Challenge Journal 4: The Play’s The Thing… Or Is It?

To take a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet entirely out of context, “The plays the thing!”

This semester, those four words have definitely rung true. Especially these past few weeks, now that I’ve finished up my senior recital for my major and all of my other extra-curriculars, I feel like I’ve been living and breathing the play I’m writing for my Capstone project. Creating this story and building these characters has been taking up all of my brain space. Other classes and finals be damned.

Here’s my problem: “the play” has come to mean more than just the words I’m putting on the pages of the script. Recently–as I’ve scheduled a space in which to hold and film a reading of the play for an audience and have been holding auditions and coordinating rehearsal times and choosing a director–“the play” has come to be more of a logistical problem than a writing one. There are so many moving pieces, I’m learning, of a play you’re trying to both produce and write simultaneously. So many pieces that take all of my focus and suck time away from actually writing said play.

What I’ve found myself wondering is this: is the “play” I’m trying to create this semester the sum of the words on the page, or is it the actual physical piece of theatre?

Should I devote my limited time left before the Capstone showcase into making the script itself the very best it can be, or to the logistics of putting on an actual physical production (casting, scheduling, directing, rehearsing, filming). What about the other elements of this Capstone project–the site and the project intro–that I haven’t even begun to think about yet? Which of these elements are most important to a “play”? What should I focus on to make the best “play”? Where should all these things rank in my list of priorities (not to mention, you know, completing my course work for my other classes, doing laundry, and maybe occasionally sleeping). Is “the play” really the thing? What even is “the play”?

As my “writing” problem becomes less rooted in words and more a question of how to prioritize other production tasks to make something that exists outside of my computer screen, I find it most helpful to look back to another physical theatrical production I’ve put on for guidance, rather than a past writing sample. The biggest performance I’ve single-handedly produced thus far? My senior recital in February. I think looking back how I dealt with all the elements involved in trying to both produce and perform my  recital may give me some insight as to how to proceed here.

The week before my senior recital on Feb. 10, I had the flu. Full blown influenza, the kind that sent me home to my parents’ house for a week. I rarely go back there. And yet, I had posters to make and program notes to write and chamber rehearsals to hold and seventeen songs to memorize and a slide show to put together and run live and a dress to find and have altered. It was crazy. I couldn’t do it all myself in the time allotted, especially after missing a full week from being sick. So, what did I do?

I delegated. I called on as many of my loved ones who could help me. I used all the resources my school had available for me. I prioritized sleep and nutrition so I could be productive and energized while awake. I asked for help. Remember when I said earlier that my recital was the “biggest performance I’d single-handedly produced?” I was lying. It was the biggest, but I didn’t do it on my own.

So, maybe I shouldn’t do this alone, either. Though it takes coordination and extra attention to scheduling and extra meetings, I’ve decided to ask a friend of mine to direct my play. I want to have total control over the whole process, but I need to relinquish the creative direction to her, so that I can focus on writing. I’m hiring my other friend, an art major, to design and run the marketing for my reading. I’m making use of the rehearsal spaces and camera equipment U of M makes available for students. I’m going to as many writing workshop appointments as I can schedule, so that I don’t feel like I have to figure out how to write a 50+ page play completely alone, with no other input from people who actually know what they’re doing. I’m modeling this process on the one for my recital and asking for help to do all the things I could do myself, but don’t have time for.

Assuming that that delegation will help me pull this project off, I guess my remaining question is this: What is it that I want to come away with at the end of the semester? Do I want to have a solid, performable script? Or do I want to have a pretty-solid script, and a video of it being read, and feedback from an audience? I don’t know. I’m hoping for the best of both. We’ll see if I get there.

The play’s going to be the thing this next week, no matter the iteration–script or live performance–it ends up in.

One thought to “Challenge Journal 4: The Play’s The Thing… Or Is It?”

  1. Hi Hannah!

    I really love the acknowledgment and parallel of using help and resources in the production of your final recital and Capstone project. It’s so cool that there are so many sources at your disposal to aid in the completion of such a unique project.

    I found this blog post beyond relatable… though for me on a far smaller scale. Your project is bigger than just a script. It seems that to have your Capstone truly complete, there is a production aspect that is relatively polished, in addition to a refined script.

    I have struggled with a similar issue, deciding where to dedicate the majority of my efforts: the visual components (3D model and website) or the writing. I found myself working on the non-writing aspects first, as it was necessary before I could (or wanted to) begin writing.

    In your case, it sounds as though your script is in a usable state. I think the answer to your question can really be only answered by you. Would you be happier seeing a production of your work or would you rather have a flawless script? I personally would love to see a visual component in addition to the written script. Because plays are meant to be performed, it would be so cool to have that aspect present in your final project, not done as an afterthought or rushed. Knowing you, I know that won’t be the case regardless, but I think focusing on it would making something that will end up good, be great.

    I am so excited to read and see your play!

    Best,

    Mollie

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