It was a great experience, and so much fun to be back in a community of playwrights, actors, and directors, even if just for a day; it was a good reminder that even though we often feel like we live most of the time in no man's land, working alone, we are in fact, numerous and connected. Plus, when I met new people at the festival, instead of asking the dreaded question "What do you do?" they smiled and asked "So when did you start writing? What's your next project?" Once in awhile, this was followed by "What's your day job?" I LOVE this, by the way and have been referring to my pay-the-rent job ever since in this way, my "day job". I don't care how cliche it might sound, that tweak of language has made a big difference for me so far, and I'm going to keep it going.
It was wonderful to get to listen and respond to so many plays throughout the day. Sitting in the dimmed light of that black box theatre felt like being home to me. My reading went well, although I was quite nervous-most of the other playwrights had arranged for actors ahead of time and had even rehearsed. I had taken the event organizer's word for face value that it was not necessary to arrange actors beforehand. She reassured us all before the event that we could simply bring copies of the script and there would be plenty of us to step up and volunteer to cold read. When it was my turn, I brought out five copies of the script and asked for four actors and one person to read stage directions. My fear of no one stepping forward seemed suddenly foolish when out of the seats leapt four actors and one volunteer to read stage directions. After giving them a thirty second synopsis and rustling up a few chairs from the wings, I took my own seat in the front row. I made myself put away my script and sit back and enjoy myself while they read the play. It was amazing and strange and incredibly emotional to hear these strangers reading my words aloud. It felt very intimate. And the novelty was that my self-consciousness actually melted away (mostly) and I felt so present in that moment, so joyful, just listening. What a novelty!
I got some very positive feedback from the audience afterwards , generally that the story itself was gripping, and that the writing was strong. One director told me that even a bad play can be rehearsed long enough to be made to look good, but that it spoke to the solid structure and writing of my play that four actors could do such a great cold read with it. That meant a lot to me, especially in light of my nerves about being one of the only playwrights there who had not gathered or rehearsed actors ahead of time. The criticism was thought provoking as well, and involved a lot of conversation around one of the characters who is mentioned in my play but never appears onstage. In fact, this conversation evolved into a hotly contested debate among the audience. If you can allow yourself to listen to the comments without taking them too personally, it's a fascinating experience. It was so much fun to watch these people I had just met that morning truly get attached to the characters and take sides over what should happen next. Some argued that the character would definitely be onstage for the action, while others vehemently disagreed. I wondered if that this just a taste of what it must have felt like to be J.K. Rowling writing the last installment of Harry Potter: making peace with the story you are telling while at the same time trying to accept that you will never please everyone.
Overall it was an awesome experience though, and made me feel encouraged to keep writing, both on this blog and on other projects I have been thinking about. Also, I presented my play in the morning, so my mind was free for the rest of the day to watch and respond to almost a dozen more plays. The Wellesley College campus is just gorgeous, they had a lake on campus that I had time to take a nice long walk around during our two hour dinner break. I came home around 11 pm, exhausted but grateful for all the women that I met that day and all the new work that is being created, just around Boston. I felt connected and revitalized by all the theatre I'd seen and all the conversations I had that day. There is nothing to ward off cynicism of what feel like admittedly dark times with meeting people who are working, often in obscurity, on projects that they believe can change the world.
A week later, here are five take-aways from the festival that I am still thinking about:
1. I need community. In my role as an actor and a writer, it's easy to feel isolated and start to work in a vacuum, Sure, a lot of the work we do is done solo, but every now and then it's crucial to surround yourself with others who are doing the same thing.
2. Talent is admirable, but support and enthusiasm are priceless. I was so touched by people who complimented my play I presented, but may have been more moved by feedback such as "keep working, keep writing, keep going. What you're trying to do is important." We all need to hear that once in awhile.
3. Be generous and specific with feedback and questions. "I really liked it" is not as helpful as "I really connected to the moment between these two characters when they were talking about feeling safe." This idea applies to not just when responding to theatre, but when responding to a loved one. "How did your meeting go? I know you were really hoping the discussion would go well." is so much more personal than "I hope work went well today." It sounds picky, but try it. It makes all the difference.
4. All the bad stuff, hard times, and disappointments have the potential to be forged into something beautiful. I love my play, and it grew out of an incredibly stressful time in my life. Sitting in the dim lights, hearing my words read aloud by those amazing actors, I realized that I wouldn't trade my play for anything, even that stressful experience.
5. I said it above, but I'll say it again: the world can seem full of dark and cruel people, but the world is also full of creative, inventive, and joyful people. Don't be pulled down into thinking otherwise. I witnessed writers who have important stories to tell, actors who gave it their all to bring these stories to life, and an audience who wanted to listen. Shakespeare said it best, "O' brave new world, that has such people in't!"
Check out the website for the festival, complete with a few photos here! Here's some photos I snagged from the day as well.