Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Oh, right, it *is* a great play

(First off, I am delighted to report that I *did* actually get my miracle on Saturday -- the rain never materialized and I had a glorious, glorious bike ride!  It was a beautiful route, 105 miles all told with getting back and forth to the start, and it honestly wasn't nearly as hard as I feared.  I felt great at the end, and wasn't even sore the next day.  I found myself giddy and laughing with pure joy at how much fun it was and how lucky I am to be able to do something like that.  All my training clearly paid off -- I can hardly wait to do the next one!)

After being reminded last week that sometimes I have to keep going even when things aren't as fun, I was then reminded in the last few days that the pay-off for doing that is rediscovering the fun and joy when things start flowing again.  I had two great days of writing after my big day of riding, and deeply reconnected with my play.  I was excited to bring my pages into class at ESPA last night, and they were very well-received.  I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish with the first two scenes, and got some good feedback that will help shape where it goes next.  I can hardly wait to have time to sit down to write again tomorrow!

I received another pleasant little jolt of encouragement after class last night.  I went to the 10-year anniversary party for the Cry Havoc Theatre Company, a great little company whose mission is the development of new plays (in 10 years, they have developed 293 of them I believe).  I was invited by one of the primary company members, a tremendous actress who did an informal reading of Breaking Pairs for me last spring.  Every time she introduced me to someone, she told them about having read for my play and that it was "great", "excellent", "I really loved it", etc.  To hear someone whose talent I greatly respect -- and who I know does not say such things lightly -- speak so highly of my work was deeply gratifying.  It helped me remember that I do actually have a great play here.  It is easy to get bogged down in the rewrite process, to get so focused on what I am trying to fix that I forget what doesn't need fixing.  At its core, I have great characters with a story that wants to be told (and that people seem to want to hear).  I can't wait to finish telling it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Riding/Writing in the rain

Tomorrow I am riding 100 miles on my bicycle for the first time.  In the rain (unless the weather suddenly takes a turn).  I have been training for this seriously since the spring, biking 100 miles plus each week and consistently increasing my longest rides.  I only began riding in July of 2010 and completed my first 50 mile ride at this time last year, so this is all rather new to me.   I'm a little scared.  And disappointed in the weather -- I so wanted this thing I have worked for so long and hard for to be perfect.  Plus, in the last two weeks things have gotten so much busier for me in the other two main areas of my life -- teaching and writing -- that suddenly this thing I've been looking forward to for so long feels a little like a burden, an obligation, something that I am doing because I said I would and because I want to accomplish it rather than something I really want to do. This makes me a little sad (and I am working very hard on an attitude adjustment).

But I am still going to do it. I am going to feel great when it is done. Hopefully it will still be lots of fun even though I know I will be in a fair amount of pain and discomfort by the end.  

There is a parallel to writing here, I promise. Sometimes, I just don't feel like writing. Sometimes it feels like slogging through the rain.  Sometimes I feel downright uncomfortable because I'm not in the moment, not in the flow, the words don't come easily. But the only way to work through it is to do it, to push myself, to put my fingers on the keys, put my feet on the pedals and ride. I had several days like that this week for writing too.  I want so badly for this rewrite to be great that sometimes I over-think it. Just like I have been so worried about being ready for this cycling century that I haven't just been riding for the fun of it, I've been riding because I know I have to in order to achieve the goals I want. This is necessary, one can't always do things just for the fun of it when you want to achieve certain goals.  If I only rode when the weather was good, I wouldn't get in shape enough to be able to do 100 miles.  If I only wrote when things were feeling good, flowing easily, who knows if I would ever actually finish a play.  But I must also try to remember in those difficult moments, even as I am uncomfortable, even as it feels like pushing, like torture, that I am doing it for the fun of it, that I am getting something out of it, and remind myself that I must ride (or write) through the rain sometimes in order to be able to ride in the sun. 

That said, I still hope the weather miraculously clears up tomorrow.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dilemma #2 (resolved!)

I have a plan!

Last week, Josh Hecht had us do several exercises in class, which culminated in crafting two sentences about our play: 1) what the play is about (not so much the plot, as the main theme) and 2) the major event of the play.

