Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 17: Time (and time again)

I knew when I began this process that the biggest conflict or obstacle to my goal was going to be time. Here it is again. I have so many things I want to write about -- like realizing as I fell asleep last night that scene 4 needs to be a different scene than I originally thought -- but it's already 11:15pm and I have an incredibly crazy week with the Opera on Tap Haiti benefit on Wednesday (where I'm singing) and my short play performing this weekend. I won't get home til almost midnight or later every night this week, and I still have to be at work in the mornings, so I have to go to bed now.

This won't be much of a week for actual writing, but it will be a very creative and rewarding one. Bear with me and I'll fill you in when I can!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 16: Borrowing without asking

It's been a difficult week to get writing done, due mostly to the additional time conflicts of rehearsals for the upcoming performance of my short play next weekend (one of my two original Frank scenes). But I was bound and determined to get another 10 page chunk done to bring to class tomorrow, so yesterday and today I set about finishing the next scene. I was only up to page 16 earlier this evening when my cat apparently wanted to help me out, so she sat at my computer and entered this:

followed by 44 pages of the return key and several paragraphs of "::::::::::P". I really appreciate the effort, though I'm not quite sure what role "Looooppttty" will play in this scene. Perhaps I'll find a function for her later.

One of the most fascinating things to me about this writing process is the culling of details from people and events in my own life. I have yet to actually write a character who is supposed to actually be someone real -- it's just that I steal a few details from this person and that person, from this event and that event, and cook them all up in a stew. For instance, Angie's childhood friend Rachael (whom we meet in scene 3), is named after a dear friend whom I've known since I was 12. But this woman definitely isn't my Rachael, and some of the details of her life are stolen from another childhood friend of mine, and some of her words are borrowed from a current friend. I often wonder if these people from whom I have borrowed little details would recognize themselves in my work, or if the stew has too many ingredients to identify any one thing.

One of the highest compliments I have received on my writing to date was from the actor who plays Frank. He asked me if Frank and Vera were real people. He was surprised when I said no, "because the details are just so rich." Thank you, everyone, for being so interesting and giving me such great material. I hope you'll forgive me for borrowing without asking.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 14: Divorced and "pregnant"

On January 28, 2010, I signed my divorce papers. So now I'm divorced and "pregnant" -- does this make me a fallen woman?

While I never wanted to be divorced, I am immeasurably grateful for the incredible growth and change that I have experienced in the year and a half since my 11-year marriage ended. The list is long, but most relevant to this blog, I became a writer.

The Artist's WayIn the days immediately following the split, the universe brought me to a great singing coach/mentor, Alisa Endsley, who compelled me to finally buy (and follow) Julie Cameron's The Artist's Way. In the course of writing in my "morning pages" journal every day, Natalie Wilson - Writer was born. And now that woman is "giving birth" to her first play. It all feels very appropriate somehow.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 13: A Glimpse of the Future

(stay tuned for part 2 of Pre-conceptions - coming very soon I promise!)

Imagine a future technology where they could take one of those spotty gray ultrasound images of an embryo, and project it out to what your child will look, sound, and act like when it's grown. It probably would have a fairly high margin of error to it, but it would be exciting nonetheless. Well, that's kind of what I got to experience with my play tonight.

Tonight was the first rehearsal for an upcoming performance of one of the previous short plays I wrote about Frank. To watch my magnificent actors (Robert Frink as Frank and Laura Gilreath as his granddaughter, Angie) bring these characters to life under Dann Fink's brilliant direction was exhilarating. I laughed, I teared up -- and we only got through page 4 (out of 9). The relationship between Frank and Angie is so tender and palpable in this scene, that I have renewed faith that I am creating a genuine piece of theater here.

Tonight I saw a glimpse of the play this has the potential to grow up to be -- and I'm proud.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 12: Pre-conception(s) - Part I

Whatever I might think writing a play will be like, I'm sure it's not going to be that. One lesson I've learned repeatedly in my 37 years on this earth: the more attached you are to expectations of a specific something happening, the less likely it is to happen. I've learned this lesson so well that I actually have very few preconceptions about this process. Given that not long ago I would never have expected to be writing a play in the first place, how can I know what it will be like?

Two years ago, I had never tried to write anything creative (except a really bad "novella" in 6th grade and some horrible heartsick teenager poetry in high school). I was always a good writer -- of reports, of papers, of correspondence -- but I didn't think I had it in me to actually be a creative writer. I mean, how do people do that? Come up with stuff out of thin air? I was a performer, an interpreter of art other people created. Not a creator of my own art.

