Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 161: Monday report: up to 64 pages!

Here is my every-Monday progress report that I promised as part of my renewed focus on finishing my play:

I devoted about 9 hours yesterday to writing.  I wrote a new scene, incorporated a pre-existing scene (one of the short plays that inspired this work), and also went through the whole script so far and did a fair amount of editing and reconciling to make the old stuff make sense with the new stuff I've written.  I am now up to page 64.  I am aiming for 90-120 pages, although I'm trying not to worry too much about the length and just write how ever much I need to tell the story. 

Oh how glorious it felt to get back to my play!  I had missed my "family".  It was wonderful to hear them speaking and watch them moving through their imaginary world again as they unfold this story for me.  This process feels a little different now, though, then it did before.  While I do still hear them saying things, I'm also noticing that my "craft" is coming into play more -- instead of just writing whatever comes out, I am now shaping things more, like when I see that I need to set something up better in order to give it a better pay-off, or when I catch myself writing too much exposition and need to weave in the back-story through conflict instead.  (You see, one of the cardinal rules of playwriting is to avoid the phrase "remember when...".  Audiences don't want to watch characters reminisce; they want to watch them act/react in the moment.  The past has to come through their current actions.)  Often times scenes will come out of me that are nothing but reminiscing -- this is the characters' way of telling me their backstory.  Those scenes are useful for me as the writer, but they don't get to stay in the play.  Instead I have to find a way to weave the back-story into the present story.  One of the ways I am accomplishing this is by using a ghost.  She isn't really a ghost, she is an external manifestation of an inner dialogue that the characters are having.  (If you've ever lost someone important to you, you have probably had imaginary conversations with them after they passed.  That's what I'm talking about.)  It's an interesting device that the people who have read the play so far have found effective. 

But the best part about yesterday's writing is that I am over-flowing with inspiration right now!  I so wish I could have stayed home from work to just write all day.  I got all sorts of ideas as I was walking to work this morning.  A bit of an outline is coming into my head, which is very exciting.  Up until now, I have been writing completely blind with no idea of where this was going to end up.  But enough pieces of the puzzle are in place now that I am starting to be able to see what is missing.

I can't wait to sit back down to write again as soon as possible.  I think an iPad may be in my future so I can sit down to write anywhere and everywhere....

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 160: Diving back in

It's Sunday, the first full day off I've had in awhile.  I have set aside the day to write, no other expectations.  I should probably also do laundry and clean my apartment, but I really don't want to take away from my time to write.  So I'm going to put even those things aside.

I've enjoyed an all-too-rare relaxing morning with my boyfriend, relishing that I didn't have to run off to work or teach.  But now that it is time to get started writing, I find I have a pit of anxiety in my tummy.  My mind has no label for this anxiety -- it is purely physical.  I'm not sure if I'm just having a hard time letting down after having been running so non-stop, or if I'm subconsciously nervous about getting back to writing, afraid I won't be able to come up with anything.  Or maybe I'm not nervous, maybe I'm excited.  I always tell my students with stage fright that the physiological response to anxiety and excitement are exactly the same -  it's up to you to decide whether you are mentally on a roller coaster having a great time or if you are about to get in a car accident.  This seems like a good time to take my own advice and tell myself I'm not nervous, I'm excited to get back to writing my play.

Whee, how exciting!  I get to write on my play today!  Time to kick the boyfriend out and get to work.  I'll let you know tomorrow how it goes.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 159: Why I love NY (or how not to be precious)

Last night I found myself in a little park at the corner of 2nd Ave and 10th Street, eating a frozen yogurt and listening to someone play a very out-of-tune piano.  Yes, a piano, outside, in the park.  It is part of the Play Me, I'm Yours art project going on in NYC until July 5th (click on the link for more info).  These pianos are located in various places around the city, for anyone to come and play.  The pianos will be donated to schools and community organizations after the project is over.  This is exceedingly cool on more fronts than I can count.

