Sunday, March 8, 2009

Weathering Writer’s Hangover; Hedda-acheless Hopes

Writer’s hangover is not fun. Okay. So, writer’s hangover is what happens after a writer begins an inspired binge of work that keeps her up ‘till four in the morning for a few days in a row. The binge is awesome! You’re on a roll, you’re brain doesn’t stop; you’re cranking out pages and plowing through problems like never before. It is a fantastic high and you get so much done! But then, all good things must come to an end. Eventually, you crash; sleep deprived, mentally exhausted, deformed from sitting at your computer for so long and just plain spent. That stage is called the writer’s hangover. I arrived there about an hour ago. It don’t feel so good. But, I am so thrilled with all the work I have done this weekend. My project is rolling and taking shape and I’m really excited. So yeah, it was worth it.

The past week was the inspiration that brought on my wild writing weekend. We had two really profound classes with Lorne Campbell and a couple of meetings with him on the side regarding the research project. Lorne Campbell is a director who specializes in developing new writings. He introduced some new ways of thinking that totally turned our world upside down. I don’t even think I can fully explain what the process is because I still don’t fully grasp it all myself. It has to do with the approach to the script; with how we look at it and the goals we want to achieve. As actors, we spend a lot of time with the scripts trying to fill in the blanks and make decisions about character and story. Lorne was guiding us to do the opposite. When work-shopping a new work we aren’t looking for answers, we are looking for the questions. It ain’t easy for us actor types to resist filling in the blanks. Plus, it gets even crazier when you have to figure out what needs to be figured out!

I visualize the process of a new script as a ladder. At the top of the ladder is a writer at her computer in a writing frenzy. That process has all kinds of issues of its own. Many with which, as a writer, I am somewhat familiar. So all that is way up at the top of the ladder; the birthing of the idea. And at the other extreme, all the way down on the ground is the show; full production, audience comfortable in their seats, actors on stage in costume, fully confident, delivering the goods. So what happens in between? How do the writer’s ideas and concepts make their way down the ladder to reach the audience? Let’s work backwards from the ground up. We know that before opening night there are dress rehearsals and technical rehearsals. And before that is the actors’ rehearsal process where they learn lines, develop character and figure out where to stand. Before that a table read with the entire company where everyone reads the script together so they know what the story is all about. And before that there are auditions and meetings where a producer may hire a director. Moving on up, you may find a submission of the script by the writer to the producer with the producer sitting at his desk reading the script for the first time and thinking, ‘This is good, let’s add it to our season.’ But what in the life of the script happens before that? Did the writer finish the first draft, whip it off the printer and rush it to the producer’s inbox? Highly unlikely. Something happened in between the writer finishing the first draft and it landing in the producer’s hands ready for production. And that area on the ladder is a place where many of us have spent very little time. That is the work-shop stage. And that is where people like Lorne Campbell work their magic. Actors and directors working in this area need a specific set of skills and a specific way of thinking. Things at this stage are not certain and are constantly changing. It is not solid ground and it isn’t always clear. It’s not a comfortable place for many actors and directors to work. But it is the childhood of the script and to be a part of its growth and development into maturity can be very rewarding. I admit I spent much of my time this week in a confused cloud as I tried to train my brain to look at things from a much different prospective. I certainly do need to spend more time in this area of the ladder before I fully understand this way of thinking. But I can tell, when the clouds part, it’s gonna be a beautiful view!

Next up is our final Hedda hoopla. We present our scenes on Friday, so it’s all about polishing up the work we have been doing. I am seriously hoping this writer’s hangover has moved on by tomorrow. I need to be sharp and crisp and ready for the Gabler gab in the morning.

I’m taking an Alka Seltzer and going to bed.
Good night kids!

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