I have been seized by a powerful urge in the past week or so to write short plays. I explained last week (see 8/8/08) that Friend Nat had inspired me to write from start to finish a short play, and that I was rather proud of this. At the time, this led me to re-examine my progress on other creative projects I had professed on this here 'blog. One of my usual excuses for failing to follow-through on projects is getting distracted by bright, shiny new projects. I'm not exactly a fickle little magpie, constantly collecting projects that glint at me from below, but my joy for life does seem to flow from these occupations, and so I rarely refuse them. I consider being distracted by a new project, so long as it proves fruitful, a more-worthy reason for abstentia from older ones than, say, needing to find out what happens next on So You Think You Can Dance? Just as a random example.
Thus far, this one is proving more fruitful than I had dared hope. When I wrote the initial short play, it was very much a stand-alone scene, meant to explore my thoughts on death a bit (it's a comedy; don't judge me). Then, aided by a little research, I found myself fairly excited by an idea for another short play with a similar theme, and it connected itself pretty naturally with the first. Now I have four first-draft short plays, loosely connected either by character or, er, object. I've also got vague ideas for two more scenes, which would give me six in all, which -- length-wise, at any rate -- would give me a pretty full little evening of theatre. Hoo-rah, say I. It remains to be seen if the scenes provide some sort of satisfying arc once strung together, of course, and there's always the stage of revision, which is sort of my kryptonite when it comes to these things. Still and all: hoo & rah.
My writing this time around is reminding me of a lot of specific influences, and I feel variously pleased and confused with them. Friend Daryl is just bringing to a close a production of Keith Reddin's All the Rage at the Manhattan Theatre Source, a show for which I auditioned but did not achieve casting. I read the play in June to prepare for the audition, and it too is a somewhat loosely-strung (though not nearly so loose as mine) set of scenes revolving around darkly humorous themes. In the spring, I checked out a lot of Martin McDonagh plays from the Lincoln Center branch of the NYPL, having enjoyed The Pillowman on Broadway and curious about all these other plays for which he was more renowned. His boldness with a morbid and macabre sense of humor have definitely helped me justify some of the areas in exploration in my little efforts of late. There's even a good dose or two of Ben Jonson, Neil Gaiman and Adam McKay, though you'd probably never notice those, mired as they are in my own concepts and interpretations.
A writing experience is best for me when it gives me moments of feeling guided by the material itself, rather then my steering of it. Similar to the enjoyment of watching a play that I haven't read (movies are exempted utterly for the most part, as we're inundated with previews that seem hell-bent on spoiling at least one surprise for us), when I write something that has a will or energy of its own, part of what keeps me going forward is wondering what this or that character will do next. It's entirely up to me, of course, but occasionally they (I) surprise me (myself). This may seem at best naive, at worst indulgent, but I would argue that at least some portion of this feeling is necessary in writing something original. One of the best bits of advice I ever got on writing fiction was given by a speaker at a writing conference I attended back in 2001. He was narrating (aptly enough) his process in writing a story set in a hospital. He had a choice of three things happening next to his protagonist, three ideas. The first two were something like the character would flashback to memories of whomever he was there for, or he could have a talk with someone else in the waiting room, but the third was that he receive a telephone call on the hospital payphone . . . from his deceased mother.
Perhaps it's needless to say that this particular writer chose option three. At the time, thinking of it only as a writer of short stories and the like, I remember thinking about how pervasive fantasy is; it barely qualifies as a genre name, there are so many distinctions (besides swords and dragons) for its use. Now -- flashing back, if you will -- I'm struck by two things this illustrates. The first is an acting lesson to be found in this "other" medium. As an actor, one is often faced with two or more choices that work, that adhere to the givens and move the action along. We explore them all, and generally take the one that's most interesting; that is, the one that heightens conflict or develops character and/or, if we're lucky, surprises. The second strike is a reflection on both fiction and acting (and painting and cycling and governmental science, I'm sure), and has to do with risk. My sustained engagement in these writings and my apparent influences from recent reading are both results of remaining open, exploratory and loose, during my writing process. It's risky to release control, to give oneself up to the possibility of failure (or, perhaps worse, gratuitous exposure), yet without it what are our chances of creating anything fresh or effective? This is a not-uncommon thought here at the Aviary. Still, I enjoy finding it anew in corners I wasn't expecting to.
So please do forgive, Dear Reader, if the Aviary is a little lacking in posts this week and next. It is because I am enjoying the exploration. Worry not. I shall return. (Undoubtedly when I should otherwise be revising whatever I've cranked out.)