All posts by Jennifer Bobiwash

Asking questions

by Jennifer Bobiwash

I have many started drafts and a variety of folders organized with research of links on sites I need to visit, but it wasn’t until I started working on someone else’s project that it started making sense to me.

My title is Cultural Dramaturg.  What does that even mean?  During the Pandemic, I took the opportunity to increase my education. In my further attempts to understand how to write a play, I participated in a dramaturgy class.  A month of examining how a play comes together and questions to ask understand a play.  Homework and discussions. 

Not knowing where to begin, I started looking at examples I had received from other dramaturgs on other projects. I looked to these packets of what information was included and how it related to the play. Hmm. I still had too much information. 

Hiawatha

Since I was also supposed to be sharing cultural information, that made it easier. In Act 1 of the play, which at this point was 124 pages, culture was only ⅓ of it. I looked to the location of where the people came from to ground the main character and to understand the bits of language that was being included.   I searched through tribal histories to see what part of the nation she came from.  I narrowed down the language to where she was born since there were no records of her. Next up, structure of the story being told. Who was telling the story and why?  The best question that the director asked to help cut pages was: Whose story was this? it’s all fine and good to want to include all the brilliant information, but if it wasn’t about our protagonist, it had to go. 

I am still looking for my method to creating a play. These simple questions were also helping me sort through the mounds of research I continued to find.  I’m also figuring out how much information is too much and when do you stop. 

The playwright in this instance had found an abbreviated story and was using that as an outline, but after talking about the play and explaining their thought processes, more options kept popping up. 

I’m not sure what this all means. We finished a week of reading and listening and answering to questions about the play. We have a debrief to go through, and I’m thinking about my next steps.  But me, I’m still researching.

Keep asking questions!

Questions…

So I submitted a play. Woo hoo. I sent in my play after a whirlwind writing session. Didn’t re-read. Just hit the page count required for a 10-minute play, print in PDF and uploaded it to the submission site. What the heck was I thinking?!?

Well, I was thinking. “woohoo, finished a complete thought!” I didn’t think I’d get chosen (which I don’t know if I have yet, but I seriously doubt it). I just wanted to present an alternate point of view from a rarely talked about group of people. They haven’t announced the chosen plays yet but after some discussion with another writer, I realized my error. I didn’t consider the group of actors who would be reading it. So now should I consider where I’m submitting it to and who will be reading it based on their acting company?

Should I consider this when I name my characters? Will that affect the reviewers who simply skim the piles of scripts they get? So if you have a character named Chris, how will your reader view them at first? Male or female? If you have 4 characters, one is named Nancy, the others Ned, George and Chris (sorry, I was watching a Nancy Drew marathon). So looking at that, how are the gender roles divided between the cast? If you had to make a split-second decision looking at just names you may say 3 male roles. But in reality, it isn’t. My script had 2 she/her roles, 1 he/him role and the last character was listed as they/them. Ugh. So where does this leave me?

I also love the idea of submitting for a theme. It gives me focus and the desire to write a new work instead of trying to adapt an existing script. OMG, and that’s another thing. How do you even do that? If I have a script and want to submit it to a particular event that has a given set of guidelines. How do I get this across and say “Yes, my play meets your theme”. If they can’t see it while reading my play, is it not all lost? The interpretation of my play is now dependent upon someone else’s understanding of the world and should I think of these things while I’m writing? or just write? I usually just write. But writing for a specific theme is so much more fun.

But ultimately. Ugh.

Ok. I’m off to finish crafting a short play to meet the guidelines of a Climate Change Festival. Wish me luck!

I’d love to hear how you label your characters. I’m still working on that.

Happy writing…Jennifer

Writing

I have been agonizing over writing for the past week. What should I say? What am I thinking about? How will it end? And I was no further along. I realize I need to get out more and talk about writing.

A few weeks ago, while doing a check-in with some friends I was newly inspired. Not necessarily by what to write, it was more of the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. So I quickly did a search and found several classes that were starting within the next couple of days. I signed up for a 4-week class that was just to generate work, get me writing. I also signed up for several free writing prompt workshops, again, just to generate material. It was the best month of writing. I felt like I was getting further and actually accomplishing something. Then I took a day to review what I had been doing. I now had several different plays started.

But that was a month ago. Life got in the way. My daily writing of at least 10 minutes had gone by the wayside as my days were consumed with “my real job”. How do I get back to that place of creativity? You can’t have that many plays going at one time and expect them to be good. But at this point, I just wanted to finish something, anything. It wasn’t until after meeting up with a friend for drinks that I have some focus or even clarity. Instead of overthinking the work, just keep writing. It may be the worst thing ever, but you finished something and you may have even learned something. The next one and the one after that will get better.

