The Waiting

This is a playwright’s life: wait.

It’s a continued sequence of moments to come. You’re always working, always thinking; nothing comes without the effort. But so much is predicated on that which you cannot know.

A good part is spent waiting for theatres to get back to you, and, even for the hottest playwrights, the answer is usually…no. Politely, but…no. A good day is…no, but send more. That particular dialogue can go on for years, but it’s better than plain…no. Getting a script back without a note means…hell no. (Luckily, it’s been awhile since that’s happened to me.)

A lot of times, especially in these days of electronic submissions, you’ll never hear back at all. Your script simply vanishes. Maybe it’s being done under an assumed name in Montevideo, but most likely it’s forgotten on a dead hard drive. Or you’ll hear back so long after sending it that you have to go back to your notes to figure when you sent it. At the moment, I’m attuned to this phase because I have a lot of stuff out right now.

Then there’s waiting for ideas, which do not come unless you look for them, but which never appear while you’re looking for them. They come in the space between, when your attention is elsewhere. If, however, you do not look, they will not appear unbidden. And they wonder why writers drink too much or smell of various varieties of smoke or totally melt down when they can’t find their lucky pen.

When the script is done, you wait to hear back from your first, trusted readers. Then you wait to have a workshop reading accepted. Wait for the reading date. Wait to see if it goes on to a public reading. Wait for that date. Wait for actors to show up for meetings, rehearsals, performances. Wait for the audience reaction. Wait for all your emotions to settle before rewriting. Wait for another reading. Repeat endlessly.

If your play is actually accepted for production, suddenly the opening date glows red on your calendar, and every day is a step closer to that point. Which takes forever. When you finally get there, you wait for the time to leave for the theatre. You wait on every streetlight, which will turn red as you approach the intersection. You wait for parking. Once in the theatre, you read and reread the program, waiting for the lights to go down. (And you crush the hand of your significant other in those last few seconds before total darkness.)

Then, if you’re lucky, for ten minutes or an hour or two hours, you are waitless.

Finally, after the damn thing opens, you wait on the reviews, which is like waiting to get your biopsy back.

This is why every playwright should own a copy of Tom Petty’s song “The Waiting.” It’s built off a cliché, but it’s a good one:

The waiting is the hardest part

Every day you see one more card

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart

The waiting is the hardest part

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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