Last night I had the much-anticipated reading of my new play, working-titled Hereafter. Which is to say, for the first time, this work was heard aloud. It was only heard by me, and the actors involved, of course, but still and all . . . cool.
And it went well. Hell, first things first -- memorize these names, because they are amazing talents who ought to be heralded throughout the land: Friends Patrick Lacey, Laura Schwenninger, Briana Seferian, Wynne Anders, Dave Berent, Geoff Gould and Todd d'Amour. They had, I assure you, the hardest job in the world making sense of my cobbled-together "play," and did it brilliantly. I laughed, I cried, it was better than . . . well, they were better than Cats; MUCH better. Can't say so much for the "play," as such, just yet. I only hope they understood that my moments of out-loud laughter and quiet sadness weren't a bit to do with my writing. I'm rather sick of my writing, just now. It was them, pulling out miracles of surprise from my strung-together words, and finding unique life all their own. Their performances, if nothing else, motivate me to continue working to give them a better playground to explore.
My plan: Based on all the information I have now (and Friend WHFTTS' advice, of course), I am 100% certain that I must put the play away for at least a month, which should be easy given my upcoming schedule. Before I do that, however, I'm compelled to tinker just a bit, then do a little more writing on themes and ideas -- not dialogue. I think I'll reorder the scenes according to some of my notes, save it as a new draft, but not read it in that new sequence until after the break. Then I need to flesh out my notes from the reading while they're still a bit fresh, write a little on the ideas both new and observed, and file all that away for review later on. So when I come back to it I'll have two versions to compare, then detailed notes to incorporate; plus hopefully I'll be detached enough by that point to be unsentimental about it all.
I rather improvised my method of taking notes last night, but found it to be very effective. I was concerned about being too involved in writing in my copy of the script to catch everything the actors were doing, but after the fact my only regret is that I didn't make an audio recording. My hand-written notes worked out well. I printed a page for each scene beforehand, with the scene number, title and characters involved at the top, so I could focus on each scene one-at-a-time. When it came to taking notes, I figured out a little code for myself: A "+" preceded any notes to the good, a "-" to the bad, a "?" for things to be pondered and examined later, and quotation marks themselves whenever citing actual dialogue. In this way I have a sort of instant cursory quantification for a given scene. I also circled the titles of scenes that might need to be cut, to differentiate between the experience of "wow I can't believe how well this is working was I supposed to be writing oops" and the experience of "aw crap."
Still a bit giddy with a sense of accomplishment (I must confess), my feeling is that roughly half the scenes work on a basic level, and half do not. Of the half that don't, two may be cut altogether, so it may become a one-act play after all is said and done. I am still considering the possibility that the best thing for this collection of scenes is to leave them just that, to not construct them into a unified play, but it's a slimmer possibility now that I've had a reading. That may be why, in spite of some really awful malfunctions that became agonizingly apparent in the reading, I feel so optimistic now. Hearing my work helped convince me that there is a strong basis on which to construct a whole play of some kind. That's exciting. That's gratifying, whatever work may lay ahead (hint: a lot). Ultimately, I'll have to wait until after my time away to know for certain, but still and all -- good feelings.
This may be the first time that I've really felt the process of writing working for me. In the past, as I've said, it's remained such a private, sacred experience for me (no matter how many people I showed it to) that it was easily dropped, or frustrated, or simply uninformed. It's taken me awhile to accept some of the things that allow for a good working balance in this, things like distance and objectivity, experimentation and failure. I'm much more comfortable (not that I'm actually comfortable, but still) with process as it applies to rehearsal. Together in a room we all make asses of ourselves until, bit by bit, we accumulate enough good bits to make something cohesive. And the work is never really done. And I suppose that's exactly what we accomplished by reading through Hereafter last night. Or rather not accomplished, but kept going. It feels by turns gratifying and terrifying, and it feels right.