'Plaint of the Playwright

'Plaint of the Playwright

[ Wednesday, March 13, 2002 ]

The following is by David Hannes--another Blitzkrieg playwright this year.

Since I didn't do anything on the second weekend of Blitzkrieg except go to it, I put this here so that both weekends are represented here.

Plus, I liked his show.

It's the morning after my first "play" has been actually performed, and I am still "basking" in a "myriad of emotions"...since I'm sure I've already worn out the patience of my family, I thought I would share a few thoughts here with any interested parties.

Some background (yes, I'll try to keep this brief)--for years, I've wanted to write a play and have it produced...a few years ago, Mercury Players, a local community theater company here in Madison, WI, began doing experimental 24-hour productions, e.g. playwrights create a play from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m., directors cast plays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., rehearsals then until 4 p.m., tech run at 4, then makeup, costumes, etc..., and a show at 8 that evening.

I did not participate in the first such event; last year I performed as an actor, with all the writing spots--for 8 shows--filled by writers with more experience. This year, however, the project expanded into 2 weekends--so 16 shows, 16 writers. I acted last weekend, and had the good fortune to be selected as a writer for this second weekend...apparently the first true novice--all the other writers had, at some point, written and been produced before.

I often get a little anxious during "new" experiences (ironically, performing on stage rarely activates any anxiety)...Thursday night was most restless, as I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Friday was like Christmas Eve day when I was 6--the anticipation was overwhelming.

Finally, 8 o'clock had arrived...I met the other writers--2 of which I had met before and knew that their work was good--also, the same duet that wrote the previous year's musical were there...gratefully, all the writers welcomed me and supported me...no competition, no anymosity, not even a "what are you doing here?" look or comment.

The topic was selected and then the title selection...I had drawn the '7,' which meant I drew 7th...as the first title emerged, we realized that this weekend's topic was "countries." The titles emerged from the hat: "Norwegian Wood," "Spanish Fly," etc.... Each writer gets to choose 2 titles...the first one I drew: "Portuguese Man-O-War." I didn't like this title, as all I could imagine was...well, a Portuguese soldier. The second time through was more kind: "Russian Roulette."

Next we had to select the number of actors...now going in reverse order, I selected 2nd, and opted for 3 females. When it came time to draw again, all that remained of the "male" cards had 'zeroes'--meaning that there were no male actors left for me.

I had desperately wanted at least one male actor for some good ol' gender conflict...One of the other playwrights asked if I would trade "Russian Roulette" for "Swedish Massage" AND a male actor...but I decided I needed all the help I could get (the premise is that we had to write a play using the title, and RR seemed easier than "Swedish Massage"). She later gave me a male actor to help me.

The writing went well...I opted to use a concept I had envisioned earlier--4 strangers in a rather hurried road trip from Chicago to New York, each with different purposes and sense of urgency. Midway through the writing, I realized that I had abadoned one of the characters and--somewhere between 3:15 and 4:00 a.m.--decided to make a sharp-turn and make her a more central character. I won't bore you with all the details, but was able to create more conflict and a surprise ending. I finished up at 5:25 a.m., just after "German Shepherd" and "Mexican Radio."

That afternoon was the longest of my life...all I kept thinking about was that 6 other people were now intimately involved in rehearsing something that I had written just a few hours earlier. Oh, I how longed to be there to watch their reactions. Finally, I met up with my girlfriend and my brother and his wife for a celebratory dinner before heading to the theater...as this show sold out last year, I insisted getting there an hour before curtain, to make sure that I could get a ticket. After another beer, we met my other brother and his wife...I still kept all aspects of the show secret from them, so as to not ruin any of it for them.

My play was to be run 3rd...I considered this a good spot. However, I was sandwiched in between 2 accomplished playwrights and conceded that my play was perhaps not as good as I had originally thought. No matter.

I did not recognize either the director or the performers, but waited...and waited. The first play was a comedic piece on psychology students utilizing a German Shepherd doll to convey issues with each other; it garnished several laughs. The next play, "Italian Dressing," was both funny and dramatic and was about a video dating service.

Finally, "Russian Roulette" came to life. A 15 year-old was cast in the role of a college-aged student and she pulled it off brilliantly...in fact, all of the performers did a phenomenal job, especially with some of the more awkward sentences I had created. The moment was magical...a few less laughs than I had hoped and a memorable stage experience...and it certainly felt weird that another voice was saying something that my inner voice was saying by itself just 20 hours earlier. I wasn't able to time it, but it seemed like it came in close to the 15 minute guideline, perhaps a bit light. I won't reveal any details, but if any of you have read this far and would like to read the script, please email me and I'll send it to you. Overall, I consider it successful, but couldn't help but wonder 'what if I had done this or tried that?'

I met one of the performers afterwards...he seemed to enjoy at least some of it...it was the first time he had ever played "an asshole." I relayed to him that his character was not based on my father like my brother had speculated, but primarily on myself. (3 of the 4 characters were, in part).

Anyway...I now have at least a little experience with the "triumphs" and"tragedies" of being a produced playwright. Just thought I'd share this with a few anonymous readers out there in cyberland.

David Hannes
College professor, professional clown...and now playwright.

What's funny is that in his show, there in fact, is a game of Russian Roulette played--with an automatic pistol.

Not a good weapon of choice for the game, unless you're going second.

After his show, Buck came out and made the announcement:

"We have had a complaint from an audience member. A Mr. R. Matsushita of Verona writes, "At the end of that last play, the woman picked up a gun and said, 'let's put one bullet in the chamber,' when the gun in question was OBVIOUSLY not a revolver." The management regrets this error.

Which was great, because that was exactly what I was going to say.

Click here now, dog!

posted by Rob on 7:06 AM | link



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