Process is an odd word — a strange thing. It gets thrown around the performing arts with ease and, often, carelessness. In any casual interview session a writer or director may be asked to explain his/her ‘process.’ And, as truly challenging as it is to functionally discover and hone one’s own, it seems even sillier to attempt to articulate a life pursuit in a conversation. And this is where anecdotal evidence - a narrative - becomes absolutely essential.
When I decided to write again about my work in the theatre (attempting to flesh out this good-intentioned but poorly maintained blog), I thought the first thing I would discuss is my summer experience at Endstation Theatre Company and how it relates to my writing process. However, seeing as I have yet to really synthesize much of what I absorbed at this point, it’s probably much more prudent to just tell a story or four.
When I arrived in Amherst, VA after an epic series of waiting, car rides and long flights from Los Angeles, I was a bit nervous. Nervous about seeing old friends after 8 long years, nervous about having my writing read aloud and critiqued by strangers, nervous about being away from my home on the west coast for a month. Now, those closest to me know I’m not the anxious type — but this was cause for some mild anxiety. I was invited by the Artistic Director, Geoffrey Kershner (who was in my MFA Directing class at Florida State University) to join their Playwright’s Initiative as a visiting playwright. It was an appreciated invitation.
I longed intensely to work on my writing, which is a mode of expression into which I’ve only recently begun to delve. Recently as in three years ago. I’ve made much of my living as an actor, director and professor. Writing was something that excited me and that I always genuinely respected, but never felt compelled to throw myself into head-first (which is only way I am able to really do anything with any success). However, as aggressively as I’ve attempted to improve my skills in directing, acting and pedagogy — it was intimidating at age 30 to start building another related, but very different skill-set. Here was an opportunity, now at age 33, to take what I had begun a few years earlier and focus on improving it in a virtual graduate-school setting - a residency in which I could lose myself a bit for the first time in quite a while.
Week 1 - Getting Acclimated to Porch-Sits and Whiskey Once Again
My time began with a campus tour of the beautiful Sweet Briar College campus, catching up with some old friends and watching an irreverent vaudevillian adaptation of Taming of the Shrew in the summer Virginia rain. Endstation does a wonderful job with physical comedy and site-specific aesthetics, so it couldn’t have been a more appropriate way to wander into July at the foot of the Appalachians. After the production, there were more introductions to the company while sitting on the old plantation porch of the dorm in which we were all housed. Rocking chairs, Jameson’s and catching up in the sweet-smelling damp air with friends - old and new - kept me up longer than usual without regret. And, while that night is crystal clear in my mind, the rest of the week is a bit of a blur in retrospect. The following couple of days were filled with meeting the other visiting playwrights - two very young, very talented MFA students from Portland and D.C., respectively. The time was also spent purchasing necessities for dorm living (something I am ashamed to say I was able to avoid all 4 years of undergrad -didn’t understand the requisite shower caddie, etc). We also learned the details of the playwriting residency itself. For those interested in applying for the future, I’ll recount the details as they currently stand as well as the contact information: On Wednesday, we had our daily roundtable meeting which, in this case, was to talk about the reading series that would occur the following Monday. This half of the residency was entitled the ‘Ad Hoc Series.’ The purpose is simple — we all brought pieces that were either finished, but needed refinement or were in mid-process — whatever we felt would be most useful to read aloud. We would meet to read excerpts aloud at our daily roundtable meetings in order to refine and cast the readings until we were satisfied. Again, a blur, but the weekend passed with some re-writing, some readings of the material, the reading of each other’s material to gauge our own potential amidst one another and, finally, more evenings spent conversing on the porch. Time moved slow in comparison to freeways of LA, yet the following Monday would come faster than anyone anticipated. And it was anticipated. The Monday Ad Hoc Reading Series would ultimately tell us all a great deal about how each of us worked — and perhaps even a bit about our elusive personal process.
PART II - COMING THIS WEEK