Thursday night to Friday morning, January 23-24, Theatre Ste Catherine, Montreal
by Cameryn Moore
The main room at Theatre Ste. Catherine has filled up, with directors, performers, and writers. There are over 30 people involved in this event, and I’m a little embarrassed to say I only know a handful by face and name. I need to get out more. Lots of people drinking already. Thank god I’m not a beer drinker, or I’d be tempted, too. I’m definitely nervous. I took the precautionary step last night of staying up until 5:30am, and napped this afternoon right before coming down to the theatre, just so my circadian would be sufficiently shifted later and I wouldn’t crap out too early. Nonetheless, I’m playing it safe and pouring the first coffee of the night.
We’re in the middle of introducing ourselves. I’m kinda distracted by the theme that they popped on us at the beginning of the night—Sports, fuck, really?—but I manage to take a few notes on the actors, because we will be drawing for those after all the intros are done. I wish there weren’t so many comedians and improv artists; so many of them are always “on” and I can’t tell who they are or what else they can do. But then, with only 10 hours to write, I’m not sure it matters.
The long intro session is over, and the writers are drawing names out of a big plastic bag. This is independent theatre and this is how we roll. The three actors I pull are people I can remember, which is a good start. One of the other writers had been on it, snapping photos of each as they talked. Smart. There’s a bit of back-and-forthing after the draw, a little bit of bargaining, but I think my team is strong enough. I think they can handle whatever I throw at them. What am I going to throw at them? Sports. Fuck.
The writers scatter to find their creative nests for the night. I’ve got a table and chair right near the coffee pot in the green room upstairs. When I stare straight ahead, I can see the neon lights of Pussy Corps, the infamous strip club across the street. I find it strangely soothing. A bunch of non-writers are lingering downstairs. I can hear bottles clinking, and the skunky odor of pot slinks into the room. Oh, sure. They don’t have anything to worry about until tomorrow morning. Eventually I close the door leading to the main space and start a little free-association chart. I set my timer for an hour. One hour at a time, with breaks. That seems sensible.
First page of dialogue is there, and I am online, researching ticket prices for mixed-martial arts fights. Yeah, um, I guess I have a plot picked out.
Tragic coffee spill washes over my free-association chart. I set it out to dry, but only because I want to keep it for a souvenir. I had started a separate page of notes and plot points and questions; there’s enough on there to keep me going. I’m a little distracted during all of this because I’m trying to settle on a venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I just got hit with a new and interesting venue possibility right before I had to take a shower and come down here tonight. So, I’m sitting here at my laptop, trying to think about the emerging back story, and then I notice my hand scribbling down calculations and percentages. Fuck, stop! Edinburgh is not until August. I need to get this play written tonight. (This allegory really happened.)
That pizza break went on a little later than expected. I’m feeling a little jumpy in my tummy—two and a half cups of coffee in me—maybe a slice of pepperoni will soothe me. All the writers have found their plays. One writer has found two, and he’s trying to figure out which one to go with. People have different levels of experience with writing; it is interesting discussing our techniques, and seeing what people are getting stuck on. Of the four writers I talk to during this pizza break, “avoiding clichés” is our top concern.
I’m about halfway through, I think. We’re given 10 to 20 minutes, but I’m not thinking about time, I’m just thinking about what the play feels like it’s doing. I know where the physicality and violence has to happen, the punches and the wrestling on the couch and so forth, and I also know the ending. This seems to be part of my regular process, knowing the ending well before I actually write my way up to it. One of the writers is lying back on the couch, struggling with his deathly cold/flu thing. He has written himself into a corner, he says, and he’s too sick to figure out what to do about it.
First draft done. This little playlet is called Swing. I’m going on my fifth cup of coffee, but I’m starting to feel my focus unraveling, so I go into the bathroom and splash my face and rub it down with one of the really rough towels hanging there on the towel rack. I don’t know how clean it is, and I don’t care. Rough towel, scrubby scrubby, YES I’M AWAKE. What are the spots I glossed over in my rush to power through the plot and dialog? Actual names for the fighting styles that are most popular in mixed-martial combat, the two bits pieces for the voice-over announcer, what exactly is the relationship between the protagonist and her dad, between her dad and her long-gone mother? …. Oh. Huh. I knew this was a drama, but it actually got a little heavy there. I didn’t think there was room for me to get heavy.
Names. Names of characters are important. Then I do a read-through with another writer to check time, but I’m also listening to dialog. Don’t get too attached to the words, he says, the other writer, who has more experience with the 24-hour plays. This isn’t how it’s going to come out anyway.
Sent. Sent my script to the producer, and I am done. Yes, I could tinker longer, but don’t get attached to the words, right? Another writer, the other female writer, finished up her script at about the same time, and has offered to drive me home, which is great, because otherwise I’d have to find a place to nap at the theatre until the busses started running again. We are almost too wiped to talk. I have two pieces of pizza stashed away in a big sandwich bag. I am hungry again, but mostly tired and happy. I can’t believe we just did that, we say to each other a few times.