My Speed Dating Experience with Playwriting

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Written by MVWG Member Teri Holford

As the hair on my head changes to a new life season, I’ve found myself seeking out new writing experiences. I find that I simply enjoy the experience of encountering them. True, it could open a new door, but honestly, as I settle in to the early fall of my life, I realize that I’m not really looking for new places to linger, to invest my time, or to commit. This actually goes beyond the casual eavesdropping, too. I just want to see how I’m going to react--what it’s going to do for me. Let’s call it the tinder of writing. And so, this summer, I opened the door to a new writing experience--an online playwriting course with the Gotham Institute out of NYC, which offers a plethora of writing courses. Through some unidentified shift of the winds over the past year, the writing divinities had been presenting me with the Gotham’s various potential matches for quite some time, and when this playwriting course and I matched up, I did it. I swiped right. 

We lasted for ten whole weeks. As far as I understand the way tinder-land works, from observing the youngins around me,  matches can and usually do succumb to a few easy lies. In my metaphorical example here, the first piece of fiction that I was fed in this playwriting experience was that the class was a variation on the theme of Playwriting 101 for beginners. The obligatory class-bio-read-over revealed very quickly that it was a lie. Not only was I the only one west of Ohio, but the majority of my new classmates were actually living (and writing plays) in NYC. There were even a couple of people very far east of NYC. Like, London. They went to the theatres (go away, spell check) several times a week. Not only did they happily share their sophisticated and verbose opinions about our assigned weekly readings, and religiously write their homework scenes, but they also reported back on what they had attended the prior evening. In London. It was a bit overwhelming, but remember, I was in it for the experience (wink emoticon). 

I plowed through the weeks that we were all together. I brought to the course an idea of a play that I had flirted with a couple of years ago as a research project, something that had geled in my head after stumbling on an archival collection of manuscript letters between sisters. I was hoping to streamline the theme(s), scenes and structure, figure out whose story it was, and work on theatricality. Sounds foxy, doesn’t it? Hell, my professional development funds even paid for me to do this. 

Friends, it was hard. We had weekly writing assignments, weekly full length plays to read and comment on, lectures to read and comment on, and we were morally tied to giving original (and clever and witty) useful feedback on everyone’s 20 page portion of a play-in-the-works that we were supposed to be submitting (emoticon of someone lifting weights). And although the mini-assignments were meant to be short and to the point, (“the brevity helps to focus on your work”), much like the craft of writing short stories helps tremendously because things have to be resolved, the comments from my classmates were anything but brief. I quickly became overwhelmed by the refinement and finesse of everyone’s comments and opinions, and allowed myself (sad emoticon).

Not only was the workload quite challenging, but I was clearly tindering (people who like words get to make up words) with multiple writers and all simultaneously. The deluge! But I tried to keep up. I really did. (Spoiler’s alert: I didn’t.) Playwriting and reading plays, reading about plays, and reading about writing plays was indeed a new experience for me. I realized that I had showed up to the course with very fixed ideas about how “my play” needed to work in order to come together. But guess what. It just didn’t necessarily work for the others, or for the instructor. I see the story as clear as day. But it’s one thing to communicate that, and then to convince. Good history doesn’t always make good drama. And so now, I need to re-assess. 

The instructor’s lectures were extraordinary, and even though I may not have fleshed out my project as intended, I have enough lectures to re-read and reflect upon for a very long time. I think about theater differently now. I’m not intimidated when it comes to picking up a script. And the next time I see live theater, I’m convinced that what I absorbed through my reading and attempted writing this summer will allow me to experience theater in a new way. 

My experience is over now. We ended it last week and split amicably. I learned that when other people don’t get your ideas that you’ve emotionally invested in, it hurts the ego. But writers are persistent (emoticon of girl climbing cliff). We bounce back and continue to blow life into our projects and ideas. Because they are alive. Even when we put the final word on the page, they are read and create new reading experiences for others well beyond the page. Because every page that is written, and every page that is turned, is like a butterfly effect. I have to believe that. How about you?

Teri Holford is the creative genius behind the Curriculum Center at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse as well as a French speaking dog lover who currently calls the north side of our city home. Teri believes we should all embrace as much chaos as possible and is a founding member of Luna, one of MVWG’s Monday night critique groups.