Monday, October 24, 2011

Prologue



A vacation house in the Marin headlands.  The house is fogged in. It is mid-afternoon, late summer, present day. It is a beautiful modern home. Full length plate glass windows make up one side of the house, allowing us a complete view of the interior. A deck wraps around the entire house. The house sits above the garage, which is unseen. A stairway leads from the garage and driveway up onto the deck.  On one end of the deck is a fire pit with comfortable seating.  On the other end is an entrance to one of the bedrooms.


We can see that the kitchen, dinning room and living room are all one great room for perfectly made for entertaining. Upstage right is the kitchen with an exit to the garage below. Upstage left is a hall way leading to bedrooms and bathrooms.


Everything is very new, clean and shiny. Everything looks perfect.
MRS. DELANY sits comfortably next to the fire pit.  She is in her sixties, but is one of those striking women who will never look her true age.  She looks out serenely into the fog.  In her hand is a paper cup of fast food coffee, which she sips at from time to time.  Gulls cry out now and again. She never looks at her watch.  She is very well put together and looks perfectly at home where she is.  In fact, the tableau could almost be an advertisement for the house or the clothes or the coffee.     
The sound of a car pulling onto a pebble driveway.  MRS. DELANY gracefully stands up and walks around the house to the stairs. 
Enter JULIA who could not look more out of place.  She is not new or shiny even though she is only in her early thirties.  She looks uncomfortable in her own skin. Her clothes are plain, well worn, and overly comfortable.  She, herself, is a little clumsy and easily startled by the unexpected.
 JULIA
Mrs. Delany?

MRS. DELANY
Yes.  You must be Laura.

JULIA
No.  Laura will be coming later.  I'm Julia.  I'm here to check in and get everything started.

MRS. DELANY
It's nice to meet you Julie.


JULIA
Actually, it's -


MRS. DELANY
Oh, watch out there.  We had a rain last night and everything's still wet.  There's a few puddles here and there.


JULIA
I'm sorry I'm running so late - 

MRS. DELANY
Laura didn't mention someone else would be checking in. 


JULIA
It's OK.  She's filled me in on most everything.


MRS. DELANY
Well.  I hope so.  It's just easier to deal with the same person.


JULIA
I'm sorry.  I guess Laura didn't think it would be a big deal.  If you would rather deal with her, she should be here later.  Or I can give her a call.


MRS. DELANY
No.  That's alright.  I suppose it doesn't really matter. I'll just show you around then.

JULIA
Great.  

MRS. DELANY
I don't know if you had a chance to look at our web page. Frank, my husband, and I decorated the house ourselves.  We wanted it to feel like a real home, but with some hotel amenities. Laura said there were going to be thirteen of you?

JULIA
Yes.

MRS. DELANY
An unlucky number, isn't it?  

JULIA
Some people think it's a lucky number. 

MRS. DELANY
I've never heard that. When will the others arrive?

JULIA
Tonight.  We're all taking different dinner shifts and tonight is my night.


MRS. DELANY
As I explained to Laura on the phone, I think it will be a tight squeeze.  Thirteen grown adults for two weeks...I'd start to get a little stir crazy myself. Not to mention, I've only got five sets of house keys.  You may want to wipe your feet before you come in.  Jill was it?


JULIA
Julia.

MRS. DELANY
Right. Are you all couples?
MRS. DELANY unlocks the door and lets them in. As she gives JULIA the tour, she speaks very quickly and moves around almost like a museum docent.  JULIA has a very hard time keeping up. 


JULIA
No. There are only two couples.  Laura and her husband Mike. And Greg and his husband Francis. 

MRS. DELANY
It would be easier to share keys if you were all coupled up, but I'm sure Laura will sort out the key situation.  Please make it clear to everyone that there can be absolutely no copies made of the keys whatsoever.


JULIA
I will.


MRS. DELANY
I might give Laura a call later today and let her know too, just in case.  Anyway, it's like I was telling her on the phone: just make sure the house is locked when no one is inside.  We're out of the way, but you can't be too careful.  This is the kitchen. The kitchen is fully stocked with plates, flatware, pots and pans, and just about everything and anything you might need, except for food.  The living room.  As you can see, there is no television, but isn't the view amazing? 


JULIA
Yes. I've never seen such beautiful fog. 


