Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thrillsville 2011

Tonight's the first public reading of my new play "The Sound in the Next Room" down in the PONCHO space at the Seattle Rep, as part of Northwest Playwrights Alliance monthly reading series. It's a comedy thriller, this draft anyway: some co-workers take an out-of-town trip for a "Mystery Weekend," and then discover that their own secrets might turn out to be not only dangerous but deadly.

It's envisioned as a fun light entertainment.

And it only took me eight years to write.

Usually I write quickly. Working as a journalist, I've had a lot of experience with deadlines, and believe that there's a valuable heat added to your writing when you're up against the clock. A good number of my shorter plays were written overnight, for 14/48, Doubleshot or other short plays festivals. Even when a play of mine has had a long development period--"Sherlock Holmes/Christmas Carol" had two and a half years of drafts and improvements--I usually write the initial draft in a few weeks, not months.

So what's up with this one?

To be honest, I forgot about it.

2003 was one of those times when I was up to my elbows in theater. Productions, scripts, parties--somewhere in there I was dating an actress. I was also time and again running into actresses who I had big talent crushes on. There were four that I particularly wanted to work with, and so as a playwright, I came up with a cunning plan: I'd write a play and have them read it for me.

The plan worked. All four participated in three developmental readings, and since I'd chosen four women who were not only talented but whip-smart, the post-reading discussions were invaluable. I really felt like things were humming along.

But theatre is always of the moment, and the moment when these four women were available went away. Two left Seattle, and the other two went on to other projects. I shelved the play and headed on to other shows as well.

Then earlier this year I noticed the play sitting on my computer. I had remembered it as being about 18 pages long but promising. So when I took a look, I was surprised to find 73 pages that seemed better than promising. This play looked almost done.

Well, it wasn't.

When I started work trying to finish the play, I found myself arguing with the playwright. Because the guy who wrote plays back in 2003 doesn't really write like me. He was way more wordy, pop-culture centered, and his plotting was clever but a little dull.

(I know I'm being hard on him. Whatever. He can take it.)

I just read a piece in Salon about "continuators," those writers hired by estates to continue the adventures of James Bond or Jason Bourne or some other valuable post-mortem franchise. That's what I feel like that in completing this play. A lot of what I was trying to do with the original script is now lost to me. And the world's moved on: thankfully there's even greater acceptance of open lesbian relationships now than there was back in 2003, and sadly all my jokes about "Stella Got Her Groove Back" are no longer funny--though maybe they never really were.

It's been a rough process. Sometimes I've cursed my younger self for leaving so many problems--unexamined motivations, plot snafus, jokes that almost but don't quite work (the worst kinds of jokes, really). But he didn't know any better.

The one thing that's been working for me in the last week has been the actresses I'm working with this time. It's rare that one EVER gets one's "dream cast," but that's what has happened. Frankly, any director in town would probably give their right arm to work with actors like Jesse Notehelfer, Susy Schneider, Nikki Visel, and Billie Wildrick--let alone all four. And the best part is that they're also all whip-crack smart, and their feedback has improved the script exponentially.

At this point my thriller is just missing one thing: thrills. That's generally provided by an audience. We'll see what the folks who come along tonight to the Rep (7:00 PM) feel like contributing.