What’s happening this summer?

It is already June, and I am soooo behind. My goal for this summer was to publish four handbooks, charging very little for them, so you could have a kind of road map to how a more productive and active summer than might be usual for those of you who just want to chill out for a few months.

Handbooks for the summer on Kindle

So how am I doing? I do have two handbooks finished and published in the Kindle bookstore. Two more scheduled now for late summer, but I take heart that maybe they won’t be so late after all because one of them is about what you can do to prepare for fall, whether you are in school still or not.

In case there is still time for performing arts career direction, even though you might already be immersed in summer activities, here they are:

You can check them out by following the links to my Kindle bookshelf.

Online Theatre Repertory

What is it that has made these handbooks so late? Yes, I do live within walking distance of the beach, but at my age, sun is not my friend. No, I have been indoors, at this computer, writing original dialogue for what I call podcasts, but which are audio versions of theatre repertory. The dialogue ties together pieces and cuttings from novels and short stories, poems, plays, and essays around a theme. This next podcast is about the Summer Olympics in Rio. George wants to go to Rio. Martha, his wife, just laughs at him, knowing he expects the Girl from Ipanema will materialize on the beaches there.

I bet none of you know who the heck that is. Ask someone older.

So the podcast involves finding a theme, then finding and cutting pieces we can use (without infringing on copyright), rehearsing with me directing and acting, and teaching what I know about the techniques of oral interpretation of literature. Then we record it all and edit the recordings,

We’ve done three so far. You can catch the latest on www.theatrefollies.com.

I am also preparing a workshop for my community theatre on how to do Readers Theatre, a form of theatre I really enjoy because it makes good use of the voice.  It will be ready this fall and I plan to make it available online. You teachers out there may want to check it out on www.theatreowl.com.

If this issue sounds like a pitch to sell, or as the Car Talk brothers call it, “shameless commerce,” it is. Lots have gone into these projects and I would like to know that maybe some of it is useful or instructive, or merely entertaining for you.

All of this is going on in what are the hottest and most humid days and nights of the Florida seasons. But no sweat! I’m doing theatre!

What are you doing?

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Podcasts for everyone

There is this not-so-diverse group, all with some interest and experience in theatre, that meets once every two months to put together a program of pieces centered roughly around a theme. We perform it, radio style. Oral interpretation of literature, we used to call it. This time, we found poetry and prose around spring and the garden as a metaphor for our lives. Some of it is serious, such as a few short poems and a cutting from a garden diary. Otherwise, we lighten it up with things like Mark Twain’s Diary of Adam and Eve and snippy snippets from Dorothy Parker.

The thing is, I like theatre. That means plays. No plays in this spring podcast edition.

I have never liked working with people, with groups. Team sports wouldn’t have been for me. I am a tennis type. Even better, just let me play solitaire and I’d be happy. Hence, I don’t mind writing. Writing is usually a solitary endeavor. Until, however, you get other people involved for, say, reading the play you just wrote. The dilemma is, then, how in the world did I get involved in theatre? Theatre always involves… people.

So my latest strategy is not to argue for plays. Someone in my four-person group wants poems? Great. Someone else wants an essay or a short story? Have at it! I want a play! Too bad for me.

But I am subtly getting a play in anyway. I am writing it. I devised a married couple, George and Martha, (not THAT married couple!) who tie the literature and pieces together through a brief look at their own lives. Theatre! (I hope.)

I am going to continue this idea. I am going to keep developing these two, until the podcasts become web series with these two and a few more characters at the heart of it.

Stay tuned! Meanwhile, check out “Growing Pains,” the podcast.

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The Blame Game and the Playwright

I’d like to blame it all on the person who is in charge of our readers theatre group. She tanked my play reading.

We all love to place blame and who can blame us? Blame must be found somewhere and it surely can’t be heaped on ourselves. Blaming ourselves would make us less than perfect (human, in other words) and would attract all sorts of negative vibrations lurking about the universe. Can’t have that. So let’s blame someone else.

Blame for what?

