Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fresh Anxiety

A few years ago, I had the great thrill of performing my autobiographical piece, In The Dark, at Prop THTR in Chicago. It truly was a case of opportunity knocking and I happened to be in a position to answer. I sat down to write a screenplay. After completing said screenplay, I showed it to some friends who were split on their reactions. A couple enjoyed it, while a few hated it. This was a bit of a shock since after completing the draft, I was very confident I had written a spectacular script. I figured people would enjoy reading it and many more would fall in love with it as a film. Before I could return to the screenplay, I needed to better understand screenwriting and story telling. I also needed a grasp on what I could realistically expect from myself as a writer, actors, and directors. I began taking acting classes. After a few months, I added playwrighting classes. I expected a slow developing class structure where I would have to learn to write characters, scenes, and outlines. To my surprise, the instructor believed the best way for me to learn to write a play is by actually writing a play. Sure, I worked on characters, one sentence summaries, and formatting, but he insisted I churn out the pages on a weekly basis. Since I had never written a play in my life, he felt it would be best to set my sights on completing a ten minute play. Yet the story I wanted to tell would take longer than ten minutes to tell. After six weeks of writing and rewriting, I completed the first draft of my first ever play. It turned out to be seventy-six pages. In my first attempt, I had written the first draft of my first full length play. Eventually, that play went on to be named a New Play Fest winner by Prop THTR where it was workshopped and received a staged reading directed by the wonderful, Jacque Lueken. After writing that play, I began work on my next full length, but before I could finish that second play, I was approached with the idea to tell my life story. I initially laughed it off figuring my life experiences were not all that interesting, but my playwrighting instructor insisted that not only were my individual stories fascinating, but with my ability to write, I would be able to weave them together to creating a compelling, informative, and entertaining play. I spent months on it and before I knew it, my playwrighting instructor had contacted people at Prop THTR to inform them of a wonderful new unproduced piece from an up and coming writer and actor. Since he already told them I would be sending a copy immediately, I had no choice, but to do so. Weeks later I found out they were interested and a few months after that I received a letter congratulating me on "writing a story which needed to be written and sharing my voice which needed to be shared." Prop THTR named my autobiographical piece a New Play Fest winner where it was workshopped and received a staged reading under the direction of the amazing, Emily Lotspeich. It went on to received its world premiere production with me in the lead as myself, my dearest friend, Madelon, and another fella, Ivan each starring along side me. It was after this production run where I submitted a copy of my first ever play to Prop and they included it in their NFP.

After each performance, audience members raved about what I had written and what they had just witnessed. One remark which always stayed with me came from Nina Metz whose review of my play appeared in the Chicago Tribune Tempo Section. She wrote that the show was rough around the edges, but had plenty of potential. She had some additional comments about my, Madelon's, and Ivan's individual performances. Once again, I was a bit surprised. Ultimately, she was correct, but I also wondered in what ways could I improve the piece since I believed it was already a wonderful play. As award winning journalist, author, actor, Jenniffer Weigel said once, "Israel has the ability to blind me with tears from ripping my heart out with a heart wrenching moment then make my sides hurt from laughing so much to the point I'm crying all in the same scene."

It has been several years since that initial run of performances. Madelon and I have performed slightly different versions at schools and conferences. I have gone to organizations and performed a one man version as well. All the while I was finding ways to tell certain stories I was not ready to include in that first run. As the years pass, I have become more comfortable with wanting to share other aspects of my being. I have also found other ways to tell stories as a writer. A month ago, I sat down and rewrote my autobiographical piece. I feel that it is now more moving than before. In some cases, a slight shift in a scene made a world of difference. In other cases, a complete rewriting of the scene or of the characters was my best option. I sent it off to a very trusted friend, director, actor for her feedback and I anxiously await her feedback. I hope that this latest draft captivates her as previous drafts have and together she and I can move forward to bring my world back to life for audiences. Each time I have sent this or other scripts to friends I get nervous in anticipation for their feedback. I know I will always get replies which point out the positives and negatives on which I can build or choose to change. It does not matter how many times I send out my scripts, the anxiety remains just as intense.

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