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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Writes

I have completed a new murder mystery script called "Irritation To A Murder". A few blogs down you can read about the basic idea for the play and at the time of that posting, I was halfway finished. I am fortunate as playwright to have a theatre group willing to produce my plays as soon as they are complete. Actually, the group more or less "commissions" a new play from me and assigns a deadline, which I always try to meet. "Try" being the key word.

Yes, I admit, I work best under pressure. Ever since I can remember, it has been my "modus operandi". I can recall countless late nights as a kid in grade school, sitting at the kitchen table across from my grandmother, trying to squeak out a book report or an essay that was due the next day. My grandmother would constantly question my "last minute" writing habits and I never could supply a good answer other than, "I forgot about it."
If fact, I can even recall a few oral book reports, where I would have to stand in front of the class and tell everyone about a book I had read. I would always fail to mention that in actuality, I had only read some of the book. I developed a certain knack for 'filling' or 'stretching' certain aspects of the book and even "making up" subplots that didn't exist. I would talk until the teacher felt I was running too long and informed me my time was up. I believe this helped me later in my stage career to become adept at improvisation.

Sword of Damocles
My creative powers seem to shine under the pressure of an impending deadline. I can only write with a 'Sword of Damocles' hanging over my head. I remember a composition class in college that further fueled my last minute tendencies, by providing actual proof that I produced better under pressure than with preparation. (sorry about the alliteration there.)
Anyway, for one essay I chose a topic and set about writing a paper in the 'proper fashion'.
I went to the library and did research. I compiled notes on 3x5 cards, formed an outline, spent several weeks writing, revising rough drafts into a first drafts into a second draft, until I created a worthwhile essay complete with footnotes, references and a bibliography all contained in a slick plastic binder. I got a "C" on it.
For our next assignment, we watched a short film in class and then were required to write a paper within the short time remaining. No preparation, no 3x5 index cards or drafts; just straight forward, stream of consciousness composition. Just like my hero at the time, Jack Kerouac. I got an "A" on it. Of course, I had to show my Grandmother that one.

So, as I was saying, I finished the new script. Most of the play was on paper, I would say 3/4th by the time my theatre group held auditions. I frequently hold off finishing a script for a few reasons, one is to prevent the auditioning actors from reading "how it ends" and the other reason to see what actors the director will select for the various roles. Sometimes, a selected actor will influence the script. On several occasions, I have refined a character in a play based on how a particular actor read for the role. I may have envisioned the character one way, but an actor takes it in a different, new and better direction.

So it seems, having said that, I have finally constructed a reason not to finish something on time. Although, I no longer sit at the kitchen table across from my grandmother frantically trying to finish, at least now I begin writing plays in advance and revised as I go. However, I leave just enough to bring Damocles' Sword into view above my head and get the creative juices to flow.
I sometimes pictures my grandmother up in Heaving sitting at a kitchen table across from Jack Kerouac asking him, "Why?".
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