Today's guest blogger: Charmian Christie
In my post from a few days ago, I selected Christie's Corner as my Blog of the Day. Today, the blog's author, Charmian Christie, and I are having a “blog swap,” where she's written an entry for my blog and vice versa. (So be sure to check out her site to read mine! :)
In addition to writing about food, travel, health, and more for magazines, Charmian is also a produced playwright. Recently she workshopped one of her plays and I'm thrilled that she's chosen Embrace Adventure to share her story!
I've jumped out of an airplane, been forced to make an emergency landing while hang gliding, and driven a twisty-turny mountain range on a gravel road only one-car wide and with no guardrail. But the scariest thing I've ever done was have my play workshopped.
Playwriting is all about giving up control. There's no safety net, emergency chute or roadside assistance for your ego. In a workshop, you hand your words to a group of professionals, who not only read them aloud, but comment on them—in your presence. As if you aren't there.
As a freelance writer who gets edited regularly, I am used to a flat-out critique. But actors and directors aren't discerning editors who give your copy a spit and polish. They're motivation vultures, scavenging for subtext. Not content to merely skim the surface of your script, they sift through your words, line by line, looking for meaning. Snappy dialogue with no substance will delight actors on the first reading, disappoint them on the second, and bore them on the third. During this workshop, we'd potentially read my script six times. Would my pride survive the scrutiny?
The first day was unnerving. I wasn't allowed to explain my script, just listen. And I sat mute and frustrated while actors delivered lines in the wrong tone, or approached a scene from a misguided angle. I wanted to jump in, correct them, give them the direction they clearly needed. But the goal of a workshop is to let the actors and director “peel the onion,” digging deeper and deeper into the text to see if there's anything underneath. They were mining my script and I was beginning to worry they'd find nothing of value.
At the end of the day, the director suggested I go home and write monologues that addressed some of his questions about the characters. I did. Although I thought the exercise was unnecessary.
The second day, they read each scene different ways, testing various scenarios, to see which resonated the most. As they explored the possibilities, the actors stopped asking questions about their characters and started defending them. My newly written monologues went unused. Part of me was relieved since the ones from the main character were weak. Part of me wondered if the director was just trying to keep me busy while the pros sorted things out.
At the end of the second day, the director suggested I go home and reread the script for hidden motivations. I didn't. This time I “interviewedᰵ my main character to see if she would open up more. She did. But I still questioned the relevance of such an exercise.
On the third and final day, the director asked me to insert some of the monologues into the script. With the addition of these “unnecessary” scenes, the actors went from thinking about the characters to owning them. Throw away lines resonated, the pauses were powerful—not dead air—and plot holes big enough to drive a Hummer through were now minor bumps on the road.
Initially, the workshop was unnerving. When asked why I chose one word over another or why a character says this instead of that, I was sure they were telling me I'd failed as a playwright. But watching actors embrace a role and plunge deeper into the text than I thought possible wasn't just rewarding. It was the biggest, longest-lasting adrenaline rush imaginable.
Who needs airplanes and mountains when you have words?
Since I've already highlighted Charmian's blog, today I'll select one from another great “foodie” (as we call them): Monica Bhide's A Life of Spice.
Monica debunks the popular expression, “Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.” While she teaches an online food writing class, she clearly CAN and DOES.
She's also a fabulous essay writer. Here's a lovely piece she wrote for the Washington Post about teaching her son Hindi, her mother tongue, while shelling peas together.