When I was younger, back when I lived in St. Louis and thought ravioli should be toasted, waaaay back before I had ever set foot in New York City, I remember watching the documentary, Every Little Step. The documentary details the massive audition process necessary to revive A Chorus Line on Broadway. One moment in particular stuck with me from that film. An actress, in the final callback for a principal role, just wasn’t “hitting it” the way she used to. She was on the money as far as the music itself was concerned, but something about the delivery struck out with the producers. Five months had passed between the original audition and the final callback. A close-up on the actress shows her stressing over how to regain whatever “it” was she had five months ago, revealing that at that point in time she had just broken up with her boyfriend and her life was entirely different. I couldn’t really comprehend a final callback, let alone comprehend five months of my own life at the time I first watched the film, but now as an undergraduate student beginning to revisit works of my own, that five-month stretch is beginning to sink in.
For instance, a ten-minute play of mine, Life Could Be A Dream, is a finalist for the Kennedy Center Region 1 College Theater Festival. This means I will spend a week working on this piece in February. That will mark nearly 18-months since I had first drafted that piece. It’s been five-months since I’ve touched it. How do I, as a playwright, ensure that I can revisit whatever “it” was that made me write this play in the first place?
I’m bouncing between three different plays right now, all in a stage of re-drafting. I feel like I’m giving The Little Prince himself a run for his money with the number of planets I’m visiting. I’m finding that same struggle to separate my personal life from whatever role or play I step back into. For instance, Life Could Be A Dream was first written on a whim in Edinburgh after saying good-bye to my Glaswegian punk rocker boyfriend who was off to tour Europe. A year and a half later and I’m sitting in my Allston apartment on a Saturday night splurging on guacamole. How do I rekindle that same spark that inspired me to write the play as I go back to develop it for the third time? Do I need any spark at all?
Maybe I just need “E.F.’s Visit To A Small Planet.” I’m discovering, as I bounce between upwards of three plays a day, that I’m developing shorthand phrases that drop me back into a play’s unique world. Some phrases may have to do with what inspired me to write the play, what mantra guided a character to emerge, or what aspect of the world makes me laugh. They don’t have to make sense to an outside eye, the same way that I believe a playwright’s access point into a piece isn’t always the same for the audience. When the women taste the icing in Life Could Be A Dream, I taste lemon buttercream, but another audience member might taste cream cheese, or vanilla bean, or hate frosting altogether and smack his or her lips in distaste. But as playwrights, actors, directors, dramaturgs going back to work from years past, having a personalized yet succinct entryway back into the world of your piece is far more productive than brooding it into being. Perhaps that actress in Every Little Step is due for a visit to a small planet herself…