(In theatrical terms, the "event" is the moment something happens that resolves or changes the conflict that we have been watching. The thing you are waiting to find out. Not a happenstance event, like Annette's death as I discussed in my last post, but something that changes from within the characters.)

I had trouble deciding what my main event was, partly because of the trouble I have had establishing whether the play is Vivian's play or Frank's play. If it is Frank's play, the event would be Frank apologizing, and agreeing to go to a nursing home so that Vivian and Angie can get on with their lives. If it is Vivian's play, then it would be the moment that Vivian decides she is not going to sacrifice for her father anymore and is going to pursue her own dreams instead.

Ah, but wait! I had a very enlightening discussion with Steven Yuhasz this morning, the director who took my work under his wing last year and brought the reading to life with such an amazing cast. Rather than either/or, Steven had a crazy idea - perhaps the play does not end with Vivian leaving and Frank going to a nursing home. Perhaps...

Do I tell you how I think the play ends now? Or should I wait? I think I'll wait. But I now have a new major event, and a few twists on the events that will lead us to that moment. I think it is a solid outline and I honestly can't wait to start actually writing - which happens tomorrow!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dilemma #1

I am facing my first big dilemma with this new rewrite, and I haven't even written a word of it yet:

I don't know where to start the play.

Every play has an "inciting incident", or the thing that begins the action, that triggers the series of events we are about to see unfold.  (Hamlet's father's death, or the moment when Romeo and Juliet's eyes meet at the ball, for example).  Sometimes inciting incidents happen before the play starts (Hamlet) or at the beginning of the play (Romeo and Juliet).  I can't decide which mine should be.

My inciting incident is the death of Annette (Frank's wife, Vivian's mom).  It is her death that unravels the status quo and fundamentally changes the relationship between Frank and Vivian.  In the previous drafts, I have started the play when she is still alive, and she dies at the end of the first scene.  This does several things for me: 1) it allows us to meet her while she is alive; 2) it shows what her relationship with Frank was like; and 3) it allows us to see a sweeter and more human side of Frank than we usually see with him and Vivian. 

But there is a fundamental problem with both versions of the first scenes I have written -- nothing happens in them, except her death.  Which isn't really an "event" in the dramatic sense.  It is something that happens, but it is not the resolution or escalation of a conflict currently happening on stage -- it is a random occurrence, not something that is driven by the characters' choices.  So the opening scene is little more than filler, than exposition setting up who these characters are and what their relationships are like.  To be compelling dramatically, that information needs to come out in the course of CONFLICT, not just in the course of daily speech.

So I have two choices.  Either (A) figure out how to make the first scene dramatic (give it a conflict and an event other than Annette's death), or (B) start the play at Annette's funeral.  I think my instincts are telling me to start it at the funeral.  Someone at some point told me a playwriting rule: if you are debating about cutting it, cut it.  I guess I just told myself what I need to do. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Diving back in

I am getting back to what this blog was originally about, the birth of my first full-length play. The play was born last November, and it grew to a toddler with its second draft in April, and now I hope to bring it up to early adolescence, where it will be ready to be shaped and formed by others (actors, directors, producers) the way a teen is molded by her peers. I am eager to document this process again, if for no other reason than to look back on it myself later on to wonder how I actually did it.

I am enrolled in a rewrite class at ESPA with Josh Hecht, a director who works almost exclusively on new plays. I was thrilled with the class tonight; the structure we are going to follow is exactly the kind of class I like, and already in the first night he helped me to discover a number of things about my play that are going to shape and inform the rewrite. Most importantly, I realized that the play is not about what I thought it was about. It is about something that I seem to keep writing about - what may, in fact, be my uber-theme that will permeate much of my writing: when is it ok to be selfish, and when do you sacrifice for other people?

I never would have figured this out if I hadn't taken the Short Forms class this summer, where I discovered that that was the question my short play-cum-tv pilot was asking. So while I was beating myself up a bit for getting distracted by writing other things than this play, I now feel ready to do this rewrite and I know it will be a far better play than it would have been before I took that class.

Take a deep breath, I'm going back in. I hope you'll follow along with me and Frank, Vivian, Angie, Annette, Arnold and Vera as we all grow and develop.