MRS. DELANY
There's no need to be sarcastic, dear.  All the bedrooms and bathrooms are down this way. Five bedrooms. Two king beds and six twin beds with trundle beds beneath.  Two full sheet sets for each bed.  Two sets of towels for every person.  Like a hotel, there is shampoo, conditioner, soap, and lotion in the bathrooms.  Unlike a hotel, no one will be coming to clean up. A washer and dryer in the garage.  As I said, every room opens up onto the de and it's own personal view.  Speaking of which, let's head back outside. Here is the fire pit, there's wood around this side of the porch here.  My husband will drop off new wood every morning.  So, if you see a big man with a beard on the porch at 5am, don't be alarmed.


JULIA
That's good to know.


MRS. DELANY
Here is the packet with our numbers, emergency numbers, maps of hiking trails, things to do in the headlands.  Just so you know, Grant's Market is only three miles down that way.  It's a good little general store. He carries a big variety of wine and liqueur,  but stock up early.  He closes at 6 PM.  Oh, but on Sundays he closes at 3 PM.


JULIA
Shoot.  It's almost 2:30 now.


MRS. DELANY
I did tell Laura that over the phone, but I guess you didn't get that piece of information.  This is why I like dealing with just one person.


JULIA
I'll go right after this. Thank you for letting me know.


MRS. DELANY
Here is Laura's copy of the rental agreement.  Please make sure to give that to her. Checkout instructions are in there, as well. Here are all five sets of keys and the garage door opener.


JULIA
Great.  Thank you. 

MRS. DELANY
Any questions?


JULIA
I'm also going to be setting up a few printers, I was hoping to use the dining room table. Would that be alright? 

MRS. DELANY
That's fine.  Just put a towel or something on the table so it doesn't scratch. You know, I hadn't thought of that.  I think I mostly imagined a lot of yellow pads and pencils and typewriters. But it's all laptops nowadays, isn't it?  We've never hosted a writers' retreat before.  Somehow, I have an image in my head of lots of coffee cups, cigarettes, and whiskey.  But then, I guess not every writer is like Hemingway.


JULIA
Well, it's not too far off.  But, I guess now there are more pizza boxes.


MRS. DELANY
You know, I don't know if Laura mentioned this, but Frank and I saw one of her plays at the Marin Repertory Company last year.  We just loved it.  Just absolutely loved it.  We even kept one of the programs, and we never do that.  Usually, we just toss them away.  But we just loved it.  Then, one day, we get a phone call from the writer herself!  I can't tell you how excited, even a little honored, we were to know she would be organizing a writers' retreat here.  In our vacation house.  Though, I haven't gotten an opportunity to meet her in person.  I had thought that would be today, but... obviously... not. So.  Are you all playwrights?  Is this retreat the kind of thing playwrights do?


JULIA
Yes, we're all playwrights.  And there are writers' retreats all over the country.  For all kinds of writers, really.  But, I've never done this before.  I've applied to writers' retreats and I've sort of locked myself up in a hotel room for a weekend to work.  But I've never done this.


MRS. DELANY
What exactly are you all going to be doing for two weeks?


JULIA
Well, we've all got different projects we're working on or are starting or need to finish.  I don't know how other retreats work, but we've each been assigned a night to present our work to the group.  That's the part I'm most excited about.  


MRS. DELANY
And, so, what do you write?

JULIA
I don't know, really.  I think that's maybe why I'm here.  To find my voice.   

MRS. DELANY
Then, you haven't written anything yet.

JULIA
Oh, no.  I have.  And I've been produced.  Ten minute festivals and things like that.

MRS. DELANY
So, nothing I would have seen.

JULIA
I don't know.  I guess probably not.


MRS. DELANY
So, besides Laura, any other established writers coming on this little getaway?


JULIA
Well, I don't know if I would call Laura established.


MRS. DELANY
Really?  Is getting a play done at Marin Rep not a big deal?  I mean.  I wouldn't know, not traveling in those circles myself. 

JULIA
No.  I didn't mean that.  It is a big deal.  It's just that the word "established" brings to mind something else.


MRS. DELANY
Like what?


JULIA
I don't know.  A national presence or reputation or something.  Maybe.


MRS. DELANY
And Laura doesn't have that yet.  This...something.


JULIA
I guess you could say she's still emerging.


Pause.
MRS. DELANY
I don't know what that means, but it sounds like you are trying to lessen my experience of a show I enjoyed.


JULIA
No.  Not at all.


