Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Slow Going

This has turned into the kind of day a writer hates: the kind with tons of free time away from home. I was supposed to meet with a director to talk about working on a play of mine, but the director never materialized. So I spent about two hours wandering around in Chelsea, just slightly uncomfortable. The weather is in this weird place where, if you're in direct sunlight, it's warm and comfy, but if you're in shadow, it's chilly. And, of course, that means if you're layered enough to be warm in the shade, you're too hot for the sun. It's basically the most uncomfortable kind of weather possible. Especially to be walking around as the sun is setting and the shadows are growing. And especially if you're broke (since you're a Deadbeat), and supposed to be meeting someone. You don't want to get settled, because you're going to leave (supposedly) at any minute. You don't want to spend money, because you don't have any. You wish you could just go home, but you need to be downtown for a show later. It's sort of all bad, all the way around.

I was a little ambivalent about the meeting, anyway. I like the director just fine (though significantly less right now), but the whole thing was kind of nebulous. We'd met in a playwrights/directors workshop I'm currently a part of. This project had started as something I wanted to bring into the workshop, but now I'm on the fence about it. I would rather just be in rehearsals with it, somehow, prepping for a reading or actual workshop. Not just rehearsing and rewriting.

I've kind of turned against the playwrights workshops I've been in of late. I'm traditionally a kick-ass member of those kind of things. I like talking about plays, other people's or my own, I give good feedback, I try to be sensitive to all the egos and the needs of the play. In the past, this particular group, I was a solid, steady member, going every week, commenting, even helping to produce a readings festival we did last spring. It's all good.

But since becoming a Deadbeat, I haven't really wanted to do these sort of things. Part of it is the time commitment. Deadbeatness has really brought out my selfishness, in terms of how I spend my time, how I prioritze things. And in wanting the maximum flexibility. The last thing I want to say to anyone about anything is "I can't do that". It's the reaction to a couple of years of hyper-commitment.

But, philosophically and artistically, I'm in a different place that I was last season. In case you don't know, most of these groups work the same basic way: someone presents something for about a half hour (depending on the length of each session) and then the group comments on the work. Usually, the presentation is part of a larger work. Sometimes it's something that's been completed, sometimes it's a work in progress.

Of late, I've had little patience for it. Mostly for the comments, most of which, even when sensitively worded, boil down to two things: "If I were you, I'd write it like this" and "I don't like it." Not to be overly cynical, but that's even true of myself, and I know it. I'm at a stage with my work, that I don't really need to hear either of that. I don't want to hear a lot of comments at all. In general, I want to hear it in front of a living, breathing audience. They'll tell me where I hit the mark and where I miss it. They'll let me know which parts make sense, hold their attention, amuse, strike them. So I don't make a real effort to go to these things.

Also, it feels...well, not exactly pointless, but not exactly fruitful. In my experience, many theatres have or had these kind of groups, and, almost invariably, it seemed to me, the groups were made up of writers that someone at the theatre liked, but who they were never going to produce. Once you realize that, it makes the whole endeavour feel more like amateur hour. Which, well, frankly, it also tends to be. There's a reason that people are in those groups, trying to make inroads in a theatre by showing up every week. And (I'm willing to turn this on myself) there's a reason I was there, every week. I needed it.

I needed the reminder that I was an artist, a playwright, after a day of pretending I wasn't. I needed the outlet, to keep from getting swept away in work all the time. I had to zealously protect my afternoon's to run off to the playwright/directors workshop, fend off all kinds of meetings and deadlines. Now, I don't have to do that and some of the need for the group is gone.

And some of the romance of bringing in fresh pages and hearing them, too is gone. Especially from this group. The rules recently underwent revision and now the focus in more on polished, rehearsed work and, frankly, that's not what I need. I need deadlines to meet with pages. I need to push to keep writing.

Rehearsal, while very, very useful for playwrights, is also utterly useless. Especially without a real deadline, a "there are going to be people sitting there, watching this" deadline. Endless rehearsal just kills good work. As does endless "development". Theatre and plays only grow in front of rooms of strangers. Otherwise, it's jerking off and that gets boring.

So. The prospect of doing a bunch of work on a project without a home, a date, anything, was less than enticing. So, in the end, getting blown off wasn't so bad.


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