My group staged a reading for the board of directors of the community theatre that has agreed to produce it. My play had a very bad reading for the board. We read the play so the board could decide whether to produce it next spring. We read the play after a work day, after a two-hour board meeting, and in a room so dimly lighted, you could barely read the scripts. Also, (back to blame) it was miscast, un-directed, under-rehearsed, and just plain boring. Very little acting. Very little expression in that dim light. I was mortified. Poor me! And I wasn’t to blame!

Or was I.

My first take, blaming myself after all, was that how did I not know that I wrote a play that was too boring for words?

But wait.

How did blame get into this at all? Nothing to be gained by placing blame. To cast about to find culprits to heap blame upon, even myself, does absolutely nothing but make everyone feel bad. In this blame game, there are winners. If there are winners, there are also losers.

Winners and losers does not make the play more producible.

First, it wasn’t a successful reading. Second, the audience was bored to tears. That is the truth of it, and to acknowledge it, is not the same as placing blame.

Why didn’t it work? Is a better question than trying to assign blame. Because if I ask that question, it all comes right back to me. But not to blame me, but to see what I can learn about this magnificent failure.

Why?

Because I lost control of the project and I gave it away willingly. I knew down deep where I live, that reading the play without much rehearsal in a dimly lighted room, by a cast who had no experience with this kind of thing, to a handful of people who had just had a two-hour meeting also in this deadly dim room at night, after a their day jobs, was never a good idea.

Nor was me directing it a good idea. I needed to learn and see for myself what a director might make of the play. The thing is, the person who insisted on taking the directing away from me and direct it herself, did no job at all: called two rehearsals, had two read-throughs, and dismissed everyone without so much as a note for improvement.

But I gave it away, all because I didn’t want to direct it, with all the work that brings. I wanted to be finished with this project, to move on to writing the next play, which already has a good start.

The administrative side to the arts has to ask, “If I make this choice, what will happen to the product or service? What will happen to the customers or clients?”

I didn’t ask that and that is at the heart of this failure. Not to direct it, to make it as good a performance as we were able, was to let it fail.

Playwright’s responsibility

My responsibility, if I am going to bring a new art work into this world, is to give it the best launch possible.

The thing about writing is that the writer’s administrative responsibilities flow all through the process and the process consists of much more than writing. The writing, the product, is only the beginning, because what good is that product if it doesn’t do what it was meant to do. A car is made to get a person from place-to-place safely.

A play is meant to be acted and be seen, to hold up some kind of mirror to what it means to be human.

And all of that means, you must follow the whole process, all of it, pleasant or unpleasant.

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Absorbing the slings and arrows

My play is getting a reading and maybe even a full-blown production. That’s nice.

I am getting criticism at every turn. That’s nice.

The play is still being tweaked by my readers. One fellow, a natural-born fact checker, found two historical mistakes. I welcomed that. Things can get by an author.

There were more comments, of course. These generous people were helping make the play better by pointing out what didn’t work for them and what did. For the first time ever, I allowed myself to hear the good, as well as the bad.

I also realized these comments weren’t directed at me. In other words, I am not the play. It is a thing “out there” and is a kind of product that I brought into being.

But lately, some comments have been sharp and seemed to be aimed at me, personally. “Oh, you can’t direct like that. Our people just want to do it the way we always do it.” These weren’t the exact words, but how I interpreted them. What our leader who said them meant that she would direct the play herself. I felt the usual shame and inner dialogue: “Why didn’t I get it perfect! What’s wrong with me! I can’t write worth a damn!” Notice how “I”, or my ego has gotten right in the middle of this. It is “me” who isn’t worth a damn, etc etc.

And outside the play criticism, I have taken hits. We are to give a kind of holiday performance. “Something entertaining! Skits!” our leader urged us. “Something fun!”

I had always wanted to read A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. The language is so rich and flowing, it is perfect for oral interpretation. “No, no,” sternly, and giving me the up-and-down look reserved for a fashion faux pas. “Too highbrow.” Said like no matter what I suggested, it would go right over the audience’s heads. Said like, “I’ve got your number, you… you intellectual!”

