Friday, February 17, 2012

Magic time

Before I got my first play published last year, I'd struggled for 13 years to reach print in the world of books. But if I'd known then what I know now, I wouldn't have bothered.

Why? Because seeing one of your plays performed provides more satisfaction, more pleasure, more joy then any book could ever give you. And it's all because of that little thing called an audience.

I'm having these thoughts because last night I got to see the first local production of one of my plays.

All right. Strictly speaking, it wasn't my first. That happened last month, when "Anger Mismanagement" premiered as part of the 24SEVEN theatre project. But as I've described previously, that was a rush job. And besides, I was guaranteed production whether I came up with a masterpiece or pure drivel (I'll let the audience for that one decide which it was).

But last night was the first time a play that I'd written for general production was done locally.

The play is "Fear of Clowns." And I couldn't have asked for a better production.

"Fear of Clowns" is a 10-minute comedy about a clown who visits a psychiatrist about an unusual fear (I don't want to give that away as it's a big part of the fun) and it was done as part of the Millibo Art Theatre's annual "Ten Minutes Max" show.

What made this production so meaningful to me is that there was one point when I was sure the play would never see the light of day.

Late last year, I was deep in the middle of a rewrite on it when my playwriting software locked up. Feeling a sickening lurch in my gut, I rebooted the program.

When it came back to life, my worst fears were realized. The current version was gone, and all I could find on my hard drive were dusty old versions that bore little resemblance to the version I'd clawed from the shalelike strata of my mind.

Panic!

You can probably predict the next step. I tried to recreate it from memory, but as anyone whose ever been there knows, that's a fool's errand. I hit a wall, unable to find those words again.

That's when I thought back to a quote from humorist Garrison Keillor. I don't remember his exact words, but they were along the lines that if you lose a manuscript, forget what you wrote before. Write it fresh. It'll be better.

I tried. And he was right.

Freed from the shackles of my old words, I conjured up new words, new thoughts, new directions. I invented a whole new section of dialogue in which the clown describes his love for an aerialist ("She can fly.") and the difficulty he has expressing that love.

The dialogue was painful. It was heartbreaking. And it was exactly the thing I'd been looking for to add depth to my piece.

The performance went great, due in no small part to the MAT's Jim Jackson, a real-life clown who played my lead character with a bittersweet gentleness.

I was grateful for every laugh he got (never as many as you hope for, but always more than you deserve). But what really surprised me were the number of "awww's" from the crowd. I knew my play was sad, but it wasn't until I saw a world-class performer bring it to life that I realized how much the audience would welcome that gentle clown into their hearts.

Thank you, Jim--and the rest of the team at the MAT who gave it their all.

For this playwright, it was truly a magical night.

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