I wrote a play yesterday.
Actually, I wrote plays on Thursday and Friday as well, and, with the exception of a couple of audio drama scripts for which an outline was provided, these are the first three plays I’ve ever written.
I don’t have any plans to become a professional playwright or screenwriter. In fact, these last three days have taught me that I vastly prefer writing straight narratives to scripts, but I’ve committed to a challenge to write twenty-eight plays in twenty-eight days, and even though I want to quit about once an hour, my husband and the friends who are following this process with me won’t allow it.
Truthfully, I won’t allow it, either.
Even more truthfully, I don’t think I’ve felt as unprepared or afraid of a creative project since the night I walked into the West End Market in downtown Dallas to audition for ComedySportz.
While I’m not an organization queen, or even a basic list-maker, I do like to be somewhat ready for these undertakings. When I’m auditioning for (or have been cast in) an acting role, even if it’s just bit part in an unpaid audio drama, I make sure I’ve read the whole script (not just my part), listened to a few episodes to get a feel for the piece, and/or done research on the setting, theme, and creators. I won’t interview authors unless I’ve had time to read their books, and when I used to interview celebrities for All Things Girl, I made sure I knew their work, but also what sorts of questions they’d responded to favorably in other interviews.
But this project, “28 Plays Later,” which is sponsored by Theatre Delicatessen in London, isn’t something I could really prepare for. I mean, I didn’t even know about it until sometime in January, and the first prompt was issued at 4:00 PM (U.S. Central Time) last Wednesday. I’ve been in plays and musicals, and I’ve read a lot of scripts, but I’ve never really tried to write one.
When I told some of my friends what I was doing, I was asked if I could pre-write anything.
Technically, I suppose, I could. After all, there’s no requirement that you accept the daily challenge prompts, only that you submit a play every day by the deadline. (Challenges are issued every 24 hours, but you have 36 hours to complete each one, so there’s a twelve-hour overlap. So far, I have finished each challenge before the next was assigned, but today, I went down to the wire.)
The prompts, however, are useful. They give you a jumping-off point. They also foster community, because we all discuss how we’re interpreting the instructions.
Yesterday’s assignment was to use our dreams and nightmares as fodder for a surreal piece of theatre. We had an unlimited imaginary budget and were encouraged to create ‘hallucinatory images’ and disrupt order.
Despite the fact that I’ve been dabbling in writing horror for almost the last six months and consider the original A Nightmare on Elm Street to be one of the best horror movies of all time, at least conceptually, I was in tears as I tried to figure out how to approach this challenge. I’m not proud of it, but I complained about having no ideas to everyone who would even pretend to listen. I asked my husband for ideas. I whined about the fact that I don’t know how to translate things into a visual medium.
I even asked a friend who is also participating if Day Three was too early to quit.
“Yes,” he said simply.
“If I asked the same question on Day Fifteen would your answer be the same?” I demanded.
And so, even though I’m typically nocturnal, and my husband had an online game event that was going to keep him awake until well after three in the morning, I went to bed at midnight, with a frustrated brain and a discouraged heart.
Three hours later, I was awake again, dragging my laptop into bed with me, doing research on the amygdalae – the two almond-shaped clusters in the human brain where emotions and memories live. Two hours after that, I had an outline of a three-act play that included nightmares, tangos, Dracula, Winnie-the-Pooh, and a finale that took place on roller skates.
By nine yesterday morning, I was awake again, and writing like a demon, until, finally, I had twenty pages of script that involved a Dreamer giving lessons in ‘dreamology’ and a Child going through her safe sleep ritual.
Is it next year’s Tony winner?
Not even close.
But writing it forced me to stretch beyond my creative comfort zone, to try new things, and think of new ways of expressing old concepts.
Eleanor Roosevelt never actually said that you should do one thing every day that scares you, but she did say, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”
I wrote a play yesterday that scared me, just thinking about it. I was sure I would miss the deadline and fail the challenge.
Instead, exhausted and jumpy, I wrote – and shared – something I never thought I could start, let alone finish.
Now, I’m going to brew a pot of tea and maybe open one of the boxes of Girl Scout cookies that my husband bought for me, and then I’m going to do what I did yesterday.
I’m going to write a play.
Photo Copyright: icetray / 123RF Stock Photo
About the author: Melissa A. Bartell
Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.