Reflections on the last day of writers group

Originally posted June 22, 2015 on Facebook.

Eleven years ago, when I was an intern at the Rep, I got the chance to be in the room during rehearsals of Tina Landau’s production of Saroyan's The Time of Your Life. On the first day of rehearsal, she said that what she felt most acutely entering into a new process was fatigue and dread. This shocked me. It flew in the face of everything I thought I knew about how to approach making art, and especially about the face you are supposed to put on as the leader of the process. At that point in my life, I had never written a play, never faced down a mountain of empty pages. Now that I have, I know exactly what she meant, though it still amazes me that she was brave enough to say it out loud on the first day of rehearsal to a room full of people who expected her to tell them what to do.

That same day, she also said, “Let’s not make something delicate and full of craft.” She went on to encourage us to meet the work with our hearts open, learn to tolerate our own discomfort, and strive to continue to see everything as if for the first time. I know because I wrote it all down, and I’m looking at those notes now.

I’m looking at them now because today is the last day of my two-year residency as a member of the Seattle Rep Writers Group. I’m thinking about how valuable and (in our corner of the world) rare it is to have a program like this, that tries to meet writers in that space of fatigue and dread and help us bridge the canyon between our ideas and their realization.

Yesterday, I shared a new play—a really really new play. I finished it at 2:00 AM, and it was read for an audience at 4:00 PM. It isn’t delicate and full of craft. It is messy and undercooked. It has writing in it that makes me cringe. It contains some unfunny jokes, some overwrought sentiment, some half-baked discourse, and a lot of technical errors. But it also has humanity, and a juicy question at its core, and some moments of harmony that can be built on. It has a heart. And that ain’t nothin’.

The me of eleven years ago—the me that got to sit in that room with Tina—was terrified of imperfection. She would have been physically, emotionally, and spiritually incapable of publicly sharing what I shared yesterday. She—or, rather, the fear that gripped her—has been outrun. And that ain’t nothin’ either.

Sitting in the readings of my Writers Group cohort over the last two weekends, I kept thinking about how strange it is to see work this new, untested, and (I’m speaking mostly of my own play here) messed-up in such a sanctioned space. In Seattle, we expect to see the rough-around-the-edges stuff in basements and backyards and stuffy black boxes. At a place like the Rep, we expect polish, delicacy, and craft. How good it is to remind people who love and support big theatre where theatre comes from, to give them a chance to sit in their discomfort and try to meet the work with their hearts open. It really felt like the audiences these last two weeks did do that. I have to say that I underestimated them, and I was happy to be surprised by their generosity and openness.

I think the idea was just that we would write a couple of plays in a couple of years—a worthwhile goal in and of itself—but the writers group has changed me. It showed me how I could be in community with other writers, and it showed me that I can tolerate much more exposure and vulnerability than I thought I could.

These are my reflections and I just wanted to get them down before they dispersed.

With love and gratitude to the Rep (which, I hope you’ll notice, frames both the beginning and end of this story) and everyone in my life who has supported me through this experience, but especially to Scot Augustson, Frank Basloe, Josh Beerman, Lisa Halpern, Karen Hartman, Keri Healey, Brendan Healy, Arlitia Jones, Courtney Meaker, and Bryan Willis, who trusted themselves, each other, and me.

Holly ArsenaultComment