Honestly, there’s so much to say about this play and the process it took to get this from page to stage that I don’t know where to begin. But this is my post-mort to myself so I better make this count!
Okay, these are some of the general lessons that I’ve learned on my first full-length play that’s produced in a black box that had a good run (3 weeks).
- TRUST YOUR DIRECTOR
Or in my case 2 of them! This is actually a little of a unique situation because I’ve know Aureen for such a long time and I’ve seen her work grow throughout the years. I saw when things click and pushed my vision of the play to places I never even thought about.
- TABLE WORK SHOULD NEVER BE UNDERESTIMATED!
Learned this lesson from working with Logan Ellis on INAY’S WEDDING DRESS, but in terms of a full-length where there’s 14 scenes and each scene has it’s own set of arcs and beats. If a director straight up goes into blocking before table work is done… I’d get hella nervous. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about this too much. I loved the exercise Aureen gave to our actors where they had to write an essay as their characters either before or after the scene we worked. Even though I had my own backstories for each of the characters, it was important for me to have each of them OWN their own characters… person.
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO STICK TO YOUR GUNS… AND BE OPEN TO COMPROMISE
Okay, I’m the last person to actually speak to sticking to my guns with regards to the dialogue that I had written because frankly, it seemed like every time someone wanted to change a line, I always said “Yes” or “Sure” or “Okay Fine…. grumble grumble” But there have been times when I did say, “Maybe not this line because it’ll make sense in the next scene.” There was one line that I was urged to change but didn’t because I felt the backstory behind the line was more compelling than the line itself… and it set up an introduction of a character’s name which set up the importance of the scene… if that made any sense which it probably doesn’t. I may go back on that if I figure out a way to do both. What was my point… oh, yeah, I’m just being ME when I say that I’m pretty okay with actors changing up my lines AS LONG it’s okay with your scene partner and it doesn’t change the intention of the scene or the character.
- WORKSHOPS ARE IMPORTANT
In my experience workshops are best done before starting rehearsals for a production, but this was such a unique moment in that it was a complete surprise when the AD and Managing Director offered me a chance to have them produce WELGA. This was I believe early 2017. Because of the possible grants out there that location setting was important, I did agree to reset the play from The Excelsior to The SOMA, but all SF Love. So, I needed to update the script with that stipulation. But other than the Z Space reading and rehearsals, there still wasn’t much workshopping done… and still didn’t have a lot of time 🙁 FORTUNATELY, built into the grants that we did get, there were points when we could have private readings with our supporting groups. There were two of them so having those were so beneficial as they completely changed the ending and intentions of various scenes, beats, and locations. But yeah, if given the chance for a full-length play, I’d really prefer having a true workshop before committing it to a production.
- SHOULD I BE HERE?
This is a question I need to seriously pose to our director and asst. director, should I be a every rehearsal? At first, I was REALLY hesitant to be there. I truly believe in the sacred relationship that a director should have with the actor. My function as a playwright is to support the director and her choices, but when it comes to me and an actor… that could be a touchy subject. In those cases, TRUST MY DIRECTOR. But that also means that I should have enough trust to tell her or him how I’m feeling and not completely staying in the background. This is MY RIGHT as the person who’s name is on the program and who this play will be forever linked to in which *crossing fingers* a lot of people will pay money to see.
- DON’T OVERTHINK THE PRESSURE
Okay, maybe I’m in the minority of playwrights, but it freaked me out to have the pressure of having people see my work. Having the pressure of is this any good?; will it make sense?; will anyone fall asleep?; that peeps will fall out of the play; will anyone come to see this?; will peeps leave at intermission? (will talk about this later); f*ck, why did #edmabasa say my name before the play?!?! I think after I got over all of that… which actually didn’t take that long cuz of prior experience with other plays, I actually started to like my play and enjoyed it for what it was. In a weird way, it became an outer body experience… and the pressure went away.
- STAY TRUE TO WHAT I LIKE
This is kinda in general, but try to watch and read as many plays, movies, and tv shows, as I can. Serious. This helped me refine what I liked and more so, what I DON’T LIKE! At the end of the day, I have to make peace with what I put out into the world for others to see and if I don’t like it based on what I’ve seen, then it’s most likely other people won’t as well. That’s also true of what others tastes are too. Shoot, I know that some people didn’t like my work. Guess it goes again back to trust and trusting that I can’t be the only person in the world to like what I like!
- CHERISH THE TIME IN GRAD SCHOOL
The TIME I had to just focus on writing and learning in Grad School was so worth it. Kind of an aside story, but I haven’t really looked at my MFA Diploma since I graduated so that was like 2 years ago. But I finally pulled it out of the place where it was stored and felt “right” about it. EVERYONE’s “idea” of success differs, but with this production, it felt like I finally earned my degree. Having this production validated the reason why I applied, went, and finally earned that “stupid piece of paper.” And it means more now because I started Welga in school and to see me and the play graduate to the place where in all actuality, the journey started (“A: Conrad, what school did you go to to study playwriting? Me: Bindlestiff Stories High. A: Maybe you should consider getting an MFA. Me: Nah. I’m good… I think…”). Merp. That was a long asides… but really, I’m glad for the time to put into this play and that one deadline when I had to finish a draft in a weekend (Roy don’t read this part), but at least I finished it. I think I only kept maybe 25% of that draft, but at least there was something to keep.
- SAY THANK YOU
I can’t say enough times how fortunate I am to have been given this opportunity to have a full-length play produced that had a substantial run in a black-box theater. This isn’t something I take lightly because it’s pretty damn hard to be able to obtain. The very least I can do is to Thank everyone who not only made this possible, but to also to everyone who came (and paid) to see my work. I hope I did that in the time since we closed. Also, unexpectedly, was the praise for the work that came from not only the audience, but also from the cast. I’m going to keep a private moment between my cast and crew and I private, but I’ll always cherish that sharing moment we had. Thank you for one of the moments that I will NEVER FORGET and to quote Carmelita, “it validated my existence.”
- SET GOALS FOR YOUR PLAY
One of the “perks” about working with Bindlestiff Studio for a number of years is the opportunity to work with the company in capacities other than being a theatre artist. About 4 or 5 years ago, I helped develop the audience surveys we use in order to utilize the data for upcoming grants. During one session at the Theatre Bay Area offices, we went over line-by-line with a consultant on what kind of questions we could ask audiences about the work and it’s effects on them as well as the standard demographic questions. We’ve updated this survey throughout the years (and will most likely update more often) but one question I’ve loved is this: What words best describe how the performance made you feel? Please answer using up to 6 single words. The idea for this question was to compile these words into a list to make a word cloud. Thanks Lorna! The words that came up the most often: Inspired, Great, Proud, Empowered, Emotional, and Amazing. Empowered is my favorite of them because, I think that’s a pretty hard thing to make a person in the audience feel. Actually I don’t even remember the last time I felt empowered by a play… nor do I think a lot of playwrights set off to do when writing a play. Well, this made me feel conceited, but whatevs, it’s what I feel. A person who FB messaged me kinda echoed those sentiments where some artists can get more self-absorbed in the work and make the work self-serving. Very luckily, I know a lot of artists who want to make a difference in this world and have used they’re art to do such things! And when I see a survey that says that they felt empowered by my work, then turn off the lights, party’s over, I achieved one of the highest goals that I can ever set for a play and hope to do that again. I want to do work that goes beyond making a person “feel” better, I want to create work that makes a person want to CHANGE for the BETTER.
And I can’t think of a better way to end. On to the next play and the lessons it will teach me.