I had the unusual opportunity a weekend ago to see and/or hear one of my earliest plays – and one of my newest ones. It wasn’t quite as embarrassing as looking through old photo albums full of 80’s hair. But almost.
MUM’S THE WORD was the second play I ever wrote – dialogue heavy, lots of phones ringing, a fairly simple story that was a tribute to one of my favorite genres in film: those 1930’s Warner Brother musical comedies. My characters didn’t sing. But I hoped the play would crackle with that fast paced dialogue between dames and saps. I hadn’t seen it in – okay, I’ll admit it – in nearly 30 years! I wrote it with a part for myself, of course. And it was a wonderful role: Jinx Riley, the gal born on Friday the 13th, the sucker for the wrong kind of guy. I kept the wonderful depression era secretary costume until just last year, when I admitted I’d never get down to that size again. Or play that part again.
I was surprised at how well it stood the test of time. Acoustics in the North By South Theatre space (a church auditorium in Glendale) were awful. And an electrical malfunction meant all the lights on stage left had blown out. So it was hard to hear the dialogue – or watch the actors’ lips for clues about what they were saying. But I wasn’t embarrassed by the script. Oh, sure, the turn around at the end came too quickly. But it wasn’t awful.
Earlier in the afternoon, I got to hear the ten minute version of an even shorter play for the first time. Ensemble Studio Theatre was holding its annual “Playday” reading series on exactly the same day that MUM’S was going up!
I had written LAKE TITICACA for a contest sponsored by DC’s Theater J. They invited playwrights to create a 5 minute reaction to Matthew Lopez’ terrific post-Civil War play THE WHIPPING MAN. I recalled the odd period after the LA riots when everyone was walking on eggshells. That grew into a five page piece, which was chosen by Theater J for a reading.
But since five minute plays are a rarity, I felt the piece had some room to grow. So I expanded it to ten minutes. But the EST reading was the first time I’d heard it aloud in that form.
This is the blessing that actors offer. You can HEAR and SEE what’s missing, what doesn’t work, where the klunky parts are.
But I was pleased to hear audience reactions – particularly from a trio of African American actors waiting to go on in the next piece. They got it. And looked around to find the author. Me. That made the day.
The experience of two plays in the space of a few hours was particularly valuable to me as a writer. Such a contrast in writing styles over three decades! I’m less verbose. Still interested in quirky humor, but more apt to let the audience figure stuff out.
I’m trying to let the experience reassure me as I try to get back to writing a new piece – much more similar to that first comedy than to anything I’ve written lately. I may not be Preston Sturges or Jane Austen or Tom Stoppard. But I am Kitty Felde. And while my work may not win Tonys or bring down the Berlin Wall, it has value.