Thursday, October 13, 2011

It Used to Be Easy...

It used to be easy.

Well, that’s not true. It was never easy. But it was simple.
I used to write plays sequentially, in order. Start at the beginning, end at the end. Discover the play in the writing. Refine it in rewrites. End of story.

Then my son was born.

To be able to write a play in the way that I used to requires a lot of brain space. It’s not that I kept the whole play in my head (I could never do that), but I did keep the totality of the world I was creating and the characters I was inhabiting simmering all the time. I didn’t know it then, having never lived any other way, but writing like that requires a lot of free space in the brain.

Children eat that brain space. And then they come back for more.

I needed another way.

Like most opportunities, it first appeared as a problem.

I was writing my newest play, Another Girl. It’s a story of a woman, Aidan, coming back home after 20 years to see her sister, Hannah, and her dying mother. The problem was this – I had created the character of Aidan, and several other subsidiary characters, but I didn’t yet have Hannah. It was very clear that the first scene of the play had to be between Hannah and Aidan. But since I didn’t yet know who Hannah was, how could I write that scene?

And I had all this other stuff in the play I wanted to write! Scenes, monologues, stories. I was stuck. I couldn’t start.

So I cheated.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I actually felt that way at first. As if writing out of sequence was a sin. I wrote the bits that were popping out of my head (they had been trapped so long they BURST out). It was a blast. And I’ve been doing this long enough to know that if writing is fun, you’re probably doing something right.

Soon enough, with the space to let her grow organically, Hannah came to life. Scenes I wrote bled into other scenes. Soon enough there were whole sequences. There were some ugly stretches tying it all together- character, plot, theme. But there are always ugly stretches in writing. In the end, I had not only what is perhaps my best play, but a new way of writing.

I am using that new way of writing for the play I have been commissioned by Blue Coyote to write, currently titled Clear History. It’s a story of the way in which the decision to have children saves and ruins your life, and of the time and place – now, New York – in which that decision is being made. Allowing myself to write in this way has made writing this play a joy. I often sit down at the desk with an anticipation that borders on giddiness.

I could not be more grateful for Blue Coyote asking me to write this for them. I hope it lives up to every expectation they have for it.

- John Yearley

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