Monday, 20 August 2012

The End of the World as I Know It.

This is a blog post from the Educational Theatre Association in USA by playwright and teacher Stephen Gregg. This is a post worth reading because he handily tells his disappointment when a play is not all he'd hoped it would be.  It is also pretty funny.
The End of the World as I Know It by Stephen Gregg
June 6, 2012
I’m not sure why I thought the end of the world would be amusing.
I don’t know how I could have thought that having a comedy end with the destruction of our planet was a good idea.
It wasn’t a good idea.
Bakersfield High School, under the direction of Jacquie Thompson-Mercer, gave the play a great production, complete with lovely character work and high-end tech.  But then the curtain came down at the end of the play and the audience applauded politely.
No playwright daydreams of polite applause.
This happened a few months ago, at the premiere of my one-act, This Is a Text.
The production was supposed to be the culmination of a development process, proof that the play was ready for publication.
It’s not.
Five minutes before the end of the play, I thought, “Huh, all these appealing young people will be dead in five minutes.  This might be a problem.”                                                             

Lots of play scripts have notes about how the play came to be. Christopher Durang writes good ones. Peter Schaffer writes about the problem he struggled with with Amadeus.(Salieri had very little to do in the second act.)
One of my favorites is from Anatomy of Gray by Jim Leonard.  Leonard describes writing and rewriting the play, getting it workshopped and then produced and then produced some more and still knowing it wasn’t right. And so he put it away.
For ten years.
But what all of these Notes from the Playwright have in common is that they’re written from a place of triumph. The play is being published.  It’s out in the world having a life, which is really most of what you want for a play. These are the notes of the victor, recounting the strategy she used to conquer the monsters that were tearing at her plot.
I thought it might be useful to record that battle in real time, at a moment when the monsters have the upper hand.                                             

A few weeks after the politely received production, I said to Todd, “So, is it kind of a downer that the world ends?”
He confessed that yes, the nuclear holocaust was a bummer.
So I took out the end of the world.
But, as you can imagine, it requires a fair amount of exposition—setting up—to explain why the world explodes. So that exposition came out. And when that exposition was removed some moments no longer made sense and some transitions went missing. Worst of all, some characters seemed irrelevant and the play had no sense of drive.
All of which made me realize that my problems had been bigger than the ending. (Among other things, using a character solely as an expository device is bad playwriting.)
The more I pulled at the apocalypse thread, the more my little throw rug of a play unraveled.This Is a Text is now about four inchoate pages long.
The moment when a project unravels is never a writer’s best moment. But it does happen, and I’m recording this now partly for myself.
It’s happened before. You examine the threads, see which of them might work, and start to weave again.  Often you get a play that’s better than the one you started with.
But sometimes the play isn’t better. And sometimes—this is where the anxiety lies—you don’t get a play at all.
This Is a Text is scheduled to come out this fall. It’s in my publisher’s catalog already. (Let’s not mention this to them.)
Nothing to do but pick up those sad little remaining threads and start weaving again.
It’s not the end of the world.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Playwright Profile: Alice Nelson


Alice is an actor, playwright, director, puppeteer, improviser and clown. She holds an MFA from Dell’Arte Physical Theatre School in California and a BFA from the U of L. Alice’s company, Organized Crime, will perform a staged reading at the Auburn Saloon of her new co-created musical, KEEP SWEET: A Polygamy Musical. Organized Crime will be performing Land of Dream, a clown show about chasing the American dream, at the Motel in December 2012. Last season, Alice was selected as Lunchbox Theatre’s Emerging Director. Her credits included directing Mockingbird Close and assistant directing Perils in Paris, Last Christmas, Super 8 and Whimsy State. She directed Picasso at the Lapin Agile for Morpheus Theatre, Sleeping Beauty for Loose Moose and The Boy's Own Jedi Handbook for Empress Theatre.  Alice has also written and toured several shows, including three solo shows: Swashbucklers, Local Celebrity and Elephant. She co-created and toured RAUNCH: The Rise of Female Chauvinist Pigs and was commissioned by Empress Theatre to write an original clown show, The Worry Wart. Alice teaches and frequently leads workshops in clown, melodrama and improv. Her passion is supporting Clowns Without Borders and raising awareness of their amazing international work!

 1) What is your writing process? Do you start writing right away? Outline? Research?
Research (mostly reading books on a subject), ramble about an idea to friends, my folks, anyone willing to listen, more research, more rambling, watch movies on the topic, watch movies loosely related to the topic, watch movies unrelated to the topic and then chastise myself for slacking off. Research, write a grant, ramble, write another grant because the first one was rejected, almost give up, get a grant and then think, "Damn it, now I have to get to work." Stare at the computer screen terrified to write a first draft that will be awful. Make an outline with post-it-notes. Then start writing - no, wait, I need to do more research. Get back to writing. Change outline completely. Write. Edit as I write. Get a few close friends and colleagues to read it. Write down all the feedback I a bucket of ice cream, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Basically, never fall in love with being done.

2) Where do you write?

My living room. Usually at around 6am. By the second cup of coffee, I really think I'm on to something.

3) What do you need to have with you when you write?
Post-it-notes. My reference books are filled with post-it-notes. I also do my outline with colour coded post-it-notes on giant poster board, so it's like a display at a junior high science fair. Then I carry that around to meetings with the creative team. Nerd.

4) What was the last great play you saw? What made it great?
How I Became Invisible by Clunk Puppet Lab, last September at the Vertigo Studio Space. Since its debut, the artistic directors have rewritten the show, so that the visual magic is linked strongly to a story of the human condition. As I volunteered on the show last time it was produced (sweeping the floor and painting props) the artistic duo asked me on board as a puppeteer for the updated version which is touring to Almonte, Ontario for the Puppet UP Festival in August. How often do you get asked to work on the last great play you saw?

What made it great was how they created a detailed, visually compelling world onstage and their animation of the characters was filled with surprises and magic.

5) Mac or PC?

6) Who are your mentors?
Ronlin Foreman, alchemist and instructor from Dell'Arte Physical Theatre School, "If you want us to believe you, you must believe." TJ Dawe, who encouraged me in my writing, "Don't worry if you're not sure where your writing is going. It's important and valuable just to explore. You don't catch any fish if you don't go fishing."

7) Do you have writing rituals?
Procrastinating? That happens pretty traditionally.

8) Best advice for when you hit a wall?
Walk it off. Or sleep on it. Or keep writing. The first draft is always the rough draft, write stuff now knowing if it's good or not. Just write and write lots. Over write. It will get better. But it has to be words on a page first.