In the last two years, I feel as if I have stepped off the time-line. As if I had been following a trajectory for my life and one day I just said, oooh that's a pretty light over there -- what if I went THAT way? No, no that's not it at all. It was as if I had been a pioneer heading for the mythical west, convinced if I just kept going long enough I'd find my fortune in gold. After slogging two thousand miles in my covered wagon, supplies dwindling and horses faltering, I suddenly looked up and saw the Rocky Mountains looming in front of me. I either had to forge ahead over that (in the dead of winter no less), give up entirely and settle down where I was (my personal theory as to how Boulder, CO was founded) or head south.

I headed south.

(to be continued!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 10: "A Lovely Beginning"

I got very encouraging feedback at my "check-up" today. The class responded very positively to the first two scenes, and my teacher said I was off to a "lovely beginning". The class really connected to Frank's vulnerability and sense of isolation, and they also felt the relationship between Vivian and Angie was very real. The conflicts I presented made people curious to learn more. The class also had some good questions about a couple of plot points which I hadn't thought of, which is very helpful. Julie (my teacher) has given me the green light to keep writing, rather than go back and fix anything in the first part yet, so that is what I am doing.

One interesting thing came out of hearing my words out loud today: I realized that scene 3 needs to be a totally different scene than the one I started to write the other day. That scene between Angie and Vera (the nursing home busy-body) may appear later, but for now, the question that wants to be answered is what's at stake for Angie? How will she decide between pursuing her life-long dreams and taking care of her grandpa? That is what I am endeavoring to answer in the new scene 3. I'm only 2.5 pages in, but I have a good sense for where it's going to go.

Since I haven't entirely kicked this cold virus yet, my boyfriend has ordered me to "watch something entertaining and go to sleep". I'm expressly forbidden from posting late-night facebook status updates. (He knows me so well.) I guess I'd better listen, even though that means Angie's and her best friend Rachael's coffee will get cold...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day 9: Anticipation

Tomorrow I have my first "check-up" of sorts for this little blastocyst of a play: the first 10 pages will be read aloud in playwriting class, so that I can hear how the words sound out loud and get feedback from my teacher (Julie McKee) and the other writers in the class. I'm a little nervous. It's far too early for anyone to tell whether or not this play will come to term and find a life of its own or not, but I hope that it at least appears to be off on the right foot.

I'll report back tomorrow.

Day 8: Implantation (?)

I feel something taking root. My characters are running around in my head, through their own little world, which (amazingly to me) doesn't look like any place I've actually been. They are starting to feel real to me. The interweb tells me that "blastocysts" (as embryos are called at this point) implant somewhere between day 6 and 10. So it would seem I'm right on schedule.

Scene 3 began easily tonight, and I resisted the urge to tinker with it even though I know I'm going to have to cut a lot of it later. We're meeting my other favorite character, Vera, a fellow nursing home resident. She's a delightful (if occasionally obnoxious) bubbly busybody who just wants to connect. Unfortunately, the conversation she's having with Angie is going off in random tangents. While that may be true-to-life, it doesn't make for good theater. My philosophy is that (good) theater is life: with the boring parts cut out. Random conversation tangents - when you're not the one having them - are boring. Snip snip.

But it's not time for the delete button yet. These tangents are the characters' way of telling me their story -- the background information I need to have so they can eventually say the succinct, pithy lines that tell you all you need to know in just a few words. I'll get there eventually. I've got time -- it's only day 8. This little sucker isn't even technically an embryo yet.

I just hope it sticks -- I'm getting kind of attached to this little family.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 7: (beat)

After slogging through my office job and voice teaching whilst having a cold, I decided to take a break last night. I had a quiet evening alone with some soup and netflix -- a very rare occurence for me.

The Playwright's Guidebook: An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic WritingI felt justified in letting Frank (and Angie and Vivian) rest for day, given the advice in Stuart Spencer's The Playwright's Guidebook to let your work sit for a couple of days and then come back and look at it again, with fresh eyes.

Sometimes the most important moments in drama happen in the silences. I need to remember to give myself some.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 6: Expecting (the Unexpected)

What happened to day 5, you ask? Ask my cat. She ate it.

