The journey of a play

Each play I write takes me somewhere new. It takes me somewhere I hadn’t imagined I was going initially, and I usually end up with something that looks at the world in a way I hadn’t realised.

I remembered this just as I sat down to hear the read through of the new play I’ve been working on all year. I’d got as far as I could with the voices in my head. I needed to hear how the speeches hit the air before I could figure out the next steps in development. I was excited to discover where hearing it would take me. Like I was a child in the back of the car and my parents were taking me on a surprise trip somewhere.

Maybe if you write full time it’s different. Your capacity for creation is larger so you inhabit the world of the play more intensely and over a shorter period. Even if you’re more of a ‘see where this takes me’ kind of writer like I am rather than a ‘plan it and it will come’, you may have a better grasp of the whole as you’re moving through it at a quicker pace. I have a day job and between that and my life, writing is a humble third of my time these days. So each project is very stop start, and even if I write on the tube on my way to or from work, or carve time out after work, my main chunks of writing happen during holidays and weekends. As the gaps in my quality creative time are longer my plays in development can become the tension between my thoughts three months ago and where the world has moved to today.

You may think that having long gaps between writing sessions would bring more objectivity to the work. Not for me. I end up mulling over characters and possible stories for so long plots can get confused, as I get preoccupied with following characters through new puzzles their stories bring up.

My latest play is no different. In January I was on retreat at Cove Park writing a new draft of an idea tough to pin down the year before. In April a scene was read by the Actors’ Temple at their Playwright/Playread event which made me feel the topic had legs. I rewrote a little and then in May I had a session with David Lane (master dramaturg) to explore the idea further, and this November after I finished a new draft, the Actor’s Temple read the full script aloud for the first time.

After hearing the play read I now find myself at a crossroads. It feels that there are perhaps two plays warring for dominance within the one piece, and I’m not sure which road to take: do I follow the woman who needs to make peace with herself and let her secret out before she can live a full life? Or do I follow the girl searching for her father desperate to make sense of who she is? Both narratives are inside my play The Future is Mine at the moment but which one do I choose? 

One of my wise director friends suggested I think about what the core idea is that I’m trying to communicate to the audience with this piece, and figure out if the characters are explaining it clearly. 

This has really got me thinking and is becoming a great way to think about all the stories in the play and bring coherency to the story. I’m sure I did work on this when I was writing it initially, but hearing it, the core question of the play has definitely got lost. It may be that one of the stories is actually for a different play completely. 

So what is the core idea I’m trying to communicate? That’s my question to ponder over Christmas. It’s been a year of hard work and I can see another mountain looming before I get to the summit of this play. Hopefully I can find a helpful rope bridge or even a lift so I can see things more clearly and piece it all together.

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