December 30th, 2010

Shakespeare

Works and Plays

In case you didn’t know it, I am a playwright. Yes, yes… the line for autographs starts to the right folks; no need for pushing or cursing. Everyone who’s in line at closing time will get one-on-one time with the artist… Yes, I am a playwright in the sense that I have written two (2) complete plays and seen them performed on stage. Before you get TOO impressed, here’s The Rest of the Story:

Several years ago, my friend Francesca was at the helm of a week-long festival of new plays. The plays weren’t given full productions. Rather, they were given readings by a real cast of actors directed by a real director. For those of you who aren’t that much into theater, this is a common way of letting everyone (especially the playwright) hear how a new play sounds outside the confines of the playwright’s imagination.

Truth be told, it was at Francesca’s none-too-subtle urging that I wrote these two plays. She told me that she had two slots open for the festival and that I really ought to avail myself of the opportunity.

This was in fact a historic moment for me as a writer. Many times, beginning in my high school years, I’d attempted to write a longer work only to have inspiration desert me within a handful of pages, leaving me with nothing even worth saving. Thus, I’d spent my life specializing in shorter works, e.g., songs, poems, jokes, and brief essays. This time around, I decided I needed to abandon whatever misguided standards had held me back in the past and operate according to a new #1 priority: Getting It Done.

Getting It Done meant that a lack of inspiration could not be used as an excuse for not writing. Even barren of any good ideas, I absolutely had to push forward and finish the plays. Once I’d gotten that far, then yes, I could go back and fill in the thin spots; polish up the clunky spots.

The result? Well… two complete one-act plays. Don’t ask me for a copy; I’ll refuse. As plays, they’re really lousy – and that’s not just me being insecure; no, they’re really, really lousy. But they served several higher purposes. First of all, they enabled me to prove to myself that I can actually finish a longer written work, and that’s not something I knew I could do. Second, I learned a lot from the process. I made lots of mistakes; as a result, I may now avoid those mistakes in the future and move on to more sophisticated mistakes.

So have I completed another play since then? No, I haven’t… but there’s an idea percolating in my brain, and very soon, I will begin the process of beginning and completing the writing process. The end result, I confidently predict, will suck slightly less than my previous efforts.

Postscript — Those of you who know me from Detroit theater may recall that I wrote a full-length adaptation of Babes in Toyland and saw it produced at the Henry Ford Museum. In my mind, I can’t put that project in the same category as the other work I’ve been discussing here. That project was an adaptation of an existing work. Even though I rewrote every line of the show, I had the original Victor Herbert score and the original plot and characters to help me along. Believe me, writing an adaptation with all of those tools to steer by was a LOT easier than writing a completely original work.

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