Monday, October 25, 2010

New title, new cast, new website!

So many things have been happening, I haven't had time to write.  Do forgive me!  But I'm sure you can imagine how hectic things are with the birth just around the corner on November 2nd.  And so much is changing!

First of all, my play now has a new name: BREAKING PAIRS.  I am quite enamored of this new title, and am glad that my director prompted me to change it.  While All in the Shuffle was fitting for the play once you had read/heard it, out of context it connoted something very different -- something much lighter, or even a tap-dancing musical (like "shuffling off to Buffalo").  I searched and searched and searched for something that captured the essence of the play, indicated its weight, and was a card reference (this was very important to me).  Thank you to google for turning up dictionaries of card-playing terms, which led me to BREAKING PAIRS. (To "break a pair" is to discard one of a pair, in the hopes of getting another card that will make something else work).  This phrase was incredibly apropos of my play (I won't tell you why -- some things need to be a surprise).  It landed with Steven, my director, and thus my play had a new name.

Then a few days ago, the cast finally came together!  I can hardly believe the level of talent my director has been able to secure -- all save one are long-time veterans of Broadway (and one from London's West End).  You can read all their bios on my spanking new webpage:!

All the details for the reading are on the webpage as well.  I hope you'll take a moment to check it out.  If you would like to attend the reading, please email and I will do my best to fit you in!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

for Jessica: my "cathedral made of fire"

One of the perks I offered for contributing to my play shower was a blog post on a topic of the donor's choice.  The first such request to come in was from Jessica, who became a "big sister" to my play (and the sponsor of the character of Annette).  She asked me to react to this comment in the NY Times by author Michael Cunningham:

"Many novelists ... will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent.... It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. ... It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire."

Jessica asked if I felt I had conveyed the play I wanted to write; if I ever felt frustrated at not being able to capture thoughts on the page.  A very interesting question.

I suppose I was very fortunate in writing this play the way I did. I imagine many people who begin writing do so because they have had, "for months or years", some idea in their mind, some story burning inside them, screaming to be shared with the world.  That is not how I began this play. I had no idea what story I was going to tell. I actually feared I didn't have a story to tell. I knew I wanted to write a play, but I didn't know what play. I started with a character I loved from a short play I had written, and I knew a little about his conflicts and struggles, but I didn't know how it was going to end until I was probably about two-thirds of the way into it. Even my playwriting teacher was a bit amazed by my writing process - how I would begin a scene with no idea where it was going to go, and with no idea of what the next scene was going to be. He always writes to an ending. That ending may change a dozen times or more along the way, but he is always heading towards something. I was writing blind. Many pages got thrown away in this process - probably nearly as many as remain in the play. But the only way I could discover the story was to keep writing, letting the characters talk to me, until I began to see the shape of their story.

So unlike Mr. Cunningham, I had no "cathedral made of fire" in my mind. I was even kind of prepared for the play to suck - I mean, shouldn't a first play suck? Who gets something like this right on the first try? It does happen (Crimes of the Heart was a first play, for example, and there are others), and it may even have happened here. At least there are some people who think so. But I barely dared hope for that.

Since I had no idea what to expect, and had no vision in my mind to live up to, my little play had nowhere to go but up. Since I basically had no expectations for it, it could only exceed them - not fall short. This was truly a blessing for me, I'm sure. And I'm sure that it will be difficult if not impossible to repeat, because now I have expectations.  Will the next play I write be anywhere near as good as this one? Will it take me longer to write, or less time, since I have a little better idea of what I'm doing? Haven written something good the first time out, my next play will have a precious, prized older sibling to live up to - it will be the younger sibling always striving to achieve what the first born did.

I think I may have a way around this problem though. I have already conceived of my next big creative idea, and it isn't a play. It's a musical. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 266: D Day

I can't believe it.  Day 266.  The original projected due date for my play.  And I did it.  I wrote a play.  And not only that, it's good.

This project may well be the furthest I have ever stretched myself.  I never wrote creatively before a year and a half ago -- I was always a good writer of letters, reports, commentary, that sort of thing, but I had never sat down to attempt to tell a story.  To make up a story, at that.  To create an entire universe out of thin air - a family, a history - is something I really didn't know I was capable of doing.  While I had successfully written a dozen or so short plays before attempting this full-length, telling a flash of a story in 10 minutes is very different from creating an arc over 2 hours. 104 pages!  I've never written anything close to that long, not even my Master's thesis.

