Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Sunrise" Completed and Updates

Well, summer came and went, and as Marcus and I gear up to resume teaching, I figured it was about time for an update.

The great news is that I finished writing my short play "Sunrise." In fact, I even submitted it to a short play festival. I also submitted "Little Red" to the Wordsmyth Theatre Company for consideration of a staged reading.

That, of course, is the more frustrating bit of news. It's a great feeling to bang out a draft of something, spend a few months revising it in intricate detail, and then finally be able to sit back and say, "Man, I'd pay to see this play." Of course, you can't just sit on the drafts you have. You have to send your baby out into the world, as it were.

I haven't heard back from either theatre, and I probably won't, but it is comforting to think of play submissions as if they were job applications. After all, when you apply for a job, you want to work somewhere that utilizes your abilities. 9 out of 10 times, you won't get your first-pick job, so you have to, to borrow the phrase, "cast your nets and see what rings in."

Anna and I were lucky to get a stage performance a few years ago of her one-woman show "Courage in the Upside-down World" because of our college. The feedback was positive and constructive. While at college, I was fortunate enough to get my short play "You've Been Cast!" selected for performance in the Freshman Showcase (in truth, I don't know how many other short sketches had been submitted, but I was still thankful for the opportunity). My hope is that as we each write our plays, more opportunities become available. In the meantime, we just have to keep submitting until our plays find a home.

Getting off my soapbox, I'll go back to "Sunrise." I was able to finish the play in about two weeks' time, but that doesn't mean it wasn't an uphill battle. It was one of those cases when the story I wanted to tell wasn't the same story the play wanted to tell. I know that sounds like a crazy-man talking, but let me explain.

The story I wanted to tell involved a teenage boy who had been hurt by the girl he loved. She had turned him down gently once before with the infamous, "I'm waiting on God's timing" line, but then went and got a boyfriend whom he deemed to be nothing more than a pampered jock. All this happens before the play starts, though, and he was going to meet a girl named Beth who helped him realize the potential for life he had if only he could just move on.

The problems with the story weren't with Robert. I knew Robert. Heck, I was Robert in high school, as the play's big idea was inspired by a similar incident I went through in my senior year. The problem of the story was Beth. Who was she?

I tried ham-fisting in several different angles with her. Maybe she was the exact opposite of Robert: happy, excited for life, full of love and joy. When that angle led nowhere, I tried a different tactic. Maybe since he was pining for love, she could be running away from it. I tried making Beth run away from an abusive lover.

The angle worked for about two pages before it fell apart. With each sentence, I found myself focusing less on the characters' objectives and more on justifying their scenarios to the audience. Each line of dialogue was plagued with questions like: If these are two teenagers, why is she married? Okay, say they're college students, then. Why is he acting like he's in high school? Will they fall in love? Should they fall in love? Is she ready to love again? Is he?

This is what I mean by it not being the story the play wanted to tell. The questions piled on higher and higher until I finally had to conclude that the angle did not work. Not at all. I finally came to admit that although I knew Robert inside and out, I had no idea who Beth was. It's like when you see a familiar face, a happy go-lucky face that brightens your day, but then you realize you don't even know their name, and since you've been friends for two years, you're too ashamed to ask. I thought I knew her, but she had simply turned into a caricature of some weird idealized person. Plus, the abuse angle has been done a million times before in both Lifetime original movies and every bad play that's ever been written ever. Also, the dark subject matter threatened to send the play back into the dark territory of "Little Red." The original goal for this play had been to write something "lighter" than "Little Red." (After a year of crafting a story around Jack the Ripper research, you'd want something lighter-fare, too!)

I finally hit upon the "Ah-ha!" idea: What if Beth had been the girl who broke Robert's heart? And, what if they both had to ride the bus together?

From that moment, the ideas came bursting like water through a collapsing dam. The play turned into more of a scenario where the guy got to speak his mind to her. As for Beth, it became a fun game of figuring her out. Why had she turned him down that way? Turns out, she wasn't some evil witch who wanted him to suffer, but was actually her way of being nice. In the process, we learn more about Robert as well. Beth had finally become the real character I needed her to be, and she was no longer a punching bag. In short . . .


I'm very happy with the play, and I hope you all get to read it soon. Hopefully, I can get it produced somewhere.

Before I go, I do have some updates on the other Play Orphans who occasionally post here. Marcus has just finished a summer of acting, and most recently finished playing Sweeney Todd. Anna has finished her long-awaited play "Ironclad," and she also submitted it. This past summer, she and I were in Peter Pan in Burnsville, NC. Since this means that we have now all finished the original Grimm Challenge, you can expect to see my second challenge be posted here soon. (I know I posted it once, but it was better to wait for everyone to catch up then skip ahead).

Hopefully, our plays take off. In the mean time, I offer words of encouragement to all playwrights and writers in general who, like us, are trying to get our work out there.

Let's show the world what they're missing!


P.O. Steven

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