New Tools

This is my first new blog entry since October, 2013. So, where have I been? What have I been up to? Let me start by reminding my readers (both of you) that I began this blog way back in July, 2013 with New Shoes in which I announced that I would be producing a show. That show, Playing in the Dark: Eight Tragic Tales of Hope, Redemption, and Enlightenment, featured three of my short plays (Monster, Family Tree, and Waiting for Leonard) as well as the work of fellow playwrights Kate Guyton, Daniel Guyton, Daniel Carter Brown, and James Walsh. It was produced by Out of Box Theatre and I was the production coordinator.

To understate it, producing the show was a daunting excursion. I will probably never do it again. Not because it’s hard, but because it’s not what I want to do. I didn’t produce the show because I want to be a producer; I produced the show because I want to be a better playwright. It was a field trip. A lab. A playwriting course on what a producer does with a script. And, with that in mind, it was an amazingly productive experience. Otherwise, it was an overwhelming draw on my already limited supply of time. And in that, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

For several years, I had invested loads of time into writing plays, rewriting plays, workshopping plays, researching plays, rewriting plays, studying playwriting, marketing plays, rewriting plays, workshopping plays, and rewriting plays. In terms of hours, it was nearly a full-time job – and (ask any playwright) that job doesn’t pay. But I have a well-paying full-time job, so that’s okay – except that two full-time jobs doesn’t leave much time for things like keeping up with your house and cars, spending time with your spouse, eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, and other things that sometimes don’t seem as essential as reworking a scene to bury some narrative in the subtext or tweaking a line to get it just right or writing a killer synopsis or getting out another dozen submissions. (You get the picture.) By the spring of 2014, I was overwhelmed and way behind – on life!

So, Playing in the Dark opened in May of last year and I was working on another play that was set to premier later in August. Playing in the Dark was a big success, but shortly before that run began, I made the decision to pull the August show and hang up my playwriting shoes alongside my producer shoes at the end of May, 2014. And that’s where I’ve been.

Sort of.

When I began my hiatus, I had no set time in mind at which to end it. Later, I decided one year would be sufficient to catch up on some overdue maintenance and improvements on the house and cars (a bathroom remodel, a new exhaust for my pickup, and so on), get my garden in, and spend enough quality time with my wife so that she’d be ready for me to find something else to do. Earlier this month, I started writing again – officially. But unofficially, my mind was on writing the whole time and some really cool things have come of that.

In a nutshell, I have taken the opportunity to look at my writing process from the outside in. Without the burden of self-imposed deadlines, I have taken a leisurely stroll in these old writing shoes and discovered some very interesting things. Some of them I’ll go into great detail about in later blog entries (watch for them), but for now I’ll just say that I have completely reworked my process. Now, as I tighten my laces and jump back into writing, it’s with renewed excitement and some cool new tools. I’ll be throttling the time I spend at it a little to (hopefully) avoid falling so far behind on the rest of my life, but I’m already pleased with the productivity I’ve experienced the past few weeks. I hope to diligently keep up with this blog (expect probably about an entry a month), as I share some of those tools.

Raymond Fast is an Atlanta area playwright. Visit his web site at www.raymondfast.com or find him on Facebook.

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Writers Write

It’s a cliché, but here’s the thing about clichés: they’re generally true.

A few years ago, I was a novice playwright turning out decent plays and getting them produced all over Atlanta and beyond, while some folks who’d been doing it longer (and, in many cases, better) weren’t getting the productions I was getting. It was suggested by several of my peers and a few of my mentors that I create a workshop to help other novice playwrights get their plays produced. I eventually obliged; last year I started giving a two-part, six-hour workshop for Onion Man Productions called The Playwright’s Journey: First Steps. In it, I start by examining what motivates a writer to write, work through the entire process of preparing a play for production and submitting it for potential production opportunities, and finally end with a discussion of contracts. It’s pretty much soup to nuts. The only think I don’t cover is how to actually write the play. (You can’t do that with one workshop.)

As I work through the process, one thing becomes very clear (well, it should anyway): there’s a lot of writing involved. Duh! Right? But really, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Of course, there’s the play – draft after draft of it. Then there’s the other play. And the other one. And so on. Because, you see, a person who has written a play is not a playwright. A playwright doesn’t write a play – a playwright writes plays.

See what I did there?

You can write a great play – Tony award, Pulitzer prize material – but until you get it into the hands of the right artistic director at the right time (which, honestly, might never happen), it’s not getting produced. So, you write the next play. I’d started a half dozen before my first one was even finished.

But the writing doesn’t end with the play. You have to write a synopsis. In other words, you take this ninety-minute masterpiece and boil it down a paragraph or two. And that’s just the one you write for the artistic director who’s trying to decide whether to even read your script. Then, if it’s selected, you boil it down even more – to just a few lines – and make sure you take out the ending so you don’t spoil the play because that’s what’s used to market it to an audience. But before you get that far, you write a cover letter to go with your submission. And a bio. (Now, just in case writing the bio sounds cut and dry, know that some folks want to see a one page bio while others want it in just a few words – and there’s everything in between.) And, hopefully, you’ll find yourself writing a contract at some point, which is, of course, more writing.

If you find that you’re having some success, you’ll want to set up a website so people can find you on line, see how much success you’re having, and maybe send some more success your way. Which means more writing – some of it in HTML. Oh, and then there’s the obligatory blog. (Can’t forget about that).

Now I’m venturing into the world of production (see “New Shoes”) with a project for Out Of Box Theatre Company called Playing in the Dark: Eight Tragic Tales of Hope, Redemption, and Enlightenment set to go up in May, 2014. But, I’m still writing.

Over the past few months I wrote two new ten-minute plays that will premier in December in holiday shows at Lionheart Theatre and Onstage Atlanta, started drafting another that will be part of Onion Man Productions’ 2014 Summer Harvest show, A Different World, and I’m approaching completion on another for the Playing in the Dark program. I’m also working with fellow playwright and good friend James Beck to create a new one-year intensive workshop program in which we are the guinea pigs. Under one another’s scrutiny and encouragement, he is completely overhauling his play The Secret of the Cat as I am my play Last Love. They will go up with the help of Lionheart Theatre Company in August, 2014, and (hopefully) will see a second production shortly afterward. In the mean time, I’m in the later stages of another full-length play, I have the initial drafts of two brand new full-lengths in the works, and I’m researching two others. (Okay, breathe.)

Hmm … am I forgetting anything? Oh, yeah. I hope to participate as a playwright in the 24-Hour plays sponsored by Working Title Playwrights and hosted by OnStage Atlanta over the weekend of November 9/10. Then there’s the dozen or so submissions over the past several weeks (cover letters, etc). And there’s my blog. (Can’t forget about that).

Seem like a lot? It is, but that’s what writers do. We write. Every chance we get. Some may not stay as busy at it as I do; I probably have more opportunity than most. But we all write whenever we can. We have to. For writers, writing and breathing are similarly essential to existence. For some, it’s a pastime, a hobby, a source of pleasure. But for the writer, there’s this strange thing – some call it a muse – that gets in your head, fills it with ideas, and urges, drives, even torments you until you write. I guess I wouldn’t die if I didn’t write, but I definitely wouldn’t want to test the idea.

Raymond Fast is an Atlanta area playwright. Visit his web site at www.raymondfast.com or find him on Facebook.