Posts Tagged ‘playwrights’

Building the Play: I only get my Rocks off when I’m dreaming…

January 28th, 2011 No comments

Or, production meeting blues. The place where reality meets vision. Sort of like running into a brick wall full speed. Some things give and unfortunately they’re all you. Your tooth might leave a mark, but don’t count on it.

So, yeah. What else is there to say? Does it mean the play will stink? God, I hope not. Regardless of the resources not being as anticipated there are many dedicated theater folks working on this play, and I have been assured by Zoldessy that he’s got a solid vision and that it is do-able. The bells and whistles will be shifting lights, crepe, and whatever I roll out of my basement. God knows, with the content, I’ve already emptied out my attic.

I spent the evening up until now in re-writes: it took me 3 hours to get through 21 pages. (Only 28 more to go!) Talked with Mike earlier and got some context for the re-write notes of my earlier post. He helped clarify and map out a plan. Talked with Zoldessy this afternoon. It was constructive. He had draft feedback from Draft 3 that spoke well to changes I intended for Draft 4. I told him I’d turn around the script as soon as possible given his (and the actors I’m sure) interest in getting the thing in their hands asap. The major re-writes, according to the time table we where given at the first production meeting, are due 1/31.

Had a strange moment last night. When I was in college I read a book called Crisis and Story (well, part of it) which was to accompany The Bible. The first book providing context to the latter book. (Not the book of latter day…) Anyway, I have decided to re-set and start reading from the beginning again: Bible, Greek myths, Greek plays, etc. Begin at the beginning because there has been a lot I’ve overlooked in my years and with the MFA coming to a close I will now have to self-motivate, which will not be easy. So, anyway, I open up the book to the first chapter in Crisis and Story and what do you think it’s called? Patterns of Memory. Patterns of Memory. The fact that my play is named Patterns aside… And the thematic message of the chapter? How story shapes identity. How stories are re-interpreted through time to meet the needs of people in that time and how the time in which stories are re-interpreted informs the stories and how the stories, of course, impact that time. To me, it was a sign. A sign I’m on the right track. That taking a moment to “breathe” and look around was warranted. That I can refresh my vision for this play (one last time). Sure, I know, sign shmine. I know I read the book before (part of it–hey, it was undergrad…) so a good argument can be made that all that stuff has just sat latently around in my subconscious dying to get out in some way, and that may be true. But to discover it again at precisely this moment…

So, right now I’m procrastinating, sort of. Avoiding the rest of the task which must be done. Claire Robinson May’s play Mother Tongue is up at Big Box tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday. Saw her just yesterday morning dropping off the kids, and in the reading of Patterns on Tuesday. Lots of the playwriting folks are there tonight. Hope all went well for her. Looking forward to seeing it tomorrow. Got my tickets two weeks ago–glad I did because it’s sold out!

Building the Play: Re-Writes

January 27th, 2011 No comments

What can I say about re-writes? Hmmm. Self-defeating, triumphant, withering, the source of endless self-questioning, confusing, revisionist approach to history, etc.

There is much to be said for Shepard’s belief that the first shot is the one. Period.

I wrote a while back about Wallace Shawn’s piece in American Theatre where he discusses editing. Well, Sex and Editing. In that blog entry I wrote that:

The small kudos paid to the logical dweller in the great cavern who’s only pedantic offering is to sort things out. And I don’t underestimate this by any stretch of the imagination. Shawn is quite right to point to the “skill” required, for it is that. It is one that I am still honing. I can catch the torrent and ensure that it pours out onto a page. It is that skill at going back and doing the “modest organizing” and the “finding” that is most important. To pare down the utterance. To select. And yet NOT TO HARM or DISTORT the voice.

And, of course, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I found myself right back in this same place. I guess I’m finding that the true challenge in writing is how to become a good editor–and pedantic organizer.

I’ve just gone through one round of meetings and revisions only to have a reading where the whole structure of my piece has been called into question; and hence, made me call it into question (right at the point where I should be affirming, not doubting–rehearsals begin in a week).

The main comment that has set me off is that “pattern is no replacement for narrative”.

That was the comment. The whole premise of my play is precisely that. It is precisely that pattern is a replacement for narrative. The human mind actively seeks pattern. The human mind finds pattern and then makes meaning out of the repetition. This is absolutely true. It has been proven time and again by cognitive scientists and psychologists and computer scientists, and even though I know that is a “weasel” statement, because I have no intention of finding citations at this time to back that sentence up. But I’m not even concerned about the assertion right now so much as I’m concerned about the fact that my specific set of patterns aren’t working.

Then again, maybe they are. I don’t know how many people who heard the reading felt that “pattern is no replacement for narrative” and how many felt the opposite. You see, the trouble here is that narrative has functioned in 1) (subversively) the structure of how plays are written; and 2) (overtly) using a narrator or strong exposition; for so long that people come to expect that sort of guidance. Hence, when you don’t provide it (intentionally) they might just not be used to it. It’s not that they don’t get it, but that they don’t like it.

The contradiction between the two paragraphs above is not me being fickle, but rather it highlights, I think, the inherent problem of re-writing and revision: you may have done it right the first time but given the opportunity to re-examine what you’ve done, you start to tinker where you should have left well-enough alone. This is especially the case where there are readings, and more readings, and more readings, and you gather input from more and more people. Perhaps the best example of this is contained in these two quotes:

Patterns not necessarily a substitute for narrative

Really felt the oppression of repetition…the oppression is in the repetition itself.

That is, if my interpretation is correct, there are some who felt that there was something missing from the play without the standard through-line of narrative; and others who felt as if the patterns used were oppressive–hence, overly strong. How do you deal with that? Two people expressing completely opposing views of what is wrong with the play?

The obvious answer is to ignore both and just assume that you’re right on the mark, which is what I’ll have to do.

The good thing about readings is that you can tell where things are just too damn long. There are places in the play where it just drags a bit. These are places to cut and re-draft. This is easy. It’s in the structure or “theoretical” parts of how you’ve built the play that the damage can be done if you’ve mis-stepped. For instance, right now the play is cast, so there is very little I can do in editing it–that is, I can’t really cut characters or re-think them. I have to work within the framework that exists now.

Let’s hope that’s a good thing.

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