I’ve written a play about the Plague. It’s a conversation starter, to say the least.
A lot of personal time goes into writing a play. A lot of yourself, hours of unpaid toil and personal second-guessing. By the time the pages get to a director and a cast, it feels like part of your soul is outside of your body, being passed from hand to hand. Especially when a director begins to question your choices, or the cast have questions about character credibility. It can get deeply personal.
So how does it feel when a person takes a vision that you have, imaginary people (and real people in my case) and start to pick it apart? Well, some writers handle it poorly. I have learned how to handle it well. This is only because, and I don’t exaggerate, only because I have been taught collaboration by a supreme collaborator.
I have learned to see my script, not as a perfect expression of a vision that I bring to the room and the cast simply enact, but a fluid thing of movement that change and grow in the rehearsal space without me. Collaboration has taught me lots of things, but the best one is to just shut up. I have become a fanatical advocate of: “If it’s not on the page, then it’s not true.” I have learned that what I hear from the cast are the questions I’ve been too close to hear. So when I shut up and watch, I hear and see not only what might be missing, but what might really be there.
So I collaborate, and the script dies a million deaths on it’s journey to opening night. I scratch and scratch away at it, like Eustace itching his dragon scales off one by one until his skin emerges, fresh and new. We are currently on Draft 9 since production started, and that excludes all those drafts before I “finished” it the first time. Those night-time drafts and re-writes that are now so far from me I cannot recall them. Because last week I had to take the pen out once again and make those slashing motions and hold the whole thing up to the light once more. We are seven days away from opening night, but still the script is a fluid beast.
You might think it’s hard, or it makes me mournful, but its the complete opposite. It’s joyous! I don’t grieve for the words gone, or tear my hair out over lost stage directions. Instead, I feel a little frisson of delight when I see a crossed out line and my words, handwritten by our director, scribbled over the top. I feel a freedom in giving the text over to the group; I love the idea that it is a living thing that we are investigating as a team. I feel that I am more inspired as I watch them work, as we work together, and consequently, the new lines that do go in are some of the better-written ones!
I’m not saying everything is negotiable. Some things aren’t – the things that are essential to the plot or the characters are the stars which we all navigate around. The discussions come when we ask together: “Is this essential to the plot and the characters?” Sometimes I know the answer, sometimes I don’t. What I enjoy most is when we work it out together. What I take delight in is letting people into my imagined world, and realising that other people are becoming experts too. There is nothing better than thinking that maybe an actor is starting to know your character better than you do, or that a director knows where the washing line in your world is and you don’t. Can there be anything better than imagining a world which others start to live in? They can only truly live in it if they contribute to it, if they start to create it too. In a collaboration, they do. In a collaboration, the world is real for everyone.
So I cannot wait to share this world with you. This world that I began, but that we have made together.
Is it a better play? Has the collaboration been successful? I believe so, I feel it in my bones, but to me the question that really matters is: Is it the best play it can be?
I know it is. Because I am not the only one who made it. I wrote it, but I didn’t make it alone, and I trust the other collaborators completely. They are talented and gregarious and their work is filled with heart and truth. They bring to this play things I cannot, and for that reason, it is the best play it can be.
Collaboration has taught me that my play may never be truly finished. That with each incarnation it may mutate and grow in ways I haven’t imagined yet. But working collaboratively with this director, with these actors, has taught me that whilst it may never be finished, we have made it the best it can be, and that is truly joyous!
And you should come and see it. Then you can be part of the collaboration too. And share the joy!
Follow this link for details of our opening night.
And have a look at our amazing rehearsal snaps below!