I’ve made my living by writing for decades now. In the past year or so, I’ve ventured into new territories of fiction. About two weeks ago, this took a strange turn when I joined a local drama group.
Drama? Drama? I don’t know upstage from downstage. I’ve never spoken a line in a theater except from a seat in the audience. But my friend Bob, who recently had a play produced by this gang, invited me to come to one of their twice monthly workshops.
I almost backed out. Having been involved in numerous writing groups over the year, including a summer at Clarion, I felt I should bring some of my own work. It can be hard to take criticism from someone who doesn’t stand up to take a few blows. As stated, my collected works includes no plays. I have a completed screenplay, but that seemed like overkill. Rummaging through stuff that represented my current efforts, I found a curiosity that could work as a monologue. In fact, more people had heard me read it aloud than had read it.
I asked Bob what he thought and he told me you needed to give your manuscript to the group’s guru ahead of time. So I emailed it. Almost by return mail, I was told that 1) I needed to go to the back of the line and 2) monologues were not appropriate unless part of a larger work.
I read this as “sit down and shut up.” Luckily the response came in email, not face-to-face. My wife said theater culture is different from storywriting culture. So I took a deep breath, asked that my manuscript be withdrawn and decided to show up and see what happened.
I’m glad I did because one of the key people there had several portions of his play read, and they were brilliant. The scenes worked, alternating humor with heatbreaking conflict. It was better than some evenings I’ve spent on Broadway, and I would have slit my wrists if he hadn’t said he’d been working on it for six years.
We had several other one acts, including one by Bob that was quite impressive, and a few the did not crush my writer’s ego. I felt like I was able to offer some effective criticism, too, which is nice at your first time at bat.
The group also has an exercise of six lines, three by each of a pair of actors. This was charming and apparently did not require waiting in line. We also had a monologue, not connected with any larger work.
On Monday, I go to my second meeting of this group. I have some lines ready, but I probably won’t pull them out this time. I’ll have them, though. Just in case things get dull.