Last week, I was lucky enough to be at 9,000 feet in the Colorado Mountains in Creede, a town that holds the National Winter Playwrights Retreat through HBMG Foundation. I was there working on my first full play for young audiences, Rajpurr: Tale of a Tiger. Time working at the retreat, the reading of my drafted script and feedback helped me see that all three characters follow the arc of transformation revealed by the smallest character -- a caterpillar going through metamorphosis.
It was so helpful for me to see everything laid out visually that way, to be pushed to find the emotional heights in this play, and to have the chance to really dig deep into up there in mountainous Creede before the play gets its commissioned staged reading at Boise Contemporary Theater next month. Best of all, the spaciousness of time and that landscape among an inspiring group of playwrights and guest artists was a motivating experience.
I recommend this retreat to any playwrights out there. HBMG'S commitment to diversity that encourages playwrights in a model separate to the competitive market to which we're all accustomed is a favorite part. Another favorite part was our generous host team, co-founders and co-directors Ann Pittman and Manuel Zarate. Beautiful people.
Matter of Fact. Statements out of Questions.
Regardless of what you’re feeling right now, writing and sharing a piece using both the heavy and light parts of us can be a healing, energizing and connecting experience.
This past Tuesday at The Cabin, we read and discussed:
Between Solitude and Loneliness by Donald Hall
What do you notice here? What stands out?
What are the light parts? The dark parts?
What images, details and moments strike you?
Notice how much of Hall’s life this piece takes up, of several people’s lives.
Notice these strings of very short sentences.
Almost as though these statements are answering a series of questions.
Can you think of any questions that might prompt some of these statements?
We worked through a short meditation sequence:
Often in these workshops, we might reflect on a space that is part of our lives.
Or we might focus on one particular moment.
Today I’d like us to focus on time, funneling out a much larger portion of our lives.
Perhaps even our whole lives. Perhaps even parts of our lives we haven’t lived.
For that, I think it will help us greatly to get into an open minded/
hearted headspace. All of us are bringing our whole days into this room.
Perhaps something outside this space is eating our attention even still.
Let’s aim to let go of that. Closing eyes. Focusing on breath.
Breathing in. Breathing out.
We practiced just this for a few minutes, before stepping into some visualization:
Then we can start to cast backward:
From this moment, go back in time. From when you came into the room. To your drive here. To your afternoon. The work you did today. This morning. This past week. Let details rise up. This past month. Do images call out? This winter. This past year. This past five years. This decade behind you. The last fifteen years. Twenty. Go back to your college days, if you haven’t already. Your high school days. Allow little details and moments to stir out of that big chunk of time. Spin back into adolescence. Into childhood. Summer vacations. Family trips. Days before school. Days when time was immense. Before you were born…
Pause. Let all that sink in. Take a big deep breath, and fall it away.
Now that we’ve cleared our heads and time traveled, let’s start to take down our lives.
I’m going to ask a series of questions that could be related to the present, past or future. After I ask these questions, I’ll give us a bit of time (1 minute each question) to write what we have to say. If you don’t know how to answer, do the best you can.
Try and write the whole time, and attend to every question.
Write without judgment or editing, be truthful and even lose control.
Try and use specific sensory details, open up and surprise yourself.
Remember Hall’s short sentences. Embrace those.
At your age, what are you?
What are your days like?
What is this moment like?
What does solitude feel like?
What was childhood like for you?
What was early adulthood like for you?
What was your first big love?
What does anger look like?
What does loneliness taste like?
What was your most true love?
What does pleasure smell like?
What are you grieving right now?
What do you long for?
What memories are arising for you right now?
What are you dreaming of?
What are you fighting for?
What does silence sound like?
What haven’t you had a chance to write about now, that you need to write about?
(We wrote 5 minutes on this)
After all that writing, we got up, stretched and sat back down to reform our work.
Now, take a look at all this material. Consider, what could this become?
A love poem? A cry for democracy? An essay looking back? A story looking forward?
You decide. Start to form what that could be.
Underline what stands out, rewrite those sections on fresh paper, combine sentences, mix and match, begin a new piece from one sentence you wrote earlier...
So many options.
We shared and discussed a handful of pieces, and then ended for the day.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to write with me.
My gratitude goes to all of you.
The FREE Drop-In Writing Workshops happen the first Tuesdays of every month at The Cabin from 6:30-8pm, and leadership currently alternates between the fabulous poet Danny Stewart and me.
PS: I'll have to miss this blog posting next week, because I'll be in Creede, Colorado at the National Winter Playwrights Retreat, developing my new children's play, Rajpurr: Tale of a Tiger. Have a fabulous two weeks until I get back in the groove!
Questions Fueling My Art Right Now:
How do we heal the world?
What are the fundamental properties of kindness? Of compassion?
What brings us together?
How can theater be a light for our time again?
How do we move forward? How do we come together?
What will connect all our disparate parts?
How do we sink in, root down and raise our fists to act?
What do immigrants need right now? Refugees? Muslims?
What do the small ineffectual feeling artists need right now to activate and create and give and bring us together?
What do our hearts need right now?
What does this new President need to hear?
What do his voters need to hear?
What will cause an egomaniac to listen?
Where are my feet? How will they carry me?
What is the future of healthcare? Of medicine? Of earth? Of art?
What is the future of peace? Of equality?
Will we reach equity? Will we reach democracy?
Will we voice our strength enough to be heard?
Will progress continue?
Where are our hearts? How do we mend them in order to move forward?
How do we rise against as poets, playwrights, storytellers, as musicians, dancers as artists, without forsaking the art we need to make?
How can I bring the political vociferously into my work?
The global and the social and great acts of lovingkindness?
How can I be the light I long to see?
What thread keeps love together?
Is what I have to say worth speaking? Too small? No.
Reminder to self: Go big. Stay with what needs to say. Let it evolve. No judgement.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: