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Superstitious

Well, I think I’ve finally gotten it.  In spring of last year, I attempted to write a ten-minute play as part of a broader project, a night of thematically-linked readings which ultimately didn’t happen.  My piece went a little long – it wound up being fifteen pages, running between fifteen and twenty minutes in performance – but even so it felt rushed at that length.  So when it became clear that the initial project wasn’t going to take place, I started tinkering with the play further, to see if it made more sense as a longer one-act.  I know have.a thirty-page script that somehow manages to read faster than the original version, that feels like it’s the length and shape it should have been all along.  And as luck would have it, there is a perfect submission opportunity for this piece, and the submission window is occurring right now.  So obviously, I’m writing this right after filling out the necessarily online forms to send along the draft, right?  Or will be doing so immediately after I finish this?

Of course not.

You see, the play is set at Halloween, and references the old Celtic and pagan practices the holiday is based on.  The darn thing is even called How to Pronounce Samhain.  (“Samhain” is the ancient Gaelic name for the ancient festival that took place on what our calendar calls October 31.  As you might suspect from my title, it’s not pronounced the way you probably think it is.)  So naturally, even though the draft has been read and proofread and read and proofread again, and there is absolutely no reason for me to wait, I am not going to submit the piece until Halloween is here.

I do this a lot.

Some years ago, when the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries competition was still active, I made certain that my political satire revolving around Sir John Falstaff was submitted promptly on July 4th.  (Falstaff may not be American, but I didn’t exactly see a need to satirize the political machinations of medieval England.) Another play whose inspiration stemmed from a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which I performed in college, many long years ago, was submitted on Friday the 13th, which is always a designated alumni day for us.  (Long story.) I’ve made a point to submit on the birthdays of figures related in some tangential way to my script.  I’ve waited to submit precisely on the hour, or when some auspicious series of digits show up on my laptop’s clock.  If I’m not racing to hit a deadline, then I’m deliberately waiting to hit “send” at that one precise, fortuitous moment.  To make sure that, if destiny is on the side of anybody’s script, it’s on the side of mine.

This is silly.

But like any superstition, it gives me the illusion of control.  By timing my final keystrokes to some specific, portentous moment, I can let myself believe that there’s more at work than the whims of programmers, or the simple numbers game of submissions.  That there’s some unseen lever at work, and like all such levers, if I grab it just right I can move mountains – or at least guarantee myself a production.  This is almost certainly not the case, but it’s comforting to think it is.

Plus there’s always the chance it might work.  That would be a nice, spooky story for Halloween.

Rainy Saturdays

Here in New York, it has rained for something like the past eight weekends, Constant Reader.  Like clockwork, every Friday the clouds darken, a little drizzle starts, and then come Saturday there is a steady blustery precipitation – nothing anybody would want to go outside in.  My work week runs from Sunday thru Thursday, and Fridays are my day for running errands.  So, exhausted by the week’s activities and deterred by the rainfall outside, my Saturdays of late have consisted of me, sitting at my desk, my laptop in front of me  and my cat curled up next to me as I’ve wiled away the hours, barely stirring at all.

I feel guilty about this.

There is, after all, so very much to do, so many things I’d like to try and accomplish.  I’m a theater artist, after all – my pursuits involve getting people together to rehearse and perform some exciting fiction before a delighted audience.  To spend my one free day alone, sitting at my desk, seems like such a massive waste of time.  And this Saturday, having done this for several Saturdays in a row, I found that sense of waste particularly overwhelming.

Of course, in the course of that day –

I finalized the casting for the coming week’s Tuesday reading series.

I went through submission opportunities for my existing drafts.

I fielded a potential offer for one of my short plays (which probably won’t come to anything for a variety of production issues, but one never knows).

I finalized the notes and outline for the next large project I’m tackling.

So, I do realize that I’m not actually wasting anything.  Probably the opposite, when it comes specifically to time management.  But that lingering, dreadful sense of time slipping away does tend to linger.  Much like rain clouds on a Saturday afternoon.

