Finding out what you think...
Here’s one of the best things about working with other people:
You find out what you think.
Saying this requires admitting that I do not, previous to the above-mentioned work, know what I think. Luckily, that’s an easy enough admission for me. Trust me: When caught often enough not knowing things, the sting lessens over time to almost nothing. It’s not a business in which shame is useful.
But knowing what you think-- that’s very useful. And the thing is, when you’re working all alone, typing, typing, and it’s going well and you’re feeling easy with it, it’s not a time for thinking, but rather for feeling. It can be like riding a bike down a steep hill, which is to say it’s fun, but can be pretty punishing to the cyclist who hesitates at the decision points. Afterward, when you’re safe at the bottom of the hill, smiling and breathing heavily, you know that something exhilarating happened… but thinking wasn’t really a part of it. (Thinking is for the revisions.)
Nevertheless, one will be asked later about a particular speech or scene: “What’s your thinking about this, what are you hoping it achieves?” And it’s in answering that question, very slowly and with lots of thoughtful pauses, that you discover you don’t really know. (Of course, if you figure it out fast enough during all those pauses, you can pretend you knew, but come on.)
What happens next is a conversation which does one the tremendous favor of creating a series of logic gates, checkpoints where you can make sure that this stuff really does fit the larger plan, or else reasons why doing so will require adjustment. Or, maybe, you change the larger plan, because you suddenly believe that the new stuff is right and anything that came before it was just exercise. Either way-- you’ve considered it, and clarified it. Doing so is part of your work.
Because you have collaborators.
Having people to write for, people who are encouraging it, hoping for it, expecting it-- those things all sum to a requirement, and it’s a joyful one. The existence of The Firehouse Working Group is directly responsible for their now being a new play in the world. I wrote sixty pages or so to finish it over a two weeks period earlier this month, because of them-- because they were eager for it. The play’s not “done,” by any stretch of the imagination. It will be getting extensive tinkering as a function of its test reading on April 2 as a New Works event… and its summer production will incite a great many more adjustments.
But those adjustments are hard to make if you don’t know what you think and why you think it. Actors are eager to know things, and it feels terrible to disappoint them when they ask about your work. In general, I’ve always done my best to write with the actors in mind. I try to understand the things I seem to be requiring of them, and to ensure that those things make sense and offer useful handles for rendering them as behavior. When an actor asks about a particular moment, seeking clarity or confirmation, it’s immensely helpful either way, because you know more about the piece than you did before the question. You know a little bit more about what you think.
All of which is to say: Writing for a group, and with a group, is a lovely thing.