More Theater Nightmares

She woke with a start from her solid slumber, feeling the arms tightening around her. As the bear hug deepened, she heard the words, sliding out of a mouth fueled by a demented mind.

“It’s all too hard. I can’t take it!”

The barely coherent ramblings continued, until her accoster slid his arms away, rolled over, and went back to sleep.

Ok, perhaps not as dramatic as this...

She, of course was my wife, and naturally I was the crazed midnight hugger. Actually, it was more like 2 am. She, woken so suddenly, unpleasantly, has a vivid memory of it all. I thought it was part of  just a few words we exchanged when we went to bed, or the half-formed recollections of a dream. No, a nightmare; another theater nightmare.

What was I going on about? We had just watched the taping of a staged reading of one of my plays, my “Quaker play,” which I’ve alluded to here before. The reading itself was not so bad. Some places felt a little talky, sure, but other times I heard a phrase I liked and thought, “I wrote that? Not bad.” But then there was the talkback, the actors and scant audience ripping into my words like so many jackals on a dead gazelle.

Hyperbole here, natch. My critics were not dripping blood, and their intent was to help, not devour. The script, admittedly, had nowhere near the grace and speed of a gazelle. But still…the process of putting your thoughts and emotions out there, and having others find so much fault – never pretty.

There were some positive comments, though not nearly as many as the other kind. And many of the suggestions/critiques had my head nodding in agreement. I like my writing, but I‘m not so arrogant that I don‘t see the flaws and room for improvement. But part of me certainly did feel, as I wailed in the darkness of our bedroom, “It‘s so hard. I can‘t take it anymore.”

That brings up a question for myself as the 50th birthday approaches, one I have wrestled with so publicly here at C?WC? How long to keep trying to write plays, to get them staged, to get better at a craft that, at its essence, seems to allude me. I have thought about taking a long break from the process: no more writing, revising, sending out scripts, or even jotting down the random ideas that fill sticky notes, tiny fragments of paper ripped from envelopes, blow-in cards from magazines, and which are scattered across bureaus and stuffed in folders. Some of these ”ideas” unfulfilled go back more than 20 years! Pretty good bet you won’t be developing those anytime soon, eh? And with some that could be worth my time, why keep scratching down the new ones?

The latest offering from my Chicago theater buds

The DVD feedback session came after a rather up-down-week, theater wise. Found out I would not have to self-produce a short play tapped for a festival in NYC – yea! If that route was the only way to get it staged, I would have found a way, despite the bad memories of the solo show. Got two outright rejections – one for the Quaker play – and one sort-of rejection: a full-length not picked for staging, but designated as an “honorable mention.“ Great. That and 5 bucks will buy my next pint at a New Haven bar of my choice. Then, today, one more small glimmer of good: a production of a new play by my Chicago buddies at n.u.f.a.n. ensemble. I am never quite sure if they really like my stuff or just feel sorry for me…

Abandoning the playwriting might take a while, if I’m serious about this sabbatical. (That’s what it would be to start, to see if I could stop the writing and thinking and sending that has defined so much of my life for more than 20 years.) Workshops coming up in NYC, one next week. The various productions that, assuming I see them, will remind me of the high I get hearing my words spoken, my characters presented, and hopefully drawing the appropriate response from the audience. Then there’s that writing retreat during my birthday week, seven days of isolation, my brain and computer alone, hoping to produce something new and worthwhile.

The birthday does seem to hover over much of this. 50 years old, and what have I accomplished in this chosen endeavor of playwriting? In life? I went to the 50th birthday celebration for a good friend this week. I saw a successful man, a man loved by his wife and children, who despite his demons (oh they are there, for all of us), seems comfortable in his own skin. Me? I’m not sure where this skin came from: imposed from outside, or something I cobbled together out of experiences, expectations, DNA, memories and unfulfilled wishes. But not something that feels inherently mine. Me. I thought the playwriting helped shaped that sense of identity. Now at times it feels like a burden, one that leaves me clutching for comfort in the middle of the night, scaring my wife with the desperate words and cries for it to end. For something to end.

I guess I should start sorting through those scraps now. Must be some I can easily ditch. But you never know…but that’s after I take a look at the pile of contests I could be submitting to this week. Maybe sending one out won’t hurt. And those ideas for revising the Quaker play; could take another look at them. None of this is really writing. Though there is a 2/1 deadline for a contest I’d like to enter, could sketch out some ideas for that. Yeah, I can’t take it. It’s hard. But I don’t know how to let go. Or if I should. Not yet.

Maybe the answer will come in a dream. A quiet one. With no bear hugs.


~ by mburgan on January 24, 2010.

4 Responses to “More Theater Nightmares”

  1. the answers will come in time…i’m now a true believer in “we get what we need not what we want” (and heck we usually don’t know what we want anyway). as my girlfriends like to say “the universe unfolds as it should and can’t be rushed”

  2. So I need all this angst and physical pain, huh? No, seriously, I appreciate the comment and the sentiment behind it. Things will work out as they should.

    First class on Wed; expect a post on that experience…

  3. Eh, we’re all destined to aged nobodies with unfulfilled dreams, walking towards death’s door – closer every day – carrying our aches and pains where once our hopes and desires once lay. Look on the bright side, at least you’re inspiring me to write!

  4. Well, we’re not ALL fated to be nobodies. Somebody will have a lasting legacy. Just not you and me…

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