Writing Furiously without a Pen

For a writer, it’s important to have understanding people in your life because a good part of what you do looks like goofing off.

That is, you may appear to be sitting on your porch and watching the breeze sway the poppies while listening to Dylan and The Band play “The Basement Tapes,” but, in reality, you are deep down in some inner movie, watching scenes you don’t understand appear and fade. In short, a lot of writing is not knowing what the hell you’re doing and being okay with that. Right now, I’m chasing something. I don’t know what it is, but I can feel it. And it’s giving me pictures and little snippets of dialogue, but I don’t know what it’s going to be, how it’s going to emerge, and it’s necessary to kind of operate on faith–faith that your mind will let the rest float up to the surface when it’s ready.

I mean, I don’t have time to write at the moment. For the next couple weeks, my day job is going to be very demanding, and then I’m producing the End of the Pavement festival, and the two take a great deal of energy. I don’t even want to think about how tired I was yesterday and how tired I’m going to be by next Friday. So I can’t really write. I scribble down little bits of stuff in the mornings or lunch hours, but I can’t sustain the kind of extended concentration writing requires. I’ll get there, but the unconscious, after awhile, knows not to let loose until it’s ready. I guess I’ve been doing this long enough that it’s well trained.

And then it’ll be: bam! And you’re off, trying to keep up with the goddamn thing before it can get away from you. In the meantime, you just have to kind of roll with this twilight state where you get glimpses but they’re gone before you can do anything with them. In a way, it’s kind of enjoyable. I get to see the preview reel, unedited, before anyone else. And it looks fun and weird and spooky and intense and, best of all, new…but, of course, I’m sworn to secrecy. There’s nothing worse than talking something out before you can get it on paper.

So I’m sitting on the porch. Watching the poppies dance. And way down underneath, something unknown is taking shape. It just looks like nothing. And, as Dylan sings, too much of nothing makes a man ill of ease….

The Revolution in Turnaround

As a committed (re: otherwise unemployable) theatre artist, I can say with confidence the money’s in TV and film. People ask me why I don’t work in those mediums, and my standard line is that, yeah, you make the money, but you spend it all on shrink bills. Actually, in theatre, you have more control of your words, working live is fun and vibrant, there’s more latitude for weirdness, and your colleagues treat you with respect (sometimes embarrassingly so) rather than as the janitor.

Mostly though, Hollywood scares the shit out of me.

So I’m neither a member of the Writers Guild of America nor on strike. I’m a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, which is kind of like being a Democrat–not being a member of an organized group.*

I have friends in the film industry, and I’m worried about them: this strike looks to be a tough, protracted one. And I know shows like “Law and Order,” “CSI,” and “Gray’s Anatomy” keep a lot of playwrights afloat.

But I can’t help wondering what the strike means for theatre, particularly if it lasts into next year. People will certainly spend the winter catching up on DVDs they’ve meant to watch, but, at a certain point, could their hungry minds be turned to…the stage?

It won’t affect the programming of full-season theatres, which plan a year or two ahead, but it might affect rough-and-tumble indie theatres, whose ticket prices are closer to first-run movies. Could this be a golden opportunity for new, adventurous theatre companies doing new, adventurous plays, building a whole new audience from dedicated moviegoers who never realized theatre could be so dynamic and well done? Could it, in short, mark the beginning of a bold new age, a theatrical renaissance for new works and writers? A time we will all look back upon with gleaming eyes and churning hearts? Could it? Just maybe?


*A cheap and easy joke, stolen from Will Rogers; I’m actually very fond of the Guild; they’ve been very good to me and do wonderful things. Still applies to the Democrats, however.