The holidays are a time for rest, relaxation and reflection. It’s also a time for travel for some, especially since you live far away from family. This year instead of spending it with family, I decided to take time to finish some writing and house sit for a friend. A quiet three weeks of walking the dog and taking care of me.
The first days in a new city my head was abuzz with how I needed to get out and visit the city. Thoughts and story ideas that normally fill my groggy morning head were non-existent. Long walks in the park with the dog still gave rise to no new advancements in my stories that I promised myself that I needed to finish. Instead I turned to further research. Which, for me, leads to a rabbit hole of clicks and a gazillion tabs being opened on my laptop and even more story ideas.
I’ve always wondered what people do when they get a writing residency. Sure, some people write. But if you don’t have a daily practice of writing, sitting down at your desk with either your computer or notebook takes a lot of willpower. Even the thought of writing a blog post filled me with dread. I can’t even finish, much less start a thought of my own, what was I thinking?
So, I read. That can’t get me into trouble. I began reading a Playwriting seminar book, which gave me a place to start. Usually, when starting a new project I have a purpose. To submit to a particular company. But this writing, just for me, seemed frivolous. I kept reading. The further I got in the chapter, the deeper I was descending into a new rabbit hole. Structure. It stopped me dead in my thoughts. What? Now I’m thinking of how to write a play and adding to my already picky self editor, and I’m only on page 2. I am reviewing all my plays that I have started and judging them from a mere few scenes. I just need to finish one story, that’s all I-
After completing my first show, I thought the next one be easy. But now I collect bits and pieces of different stories I want to tell, never quite finishing a scene, but amassing a variety of stories, each with its own theme.
My one-person show began as my collection of writings grew. With every new writing class I would take, more pages emerged. With every writing exercise I would do, my stories sounded the same. Different names, different situations but the story was the same. As a first time playwright I did not realize this. I did not think of it as me working through something. These were just the stories that came out when I sat down to write. No conscious thought. Just writing.
Those were the days. To just be able to sit down and write. The freedom of it. Now I feel this invisible pressure on me. That each file I save on my computer must be a piece of brilliance, lest it just be taking up space on my hard drive. Everything has to be perfect the first time around. I’m not sure where this absurdity came from. But here it lives. My writing is done in my head before it even, if it even, makes it to the page. The stories, the dialogue are figments that talk to each other in my head. I try not to edit and produce the text to no avail. I’m not sure where this need for a perfect first draft came from. I, by no means, am a perfectionist. I make no bones about saying that I have no clue what I am doing and nor do I search the internet on how to write a play (I usually Google the heck out of a topic before I even start). It did take me quite some time to actually finish that first draft of my show. But that was more fear than perfection. Fear of what the audience would say and think. Would they get it? Would it be ok to say those things out loud? To people? Who am I to tell this story?
But now as I move on to part 2 of the show, and anything else I write, I am now haunted with the thought of ownership. Who can tell these stories? Do I need permission to talk about this? Who are these people who police the art?
To finish that first play was excruciating. But the worries I had never came to fruition. No one voiced, to me anyway, the ugly thoughts I had had in my head. Listening to what people thought of the play was freeing. It wasn’t about me, my story was just a window into that audience member and how it related to their life and how it made them think and feel. In the end that’s all I ever wanted. Sure it would’ve been nice if they “got” my message, but even more it helps me to keep writing and remember why I started in the first play.
As I continue on my journey to be a playwright, I try to surround myself with like minded people, so I can ask questions and pick their brains. I started writing my first play by accident. I was trying to work some stuff out and would write random thoughts, collecting stories, and poof a play.
Ok, not exactly poof, more like a volcano that has blown and the lava is slowly inching its way to the sea, and when it hits the salt water a cloud of volcanic yuck fills the airs with a sizzle. That’s where I’m at. Volcanic yuck. My first play completed, workshopped and performed but no idea what to do next. The sequel that I had started hangs over me like ashfall, with no end in sight. I have been again collecting bits and pieces of writing as I try to figure out this next show. Trying to write for a specific topic to be performed in a specific venue. So many options for stories to be told, where do you start?
