N. Richard Nash, the late writer best known for his play “The Rainmaker,” once asked a small group of aspiring playwrights, “What’s the hardest part about writing a play?”
Scanning the few hands that hesitated to rise above the puddle of heads, Nash pointed to one guy — you can just imagine who it was — and said, “OK, you.”
“Don’t give me that,’ said Nash, who also wrote the screenplay of “Porgy and Bess.” “You sit down and you finish it.”
That happened during the 1980s at a community theater convention in Racine, Wis., where Nash was an adjudicator.
Some words stick with you.
Dorothy Parker reportedly said, “I hate writing but love having written.”
As all procrastinating writers — but I repeat myself — can attest, sitting down to create is the great motivator for doing anything but.
Yet we eventually knock something out, for better or worse, often with a little help from our friends.
The Stark Turn Players and the Lake Effect Fringe Festival are friends.
By providing a forum for new theater voices, STP and LEFF enhance West Michigan theater in a way very few other local theater entities do.
They encourage new work.
They annually provide a playwriting theme and deadline, two things that focus the mind like the sight of the gallows.
Now all the playwright need do is sit down and write the damn thing.
The goal is to tell a story as best you can, to write a play that not only means something to you but also will mean something to others, that will be something people want to experience, that will effect them, that will make them laugh, cry, think.
Different playwrights reach that goal in different ways.
Having read his memoir “Act One,” I go all Moss Hart: I start out with some legal pads and pencils (so I can waste time sharpening when either the pencils or I get dull) and melt into my living room great chair where little naps come and go.
Once erasers are worn and a first draft is scribbled, I repair upstairs to my study and transcribe what I’ve written in longhand.
Then I get to work.
Good writing — at least, as good as you can get it — is not written; It’s rewritten. And rewritten. And rewritten.
And then you hand it in because it’s due.
After that, whatever happens, happens.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your play selected and produced, the result can be a serious eye-opener.
Words sound different coming out of your head than they do coming out of someone else’s mouth. The director and players may interpret your ideas differently than you. Maybe you needed to be clearer. Maybe they know something you don’t. Maybes pile up.
So opening night comes and you sit there and watch them tossing around your baby, squirming with thoughts of rewrite rewrite rewrite.
After they take their bows, you go home and do just that.
Last season, after STP and LEFF premiered my “Someone’s Knocking at the Door,” I thanked everybody I could find, shot back from Grand Rapids to Muskegon and rewrote till 4 a.m. the next day.
A year later, I’m still rewriting. I’ll probably be done the next time I run into N. Richard Nash.
Tennessee William was asked, shortly before he died, when he knew he’d finished “The Glass Menagerie.”
He said, “I haven’t.”
Here we go again.
Actors Amanda Heeren, Mark Moran, Gary Soentgen and Michael Dodge under the direction of Sue Bradford will bring Bill's characters to life on the Dog Story Theater stage February 27 - March 1. We hope you'll join us!