The World’s Smallest Violin Is Playing Just For Me

So, about a year and a half ago I wrote what I intended to be a ten minute play.  It wound up running longer than that, around fifteen or twenty minutes instead – please try not to act too surprised at my long-windedness, Constant Reader – but it became clear to me that the piece needed to be a little longer still in order to work properly.  Not too long, but enough for the material to breathe.  So bringing that draft to a larger length – it’s thirty pages now – has been a project of mine for the past few months.

In its original form, the piece was vaguely set “now.”  It takes place in October, but I didn’t really specify what day of the month, or of the week, and I was a little hazy on the year.  I wrote the play in anticipation of a reading that didn’t wind up materializing, and figured the audience would assume the action was happening at roughly the same moment in history they were watching it.  As part of expanding the piece, I decided to be specific with the time.  It’s still taking place “now,” roughly, at least as of this writing.  It’s now set on the Saturday before Halloween of this year – so October 28, 2023.  This doesn’t materially change anything about the plot.  There is, however, a charity event alluded to throughout the piece, so when I decided upon this course of expanding the piece I made a note to pay attention to major news events this month, to see what might be uppermost in people’s minds and prompt such a response.

Well, crap.

Obviously the news out of the Middle East is horrific – so much so that I don’t particularly want to say anything about it, other than to extend my deepest sympathies to all affected, because I don’t want to trivialize the situation.  However, I’ve put myself in a situation where I do have to say something about it, because I’ve set up a story that refers to current events in a time when those current events are invariably horrifying.  It’s by far the least consequential issue involved in this – but it is the one I’m faced with.

I think I’ve handled it tastefully in the (for the moment) final draft – the characters come across as sincere rather than flippant, and it feels like a natural reference rather than something I’ve tacked on for the sake of topicality.  But I don’t feel any sort of relief in pulling it off.  Rather, there’s a lingering disgust in how calculated one’s thought process comes across, in calibrating how much real world horror can intrude into a fictional story for the sake of verisimilitude.  And yet having something to say about these horrors is the entire point of telling our stories in the first place.

So I suppose I should just suck it up. Come on, everybody.  Let’s try and keep each other from having to be in this position.

Inversely Proportional

You know me well enough by now, Constant Reader; most of the time, when I’m writing these blog posts, I’m doing so to deliberately avoid working on something else.  That’s absolutely the case this week.  Next weekend is the submission deadline for an upcoming ten minute play festival, of the sort where they offer you a specific prompt or set of production parameters which you need to follow.  I have an idea – have had it for a few months now, actually – and I think it’s pretty decent as far as these things go.  A ten page rough draft exists; all that remains is for me to give it a proper revision.  Not a big deal – when I write a full-length play, the major revision pass usually takes a week or two at the most.  Occasionally I can – and have – done it in a day.  It’s certainly possible to do it over a weekend.

The weekend has come and gone, and I’ve gotten nothing done on this project.  Didn’t get anything done last weekend, either – though I was still recovering from covid at the time, so at least I have a doctor’s excuse there.)

The fact of the matter is, for a lot of us, working on a ten-minute short play is harder than working on a full-length piece.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  You have to do similar amounts of prep work in terms of research, brainstorming, character prep work, and the like.  And when it comes time to write, the limited space in which you have to work actually makes things more difficult.  It’s a precise little miniature you’re trying to craft, so naturally the precision requires time.

The trouble is, we’ve evolved a whole little ecosystem – I like to call it the ten minute play-industrial complex – by which these plays are meant to be presented as a writer’s calling card.  A means of getting one’s name out into the world, getting the attention of an agent or producer who might then become interested in one’s full-length.  In one’s “real” work, so to speak.  But the creation of these calling cards winds up taking more time than the creation of the “real” work.  I could have been outlining one major project or researching another in the time it’s taken me to bash my head against my desk, trying to wrestle this one recalcitrant ten page draft into shape.

It doesn’t make any sort of logical sense.  So naturally, I’m doing neither, but am instead writing a four hundred word blog post to complain about it.  (Hey, whatever works.)

