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How It All Began


So the first play I wrote was Headstrong (“Romance, Sex, Murder, Middle English”). I wasn't planning to write a play. Actually I had absolutely no wish whatsoever to write a play. Plays were not "literature." But late one night (and I mean late, like “Holy shit is that the sun coming up?”) I was directly challenged to do so by an inebriated friend.

We were at a cast party for possibly the worst performance of anything I'd ever seen (that includes the sock-puppet musical based on The Crucible). For the most part, cast parties are a catharsis after an intense experience of bonding, interpersonal cohesion (gropey sex in the prop room), and line droppings. Inevitably one person gets a little too drunk and fails miserably to remember Hamlet's “To be or not to be” speech. But for this one it was a get-out-of-my-way mad rush by all concerned to liquid amnesia. The entire house was snarknozzled. The female lead and the pizza delivery guy were dry humping like frenetic chipmunks on the living room carpet while the rest of us gazed at them blearily. Have I mentioned it was late? It was late. There had been lots of whiskey.

The friend, a university professor of many years' service and unimpeachable standing, and familiar with my feeble attempts to create deathless literature, suggested that I take a shot and write a play.

“You don't know,” he reasoned. “It might be your milieu. Can't do any worse, really.”

I wrote novels and short stories. I did not write...drama. (I was convinced my prose writing would bear fruit and raise me to the glory, respect, and monetary remuneration levels of, say, John O'Hara or Graham Greene).

“Get fucked,” was my considered reply. (Wait. Do any worse than what?)

“Okay,” said my friend, a man of infinite patience and a seemingly total immunity to the more severe effects of time-condensed alcohol binging such as blindness and rigor mortis. “No, come on. You write it and I guarantee we'll put it on next year.”

Rapid-edit style flashback to the shambolic part of the evening: Your humble narrator, shoulder to shoulder with the stage manager in the booth, flipping pages to see where the actors have once again landed up this time: The beginning? Scene nine? Scene two? Page fifty-seven? Scene six of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? A play of their own spontaneous devising?

“Get fucked,” I reiterated, this time more loudly.

He nodded, pondering deeply my terse refusal, then laid the ultimate checkmate at my feet:

“Fine. I'll let you direct.”

I had the play first-drafted in four days, a staccato tappity-tappity-tappity of purely sublime divine intervention. A spectacular orgasm of dramatic effluence.

(And I thought four days total was normal for squeezing out a full-length. I have since learned this is not the case. I have, however, squeezed out other things over the years which, in retrospect, had much the same qualities as that first draft.)

And my friend was as good as his word. So here's lesson number one about directing: Never try to do it until you have even the vaguest of ideas of what stage directing actually is. To say my initial foray into translation from page to stage was less than optimum would be a fib of egregious magnitude. Luckily no one else at that time knew any better than I did.

Several years later our local professional theatre gave Headstrong two dark nights of performance time. They set everything up: actors, direction, house business, and kept the fucking playwright as far away from rehearsals as possible.

And it was amazing. The actors had a ball, the audience laughed at all the dick jokes, all my friends told me what a sick bastard I was, and we all walked away feeling good. I've been tinkering with the play on and off over the intervening years, making adjustments, line cuts, and rewrites.

And ya know what? It might be ready.

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