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An Accidental Playwright

I’m on draft 11 of the show I’m developing for Quarter 4.  It’s only 20 pages, but we’re predicting the runtime will be somewhere around 2h45min.  Yo-El Cassell (Director), Georgia Zildjian (Dramaturg) and I (Narrative Designer/Dramaturg) have been meeting weekly for the past two months to iron out the story and create a script that contains both the narrative arc and the beginnings of a physical score for a two act production whose primary means of storytelling is movement.  But this is not a movement piece.  It is a full on epic.  

This is a project that has been living in Yo-El for many years.  It was inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick but follows the journey of Captain Ahab’s wife as she searches for resolution after her husband’s death at sea.  I am in a role that is entirely new to me. One that I’ve only heard of in video game production.

“[…] the focus of which is to design the narrative elements of a game, and to champion story within the development process.” — Narrative Designer, Wikipedia

When I entered the process, Yo-El already had a first draft of script, but he wanted someone else to own the story through the process, so he could transition to heading the artistic team and creating the physical movement score.  He entrusted that work to me. So now, I am a kind of accidental playwright.  This script started as someone else’s, but 11 drafts in, it has transformed into a piece that exists both between Yo-El, Georgia, and I AND within me.   

The past eight weeks have been focused on big picture shaping, as we learned the world of the play and its rules. We had to trace back from “heaps” to find their “triggers” (David Ball, Backwards and Forwards).  Characters appeared and characters were cut. It feels as though we have cycled through a generation of “what if”s, and by no means are we done.  However, today something shifted.  I had been working on the newest draft for the past two weeks. Yo-El, Georgia, and I were in Yo-El’s office for our weekly meeting.  A new script hot from the printer. Our symbolic hawk’s feather and sperm whale figurine in the center of the four of us.  I say “four” because we were joined by our first outsider today, our lovely Production Manager Rachel.  

As we read scene by scene, I jotted notes and cringed every place the wrong word crept in.  I leaned in to see my collaborators faces as we read through the new beats. But by the end, I realized how far we had come.  Our focus is shifting from big picture to the language, to the question of “how can the words on the page tell the story not only in their meaning but in their form?” As we move towards specificity of language and container, I celebrate how deep the three of us dove to wrestle up a working draft and I am thankful for the generous presence of having a stranger in the room.  

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