24/7/1 night only

23 Jan

It’s been brought to my attention that I said this blog wouldn’t only be pieces about parenting, but, uh, so far this blog is only pieces about parenting. That’s appropriate insofar as parenting is my day job–scratch that, it’s a 24/7/365 kind of job–and trying to do it in halfway decent style is my overwhelming preoccupation. But all work and no play except Monopoly and scootering around the block makes me a dull mom, not to mention feel like a crazy person, so I do seek other outlets.

It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve given myself permission to self-identify, at least in the privacy of my own mind (and now the relative privacy of a blog with a micro-readership), as an artist. But creative work has always been an important part of my life. I acted in my first play, the musical The Velveteen Rabbit, at the age of 8 (I was the Fourth Building Block, a pivotal role), and wrote my first (very) short story around then; if memory serves it was about a four leaf clover fairy named Sprite. When I got to college, I felt I should designate one hobby as my main interest, so I majored in English. But then I spent all my leisure time performing in an a cappella group and a student theater group. Professionally I edited textbooks and wrote web copy, but craved performing. When we got settled in Virginia and I was finished nursing our second child, I auditioned for a community theater musical and have been so thrilled and relieved to get back to acting, but have also wished for a writing career that was more creative than copy writing, and more personally meaningful.

All this to say, for some reason it had never occurred to me to try to write a play, thereby combining my two passions, until I was offered the opportunity to write for a local theater festival called 24/7, in which 7 new plays are written, directed, and performed in a 24 hour period. The constraints accompanying this writing assignment included being given a theme, a key word, and the number/gender of actors I was to write for, plus the small detail of a 10-hour time limit in which to get the work done. (And because the work was to be done overnight, I knew that actually meant a shorter time limit; I couldn’t pull all-nighters in college, and I wasn’t about to try as a middle-aged mom with childcare responsibilities the following day.) I was nervous about my chances of success, but also grateful to have so many parameters–the terror of the totally blank page has defeated me countless times.

The theme for this year’s event was, “The elephant in the room,” and my randomly-generated key word was “tiny.” I picked a slip of paper out of a hat that instructed me to write for 1 woman, 2 men, and 1 male and 1 female cameo, cameo parts being characters who have a pivotal role in the plot but 5 lines or fewer, (as the actors who play the cameos are in multiple plays.) And then I was sent out into the night. I came home so I could be close to the wine in my fridge and coffee in my pantry. The theme and my key word inspired me to posit, “What if there actually WAS a tiny elephant in the room?” The resulting very silly noir-ish spy drama revolved around a child’s elephant-shaped coin bank, (my daughter just happens to have one of these), and a triple-crossing secretary and her several lovers, and ended with 4 out of 5 of my characters shot dead. Which is just a good return on the audience’s investment, I’m sure you’d agree. My husband helped me puzzle out some of the plot intricacies of who was zooming who and cheating who and shooting who, and by the time I got a structure I liked and started filling in dialogue, it was already midnight. I pushed through and managed a short nap before giving the play a final once-over at 5:45, and turning it in a mere 18 minutes after deadline at 6:18 am. (The return email from the festival producer–“Too late,” thankfully just a little joke–almost made me wet my pants.)

I returned to the theater that morning to watch the random selection of a director for my play, with whom I met briefly, and the 5 actors who were to bring it to life in 2 shows that evening. And then I went home to wait (and grab another nap.) I had a really good feeling based on the director and actor picks; I knew most of their work, and felt confident they would have fun with the material and make good decisions.

Two funny things happened before I got to see my show at 7 pm. First, I got a text from the stage manager of the festival that said, “The worst has happened.” My heart pounding, I wondered what she could mean–The electricity blew in the building? Someone had been hurt? Her follow-up text, a picture of my daughter’s elephant coin bank after it had obviously been smashed to bits and painstakingly glued back together, made me sigh with relief. I had warned my 8 year old when I borrowed her toy that it might get broken, and we were both very touched at how hard the staff tried to repair it. It won’t be the last time my kids suffer for my art.

Second, when I arrived at the theater at 6:45, my director rushed up to me and said, “I hope you won’t mind. We made some… Changes to the play.” He assured me they were not structural, just enhancements, and I tried to act casual like my trust in him was absolute–but I was apprehensive.

As it turns out, trust in him and the actors was more than justified. All the flourishes they added–sound cues, mannerisms that fleshed out the characters, blocking changes from what I suggested in the script, not to mention the superb costumes and set elements added by the crew–made the play 100% more effective and fun than it had been on the page. It was a total thrill to sit in the audience and watch the actors relish their roles. I listened to their well-earned gales of laughter and rounds of applause with a lot of satisfaction. My one question going into the experience–well, apart from “Can I write a play overnight?”–was whether I would feel sad not to be on stage. But I felt proud of myself for being able to contribute to an enjoyable night at the theater in a whole new way. The experience made me eager to test and stretch myself creatively in other forms. Maybe I’ll go back to that novel I was working on, or try some short stories, or pick the guitar back up, or…

Or just write a blog post about the whole shebang. Hey, a busy mom has to do what she can.

If you’re interested, you can read the play I wrote for 24/7 here.

One Response to “24/7/1 night only”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Family Fun | amomynity - November 19, 2013

    […] time or money for a formal playwriting education, but I do have tolerant friends willing to let me learn on the job. Then, my daughter auditioned and was cast. When my husband came to pick her up, we asked him to […]

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