The Courage A Playwright Needs
I said I wasn't allowed to blog or podcast until I got my first draft of Break Horizons done and guess what?! I GOT IT DONE! I will post all about that next!
I have been on a writing roll these past few weeks and I’ve had a couple offers to do some story creation sharing (writing workshops) but I’m really focusing on troubling and working on my own Salish pedagogy. This is a writing heavy year, with 2 plays and 5 more tv episodes and a draft of my first feature film. Which I’m pumped about. I've been using fbook as a place to totem some reflections on process and I'm going to use this post to gather and compile these ideas.
So, on Twitter I wrote:
My process for once a scene or really moment is down and drafted, I go back and confront every word, line, intention, shifting direction and ask: -is this as clear as it can be -does this create the space and desire for further investigation -does this keep us engaged and excited for the next part of the story I call this "raking", you go back and rake a scene to juice, clarify, distill, leverage. Raking works with another story creation term I use called "stacking." Stacking is layering your scenes and characters with challenges, details and positionalities to fill or stack the story to make it engaging. I sometimes say after I stack a scene, I then need to juice it, leverage the drama, comedy and ridiculousness out of it. Nothing more frustrating for an audience to see a stacked scene and the writer and director not leverage it.
I don't think a lot of playwrights recognize how deeply our writing is a reflection of ourselves. I remember in acting school we spent so much time in those formative training years calling out our own bullshit. I remember one teacher basically saying, "you got mommy issues that you don't go and figure out, that will seep into all of your characters and then they all gonna have mommy issues."
And true enough, I watched students not be able to get a handle on their "ism's" and it really inhibited them from truly taking on characters.
For me, as a director there are basically 2 types of storytellers:
1. Performers who play versions of themselves because they are strong orators and
2. Actors. People who know how to develop and dissolve into characters.
I work with both, but honestly, it's more efficient to work with actors. I find their conscious awareness allows the work to happen with ease. Where as performers, often struggle to know how to do the deep character work.
And I believe there is a parallel with this deep personal work with writing: People who know how to craft a story and people who generate ideas and string them together.
I don't believe enough attention and respect is given to prepare to write, and then maintain one's balanced health while writing. I harken to pow wow dancers who don't work on their regalia when they aren't in a good place because then their regalia will hold that energy. I don't write when I'm not in a good place, I told Kevin Kerr my grad supervisor a few weeks ago, I'm missing a deadline because I'm not in a place to write spiritually, I don't want Break to hold the energy I'm experiencing right now and of course because he is amazing, he absolutely understood.
Writing is many things, including preparing for deep dives into one's spirit. If we don't to the preparatory work to be able to consciously look into ourselves with deep self awareness, our writing will hold all of those blind unconscious attributes and energies. Like that acting teacher said, you gotta figure your shit out otherwise it's going to get all over your work.
You won't have positioned yourself for success because there was a lack of real preparation to do the difficult and courageous work to ask the necessary questions like, "does anyone care" and "does this make sense." And I find the most compelling writers, deeply and consistently ask their collaborators these questions. As writers we need to be bringing these up often to hold ourselves accountable. This is the job of a writer and I believe a lot of playwrights don't have this capacity and thus cannot fulfil their responsibilities.
So I offer to writers, invest in the most important part of the process of writing, your spirit. Know yourself, know it's a rigorous ongoing journey of self accountability and discovery and do this with passion because we respect the storytelling process this much.
Arrive to a project everyday ready to work, make offers, generate, cut and carve and you will know you have done the good work to arrive because it will be nourishing. You will be able to emanate energy that feeds the creation process, and that is a big responsibility of the writer.
I remember sitting next to Colleen Murphy for Titus and day after day that woman arrived at work with power and humility to serve and steer the story. Marcus Youssef is another, I remember visiting him during the Panto and the energy he was emanating was bonkers positive and exhilarating.
We need to take creation preparation incredibly seriously, because if we don't our stories will become the lack of preparation. Without sturdy and sustained grounding writers/actors will make desperate grasps at ideas, they will pull at others to try and stabilize themselves and the work will have no chance at rooting and absolutely no chance at achieving a narrative design.
Story creation is about connecting the power of the thoughts into the design of the story. Many miss this curatorial step and we see a bunch of cool ideas and never receive a crafted story. I was in a class last semester and a proff brought up the book Greenwood by Michael Christie, where he used this "ingenious nesting ring" framework where each chapter is the ring of a tree.
Narrative design is the complex and difficult task of bonding all the threads of stacking we did, to a framework and a flow for the witnesses to ride on. Where Every time an audience member connects these offers, you build trust and deepen the bonds of the story. All too often play's are siloed “cool ideas”.
I find failing to design a story makes writing an ending really challenging because we’ve waited until the end to connect all the “cool ideas” because there was no narrative design. The ending, for me, is where we as writers are charged with the responsibility to courageously illuminate the relational transformations, via the narrative design. I don't want to hear an attendance taking of what factually occurred, I want to see the mystical transformations your conjured.
Generate a cool idea, connect them to the mantra statement (meaning making), weave the ideas to one another and show us the new thing you’ve made. That’s the mystical erotic aliveness of storytelling that sometimes gets muddied with “magic” and “cool ideas.” Knowing how to craft and design the narrative of a story is what separates idea generators, from storytellers.
For me, powerful writing is a result of the rigour you apply to the rake and re-writes. The humility to carve, cut, stack and edit. The courage to explode and nourish characters and scenes. The respect for the future witnesses deserve this degree of courageous commitment and work ethic. Connection is the craft, and courage is what we need as writers. With deep love, in humble servitude to keep my spirit balanced and to the future witnesses,
I'm excited to share and honoured to be a part of The Growing Room Literary Arts Festival happening next week on the Coast Salish. If you want to hear more about my approaches to writing and hear from some powerful bipoc writers, come to BLACK MAGIC WOMEN: BIPOC ENCOUNTERS WITH THE FANTASTIC on Friday March 13th from 7-9pm and to Indigenous Brilliance, Luminaries: The Way Forward on Sunday March 15th from 1-3pm at the Beaumont studios. This is a ridiculously powerful festival run by some amazing bipoc femmes. Get here.