Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wicked questions

Last week, I had the delightful experience of seeing my play Wicked Is As Wicked Does for the first time. It was put on by Eduprize, a charter school that just happens to be located in my new hometown of Gilbert, AZ.

The students did a fantastic job. They were very funny and really made the characters their own. My only wish is that I could have seen the other two shows as they were down my entirely different casts.

Yesterday I was invited back by director and theater teacher extraordinaire Sonia Salberg to speak to her theater classes. I talked a little bit about my own struggles to break into publishing, and then I opened the floor to questions.

Oh, man. Were there questions! These kids were fully prepared, as they had been instructed to come up with a couple questions each as homework (always a good idea).

But the questions didn't stop there. As soon as the topic turned to their characters, and why I made certain choices, the hands popped in the area and the students started firing off question after question.

Here are some of the best:

1) Where do you get your ideas?

As described elsewhere in these pages, I get my ideas from all sorts of places: brainstorming, news articles, cartoons. Wicked Is As Wicked Does was different. This one came from a dream.

I had been brainstorming ideas for a new fairy tale play so my mind was humming with ideas, and when I went to bed that night, I had a vivid dream about a fairy tale land where the magic stopped. The fairy tale characters woke up one day to discover that their spells no longer worked, and they banded together to figure out why.

Well, when I started outlining the plot (something I always do; it makes the actual writing go faster) and I asked myself which characters from the famous fairy tales performed magic, I came to a realization. The Wicked Queen from Snow White, the Wicked Fairy from Sleeping Beauty, the Wicked Witch from The Frog Prince--they were all wicked!

So then I decided it would be a much stronger choice if, instead of the magic just stopping one day, it would be a much stronger choice if magic had been outlawed because it had primarily been used for evil. And the story just flowed from there?

2) What do you wear when you're writing?

This was asked by courtesy of a friend who couldn't be there but had apparently hoped that I wore some special outfit I wear to put myself in a creative mood. The dull truth is, I wear whatever I threw on that day.

If I'm writing in the evenings (Monday through Friday), I'm wearing whatever I wrote to work: usually, button-down shirt and jeans If I'm writing in the morning (Saturday and Sunday), I'm probably still in my pajamas.

3) Where did you come up with the name Grimstad?

I knew the sound I wanted for this smart alecky dragon in the play: something grim and foreboding sounding, with a little bit of foreignness. Well, after racking my brain for a while, I finally gave up and turned to a map. And I found the perfect name in a tiny village in Norway.

4) How much money do you make?

Okay, I didn't answer this one. But I did tell the student that I'll get about 300 productions this year and that a resourceful person can Google how much in royalties a playwright earns and do the math from there.

5) Do you use anything from your life in your plays?

I would like to say yes. I would like to say I'm an adventurous soul, my days spent hang gliding above the beach at Cozumel, my nights spent sipping wine at some bistro in Paris.

Instead, I go to work and then I come home and write. So no. I don't use my life in my writing. Writing is my escape.

6) Have you ever directed any of your plays?

Three times. Many moons ago, I directed my then 10- and 13-year-old daughters in the world premiere of Long Tall Lester. I directed a staged reading of The Butler Did It! in 2012. And I directed the world premiere of The Last Radio Show in 2016.

That last one turned out to be a monster of a production, and while the play was a success, and I had a ton of fun with the cast and crew, the experience made very clear that my talent, if I have one, is in writing, not directing.

7) What did you think of...?

A lot of students wanted to know what I thought about some ad lib or bit of stage business they added to the play. The truth is, I'm fine with it. I'm not one of those playwrights that think that every word is golden and that any change only serves to sabotage the playwright's intention. Instead, I view playmaking as a team project, and I love to see what students bring to it.

My only advice is to make sure that whatever you add 1) gets a laugh, and 2) is consistent with the character. You don't want to take an abrupt 180 that leaves your audience scratching their heads as to who character is or what she wants.

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