Hitting Play-dirt

It’s a joyous day here in  Chicago, festive, almost holiday-like, for I have started a new play.

Today, after starting the play...

Today, after starting the play...

Well, it’s a big deal for me.

...and after the rejections start

...and after the rejections start

Especially because it’s a full-length – I think. Since starting the solo show some 18 months ago (holy crap – 18 months! And it’s been more than six months since the last clap after the last performance faded into the night), I have only been able to churn out a few short plays, and churn is the operative word. Well, they weren’t horrible, but in every case but two, they have been recycled bits and pieces of existing plays.  And one of those two was a reworking of a scene that I cut from the solo show. So the only truly original work was a Christmas play I wrote specifically for a holiday contest sponsored by a local theatre, which I will not name. When it didn’t make the cut there, it got passed over for another Chicago holiday playfest; must be a great play, huh?  Actually, the second company was hesitant because it requires a teen actor, but did I have anything else I wanted to submit? I tried to do another holiday play; after three pages, it’s sitting in a folder and will not be finished, I’m sure, by this Saturday’s deadline.

Of course, the excitement over putting pen to paper for this new play could be short-lived.  I have started two full-lengths since completing the solo show – as much as it is complete; revisions await – and here’s the scorecard: an opening scene of a play about the war on terror, 10 pages long, which now sits on top of the aborted, second Xmas play in a folder; and a much shorter version of a play about the domestic consequences of the war on terror. Those topics seem dated now, with Obama’s election. Not because the threat of terrorism is over, but the target of much of my theatrical wrath will soon be gone. I have to either attack someone I like – the president-elect –  or wait for him to do something so stupid that my dander flares up again.  We’ll see what happens.

As for the new play – I can’t say what it’s about. I know what it’s about, but superstition prevents me from talking about it before it is done or trashed for good. But even when I’ve finished a work, I hate that question: “What’s it about?” I want to give the Borscht-Belt, wiseass crack, “About 90 minutes.” I assume people want to know the plot, or the theme, and I’m not very good at succinctly saying either. Some writers would say that’s the sign of a bad play, or bad writer, if you can’t get out the essence of your work in a sentence or two. OK, I can usually handle the plot, but the “theme,” the “meaning”; I know what I get out of them, but I know a reader or audience could see something completely different. Which is cool. But I don’t want to potentially limit others’ interpretation by suggesting the play is only about what I say it is. Cop-out, or wise artistic position? Not sure, though I do remember the words of one Lit teacher I had in college.

The new" Law and Order" series, right?

The new "Law and Order" series, right?

He derided “fink” English teachers who insisted Crime and Punishment or T.S. Eliot poems were only “about”what they said they were and expected just one answer to their questions.

I will say the new work is another historical drama (because, as I’ve mentioned before, the other two have been so well received). It’s not about a subject I’ve been ruminating on for some time, like the Woodhull play. Instead, the idea came in a flash yesterday while reading a book about the history of history. Though I have been thinking for awhile I’d like to adapt a straight narrative history into a drama: The Peloponnesian War, say, or one  of Plutarch’s Lives. (Hey, Plutty was good enough for the Bard – not, oh, god, not that I for a nanosecond think I could write historical dramas like that. Even I don’t have that kind of hubris. But I would shoot for Gore Vidal. Yeah, still out of my league, I know.)

I have also wanted to adapt a fiction work in the public domain, and Mark Twain was my first choice. I thought about the Adam and Eve Diaries, then saw it’s already been done at least once. Curse you David Birney!

So, I guess this historical topic is the one. I’ve recently done some research on it for work, so once again I have just enough knowledge to be deadly. It is, I think, relevant today, as well as a good recounting of a story not well-known (yeah, just like the Quaker play. So ok, it’s a recounting. I’ll leave the judgments on quality aside). And with some perseverance, I might be able to send it out to Chicago theatre before we move. We’ll see. It could still end up in that ever-growing folder of half-starts and misconceived ramblings.

To close on one last writerly note: I had seen this quote before, but thought it was worth putting up.

Man, that's one good day of writing!

Man, that's one good day of writing!

Attributed to either Gene Fowler or Red Smith.

“Writing is easy; all you have to do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”


~ by mburgan on November 12, 2008.

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