Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Justify your production

I found out recently that Storefront is going to be accepting another round of playwrights into their Playwrights Unit and the deadline is the end of the month.  I was starting to gear up for an attempt, and then I wondered if it was really worth it.  I think my interests and sensibilities are just too different.  They are looking for gritty and gripping plays for the Twitter generation.  I have almost no interest in the Twitter generation, and most of my pieces are aimed at Gen X, though hopefully they will be somewhat more universal than that.

That led me to wonder if it really was worth the bother to follow through with any of these plays.  (I suppose also the concept of Scenes from Plays I Never Wrote is haunting me a bit.  I enjoy all the reviewing I do, but I am also clearly procrastinating and just not getting down to writing for unknown reasons.  Could I finally be afraid of failure, even though I have had more validation in Toronto than almost anywhere else?  Could I be a bit afraid of submerging myself into the work, knowing that it really takes a lot out of you, for so little return?  I'm not sure, but I need to stop with the incessant checking of news sites and just carve out an hour or so each day to work on this, and I can certainly finish up some of them.  However, that is why it is so important to focus on the ones that really have potential.

I will outline them below (included some that are barely ideas), and I would certainly welcome feedback in the comments (yea or nay or a more substantive response would be great too).  While I won't be going into any great detail, I'll make some general comments about the plots, so don't read on if you hate SPOILERS (even of plays that may never be finished).

At the last SFYS, I was sort of prodded by one of the actors who read The Pitch whether I would do anything with it.  That made me wonder if it would be worth gathering together some of the best of my short pieces and airing them at the Red Sandcastle or somewhere else.  It is tempting.  I know that they generally do get a pretty good response at SFYS (two of them anyway).  It might be a relatively low-key way to get out there, especially if I bundled the ones that are sort of feature the telephone.  I would take the monologue HORSE (and give it to the MC who also would warn people to turn off their cell phones and beepers, which would kick off the whole speech).  Then I was thinking of going into "Blue Grass Mash," which is actually my homage to Kushner's Homebody/Kabul.  I actually wrote out the whole quest for the second part, but I think I would cut all that out and have the agent basically shoot down his assistant every time the agent tries to get the quest underway.  I think I could make that funny enough, though the main issue might be whether the piece trades too much in Jewish stereotypes.  I'd have to look pretty closely at that.  Then there might be a short break, then "The Pitch."  I would have to decide if I want to add a third scene or not.  If so, then I might be better off flipping the order with "Blue Grass Mash," which does need a new title.  Finally, I would touch up "The Re-up" slightly and perhaps make it just slightly longer, but it would end the evening.  I think this is definitely doable, and wouldn't really take that much effort to stitch together.  It is more a question of whether I could trust someone to read it and decide it was worth putting on, and then figuring out if I could recruit a cast and how much this would all cost.  (Keeping in mind that I need to be saving up money for the roof...)

Why should I do this?  The pieces are all quite funny,* and it seems reasonably rare to see comic pieces now.  Most of the comedy has shifted to sketch comedy and improv.

The next play is written, though it needs fairly significant rewrite.  It is a 2 act play called Corporate Codes of Conduct.  It starts out a bit ambiguously, but ends up being a romantic comedy between a somewhat uptight Waspy mathematician and a Chinese-American programmer.  I had a table read done of the original play, and people liked that it didn't immediately announce where it was going.  Also, there are not many plays that take office work seriously, though there must be some about office romances.  The second act kind of gets back into unsettled territory, though there is another happy ending.  I can probably salvage the ending, but the two halves don't really gel, in part because the setting has shifted from the office to the mathematician's apartment.  I think I need to cut out at least one and perhaps two scenes from the first act (seeing if there is any character development that has to be saved and moved to another scene).  I need to increase the conflict between the boss and the underlings, and put their firing and their initial break-up at the center of the action.  If possible, I need to figure out a way to have everything set in an office rather than the home apartment.  No question, the second act needs the most work, but I have a few ideas how this would work.  This piece is a bit of a homage to Stoppard's Arcadia.  I suppose there are some issues in putting forward a resolutely heterosexual, inter-racial relationship, but I don't see any particular reason to back down.  I'm fairly proud of this piece, and I might try to shop it around next year, assuming I can get the edits done in a reasonable time frame.

The next play is a bit more problematic in that some people felt it was too conservative.  It is Dharma Donuts, and it is a play about an Indian-American manager of a donut shop in Jersey City.  She is somewhat pressured by her mother to at least contact this unmarried man back in India.  She has her own ideas, however.  Through a strange series of events, she briefly dates this white man, who is a customer.  I tried to make him a bit obnoxious, so the audience kind of has sympathy for him and then realizes he is not really Mr. Right.  She ends up falling for the man that her mother wants.  So a reverse Fiddler-on-the-Roof.  I guess it was somewhat inspired by the true events as related by one of my friends (or perhaps former friend at this point).  I don't think I convey or mean to convey that this is the only path the manager could have taken, but the white boyfriend really wasn't a great catch.  I try to make her a fairly independent person, which may or may not come across.  Anyway, it is another workplace comedy, which I basically finished up in a play-writing course in Vancouver.  The main notes I got were to amp up the conflict a bit and to make her have to work a bit harder to break up with the white boyfriend.  Also, that I hadn't really made the case that the Indian boyfriend was all that great.  This one would take a bit more editing, though the shape of the play probably won't have to change too much.  One reason to keep pursuing it is that there are a lot of roles for Indian actors, though of course the charge of cultural imperialism will definitely be laid against me.  I never actually got around to watching Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, which in itself I think was inspired by David Mamet.  At this point, I probably won't watch Letts' play, since it would just make me incredibly self-conscious about what I am writing.