Again, I felt shame. Why couldn’t I be just a regular person and like what everybody likes? Nothing wrong with skits except they bore me silly.

Again, I put “me” right in it.

And then, talking to a non-theatre friend about the play and the rehearsals and how I’m designing a new web site for my plays and novels, her cheery comment was how much she admired how “busy” I kept myself. I was some poor creature who needed a good pat on the head for staying out of trouble.

Good grief! “Busy?” I am dealing with meaningful art, I hope, and have set about inspiring others to pursue their goals in the performing arts, and to have some success of my own in the arts.

But once again, “me” got right in the middle of it.

But even as I felt bad, I had to admit that things are changing. I wallowed in my misery, all right, but this time it didn’t last. In the past, it would be weeks, months, a year, before I could bring myself to write anything. I wasn’t cutting it. I was being ridiculed as a pretender. Poor me!

No matter what my ego was whispering, I could not sustain the misery of feeling ashamed and believing I had no right to a life in art. It went away, even as my ego struggled to keep it going. Instead, I had to wonder if I was clairvoyant or something that I was so sure I knew that people were talking about my shortcomings 24/7. Am I really that important to people? Nope. That’s just storytelling.

But being told I kept “busy” forced me to reconsider my goals. I read them over and even my ego couldn’t dismiss any of them as “busy.” Therefore “busy” has nothing to do with my true self and Martha Beck’s North Star that I’m following. But this episode did prompt me to strengthen my goals and my resolve to see them through. And to see there can be a good side of criticism.

I have come to realize that I am an artist, maybe not a household name, but I am creative and can write fairly well and am getting better all the time. For every writer (even the great Steven Sondheim) knows it could always be better, which inspires one to get on with the next play or novel or blog or whatever.

The other effects of criticism

What has changed for me about these critical hits is that:

  1. I now find these comments only mildly annoying.
  2. The comments exist outside of my true self.
  3. I can make things better/different in some way because of them.
  4. There are just as many positive comments, but this time, I am listening to those, too.
  5. (DRUM ROLL!) The hidden good news underneath these comments and criticism, harsh or mild, have nothing to do with my true self, but all to do with the fact that I am in the game. I am a player. I have something “out there” that has gotten notice. I am creating things that other people have seen.

I win!

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Director as traffic cop: the administration part of the job

So I’m directing the play I just wrote. Or at least I was.

I spent a week going over my own script to determine how best to bring it alive in the reading we’re doing to show the board of directors of my community theatre an idea of what the play would be like should they chose to produce it.

But what a disaster! The readers theatre group, whose leader’s idea of theatre is one mindless “skit” after another. To be fair, there is a part of this group who want to do more and has already performed for an audience.

I’m resigned that my play is not going to get that kind of reading. Partly my fault. I wanted to do a real readers theatre, with some movement and acting and voice work. Big mistake. I went right over everybody’s head and expectations, so the directing was taken away from me.

Am I bitter? Am I chagrined?

Nope. I was elated! I did not want to direct anything with such a large cast. Also, I the wrong approach for this group. So when the suggestion came that someone else direct, it was a huge relief! I get to spend more time on new writing projects: I have another play in the works and another novel. (A playwriting teacher said it was probably good to have two things going on and I agree.)

Outside, I was humble and grateful for this person taking on my directorial duties. Her main problem with me, she told me solemnly, was that I was “too detailed.” “Too right-brained.” I agreed, but said nothing further. Like I was left-brained enough to write the damned thing in the first place. And in the second place, I was creative enough to block the play creatively for an interesting reading. Where I made a mistake was in assuming this group wanted to stretch and reach for more. Some of them do. The leader of this group did not.

Directing requires good administration skills

Now here comes two lessons I learned: 1) don’t do things that you really don’t want to do. Ask for help. Let things go when every part of your being is screaming for you to run and run fast and far. Which is what directing this was making me do.

