I realized after I had completed my plays, it was time to start a new one, but I was at a loss. Previous plays had begun with a project I wanted to submit to that gave me a place to start from, an idea to build on. But it wasn’t until there was no specific project to write for, did I realize I was out of ideas. Well, not necesszrily out of ideas, but no idea where to start. And that had me thinking, where do ideas come from?
Do you make a wish for potential story lines and ideas?
I never thought of how a play starts. It’s just a story after all.
A story you feel you need to tell. A problem you need to fix.
There are no new ideas. Just different ways to approach them.
So what are you thinking passionately about lately?
As the year is quickly coming to an end, I am celebrating actually completing a play. Yes, yes, I’ve written others, but this year felt more momentous and quite a learning experience. Both bad and good. Good. I finished 2 plays, start to finish, and actually submitted them to places. Bad, because I had to realize what it means to have a Native play out there in the world and what the possibilities of it are. I became an actor because I wanted to see accurate depictions of Native people. As time went on, I realized that it was more than the physical depiction, but the actual stories being told and who was telling them. I had the opportunity to work on a studio project as a Native character with a 3 episode arc. For whatever reason, which I didn’t bother to ask, I was only given my pages from the episodes and not the complete episode. It wasn’t until I arrived on location that I got to see more, which made me question my role. Because the show was based on a book, I read the book. There was no mention of my character, or my family in the book, which isn’t abnormal to have, but I felt that Native people were being added to the story to add diversity and it did nothing to add to the overall storyline. What was interesting were the words and subject matter that were used to discuss Native people. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with the director and discuss the episode and question words and phrases used and wonder what the payoff was for them. The director took my questions to the writers and further discussion was had. I appreciated the time that was taken and I feel I was heard. Did it change things? I don’t know, but I do hope that those writers and that director will remember that conversation if they participate in another project with similar themes. I say this because after my play was written and the time came to cast it, I was so disheartened and wondered why I should even bother. Why bother to write the stories if they are so difficult to cast? How hard can it be? Early this year there was another play with a Native character, written by a non-Native writer. Fine, no big deal. Again, I had the opportunity to talk with the playwright, who was also the casting director. I understood the play and the people because the playwright was from Canada and I knew where the story was from. I questioned the playwright on some of the lines as I tried to see (once again) the point of having a Native character. Yes, it’s great that there are Native characters out there to play, but these roles are usually the stereotypical native-loving conservationists because that’s what Native people are. Right? At the end of the day, they ended up NOT casting a Native person and kept the role as Native. I asked actor friends if they auditioned for it or if they heard about it, and all of them said no. Even though it was on Actor’s Access. Even though the casting director (who, remember, is the playwright) reached out to people, she obviously didn’t get the turnout she expected and made the choice to hire a Non-Native actor. I wonder if we, as Native people, are so hell-bent on accurate representation that we don’t audition for the part? Which is a feasible response. But the project usually still gets made, with or without accurate representation. In trying to cast my 5 person play, I understood for a brief moment why some things get cast as they do. I was on the verge of saying just put the best actor in there. That didn’t mean that Native actors were bad, it just meant that for my play to be read and workshopped, I needed someone to read the words, anyone. In the end, I reached out to friends so I could hear my show. But it didn’t leave me with a warm fuzzy feeling. What will happen when my play goes out into the world without me? How will it be cast? And how do you deal with that as the playwright?
I will leave you to ponder that and hopefully offer some advice.
I had never thought of it before. I’ve worked as a Director. I’ve worked as an actor with a Director, but as a playwright, it’s been limited to the extent that I knew what I was supposed to do. That being said, I’ve had a run through almost every job in theater and was always willing to learn. I’ve had opportunities to watch great work being created. Trying to pay attention to what was being asked and what the response was. But this time, as I worked with the director as the playwright, I felt invigorated, ready for re-writes.
Do you ever have a moment when your brain is just working and working and you think “I should probably write this down”, but it’s 4 am and you don’t want to get out of bed, so you think I’ll remember later. Then you fall back asleep and when you wake up hours later you have completely forgotten about this moment and wonder if it was all a dream because it was effin brilliant and no one will know.
My subconscious was working overtime because I was considering a text I received from my director the night before which messed up my thought process and made me rethink and almost rewrite the entire play. (I haven’t yet because I only have a few days before my draft is due and making the change would be a whole new play). So my question is, when do you know to completely scrap and make substantial changes?
My mind returned to the previous day when I met with the director of my workshop reading, I talked about the play. More like babble, because I didn’t really know what to say. I just started talking. This was the first time I had an opportunity to talk about what I’ve been working on for the past 6 months with someone who’d read the play and I really didn’t know where to start. He asked questions of me and I tried my best to answer in the moment. I explained thought processes behind the scenes and characters without being prompted, I just wanted to make sure I was being understood. That and I just had to say it out loud. To hear my thoughts aloud instead of just mere mumblings to myself in my head. Was I trying to convince my director, or was I simply telling him facts? By the time our meeting was over I was confident to make minor changes to address comments and questions from my cohort.
Then, as I sat with my laptop, ready to open Final Draft, my phone dings.
I am overwhelmed by the world. I just had that realization as I looked up from my phone. I have a million tabs open on the two monitors in front of me, as I’m on hold with customer service trying to get a doctor’s bill paid while watching a safety training video and taking the quiz. I’m also trying really hard not to lose it on the automated voice that can’t understand me as I answer the tenth menu option through gritted teeth. Oh, did I mention I also have rewrites due?
