Tag Archives: playwriting surprises

A Writing Assignment

Kitty Felde – January 23, 2011

I work on Capitol Hill.  It’s a day job much like the theatre – lots of colorful characters and drama.  And mystery.

I’ve started collecting odd signs.  This one keeps haunting me…it sounds like the title of a play.  But I can’t imagine what it would be about.

So as I sign off this week, in the spirit of  leaving you with homework, I offer this sign as the title of the play you’ll never get around to writing.  Write a one paragraph synopsis – the annoying kind theatres keep demanding.  And this is your title:

The title of your next play

Write It Scared…

I’m pretty fearless when writing but there are still instances when I am not (two to be exact).  I was writing a one woman show for a friend some years ago.  It started pretty crazy with the voices coming out of my mouth while I was driving – always as I neared or left the Post Office.  This happened for a few days before I realized the voices were characters in a play and not me losing my mind out loud.  There is a poem in that first scene called “Before the Red”; I felt and still feel that the piece should have explored that specific subject matter but I ended it when the voices quieted enough for me to go on to write the other monologues in the piece – maybe because I was tired of those strange characters blurting things out of my mouth – maybe because deep down I knew I was not ready to go THERE…  Individually, the monologues work but the collective piece is not a conclusion to the matter.  And, though I did not censor myself in writing the monologues, for whatever reason, I did fail to push into that first world I found – the THERE space…  I know the exact point I decided not to write the whole ugly truth…when those darn girls stopped blurting out sentences.  It’s at that point where I decided to write a variation of that truth – a modified portion of it which merely scraped the surface – the almost whole story.  The meat of it was left in the quarantined sector in my story bank – in the scary dark – THERE…  Though I am not easily jarred, with this piece, I was scared.  Scared that to really tell it, I would have to go deep enough to hit oil.  Would I be able to survive the gushing out of it?  I was scared to find out and I was scared that if I could survive the gushing part, I would put it out there before its time…  I am a firm believer that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…Ecclesiastes 3”  Baring “uglies” for no purpose other than to bare them is not part of my makeup as a writer.  Perhaps it’s all those Aesop’s Fable cartoons I watched as a kid or the Twilight Zone episodes…  I sort of let myself down by writing an alternate piece and it’s stuck in my head (annoying me with thoughts of – “You know you still have to tell that story ‘cause you didn’t really go THERE… and you know you didn’t.  When are you going to write that story?  Soon, I say, right after the submission period is over and I have more time.”). 

I had been able to push the first instance to the back of my subconscious for a few years until I met playwright Will Eno who wrote “Thom Pain: based on nothing”.   I met him at a conference and he knew at once when I read the girls’ scene that I had failed to let that play go where no play (of mine) had gone before…all the way to the scary dark THERE…  The conversation went a little like this (because this is how I remember it):

Me:  “I think I failed.  I think I edited myself in some way.  I think the play wanted to say something else.”

Will Eno:  “You’re right.  You failed.  You have to throw it out and start over.”

Me:  “But, what I ended up with – the monologues are good.  I can’t throw them out.”

Will Eno:  “Then keep them but you still have to start over.  Trust that the thing that originally motivated you will motivate you again.”

He’s right.  I started over.  Since I never actually kill my darlings, I have them on standby to recycle/rework into other pieces.  When I sit quietly enough, the girls start to chatter again, taking me back to those moments when the sparks of their voices made me shake…

More recently, the second instance came about when I decided that I did not want to write a piece too close to the occurrence of the current event that inspired it.  My preference…  Again, I was scared that the timing was not quite right to go THERE … so I wrote something else.  A good piece but not the project I should have tackled.  Then I went to see “Stoop Stories” by Dael Orlandersmith.  After the talk back, I mentioned to her how her play “Yellowman” affected me.  Profoundly.  It made me shake…made me remember the girls who have been stepping aside for all the other plays I’ve written (funny both plays involve just girls/women).  Dael’s work makes me think about those two pieces on my back burners; it makes me want to revisit them nowit makes me want to tackle the scary dark…just get right in there and look around.  I asked her how she was able to keep from editing herself.  I asked if she cared about what people may think or how they would respond when she’s writing.  I asked her if it scared her to be so open and honest.  She said – (and this is what struck me the most and this is how I remember it) – she said, “I care but I can’t do that to myself.  Do you understand?  I just can’t do that to myself.  Of course I’m scared; it scares me but I have to do it.” 

She’s right.  I just have to resolve it in myself that I will always write everything as open and honest as I can.  Otherwise, and I’ve learned this over time, I won’t give myself a pass because I can’t do that to myself either… 

As a writer one owes it to oneself to go to the THERE space… to the scary dark place and write it…just write it scared…

Banging my Head Against the Wall

Sometimes a girl gets frustrated; with her messy desk, with her lack of internal thesaurus, with the stack of plays next to her and lack of productions behind/before her, with email, with the BP oil spill, with having to work for the Census because she’s STILL unemployed…  Sometimes a girl gets so frustrated, so overcome by her own seeming inertness, that she dreams of action, even if it’s the bang-her-head-against-the-wall kind.  So what does the girl actually do in these situations?