You have to have the nerve. You need to muster up the courage or resolve to do something. Easier said than done. Confidence? Courage? To just write? I need to not overthink it. Just write. Could it be that simple?

I don’t know. I’ll let you know next time. But I do hope you are working on something!

Just keep writing!

Jennifer

Looking back

by Jennifer Bobiwash

Re-writes. Where to start? A few years ago I wrote and performed a solo show. It took me a few different classes to finally figure out what all this writing was. Several notebooks and class 10-20 minute presentations saw me writing the same story several different ways, with different locations to start from and how many characters where in the play. Then, when opportunity presented itself in the form of a 6-month solo show class I was in. A show finally complete and submitted. And then presented. A few times. But recently I got the opportunity to present it again. But just as my point of view changed over the years of trying to get it done, so did the play. I dug the script (version 6) off a lost thumb drive and noticed a few things would have to change if I was to perform it again. Armed with a new dramaturg and director the re-writes began. I had just taken a class on dramaturgy and tried to look at my play with new eyes. I’ve been part of a theater company that presents new works and is always working dramaturgs so I’d had plenty of opportunity to be in the room and watch the work. After this class, I looked at my play with new eyes and finally understood the questions that a previous director had asked about my work. What is your play saying? What do you want the audience to take away after watching? I’d been able to answer the question previously, but couldn’t put it into action. Maybe I didn’t want to. Maybe I wanted to do it my way, I don’t know. I also realized the importance of having a Native dramaturg. There was no need to explain cultural references and explain the joke. The point I was trying to make was clearly seen and understood. But because it was virtual, how would I know what message the audience walked away with?

But having an opportunity to revisit work was a gift. A few years had passed since versions 1-4. Version 5 was a college presentation and gave me some thoughts to work towards in version 6. When the day came to present the piece, I stood on the empty stage, walking through the movements and characters, running lines one last time. Again I realized how personal the story had been. I thought I made the necessary modification, but the story still got to me. Hitting me in new places as I shared my story to the empty theater. The pain of the outcome of the story still sat with me. Why had I agreed to do this? Again. The words were lost me. This story I have lived with was gone. My head blank. I had to keep reminding myself why I wanted write. Or better yet, why I wanted to write and what stories did, do I want to tell.

So I’ll leave it at that, to ponder until we meet again. What stories do you want to tell?

Opening up

During this time of lockdown, I never felt stifled or thought I had writer’s block. But it wasn’t until this past week, as the world slowly opened up did I realize how I wasn’t writing.

Walking around the city like a tourist. Taking pictures of the sites, then finding a local watering hole with patio seating was eye opening. Throughout the day I took in the sites, the people and views. I wanted to find a place a sit. Observations that could add to something I’m writing later.

When I was in lockdown, unable to leave the house, I wrote. And I got a few things done. But it wasn’t until I was able once again to write in a bar that I discovered what I was missing. Visual stimulation. New views and places allowed me to realize how I can use random journal entries to further my writing. To give my characters depth and a place to wonder and live.

I have been using writing prompts and taken oh so many writing classes in an effort to get something written. Which didn’t. Trying to generate work. To figure how to write a play. How do I start? I am still looking for the sweet spot, the secret to finishing a play.

Any tips would be appreciated!

The Red Lion

Cheers,

Jenn

Pandemic woes

Ugh. I have started and re-started this first paragraph too many times to mention. And I think that is indicative of my writing in general as of late. When the world shut down, almost a year ago now, I was fine. Working from home, something that I have been doing for 5+ years, was nothing new for me. I was writing up a storm, holding a weekly writing space. I was taking classes from around the country and loving it!

But for some reason when 2021 rolled around, I am now done. I am paralyzed and cannot write. Like this blog post, I have several started plays, a stack of notecards with random sentences, notebooks with bits of ideas, and I can’t move past that.

I want to write plays because I feel you can discuss issues immediately. Write the play, put it up. And yes in our present day world, Zoom theater is the norm and your casts can be global, so what’s stopping you, ok me?

Reaction. I thought I had a grown a thick skin, ready for the criticisms, but now I feel judgment and cancel culture will come for you. Strangers re-tweeting what other people have said about you, never once asking you for the real story, and you’re done.

I really want to say more about this. Figure this out. Move past the moments. But how do you do that?

….so maybe I’ll finish that play?

Jenn

Analysing your script

What do you do after you’ve finished writing your script?

