So, on Sunday I’ll be giving a talk to the good people of SMP Dramatics. In my defence, it was their idea. The Chairman emailed to ask if I would come along to their AGM and talk “about the life of a playwright”. Now I come to think about it, maybe they’re expecting me to give a bio of Shakespeare or Pinter…Uh oh!
SMP are a special group because they’ve been extremely helpful to me. Long before we met, they performed a couple of TLC pantomimes here in Vancouver (on the North Shore) and when Steve and David came to visit last year, we saw the posters for the SMP production of Fawlty Towers, which Steve and David had just finished producing with MKTOC. When Steve saw the name of the group, he recognised them as previous customers. We got in touch, and were invited along to one of the rehearsals (since Steve and David would have returned to the UK before the performances.) It was a very pleasant evening, reminding me of the fun and cameraderie of a community theatre company, and Steve and David got to run through some of the moves they had developed for their production.
Naturally we talked to the good folks there about projects past, present and future, and I mentioned “Merely Players“, saying how I was pleased with it but unsure if it was worth taking further. SMP kindly agreed to stage a reading of the play and give me their feedback. I talk about that experience in THIS post.
But now they’ve asked me to come and talk, and I’m finding the same issues with writing the talk as I do about writing this blog. The life of a writer is much like the life of a plumber. The actual work isn’t that interesting. In fact,maybe that’s not fair. I guess sometimes the life of a plumber can be quite exciting, with flooded houses, exploding toilets and gushing washing machines. Hmm, maybe I’ll retrain… Where was I? Oh yeah.
The life of a playwright is just regular life, only with some time spent writing plays. But writing plays is just sitting at a keyboard, daydreaming and taking dictation. Maybe if I was one of those playwrights who turn their grim life experiences into plays, if I was a refugee who had to work thirty seven hours a day making ping pong balls in a underground sweatshop in Littleknown, Exoticville, then made my way to freedom aboard a boat made from rice paper, maybe then my life would be worth talking about.
But I don’t write about that. Some days I can’t help feeling a complete fraud (back to the discussion of FEARS, here) because I write plays that are aimed to entertain. Some of them have questions at their heart, ideas that I wanted to explore, like “The Red Balloon” and “A Time for Farewells“, but that doesn’t mean I have some mystic method. I don’t summon the Intergalactic Hivemind during mystic yoga sessions to inform the questions at the heart of my work. I wish I did, because then at least I’d have something to do on the days when I haven’t the faintest idea what to write next.
The point I’m edging towards in this increasingly desperate sounding post is that I’m going to talk to SMP about Community Theatre, which sounds like a dumb idea. After all, they’re a Community Theatre group, aren’t they? Surely they’re pretty familiar with the whole thing. Well, yes, they probably are. But I want to talk about why I write for Community Theatre groups instead of trying to write a play that’ll be put on in the West End of London and leave the critics faint with ecstasy. Obviously one reason is that my publisher has a marketplace almost entirely composed of Community groups and schools, though there’s nothing to stop a professional company buying a script there. No the main reason is that I have spent time in Community Theatre. I remember the joy of a good play, the feeling of infinite possibility granted by an empty stage. I remember that part vividly, the feeling that you can make this space into anything, anywhere and people will believe it. For the length of a play, your audience will come along with you on your adventure. All they ask is that you put your heart and soul ito the performance. and you know what? Most of the time that’s what you get with Community Theatre. People are there because they love it, not because it’s another tick on their equity card, or a third-rate part they had to take when they didn’t get the lead in Hamlet again.
Yes, people in a Community Theatre group may fight like a bunch of cats in a sack over all kinds of things, but when it comes to the production EVERYONE puts their heart and soul into it because that’s why they’re there.
What drives YOU to write? Have you had any experience with Community Theatre? What organisations helped you recover afterwards? Do you know ANYONE who has bought my book “Writing a play for Community Theatre”? What organisations helped them recover afterwards?