The climactic scene in Plank is when Mercedes makes Potpee walk her own plank. It got me thinking about pirates, and women pirates and wondering if her time at sea didn't inject a little of the pirate spirit into Potpee.
It seems most everyone is settling into their projects. Last night some of the artists presented their work and there are some amazingly creative and talented people here. Everyone's work is inspiring me in my own projects. The range of artists who would be here was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Theater, like most things, I think can be a little incestuous. Sometimes I feel that there is an expectation that some people demand from theater, akin to what you can see, for example in bluegrass music. Arlo Guthrie wrote and played the song this way, and that is the only way it can be done. Sometimes I get that feeling in theater, when you hear criticism that a script is not theatrical, it's cinematic. God help you if you don't follow the classic arc of play, with rising action reaching a climactic scene followed by denouemont. Audiences and critics alike freak because it's what they expect. It seems a lot of women playwrights get caught in this, because a lot of women don't necessarily instinctively tell stories that way.
Sometimes I think one of the best things I can do for myself is step away from the theater and immerse myself in other disciplines. Talking to a painter about their approach or even just how their day went, for example, or a multimedia artist, gives clarity into how others approach their work, and clues into how you can approach your work differently.
But the work is still work. Yesterday was a typical day when nothing major was achieved, instead small headway was gained. Even with all of the constraints of everyday life removed, even with inspiration and stimulation presented at every meal, during every casual conversation, art remains elusive. But even the small gain I made yesterday seems to have a purity to it that comes from truth. Most times, I just try to get something written down, thinking I'll come back and fix it while editing.
Rescued. Potpee would still have a longing for the sea, despite it's dangers. It was where she was most alive, and most free.
I am a very visual person, and a huge fear of mine is being blind.
I once worked at a company where I had my own office, and the walls were covered in the detritrus of my life. Maps and ticket stubs. Laundry receipts from some far-off hotel. Pictures. Cartoons. Text.
Since then, I've never had an office--a space, a studio--where I would spread my visual wings. So, on the first day here at VSC, I chose to start to backfill Plank with the dramaturgical work I would have liked to have done much earlier in the writing process. And one of the many discoveries I've already made is this: There is madness benearth the waves.
Plank is the story about a woman who is adrift on a plank out in the middle of the ocean. She is happy and content, then she is "rescued" and must face the consequences of civilization. It is a play that I started when I was stuck writing another play, and decided to write about the simplest thing I could think of. I wrote, "A plank of wood. Adrift in the middle of the ocean." I think that was all I wrote that day. Plank incorporates non-traditional theater elements like magical realism, poetry, movement, and absurdity. The ocean is played by four actors, named, Fetch, Chop, Swell, and Spume. People who read it either think I'm crazy or delusional, or think I'm a genius; there are theater artists who have already contacted me, excited about working on it. Such is the life of the artist.
The pre-residency jitters are over, as I think they are for the others here. A month, I keep telling myself. I'm going to be here for a month, the longest Sue and I have been apart.
The drive up was uneventful, and alone on the road, like always, my head just swirls. I used my phone to dictate notes, everything from how my Ranger, filled with my stuff, was like my plank in the universe, just like Potpee's. Old memories filled my head, regrets and lost dreams. I stopped at a rest stop where Sue and I had stopped once, and I sensed her ghost there, and she held my hand like she always does.
Everyone here is so friendly, yesterday like the first day at school where everyone is meeting and introducing themsleves. I unpacked. I have a very spacious, but chilly room. And I have my own bathroom! I don't know how I lucked out on that. Maybe the luck of the draw; I know I paid up early and maybe they just assign those rooms first. And it's Vermont! Seven degrees this morning, snow, ice, grubby roads from the sand trucks. I love that they recycle everything here, down to the tiniest piece of paper and table scraps, just like we do at home, just like the rest of the world should. The Green Mountains are just over my shoulder, too, and the Long Trail runs through town, coinciding with a rail trail, perfect for those long walks I take to think.
