Ever since my sons decided to follow a different religious path than they’d been raised, I’ve wanted to tell the story. As a non-fiction writer, I’ve shared my journey a little in blog posts. I had ideas about a book or perhaps an anthology that would include stories by others facing similar challenges and never pursued them. Then one day about two years ago, an image came into mind that stayed with me, almost goading me into tackling the subject through dialogue and drama.
I wrote a sentence on a sticky note, and started exploring play writing classes. A writer friend introduced me to Charles Maryan affectionately called Chuck, a director and college professor who’s offered a playwriting and directors workshop in Manhattan for more than 30 years. An email led to a coffee date- the first of many in the writing process- and he accepted me into his workshop that meets every two weeks, on Monday nights, from September to June. I began in 2012.
For the first few months, I wrote nothing.
I sat, intimidated by the other participants, some both published and produced playwrights, some beginners like me. Professional actors would volunteer to read the scripts. In true workshop procedure, we offered positive feedback and a few suggestions. I was mesmerized by the entire thing. I remember asking Chuck, “you mean there are hundreds and hundreds of actors willing to volunteer to read?”
His answer startled me. “No, Lisa, there are thousands and thousands.” Acting’s a competitive business; actors never know when something may take off and give them employment.
I had more coffee dates with Chuck at Malecon, and we talked. He suggested I start with a couple pages. Timidly, I gave him 10 pages. Then 15, then 20. And so on.
I signed up for a reading slot for the end of April, 2013, giving myself plenty of time to either produce something or pull out and give the slot to someone else. I had about 45 pages by April, which translates into about 55 minutes of stage time. I loved hearing my words be read and interpreted.
And I felt I was done.
I had said what I wanted; I didn’t have any ideas on how to expand it. Chuck insisted I dig deeper into the story, give the characters more to say and do; as he says, all theater is “life and death.” I needed to mine the life and death a lot more.
We had a lot more coffee over the summer and I bravely signed up for the first session in September, 2013. I absorbed the criticisms. “Look for consensus,” Chuck advised. “Go with the humor,” he said.
My play had its third reading in early January, 2014. And this time, there were fewer tweaks and I really felt I was done.
“Write another play,” urged Chuck. I didn’t have any more ideas. This was my story.
“Something will turn up,” he said. In the meantime, he suggested I start submitting it to various theaters and drama festivals around the country that might be interested in the subject matter.
My play met the requirements for the Thespis Theater Festival. It’s under 90 minutes and I’m from New Jersey. (the playwright had to be from either NY or NJ). Within three weeks of sending my play via email, I received an email telling me I’d been accepted. The theater supplies the space and some marketing and handles ticket sales. They run the festival as a competition too.
Over dinner, Chuck outlined what I’d need to do to produce the play. A cast of 5, a crew of 5 or 6, set, props, costumes, rehearsal space. I had no idea what goes into a production. I debated whether I should do it. Judd Silverman, a playwright and director and workshop participant agreed to direct.
Suddenly, the solitude of writing turned into the collaboration of producing. We held auditions, inviting actors we were familiar with to read. Instead of coffee with Chuck, I’m having light suppers in diners with Judd and members of the production team. The set, props, and costumes are coming to life. I’ve attended a couple rehearsals and am fascinated watching the actors inhabit the characters and listening to Judd direct them. I’m still revising too; words on the page don’t automatically work as words on stage.
The Shabbos List has three performances July 17, 18, and 20. And that scene that rolled around in my head? It’s in the middle of the play.