More of a Doctor’s Note, Really

Well, if you’ve been reading my blog posts over the past few weeks and been wondering if I might be overextending myself a tad, running myself a bit ragged – your concerns were well founded, Constant Reader.  Nearly four years into our never-ending pandemic, I finally came down with a case of covid.  Did I catch it while out in the Hamptons, or at some point commuting here in the city?  Alas, it’s hard to say.  It was almost hard to realize what was going on – last weekend was rainy, and much colder than it had been, and when I started feeling unwell early on Tuesday morning I assumed the weather was aggravating my sinuses – until a rapid test informed me that no, it was something else.

It’s been almost a week and I’m feeling much better, though as of this writing I’m still on the mend.  As a result, though, as of this writing I have nothing else to write about.  There’s plenty going on, of course – the WGA strike ended! Huzzah! – but given my situation I’ve barely noticed.  Remote work, sleep, and chicken soup – that’s been the sum total of my life over the past week.  (I did get to set aside three hours to finally watch The Wolf of Wall Street on Netflix, so I can recommend you do that as well, but you probably already knew that Scorsese movies were at least interesting.) And frankly, given that my eyes are still stinging a bit as I stare at my laptop monitor, I don’t particularly want to force myself.

So that’s it – I’ll be taking a sick day today.  Those of you not convalescing, please enjoy a nice day outside!  (Which is a rarity these days – last week was so brutally rainy that the resulting flooding enabled Central Park sea lions to swim out of their enclosures – but I digress.  I do that a lot these days.  Must be the damn covid.)

Whalesong 2: Aquatic Boogaloo

For a few solid weeks there, the social media feeds of myself and many of the theatre professionals I’m friends with were infested with giant photos of my head. (My apologies if you’re one of them and it freaked you out.  It freaked me out, and it’s my head.) My friend Josh Gladstone recently took over the revived Playwrights’ Theatre of East Hampton; a few months ago, he asked if I’d be interested in having a reading of my play Before Vinson out there.  After I’d happily agreed, LTV Studios (where the program is now based) made an aggressive social media to promote the new series – and the thumbnail their web team happened to use was my headshot.

Apparently that headshot works, because we got a good crowd for a Saturday night in the Hamptons.  The cast and I travelled out there early Saturday afternoon, rehearsed for the day, then performed for an appreciative crowd.  An older, rather polite crowd – they were Hamptonites choosing to go to the theatre on a Saturday night, after all – so not as raucous or boisterous as the theatre audiences of my dreams, but still a good group.  We stayed at LTV Studios for an hour or so afterwards, drinking and chatting, and then drove out to our overnight digs in Amagansett for more drinking and chatting.  (Again, Hamptons.)

Since we didn’t arrive at our rooms until around 11 o’clock, it wasn’t until the next morning that we realized we were lucky enough to be right on the beach.  I looked out that morning on a field of deep blue; Hurricane Lee had headed further out to sea, and the choppy waters had yielded to a placid, soothing vista.  I stood on our balcony, grateful for a moment of rest and transcendence after a few weeks of hectic activity – when all of a sudden, something large and black broke the blue surface.  It was gone in a moment, but as I kept staring out at the horizon, it appeared again.  And again.

A humpback whale.  Repeatedly breaching the surface and having a grand time for itself.

Now, if you’re experiencing a sense of déjà vu at the moment, Constant Reader, that is because the same thing happened to me in June, at the Valdez Theatre Conference.  During the lunch break before my play was to be read, I strolled down to the harbor and saw the blowspout of a humpback whale.  And as it happened, the play I had at Valdez this year was Before Vinson – the exact same play that was read in the Hamptons.  (Well, we did a revised version in the Hamptons.  Feel free to read it here.)

Once is a remarkable occurrence; twice is a pattern.  And so I’m forced to conclude that while Before Vinson has always received a polite reception from human audiences, it is absolutely beloved by whales.  I have no idea why – do whales enjoy period pieces?  Legal procedurals?  Are whalesongs actually long discussions on possible interpretations of Arthur Miller?  And how did they even know about the performances, anyway?

I wonder – is it possible that the LTV Studios’ Facebook algorithm is even more aggressive and far-reaching than I realized?

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