So there I was, at 11pm on a warm summer night, outside listening to a couple of very talented pianists taking turns playing songs they knew.  There wasn't a line of people waiting to play, so they kept switching off and trying to remember more pieces, sometimes more successfully than others.  There was a nice, shifting crowd of people around, thoroughly enjoying the free entertainment (despite the rather dismal quality of the piano itself).  I finally got the guts up to play the one song I know by heart (Solfeggietto by CPE Bach, which I learned in probably 4th grade and is, sadly, still the only piece I know by heart on the piano).   I was wishing that I knew the accompaniment to some of my own songs so I could play and sing something.  My boyfriend then reminded me that one of the pianists had been playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow earlier, so I asked him if he'd be willing to play it for me while I sang.  We negotiated keys for a moment (which proved to be completely pointless, given how far off from true pitch the piano was), and then performed together.
As soon as I started singing, everyone from the sidewalk moved in and gathered around closer to listen.  Despite the tempo being a mile off from what I normally do, and god only knows what key I was actually singing it, it felt wonderful.  My voice was easy and free, the pianist and I were listening to each other and making music together, and the crowd was rapt.  It was a glorious moment, and one that is hard to imagine happening anywhere besides New York.

It is only in the last couple of years that I have found the freedom to sing spontaneously like that.  I took my singing so seriously and was so self-conscious about it being "perfect", that I was uncomfortable singing off the cuff.  Now, it is one of my favorite things to do.  Having taken the pressure off of myself to make money as a singer, I can truly just enjoy the art for the art's sake, and rest comfortably knowing that even if it is not "perfect", it is pretty damn awesome and people enjoy it.  Including me.

I don't ever want to become as precious about my playwriting as I used to be about my singing.  I met someone recently who will be going to grad school for playwriting in the fall, and I thought "wow, people go to grad school for this thing I'm just doing."  For a moment, I thought perhaps it was a bit arrogant of me to think I could do this thing - and do it well - without more formal study.  But I actually think my lack of formal training is a big leg-up for me: I am not "in my head" about my writing, not over-analyzing, over-working, trying too hard.  Which is - I know now - a lot of what held me back as an opera singer.  But with my writing, I go by instinct.  A life spent in the theater has taught me what makes good theater, so I know if what I'm writing works or not (and trust that).  I am also writing purely for the joy of it.  While I won't lie and say I don't dream of winning a Tony for best play, my main drive for writing is not fame and fortune.  I know all too well how elusive those are regardless of how talented and driven one might be.  And little moments like last night are a great reminder for me of the most important reason why I do this crazy thing called art: to bring people together.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 155: Refocus

Hello, blog, I've missed you.  I hope a few of you are still there.

The last several weeks I have been occupied/distracted/side-tracked with wonderful, important projects that have done a lot for me as an artist.  I had the 48 hour play festival, a recital for my voice studio as well as a voice teaching seminar, a performance of my own with Kat, plus curating last weekend's Ladies Lab of short plays by women playwrights as well as producing my own short play within that.  It has been intense and crazy and exhausting and exhilarating and rewarding and frustrating and wonderful and promising.  I've developed relationships with a talented (and connected) director, wonderful actors, and producing organizations that have expressed interest in my work.  I've even been asked about possibly writing the book for a musical.  So I don't regret any of it (though I wish maybe they hadn't all happened quite so on top of each other).  But my blog and my full-length play (not to mention my boyfriend and my friends) have suffered from a lack of attention during this time.  It's time to refocus.

Looking over my blogging habits and my writing habits, I was more focused on the play when I was also more dedicated to blogging about it.  It is a form of accountability.  I have a number of people who are now clamoring to read and possibly work on this full-length play, as well as some opportunities to submit it places, and I really need to get it done.   More importantly, I miss Frank.  And Vivian, and Angie, and Annette.  I want to talk to them again.  I feel them dancing in my head, in the background, patiently waiting to tell me more of their story.  I can't wait to get back to hear what they have to say.

Since the playwriting class I was going to take this summer may not be happening now, I have to find my own form of accountability.  I'm going to start here.  Every Monday, I will report the progress I made on the play during the previous week, and I will post at least two other times during the week as well.  That is my commitment to myself, and to you.   Feel free to call me out on it if you notice me slacking.

I look forward to reconnecting to my play, to this process, and to all of you.



Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 149: My next short play!

