A few things I learned from writing a full-length play in 10 days…

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The play itself—printed on January 3rd.

When I was writing my once-per-year blog post, I made a commitment to draft another play in 2018.  I finished my last play in 2016, what feels like ages ago.  Even though I’ve started projects here and there, the long and painful writing process I experienced for that first play was enough to deter me from taking another project seriously.  So, in a peppermint-bark fueled rush toward the end of Advent, I made a quiet commitment to myself on December 23rd that I would finish a new, full-length play before the end of the first day of 2018—as in, January 1st.

Alright, so that didn’t happen.  It took me until January 3rd.  But this whole experiment taught me some interesting things about what a creativity workout looks like for me.  It also gave me a new gauge of what my capacity is for creating something of value on a more-than-tight schedule.

  1.  Drafting by hand actually goes really fast and is a cheap, non-digital way of feeling like I’m making real progress.  I bought a spiral notebook from CVS on December 23rd and decided its sole purpose would be drafting space for this play.  I’m an analog writer anyways, even though I spend a lot of time working on my computer, so I knew that the spiral notebook route would give me some speed.  I also knew that trying to draft the play in Word (I don’t have Final Draft) would make me preoccupied with standard play formatting.  I needed to be able to just get the play down on paper.  Formatting could come later.
  2. It is possible for me to complete big projects even when life is horrible.  On December 31st, our dog Petey got horribly sick.  On January 1st, we took him to the emergency vet.  On January 2nd, he passed away in my arms.  I kept myself busy by working on the play.  It was a revelation for me to realize that, just because I’m in despair over the death of my pet doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve lost my creative faculties.  That was a strange discovery for me.  I didn’t think I was capable of anything worthwhile when things were at their most terrible.  Is it weird to say that the sadness of losing a pet actually fueled my momentum?  It feels morbid to even write that, but I think there might be a touch of truth in it.
  3. I am capable of coming up with an idea when I make myself come up with an idea.  I think lately I’d been just tooling around, waiting for a play idea to turn up.  But I wasn’t really “coming up with idea for projects I actually wanted to execute.”  It was more of a “coming up with ideas that I thought would be neat.”  There’s a big difference.  I made myself sit down and think about ideas in terms of execution: could I find my way through to an actual plot, for instance, with exposition, conflict, resolution, fun, and spectacle?  And I even gave myself a deadline: I am going to sit down in my office for 3 hours and, by the time I leave, I will have a plan for a play.
  4. It helped me a lot to stop thinking in terms of “moments” and instead think in terms of structure.  I’ve got tons of play “drafts” on my computer which are actually just cool scenes that I would love to see performed.  Starting with structure gave me the space to see what moments/scenes were necessary, and which ones were just neat.  Also, your ability to write a nice moment doesn’t go away the second you make a BIG PLAN for structure.
  5. I really need to buy some playwriting software.  Do you know why it took me until January 3rd?  It took me two full days just to type up the play and format it correctly in Microsoft Word.  Don’t get me wrong–I love me some Microsoft Word; but formatting everything by hand was time consuming.
  6. Big moments help me make big work.  I wanted to do something major by a significant date–January 1st.  Lining up a project with a meaningful deadline made this work for me.

So, the play, you ask?  It is a solid draft: imperfect, intentionally fun, small scale, bardalotrous, and made-for-women.  It needs a lot of work, but it is at least intact.

harvard_theatre_collection_-_charlotte_and_susan_cushman_tcs_45BRITCHES. Full Length.  Charlotte and Susan Cushman’s sisterly rendition of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with Charlotte as Romeo and Susan as Juliet, has turned out to be far more popular and profitable than they ever imagined. Back in their hometown of Boston after playing to sold out houses in London, the sisters remount the show with a new addition: a female actor named Joan now plays Benvolio. But when circumstances give Joan an opportunity to step in as Juliet opposite Charlotte’s Romeo, Charlotte is confronted with her own undeniable romantic attraction to this new Juliet. Loosely based on real events in the life of American actor Charlotte Cushman—beloved for her “britches” roles and one of the most famous lesbians of the nineteenth-century—this play celebrates the steadfastness of sisters in the face of the exhilarating, romantic, and often cruel world of the theatre.  (3 W/ 1 M)

My plays are on New Play Exchange.  If you’re not on NewPlayX, you should be!