Writing a play is weird. And amazing. And hard. Maybe in that order, and then scrambled again. Well, take it back. It’s amazing at first when you get an idea. Or for me it is. I always think whatever I’ve written is my last piece, whether it’s fiction or a play, my primary writing outlets. But then it happens again. For me, I’m usually sparked by some external creative experience. Watching someone else’s play, movie, listening to a piece of music, and then my personal inspirations rush in, a place, a theme, a character flaw, and I start writing.
That’s what happened with The Little Prince$$. Per usual, I was feeling bone dry, and my fingers had been limp for months, nary a word had been written. But then I saw my husband in a New Georges play that was part of the Germ Project. Their explorations were rooted in out of the box ideas, theater as big as you wanted to make it, no limits. Also, a lot of the playwrights were using source material. I had done that in the past with two projects, my one woman show on Anne Sexton and a confused piece of college garbage about Van Gogh that I spent almost two years researching and percolating. Perhaps that Van Gogh experience turned me off.
This is the weird part. So I saw the Germ Project, and it invited me to think about non spoon-fed theater, where the story isn’t always clear, but the audience is still guided, and hopefully, there’s a point to it. From that, I wedded that concept to the story of someone I knew who was going through a challenge, and decided to delve into some source material, The Little Prince, and hell, I was listening to a lot of Ke$ha at the time, so she became part of it too. All of a sudden I had jumped the realism train, and was writing way, way out of the box for me. All of these beginnings of new writing are weird for me, because while I have a loose grasp on the facts, it stills feels magical and other worldly that one day you don’t want to write anything, and then the next there you are, in front of your computer, attempting to get a story down.
The amazing part is always the writing. No one to judge you! Everything is flowing! Your characters are talking! Shit sometimes doesn’t make sense, but guess what, it goes down in your first and second draft anyway!! Some writers get major editor brain from the get-go. Not me. I just write and don’t care and accept it’s imperfect.
It’s such a cozy time, you and the play, during the early writing days. You’re spending a lot of quality time together like a brand new relationship. Often as I’m falling asleep, the latest scene will replay in my head, the back and forth, what was felt, what wasn’t, what was said, what wasn’t.
But the amazing time always ends, because you need to get feedback. That’s the somewhat hard, but necessary part. It’s like bringing your kid to the first day of school. You think she looks great (new dress! hair in two braids! what a smile!) But it’s possible that her fellow classmates may see her differently (buck teeth! cross eyed stare! bad breath! translation? Act II peters out, and that character of yours (INSERT NAME HERE) lacks a clear journey.)
Then it bounces back and forth between hard and amazing, as one gets feedback and integrates it in edits. Since I’m an optimist, I always thing the latest draft is THE ANSWER! (if one didn’t have some hope, I don’t know how they’d get through edits.) I went through this process with InViolet, taking in notes, contemplating them, integrating the ones that resonated, and then watching InViolet actors say the words again. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Then it gets weird, hard, and amazing all at once, when two years later, after numerous drafts and iterations, InViolet wants to show people. Like, your play. Like, live.
And while I always know this is coming, it’s still a shock. That something I wrote in my living room, will be interpreted, loved, hated, dissected – and this is an end result I was always working towards.
When I first met my director Mark Cirnigliaro at a wine bar in Chelsea to discuss The Little Prince$$, it had already been decided that InViolet would do a workshop production instead of a traditional staged reading. I had pushed for that because of the nature of the play, and was lucky to have co-artistic directors Angela and Michael say yes, and were also willing to scramble to make it happen. From that first conversation with Mark, the letting go process begins for me. I go in open, or tell myself that, to really take in what another human being has to say about my play. Mark was kind and smart and creative from the get go. While he appeared relaxed, I could tell right away he had a kind of whiz-bang mind when it came to theater. And he demonstrated that by understanding my play, and bringing some brilliant ideas to the table. The first was Shadow Puppetry since the play has multiple locations and worlds. The second was Bunraku Puppetry to visualize for the audience the central theme of transformation from childhood to adulthood.
Everything is sweet and pretty in retrospect. But in reality, I was psyched about the Shadow Puppet thing, but was like Bun-what? Puppets-who now? On stage? Say again?
I smiled and nodded, said I was into it, but left unsure. Luckily I married a good man, and when I told him Mark’s ideas, and my hesitancy on the Bunraku, he said simply, “I’d stay open to it. Why not?”
So I said yes to what Mark suggested and this all felt amazing. I trusted Mark’s capable hands, truly, and was excited to see the play realized in a way I had never expected.
Then the letting go rushes in fast. Or it does for me. I knew they only had 2 1/2 weeks and seven rehearsals to pull off something major. I always like to be there the first day, and was. To answer questions. To hear it out loud. I’ve been part of readings before where I was there every day, doing re-writes, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case here. The actors were going to memorize their lines, so really, I didn’t have a chance to re-write. But even if it was a staged reading, I might have stayed away as much as I did.
Not to say that I wasn’t there sometimes during rehearsals. I was. But the play had been mine for so long. When it gets to a workshop production, it no longer is just mine, and that’s what I want. But I have to take step back. It’s the only way I have a chance in hell to ‘see it’ at all in the performances.
What everyone did in seven rehearsals was quite extraordinary. If you didn’t see it, it’s kind of hard to explain. There were beautiful lights and sound cues, and since Mark did a trunk show, he was able to prop and costume the show too. And the performances were rich and specific, and it still sort of baffles me what I saw. The Bunraku puppetry was so dazzling, that I know for a fact that I will integrate it in my next edit. It will now forever be part of the storytelling.
All of the above is in the amazing camp. What Mark, and the designers, and the actors did.
But for the writer? Well, when it gets into performance, it locks into one mode for me: Hard.
It’s hard because despite my best efforts to not be at too many rehearsals (what will I do there anyway??) – it’s still hard for me to see the play during the run. There are three shows, and I discover it’s best for me to sit close to the front in the theater – in the first 2 – 3 rows. That way I’m actually watching the play, and not watching people watching my play (the dreaded shifting in seats, the head slump into hand, the bored look into one’s program.) Not that any of the above happened, or maybe it did, but I wasn’t noticing it this time (other public readings of my work, this is often what distracts me.) So I did watch the play, and ride the journey, but still, it’s hard for me grasp what’s working and what isn’t. This process isn’t so challenging when I’m writing, but once things get produced, it gets murky.
Watching one’s work publically, for me, is a total act of letting go. I meditate on not having expectations, and not looking for every audience to validate my work. This is all easier said then done. I still feel the urge to check-in with people. I try not to ask the dreaded – did you like it?? But that question can sneak in in different ways.
Two weeks later, after some discussion, I decide to look to a few trusted people to give me feedback and we will all go deeper. I wonder if a full production of The Little Prince$$ ever comes to light, if it will be easier to view. If I will take in more. It’s hard to truly see what you’ve loved and kneaded for so long. But I think that now the Band-Aid has been ripped off, it might be a little less hard the next time.
Writing a play is weird. And amazing. And hard. In that ordered, scrambled, and all at once, too.
By: Jennifer Bowen