And 2) directing is more than a creative activity. It involves decision-making, attention to details (despite the criticism of this person), budgetary skills, and general management skills. In other words, a director is a business administrator in charge of a division of the company, the play being one part of the theatre’s (company) season.

Here’s how administration was already working in this particular example.

  1. As an administrator, I drew up what we would be doing at each of the rehearsals and who was called. Emailed that to everyone.
  2. I finalized and formatted the script in a printing version that everyone could read easily, had them printed and bound them. Made sure everyone had a copy.
  3. I brought pencils to the rehearsal for taking the notes I was going to give (actors never seem to remember that they need something to take down blocking.) This group were surprised that there would be anything to note. Surely blocking was only for the main stage.
  4. I brought highlighters so the actors could highlight their lines. This they got and were grateful for.
  5. People who had conflicts emailed me, sure that I would resolve things and I did and did it surely and quickly. We were ready for the next rehearsal. I even printed extra scripts just in case.

What happened so far

The rehearsal day came with the new, non-detail-oriented director in charge. She told me she was going to recast it a little. Fine, I said. Directors can do that.

She told me we would have a table read-through after our regular group meeting. Fine, even though a read-through is what we already had. But fine. Up to her. Not me. I would just show up.

I showed up. We had a brief meeting, lots of coffee and donuts, and we learned that our leader would take over the directing duties for me, and we learned all about the “skits” we had to look forward to this year. Meeting ended. Everyone chatted and socialized and talked about the 9/11 production one of our members put on for an almost full house and how moving it was.

But no move to rehearse.

Cast members coming up to me. What is going on? Thought we would rehearse. Confusion when all I could do was shrug my shoulders. Finally, I asked the new director if we were going to rehearse. She shrugged and said she still needed 2 men for the cast and wanted to talk them into taking the roles. Apparently, she didn’t do this a week ago when she decided to take on the play. Apparently, she never notified anyone that there would be no rehearsal.

So no rehearsal.

I bring this up to illustrate how a director has to work for the good of the company and to plan ahead, and to either pay attention to detail, or appoint someone else to do it.

I also bring this up because there are only two rehearsals left before the small performance for the board. I ought to be in a panic. The way this director is approaching the task, we’ll have our table reading at the board meeting.

Am I in a panic? Will my play ever get a fair reading? Will it mean the whole project will be scrapped and me sent home in disgrace?

Maybe.

So why am I smiling? Because I realize, from the calmness I feel inside, that I was right to let it go. I wrote the play, but the play is NOT ME. It will get produced or it won’t. I fulfilled my part of it and that is just fine with me.

I have succeeded.

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Directing: whose bright idea was this?

I’m in the “Be careful of what you wish” mode. I’ve been invited to give the board of directors of my community theatre a reading of the play I’ve written so they can decide whether to produce it. Great opportunity, hey?

Yes, just great.

What is my problem? Why am I not elated? Because, the nightmare/rare-opportunity-for-a-theatre-person has begun. So what. Just put everyone (all nine characters (what the hell was I thinking – nine characters??) on stools, open the script and read.

Heavy sigh.

Except, it is in my best interest to have this sound like some kind of polished, readers theatre performance. To not bore them silly with an unrehearsed reading. To give our second stage group (all over 40 and believe me, these people have seen and been in a thing or two) something challenging to do. To give the group some positive visibility with the board.

Right. All very noble. Except how do you do this with only 3 rehearsals? If I were a drinking person, the answer would be a fresh Jack Daniels bottle, but I am not a drinking person. The dangers that lie ahead are all going to be felt. And it isn’t going to be pretty.

Even though, this senior group is used to either standing or sitting while they recite their lines, I have ideas to bring this reading to life by establishing some readers theatre conventions, like looking over the audiences’ heads to establish the scene and to really picture the scene in their heads. Not bad. Stuff I learned a very long time ago except these experienced actors all looked at me like I was nuts. I persevered until I realized they were never going to look up from their scripts because they would lose their place in the script. And they wouldn’t, godforbid, rehearse on their own so that maybe they could look up once in a while.

