I went back to school this summer. Yep. I joined the ranks of 59 others this July at the Kennedy Center Summer Playwriting Intensive, and I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my own home. Zoom became the perfect classroom to bond with my fellow playwrights. I may not always enjoy the fact that COVID is among us; however, it did push organizations to become creative with how they wanted to fulfill their workshop goals.
GOING TO SCHOOL
Haven’t attended anyone’s “class” since I walked across the stage of NYU’s auditorium to receive my master’s degree in the late ‘90s. I have attended talks, watched videos, and studied others’ work. But a class? Ummmm. I guess I needed a refresher. LOL! I’m glad I did.
For over a 10-day span, we sat in classes for five to six hours glued to our chairs hungry for the tasty artistic feasts our instructors generously prepared. We looked at the craft of writing from world building to structure, and from character arcs to dialogue with chats about the business of our art and with whom we create as dessert. We challenged ourselves to re-imagine our stories’ structures and question if they were the best options. Our conversations on dialogue and scene work really allowed us to free ourselves from traditional formats to discover new ways in which to engage our audiences.
Each day’s class blew my mind. For months I had longed to be in a room with creatives to push me over the edge of myself. My cohort did that and more. We pushed each other past our comfort zones into deeper waters of story nakedness. With each class, we would offer up raw material that in its rawness resembled brilliance shining like diamonds. No one wrote half-assed work. That alone made the experience worth everything. We challenged each other to excavate pieces of ourselves and lay them naked before the room to be inspected and critiqued. We submitted our pound of creative flesh willingly to our instructors, who became support and inspiration simultaneously.
We were generous with one another because we all found ourselves in the same boat — wanting and needing feedback to launch our work, and ourselves, to new levels. We grabbled with story holes offering each other solutions to consider. We analyzed work looking for beauty and flaws. Essentially, we became doctors and our stories were the patients long overdue for checkups.
PUSHING THE PERSONAL
However, the class that pushed me to the brink of myself was the “Personal Storytelling” with playwright and dramaturg T.J. Young. AHHHHH!!!! Come from behind the character? Say it ain’t so! LOL! By forcing us to share our own stories, we had to rediscover our own voices. What did I sound like telling MY story? Finding “me” again took a minute. Over the years, I have been so busy telling the stories of my characters, that my own voice had been smothered. She was in the back of a long line of interesting characters, who emerged in plays, screenplays, books, etc. However, I coaxed her out from the shadows. Using my own voice forced me to consider who I am as the person who has lived the life that I now share with the world. Who is she again? How should she show up in this life we call dramatic writing?
I shared the story of feeling punished for my excellence in a job situation. I gave voice to the feelings of aloneness, helplessness, and raw rage. I gave voice to the others in the moment, but permitted my own voice to be the star of the story. I had flesh and bone and voice. I strutted and didn’t blend in with the walls. In doing this exercise, I re-introduced myself to the woman who had always been the storyteller, but had chosen to play second fiddle to imaginary people when my own life stood head and shoulders above it all.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters made famous the line and idea of “reclaiming my time” back in 2017. However, I experienced a “reclamation” of my own being at the Kennedy Center. There is something sacred when you re-invest in yourself. You literally tell yourself that you matter. So what the world would want you to believe otherwise. You matter to you. I put stock in myself over that 10-day period. I didn’t answer phone calls, try to finish outside work, or even acted like this time in school was cheating someone else. Not taking the time out to pour myself into the Kennedy Center experience would have cheated me.
Using the techniques given has forged a blazing creative fire. I ask myself new questions while embarking upon new work. I flip moments on their heads in an effort to uncover more nakedness on my pages. I hear colleagues’ voices urging me to allow story rawness to be stark yet beautiful. I submit work constantly, and for it will have new pieces put up this year and next. I am a changed writer no longer satisfied with blending in. I dare stand out being who I am in this moment — an artist in the process of evolution and reclaiming her space at the creative table.