Sitting alone at my computer doing endless research, I am no further along, with the exception of a few dozen avenues to explore. My goal is to find a writers group to just sit with and write. I don’t have to share with anyone, I just need to feel the pressure of others actually writing and I think it would work. When I do have the opportunity to sit with real writers, I feel like a fan girl gushing and asking non-stop questions. Writing with other writers and then sharing is a an opportunity to understand the process of writing by their comments and how they ask questions. They don’t offer up suggestions for your characters or “maybe you should change the location so then your protagonist escapes the bad guy, you can change this and you can change that”. They tell you what they liked and what they didn’t understand and what they wanted to know more about and it makes you want work harder.
I can feel the tradewinds blowing and the ash lifting. The only way to get past the yuck is to just keep writing. Sit down, turn off your internet connection, so you won’t be able to do “research”. Or better yet, go old school, grab your notebook and find a comfy, place to write, and just write. Don’t worry if it’s good, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be.
Well yes, I’m always stuck in my own head, that’s how I write. I work it all out in my head before I commit to paper. Not the best way to do it, but I work out the problems I think I’ll have then I write. But the stuck in my head I’m talking about is a song. You know, you’re in a store shopping and on the overhead speaker some song comes on and you start bopping to the tune. Next thing you know you’re walking to your car and now you’re full on singing that same song. I hate that when that happens.
But today, I used this mild annoyance as a writing exercise. It was a song from when I was in high school. After I sang myself horse, I sat down with pen and paper and tried to recall where I was the first time I heard the song and all of the sights and sounds of the day. It was the summer between 10th and 11th grade. It was a Friday night in July. The air was hot and muggy and my friends and I contemplated what to wear to that night’s dance at the community center. Wendy’s parents were gone for the weekend and we had the whole house to ourselves. Shanon was in the kitchen mixing drinks, while I turned on the tv to MuchMusic. I could smell the sweetness of Shanon’s latest concoction as I brought it my lips, she had a thing for blue drinks and this was just the latest in a rainbow cocktails. A warm breeze blew through the screen door. The metal frame tapped as a reminder that we had to go. Outside, the blue sky was fading into burning shades of red and orange as the sun set. A chill filled the air. I could feel the goosebumps popping up on my arm. The mile walk to the dance felt like an eternity, why did I wear heels? After paying our money at the door, we found our way to the dance floor. I took off my heels and felt the cold concrete under my feet. The light from the disco ball caused prisms of color to bounced through the fog. Even though there was a chill in the air outside, the heat from all the bodies inside made the air inside heavy. The DJ called the last song of the night. There is was. The song. My friends has deserted me for dance partners. I sat in the bleachers as he walked over to me. He had finally made it to the dance. He stretched out an arm as an invitation to the dance, a feeble attempt at an apology for being so late. The only saving grace was that it was our song.
That’s what I had written about the song. Memories of a distant past that brought back emotions long forgotten. No recollection of the boy, he’s just a shadow in the memory now, but when it originally happened, my teen heart was in conflict and full of drama. But today as I listen to the song again, I think of the sunset, the sky, the warmth of the air.
This writing exercise made me rethink how I listen to songs and the memories they evoke. So much material to choose from when you consider whose perspective you’re writing about.
Oh, those endless summer nights.
Goodbye, farewell, au revoir and ciao. To express good wishes when parting or the end of a conversation.
Saying a goodbye. An ending is sometimes a good place to start. To help get me started on my writing, I like to get inspiration from a quote, but while searching for a goodbye quote, all I found was sadness. My current thoughts about saying goodbye are about going on a trip. More “see you soon” than “have a nice life”. Quotes about goodbye left me with a finality of never seeing the person again.
I guess I’ve never really thought about what goodbye meant. In my head the characters were just going away on a business trip, but in truth, that feeling of leaving someone behind is a lonely and scary thought. As much as I want it to be a happy, freeing release, it’s really more like your guts are being ripped out and you’ll never feel whole again. Your life is ending, you cannot go on.