So I went to plan B: establish pace and timing, get changes in rhythm, build to high points, and vary how fast or how slow lines were to be read. That produced better results, but when we ran through it again, it was back to the old, plodding way.

After the rehearsal, the producer pulled me aside and gave me notes on how better this would be, if …. And then she began to direct.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to direct. I want to write. But from a business point of view, the big picture is getting the product out to an audience and if that is to happen, I must direct. There just isn’t anyone else to do it.

So now, I have to – yes, feel bad because I am not being hailed as the Next Great Director – but also I must suck it up, believe in myself and my vision, and get myself to the next rehearsal and see if I can’t make it all better.

Can’t wait.

 

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Now what do I do?

I have been working on a play and for the first time ever, it is getting read, workshopped really, and hearing actors reading the lines has been a huge help to the writing process. Terrifying, but so necessary. Maybe because I am older, now, or that I am finally evolving, I no longer feel like a failure when some of the lines fall flat. Instead, I cringe a little, but then get to work to make it better.

So it has been and my very special gift has been my community theatre and our reader’s theatre group, which is made up of experienced theatre people who no longer want to get into a the frenzy of a main stage production, or who always wanted to be an actor or at least take part in a theatre production. A perfect group to read a new play.

And a new play helps any community theatre. It puts them into serious theatre where theatre is new, fresh, maybe not as well-attended as, say, a Neil Simon comedy, but takes on a Second Stage where not only new work can happen, but also other, more experimental (I mean something that won’t pack ‘em in) work. This kind of experimental and new works hark back to the Little Theatres of the turn of the last century, which communities formed in protest to the slickness of Broadway touring companies. I (the playwright) and fond of saying that Eugene O’Neill got his start at Provincetown Players, a Little Theatre.

So here we have, in the wilds of Florida’s east coast, a community theatre willing to take a chance on a new play. It won’t be on the main stage because, first of all, it is part of our Second Stage, and because it was written to be played on site at the oldest standing structure in the county. Yep, a site-specific performance.

Last night, I found out that the board of our Playhouse has approved a joint production with the chamber of commerce, of my play, The Hunting Lodge, to be performed on site. I am thrilled. Ecstatic. Terrified.

Because this is now another kind of beginning. I now have to convince the county to let us perform on the site, a place they are understandably protective of.

So now what do I do? This is what I’ve always wanted: a play of mine to get a production. But ARRRRGGGGG! Now I have to convince the county that it is a good thing, Chamber-of-Commerce wise, Playhouse wise, that is will be an event to not only honor the site but a way to drum up interest in visiting this.

Anyone have any advice? Help! I need a coach!

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Taking criticism

The very minute your work of art is read, or hung or built or whatever, and brought to public attention, it is no longer just your work of art. It is quickly taken over by criticism. Opinion. It may take different forms, but each person who views the work of art has an opinion.

Some criticism will be considered, with training and experience behind it. Some, not so much. And you, the artist, can control almost none of it. Fact of life: some people will like it, some won’t. Some won’t care one way or the other.

There is one more side, one that the artist can control, and that is your reaction to criticism. I have a sutra (from Deepak Chopra) that goes “Imagine that you are not affected by flattery and criticism.” Two sides of the same coin. Having contemplated the many sides of this sutra, I have concluded that there is always criticism and flattery and that they both mean about the same thing. The wise ones will tell you that you need to listen to both and reject both, but do it in a detached way. To detach means to take it away from your ego, the thing that will tell you that your whole identity is wrapped up in what people think and in the work itself. If you detach your egoic self from the actual work of art, you can use the criticism, good and bad, to make the work of art (not you!) better.

A theatre teacher I once had used to say that you need to listen to what people are really saying to make something better. She meant that if the blue-haired ladies in a matinee were not paying attention, you don’t blame that on them: too much to drink, they need a nap before coming to the theatre, etc. No. It meant that something in the performance or the play is not keeping them engaged. And that’s on you to find how to make it more engaging.

