By Esther Zuckerman
Writing about writing has often been a pratfall for the great. Some succeeded, such as Ted Hughes in his poem âThe Thought Fox.â Some believe his wife, Sylvia Plath, failed in her poem âWhy I write.â Hereâs my attempt.
The late afternoon of March 25 was a nearly hellish time for me. At 5 p.m. the list of plays to be produced in the 2007 Playwrightâs Festival was to be e-mailed to all who had participated in writing.
It was Oscar night too. Between my prayers that Martin Scorsese would win the award for Best Director and my hope that my play would be selected, I was a wreck. At 4:50 p.m. I checked my e-mail, heart in my throat, and then I screamed.
And thus it beganâ¦
I didnât write my first full play until sophomore year.Â I had always loved theater though, and writing. So playwriting was just a natural progression.
My play, âBlitz,â began as a reaction to history teacher Eric Zwemerâs the World and Europe II class. Zwemer (doing his British accent) described the Battle of Britain and how when the Luftwaffe was bombing London people would go into the underground for protection.
My mentor, Israel Horovitz, a playwright in New York, told me that a good setting was one of the first things a playwright should think about.
So I thought: the London underground? Thatâs a good setting. During World War II? Even better!
Another thing a writer wants, something taught to me in every creative writing class, is high stakes.
The writer wants the reader to care what happens to the characters and therefore, even in a comedy, there has to be a sense of tension on stage.
Bombs going off in the background? Pretty tense.
I wrote the first draft of the play in a day (itâs a short play) at the end of the 2006 school year. I only had the intention of making it ten minutes and when I gave it to my father to read, he said, âThatâs a good start, I canât wait to see the rest.â
âRest? Itâs supposed to be short.â
So then I put it on the backburner for a while. I was writing mostly short stories over the summer.
When the material was first distributed for the festival I had three uncompleted plays. I decided to polish up âBlitz,â and another that did not get selected.
After getting notes from Horovitz, âBlitzâ was by far the easiest to deal with. There was good stuff in it; it just needed to be developed. I added two more characters and flashbacks to reveal parts of the leadsâ pasts.
First rewrite: done.
Then there were comments from the director of the festival and drama teacher Christopher Moore.
Second rewrite: done.
By the time the plays were due I was on my fourth draft.
So now I have to sit back and watch. Itâs strange for me, being a person who constantly feels like I have to be involved, but itâs also wonderful.
The playwrightâs job is not over when rehearsal begins. There are still tweaks that have to be made, and even more rewrites.Â The director, James Sauer, will ask me if lines can be changed, and I work with him to see if we can keep material or if some of it can be changed.
For instance instead of one of the characters signing a letter âYour husband,â he now signs âForever yours.â
Because this play takes place in London there is also the question of accents. âBlitzâ requires the actors to speak in a British tongue, and English teacher Adam Howard was on hand to instruct the cast how to elongate vowels and (for the lower class characters) drop hâs.
Our first rehearsal in the Drama Lab, the venue where we will be performing, was a crazy, bewildering, ineffable experience. To hear your words coming out of an actors mouth the same way that actor might be reading Shakespeare or Tom Stoppard (my favorite), is for a playwright an utter dream.
Thereâs a bit of stage fright involved too. You donât want the performances to go badly, yet the result is completely out of your hands. Unlike the actors you canât repeatedly practice your lines. The damage has been done.
This weekend will be an exciting time. The campus will be bustling with people eager to see what students have pulled out of their heads this year Our playwrightâs festival is one of the only ones in the country that gives student writers the opportunity to participate in something like this.