The Good, the Bad, and the Naked Quakers

I start the holiday weekend with my first bit of theatrical good news in ages: Someone wants to do a reading of one of my full-length plays! It’s a play that’s never been done before! The guy from the theater said, “The story is intriguing and the characters (esp. women) are multi-dimensional”!

So why am I not happier?

Him, naked? Hmm...

Him, naked? Hmm...

Come on, you knew there would be masks.

Come on, you knew there would be masks.

The play is one of my two historical dramas, a work I refer to as the “Quaker Play” because, oddly enough, it has several Quakers as main characters. 17th-century Quakers. Two of whom appear nude on stage, though I doubt the actors will strip down during a reading. I always warn  about the naked Quakers in my synopsis, assuring the reader that the scene is “historically accurate.” Because god forbid you go throwing in naked Quakers willy-nilly, just because, well, you can. No, some 17th-century Quakers, in England and right here in New England, taunted their rulers by acting out the words of Isaiah 20:3, when the prophet walked naked and barefoot.

The Puritans of New England were not amused.

My play draws a bit on the story of Mary Dyer, with a touch of Romeo and Juliet skulking beneath the surface. But I really wrote it to explore the idea of the “other” in American history. The powers-that-be always designate some poor saps as the dangerous presence threatening to undermine morality and the body politic (I touched upon all this in one of my first posts here at C?WC?). For the Puritans of Massachusetts, the rambunctious Quakers played that role. Today it’s Arabs-who-could-be-terrorists and alleged socialists and gays and…well, take your pick.

Again, why I am not happier?

I like this play. I agree that it has good roles for female actors. It is probably also a little too melodramatic and maybe dated, since I wrote it to highlight some of the intolerance of the Bush years (though I suppose in some American quarters, intolerance never goes out of style). As with all my plays, I believe it deserves an audience, at least one.

But, but , but…

Ok, number one is I will not be able to see it. The theater is in Downer’s Grove (which always makes me think of Grover’s Corners), IL. I am in Connecticut. The reading has only one performance about a month away. I cannot justify the cost of flying out for a reading.

That’s number two. As much I realize readings are part of the play development process, I am greedy. I want one of my full-lengths to get a full production. I realize how miniscule the odds are of that happening, especially with a historical drama with nine actors and two naked Quakers.

And three: I always get really nervous at the thought of people seeing and then judging (read: disliking) my work. Yes, I write to try to stimulate a response in an audience, emotional and/or intellectual. And I always say, as some other playwrights do, that a play is not complete until actors speak and audience hear my words. But no matter how many times that happens, you—I—always get a little scared when the baby takes its first public steps. Will it stride upright and proud, or sway, stagger, and fall on its ass?

Whoa, whoa, steady...

Whoa, whoa, steady...

I usually put my money on the swaying and staggering.

Then there is always the fear, especially if I’m no way involved in casting or the rehearsal process, that the actors and directors will really screw things up. This is no way meant as a comment on the fine folks at New World Theater, who have chosen to do the Quaker Play. I’m sure they are all incredibly talented and will hit a home run. But, when a playwright has to hand off that script to his collaborators, and he has no role in the process, it’s always nervewracking. Even if it’s only a one-time reading.

This is the world of playwriting, or at least the inner world of this playwright: Sweat over the writing, the marketing, hope for a sign of life, then wallow in concerns and qualms when he is fortunate enough to get outside validation of his work. Not a pretty picture. (Hmm, did I just write in another post that I wanted to start a new full-length, begin this torture all over again? For what reason?)

No, I know the reason. Writing is what I do. Sometimes well, sometimes not. Playwriting is one form of expression that resonates inside me, even as it often drives me crazy and leaves me feeling woefully inadequate as a “creative” person . I like inventing characters and writing down what they say in my head (well, that’s how it works for me…). I like hearing audiences react in the appropriate way at the appropriate time when I’m lucky enough to get something staged. I like the way directors and actors find things in a script I never knew were there. I like finding ideas I never knew I had, or writing a phrase I forget about, look at years later  and think—in a good, amazed way—“I wrote that?”

So yes, there is some trepidation with this latest news. But on the whole it is a good thing. Break a leg, New World actors. And bring on the naked Quakers!


~ by mburgan on September 4, 2009.

One Response to “The Good, the Bad, and the Naked Quakers”

  1. Where can I find a copy of your play about the good, the bad and the naked Quakers? I am looking for drama about Quakers to use with Quaker amateur actors.

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