When I began this project on January 15, 2010, I may have fantasized that I would be where I am right now, but I certainly didn't expect it.  To have completed 2 drafts, to have a play so strong that I have secured a director who is bringing in top notch talent in for the reading and inviting all of his industry contacts.  To have already pitched my play to a number of producers, and to have several of them interested in reading it and/or attending the reading.  To have raised over $3,500 from my community of friends, family, blog followers, theater lovers, and even some strangers in order to put on this reading at a caliber worthy of those producers' attention.  I think I figured I would put on a reading with actors I knew, for my friends and family to come see what I had done, and hope against hope that one or two of the producers I'm fortunate enough to know might attend.  But this?  This is so much more. 

There are no promises, no guarantees. Schedules change, people might not come, and even if they do they might not be interested in my play for any number of reasons.  So I'm not holding my breath yet.  But it feels wonderful to be so excited, to be so hopeful.  I think not having the expectation is allowing me to enjoy this feeling all the more, because I am not clinging so desperately to the outcome.  Oh, if only I could have had this balance in my opera career, I would have enjoyed the process so much more.  But then I might not have quit, and I wouldn't have written this play. 

This play, this baby of mine I love so dearly.  My characters are so real to me.  I know them so well, and yet they still surprise me every now and then, just like real people.  I can't wait for you all to meet them.

Happy almost-birthday, little play!  Thank you for coming into my life so that I can share you with the rest of the world.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 262: from the pitcher's mound

Yesterday I had the opportunity to pitch to about 20 producers, from Broadway to Off-Broadway to non-profit theaters, at a writer/producer "speed date" held by TRU (Theater Resources Unlimited)note: if you are in the theater business and don't know this organization, you absolutely should.  They do amazing things and have been so helpful to me.   TRU sets up producers at stations, and then writers each get 2 minutes to pitch their play, followed by 2 minutes for the producers to ask questions.  A whistle blows and the writers rotate to the next station.  It's completely relaxed and no pressure at all. NOT.

Participating came about very much at the last minute for me, so I only had since Friday to prepare my pitch and put together a packet of materials, including a one-page synopsis (which is much, much harder to write than you might guess).  I completely lost my entire weekend to this task, as it is surprisingly difficult to distill a 2 hour play down to a couple of sentences, all the while attempting to capture its essence.  How does one capture the essence of a play whose strongest quality is how real it feels?  How familiar the characters are, how true the dialogue sounds?  When I drafted my pitch and tried to say that ("with strikingly honest dialogue and hauntingly believable characters"), I was advised that I can't just say that, I have to show it.  But how do I show that?  It's not as if I can quote a few lines from the play, especially not in 2 minutes.  I still don't know the answer to that question, and I kind of had to just let that go.  I attempted to just say enough about the play to pique their interest to want to know more -- the goal was not to get a producer to sign right then and there, but to hope they might want to read the script or attend the reading in November.

With the help of the comments from the folks at TRU and my director's input, I ended up feeling as well-prepared as I could last night.  I learned a lot -- most importantly, that the plot summary I felt I had shortened as much as I possibly possibly could was still way too long.  While a few producers wanted to know more about the story, almost all of them wanted to know right away what kind of piece it is, where it is in its development, and what I want out of them -- so they know whether or not to bother being interested.  Then they can hear more about the story if they want.  I so wished I could have had a few minutes to think between producers, to try to shorten my plot summary after I'd heard that a few times, but there just wasn't time to think.  Fortunately, the whole process is intended to be a learning experience, a place to practice pitching and to learn what works and what doesn't.  And I definitely did.

The very, very best part is this: even with my imperfect pitch, 3 of the main producers (and 2 of TRU's producers-in-training) expressly asked to be invited to my reading on November 2nd!!! 2 of the 3 are Broadway producers at that.  Who knows if they will be able to come, but the fact that they were interested enough to ask thrills me.  It means I did manage to get something across about my work, I managed to present myself and my project in such a way that they want to learn more. 

When I began this project 262 days ago, I have to say I never dreamed I would be at this stage already -- that I would be pitching it to Broadway producers and actually having them be interested.  Who knows what will come of it, but it is a very auspicious beginning for my little baby.