Ok, I’m a bit dramatic, but in truth you are in a way moving on. Leaving people behind. Growing. Learning. Rambling. Oh, wait that’s me. To me saying goodbye at the airport was sad, but I never thought of it a solitary moment. They give their hugs and kisses at the curb. One trying to hold the feelings in to be strong, the other a blubbering mess that cannot stop. But as I think of these characters saying goodbye, I feel a loss. It’s as though their lives are headed in two different directions. The person boarding the plane has to go. They don’t want to go, but must because they have obligations and that’s what grown-ups do. It’s supposed to be a happy moment because they are doing what they love and are fortunate that someone is paying them to live their dream. The person staying behind is living their dream as well though.
I want there to be a winner. Someone who comes out ahead. Someone who feels better for the choice of having to say goodbye. I’ll have to think about this one a bit harder. My flight is leaving.
Goodbye, farewell, au revoir and ciao.
After the last performance of my solo show, I was spent. I couldn’t believe that I had written this piece, then performed it for an audience. There are still parts of it I am trying to refine, because even after workshopping it, having someone else perform it, it took me finally performing to see the holes. Of course these realization occurred while I was on stage mid-performance and by the time I got to the end of the show, I’d forgotten what the change was. So I moved on to part 2 of my show. Writing and re-working the beginning. Trying to capture that magic that I felt during the first show. Bad thing about that was that it took me quite a while to actually muster the courage to complete the play. Filled with mixed feelings and emotions about the truth of a solo show pained me at every turn. Show #2 is going to be completely fictional, what are the craziest, most outlandish scenarios I want to discuss, that was going to be this show. So here I am, 3 different beginnings and no further than 10 pages in.
As a new writer, I am still making discoveries on my writing style. I contemplate the correct way it should start. My mind gets caught up in getting it perfect the first time around, instead of the messy first draft it should be. To help me with this, I attend table reads and writers groups to help me feel inspired. While listening to the works of others, I learn different styles and ways of telling a story. During the discussion after the read, I listen as playwrights and audience share their opinions and thoughts. I watch the writer during the comment section. I take note at how they take in each statement, nodding their head, taking notes. From being in the room, I know what types of questions to ask and how to ask them when asking for feedback. What drew you in? What took you out? What do you want to more about? It’s somewhere to start. So I guess I’ll get back out there and write. I have a million ideas and some great opportunities coming up. No time to waste.
When you’re listening to a script for the first time, what’s the first thing you comment about?
I have been trying all week to explain my first Fringe experience, but the words are jumbled and come out in a string of disjointed sentences. Which, truth be told, is how this whole experience has been making me feel.
My first show was a preview on Sunday. I have been fighting with the words that make up my play. As I try to memorize them for my show I wonder why the heck I wrote these things and why I want to share them with the world. As I sit on the stage, in an empty theater, running through my show. Pencil in hand, I cross out sections of text that will be cut next time. Right now my brain is settled in to the story, however repetitive the text is.
I try to distract myself by writing other things, poems, writing challenges on hitRecord, and random postings about how to use social media. My brain seems to be distracted for a bit. Shhhh! Don’t tell it I’m blogging here.
My play has been workshopped on a few occasions and I’ve sat and read it to remind myself of the story, but it wasn’t until I had to perform it off book that I could see the (w)holes. For as long as I have written and re-written the same circumstances with different characters and locations, it was always the same story. After I had resigned myself to finally putting it to bed and completing it, I pulled together stories that would best lead to a completed play. Workshopping it allowed me read the play for an audience, solicit feedback, see what was working and wasn’t. I sat in the back of the room listening to the words I had thought were brilliant when someone else was reading them. I explained to the dramaturg, director and actor about my thought process. We spent a day with the timeline of the main character. Me answering questions about the backstory of the story. At the time not understanding why they were asking. It was only later after I had a quiet moment that I could reflect upon their questions and why they mattered. My story was missing the tiny details that gave color to the who and why. The moments I took for granted as just knowing they were there, and when I read the lines I could see them. I’m reminded about seeing the forest through the trees and I never understood the meaning of it. Being in the thick of the action, but knowing what’s going on.
