Onsite Theatre Commission Day 2: On Loving Rules

I think my love of having rules while writing began during one of Chris Wilson’s Day of Shames back in school. I don’t think Day of Shame was his idea (if it was, he’s all the cooler for it), but he is the one that made them happen, and they were great. Days of Shame are 24-hour theater bonanzas. A group of actors, directors, and playwrights come together around 9 on a Friday night and are randomly assigned teams. Then the playwrights are given some prompt—like the line from Shakespeare, “There will be no mo’ marriage,” which was my
lame one—and are set loose on the fields of imagination to pound out a 10-minute play. Whenever they finished, they pass the script off to the director and actors, who spend all day Saturday rehearsing. The fully teched show goes up at 9 on Saturday night.

I usually finished mine before 11 Friday night. Sit down and go. Don’t look back. Don’t second guess.  Except for the time my buddy EJC Calvert and I decided to write plays together in her apartment and ordered The Meats from Papa Johns and drank beer. Those two were done closer to 1am. Totally worth it.

I did Day of Shame a few times. On the “there will be no mo’ marriage” night, Wilson gave us some instructions, none of which I remember except, “Clearly we have limited resources in this space, so we can’t do extravagant things, like create the Elysian Fields.” Pow! I had my setting: two lovebirds in purgatory. Sit down and go. Don’t look back. Don’t second guess.

Rule #8: accept no limitations outright . . . and when you can screw with Chris Wilson, do it.

That said, I enjoy limitations because they cut down on the possibilities. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” (Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle) Rule #1: it was impossible to have more or less than two actors. Rule #2: it was impossible to start with anything other than “there will be no mo’ marriage.” Rule #3: ten-minute play.  If you aren’t given enough rules, write your own. These rules can be completely arbitrary. “It can’t be set in the Elysian Fields”? No, the Elysian Fields is the ONLY place this play can be set. I really liked Vettriano at the time, so Vettriano’s aesthetic HAD to be incorporated in some way.

The rules that excite me about this site specific project are the actors, who were mostly cast this weekend (which is why yesterday was Day 1, which I meant to explain yesterday, but clearly failed to do). I have 2 women and 3 men. I don’t know what 4 of them look like, but I will. I don’t know what they talk like, but I will. I’ll see what kind of roles they’re interested in playing (and see what the director thinks their strengths are), and then characters will be built for them. Then we’ll see what those characters want to do in this space we’re putting them in. And as we eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, will be a play.

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