Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

Crawling out in the second person.

writersblockWith no bright orange warning signs available, no flat-faced flag-wavers around to offer direction, you fell into yet another one of the holes. You know these holes well. In the dark damp quiet of these holes you no longer feel like a playwright anymore. You may still feel like a writer, and indeed you may write a witty email or a journal entry that glows in your hand like the end of a cigarette, but you don’t feel like a playwright when you’re at the bottom of these holes.

You fall into them every now and again, seemingly without any rhyme or reason…although you wonder, if you were to institute an empirical study of such moments, that some sort of pattern might emerge. You know that you will never begin such a study, so for all practical purposes, falling into these holes is something you can’t predict and in fact you don’t necessarily notice that you’re in it, until you’ve been in it for a week or two.

Enough exposition. You haven’t been feeling like a playwright, lately. You haven’t been feeling like anything you put to paper is worth transferring to a stage anywhere, not to your home stage at the Neo-Futurarium, not to any other stage great or small in the city of Chicago, or any stage anywhere in the world, or even on a hill in the middle of nowhere, like Elizabethan troupes or gypsies. It fails to feel like craft, the words you place on the screen. It feels more than usual like you taking paint and throwing it at the wall, then trying to convince yourself that there is something worth seeing in the mess of it all. And when you fail to convince yourself, you know that you cannot convince anybody else.

You have been coasting on creative fumes for months. You know this. You have been showing up at Too Much Lightrehearsal with plays that you dreamt up and wrote in the hour beforehand. And if some of them are good–and you are aware that some of them have been–you know that it’s the result of an errant spark in the machinery igniting a whiff of those fumes and causing brief fire. You have always had something to bring to the table, however, that you’re proud to bring to the table.

You went to rehearsal a few days ago with nothing. You had a lumpy, stillborn concept to pitch, and nothing more. You did this despite the fact that on the Sunday previous you’d encouraged the rest of the performing ensemble to come up with very specific plays for the menu–bring some shorties, you said. Bring some audience participation. Respond to the news.

And this last one frustrates you the most: after a week where the President of the United States nominates a woman to the SCOTUS based on seemingly no other credentials than her die-hard loyalty to the cabal; a week where aforementioned nomination has split the usually lockstepped GOP into bitter fragments of opinion; a week in which Tom DeLay is indicted three separate times for fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering…after a week like that, you find that you have no stage response to write. You desperately want to comment on it, and everything that appears in the searchlight of your brain is cheap, loud, and as subtle as a train wreck. There is no art to your response. There is no art to it, and so you decide it cannot be art.

You do not feel like a playwright, even though that is what you are being paid a goodly sum to do for 24-45 weeks per year1.

You ran into a wall on page 46 of your adaptation of The Man Who Was Thursday, the first such scene where you have decided that you must make a wild departure from the source material. G.K. Chesterton’s scene, the “Dr. Bull Scene,” is marvelously tense in prose form, but would be static and far too subtle to make any impression onstage. You find that your first attempt at such wild departure is a failure, and you note that once you have to stop riding Chesterton’s substantial coattails you have almost no direction at all. You delete six pages of text2.

This is how you start to crawl out again.

You spend your Saturday biking a lot. You bike up to Evanston to catch a matinee showing of Serenity with your buddy Brandon, and you enjoy the film as much the second time, but you also find yourself subconsciously taking notes this time around. You finally understand (deliberately vague spoilers ahead) that the emotional power of tragedy, in Whedon’s writing/directing, comes most prominently from the reaction shots of other characters. You notice how a conversation towards the end of the film isn’t actually about the condition of the ship, and you are impressed by the way that conversation reinforces and deepens an already rich relationship in a way it hadn’t been done before.

You buy lunch. Because food is important. Your brain will not find the extra energy to write creatively if it barely has enough to keep your autonomic functions going.

You recall that the moments you most felt like a playwright was when you were also reading plays. It made you feel some sort of communal creative spirit, as if in order to access the unique skill of stagecraft you had to immerse yourself in it first. You stop by the Brown Elephant and you spend an hour looking at the spine of every book on the shelves, until your eyes dry out and cross each other and the very concept of “book spines” has lost all meaning.

You happily purchase the following stack of published scripts:

  • Prelude to a Kiss, by Craig Lucas
  • A Few Good Men, by Aaron Sorkin
  • Angels in America, Part One: Millenium Approaches, by Tony Kushner
  • Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, by Tony Kushner
  • Streamers, by David Rabe
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams
  • Death and the Maiden, by Ariel Dorfman
  • Dirty Linen & New-Found-Land by Tom Stoppard
  • No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Tiny Alice, by Edward Albee
  • Desire Under the Elms, Strange Interlude, & Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill
  • As You Like It, by William Shakespeare
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost, by William Shakespeare
  • Richard II, by William Shakespeare

Purchasing this bounty of plays3–some of which you have already read, others you have always meant to, and others that you only grabbed because you trust the playwright and would like to read as much of their work as possible–invigorates you all on its own. You imagine that there is something primal about the strengthening of your personal play library, in the way that it made medieval warlords feel more confident in their dominance as they added towers and spires to their castles. It additionally reminds you that you need to buy new and larger bookshelves.

While searching through the stacks, your mind forms the following sentence, which you hope to one day use somewhere but do not have a place for at this time.

“The only thing worse than marrying a writer is divorcing one.”

You come up with a few Neo-Futurist responses to the Very Real Possibility of a Karl Rove indictment in the coming weeks. You cement a much better strategy for dealing with the problem of the “Dr. Bull Scene.” You decide to take a step back, to not force your waking nerve to arise too quickly, to let it decide that it’s done lying inert. You remember that the relationship you have with your creative force is symbiotic, that it requires love and compromise, and that when either you or it make unreasonable demands of the other it only ends in frustration and damage.

You take several deep breaths. You will be fine. And you feel, on shaky fawn legs, like a playwright again.

1 This is not quite true; it is in fact one of the quirkiest myths of the Neo-Futurist ensemble and business culture. We are not paid to be writers, we are paid to be performers. Writing is a crucial part of our job, but it’s not why we are paid. When one of us writes a play for TMLMTBGB, that play can occasionally outlast the author’s shift performing in the show…and the writer does not receive compensation if the play remains.

2 By “delete,” I of course mean that these six pages were cut-and-pasted into a separate document and saved in a separate folder under the name “Cut from Thursday 2.” Because you never know, do you, when something you thought was trash one moment might turn out to be exactly what you needed for some other moment.

3 In addition to these plays, I also purchased the following novels and CDs:

  • Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett, because it was recommended by several people
  • The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, because I felt it was missing from the library
  • Rocket, by Primitive Radio Gods, because I remember greatly enjoying the number of times I listened to Adam’s copy when we were college roommates
  • Live from 6A: Great Musical Performances from Late Night with Conan O’Brien, because I must own any CD that includes live performances by Ani DiFranco, David Bowie, and Soul Coughing (among others)

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This entry was posted on October 8, 2005 by in Biking, Books, Health, Mental Health, Movies, Music, Neo-Futurists, Performance, Plays, Politics, Society, Theatre, Work, Writing.
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