So it is with my site-specific play, which has undergone two readings and therefore two rewrites. I am writing it with the goal of getting it produced, which unfortunately for me, who is reduced to a blithering mass of jelly whenever a harsh word is hurled my way, means it must be exposed to someone outside my claustrophobic head. Outside, where it is my ego against the world!

What happens to me when I hear criticism? A darkness descends. First, it is a black blob of shame. I am greatly ashamed that I didn’t do better. That shame quickly deteriorates to something even blacker, like “I am not worthy of anything. I am a massive failure. I can’t write worth a damn and how could I expose my poor, sensitive self to all this? Why don’t I just SAY I am writing and leave it at that? Don’t show it to anyone and then no one would ever know that I am so incompetent. “

This is just the tip of the slimy blob of black goo that is oozing into something catastrophic: feelings that make me never want to write another word. Or show my unlucky face to the world ever again.

So this play and the play readings by my community theatre group, is more of an exercise in excising my inner demons. Is it working?

I heard what people had to say. Some of it was actually positive, but as usual, I dismissed those as just being kind to me, something I needed since I was actually so pathetic. Once again, the comments made me think of my incompetence. That I should not quit my day job. That I should catch up on old magazines. Forget that writing the play had been fun and engaging. Instead, just concentrate what a total failure it is, and how that failure reflects my inadequacies.

This time, though, I remembered something from a Coursera online course I took that said to be creative, you must fail creatively. If you don’t fail, you can’t make the thing better. So fail and fail often and quickly and do it with the idea that it is making your product better.

Fail creatively. I thought about this, still feeling bad, but this time, those bad feelings didn’t hang around long enough to overwhelm me. There was a new give and take. Failure and learning from it. If I listened to the comments – and none of them were nasty or mean-spirited – I had a real chance to make this play better.

So I worked on rewrites and they went so easily because this group had given me a really thoughtful road map.

Then came reinforcement to this way of thinking. There was my niece Sara’s graduation from SCAD and John Lassiter’s (of Pixar) words to the graduating class. Heck with the graduating class – his words were for me. What he said was a game-changer for me. He talked about failure and how you must fail and to do it quickly so you can get on with it. He also said something about doing something that isn’t getting approval, because you must do it, you want to do it, you see it developing, and that you like doing it. So you do it anyway, in spite or because of what people tell you.

Later, over lunch with Sara and my nephew Thomas, who is a good painter and artist, that we do it – make things – because we love the process of putting it all together, to tweaking it, to finishing it. It is our kind of fun and we love the process of making something. The product you made lives and deserves a beautiful life.

So fail and use that failure to make it better. Just do it and let the critics fall where they may. By that time you have had fun, done the best work yet, made the best thing yet, that criticism has nothing to do with you.

Off I go to the next rewrite. How good can I make this play?

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What is happening to my play???

I am writing a site-specific play. It revolves around the living history represented by the oldest standing structure of Flagler County, a place now called the Princess Place Preserve. Tourists come here to see unspoiled Florida, with much of how it was in the past preserved. You can fish, spot birds, kayak, and even bring your horse for an extensive trail ride.

The play is fiction, but revolves around the Cuttings, as I imagine them, who were real and the hunting lodge Henry Cutting built at what was then called Cherokee Grove, in 1889 with his new wife Angela (later to become the princess of Princess Place.) The play is peopled by characters, all ghosts, people who might have been to Cherokee Grove at some time around the turn of that century.

The play is meant to be acted on three sides of the wrap-around porch overlooking a creek where a boat is docked. The audience sits or stands where they can see what is happening, and if they like, become part of it. The audience “promenades” to all three sides to see three different groups, classes really, of people acting out their relationship to the Cuttings and to the lodge itself.

My dilemma is this: I want this play to be something that is not naturalistic, that cannot be easily transferred into a theatre house, with realistic sets designed around it. I want it to evoke the past, for audiences to see that some class-related issues have yet to be resolved in our modern times, and that there is a future for these characters, as there is a future for this unspoiled bit of Florida. What happens in the future is up to the present. To do that, the audience must get involved and invested.

