Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day 20: Uncovering

If it's bad form for a cook to say how yummy their food is, is it also bad form a playwright to laugh and cry while watching one of her own works?

Last night's rehearsal of All in the Shuffle (the Frank scene that is performing this weekend) left me feeling like I'd been punched in the gut. This might not sound like a good thing, but I think when a piece of theater can do that, you've really got something. If my actors do in performance what they did last night, I doubt there will be a dry eye in the house. If it's not too brazen for me to say so.

One of the most fascinating parts of this rehearsal process -- and what I love about how my director, Dann Fink, works -- is hearing what the actors and director pull out of my script beyond what is written on the page. He will ask them to flush out all these details of who they are, where they are, who the other people in their lives are, what they do, what their day was like before the scene, what happened 30 years ago to lead them to this place. A lot of the time, the actors say what it was I had in my mind, even if I hadn't expressly written it in the script. It really is as if these characters and this story already exist, and there are facts about them that are just true. And not just in my head, but also in everyone else's. One example: I had been struggling to figure out what was wrong with Angie's brother, Billy. I knew there was something wrong with him, but wasn't sure what. I got a sudden idea and jotted down on the back of the script "Billy has PTSD from Vietnam". Not two minutes later, Laura ("Angie") said "I was thinking maybe Billy had PTSD from serving in Vietnam". Almost creepy.

I remember reading that Michaelangelo felt that the sculptures he made already existed in the marble, he just had to uncover them. I think that's why my favorite works of his are the Prisoners, where you can see these characters that are still trapped in the stone, not quite free yet. My play feels like that right now -- it is there, just waiting for me to uncover it.

I look forward to having time to return to the actual writing of this play, once this performance is over. But I know that I will return to the writing with a fresh perspective on these characters, and a deeper understanding of what is working (and what might not be) in my writing. It's certainly still time well-spent.


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