Diary of a New Play, Day 1
I’m working on a play. It’s a tough one. It involves deep feelings, ambivalence, and fear of being a target of criticism. It’s called, Firearms Tutorial. I’m in trouble already.
Here’s the backstory. I left the Boston area after the intense ten-day MFA teaching gig at that ever-rewarding program, the Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College. I did not return to my beloved woods in Empire, Michigan, but flew to Chicago for a socatical, thanks to friends Phillip and Patty, who have handed over their lovely apartment while they teach in Paris (a teaching gig in Paris!), and also (as you might guess) the care of their wildly eccentric cats, Pablo and Enrique. Though I am missing David and home, I have a week here for focused work on a play that, while not new, might as well be for the urge I have to tear it apart. I wrote the draft, titled Firearms Tutorial, (yup, about guns, or rather bullets, or rather one bullet which might turn out to be a baby–thus it’s already a problem play) in blind rage after the Virginia Tech massacre, but for a bunch of reasons, the piece was deemed first too hot and then, as life yanked me toward toward books and oh, a few other projects, I let it languish. This spring, a brilliant former student and friend, Beth Bigler, told me about the Blank Theater Company’s Living Room Series (in Los Angeles), a week long development process for new plays. The company selects about a dozen playwrights a year. Knowing this script was a real longshot, but thinking about the recent tragic shootings, I sent it to them, and to my surprise, it was chosen. I’ve committed to working on it this week, before I go out to Los Angeles for the work with the Blank Theater Company, so maybe it will be in less ragged condition when it hits that table where actors and a director will begin, line by line, asking those truly irritating and essential questions I have not yet thought to answer. Playwriting is collaborative, and watching actors stumble through a script is the best (and most humbling) way to learn where it’s wrong headed.
As a little side project to the work of the script, “Firearms Tutorial,” I’ve decided to periodically post the play’s progress, end-of-day personal debriefings to friends—since so many of you are writers, theater folk, or friends of the literary community—for the next couple of weeks. I conceived it to be one of those wacky journals of how a play grows up, and to share the answer to that proverbial question: What’s your process? Truth is, this might really be about how plays fail. Or how AMO realizes she is not a playwright. Or how AMO goes crazy trying to rewrite. Or how I don’t know what my process is because it’s been so long since I’ve worked on a play, (scariest of all), but what the heck, I intend to describe it all in public—geesh, so I better figure it out, at least for this next two weeks. I am opening the script that I have been reading in snippets for these last weeks, and I am sitting quietly and reading the damned 80 ish pages cover to cover in hopes it’s not as bad as I think it is.
Two hours later.
Yikes, could it be that bad? Here is where I begin.