I have been working all year to write The Vault, commissioned by Flat Earth Theatre in collaboration with the Museum of Science Boston, exploring the intersection of climate change justice and theatre: The Greenhouse Playlab: a Climate Change Theatre Incubator.
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.
Watch the archive of the livestream of the Boston #1MPF HERE. This year there were over 100 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!
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)
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!!):
with B7 containing the total number of characters and A10 containing the # of characters in a scene
Ah, math. Sometimes you are so helpful.
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!
I am always returning to the question – why this right now? – as I sit and write, alone. I do this because I want the plays I write to mean something, not only to me, but to be worthy of other people’s blood, sweat and tears. A play asks for the time, attention, spirit, and money of so many people. So, whether my play is intended to make an audience cry, think, sigh or laugh, I take my job pretty seriously. Probably, often, too seriously.
This summer I made a few discoveries on the Playwrights Commons’ Freedom Art Retreat that released me from my own silly, grandiose perfectionism and reminded me why theatre is so much fun to make and to experience. (Whether great fun always equals great art is another question for another day, and one I was grateful to have the opportunity to leave behind for a week.) Here are the things I was reminded of again and again as we worked in different small groups over the course of the retreat:
- Pick something to make and then make it. Finding a way to do this is going to be different with every group, every time. Some of the most exciting stuff came from starting with a strong visual image, like paper boats on a pond at sunset, or someone crawling haphazardly down a flight of stairs. Sometimes it took all day to agree on what to make, sometimes it took just a few minutes. It was always more fun when we were done with the picking part and had moved on to making something.
- If you’re worried about something coming out bad or clichéd, just go ahead and make the “bad” version. Make it SO SO bad. Clothe yourself in cliché. When I was working in a group of five people on a site-specific play, we discovered early on that the place we had found in the woods was suggesting 1960s-nostalgic-teen-car-crash-after-school-special-melodrama to us. So we ran with that as far as we could. And I don’t think any one of us would have made what we ended up with had we been working on our own, which is great.
- Take every functional idea. Even keep stuff that doesn’t feel quite right, call it a placeholder, and come back to it later. Don’t worry whether that line, image, character or concept is cool, funny, poetic, intricate or sexy enough. If it moves the process forward, keep it and move on to the next thing.
- Just play. Play ukuleles. Play charades. Eat popsicles and drink alcohol and go swimming and have a dance party. I can’t emphasize this enough. Also eat an unholy amount of delicious homemade food, play with dogs and tiny frogs, and travel to the top of mountain. You’ll know it’s the very top because you can see the other side.