6. WHAT I LEARNED IN 2009, part 2:

True, I did ask the music director to tell me if the actress portraying J.J. could sing her song so that I could write her a monologue or rewrite the scene, if she could not. True, rather than communicate with me or the director, he cut two of the three stanzas from her song, rendering the build-up to the climactic moment of the play incomprehensible; still frosts my a— just thinking about it. After all, we’re talking about the first production of a new, unpublished play, right?

Notwithstanding our sad, cruel situation, the only truth that matters to me today is that while I exhibit proof of a theater education and acting training, and the “objective eye” of an archivist, as well as evidence that I am quite capable of directing and producing plays and short films featuring trained actors, as well as untrained students, at the time my raw inexperience and over-eagerness as a playwright caused me to underwrite, as well as overwrite the play.

Thus the only one who should receive blame for PHISHINGs 2008 failure is ME alone. I wrote a play, in fact had written several in the previous eight years, had read and directed and witnessed many more in the years prior to that, had studied playwriting for just over a year at that point with two different teachers, but obviously had much more to learn.

I should have known not to assume that the director and music director read and understood my descriptions and choice of song lyrics, or that they would wish to discuss and develop them with me, if they did not. They understood what they understood. Sadly, what I had been trained to understand as collaboration was interpreted by the music director as challenging the director’s authority.

Apparently I was also quite unsuccessful in indicating my intentions in dialogue. For even beyond the music director’s oddly successful power-grab, the evidence was staring me in the face, and had been all along. For the director made two casting choices, which I accepted but did not agree with, i.e. her interpretation of the words that I thought I had written were at odds with mine.

It all ended on an early Sunday evening in May with a phone call from this wonderfully patient professional female actor/director, who had made me her partner early on because that was also her experience. However, she had gotten off the phone with the theater’s artistic director, who had often been kind to me in the past, but who had more history with and understanding of the music director’s position. In the face of this difficult political situation, she was forced to tell me, and she did so quite sweetly and very reasonably I might add, that I was being asked to “go away” again, although I was invited to return on opening night for the “premiere”.

I believe that I did the only thing any self-respecting playwright could do in my situation. I agreed. I agreed with one caveat. I would go away, if she agreed to remove my name from the production. I even offered to send her a pseudonym, as soon as I could think of a good one.

My suggestions were not accepted. My next recommendation was that the production be pulled. It was. For in the end it didn’t matter the amount of time and the money that I’d spent in the previous six months, the truth of the matter is the play simply wasn’t ready for a production and nobody was willing to develop it and me.

More fortunate is that I figured out the answer to this very puzzling dilemma the next year through study with another patient playwriting teacher and a gentle mentor.

My important lesson of 2009, and I thank you sincerely, C.F., is, if a description is important enough to FIGHT for write it into the dialogue. Apparently dialogue is read, and there’s less chance it’ll be cut. I am also now trained not to design sets, lights, props, or costumes in description, because apparently NOBODY reads that. Nor do I block, although I may indicate CROSSES. I also indicate the transition LIGHTS, thank you, my mentor E.E., and leave it to the director and designers to interpret what exactly all of it means to them.

Interpretation is their job, after all. Writing dialogue and story is mine. Don’t get me wrong; I still believe that it is the director’s job to serve the action of the play, not visa versa, and I can’t help but comment on what I perceive as irony when I see a director’s name printed larger than the playwright on a marketing poster.

However, I have learned that directors and actors must be able to ascertain my intentions whether I’m in the rehearsal room or not because it’s more likely that I will not be there more than once for the table read, if ever again. I can only hope that I have begun to exhibit evidence of this harshly learned lesson in my most recent work.

More soon…

Erica Bennett

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