Wait. Wait. Customer service has answered my call, but she does not sound like she is having a good day. The voice on the other end of the line is huffing and puffing and has not said hello yet.
I hear a click.
What?!?!?!? Did she hang up on me?
No. No. I hear breathing.
She’s still there.
One big huff aaaaannnnnd….Hello, welcome to your Insurance customer service (I don’t want to expose them).
I try to be pleasant and make a joke or two, instead of just screaming/crying/pleading “Why is my insurance not processing my claim? Is Gold PPO not good enough? Is there a Platnum level? Titanium?”
She huffs again. “What seems to be the problem?”
My anger has dissipated and now I’m at a loss. Again, “Just process my claim (a beat or five) please?”
I am typing all this while I’m on the phone with her, so maybe that has helped distract me from the madness. I continue to hear the clicking of her on her computer and heavy sighs and exasperated breaths.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. Everything looks good on this side, they must be doing something on their end. What is the problem?”
“Um? They want a “butt” ton of money from me and they say that my insurance won’t accept the claim.” I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I should’ve been taking dictated notes while on the phone with my doctor’s billing office.
“I’m going to send it through again (or something to that effect), it’ll take a bit to process, so check back.”
I am defeated. There is nothing I can do. I don’t know if there was anything I could actually do, but I wanted, no need, to yell at someone. Raise the white flag. “Ok. Thank you. Have a great rest of your day!”
I think I threw her off. I was nice. I didn’t open my can of whoop a$$ like I was ready to.
A deep sigh and “Thank you, you too, have a great night” with a slight bit of surprise in her voice. I guess I’m surprised too. I was thinking I was going to have to ask for a supervisor! Ahhh, the joys of health care and the institution of insurance.
Now what? Oh. I’m searching for a good image to go along with this post, as I look down at the two notebooks and my iPad full of re-write notes. Oh. A ding on my phone. Prescription is ready. Oh, and I have to return those shoes to the store….
My brain is running away again. I never thought I was a procrastinator. In school I was always ahead of schedule, never waiting until the night before to get a 50-page paper done.
Since the new year began, I have been trying to develop a habit of writing, because things work out well if you just sit down and write. It’s like the ideas are there and if you just keep your fingers moving, they’ll end up on the paper and the story will flow, sometimes to places you hadn’t even dreamed of before. I discovered that a few weeks ago when I was on another deadline. I was shocked at how my story took a turn. I hadn’t even thought of going there. But I did. And all thanks to procrastination. So this next rewrite is going to be good! I can feel it. My procrastination is at an all-time high.
Ok. Wish me luck.
I’m going to pick up my prescription. No. I mean I’m going to write.
DING! DING! DING! DING!
Oh, gotta go. That’s the notifications on my work email. I’m covering for someone today.
So you just pitched an idea and now you have to write a play…Ahhh what do you do next???
First, find a copy of your submission so you can remember what brilliant idea you sent in. Next, find your notebook, notecards, and/or Google doc and re-read your pitch. Take a moment for it all to come back to and start writing your 8 to 10 pages that you need for your first meeting.
But where do you start? Me, I knew where I wanted to begin so I would save that material for later. Right now I wanted to experiment with what I didn’t know. I had a wild thought and went down a rabbit hole of definitions and science-y talk trying to describe outer space for the stage. Is there sound in space? What kinds of gases are in the air? If there is sound, how is it detected? How quickly do you travel in space? How many light years = an earth year?
As I wrote for my decided on characters, I worried that I needed more. I was at a total of 3 actors. How many more would I need? How many rooms are we moving through? Should I have made an outline for this? I kept the dialogue going as I searched for the conflict. And I didn’t look back. It’s just 10 pages. No re-reading. I did peek once but was to make sure I had the correct character saying what needed to be said. I moved through the senses. What are we hearing when the incident occurs? Can we hear it? and if so, what is the instrument that is notifying us of this sound? I closed my eyes as I thought of being in space. How quiet is it? A quick search to read how NASA builds the shuttle. How does our spacecraft move through space? Are we floating? A few twists and turns later, we had our first encounter. 8 pages done.
The group of playwrights is small. So a quick hello and we dig in. As the other playwrights read my play with the roles I have assigned them, I am caught up in the technicalities of what I wrote. Too much! I understood it, but only because I had searched for it. Otherwise, it could have been said so much more simpler. After all the technical jargon I used, I opted to use the word “thingamagig” to explain a not yet invented…thingamagig, that tested the thingamabobs for the whatchamachlits. And because this was the first scene I was writing, it could be anything at this point. No one could see the rest of the story I already had laid out in my head, so their questions and wonders of scenes to come already had answers. But the tech stuff has to be paired down. My writing and re-writing are happening in my head. I am watching so many first episodes of every sci-fi tv show there is. How do they start? Why are people leaving earth? What does this world 1000 years from now look like? I was worried that my parallel to history 1000 years ago would be lost, but after watching the pilot for Frontier, where they are 50 000 years into the future and they are having the same problems we are today, I felt ok with my decisions.
I guess what I’m saying is that you just have to start. Start writing those 8-10 pages and see where they take you. Have somewhat of an outline, but you don’t have to stick with it. I mean, my characters were never going to make it, but now…well, spoilers, I can’t give the ending away.
You’ll just have to see it when it’s done.
I’m off to look at the stars for inspiration. Keep writing!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.