What does - and doesn't - happen
by Cameryn Moore
So, I did the 24-Hour Plays last week, and with a week behind me, a week’s worth of introspection and consideration, I can honestly tell you two things:
I am so glad I did it.
I will not do it again. At least not that way.
After the big all-nighter of writing—from 10pm to 4am, with frequent breaks—I had a roughly 12-minute script. It was okay. Maybe a bit clichéd in spots, and I won’t say it was any kind of Pulitzer Prize-winning material, but it was decent. Another writer helped me read through my script to check the time, and afterward he said, don’t get too attached to the words. I took his words to heart, or at least, I thought I did. This other writer was more experienced with the 24-Hour Play model the way it was done at Theatre Ste-Catherine, and I was well aware that the performers and director only had nine hours to work. But I did get attached. First mistake.
My piece was a drama, which was a conscious decision on my part. I had figured that there would already be a lot of comedic components to the evening of plays, and I thought mine would be the leaven, something a little more serious. The team of performers I had drawn for my piece had solid credentials in comedy and improv work, but I think I figured that if I acknowledged publicly that I was working outside my own comfort zone, by doing something for more than one person, then the director and performers would be eager to work outside their boxes too, and therefore I could write a dramatic text and expect to see it performed as such. But that didn’t happen.
What I’m writing about right now is me, and managing—or not—my own expectations.
Now, if any of my performers or the director who worked with my play are reading this, please believe me: you did great up there. When I said that to you the night of the show, I meant it. I could see what you were doing in your performances, I saw where you took from the script and riffed off of it. You worked the crowd, you brought great physicality and energy to the stage, and the audience loved it. What I’m writing about right now is me, and managing—or not—my own expectations.
Besides getting attached to my text, I was not prepared for the environment into which I was launching the text. Theatre Ste-Catherine is a great space, one primarily dedicated to sketch comedy and improv, and those are the types of participants that it is going to tend to draw. Those are the players and the networks it has to recruit from, those are the audiences. They are coming out prepared to laugh, prepared to make other people laugh. They want comedy. If it’s not actual comedy, they’ll take schadenfreude or nervous laughter to get things going. But mostly, they want comedy.
And I have realized that I can’t write for that genre. I can’t, or I don’t want to. Maybe not ever, and definitely not right now. It’s not that I don’t know how to do funny. I mean, I’ve done stand-up before. All my performances make people laugh at some point; all my scripts have some funny bits. I just don’t want to write something that is all about cracking the audience up from beginning to end. This is the realm of the improviser and comedian. This is primarily what the event was about, as it turned out, and that’s not what I thought I was doing.
Know the milieu, that’s another lesson.
I didn’t know it would be like that. Or didn’t think about it. The 24-Hour Play event that I had witnessed in Atlanta was produced by the Atlanta Theatre Guild; as a result, they had directors and performers who were interested in working with things other than sketch and improv, who were skilled in dealing with drama. I would say maybe half of the plays in the 10-play program there were written and directed and performed as drama, or at least comedy/drama.
So. Know the milieu, that’s another lesson. Know it, and seek out the ones that are good settings for whatever strengths I have to work with. But it goes deeper than that. This experience made me realize that I don’t want to write for anything where I don’t have a significant amount of artistic input into the final product, the one the audience sees. That doesn’t mean I have to perform everything I write, and it certainly doesn’t mean I won’t work with a director. But I want to be there from beginning to end, shaping the message, giving it the emotional weight before launching it out into the theatre.
When I saw how the performers were doing my piece the night of the show, I could see that’s what they were doing, that they were riding the waves of audience energy the way I do during a show, but they were being fed by different responses than I would be. I could see the exchange, and I wanted to be back in it, saying what it was that I wanted to say, taking audience response and bending it where I want it to go.
This was an important clarifying moment for me to have, and I guess it took a 24-Hour Play for me to have it. I’ve always known that I wanted to be in control, but I didn’t know exactly why: what I want to convey is important. It’s not gospel from God, but it’s important to me.