the month of November, called NaPlWriMo. Everyone has their own strategies to make this impossible task possible. They write a certain number of words per day, or per week, but they all just keep those pens and keyboards moving and clicking. It’s an inspiring concept that connects writers from around the globe, gives you a goal and a deadline, and lots of encouragement to write and keep writing.
My Writing the Full Length Play class begins at Grub Street on April 15th. The course is 10 weeks – which is more than twice the time of NaPlWriMo. My hope is that it will be ample time for playwrights of all experience levels begin writing something new, hear it out loud, work on revisions and even prepare to send it out into the world. Writing is never easy, no matter how much you’ve written before. But having others going through it with you can get you to set aside the necessary time and all those unnecessary fears to just do it. I hope we will all be inspired by the example set by NaPlWriMo, and the goal of starting something new and writing it all the way through to the end. I know I am!