Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Magic of the Stage

I once wrote five plays.  The first was alright, mostly an exercise in retrospect.  I helped direct and produce it also.  The second was good: there was a power to it.  I wrote that one in about 36 hours, straight.  I knew the format by then and the means I had at hand.  The third was very good: I had mastered the medium.  The other two I cranked out before I left the drama club I wrote for, and never saw them performed.  One was never performed.  I will never be fully satisfied with what I wrote for any of them, but they were fun and an experience I will never forget.

You see, there is truly nothing like having written a play, sitting in the audience watching it performed.  It is nothing short of magic.

This post is about the magic of the stage for the writer.

The Agony (of Screen/Play Writing)

Writing can be agony period, but especially when you are trying to hash out a show that will tax the time and talents of many artists combined.  There's a lot on the line, and everyone is waiting for and counting on you to come through with something great.

"There can be no great movie without a great script," said McKee.  So too can there be no great play.

There is the tediousness of coming up with, hashing out, and completing the damn thing.  I knew all my plays by heart by the time they were done; I had swallowed every line with horseradish sauce it seemed (I hate horseradish) - over and over, until they were as perfect as I could get them without losing a screw.

And besides those elements, there is the itching in the writer's mind as he wonders if the director and producers will "get it wrong"; if they will butcher the work into something substantially different from the artist's intent.  I was lucky in this regard: I had quite a say in the production.

The Ecstasy

I remember it well.  I was in Dublin at the time, working for an all boys middle school and was charged with the task of founding a drama club at the Academy.  And we had no material.  They knew I was a writer and suggested I come up with some.  The long and the short of it is - I did.

I will never forget the magic of sitting in the audience on the nights of the shows and watching them: my actors, my lines, my play, my imagination in real fleshed-out, alive form.  It was something God must feel when he looks "down" on us; either that or Dr. Frankenstein with his monster.  It was always beautiful though for me.  If there was a catharsis, I felt it more than anyone in the room; a funny moment, I laughed because everyone else got the joke and in joy that it all worked together; and if there was something sad, I felt that plus the profundity that I had brought the room to tears.

There are two stories regarding this point in particular that will forever be ingrained in my memory.

The first is about a young boy who wanted with all his heart to play a certain minor role in one of my plays.  He managed to get a script from one of the student directors and memorized every line that character had and would follow me around the school reciting them with extreme over-acting enthusiasm.  I was impressed.  However, he often got detention in the Academy and I told him he would have to improve his behavior to get the part.  He did.  And he got the shot.

I do not regret giving it to him.  To me, he rightfully stole the show half-way through.  There was a prep scene for the final climax and he had the "beat" line that was going to end the scene.  He nailed it like I've seen no one ever or since do it: not on a movie even with the pros.  He just nailed it.  And the whole room - I remember distinctly - was in awe.  The rest of the play was downhill for me, even though it was good.

I'll never forget it: I wrote that and it made somebody so excited he could put his whole being into my words and wow a whole crowd of people.  If you've never been there, you may not understand what I'm talking about.

The second story is about another boy in the plays.  They (the plays) were all boy-oriented, action, filled dramas to help inspire the boys to live good lives.  I didn't want them to be preachy but they were profound, and entertaining.

This kid who had been an actor the shows came up to me on the last day of school and told me square in the eye my plays inspired him to change his life.  No words to describe that feeling.

They were quoted and talked about, anticipated and applauded.  That's a writer's dream right there: to make a wave, to artfully communicate an idea.

It was truly magical.  It is something I suggest taking a stab at if you can: it's an experience parallel to none, as close to magic as you can get.