Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Where I've Been Lately

So you guys are probably wondering where I've been since the beginning of February. To be honest, there have been a couple of reasons for my absence.

First, Facebook started acting like a big bag of dicks and blocking me from groups for literally typing a single comment, then refusing to explain why. However, the main reason for this hiatus is that I have been working on finishing up my first play, "Suite 1511." It is now ready, and a staged dramatic reading is scheduled for Saturday, April 14 at 7 PM at Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown, PA (end of blatant plug).

Today, I would like to talk about the writing process itself, and why it can be a tortuous, arduous, brutal process that nobody in their right mind would undertake.

In my case, this journey actually began about four years ago, when the idea for "Suite 1511" popped into my head almost fully formed as I was falling asleep. I jotted down a few notes so I wouldn't forget, then the next day I banged out the first draft in about four hours.

It kinda sucked.

The dialogue was wooden and stilted. The plot was far too intricate, with numerous extraneous threads weaving in and out, gumming up the works. The characters were one-dimensional, and there was no growth in the main characters throughout the arc of the play. So I sat down and banged out a second draft, which took me the better part of six months.

It turned out much better. It was at least good enough to show to my wife, who tends to be my most exacting critic (and I wouldn't have it any other way). She pointed out several weak spots, a few basic flaws in the plot, and so on. Not quite the rave reviews I wanted, but it was good, solid constructive criticism and it pointed me in the right direction.Roughly eighteen nanoseconds after this, however, I was informed that my contract at work was not being renewed, that the existing one was being cut short, and the business was being shuttered entirely, so my focus shifted from writing plays to updating my resume and trying to not be such an unpleasant grump during job interviews (it should be noted that, given my lack of tolerance for pretense and dumbassery, this was a tall order).

(At one point during the job hunting process I got the ridiculous question that everyone hates: "What would you describe as your greatest weakness?" Usually at this point the interviewer is expecting some rah-rah snotface answer like "I guess my greatest weakness is that I don't know when to stop working," or some such, so they can be reassured that they will be able to abuse this potential employee by forcing extra work on him or her. So the response was, shall we say, whelming, when I answered "Two things: kryptonite, and I don't do well in job interviews." I didn't get that gig.)

That, plus numerous personal obligations, family issues, the 2016 election, and so on, diverted my attention away from the play and toward more topical things, like getting another job, or pointing out that donald trump's mouth looks like a sphincter, or that the only differences between Nancy Pelosi's eye sockets and a skull was the presence of eyeballs and some eyeliner, or that KellyAnne Conway was witnessed on the Wilson Bridge during rush hour unhinging her jaw to swallow a Honda Fit containing Democratic campaign workers whole, or that Mitch McConnell has not actually blinked voluntarily in 27 years. Eventually, though, trump stole the election with the help of the Russians won the election and exposed Congressional Republicans for the mentally challenged turnips they are, which gave me some time to turn my attention back to the play.

Over the next year or so, I would devote a small block of time each day toward fine-tuning things. The main character developed a growth arc. Dialogue was tightened up, sometimes in a process so painstaking as to border on ridiculous (true story: at one point I came up with a great punchline for the main character with no joke to support it, so I created four pages of dialogue and reworked a major plot point solely for the purpose of using that punchline).

Finally, in the first few days of February, it was almost ready for public consumption. I then spent the past few weeks poring over it, tweaking a word here, a phrase there, taking uncounted incremental steps to make it the best it could be. Once I got it to where I didn't think I could improve it any further without actually hearing it aloud, I started assembling the cast. Fortunately, my wife is the artistic director of a local theater, and through her I have become friends with virtually the entire Philadelphia area theater community, so finding people willing to do it wasn't a problem.

Finding people who were willing to do it, and who weren't already committed up to their eyeballs with other productions, was a different story entirely. But I managed to do it, and now it being being staged in a dramatic reading on April 14th.

(For those of you who are unaware of what a staged dramatic reading is in this context, it is basically a dry run of a play. Actors, usually in chairs in a row, will speak the parts, giving the full range of emotion and responses that would be expected in a full production. However, there are no sets, no lighting or sound effects, no costumes, etc. It's an excellent way for a playwright to get a sense of what works and what doesn't in the script, and to identify problem spots that would not be readily apparent just by reading it. Moving along ...)

So, with all that being said, here is a brief synopsis of the play.
Gary Campbell is a successful movie actor who is New York to promote his latest film. However, once there his life starts to become twisted up on itself: relationship troubles, family squabbles, and an incident involving public drunkenness and the Vice President of the United States. To top it all off, his high school girlfriend shows up unannounced with a rather unique secret ...

So there ya have it. A brief glimpse into the bizarre, disturbing world of someone who writes plays and stuff ... voluntarily. There are those who would maintain that this activity is a fairly solid indication that something is not quite right in the noggin. They're not wrong.

And just to demonstrate that I have learned absolutely nothing from this experience, I have three more plays in the works.

I gotta lie down.

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A Path Forward

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