The First Draft arrives
The moment that the first draft of a commissioned play arrives is as thrilling as it is nervous making. Especially a play that it is going to be produced multiple times by our partner schools. I have had been through this process of receiving a first draft five times. The first time I opened the attachment of an email – I was thrilled. I knew the colleges would be excited to explore the play, the characters, the subject matter. I read it with pure enthusiasm. With more experience with this development process I encourage the writers to allow the play to be a mess. To use the process to figure it out. No need to have a well made play right away – we have a year to develop and shape the play. That is all true. Yet, that philosophy adds a lot of trepidation upon the first opening of the play.
The first part of the process is commissioning the writer. That in and of itself is an act of faith. You are picking someone to write a play – not selecting a play that is written. Part of the process for the College Collaboration Project of selecting a writer is finding out what they are interested in writing about. The theme the writer says they want to write about end up being the central issue of the play and sometimes they evolve into ideas that are loosely related. The goal of the farm is to cultivate a writer and not to dictate what they write but to ask questions that enable the writing and writer to evolve with a stronger voice.
Throughout the process from commission to receiving the first draft I have worked with the writer in a variety of ways. I have had semi-regular meetings to talk about the writing as it is being written, I have had coffees to talk about what the person wants to write about – I have had coffees to hear someone talk about an idea that I know isn’t quite flushed out yet. Sometimes there isn’t time to talk because the commission was started late – and my job is to check in to see if they need anything. No matter the process along the way, there is no substitute for reading the actual draft of the play.
I have had experiences reading a first draft that didn’t allow for the exhale of relief. There were two different reactions. The first writer agreed and got to work on an entirely new draft. The second time the experience came with a digging in and a deep investment in what was not going to work for the schools. That play ended up not being produced. Both taught me that upon opening the attachment and beginning to read the first draft of a play is exciting but is partnered with trepidation and a strong sense of responsibility. I am always grateful for the relief and ease of a first draft – however, I’m also coming to realize that ease or difficulty of the first step is not an accurate gauge of the productivity of the process. It is the gauge of the amount of work that is required before the first step of development and inclusiveness of our collaborators (the schools) in our process.
This weekend I received the draft of this year’s play NEVER HAVE I EVER by Jan Rosenberg. In the past I have read the play immediately upon receiving the email. However, after having a multiple of experiences after reading the play in the past – this year I gave myself a day to read it. I waited until I had time to digest the script and to be able to respond to it with an awareness of what the next step was in the process. But the immediate step – is this play going to be an effective tool for the schools working on the project? As much as the project is about developing a play and a playwright, I have learned that the play must be an effective tool for the schools. It is interesting that in the first reading the awareness of the play’s effectiveness is apparent within a page. I have had two plays that within the first page it was clear that a major rewrite would be needed…or a new play would be written.
Yesterday, while reading Jan’s play – I was two lines into the text that I realized that the play was going to be effective for the schools. The rest of the reading was simply about story and character. The story is compelling and will interest the schools, the characters are ones that the students will want to play – and it will be an exciting play to collaborate on the development process. The rest of the read is for me – are there any questions I have for the writer dramaturgically? That’s it. Once it is clear the play will work there is a giant exhale because the rest is a process that lasts a year. There is no rush to make it right. A process for improvement and the rate of the work is dictated by the writer.
I am excited about the process. The next step is the three day workshop of the script – what we need now is an excellent cast of actors that are generous with their talents to explore the text. I’ll approach that with enthusiasm and responsibility to deepen the investment in the script.
Each step of the process is important, not taken for granted – and yet still always exciting!
Talk with you soon.