Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Seeing My Play Performed

Like all of my writing projects, this one has no implications for the national literary scene.  My novel sits in a drawer, literally, like a tired cliche.  My writing text, once handed out to an entire faculty, likely resides these days in a single school office--mine.  My cookbook, a party favor from about eight years ago, is falling apart in many homes, from use or lack of use, no one quite now.  Poems once published on websites that no longer exist, will never completely disappear from the Internet, so I'm told, but neither is anyone looking for them.

But now, a play.

A play is a different beast, even a small, 10-minute play written for a high school contest.  Because the play was performed, performed for 100 or more people.  It was brought to life by 5 actors.  It had a life, however brief, of its own.

And I do write intentionally in the passive voice in that last paragraph because I had no role in those occurrences, except to watch a couple of rehearsals and make a few, vague, uninformed comments about the staging and acting.  No doubt, a real playwright would have exacting concerns to help the production match his original vision.  Not me.  I just sat in amazement that people were sitting at a table on a stage speaking words that I had written some months earlier.

To see that play come to life was like nothing I've ever experienced.  I can see the allure of writing for the stage, if one is able to do it.  It is like watching life, a life that you yourself imagined, but lived through the perceptions of other people.

For me, it was a down-on-its-luck rock band who had just played a lousy concert in a lounge unsuited to rock music outside of Philadelphia, a place full of whiskey-drinking businessmen with their backs to the band, watching hockey.  That was the backdrop for band turmoil, accusations, competing visions, and an inconclusive break-up.

I lived the experience, sort of.  In 1980, I was living on a farm in Lansdale, PA, with three guys who were in the band.  I was writing a novel (not the one that made it as far as the drawer).  The drummer worked in a pizza store on the side.  The songwriter/guitarist and I were busboys at a huge restaurant nearby.  My other friend simply grew pot.

And they did play that gig at the Person-To-Person Lounge at a Holiday Inn (I think) in King Of Prussia, PA.  The venue wanted a quieter show, so the drummer and I sat at a table and drank White Russians, the only fans for the two guitarists/ vocalists.

I'm always amazed at how writing works.  Not by anything I've written, of course, but by the process and how the brain works and how that insignificant incident in the short life of a band came back to me 35 years later as the setting for a fictional band's conflicts, how the brain takes tiny portions of the band I play in now and inserts them, not as central issues, just as little details of verisimilitude.

But what really amazed me was the performance.  Because colleagues of mine were cast into the roles, suddenly, this post-college band became a much older, and, frankly, more poignant, group of men who seemed to be trying to hold onto the dream for many years after most would have stopped.  Their plight became real, not a bunch of post-Ivy League guys paying rent with their parents' money before moving onto grad school and careers.

So I had a personal, historical setting which I channeled into a current musical project, but when the actors got ahold of it, it became theirs.  My bass-playing character, who had booked the ill-fated gig, could call upon his own disappointments with being under appreciated in his current job.  The other men, now in their 40s and 50s, had disappointments and compromises of their own to draw upon.

And that is the beauty of drama and why I am writing this.  I think that I already knew everything that I have said here, but I never really intuited it before.  Whereas other writing, at any given moment, has what the writer envisioned and what the reader interprets, the play, even when written by a novice like me, adds so many more layers.

1 comment:

troutking said...

I like this post and I loved the play. Maybe a screenplay is next so you can challenge Howard Stern was the King of All Media. May your current band play for many, many more years to continue to provide creative fodder.