Just Hanging Out, Reading Plays

There are few scarier and more exciting times for a playwright than to hear a new play read for the first time.  If you're doing your job, you've probably said the words more than a dozen times, but to hear an actor give voice to them, making choices and interpreting what you write, this moves you to a whole new stage in playwriting.

"You thought the character meant that when I intended the opposite?"  "You didn't understand the premise of the play because it's too much in my head and not enough on the page?"  "You hated it?"  All right, getting "I hated it" as a note doesn't help much of anything, but the other notes (and so many more) do.  They should, anyway.  The writing is important, but the rewriting, that's where you decide if you're going to be a good writer or not, if you can keep sculpting this piece into all that you want it to be.

Typically, the best way to do this is to get some actors in a room, read it, and talk about it.  For me, though, I'm now living far away from many of the very talented actors I know.  What to do?

The answer is technology.

In the last two weeks, I've had four separate Google Hangouts* where I read my new play "The Starving."  I had actors in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco participating, all from the comfort of their own homes, and it was a fantastic experience! Not only was I able to hear and see the actors reading the play, but by working it online, I was able to have multiple readings with multiple drafts, updating with notes after every hangout.

Once an issue from the first reading was addressed, I could move on to clarifying and refining, doing the real work on my play.  Once the changes were made, 

I didn't have to take time to find a room, print up scripts, and coordinate actors' schedules; I was able to get immediate feedback on the new draft from a whole new group of actors.  It was a full-on workshopping of a play that I could organize with just a few emails at a cost of zero dollars.

Maybe every playwright is doing Google Hangouts* to hear their work read and I'm super late to the party, but the actors for my readings had never done this sort of thing before and many of them told me how much they enjoyed the process.  

I agree and I know I'll be doing the same thing with my next few plays.  And they'll be better plays for it!

*No, Google Hangouts is not a sponsor of this website.  It just worked best for this project!

The (Occasionally) Written Word

The David L. Williams Collection (original manuscripts)

As much as I'd like to be one of those pretentious writers who claims to do no work on the computer and only writes in longhand, well, you're looking at my website, so that's clearly not true.  I do a bunch of writing on the computer, but I also do a lot in composition books.  In the picture above there's just a sampling of the composition books that are filled with my writing.  Some of it made it into plays, some did not.  But I make sure I keep all of the books.

Why composition books?  Why not legal pads or spiral notebooks or journals?  Well, I didn't start writing in composition books until 1998.  That's when I went to see the Hal Hartley film Henry Fool.  I think the film is terrific and the two main characters are both writers (of a sort), and what stayed with me was that everybody was writing in composition books.

Like here:

and here:

and here:

There was something so elegant, so compact, so portable about the composition book that I had to start using them.  I bought my first composition book (one that was strictly for playwriting) shortly after seeing the movie and I've been buying them and filling them up for almost fifteen years.  If I start a project in a composition book, I like to finish it in one, so they tend to pile up.

When I was visiting my parents a few years back, I had finished writing in one composition book and had to get a new one.  I grabbed one at the local drug store and the clerk decided she wanted to have a conversation about it.

"Going to be doing some composing, huh?"
"Music or poetry?"
"Are you composing music or poetry?"
"Neither, actually.  Plays."

And then she shook her head, like I was using them wrong, and rang me up.  

I don't know; I feel like I've put them to pretty good use thus far.

(And yes, I have seen "Seven."  I use composition books in spite of that film.)