This is what writing looked like today. A five-mile out and back run along Quincy Shore Drive. Twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill making it feel like 18 degrees, and when I turned around I got the wind full in my face. My reasoning: If I can do something physical like this, something challenging, and something relatively small, I can finish that scene today. The physical world and the mental/spiritual world are linked in my world; inseparable. If things are good in the physical world, things should be fine in the spirit world. And the opposite of that is true.
So today was another day on the roads. It is important that I do this, I know. I've learned how important it is to my health and mental well-being, and to my creativity, from 48 years of being a runner. When you've reached my age, this is the type of question you should have answered. If you haven't, people might start asking you what the hell you've been doing your whole life.
I get out on the road, and after a mile or so my brain unhinges from the spinal column. The lock falls off the cage, the door swings open, and my id is allowed to roam free. This is the only time in a day when I allow myself to wallow. To hate. To think as freely as I want, without pretense or rules imposed by anyone or anything. All the bile I'm carrying in my mind--about the world, about people, about my life--is flushed away. I become free, and happy in ways I'm not in ordinary life. I have those conversations I should have had, said the things I wish I had said, or couldn't say because society projects these rules on us. And ideas and thoughts sprinkle down onto my conscience that are at once brilliant and silly. Some I keep, and some I simply enjoy during the moment.
Today while running I thought of two lines. Just two. But they finished a scene and they weren't there this morning and now that they're there I wonder why I didn't think of them before.
It's so glamorous, isn't it? You tell someone you write and the response is, oh cool. No. No, it's not cool. It's bloody hard work and it's rarely that enjoyable. And that's the way it's always been for me, and for just about every other writer I've ever known.
I've been struggling with this script for I don't know how long. I have different files of different scenes, just trying to make the damn thing work, trying to break the logjam that's in my head because I do believe it will work: You just know. And you don't really care if no one else knows or cares. I've had people laugh at this one. Do you know what it's like when people laugh at something that you believe in so dearly? I've had other friends just politely remain quiet. But you can't care what they think. My best defense has always been, if you don't like it, then there's a very good chance I'm on the right trail. You have to be that obsessed with doing something so new and different, that most people won't recognize it for what it is. You have to be that bloody arrogant.
And suddenly, at the kitchen table, after you've been working all afternoon and the apartment grew dark without you noticing it and the sink is overflowing with dishes and your wife isn't home and you've eaten a bowl of soup alone, reading it while you eat, and suddenly...you were right. It's going to work.
For all of the talk about how collaborative theater is--and it is, don't ever for one minute think otherwise--it can still be awfully lonely work. You're the playwright, and it's just you and the page. Just that thing that resides inside your body--your soul, your spirit, you. And you've lived too long not to trust it. It's really all you have.
Every day there's a Luncheon Panel Series, and today's was an introduction to the Design Wing. From the catalog: The Design Wing helps expand the conceptual boundaries and experiential reference for a new generation of designers in the performing arts.
The one real message that came across loud and clear is that designers want to be included early in the theater-making process. Too often they say (and we know this is true) they're brought it after a lot of decisions have already been made, or they aren't given enough time to develop their own ideas for a play. They wanted closer relationships with directors, and they even talked about developing relationships with playwrights. Yes!
I wanted to stand up and tell everyone about Boston Public Works Theater Company. Our playwrights all act as their own artistic directors, and each playwright hires their own designers. We put the artistic control in the hands of the playwright, not in the director's as it is in traditional theater, and we feel very strongly about the collaborative, not the dictatorial, nature of theater.
I bet you'll find that many forward-thinking playwrights are open to the idea of developing relationships with all types of theater artists, not just directors, as was done in the past. Not only would all the other theater artists bring their areas of expertise to the script during it's development, but I'd think that in today's theater, everyone is networking, everyone is on social media, and a playwright is just as likely to get a production through say, a set designer or a lighting designer, as they would from the traditional route of director or lit manager.
Boston-based writer/playwright/visual artist.Founding Artistic Director of Alley Cat Theater, traveler, reader. Likes a good red sauce.