I suppose she writes a play about it.

I used to rub my eyes in confusion when other writers would lament the difficulties of writing from their own experiences – since all of my plays are pretty much beyond the realm of The Real, it had never been a problem for me.  In fact, I quite enjoyed the fact that I wrote so fantastically…  Sure, all my leads are women, and sure, they share some of my nutty neaurosis… but surely that’s where all the “Me” ended.  So imagine my surprise when just this last month I sat down with all my frustrations, all my rage at the BP oil spill and my lack of solid employment, and wrote a play.

In two weeks.


Unbelievable because I’ve never written a play in two weeks!  (Not unless it was a little nugget of a script.)  I was flabbergasted – and super excited – and also intensely uncertain as to its value or merit.  You see, this play was definitely about me this time – a hyper-charged “me” in disguise to be certain – but there was the unemployment, there was the Census, and there, center stage, was my heartbreak over the BP oil spill.

You see, I may not be able to do much about my current state, or the current state of the world, but I could create a character who could. I could endow this character with the supernatural pull that I myself lack…

So I did.

I was no longer just pulling my hair out, banging my frustrated head against a wall!  I was engaging in some urgent spiritual catharsis, and making a play in the process.

And I did so because I’m a writer.

I wrestle with the notion of striving for a career in “entertainment” when the world is as crazy as it is… sometimes it feels selfish, others like a coward’s ploy… but I think all this observational anxiety just comes with the territory – the sit-on-the-perimeter-to-observe-and-report territory, that a writer occupies.

Even as I sit in fear of this rocky economy, listening to theaters who are afraid to take a chance on new work, accepting pats on the back from my peers who also sit in dread, I’m able to recognize this – I’m able to sit with the muse and get to work – because that’s what I do.  It has never been as obvious to me, this commitment and actuality of the writer’s life, as it is right now amidst my own personal panic; I can’t plug the hole in the Gulf, I can’t MAKE someone hire me, but I can write a play about a woman so affected by the world’s current state of crisis that she becomes more than herself in a bid to help it.

And I think that has value.  The job of the playwright is, after all, to reflect his/her time through story, isn’t it?  So now I task myself with revisions, and I cheer myself forward along this path, my path, the dramatist’s path… it’s a strange sense of comfort to have found in this summer’s storm, but I cling to it.

I have to.  The world is too crazy at the moment for me to find a foothold anywhere else.

~Tiffany Antone

Labor Pains

Ahh, the pains of labor… is there no better comparison for the birthing of a new play?  Late nights, indigestion, dark half-moons hugging your eyes, and a strong, unflinching desire to just get it OUT?!

For what else is writing if not it’s own sort of miracle of creation?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as a single woman who is at that delightful age when all around her is BABIES, I can’t help but wonder when I’ll get to nurse something along that talks back, spits up, and laughs at me on occasion… In the meanwhile, I get to wrestle with invisible creatures with their own amazing power of will… and it never ceases to amaze me how they do it!

What do you mean you’re a puppet?  I don’t know anything about puppets!  I didn’t imagine you a puppet when I sat down to write this thing… Are puppets expensive?


Did you just hit her?  Your own mother?  In the jaw?  What were you thinking?  What does this do to my play?


If you can see your own memories floating around you… I mean, like really see them… physically… then you just raised the price of go-to capital needed to produce this thing.  You need to get a job to start paying for yourself, you imaginative magical trollop!

But it always works out, because it’s this stubborn wonder that gets me going the most.  I really think that it’s these moments of “WHAT the F***” that let me know I’m on to something good… maybe even great.  It’s the muse’s way of saying “Oh, I think we can do better than that.”

And you know what?  No matter the pain, no matter the exasperation, that crafty muse of mine is usually right.

So even when the result is “I was in labor with that play for NINE whole MONTHS, and look at it!  It’s still all over lumps and bruises!”  (sigh)  At least I’ve got a good story to tell… holding the “scrapbook” in hand, proud “parent” to some crazy new world…  getting ready to send it out for all to judge.

I think David Lindsay-Abaire said it best in his forward for Wonder of the World.

Your child might swear too much, or have a funny birthmark, or an odd way of obsessing about the weather, but still he must be sent out into the world, warts and all, to fend for himself.  And you hope he’ll find friends who will love him for who he is.  I hope, dear reader, you become one of those friends to this, my hyperactive, potty-mouthed but loveable child.

Ahh, yes, labor pains, growing pains, so many pains… Indeed!