Well, you can have friends read it, which these days can be quick and easy. Just read it on Zoom. A reading is helpful because after weeks of reading it to yourself and laughing at your own jokes, it’s time to let it out into the world to see if people think you’re as funny as you think you are. I say this, because I have found the play and fun again in writing a script.

If you’ll remember from an earlier post, I would write in a situation for my play that may have nothing to do with the story, but had to be present. That for me was a shirtless man. I’m not sure why that started, but it made for interesting storylines and justifications on why this character had to be on stage the entire time. Lately, I’ve found other things that make me giggle and may not make it into the final script, but to get me through the first draft, I need something. Which helped me get through a first draft. But when you have a reading of your play, your listeners may not understand that particular line and don’t find the joy in it that you do. For me that conversation came in the form of working with a dramaturg. I had included a line from a country song as part of dialogue and the dramaturg pointed out how it made her feel about the character and their relationships. Which was interesting because all I was hearing was the complete song with was more than cheating, which is what my dramaturg got from it. With further discussion I found a line that was even better and I imagined it being said out loud.

After the first read through of the script, the dramaturg asked questions of the actors of their understanding of the play. This was supremely helfpul because I was thinking “no one is going to get what I’m saying”, but they did. Success. As I fielded questions and comments from the actors and dramaturg, the storyline became ever more obvious to me and a few more tweeks would satisfy me.

I have one more meeting with my dramaturg, in which we’ll discuss some of the notes she took during the reading. While looking at them, I think of them from the perspective of an actor. I wonder how much of my own story am I bringing in my character decisions that actually are in no way related to the script at hand.

This first read through was also helpful as I have been having a love hate relationship with stage directions. After taking a writing class earlier this year, where the instructor made us keep our stage directions to a minimum, I was all in. Set the scene and let ‘er go. But now, I am adding some back in. Tell me, does it matter that the lines I wrote there is an argument happening, and as the actors read it, it was so tame. Do I need to add she moved aggressively towards her to make the point of a fight? and will the director care about that? will the actors see the fight coming? Do I have to add more !!!!!!!!! to emphasize the point I am trying to make?

Oh, did I mention this is just a 10-minute play. 10-minutes that I felt I really had to stretch to make happen, but after the meeting with the dramaturg I’m up to 11 pages. Woo hoo! You mean you can’t read my mind and see what I’m trying to say? That’s probably better anyway. Right?

So I am off to complete my edit so they can start rehearsal. But there’s just one thing. What’s another way to say “hill of beans” because right now I’m making up colloquialism I’m sure exist. Suggestions appreciated.

Keep writing!

Jennifer

Later…

I am at a loss.  Still.  I want to write and I do.  I write something everyday.  Now I just need to pull it together for a cohesive piece, but then I find another reference, or another article that I add fuel to my writing and I can’t put it out there.  

I am searching for the secret, so if you know, please share it will me?  How do you give zero f*cks? I can say all day long that I don’t care what people think and that I am writing my truth, but something  hides in the shadows just waiting for me I know.  Someone there to have the conversations I am dying to have but…procrastination.  My house is so clean because of this.  If only I could channel it.

“You know you are getting old when it takes too much effort to procrastinate.” — Source unknown

I have started once again doing writing prompts.  Which at the time when I choose the prompt I don’t think it will be helpful but as soon as I start the timer my mind is drawn into my play and I am filled with some sense of accomplishment.

Taking a 5-10 minutes clearing my head is hard.  Sitting still.  Needing to do something, anything else than sit here.  What’s better for me, to get my writing done is to lead the meditation.  That way I’m always thinking of what I’m going to say next, which I know is not what I supposed to do, but I’m trying.  The random prompt then leads to dialogue.  The time limit making me choose my words quickly and not overthinking it.  Just write.  Get something on the page. Don’t go back and edit.  Just write the next sentence.   What makes it worst, I have a book with 400 writing prompts, yet I insist on searching online everytime I need to find a prompt.

What else is productive for me is to take a class.  During this time there have been so many opportunities to take classes from all around the country.  I’ve written 2 short plays already.  Way more than I think I’ve done before. EVER.  I mean in a week’s time.  But now I am procrasting on deadlines to submit a full length play and I’ve turned to reading a book about playwrighting.  You know, just so I can get it right.  I think I’m getting good at this procrastination.

I hope you are writing.  I’m trying.  Keep at it.

Jennifer

Extroverted Introvert?

Where has the time gone? In March I was poised, full of energy chomping at the bit to write a post, with a week’s worth of ideas and thoughts and here it is the weekend and my time is almost done.  I am always at a loss of what to share and what to write about playwrighting.  But this go round, I have so much to say I can’t contain it and it is coming out in bits and pieces.

