37. All Things Intangible

In graduate school, I broke some new ground. I was a Master of Arts student, but wanted to write a play for my thesis. The department didn't have a playwriting program, let alone a regular playwriting class. What they did have was a teacher who would lead an independent study project, when asked. He usually worked with undergraduates and then he retired after my first year. My idea to write a play for my thesis didn't occur to me until the summer after my first year and when I asked no one in the department had remembered an M.A. student writing a play for a thesis, but the head of the M.A. program checked to see if it was possible and she was as pleased as me, it was!

Because it was an M.A. thesis, my committee wanted a methodology paper, along with the play. Among the things I was drawn to in my methodology research were books on creativity. These were not books on or about playwriting, but were from various creative fields: painting, sculpture, poetry and music. I found myself soaking in intangible elements--things I gleaned, not things I concretely understood. This was my first original full-length play and I was working from a few images and I had a sense of a few things that I could only describe in vague or impressionistic terms.

I worked in the trades for a dozen years before I took my first college class, so I was not a typical student and it was a longer than usual process because I didn't become a full-time, degree seeking student until a few years after that. I was well into my 30s when I began graduate school. Still, my play was coming from a decidedly ephemeral place. If I were younger, I doubt my committee would have let me get away with such a light and breezy beginning, but being older and knowing I was good with deadlines they let me continue in the direction I was being pulled.

I latched onto a few things and let them lead me. I kept things open. I listened. I followed the energy. I didn't try to tell the play what it was or where it should go. I didn't know what I was doing and I knew it, but things were happening and the play began to grow--though I had no idea where it was actually going. I didn't know or understand what an organic writing process was or was like, but it was pulling me and I was letting it take me where it would. Because I didn't know what I was doing, I was curious and tried to stay open and fluid, but mostly I tried to stay out of its way and allow it to reveal itself.

I did graduate and The Night Before was my thesis. I tried to rewrite it after graduation, but it stopped growing. I sent it out for a few years but eventually set it aside. When I took it to a workshop in 2005, it was on life-support. After the workshop, a new play began growing, but it too stalled. In 2011 I made a couple of attempts at writing the play anew and also tried to rewrite it. All of these attempts were interesting, but they also fizzled. I didn't know it at the time, but this entire process was coherent and organic. Over the years I'd grown as a writer and when I needed a play for a submission in 2013, I was astonished to see this older play and the three 2011 writing attempts swirl together and take the play in an entirely unforeseen direction. I guess this is what can happen when you're patient, when you remain fluid, and when you're willing to follow the energy where it wants to take you.

originally posted November 2014
reposted March 2018

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