For the last two weeks of June, I got to participate in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Ground Floor Summer Lab. What's great about Ground Floor is that they offer playwrights freedom to work on and explore their plays as needed; they do not require any kind of presentation. Some writers end up sitting in a room and typing away. Others hold public readings of their work, like I did for my play Calafia: A Reimagining. I haven't been able to finish a first full draft of the play yet, but I learned so much from discussions with my director, dramaturg, and actors -- as well as from audience feedback after our reading. I'm excited to see what directions Calafia will take as a result of the exploring, churning, and learning that happened during Ground Floor!
I recently took a trip to Charleston, SC to do some research for KINDA HOME, the musical I'm collaborating on with playwright Brad Erickson. Since the story takes place in the Lowcountry, I figured it would be good for a Californian like me to actually get a glimpse of life there. I went on a few historical tours, got to interview a couple theatre folks, and Brad drove me around showing me locations that relate to his own family's story in KINDA HOME.
I'm proud to announce my latest collaboration! But I don't know yet what it is!
Fellow playwright/composer Austin Zumbro and I are embarking on a new musical theatre project, and we thought it would be fun to capture our creative conversations in a podcast!
So, we hope you enjoy literally listening to two dudes with mics throwing out ideas for an as-yet-unborn musical. We also hope it actually leads to a musical!
When I have a production, a workshop, even a meeting to look forward to, I usually find it very easy to focus and get work done. There is a built-in accountability to knowing that others are counting on me delivering something so that further development of a new work/play can begin. However, when I'm in between deadlines, it's a lot harder to find that fire and drive to get the creative wheels turning.
I find myself in such a phase right now. For Inside Out & Back Again, a play which has a definite deadline (it opens in March 2018), the script has been rewritten and brought to a place where the creative teams agrees it's ready for a workshop - which will begin this weekend. All of my other projects don't have deadlines yet. So while I could and should be working on them, it's easy to find myself within a fog of distraction.
To be fair, some of these projects need some time in this amorphous state where they exist primarily in my brain, and are worked and re-worked away from a laptop or notebook. Some of them require research and cogitation before I attempt to create something that even looks like a script. I try to remember this, so I don't feel discouraged by the fact that I might not be "producing" something. Still, structure is good for me. So, I remind myself that there are deadlines on the horizon, even though they may feel far away, or even if I don't see them yet. So, working backwards from those larger deadlines, I try to create mini-deadlines that will help me progress. I have also started to participate in a silent writing group, where I meet with fellow playwrights to stay quiet and just write (or read or research, as the need may be). I find these times to be helpful for focusing because it's harder for the fog of distraction to take hold when I'm out of the house and around others.
I share this because it's so easy to look at the big markers of playwriting and marvel at the world premieres, the workshops, the readings. But, being a playwright is as much about these days/weeks/months of open-endedness, from which they must forge and fashion a pattern and routine that works for themselves - much like the act of writing a play.
Recently, I've been considering how I can access more of my right brain while writing. This might sound redundant to some, since writing can be a creative act, and thus would tap into right-brain energy. However, I often feel that writing can become a very left-brain act for me, as I focus a lot on linearity, logic, and building a concrete structure. These aren't things to avoid, necessarily, but I do feel they can sometimes limit where I take my thoughts creatively. As I begin writing the script for Calafia, which occurs in a realm of fantasy, I want to allow my right brain to do some more conjuring without letting my left brain get in the way.
One way I thought of doing this was through movement. So, this week, I met with director/choreographer/teacher Michael Mohammed (director of the recent Town Hall Theatre production of The Song of the Nightingale), who gave me some ideas about how to connect movement of my body to the work I have to do as a playwright. Michael guided me through a handful of movement and gesture exercises. One of the most insightful was imagining the space I was in as a gravity room, where center stage has normal earth gravity, stage right has 200% gravity, and stage left has 0%. Walking back and forth, I was invited to explore the heaviness or lightness of my body. Then we layered on another gradient: emotion. What if stage right was anger at 200% gravity and stage left was joy at 0%? And what if you swapped the emotions? What if we tried fear or sadness?
For me, this opened up a new way of fleshing out my characters. I have already taken the exercise home and worked on it with some of the roles in Calafia. I'm discovering through posture and gesture what priorities or desires might exist for my characters. For the titular role of Calafia, for example, I learned that she would much prefer to stand in the middle with chest and head held high. And if circumstances cause her to head toward either the 200% or the 0% directions with her body, she begins to feel out of place or exposed. Her priority is to retain the status quo, but it might also be a cover-up for deeper emotions that she does not wish to express for fear that it will make her look weak or out of control. I don't think I would have learned this about her this quickly in another way, and this leaves me feeling very excited to continue bringing movement into my playwriting process.