Tag Archives: Playwright expectations

On Finding Endings

by Chelsea Sutton

This is may be a trick. I’ve been tricking myself all summer long into thinking I had to accomplish a certain amount of writing work in order to call this arbitrary three months a success.

I usually don’t put so much pressure on summer specifically (on myself, yes, all the time) but this is the first summer I’ve had “off” since undergrad. This is the summer between my first and last year of grad school – a summer where my freelance work, my writing life, and my general mental health was all up in the air. So my list of projects to “finish” grew and grew.

What does this have to do with endings?

As I playwright, I feel like I’ve generally got a knack for endings and for striking images at the beginning. It’s, of course, the middle part that gets muddy.

I love writing endings. I usually know exactly where I want things to go, or at least the emotional weight or the image that a play needs to land on. It might end up shifting around, but when I start something, that ending is already a glimmering oracle on the horizon.

So this is why my summer got messed up. I had a beautiful ending planned: finish this play, rewrite that one, write that screenplay, finish that novel, write this short screenplay, finish the short story collection…I have ALL summer, so what’s wrong with that ending?

The problem is really that it is a false ending. That summer and your writing life doesn’t follow a three act structure and sometimes you have to build self-care time into things (which is not interesting to watch) and you have to put in the hard work and the starts and stops and frustrations. You have to really factor in how much TIME all this stuff takes. None of which is fodder for dramatic entertainment. But all of which is life.

My summer started when the production of my play Wood Boy Dog Fish ended on June 24.

Then I slept for a couple weeks. I felt lost. The constant panic in my chest had gone and it had been replaced with dread.

Then I went to the Sewanee Conference in Tennessee for two weeks as a Playwright Fellow. Met some amazing people I hope will continue to be friends throughout our careers. Then I drove around for five days by myself and experienced the weirdness of Tennessee.

One of many odd things…

Then I got back to LA. Did freelance work. Stressed out. Didn’t write much. Some screenplay stuff. Some rewrites for the new Rogue Artists Ensemble show I’ve been writing with Diana Burbano and Tom Jacobson.


Ate too much cheese.

Stressed out.

Cried some more.

Panicked that I hadn’t finished my long list of writing.

And now, as I’m writing this, I am waiting at LAX to fly to France – surprise! Not something I had planned on. A twist ending. A short puppet play of mine is a finalist for the UNIMA call for young writers, and they invited the finalists to come to Charleville-Mézières, France for a paper theatre workshop, a reading, and the award ceremony. So I said…sure. Let’s go.

Because sometimes twists just show themselves and you end up following that path you didn’t see until it was right there.

When I fly back on September 25, my second year of grad school will start two days later and my summer will officially be over. This summer “play” (re:my life) began in bed sleeping off the hangover of the past 9 months, and staring at fire flies in southern humidity. It will end in Paris. It doesn’t actually make any sense. This play would be ripped apart in workshop.

But its a false ending. Because nothing is over. The summer is just three months. And things happen in the time they happen, and when you force a something (a play, a life) to work in a way it is just not capable of working, you’ll get stuck, staring at the page. And crying. And eating too much cheese.

I intend to eat quite a bit of cheese in France.

And as far as endings go, even false ones – that’s not too bad.

Piece of CAKE

I have to admit, I was incredibly nervous to see my show Thursday night at the 4th St. Theatre at the New York Theatre Workshop.  I think it’s to do with the fact that it was a completely new experience for me and my little playwright brain couldn’t grasp the reality of it all- aside from the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway festival I had participated in 4 years ago, this was my first production in NY… and it was completely different and amazing for a whole-exciting-bunch of all new reasons.

But when I walked into the theatre, I was greeted by a voiceless director who was exhausted from the last minute tech-insanity, but who also seemed really happy with the work… so I settled in, took a breath, and let go.

And it was wonderful!

The play began with an entirely different interpretation of the first scene than I’d imagined (there was dancing and shadow play!) and it completely surprised me – but in a really great way.  You see, I’d written this play to be interpreted and designed – The text is the text is the text, but the staging and design of the play are not strongly indicated, so a director/design team can (and should) have fun manifesting the metaphorical nature of the events of the play… which of course runs the risk of someone getting a little too auteurish with the script, which in turn might make me cringe someday, but the fact is that I like writing for designers and directors and actors.  I like giving them a jumping off point – dialogue, plot, a lot of visual challenges, and room to stretch their creative wings.

And I really loved the design that CAKE Productions and their director, Paul Urcioli, created.

The set was all white, the back wall moved as we dove deeper and deeper into Jane’s nightmare, the many doors provided funny and poignant entrances and exits, and the lighting was really cool.

And the actors were amazing.

Having seen the show twice before in LA, I was prepared for the embraced wackiness of the play, but the actors and direction in this production actually grounded the play more than I’d seen before and it brought a wonderfully genuine gravity to the play.  The play leans to the absurd, but Jane’s crisis is a very real problem… the humor and pathos was really well-balanced in this production, and it drove the plays meaning all the way home – at least I thought so.

And I enjoyed the surprises – having worked on the play for so long, I’m very familiar with the text, but hearing it aloud again after the 4 years since the last production was a treat because I had done some rewrites.  There were a few places I had honestly forgotten that I’d rewritten, so I found myself leaning in a bit more and being surprised by my own work.  Then there were a few places where the director’s choices changed the way a scene or moment played and I thought “Wow – that was totally not how I’d imagined it/seen it done before!” but in a really interesting and purposeful way that served the play well.

I walked out of the theatre feeling like a proud and honored playwright, like I’d just been to the interior of my play – past my own expectations and further into the world of Jane Doe.

And I can’t wait to see it again tonight.