Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing the Play - Part I

In the fall of 2009, I got to create a panel for the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival which featured Alan Gratz (author of several YA novels including Fantasy Baseball) and Susan Woodring (author of Traveling Disease). I knew both of them were parents, and as the moderator of the panel (who at that point had only published a handful of poems), I wanted to badger them about how they did it: wrote and parented young, still-underfoot children. Turns out that we all have daughters the same age, and while there is only one Gratz child and two Woodrings, both of the writers were primary caregivers and home-schooled. WHAT!?! And they have published books?

This is where I play my "but I have twins too" card.

But I came away from that with the sense that what they had (that I was missing -- besides a published book) were editors & agents--folks who gave them deadlines to meet. I needed deadlines and someone to be accountable to.

So, I struck up a conversation with the guy who had an office right next to my writing office. The guy happened to be Andrew Gall, artistic director of the Parkway Playhouse. Writing a play is something I'd never done, but it seemed like an interesting experiment: how do you write ONLY DIALOG to reveal character and action? This was, perhaps, how I was going to create artificial deadlines and get myself an editor.

"I was thinking..." I ventured hesitantly into the conversation, "that if I wrote a one-act play, could you maybe read it and tell me what you think? If you have time." After all, he does run a theater company, direct plays, teach at the community college and have young children.

His reply was prompt: "Don't mess around writing a one-act play. Write a whole play."

What?! I began pulling excuses from any and everywhere. "But I've never written a play before!" I declared.

"Here," he said fishing through his bookshelf and pulling out a copy of Blake Snyder's Save the Cat. "I use this when I teach. It'll tell you everything you need to know and help you figure out the pacing."

"But I don't even know what to write about!" I continued. You would think that I hadn't started this conversation and asked for this very thing.

"I do," he returned. "You know this whole 'Battle of Burnsville' thing the reenactors do every April? I think it was really a bunch of women stealing sugar. Look that up."

I did and he was wrong. They actually stole wheat. But the sparse history of the event sparked my imagination.


sherylmonks said...

Britt, this is so exciting! Your play sounds like it would be a great fit for my Southern Culture class at Wilkes Community College. I'll be in San Diego when it's playing at the Parkway Playhouse, looks like. But I definitely want one of your chapbooks. Would you consider visiting my class sometime and talking about the story?


Britt Kaufmann said...

Thanks, Sheryl! I'd love visiting your class sometime. We'll keep in touch about that.