These three projects are all fairly close to fruition.  The remaining are much more work.

I do keep thinking about Straying South, which is my play about a man married to a lesbian in order to stay in Toronto.  Her reasons are slightly more complex.  I've outlined the play here, and in fact I have written out the very first scene, but until I type it up I won't update the tracker.  I think there is no particular reason not to finish the play, other than it describes an era that is definitely over (when gay marriage didn't exist).  However, people still commit immigration fraud, and in some very rare cases still enter into sham marriages to satisfy their religious or ethnic community (or rich relative in this case).  Also, the whole issue of a lesbian deciding she wants a baby is far less shocking than it would have been in the 80s or even early 90s, though it is still not something to be undertaken lightly.  It may be hard to get a "historical" play put on, but I'll still give it a shot.  At worst, it will form the core of the long-delayed novel.  (At the moment, I see them as distinct things, with all the scenes of the play taking place in the apartment, whereas the novel would follow Jonathan around the city.  But a few things would happen in the play not in the novel.)  I've had the most affirmation on this play, since the Straying South scene was taken immediately for SFYS and got a very good response.  That does make me think this could have an independent life.

Anyway, an even more historical piece is The Study Group, which is about kids in the mid 80s studying for the SATs.  It's totally a throwback to John Hughes' films like The Breakfast Club, though the main thing is that nearly all the kids are bright, but there are still tensions between them (and perhaps an unrequited crush?).  I think the hardest thing about this is whether the time-travel stunt (where one guy pretends to be coming back from the future) makes any sense or is just too silly.  I mean teenagers are goofy, so one might try to pull something like that off.  I think I need to get a bit deeper into the characters.  I wrote 15 pages or so, and then stopped.  This piece was not selected for SFYS, and I have focused on other things since.  The biggest drawback is that people don't like going to the theatre and being made to feel dumb, and several of these kids are geniuses or near-geniuses.  If anything, that might be a good reason to leave in the time-travel subplot.  I think it is too early to tell with this piece, but I'd like to finish it.

The next is by far the most controversial, though at one point there was someone quite interested in hearing if I had finished it.  It would be a reworking of King Lear, called Lester's Last Testament (maybe with just a bit of gender-flipped Medea mixed in).  It would be set in a 3 flat or even a 4 flat (like my condo on Belmont) with an unlicensed barbershop on the main floor.  Lester's ex-wife has finally gotten a judgement against him and is trying to take the building away, though she is willing to leave the individual units to their children.  Well, Lester tries to move in with each of them in turn but things don't turn out so well, which is a bit of an understatement.  He would have one friend who hangs out (sort of in the Kent role, though he isn't banished outright) and then a woman who does the nails in the salon and is always quoting from the Bible.  She is the stand-in for the Fool, but never comes across as a fool.  The main issue of course is that this would be set in Newark and essentially the entire cast would be Black, though Cordelia would be half-Black, half-Puerto Rican.  So you can imagine the flak I would get for writing a character who is basically an out-of-control menace, and most of the characters end up being at least a bit unsavory.  I originally had thought I would write this for this Black actor associated with Halcyon, and perhaps if I get to that point, I would send it to him and see what he says.  I mean, it isn't exactly a stereotypical drug dealer story, so that's a positive.  I think if I finish this, it would mostly be to see if I could write the nail technician and see if I could make her a well-rounded figure.  Still, this would be a lot of work to write this play and then succumb to white liberal guilt.  Needless to say, I haven't gotten more than a few pages in.

Those are the plays I have kicking around in my head.

I also have a bit of a fragment of a setting where this oracle is trapped inside a Tennessee Williams' play (or really a computer simulation inspired by Williams), and things keep getting stranger and stranger.  This was inspired by a fever dream I had when I got so sick, coming back from Saskatoon.  I don't think this would work well as a play, though it could be a short story.

Another SF short story called "Final Exam" is about how most of the world is going to join a collective consciousness (like the Borg) with only a few outposts, like Vermont and Australia, holding out.  The story is about a teacher in England talking to his class and eventually showing them the constellations, a day or two before the switch-over.  One advantage (from the students' perspective) is that with near-infinite knowledge there will no longer be any need for school.  I'm hoping to infuse a bit of The History Boys.  I think this should be written out as prose, but if it works well, then maybe it could be translated back into a playlet, coming full circle as it were.  I have this crazy idea that it could be turned into one of those immersion plays where you walk along with the actors and then stop (in Withrow Park?) for the finale of the play.  That would be cool, but I don't think it is the first thing I should tackle for sure.

I believe that covers all my main ideas and idea fragments, though I may have forgotten something.  It is certainly ambitious.  Feel free to respond, including whether one seems more interesting than another or if you think I should drop one of them.

I think I'll end up setting up some sort of meter to track progress, so that I spend at least as much time on the creative writing as on the blog.  Otherwise, I clearly won't get far enough along to finish these up.  Still, I think it was useful to put everything out in one place and "justify" the time I am spending on each one.

* Every now and then, someone who knows me from work finds out that I can write comic pieces and is generally blow away by it.  I guess I come across and incredibly serious and perhaps more than a little cross at times.  It's certainly a side that doesn't come out much except in writing.  Probably I am just not quick-witted enough in real life, and I relish taking the opportunity to work up comic dialogue in a more structured way.

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