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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Playwright Cliff Blake on his first Boston Theater Marathon

A Novice Writer's Second Jump!

I am a playwright novice.  So having any work pop to life from the still black air of a dark stage is still quite new for me.  I don't know if it ever gets old (this will be just my second!), but boy, what a thrill!  

"Thrill" seems a good word for it, since it is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time — sort of like when I went solo skydiving and jumped out of a perfectly good airplane! (...well, it was a tad rickety!!)  Even my Dad, a career Air Force pilot, who sparked the idea for my little play, never even did that!  "Why practice something you need to do right the first time?", he would always say about leaping out of airplanes.

My short play, Pentagon Mashed Potatoes, comes out of one summer night's kitchen-table dinner I had with him.  He battled Alzheimer's, as well as World War II.  I realized we were chatting for a good hour in a language that would make absolutely no sense to anyone else in the room.  So I began writing down his non-sensical sentences, which he sprinkled with elaborate vocabulary, and tried to decipher what the heck he was trying to tell me.  And then I wondered after a long spell of feeding back this seemingly non-sensical language what he was thinking of me.  And to him, what was I saying?  And I thought about kitchen table talk.  And fathers and sons talk.   And the way we talk and understand so many beautiful languages as human beings.  And don't.  And forget.  And remember.

A moment worth feeling.  Worth remembering.  Worth not forgetting.  Worth writing.

The joy of seeing a moment you envision on stage come to life, coupled with the terror of watching how an audience may react is brand new to me.  It seems an even more vulnerable experience than acting (my late-blooming second career!).  You have absolutely no control once the lights go up.  And what you're sharing sits squarely on you the writer, unmasked behind the persona of a character.  In other words, you've jumped out of a perfectly good airplane!

But there seems to be something magical and intoxicating about it — having permanence to your words written on paper with fresh interpretation and reaction to them every time they're spoken on stage.  

From the clouds of my imagination to the terra firma of a stage...'

I'm hoping this thrill never does grow old, with so many untold stories, unnoticed characters and unrealized moments yet to write.

This little play is particularly special to me because it has pieces of my father in it.  As an actor, I recently played The Father in Sara Ruhl's Eurydice and felt an inexplicable wonderful personal connection she, the writer, had to her own father, to whom she dedicated her play.  

When my little play takes off from the BTM runway next Sunday, and the actors begin breathing life into my language of Pentagon Mashed Potatoes, I'll be that guy in the back row all choked up — hopefully in that prized playwright's seat by the exit door, parachute pack in tow, of course, in the event a quick escape be needed.  (Or do all playwrights wear parachutes?)

Anyway, Master, I'm ready to JUMP!

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