Woman on the Scarlet Beast will be produced in January 2015 and since I made that announcement, readers have queried me about what it takes to get a play staged. As this will be my first and probably my last work for theater, I’ve decided to document the process and publish the episodes as a memoir. Perhaps what I learn may be instructive to aspiring authors and of general interest to others.
Writing for the public is an activity people with thin skin should avoid. To persist is to court being snubbed, ignored and frequently insulted. The trick is to treat each abuse as an opportunity to learn. At the very least, you’ll meet characters worthy of a place in your next satire.
I began Woman on the Scarlet Beast in my early thirties. The story is based on the lives of real people whose struggles touched me. I could have crafted their saga as a novel, but as I was a witness to these events, my thoughts came as dialogue rather than prose. That I felt obliged to draft a play is understandable, but I was guilty of hubris. Writing for the stage is a far cry from seeing a play, reading a play or analyzing a play for a college course.
The first person with theater experience to read my draft told me I hadn’t written a play at all. I’d filled the proscenium not with characters but with talking heads. Brutalized, I came home and put the pages away. At least one or two years passed before I had the courage to take them out again. With each revision, I felt the piece grow stronger but when I sent it out, it continued to be rejected. Then in the 1980s, the Columbia Theater opened its doors to new plays for a new play festival. I submitted my work and as usual, it drew little interest. Naturally, I was surprised when one of the judges pulled me aside to say he thought the plot had merit and offered to coach me. That was my first break.
Unfortunately, success did not follow on swift wings, like an eagle’s swoop. Bob Bidleman and I made many revisions and debated numerous passages. We didn’t know it, but we were creating a friendship as well as a play. We enjoyed the process and grew careless of time’s passage. Then one day, my friend packed his bags and headed for California, no longer able to endure Oregon’s damp weather. We continued to correspond, but when he moved into a nursing home, I knew I’d have to finish the work on my own.
I returned Woman on the Scarlet Beast to its drawer and tried my hand at short stories and novels. All the while, the play continued to haunt me and eventually, I sought other mentors. Some gave me free, cursory advice. Others required payment. Still, with each revision, I continued to see progress, enough to encourage me to leave queries with local theaters. If rejections were grains of sand, I’d own a beach. Then one day…
But that’s another episode.
(Courtesy of dramaturgie-la.blogspot.com)