But now as I reviewed the lines and tried to commit them to memory, these tiny details are getting in my way and tying my tongue. Alliteration and repetition fill my story and at times as I try to say the lines, I lose the poetry in an effort to just say the lines. I can see the trees.
That’s where I’m at now. I just have to be the performer and forget the writer. As much as I have been trained to honor the writer’s words, it’s time to trust that I know what I’m saying and just do.
I’ve taken so many different writing classes, but each instructor has said “go see solo shows”! Luckily Fringe is filled with them and each offers me more insight into the writing process.
Now go out there and see some shows!
Last year I was called in at the last minute to help out friends who had a show in Fringe. This was the first time I had ever mingled with so much theater in L.A. I participated only to the extent that I went and worked on my show then went home. Our venue was off the grid as far as theater spaces go. We were in a studio space, where rooms were rented out during the day, mainly for classes or casting sessions.
This year I am participating as a playwright and performer. I don’t know if I had known the extent of the festival, if I would have signed up. I had my first preview on Sunday. All I can say is one down, two to go. Along with worrying about performing, I am trying to mingle as much as I can with other shows.
Last night I went to a show that was also showing at the Lounge. I met the writer/producer, Michelle March, at our the orientation meeting. When I saw the title of “Diversity Auditions” my mind went immediately to the casting calls that are put out by all the big networks when they are looking for actors of color. As a diversity actor, I was intrigued and when I read the project description for it and wasn’t sure I what I was in for.
With a simple set up of chairs and a spotlight, you learn a little about each characters life. Each story different from the last, engaging and leaving me wanting to know more about them. I couldn’t help at times from laughing out loud especially as I tried to imagined the “Asian Jessica Rabbit”. Monologues addressed current issues that touch everyone’s lives and weren’t limited to the LGBTQQ community. As a first timer, Diversity Auditions presentation was eye-opening and informed the audience of the definition of Diversity. Congrats to cast and crew! Happy Fringe.
Writing is usually a solitary event and sometimes I forget about the rest of the world. This week I was reminded of why, after terrible procrastination, I write. I left my cave of solitude, to be surrounded by creative people breathing life into the characters and stories of playwrights. A show closing, Inner Circle Theatre’s “The Doll” by Miro Gavran, and a show opening, Native Voices at the Autry’s “Off the Rails” by Randy Reinholz. As the show starts, I sit in the back of the theater listening as the audiences laugh or “ooo’d and ahh’d”. After the show, I watch as people discuss the show they’ve just seen. It is Sunday night and I am reflecting on why I need to continue writing.
After a successful reading of my first solo show, “There is no I in NDN“, I was done. My story finally written and performed, I could put it to bed. But then I was asked to perform it. I said yes, without a second thought. It wasn’t until I was polishing up the piece, that fear once again began to set in. As an actor you take the words in front of you and give them life. But as the playwright, I know where these words come from. They may not be the full version of the story, but as I write, the whims and fancy that fill my characters lives may have some truth to them. And this frightens me. How will it be received? Will people get “it”? Will they get me?
I say all this as I am trying to complete a second half to my solo show. To delve further into the mind of an off-reservation Indian and her continued struggle with identity. I am bringing back a character that I had to cut from part one. His name is Pooley. When I first began writing his voice, he was to be my bad guy, spouting all the ugly, negative things that are wrong with the world. But then as he spoke to my main character, I found the truth in his story, their shared story and all the ugly things I imagined him saying melted away. He sits on his well worn stool at the end of the bar, his back to wall, his eyes on the door. As he sips his tall glass of whiskey, he narrates tales of the life he left behind. The dark pinched leather door creaks open, and as sunlight pours in, the regulars at the bar shield their eyes. Pooley jokes with the bartender he knows all too well. This is his home now.
It’s not a traditional story, there are no headdresses and ceremonies. He could be anyone, he just happens to be native. Working with Native Voices, I am reassured of why the story is important. The lack of stories that speak to an entire population, inspires me to continue.
So, I write.