Being a Playwright…being female…

Welcome to the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) Blog! My name is Robin Byrd and I am a playwright. I went to the first meeting of the LAFPI because I was curious to see just about how many female playwrights there are living in Los Angeles. I was curious to see the ones I didn’t know – turned out to be everyone in the room. I took the trip up Topanga despite the vague directions to “drive toward the ocean” – very scary to a person who gets lost when tired and after working all week at my day job, I was tired. But I took the chance because I wanted to know, if I followed that winding road up the mountain, would I find a group of women focused on making a difference. I did. Could this be the beginning of change? It is. I am happy to be a part of the movement.

Being a playwright, one tends to spend a lot of time alone — writing. Being female doesn’t change that; the craft is the same. The drive to create is an artist thing – no gender attached. An artist’s perspective is formed by the sum of pieces and parts that make up the artist. The perspective is unique; the created art is universal. I never introduce myself as a female playwright nor have I ever seen or heard a male playwright introduce himself as a male playwright. It should be about the work and the work should speak for itself. I cover women’s issues, men’s issues, human issues – whatever comes up while I’m writing.  I took an all male piece of mine, The Book of Years, to a conference once.  The general consensus of the male audience was surprise at how I got the characters to be so true-to-life.  I listen.  I start with the voices I hear in my head when I write. “First Words”, I call it. No matter how much research or what I write down as a draft synopsis, the first words begin the play and tell me whose play it is even if I started out thinking it belonged to someone else. First words tell me who the character is. If I follow the words I hear diligently, the characters will write themselves – as true or as false as they want to be. Yes, sometimes the characters lie but if I don’t overwrite them, I usually find out why they lied somewhere down the line. Listening is an asset for a writer – not just listening to the world around us as we transpose and re-create/create worlds but also listening to our inner selves as we push against the stones. We must believe in ourselves and continue to write the stories that need to be written no matter how many rejection letters come in the mail. I have a thing I do when I get my ‘R’ letters. I read between the lines. A “No” with a “please keep us in mind” means “keep writing and circle back”. Just getting a rejection letter means the organization cared enough to reply; I will take a rejection letter over no response any day. I have my share of no responses noted in my submission log; on the positive side, a no response could be due to understaffing so there may still be hope that they will get around to reading my submission. What a happy surprise that will be! If the organization just doesn’t respond and I still want to submit, I make a note “tends not to respond” and that keeps me from being irritated. If and when they do respond, it should be good news. Why do I choose to be as positive as I can about rejection? It takes too much energy that I can use for writing not to be positive about it. Don’t get me wrong, there is the occasional wallop that knocks the wind out of me but that’s when I reach out to one of my writer friends and they always help me get back on track. Sometimes, the best remedy is to start a new play…being a playwright…that’s what I do – I write…

5 Comments

  • By Nancy Beverly, April 19, 2010 @ 11:49 am

    Right on, write on, Robin! And I like your “First Words” concept — reminds me of doing Anne Lamott’s “timed writing” exercises where you write quickly and don’t censor — things tend to come out quite honest and true.

  • By Robin Byrd, April 21, 2010 @ 2:05 am

    Nancy —
    I have a novel by Anne Lamott that I need to read. I have done timed writing exercises at a few conferences. It is sort of the same process — without the time restraint.

  • By Katherine James, April 20, 2010 @ 9:45 am

    Brilliant, Robin. You inspire me to put myself first and write today. Thank you for your words of wisdom and encouragement!

  • By Nancy, April 23, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

    Robin —
    Just a heads up — Anne’s book on writing (Bird by Bird) and her collections of essays are FABULOUS… but her novels tend to wander and could use some driving action… so if you don’t get to the novel…

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