This isn't a flimsy excuse like "the dog ate my homework". It really was her fault. She kept me up all night Monday night because she wasn't happy with the new food I bought her (you see, Mimi, I had to go to a different pet store because the one near us was going to be closed by the time I got home from my second job, and the new store didn't have your food. It really wasn't because I don't love you anymore). With a day that started at 7am with a brutal workout and didn't end until close to 10pm, all on no sleep, I was more than a little exhausted when I got home. So I left poor Vivian and Angie stranded in the kitchen, mid-argument, for a day and a half. Luckily Frank is hanging out eating ice cream and watching the Rockford Files, so he'll be ok for awhile.

While I didn't get the writing done that I expected yesterday, I got an unexpected blessing/curse today. The curse is that I woke up at 4am with a golfball in my throat (I never did find it, but I swear it was there). Since I didn't want to expose all my Weight Watchers members and voice students to a brand-spanking-new cold, I called in sick today. Though that cost me about $150, money I can scant afford to lose, the blessing is that I got a day at home to slow down a bit and write. (Plus the best-boyfriend-ever came over with juice and wonton soup from my favorite Chinese place, Pig Heaven.)

And write I did. I am happy to report that I resisted the temptation to further tinker with pages 1-4. I have now completed scene 2, between Vivian and Angie (Frank's daughter and granddaughter, respectively), and am up to page 10. Which is how much I'm allotted to bring into playwriting class to be read aloud on Sunday, so I'm very happy about that.

I discovered a few unexpected things while writing. Setting this in 1978-79 is providing both some interesting context and some challenges. For example, a generational women's lib issue came up between mother and daughter today, which was not something I had thought in advance would be part of this play. The challenge is figuring out things like, what TV show was on after Donny and Marie in 1978? (The ABC Friday night movie, according to at least one source -- thank you google). And did people use the expression "take that and shove it" then? (turns out the answer is yes, since the song "Take This Job and Shove It" came out in 1976 -- thank you facebook friends!). In case you can't tell, I really hate inconsistencies/inaccuracies, and go to great lengths to research details like these. If one considers searching google to be "great lengths".

I'm going to let the first two scenes simmer for a bit before I try to tackle scene three. Not in small part because at this point, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever as to what scene three is going to be. I'm sure it will come to me, unexpectedly.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 4: The Temptation to Tinker

If we could tinker with a zygote's genes as easily as we can cut, copy, paste, and type over text on a computer screen, I wonder if babies would ever get made. The temptation to keep trying to make the beginning PERFECT is just so tempting, that it is difficult to just let the thing grow. But I need to let some more cells divide before I can see what kind of shape this little creation of mine is going to take, so I really need to just KEEP WRITING.

It would behoove me to re-read this blog entry before I start writing tomorrow, since tonight's labors only got me to page 6 (I was at page 4 yesterday). I kept getting ideas for ways to make the opening 4 pages better instead of just continuing to write.

I made one important discovery about this little beast, though -- my play does not want to be linear, time-wise (does this mean I'm giving birth to Benjamin Button?). Which could prove to be very interesting. Or pretentious and annoying, but I will strive to make it the former rather than the latter.

When I get up at 7 tomorrow to meet my personal trainer, I'm going to be desperately wishing I'd gone to bed earlier, so for now I must stop not only tinkering but also writing and get myself some sleep.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 3: Baby steps

My second conflict (TIME) reared its unexpected head this weekend. Yes, this weekend - where I had what looked like almost infinite time stretching out in front of me. I only had 3 objectives: start this blog, make my website, and write. No sweat, right? I did accomplish numbers 1 and 2 (hallelujah), but number 3 got less time devoted to it than I wanted. The website had to take priority, since that is a tool I need for promoting my voice teaching studio, which will both help me to pay my bills and eventually allow me more time to write. (You see, if I get enough private music students, I'll make enough money to be able to quit leading meetings for Weight Watchers, work I truly love but that doesn't pay nearly enough for the many hours it takes.) So, oddly, finishing my website was an investment in my writing future. (I must say I'm very proud of the fact that I designed my own website AND it looks pretty darn good -- check it out!

So as of Friday night, poor Frank was sitting in his EZ boy recliner, a half-played game of solitaire in front of him, with an indeterminate woman (a nurse or orderly? a fellow nursing home resident?) asking him if he wanted ice cream. He had to hang out there all day Saturday and most of the day today, ice cream surely thoroughly melted, as this afternoon was devoted to my best friend's baby shower out in Jersey. (This has me thinking, can I throw a "play" shower? Have people give me gifts of props or donations for launching the first production?)

