Sunday, July 6, 2008

How Long Does It Take?

“How long does it take you to write a play?”

When John Guare was asked how long it took him to write Six Degrees of Separation he told the reporter “51 years”.

Or so his story goes. (He was 51 at the time).

He wasn’t just being flippant. It’s hard for anyone to say specifically, this is how long it took me, from beginning to end. There’s a matter of age to consider, as Guare says—for instance, I could not write The Albatross ten years ago. I had neither the technique nor the life experience, and let’s face it, no interest in teachers, students and gender relations. But without having written some of my early plays (most of them Shepard, Pinter and Beckett rip-offs), I wouldn't be able to find my own style and voice and what matters most to me.

So now here I am almost thirty-six and I can safely agree with Guare that it’s taken me 36 years to write this play (or any other I’m writing now).

When did I get the initial idea for The Albatross? That was probably early last summer, when I actually saw the characters and heard some dialogue in my head. (Honestly, if anyone other than a writer said they heard voices in their head, wouldn’t they lock me up by now?) But some of the thoughts and ideas in the play I was actually grappling with a year or so before, when I was teaching. And some other material was dug up from when I was an undergrad, many, many years ago. But I wrote an actual “draft” last year around June or July. I remember that initial draft coming quite quickly (Like within a week).

Of course, as I’ve said before, writing is rewriting.

I spent the next few months rewriting scenes and trying to figure out what to do with these characters, then looking back and asking, “what do I have here?”

I’m still asking that.

This is all to say that I’m rewriting the play again, after these two readings I had, one in May and one in June. At first, I didn’t anticipate a whole lot of rewrites, but I’ve realized, after much distance from the material, that I have yet to create the world of the play. The characters journeys are not specific enough. Really, the characters are not specific enough. You only learn that kind of thing after taking time off from the project for awhile, then going back to it. And instead of being discouraged by the fact that I haven’t yet achieved the story I want in this play, I’m inspired to keep working at it. Actually, I’ve added a new character and having some fun with it (he’s injecting some humor into an otherwise heavy script).

As I always say, “Rewriting is the promise of perfection”.

I know it will never be perfect, but it’s living in the promise that makes writing so much fun. It’s like rehearsal on paper. I met an actor once who said he loved acting, but he hated rehearsal because it was so boring and I thought, “How can you hate rehearsal? Rehearsal is like the actors job—you spend more time in rehearsal then in performance, usually”. It’s what I love about being an actor or director—playing in the sandbox of rehearsal.

I think the same goes for rewriting. You have to love that act of reworking stuff, because that’s where you spend most of your time. It’s your job.

Okay, so now back to some rewriting…

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