I can't believe I've been so insanely busy that I haven't even had time to post about my next short play!  Performances are this Saturday and Sunday (details below).  This is probably my favorite short play I have written, Spirit Dust, set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.  I'm working with a superb director, Paul Stancato (who just came from directing the national tour of the Lion King), and two beautifully talented actresses, Suzee Dunn and Sally Burtenshaw.  Tickets are completely sold out for Saturday, and Sunday is filling up fast, so get your ticket online ASAP!  Details below.

I'm trying an experiment with this play: after finishing the rewrites from the first 2 rehearsals, I have now stepped back and will not be attending the rest of the rehearsals.  I will just show up on Saturday and sit in the audience and see what they have done with my play.  While part of my brain says "eeeek!", the other part trusts that the wonderful people I have chosen to work on this will do great work and is actually excited about this.  I know I'll still be nervous the night of the show (have I mentioned how much more nerve-wracking it is to watch someone perform my play than it is to perform myself?), but it is refreshing to let go of some control.  I'll let you know how I feel about the experience when I come out the other side of it.

The other interesting part of this performance is that I have taken on the role of "curator": I selected all of the playwrights and their plays, and am basically doing all of the coordinating of the event without assuming the financial risks or rewards of producing it (though I'm still paying for the rehearsal and production of my own play).  I seem to be really good at this sort of thing, and am wondering if perhaps I'm going to end up being a producer....  Though I loathe the thought of dealing with the money side of things, so I don't know.  But given the success we are having with selling tickets for this run, I am considering producing another run of it myself, perhaps in partnership with one of the other writers.  We shall see. 

In the mean time, come on down for what promises to be a lovely night of theater!  Did I mention that all the plays are by women?  I didn't start out trying to make that happen, but all the writers who responded to me at first were women, so I decided to make a thing of it.  In a world where only 17% of plays produced are written by women, it is exciting to put together a program by so many talented women writers.  I hope to see you there!

John Chatterton's Short Play Lab presents:

Ladies' Lab: Short Plays to Amuse and Amaze

Seven women playwrights bring you seven smokin' hot new plays, curated by Natalie Wilson.

7pm Saturday June 19th
4pm Sunday June 20th

Roy Arias Payan Theatre
300 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor (@ 8th Ave)

Tickets: $18 (available online at, or by calling 212-868-4444)

For information about the plays, visit my website.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 141: Where oh where has my blogging bug gone?

I'm a little surprised at myself that I missed my half-way mark.  Day 133 came and went without my marking its passage.  That's a little nerve-wracking, both because it's an indication of how much I've been slacking on the blog and because of how much work I still have to do on my play to  finish it by October.

I feel a little sad that I'm not as motivated to write in my blog as I was before.  Though it's not just a matter of motivation, it's more that I don't feel the impulse or the need to write in it as often.  I am still completely dedicated to my project - I have no desire or impulse to abandon that - I just feel like I have less to say about it all lately.  Sometimes I feel that what I want to say is now always a variation on themes I have written before, so I feel less compelled to write.  And, as always, my time is so divided that writing in my blog most always has to come at the expense of something else.  If I have to choose between writing in my blog or fitting in some exercise before work, right now the exercise wins.  (my waist band certainly knows I need it, after all the glutonous eating I did on my vacation...)

The next two weeks are another whirlwind of events for me, covering all areas of my creative life: a voice teaching seminar at Actor's Connection on Thursday, my own singing performance with Kat for a benefit on Saturday, and performances of one of my short plays ("Spirit Dust") the following weekend (not to mention that my parents will be visiting for the first time in 3 years).  I was going 100 miles an hour before my vacation, stopped for 6 blissful days, then had to jump right back on the 100 mile an hour treadmill again.  It's been a bit of a rough re-entry. 

I promise you haven't seen the last of me.  My impulse to blog may pick up as my summer slows down in a few weeks (I hope, on both counts).  Certainly my play writing will pick up again, as I've signed up for another playwriting class to make sure I keep producing every week. 

In the meantime, I hope you all are enjoying the beginnings of summer, and that perhaps I'll see you at one my plays coming up on the 19th and 20th!