Posts Tagged ‘playwriting’

Today I had an amusing back and forth with Fire Islanders past and present. It was about a fund raiser for what we used to call “Group” back when I was a day camper and later a counselor and writer-director of teenage musicals.

The fundraiser is to restore the Ocean Beach Youth Group (“Group”) building below, which was pummeled by Hurricane Sandy. From the first e-mail:

“Food . Beer & Wine . Auction . Guest Bartenders . Tequila Tasting
“Sun., Jan. 6, 2013, 4-7 pm @ Rodeo Bar, 375 Third Avenue, NYC
“$50 cash/check at door, 21+
“$30 for 16-20 For advance tickets or to make a donation, visit http://www.nycharities.org/Events/EventLevels.aspx?ETID=5691 OBYG is a 501(c)3 organization.
“As an added bonus Tony Roberts of Broadway fame and Youth Group Alumnus will be our guest.”

I wrote back that I was in one of Tony Roberts’s teenage plays (back when his name was still Dave) and can sing most of the lyrics to the theme song of his show Like You Like It.

I then indulged in some contradictory reminiscing with my first co-writer/director and with the daughter of playwright Arnold Horwitt, who was an adviser on the first show we wrote.

“Memories can be beautiful and yet” … (Oh, sorry, we used to burst into song a lot.)

But about memories. I know I have the most accurate memories for the shows I worked on, yet friends keep remembering differently. And who can blame Arnold Horwitt’s daughter, for example, if she thinks her father wrote all the lyrics to our “Return of the Native” when he only contributed the song that he had already written for a cruise to fight a bridge, “Everything’s Coming Up Moses”? He was a huge support, and that’s what she gets right.

Want me to sing anything for you?

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Only two more sessions now. After a class on a meltingly hot day when we discussed the play “Mud,” by Maria Irene Fornes, my teacher’s longtime mentor, we were sent out into the world to write down conversations overheard in public places.

Some class members got great conversations down on paper in spite of noisy air conditioning and music. My scene, which featured three tourists (a mother, father, and 14-ish son) was beyond boring. Instructive, though. People really do not converse the way we think they do. Lots of broken-off and garbled lines. Nonsequitors. Chitchat to fill dead air. Often about food. And to cover real thoughts.

I’m really interested in how people use language to not communicate. Not just when the chitchat covers what they are consciously thinking, but even more, when the words cover thoughts that are too deep for the speaker to be aware of. Like some political or religious discussions. For example, one Right to Life person getting red in the face shouting at a clinic could be feeling on a deep level that being the 10th child, his mother might have thought twice about having him. I’m oversimplifying. But I do know a couple folks whose political arguments are closely tied to how they felt about their fathers.

An art professor Suzanne had at Pomona used to paint over an under story. He believed one could sense the completely invisible picture. That interests me.

This week, members of the playwriting class are to take our overheard scenes and develop them more. I am mainly adding what the people are consciously thinking. Someday I’ll write about what people don’t even recognize they’re thinking.

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The next assignment is to listen in on a conversation somewhere and try to write it down word for word without adding any of your own details or dramatizing it.

In the age of Murdoch telephone hacking, is that kosher?

I do sometimes hear conversations I want to write down. Yesterday, for example, I was in a small grocery store, and a woman dripping with perspiration blew in and accosted the butcher. “I’m Christine! I’m from Burnin’ Love. I’m so sorry. I got all turned around.”

Pretty good, huh?

Another time I was out walking on a breathtakingly beautiful summer morning — clear blue sky, goldfinches flying everywhere — and two men on bicycles passed by discussing credit default swaps.

And one day last fall, I overheard a conversation as I dashed from my office building to the subway. A young woman was saying to a friend, “What I’d like to be doing is studying. But I’ll be grocery shopping and doing laundry, and he’ll be watching football and playing video games.”

This morning, I ventured some timid eavesdropping. I thought I better buy something in my chosen venues. In the first coffee shop, where I hovered near a biking couple, I bought coffee and the Sunday Globe. But the air conditioning was loud and drowned out their words. In the second coffee shop, I bought a decaf cappuccino and wandered around testing conversations, but the music was too loud. In the third coffee shop, I bought waffles with toppings (blueberries, strawberries, granola), but that place had both loud air conditioning and loud music.

In the afternoon, I tried the book shop without luck and ended up back at the first coffee shop, which had opened its screened porch for lunch. I bought lemonade. I can probably use a few snatches of the conversation among three fed-up-looking tourists.  Pretty bland, I must say.

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I am taking a playwriting class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education with Peter Littlefield, who also does a lot of directing. Here is an opera (Handel’s “Partenope”) he co-directed at the English National Opera. I wish I had a real video, but this is what I could find on YouTube.

I just had one class so far, and it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. The students are an interesting mix of ages and backgrounds, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone. One woman, as it happens, teaches in a Boston elementary school where I volunteer.

I really like Peter’s sort of associative approach to playwriting, in which you mess around with images and ideas that interest you, then set them aside while you play with different images and ideas, and ultimately see how they converge. To me the attraction is that you’re less likely to get bored with what you are doing than if you were trying to force an idea into a structure. (I really am sick of writing coaches who harp on “structure.” I believe a structure will emerge.) We did a really funny exercise for openers.

Although I have often tried to write plays, the only actual class I ever had was in writing for TV, which I took while getting a master’s in communications at Syracuse’s Newhouse School. It was all about the formula: one, two three, gag (joke); one, two three, gag; one, two three, gag. Spirit crushing.

For fun, watch the first few minutes of opening-night comments on my teacher’s production of Partenope.

Comments may be sent to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com. I will post them.

Asakiyume comments: I’m so excited about this playwriting class. You must have such a great sense of theater from *watching* so many plays, and you’ve definitely got stories to tell. I hope you’ll share any scripts that you do write.  (Your thing about television screenplays, with the “one, two, three, gag” made me laugh because of the alternative meaning of gag–which is what, of course, someone with an artistic vision and free spirit must surely do if trapped with such a formula.)

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