Friday, July 29, 2011

Guest starring: Rick Park as The Blogger

I am about to embark on my third journey with the T Plays and it never gets any less terrifying. The pressure is incredible. On a Friday night at around 7 you get together--actors, writers, directors--and are randomly thrown together, along with a T line. In less than 24 hours, you, as a writer, are expected to have a 10-minute play ready to go. All the pressure, at this point, is on you. Sure, as soon as the play is read aloud in the group, the pressure is on the actors and director, but at the beginning, it is all about the writer. How clever can you be? What person or thing or smell on your T line will invoke the muses and allow you to write, quickly, an entertaining piece of theatre? A piece worthy of a paying audience? There is no time for self-doubt or self-pity. You have to jump in, both feet, and just run with whatever idea you come up with. There are few instances as a playwright that test your confidence and ability more than writing for the T Plays.




The first year, I wasn't there for the actor/director/writing assignments I was acting in Shear Madness at the time and came home at 1030 on that first Friday to an email telling me I was working with a director I had never met and writing for two actors I had never met and I had the Blue Line, which I at least knew a little. I also knew that I would have to have my piece done early, since I had a matinee at Shear that Saturday. Even writing this now makes my heart start to beat a bit faster. Up early the next day, I jumped on the Blue Line with one thing on my mind: what the fuck was I going to write? On the T, in a car by myself. Nothing. The mind starts to scramble, to come up with something, ANYTHING that strikes a chord in me. Nada. I know I have a bunch of stops still to go, more places from which I could draw inspiration, but I also knew that time was of the essence. I try to keep the brain open to new thoughts and ideas and not allow the pressure of time and pride to strangle any creativity that might somehow, miraculously, appear out of thin air. And then it happened. A moment of complete and total kismet for my already weary brain. I hear the pre-recorded announcement telling us to "Please report any suspicious activity to the nearest T employee" followed by "Next stop: Aquarium". I start imagining something suspicious happening on the train. Two mysterious people come on. Or maybe one guy is already on the train and something suspicious happens. Or...or...or...and then I am stuck. But just for a moment. I remember a trick I learned many years ago, when writing comedy: take the situation to the extreme and work backwards. My mind starts thinking of the words: report...suspicious...Aquarium...and then I have it. A man, an everyman, sits alone in the Blue line car, reading and minding his own business. He hears the announcement, the same one I heard and ignores it. Next stop is Aquarium and who gets on? Someone suspicious. I go way out and make it two dolphins, who, with their permanent little smirks have always seemed suspicious to me. I remember my actors (I had been sent their headshots and physical descriptions from Irene Daly), two men I had never met before. I make the dolphins gay lovers having a fight. I know one of my actors is originally from Brazil and has an accent. This means, to my now-flying brain, that one character needs to be more flamboyant, more full of that South American passion. And he has to have a lot of fun words to say. Hard words to say without a Brazilian accent.



I got off the train and ran home and sat down and wrote what was to become "Please Report Suspicious Activity", where a lover's quarrel between two dolphin lovers, Antonio and Dirk, grows more and more heated and out of control as each tries to get the Everyman on their respective side. Antonio, upset that Dirk's former lover, Rusty the Hammerhead shark ("Rusty is not a hammerhead, "Dirk explains. "His eyes are just really far apart!") is now the star of the new Aquarium exhibit and is appalled that Dirk would date "the sworn enemy of their species". This leads to comparisons to West Side Story and Antonio begins singing songs from "Sea Side Story", until Dirk stops him and explains that he has eyes for no one but Antonio and his fluke.



I hit send and wonder if this play is at all funny. It is hard to gain perspective when you are working under such time constraints. I never actually got to see this play that season. I was doing 8 Shear Madness shows a week. But I was updated by the wonderful director Meg Taintor about audience reaction and by John O'Brien, who oversees this entire nutty experiment. And I have to tell you: the adrenaline rush is addictive. It has to be or why would I be about to do this for the third time?

1 comment:

John Greiner-Ferris said...

good to know...this will be my first time wriing a t play and yes, i'm scared out of my mind...