Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 127: Letting Go

(Forgive the radio silence for the last week.  Between the play festival and finals, my students' recital, and my boyfriend's music show and birthday, I have scarcely had a moment to breathe.)

There is far more to process and learn from the experience of this last week's 48-hour play festival than I can possibly fit into one blog post, so I'll start with its biggest - and most painful - lesson: how to let go

As a performer, I am used to being in control of what happens during a live performance.  Granted, I can't control what the other performers do or how the audience reacts, but I can control my own performance and trust myself to put on a good show no matter what else happens.  As a playwright, I have discovered that it is far, far more nerve-wracking for me to be in the audience watching someone else perform my play than it is for me to be on stage myself, because I have absolutely no control over what happens.

As a playwright for this festival, it was up to me to decide how much I wanted to be part of the rehearsal process.  I chose to be part of all of it, as I love watching the process and also want to exercise control over any line changes that might be needed once the play gets up on its feet.  I think the collaborative part of creating theater is the most satisfying part: seeing what other people bring to the work I have created, and how they can help mold and shape the final touches on it.

So I was there all day last Sunday, until after their tech rehearsal, at which point I decided I had to leave.  It was too nerve-wracking for me watching the actors continue to struggle to learn their lines, and I knew that, with only 3 hours til the performance, there was nothing I could do to help.  So rather than hover over them like an anxious stage mother, I left and came back just in time for curtain.  This was the first step I took towards letting go.  It paid off in this case, as the actors pulled through reasonably well -- there was a lot of paraphrasing of my lines, but they got the story across and the audience loved it.  And of course, the play made it to the finals, so I was very happy.

Then during the week I had to let go again.  There was no time when my director and I were both available to rehearse with the actors, so I offered to rehearse with the actors once to help them with lines, and then have the director work with them.  The director didn't want me to do that, though, as she wanted to have input on the rehearsal process.  As this is her job, it made sense and I agreed.  It was very difficult for me, though, to trust the actors and director to do their jobs without me.  But I did.  And it was actually kind of nice to be able to show up at curtain time on Saturday with no extra rehearsals or anything, and I was excited to see the work they had done on the piece without me.

Unfortunately, it did not pay off this time.  The actors froze and ended up skipping over almost half of the script.  As such, my play made very little sense.  With 14 people in the audience who had come because of me, I was mortified.  Not to mention more than a little angry.  I really believed my play had a strong chance to win, and I felt like that had been ripped away from me.  Not by anything I did, but by something completely out of my control. 

Having spent my life in the theater, I understand that these things happen. There is nothing I could have done to prevent those actors from jumping ahead.  Maybe it wouldn't have happened if we'd had more rehearsal, maybe it would have.  Given that they did better with less rehearsal the weekend before, it's pointless to wonder.  If I continue on this playwright path, I am going to have to deal with directors and actors and set designers doing things that don't always please me.  And sometimes just plain screwing up.  (Unless I decide to write one-woman shows for myself to produce and perform, in which case I will only have me to blame.)  I will have to continue to trust and hope that my work can shine through regardless.

And that is what has happened.  Out of the disappointment and frustration comes a shining light:  the producers of the festival told me how highly they think of my work and that they want to work with me in the future.  Even though no one really got to see it, I did, in fact, write a damn fine play.

That's all I have control over.  I have to let go of the rest.
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