MRS. DELANY
Did you not enjoy the play?


JULIA
Yes.  I did.  Very much.


MRS. DELANY
Then, maybe there's a little professional jealousy going on.


JULIA
No -


MRS. DELANY
That's alright, dear.  I completely understand.  It's getting late and I shouldn't linger.  Tell Laura she can call if you all need anything.  It has been very nice to meet you, Jane.  Good luck.

JULIA
It's Julia.
JULIA watches MRS. DELANY go. The sound of a car starting and driving away. Upset by the tone of the conversation, JULIA turns and goes into the house.  She puts the packet of papers and the keys on the bar.  She looks at her watch.
JULIA
Shit.  
She takes up a set of keys and a map.  She then carefully locks up the house and exits to her car.  Sounds of the car backing out of the driveway.
Blackout.  End Scene.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blogging a New Play

I'm writing a new play and I want to share it with you as I write it. Over the next few months, I'm going to post a new scene to this blog about every week.  I will post the scenes as I write them; as finished and polished as I can. In this way, the play will build episodically.  Once a scene is published on the blog, I'll consider it set in stone.  No rewrites, no take backs.  If I set something up on Act 1, Scene 2, then I can't ignore it in Act 3, Scene 5.  I'm going into this with only a very loose outline, only the broadest strokes of character sketches, and worse... only a hint of story.

But it's exciting!  A new project with open possibilities!
  
I think it's fair to say that I haven't written a full length play in a while.  I've started a few and I've written a few one act plays, but it's been a while since I've had the inspiration to put together a project like this.  Most of the pieces I've written lately have evolved from a prompt given to me.  But there are these other, untouched and untried, stories in my mind.  Some are from or inspired by the people and events in my life and some are stories I have a yearning to tell.  It's like an itch that needs scratching.

And for better or worse, I'm going to make you all witnesses.  And, if I'm very lucky, some of it might even be entertaining.

But why bother? I think it's good to shake it up sometimes.  I want to create without the pressure of submissions or production.  I want a focus and an outlet for my creativity, but I want to try a new way of creating. One of my favorite playwrights and teachers, Brian Thorstenson (who you can and should check out here http://www.brianthorstenson.com), emphasized in his classes that the best way to challenge yourself creatively and to teach yourself new solutions to old problems is to put new obstacles in your path.   

While this will be a new experiment for me, I don't feel there is anything particularly new or exceptional in the method.  It's not all that far from television writing.  Novels used to be published as serials; in some cases, one chapter would be published before the next was finished.  And in our Web 2.0 world, playwrights are experimenting with a variety of creation methods.

Just this past September, Neil LaBute and Theresa Rebeck wrote a play by live chat for the LA Times. You can read the full chat here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/09/neil-labute-and-theresa-rebeck-live-playwriting.html  Plays have been written by communities of writers via Twitter feed. Not to mention, I'm sure there are any number of playwrights who are doing exactly what I'm doing, though lazy google searches on my part haven't turned them up.  Please feel free to send them my way!  Or, start blogging your own play!

I'm also taking inspiration from blogs by graphic artists, cartoonists, illustrators, and other artists/storytellers who publish their stories, graphic novels, thoughts, and sketches episodically. I highly recommend reading this one: Bad Machinery by John Allison http://scarygoround.com/index.php?date=20090921 

And, finally, I've always been a very big fan of Charles Mee and his (re)making project.  He has been posting his work on his website for years because he believes art is created from and by art.  You can read all the plays he's posted here: http://charlesmee.org

I'm very lucky that a collaborator has agreed to come on board this project with me.  Cody Rishell, a wonderful friend and an artist I truly admire, will be adding an illustration to each post.  He's a wonderful artist and a huge inspiration for me personally.  You can see his art work here: http://www.codyrishell.com/

The play is titled "English for Beginners" and it follows a group of playwrights on a writer's retreat in the Marin Headlands. At this point in the synopsis I would describe the main characters, their wants and intentions, the heroes and the antagonists. But I don't know who any of them are!  But, I'm working on the prologue right now.  And here's what I can tell you about that:

Next time on "English for Beginners" - Julia arrives and is shown around the vacation house by a curt and unkind Mrs. Delany.  Julia has to prepare the house for twelve other writers who will be showing up to spend two weeks writing, working, drinking, and talking. Julia is feeling the pressure to impress, but she's already running late.