Thank God for technology!
I still consider myself an LA playwright, but I spend most of my time these days in Washington DC. My day job keeps me on Capitol Hill. But the move east came at a cost. I lost not only the glorious year-round weather of southern California and my Dodgers and decent Mexican food, I also lost my theatrical community. Most particularly, I lost my writing group.
For more than a decade, I’ve spent every Thursday night with a group of writers under the umbrella of Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles. I’ve watched plays grow and plays die. I’ve seen playwrights blossom and run with their plays. And I’ve seen writers ignore constructive criticism and their plays just sit there. Or worse, get produced and have critics print the same criticism that was voiced with love in the group. I miss that third ear, that deadline of having to produce pages to bring in. Writing is lonely enough. The Lab was my writing home.
So I’ve learned to improvise.
I was lucky enough to be invited to The Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Nebraska twice in the past couple of years. I’ve had two plays read there. But the most valuable part of the experience was meeting other playwrights struggling with the same act two problems, conundrums with directors, and panic about sending out scripts. I found another community. The only problem is that none of us live in the same city.
But then I discovered Skype. Now, every Tuesday night, my Omaha pal Ellen Struve and I have a one hour phone appointment. Every week, we email each other a few pages – a new scene or the rewrite of something we’ve been working on. And for an hour, we discuss the work. Half an hour for her, half an hour for me. I’ve been privileged to watch Ellen’s magical play REQUIRED READING FOR GIRLS grow and mature and take shape. She’s been there to talk me down from the roof when I was ready to hit the delete button and give up. We save time at the end to discuss plays we’ve seen or read – to find out what makes a play sing and shake our heads in wonder at the “hot” plays that do nothing for us. It’s my small theatrical community in cyberspace.
Technologically, we could add half a dozen members or more. And maybe we will when we’re finished with the plays we’re working on right now.
But if you’ve been unsuccessful at finding a playwriting group in your part of town, try a virtual group via Skype. Go see shows and readings to find the playwright whose work speaks to you, the person you could learn something from, the writer who you would trust with your work. Contact them. See if they’re also looking for a theatrical community of writers. And make a weekly appointment for an hour. And write that play.