By Pia Wilson, member of the 2008 Emerging Writers Group
I let it go too soon.
My play. I let it go too soon and moved on. I had a public reading of the play and handed it off to my agent and went on to write the next play and the next one.
I knew there was trouble with the play; in my gut, I knew. It was in decent shape though, and I can be impulsive. I wanted to get it out there. I’d heard the play out loud in a wonderful reading with great actors, and although the ending was far too happy for my taste (yes, I said happy), I figured I could work on that trouble spot if I got a production for the play.
You see I say “if” because in America, we’re not as big on producing plays as we are in “developing” them with readings, barebones productions and the like. I’d already had a solid reading, and the play had gotten a chance to breathe, if not live, so ....
But then I was sitting at my kitchen table on a Sunday morning, ready to write, and I opened the play by mistake. I opened the play, glanced at it and then closed it. I went on to write something else. Then, months later, I became obsessed.
I am still obsessed with this play that was, by all accounts, done. I am consumed by this little, Lazarus play, which has been quite patient with me. I can now see the play in a different light than I had before. I was too close before. With time and emotional distance, I started rewriting the play, knowing what needed to be changed.
An entire character is gone from the play. I indulged my instinct to go darker with the tone, and that lead to other insights, changing key relationships in the play. Previously, I had been resisting the coupling of two characters I thought were morally wrong to be together. I let them go for it, with happy results (happy for me, not the characters). The happy ending has been painted with much darker colors, and although the characters say similar things, the meaning of the dialog has changed.
I’ve come to think that half of rewriting is uncovering instincts and thoughts the writer has buried or has yet to find hiding in the subconscious. Of course, there is craft involved in tightening dialogue, pushing some themes to the foreground while relegating others to the background, and making sure the structure is sound. But there’s something to be said about exploring the ocean just beneath our smart, awake brains. I think we could stand to let the lizard brain slither about a little more, hissing into our ears.
The funny thing about the theater, though, is that once the industry has read something and passed on it, the play doesn’t get a second chance. This is understandable, considering how busy literary departments are and how many plays they read. Yet, knowing all this, I went back to fix the play. I’m still working on getting it right: not because I’m hoping some theater will pick it up, but because I want to do right by my characters. I love them, even if they are really, truly bonkers (or terrible or funny), and I can’t get along without them. I owe them for filling my life with their absorbing chatter. I owe them and so I’ll give them another chance to breathe.
Pia Wilson is a member of the 2008 Emerging Writers Group and is also obsessed with coffee, whiskey, traveling and finding the secret to life in big, old, dusty books in obscure bookstores (not necessarily in that order). This post is part of a weekly series from the Emerging Writers Group community of playwrights.
The EWG is two-year playwriting fellowship at The Public Theater seeking to target playwrights at the earliest stages of their careers. In so doing, The Public hopes to create an artistic home for a diverse and exceptionally talented group of up-and-coming playwrights.