Back last spring I mentioned participating in a Play-writing Circle and attempting to write my first play. We finished up the workshop in the beginning of May and had six months to do whatever work we wanted on our plays.
This past weekend we came together again, this time with a director and professional actors for a rehearsal on Saturday and a 15-minute reading by the actors on Sunday afternoon.
It was so much fun, and the energy generated consumed the whole weekend. This was only my second time to see actors read scripts. Last time I was just an observer; this time I obviously had a bigger stake, not only for my 15-minute segment but because I was also engaged by what my classmates had written.
For the most part the plays dealt with moderate issues: marital infidelity, sex addiction, emotional blackmail, teen-age homosexuality, and a mother-daughter confrontation. I think it says something about our lives as writers that we consider those topics “moderate.” The final piece was a beautifully-crafted monologue full of repression and fury.
While the monolog was unrelenting in its directness and emotional content, each play had at least one emotionally charged, uncomfortable moment. The thing about writing books is that as the author I get to confront those moments in private. Even when I read my writing aloud to myself I can mumble over those sensitive areas. Actor’s can’t do that.
It was interesting to watch the actors confront those moments. On the first read through there was a lot of throat clearing and sometimes stumbling over dialog. The readings were most often just putting one word after another, but there was this tremendous undercurrent of dancing around the content, flirting with it.
The look on their faces was a cross between “I can’t believe I’m going to say this on stage” and “Oh, boy, I get to say this on stage.”
Immediately after finishing there was always some body play: collapsing like a puppet whose strings had been cut, letting out a big breath, or mugging a face.
It was amazing how quickly they settled in. On the second read the embarrassment was gone and emotion pumped up the words. By the third read, all of the human response needed from the character was there.
I was darn impressed. I also realized that I don’t have to pull emotional punches in script writing any more than I do in book writing. Yes, good actors can say some very difficult things and neither the actors nor the play will fall apart.
The other little side-play was a discussion between the director and two of the actors about the meaning of a scene. The writer was sitting at the table during this discussion. If it had been me, I’m sure I would have jumped in right away to clarify what I meant when I wrote the scene. She didn’t. She allowed the actors to go through the whole discussion without input from her, and commented at the end only after they had asked her for her opinion. Ah, I thought, sometimes the best thing a writer can do is hold back and not try to be helpful.
When the circle started last spring, I had modest goals: get a couple of characters on stage and give them a few lines of dialog. My reach-for-the-star goal was to finish one act. But you know, now, I think I’ll go for the whole enchilada and finish two more acts so that I’ll have an entire play. After that — well, stay tuned for further developments.
Quote for the week:
I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.
~ Oscar Wilde; Irish poet, novelist, dramatist and critic, 1854-1900