After getting myself home from Jersey, eating a dinner of the best pizza in New York (Patsy's on 1st and 118th -- don't argue me on this point unless you've had it), and saying hello to my singing voice for the first time in a couple of months, I sat down and wrote for an hour. If you were worried about the ice cream, you can relax. It magically didn't melt, and Frank is eating it now. The first scene turns out to have been very short, so I've launched into scene 2, where we get to meet Frank's daughter and granddaughter. I'm still only on page 4, but I feel like this next scene will flow pretty easily. We'll find out tomorrow night. For now I must go placate my neglected cat and get myself some sleep.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day 2: I think I'm pregnant

I started my play last night, so by this birth metaphor, I guess I'm "pregnant". Whether or not it will take is a question still to be answered, but something has begun.

In Stuart Spencer's "Playwright's Guidebook", he speaks of writing the play you "have" to write, the story within you that is just waiting to be told. He tells tales of many playwriting students getting in their own way and hanging onto ideas that block that "real" story from coming out. So I keep asking myself, what story do I have to tell? Perfectionist that I am, I want this first play to be that story. But I don't know what that story is, and I'm not sure how to find it. Though of course I guess I do, and that's just by writing.

So where did I begin? I started with a character that I love who graced two of my short plays for playwriting class last spring and summer. His name is Frank, and he's 72. He's a taciturn, often crotchety old curmudgeon, but with a humanity that runs deep underneath. Frank was my grandfather's name. This character is not my grandfather, though he borrows a few traits like his penchant for playing solitaire and eating vanilla ice cream and graham crackers at 9pm every night. Frank was inspired by a fellow playwright in my class who is also an incredibly talented actor, Robert Frink, with a very distinct demeanor and way of speaking that I find delightful. (He will be featured in a performance of one of those scenes on Feb 6th and 7th - click here for details). I wanted to write a scene for him, which became two scenes. Everyone who has read or seen my short plays about Frank loves this character as well, so I decided he was as good a place to start writing as any. I'm not sure what Frank's story is yet, but there is something in there about loneliness and connection, something about a family that doesn't know how to give each other what they need.

I have a entire blissfully-free day stretching out in front of me to write and do a few other housekeeping things like updating my website (and nursing my boyfriend who is a bit under the weather). I'll be interested to see what happens to Frank today as I keep writing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 1: Concept(ion)

I've decided to write a play. Or, as the word playwright indicates, wright a play, the way iron is wrought, as creating a play is about far more than just writing. I've never done this before, so I'm curious about what this process will be like and want to keep a record of it. Perhaps you will find this process interesting as well. At least, that's my hope.

How - or perhaps more importantly why - does someone decide to write a play? That's a long story, which I may tell later but as I've learned in playwriting class, I don't want to start off with too much exposition before my audience cares about my characters (me, in this case). So suffice it to say that I've decided to write a play. This is the "inciting incident" or problem that begins the action, as writing a play is certainly a very big problem.

I've also learned that adding layers of conflict or obstacles to solving the problem makes things more interesting, so I'm setting up some conflicts for myself:

1) As creating a work of theater is as close as I ever plan to get to creating a life form (and inspired by the friends I have who are currently pregnant or trying to get pregnant or desperately wanting to get pregnant), I'm going to attempt to "give birth" to a play in 266 days, the typical length of human gestation from conception. As today is January 15th, my "due date" is October 8th. I aim to have a public reading of my play on that date. This is a bit ambitious, but I am nothing if not ambitious.

In addition to the element of a deadline, the other layers of conflict I have are inherent in my life and the process:

2) In addition to my creative pursuits as a singer, actress and now writer, I also work 3 jobs, have a very active social life with my chosen family of friends, and have an amazing boyfriend who deserves my time and attention. So merely finding TIME will be a challenge.

3) I have never written a full-length play before, so I don't really know what I'm doing. As a singer/performer I've co-written cabaret shows and the book for a hybrid theater-cabaret show for children, plus I've written a dozen or so 10-minute plays for my playwriting class. But a full-length play is quite a different beast and a task far more daunting. Lack of experience is another challenge.

But here I go. While I won't claim that the later stages of giving birth to a human child is easier than giving birth to a play, I can definitely say that at least with getting pregnant you know how to start. How does one start writing a play? What on earth will I write about? I guess we'll find out.