In a little less than two months, I will be back in Valdez, Alaska for my second year at the Valdez Theatre Conference. They accepted a new sort-of-full-length play of mine, Before Vinson, for the main reading series; ever since getting this news, I’ve been preparing to take part in and enjoy all the other aspects of the conference once again. There is an after-hours Fringe series; I’ve written a new super-short play for them to consider. There is a presentation of one-minute monologues at the end of the week by the general acting company; I’ve submitted two of these for them to select if desired. (There’s also of plenty of drinking and karaoke when the conference isn’t in session, but I figure I’ll take care of those arrangements when I’m on site.)
One thing I didn’t get to participate in last summer – an omission which I’ve been itching to rectify for the past year – was the Fringe’s Story Relay. Two sets of five writers are entrusted to write a single serialized story each, told in five page installments, one for each of the five nights the Fringe performs. From what I saw last year, the resulting sagas wind up being good, melodramatic, vaudevillian fun, and I wanted to be a part of it. One link in the ongoing chain, gathering up the threads from the writers before me, adding my own little weirdo complications, and then handing it off to the next collaborator. It’s a theatrical party, and I was hoping for an invitation.
Happily, I was invited to participate this year. Last weekend, the Fringe coordinators held a zoom meeting with the ten relay writers for this summer. And at that meeting, I was informed that not only was I writing for one of this year’s serialized stories, but that I was in fact writing the lead-off installment for my particular team.
And I freaked out.
Not publicly, of course – other than a double-take I kept my composure. But now this fun little gig conveyed no small measure of responsibility. Whatever storyline I came up with – based on a choice of prompts that would be emailed to me privately – would be the storyline my four unsuspecting teammates would have to continue. My decisions about characters, tone, and the like, would affect what these four writers would write – and for all I know, whether they’d be able to write comfortably at all. My nonsense can be a lot to handle, after all. And writers, by our nature, are solitary – we sit alone with our imaginations and our keyboards, free to follow our creative impulses down whatever bizarre alleyways they lead us. We trust that anybody reads us, or sees a performance of something we’ve written, has chosen to follow us, and it’s not the end of the world if they wind up regretting it.
But to lead a fellow writer down these alleyways? And then ask them to find their own way out? Do I even have the right to do this?
Well, whether I have the right or not, that’s what I’ve done. This lead-off installment was my writing assignment for the past week; it was submitted late on Thursday. The coordinators were highly complementary, so there’s a chance I haven’t let the rest of the team down. Still, I won’t know until I’m back in Alaska whether my teammates are happy with what I gave them to work with, or are waiting for me with clubs and pitchforks.
Good thing there’ll be late-night drinking. That works for either option.