Visit the Boston Playwrights' Theatre Web site for information about our programs, tickets, and more!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Deadlines, writing groups, The Mean Muse...EKL and KAM aren't done yet

What started as a conversation to discuss Gorilla Tango Theatre’s 4x2 – where Emily Kaye Lazzaro and I both have plays (and which closes tonight) – evolved (or, uh, devolved) into a wide-ranging discussion of our writing lives that concludes here…

EKL: Do you blog to get away from your troublesome plays or do you have other techniques? How about deadlines? I find those to be very helpful, too. But mostly nobody gives me deadlines so I have to make them up. Whatever works!

Carole Lombard
KAM: Right – whatever it takes! I find the ways alums (and others!) integrate playwriting into their lives endlessly fascinating and inspiring. And putting it all in one place – archiving our activity here – from the tiniest ten-minute plays to future Broadway hits (adding “Broadway” as a label for Stick Fly was an awesome moment in the history of the blog, btw) just feels great. The collective energy of it, you know? There’s been such a positive response to the blog, too. I think people enjoy it. People who know me ask about the blog in the same breath as they ask about my plays – which I don’t mind one bit, for the record. I consider Playwrights’ Perspective an important part of my work.

But anyway, deadlines. I live with someone I refer to as “The Mean Muse.” Think, for just a moment about what a muse is like – the type – coming out of Central Casting. What do you envision? My version would look like Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey. She’d wear a bias-cut satin evening gown, and lean on a piano sipping a bottomless cocktail…and yet never get too sloppy to spout inspiring witticisms. If things got dull, she’d invite Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence to stop by to liven things up – you get the idea. Okay, well, The Mean Muse is not like that at all. The Mean Muse says things like, “Are you going to write or what?” and “Put up or shut up” or, when I was in school, “Kate is going to be so mad.” A different kind of muse would probably prove derailing; she’d enjoy the gin-infused craziness and Noel at the piano in the small hours. But The Mean Muse doesn’t really go for bullshit like that.

EKL: I love your muse image. I fall into that trap sometimes, too. Mostly it’s when I read non-fiction accounts of the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. I think, “Hey, I’m a writer, I can have gin for lunch!” Not a super healthy attitude. So every time I catch myself thinking that since I’m a writer I don’t have to follow any rules I start feeling incredibly guilty because I used to work at an office. My Mean Muse is like my office boss who keeps catching me on Facebook. He’s like “Facebook again, eh? WHERE ARE THOSE REPORTS, LAZZARO?!” And he sort of cracks the imaginary whip for me. And that’s when I really start delving into stuff like these excruciating rewrites I’m working on right now. Ugh, rewrites. But I have to keep my boss off my back, imaginary though he may be!

KAM: Rhombus is what really cracks the deadline whip for me. We meet every other week for two semesters each year. My fellow Rhombus playwrights (Joe Byers, Carl Danielson, Patrick Gabridge, Kirsten Greenidge, and Ginger Lazarus) are amazing writers. But what’s even better is that as amazing as they are as writers, they’re even more amazing as people. So, they inspire me on both fronts. I’m lucky.

You’re part of the BPT alumni writing group, right? What’s that experience been like?

Our friends The Fitzgeralds...and a Gin Rickey
EKL: Yes! I am a part of the BPT alumni writing group and it’s been pretty awesome. We finished our first semester in June and that group has been hugely influential in the writing of my most recent full length. I find myself a little lost without it in the summer months. I think we still have a few kinks to work out with the group, but it’s just our first time through. But I find writing groups incredibly inspirational. This also sort of goes back to what I said about blogging. Writing plays can be such a lonely activity without having other people read or hear your work. And it’s ironic because theatre is so collaborative and alive, yet we sit by ourselves with our computers to write plays. But having a writing group (or a blog!) equals instant audience. And I started in theatre as an actor so I LOVE an audience.

KAM: Okay, let’s go back to the whole office thing for a sec. You recently quit your day job to pursue playwriting full-time. Considering how few people can really make a successful go at this craft – not because of lack of talent, but because of lack of luck, breaks, opportunities, etc. – what gave you the courage to do that? It’s gutsy!

EKL: Yeah, so, I worked at an office for about four years after college. And I went to college for theatre. And since I needed to pay my loan bills I had to get a full-time job with a regular salary and benefits or I’d be destitute. So the irony was that I had taken out so many loans to pay for my acting training that I couldn’t afford to try to be an actor. But I did a few things right. My office job was at BU and I got to get my masters for free with tuition remission. And I fell in love with a software engineer. God help me if he had been another artist. So my husband and I decided that once I finished my masters I should quit my office job and work full time as a writer because there would never be a better time to try it out. We don’t have kids or a mortgage so this is the time to be a little bit poor.

But I also think that not having a day job lights a fire under my ass. If I start feeling useless I know it’s up to me to change it. So I have to write more, submit more, get out there more. Apply for everything and go to everything all the time. This is what I want to do so I better get out there and do it, even though a lot of the time I’d rather sit around in sweatpants and watch old Mad Men episodes now that they’re on Netflix streaming. I do feel like they brushed that Peggy’s baby storyline under the rug a bit.

KAM: Of course there can’t be any kind of office talk without mentioning Mad Men. I know you’re a fan, and I think I’ve even confessed my massive crush on Don Draper on the blog before! (I also get massive wardrobe crushes when I watch that show, but that’s a whole other thing…) They’re shooting season five now. What do you think is going to happen? I think Joan and Roger are meant to be together. They have to be! They understand each other.

The cast of Mad Men
EKL: Ha! I love Mad Men so much. I haven’t seen the last two episodes of the last season yet so I’m afraid something horrible happens – DON’T TELL ME. I’m waiting for two hours of free time to watch it with my husband which is sadly pretty hard to come by this time of year.

So tell me, since it’s on my mind lately: what are your words of wisdom regarding rewrites? I wrote a first draft of a play largely influenced by my writing group, as I mentioned, and now it’s time to get feedback and see how it’s working and adjust things to get it perfect. Do you have a method for rewrites? Do you ever get stuck with not wanting to change anything too drastically because it was so hard to even get this far? It can really feel like an uphill battle, I find.

KAM: Rewrites – ugh! I think that’s a source of struggle for everyone. And there are probably as many methods/processes for going through that period of writing as there are playwrights (or even as many as there are plays – I mean, each script makes its own demands, you know?), but I can only tell you what works for me:

The first thing is knowing when to stop. I don’t mean stopping because it’s done, I just mean stopping because I’ve put everything into it possible without hearing it read outside of my own head and getting some impressions from other people. And then there are those other people – the people who are reading my script, in my playwriting group, the people at readings, etc. I always try to make sure they understand what I’m trying to do, so they can measure their feedback against that versus measuring against their idea of what I should be doing with the story. There’s definitely a difference. This usually entails answering lots of questions, which is actually incredibly helpful and also gives a playwright a TON of information in itself. Beyond that, it’s stop and go. My plays have long gestation periods. In fact, The Mean Muse has often compared me to a three-toed sloth. (At least they’re cute.) That’s one of the goals I’ve charged myself with as we move into Fall, actually – to step it up a bit. I gotta.

No comments:

Post a Comment