i & me & you
A blog about a play
2. Finding the Bathroom
Now I’ve got scene 1, so I guess I’m writing a play. I know it’s a love story. I know it’s got a sci-fi bent. All that’s left is getting the rest of it on the page. Easy, right? Oh, yeah. So easy…
Writing a play is like getting dropped into a country you’ve never heard of. You don’t speak the language, and even the simplest things are impossible. You just want to go to the bathroom, but anybody you stop to ask looks at you like you’re crazy. And you really have to go. Your only choice is to stick it out, keep asking everybody you meet and eventually you’ll learn the right words. Eventually, you’ll be able to ask more in-depth questions. Eventually, you’ll be able to help some other weary and stopped-up traveler. But at first? It’s slow as Vermont maple syrup in January and you feel stupid every single day.
It’s also often entirely unclear if it’s going to even be a play. Because you could stop at any time. Or, if you’re me, that’s what you tell yourself to trick yourself into continuing. “Hey, Jeff, you aren’t obligated to spend time with these two lonely souls in this tiny little sci-fi love story; so just do another page and then you can go for a walk and never look at it again.”
That’s in the beginning. But, almost immediately, they become actual people to me, and I feel not only responsible to them, but obligated to help them tell their story. And they are pretty good at letting me know when I’m not doing it right.
The trick is learning how to listen to them.
In this particular play, Sarah and Jake were pretty clear with me from the outset how they wanted their story told. Sure, I can pretend I was the puppet master, totally in control, but in my experience it’s always the other way around. Always. I’m Pinocchio here and they are definitely in charge. And my job is to set my fragile little ego aside, give them the strings and get out of their way.
Because it’s their love story, remember. So it’s only fair they should help me tell it. Whether they end up together or not (and I’m not about to spoil it), it’s their story and I’m just the guy with the keyboard visiting their country, learning to speak their language one little syllable at a time.
It took about six months, the first draft of this play. Six months of listening to Sarah and Jake. Six months of learning this crazy new language. And at the end of it, I had a draft.
But a draft is just the beginning. What’s next? Check here in a bit. We’re just getting started.
—Jeff Talbott, Playwright