How Not To Write A Play In Seven Hours
Hi All, I survived the 24-Hour Play Festival! My play Brother Will, Brother John was pretty lousy. I was cold and tired for the entire 7 hours I was writing, and I dozed through the auditions at 9:30am. But, I really want to write another play in 2012!
What I learned:
1. It's okay to have a few ideas beforehand. I had tried to empty my mind before I showed up for the midnight meeting. Unfortunately I succeeded. . .and it was really hard to generate ideas past a first page! I came up with 10 different scenarios but couldn't get anything going. I figured it would be cheating to have any preconceived notions; that was silly of me and yet another example of my diva perfectionism. Over the course of the year I'll write down a few scenarios that interest me, and then at least I'll have a small bank to draw on if I draw a blank. I'll also write down a few scenarios that I will forbid myself to use, so I don't turn into a cliche factory.
2. Don't read Sondheim. I received Stephen Sondheim's wonderful new book, Finishing The Hat, as a Christmas present and I savored a chapter each day. In the book, Sondheim dishes on how he wrote (and rewrote and rewrote) his brilliant lyrics, books and music. He also disses several of my favorite dead librettists. Reading Sondheim before writing dialogue makes one want to write like Sondheim, and that ain't possible. Everything I wrote felt clunky and uninspired after reading the lyrics to A Little Night Music, and I probably aborted several workable scenarios far too early. So, no more reading of the masters before this kind of assignment. Instead, I'll read the National Enquirer.
3. Good actors and directors can make anything better if you give them the space. I've written some pretty good stuff (no, no, really I have) and while sometimes things have gone well, I've also watched thoughtless directors and shaky actors suck the life and sparkle out of it. I tried to control the damage, but was mostly unsuccessful. It was painful to witness and experience-- and it goes with being a writer.
I didn't know I could have the opposite experience. This time, the director and actors saved me. I turned in a ho-hum play at 7am and twelve hours later, I was amazed to find the actors rehearsing something that even they found amusing. They took my Edsel of a play and got it going, and I was amazed to hear actual laughter from the audience as they performed. I am grateful to them!