Noble thoughts, all. But how to convey all of that in a play that people who are work-shopping it for me do not see? They are reacting to it as if it were to be enacted by our theatre group in our theatre. How do I get them out of the theatre and to see what I see? Let’s face it. “Site-specific” isn’t exactly a household word, even among theatre folk.

Actually, there are two issues. I have already mentioned that it is hard to convey the concept of site-specific and to get comments and discussion about how best to act the play at the site.

The other issue, according to one of our most experienced actor and director, (and considering we are all past 50, this is experience is formidable) is that I need to work on bringing characters to life with more effective dialogue. Repetition, making the same point over and over, is an old habit learned in my teaching days. Doesn’t work in a play.

I think maybe I can do something about both issues. I may not succeed with the dialogue part completely, but I do know I can pare down all that repetition.

As to the site, I just had the bright idea to get this director and a few people to read the latest incarnation of the play at the site. Brilliant? We’ll see.

See also:              What is site-specific theatre?

Playwriting workshop at the community theatre

The Community part of community theatre

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Playwright as a work in progress

The Princess Place Preserve in Flagler County, Florida, is the oldest standing structure in the county, built in 1889 by Henry Cutting and his wife Angela (who later became the Princess of this country hunting lodge. It is visited by locals and eco-tourists alike. Watching park rangers and long-time residents talk about the history of this place and this area in a DVD that serves as an introduction to your visit, I could just imagine who would likely be here at the time when it was first built in 1889.

So I’m writing a play about those people who were part of the running the lodge or were guests of the Cuttings.

The thing is, though I have dabbled with writing – plays, novels – I’ve never achieved success with any of them. In the past, this would stop me cold. Write the thing, then hide it where no one could see it or criticize it.

Now that I am older and have some perspective, and I find that what I consider success has changed considerably.

When I was young, I thought playwrights just sprung from the God of Talent’s very small brain. In other words, I thought that you either could write a great play or you couldn’t. And not being able to produce a masterpiece meant that you were somehow lacking in talent, skill, intelligence, social skills, writing skills, whatever quality that popped up into my feverish and deluded brain that would drain me and make sure that I never wrote another word.

Born knowing how to write plays? Good grief! A newborn can’t even walk yet and even walking, seemingly a simple thing, takes time. You have to develop the right muscles, one-step-at-a-time stuff, learn the skill of walking. So, some of us do it better than others. I walk, but three times a week and about a quarter of a mile. My neighbor walks every day for two miles. Who is the better walker? I can hear you ask, “Who cares?” and you would be right. We are both doing what we need to do, not what the world tells us to do.

What I am finally getting is that reading about and studying about how to write plays only goes so far. You have to DO it, and learn by practicing the skills needed. I may not have Eugene O’Neill’s enormous talent for it, but like you, there are things I just have to do. Talent seems irrelevant or something I can’t know just sitting at my computer. How will I know if I have talent if I don’t write?

And so I wrote a play that I tried to structure after Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. But it didn’t end there. I took the next step and let people read it. The reading has already happened, but I still sweat just thinking about the nerve it took to expose myself in that way.

Only I realize it wasn’t me who was exposed. It was the play itself. And that is a big difference. The play, I found by listening to experienced actors reading it, needs many changes. Not me. It is not me who must change. It is me who must wright the play, which now has a life of its own, differently.

Now, I must say, I feel successful. I have let the play have its life and no, it is no masterpiece. Yet. What is different is that I don’t feel embarrassed in the least. What I feel is hopeful. I, and the good people aat my community theatre reading it, were enormously helpful in their suggestions to make this play more effective. Their kindness and smartness was overwhelmingly positive in that they weren’t telling me how wonderful (or awful) it was, but how it could be better. And guess what? That is the new success. I see the play taking shape and all I have to do is stay open and out of the way of my own ego, and do what needs to be done. It no longer matters whether anyone produces it. All that matters is that this play gets to live and thrive. And I get to hone what skills I have and actually enjoy and look forward to the process of writing a play.

I’ll be “walking” in no time.

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