We've done a lot so far... panel discussions with dramaturgs and designers (I'll be writing a bit more about that panel later), many rehearsals and an incredible intensive workshop with Director Wendy McClellan and Liz Duffy Adams (our dramaturg, Dan Ennis, will be telling you a bit more about that). It's been a whirlwind and more than a little exhausting. I for one have been on a bit of a wild ride... through jitters and turtle shells, bullets and paper bags. I thought I might tell you all a little more about it.
I'm one of the three playwrights who has been given the privilege to see my play get on its feet and in front of the audience. A week from tomorrow, my play entitled OK will receive its first performance ever. So much has happened in ten days, and so much more will happen over the next week.
The seed of the idea for the play dropped into my head nearly ten years ago now. I was watching a movie at home while exercising. It was meant to be a distraction to get me up on my ancient exercise bike. As I peddled away, I watched the tail end of the 1957 classic Gunfight at the OK Corral with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. And it occurred to me that there was another story to tell about the gunfight... the one about the women who had been dragged to this place in the middle of nowhere Arizona to watch their men fight it out on the streets, to watch their men jerk their guns and make a legend.
Four years ago, I finished the first draft and lured a group of actresses into my apartment with promises of food to read the play. Three years ago I rewrote it. Two years ago, I rewrote it again. Last summer, I sent it on to Jessi Burgess, the artistic director of The Inkwell, who was planning a new plays festival. And last fall, she decided to produce it as an Inkubator production at this festival.
So after ten years, in the early part of January, I'm in a room with a director and actresses and they are pulling apart the play. THEY ARE PULLING APART MY PLAY, a little seed I have nurtured and sweat over for years. And I've got the jitters like you wouldn't believe. Does this thing even work? What was I thinking writing a play about the legend of two great men and the play doesn't have a single man in it? We should just give up this enterprise and I should get a job as a bank teller. I hear they make good money.
And I find myself withdrawing into my turtle shell as Jessi (a terrific director with a strong sense of storytelling) dives in with the actors, suggesting changes, making decisions about space and time, ignoring my stage directions to try something new. And she's giving me tons of great advice on how to restructure the first act and all sorts of questions on what the heck happens in the second act. And I go home at 11:45 p.m. each night and panic. Then I get up the next morning and write (a luxury for many playwrights. I now have a free-lance fundraising business that allows me to schedule my own time). And I bring in new pages and there's a whole new set of questions that Jessi and the actresses and I must puzzle through.
And by the fourth rehearsal, I didn't know which way to turn. I didn't know what to do. I felt paralyzed, exhausted, frightened, vulnerable, and out of control. I thought my turtle shell was probably the best place to stay and let all these other people figure out what to do next.
Then Jessi urged me to join in on the intensive workshop on collaboration facilitated by Wendy and Liz. And it was as if a bullet shot through me (forgive the analogy, but there's a lot of pistol fire in my play), shaking all the fear and anxiety and turtleness away. They led us through a series of exercises and discussions, culminating in a collaborative exercise where each playwright paired up with a director to make a collage or sculpture. Lee Liebeskind and I created a brown paper bag which exploded with a fairy tale chock full of punk rock images.
In the first twenty minutes of the workshop, I realized I needed to restructure my collaboration with Jessi, and I think she felt the same. Jessi turned to me at one point and said she felt like we were going through marriage counseling. So after the workshop on Sunday, we closed up shop at the H Street Playhouse, dropped off Wendy and Liz downtown to catch their bus, and headed down the street to The Argonaut Tavern for a drink.
And we talked. Then we took out scraps of papers and mapped out what was happening at the end of the first act. And we mapped out what we thought happened in the second act. We argued a teeny bit. And we came up with a really exciting strategy for figuring out how to revise and stage the "gunfight" that's at the center of the play.
I just sent her new pages this afternoon, and we're going to talk them over tomorrow. We're going to get in the room with the actresses and tear it apart. THEY ARE GOING TO TEAR APART MY PLAY. And now I can't wait.
So there's my journey so far. We've got three more rehearsals before we go into the technical part of the process... when the actresses must navigate the set, figure out how they can move in their costumes, when they get shoved around to find their spotlight. And then we go into dress rehearsal. Then we open the show.
My part is almost over for now. Just a few more pages, a few more thoughts thrown in Jessi's ear, a few more questions that I hope to answer for the actresses. I'm going to have a different play, and I don't know yet how I feel about that. I think it's better, maybe even good, but I'll know so much more when I see it all put back together again.
Come by and see what we are up to. There's an open rehearsal for OK this coming Thursday, January 17th at H Street Playhouse. And come see the Inkubator Productions of OK and Underground by Jim McManus the week of January 21st. You'll see what comes from jitters and turtle shells, bullets and paper bags.
That's me in that hat in the first photo above, fielding questions from the actresses and listening to their comments as we talk about the second act of OK. This was during the open rehearsal held Tuesday, January 8th. The second is of me, Lee Liebeskind, and the rest of us collaborators pouring over images in the last exercise of the workshop. Photos by Melissa Blackall.