I never really thought much of the difference of Introverts and Extroverts, thinking of it as if it were some placebo affect that I was feeling and acting upon.  I didn’t want to read of what an Introvert was because then, of course I would think I was.  And I really never thought of myself as an Extrovert, but could certainly embody some of the characteristics should the occasion present itself.  But with the world closing its doors and forcing people inside the definitions came screaming out.  People needed an outlet to share their energy and ease their anxiety.  I could clearly see the defining line in people and myself and how we are dealing with it all. 

Depending on the class I’m in, I wonder how this would be different if it were in person. Does it change the dynamic of the class because we can see each others faces as opposed to sitting in classroom style. Do people hesitate to talk and be the first to talk because they are truly an introvert, or are they just feeling the effects of quarantine.

I hesitate to share my joy of writing as I know of others who have be stymied by this time.  The weight of the world on our shoulders and anxiety of it creeping in.  For me writing during this time has been marvelous.  I have always been a stickler for rules and following how-tos, so the mechanics of playwrighting always hampered me.  I am thankful for the teachers out there who reached out and shared their classes I would not have otherwise been able to attend.  The joy of sitting at home in L.A. and attending a class in NYC with far-away friends was freeing.  Being able to connect with people outside of my sphere and being able to explore writing has been a treat. So much so that I have written two short plays.  I found the joy and laughter again of why I want to write.  Tips and tricks to get past the rules of structure I suffered with and to just sit down and write.  A mantra I try to repeat to myself as a quiet motivation and just now realizing the flippantness of the statement.  

I am wondering if I am an Extrovert because of all the classes I’ve been taking and all of the participating I have been doing. My head is full of information and my computer holds bits and pieces from a variety of classes. My notebook, that I usually carry with me and takes months to fill, has only a few blank pages left. Full up from a month of opportunity and ideas and unfinished scenes.  

Lessons learned during this time:

Set aside 15 minutes to write and do it daily. Consistency helps.

If you’re looking for something to write about – think “what am I curious about?”

Think of the intention of every scene. What do your character(s) need?

What is the action of your scene? Your character needs something from the other.

Now when I get lost in the weeds, I just start out with a random line that I’ve collected from the books I read.  I usually write these sentences down because as I’m reading them a voice is commenting on them in my head and they speak to the subjects of my current writings.  As I write the scene I consider what do the characters want to get to the end of the scene.  The plays that I have finished during this time had constraints that had to be included in the play, which made it fun and I included things that made me giggle, like lines from 80s movies.

I gotta go. I have to finish some homework for class and I’m entering another #Bakeoff and it’s due tomorrow.  

Take care of you. 

Jennifer

it’s storytime

ICYMI, the Academy Awards were last Sunday and all week I have been seeing post after post about Taika Waititi and quotes from his speech. 

“I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories,” Waititi said in his acceptance speech. “We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well.”

A well deserved reactions considering how long we have been telling our stories.  

Storytelling is part of who we are, regardless of indigeniety.  Every culture, race and ethnic group has some kind of tie to it.  Otherwise how would we, today have a link to our past.  Sometimes, we live so deeply in these stories they consume us.  Once just a tale to pass the longs and nights and to entertain, we now believe wholeheartedly in them.  We give them power and when someone tries to disprove the story; we fight for it and cling to it like bubblegum stuck to your shoe on a hot summer day.

As a child, my father ran the summer camp program, where we he would take the group camping for a night.  Although not that deep into the woods, yet a good 20 minutes outside of town, we would camp next to the rapids.  At night while roasting smores, dad would spin yarns that still make me think twice before I jump into a lake. 

Growing up I never considered the history of my people’s stories, I have never really thought of where they come from, or who they come from, until now.  I remember my dad telling stories around the campfire during summer camp.  Sitting around the fire, roasting smores, while he told of water monsters and things that live in the woods.  Which as a kid that was afraid of the dark and hated bugs did not bode well.  My favourite was of the a creature that lived in the water and always made me pause before I jumped off the high rock into the water.  

It wasn’t until I started writing that my dad told me we come from storytellers, that was who our family was an I am finally coming home by writing. In telling stories, I am torn.  By myth, tradition and technology.  I live in social media, not realizing that these snippets of life give a glimpse into stories, made to look pretty with filters and the right angle,  cultivating, creating a new story, a myth so we can carry on with the day.

As I look back to this story my dad would tell and I remember, I wonder the true meaning of it is as it most likely been re-told and distorted through time by the lens of the teller.

Jennifer Bobiwash