Conference & Script Development Lab Recap (Subtitle: Real Actors Really Read My Play! And Other Things I Did at Writing-Nerd Camp)

This summer has been motherfucking intense. 

I'm not complaining. (Yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief.) I'm just trying to accurately describe the period of time in which I required my squishy, ill-used mom brain to be suddenly very active this summer. (I'm in year three of coming off those pregnancy hormones -- fingers crossed that maybe my brain will return to full capacity by the Christmas season.)

July's Southampton Writers Conference and its Script Development Lab was extremely useful and productive. (So yes, I'm glad I listened to A. and didn't back out. Don't tell HIM that, though.) My experience with the Script Development Lab this year was really outstanding -- not least because of the feedback provided me by the dramaturg assigned to my play (William Carden of the Ensemble Theatre Studio -- who is brilliant and lovely), and its actors and director, but also because, perhaps, I came to the conference with a piece of writing that is working, in ways that previous drafts have not worked. I felt affirmed, or rather, justified -- justified for those hours and days I set aside in June to work on the play while the kids were with my babysitter, justified for those early mornings, justified for all of that time I dedicated to my play when I felt like I should have been working on completing my A-form for promotion.

And yeah, it feels good when you see some return on your efforts.

Despite the time I spent writing in June, however, I couldn't quite finish the first act before the initial table reading -- which is why I approached the conference with such trepidation. But despite having an unfinished script, the table reading was -- at the risk of sounding hyperbolic and like a complete rube -- transformative. Instead of a straight reading of the play, all the way through the script without stopping, Carden allowed the actors to ask me questions about the characters and my vision for the play (which I suspect was particularly useful since they were working with an unfinished script) and sometimes directed them when he felt they were reading a scene or lines in a way that worked against what I'd intended. 

It was so interesting -- I loved the experience of watching a director at work with actors and a script (especially, I must admit, with my script). And I so appreciated the care and regard that Carden took with my work before he'd even arrived at the table reading -- he'd read my last spastic despairing post on my blog and came prepared, I'm guessing, to talk me down out of the rafters. It was, honestly, just nice to be treated with respect and like I actually belonged at that table. For so long I've felt like a fucking imposter or poseur for writing a play, and at this point -- particularly when I was so close to just giving up on the whole project -- it was really important to hear that I have something worth pursuing. 

That's it, I guess. I didn't (don't) need an abundance of praise or hand-holding but I did (do) need to hear that this long, long, LONG exploration of the verse play hasn't been completely in vain.  

The conference was good for two other reasons, too.  One, I used every spare moment of time engrossed in the generation and completion of the first act -- this time a first act that actually prefigures and imagines working in tandem with two other acts. The rapid revision schedule and deadline that followed the table reading required me to focus, write, and rewrite in a way that I haven't in a long, long time. The day before my second draft was due, I spent over eight hours in the library working. My vision was blurry by the time I left and I nearly gave myself a migraine from all of the coffee I consumed, but I managed to complete the first act of the play in a way that feels right -- albeit a little underdeveloped (but that, hopefully, can be corrected after I complete the other acts). 

Two, I completed the last of my graduate credits required for promotion at Stuffolk by taking a workshop with the playwright Lucas Hnath. From Hnath I learned a lot about the teaching of dramatic writing, which will -- hopefully -- translate well when I return to the classroom in the fall. I learned a good deal about the possibilities in dramatic writing, too. Just reading Hnath's plays is an education in itself -- they are wonderfully unexpected in terms of structure and movement and he does gorgeous things with language and the rhythm of spoken speech. 

Lastly, I emerged from the workshop with the beginning of a new play -- something wholly unrelated to poetry, and comic -- incredibly crass -- and fun. It sprang from an assignment, which is never a place I imagine good art coming from, but continues to surprise me as a viable source (the sow poems in my book MS sprang from an "assignment" I gave myself after a long period of not-writing). Not only is this new play something that I'm interested in pursuing and developing further, it's a good reminder that when writing my verse play, I need to have more fun. Less despair, more excitement and daring. I need to remind myself that even though the verse play is a drama, and a heavy one at that, there are so many playful, surprising things I can do with its structure and images (both in language and on the stage). 

Right now, I'm in a period of post-conference stillness. I'm not writing at the moment (this post would be the first non-work related piece of writing that I've done since mid-July), but I needed a little breather. Time to think. I've been trying to do some self-care stuff, and not get too wrapped up in work OR writing for a short while, but that's been difficult. The last week in July I had to attend another conference, for work, so I haven't exactly been sitting around eating bonbons. (Mmmm . . . bonbons. I've been on an elimination diet for food sensitivities for about two weeks, too, and bonbons and wine sound fucking awesome right now . . . nevermind that it's early morning.)  I'm going to take a little trip to Virginia tomorrow and see my family, whom I haven't really spoken to all summer because of my crazy schedule. I'm gonna go squeeze my nephew and chase my niece around. It'll be a nice change of pace before I return to fall semester prep, and hopefully a good last hurrah before I return to my writing projects. I don't mind taking a breather, but I really don't want to lose momentum, you know?


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