Whew. It’s almost December. I miss you, blog. Wondering how things are going in that pristine writing environment I set up a few months ago, my tiny zoo for dangerous ideas?
Well. Check it out. Here’s the zoo:
What a mess! Dishes, coffee cups, a glitter skull, empty beer, unopened champagne, two water bottles, papers everywhere, three different notebooks, a headband I’ve only worn once, a green box tied up with an orange satin ribbon, an alphabet that fell off the wall, a couple of glossy promo postcards, and… sriracha hot sauce? Jesus Christ. Where’s Waldo?
It ain’t pretty, but it sure is lively. Here’s what’s escaped from the zoo in the three months since I set it up:
*An entirely new full-length play, Megan Cohen’s Great American Revolution, or The Hubbub of Wub, Blicket, and Dax. I pounded out a first draft, and then a second, and then fixed the second a little, and now it’s resting for a minute. It’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever written– two hours, two acts, and no characters– an anti-play, which includes bombs, bees, a slant-rhymed pledge of allegiance, and the secret of where words come from.
* Two one-minute plays for the One Minute Play Festival, Dec 15 & 16, 2012 at Playwrights Foundation. I loved writing for this last year, was super-flattered to be invited again, and can’t wait to see my pieces directed by Amy Clare Tasker and Desdemona Chiang.
* Most of my new 50-minute play Zeus, which will have a reading Dec 20, 2012, in the San Francisco Olympians festival.
* A bunch of levels and cutscenes for more than one game, including both commercial work for hire and a spec project I’m really excited about but can’t discuss in print yet.
* Dialogue fragments representing the end of unworried drafting, and the beginning of serious knuckle-biting revision, on The Helen Project, which will be workshopped May 2013 at DIVAfest.
* Some grant applications and blah blah blah whatever… plus my one-night sprint of writing 15 microplays in 158 minutes… and some super-nascent passages for the translation project I’ve been brainstorming on… and a couple of pitches and outlines… you know, little stuff here and there.
* The other big writing project was an unexpected new draft of a really old piece, the first full-length play I ever wrote, which I was never totally happy with. I started the plot outline five and half years ago, wrote the last scene in 2007, and called it “Action-Packed!” It’s a story about four people, and what happens when they live and die. So, O.K., with all these other projects and deadlines looming, why was I working on a random play from, like, 2006-7?
Out of the quartet of people in that script, one of the four characters had never quite smelled right to me. She was an idea and not a person, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it… until I realized I was doing “one of my things,” you know, every writer has some “things” that they do over and over and don’t catch themselves doing, and mine is to shorthand the work on a certain type of character. I will consistently just flat-out forget or fail to write, to really write, the character who is the most like me.
I do this because I am:
D) A dull subject for theater, because who wants to hear about my emotional life when they could hear about, like, dragons or a mafia boss.
E) Narrow-minded enough to assume everyone will just “get” the character. I “get” the character, because the character is just like me… so everyone else will get it, too, because everyone who’s seeing the play will be just like me, too. Right?
F) All of the above.
Anyway, there’s no piece more glaring in this respect than “Action-Packed.” I’ve gotten better about this over the years– but I’d still rather write a teenage boy, a dancing bear, anything other than a big-talking, big-thinking, dreamy, easily frustrated, fundamentally gentle but occasionally painfully sharp introverted woman in her late 20s, who almost always simultaneously wants two rather precisely conflicting things (like adventure and stability, or independence and connection). This is basically how I see myself… but this is not a figure you will often see in my plays in a literal sense. (Which makes me the opposite of many many playwrights, who you can obviously spot strutting the stage in their own work… usually in flattering self-portraits which are a few years older or younger, a few degrees more clever, and about 20 pounds thinner.)
So, about a month ago, I finished writing Hubbub. The craziest, most open, most uncertain play I’ve ever made– difficult, obtuse, maybe totally fruitless– but done, at least for now. Time to celebrate with ice cream and a day off! Or not. Thirty minutes later, I picked up “Action-Packed,” and I just totally dug-the-fuck in. Something about Hubbub broke it wide open– by taking those aesthetic risks, I had somehow given myself permission to do anything I wanted, and apparently I wanted to do this.
I wrote that character all week, that one young woman I couldn’t get at before. It was hella rough, you guys. I cried at the desk. I cried on the porch. I cried for the person I’d been when I wrote that play, almost six years ago, and for the person I wasn’t ready to be then. I cried for the person I am now, a melodramatic idiot who writes a sad story and makes herself for-real sad over nothing, over a dream, a made-up imaginary fantasy– aw, who’s a silly widdle emo kid? But, hey– it’s part of the process sometimes– you just have to keep going. I wrote that character all week, and followed the ripples she made through the rest of the play. I wrote, rewrote, and changed the title of the play to The Actual Stuff. Because now, it was a play about the actual stuff– the real stuff– the messy stuff. Shit got personal. I edited it all later, of course, but I didn’t clean it up. I let that character be a lively, conflicted mess. Then I sent it out. Maybe it’ll get a developmental reading or two, maybe it won’t… maybe I’ll need to come back to it and fix something else five years from now… but I brought as much realness as I could, then let it go out the door.
Share the mess. Share the mess. The messy mind, the messy self, the messy desk.
(Boom, bringing it back to the topic at hand, ’cause that’s how I do. Structure, homies, structure.)
In short, the zoo has gone totally savage. Which is fine. At least the potted plant is still alive! – XOXO Megan
PS. If you’re wondering what’s in the green box with the orange ribbon, it’s full of scraps of paper with Oblique Fucking Strategies written on them– totally useful when you feel stuck creatively– highly recommended.