Lauren Linsey White is working on a new script.
I have been lucky enough to have listened to this new work develop in our Writers' Group for the better part of a year. In late July we gathered some friends over snacks to hear the work and receive feedback on its progress.
These types of informal readings are a good place to play with casting ideas and to get to know new artists or to see artists whose work we know well in a totally different context. These readings are often such happy events for me, personally, as they combine all the things I love about the process; friends, food, play, and nuts and bolts talk about how the story functions. This reading was no different, but it definitely gave me food for thought.
Lauren wrote a script that is intentionally open to allow for more inclusivity in casting. As a director, I am absolutely thrilled with the opportunity to look at my network of actors and be able to cast anyone who fits the emotional range of the character instead of whether or not they would fit into this pair of pants or look Irish enough or what have you. However, as a White cis-gendered woman, there are things I need to be conscious of when putting a cast together even for "open" scripts like this one. Because, whether we like it or not, how an actor presents becomes a circumstance in the production.
So how do we cast inclusively while also being conscious of stories we are telling outside the text? While I certainly believe that as artists, as human beings, we all have the capacity to tell stories about all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, I don't think capacity is enough. We also need to have the ABILITY to identify how circumstances and experiences differ between people with different backgrounds and how that will be interpreted either by or for the audience. For example, we can have a scene where a woman demands answers of another woman. But how does that scene change when it is a White woman making demands on a Black woman? What circumstances are at play when we cast a Trans woman in either role? What are the power dynamics at play in the situation and how can we be conscious of these dynamics when they are not our firsthand experience? And even the role I play as a White director, how is my lens impacting the story? Is that lens supporting the story? These are things we need to be conscious of as we dig in to narratives during every stage of the process. It isn't enough to just give a POC a role and feel like we have done our bit for equality. We need to ensure that we are allowing the full expression of the artists' personal experience to come through to support (and better yet, expand!) the circumstances of the play. It is the ultimate "yes, AND..." that can make storytelling so rich, layered and exciting. But it requires an awareness as writers, directors and producers that there may be more at stake than we (White) artists may realize.
For example, (and I don't think I am giving away any spoilers here) in Lauren's piece there is a line about how a complaint had been registered against a woman for having hair and make up that was "too natural". This small line carries very different weight for a Black woman than it does for a White woman. The implications of this line spawned a good five minute discussion after the reading touching not only on the casting of the woman but on the casting of her mother and the attitude of a third character on them both! If we gloss over the impact of these circumstances that are present in the text and then heightened (or NOT) by casting choices, we are doing the truth a disservice by pretending we experience all circumstances the same way.
Presumably, truth is what we are here for.
I know it may sound like I am picking on my fellow White artists. Maybe I am? Or maybe I am simply making a plea for us to do the one thing we are REQUIRED to do in the rehearsal room: listen. This is the opportunity we are blessed with! We get to be in rooms with one another and share the depth of our experiences with one another and then bring all of those beautiful things to an audience. When we bring it all and hear it all and share it all, we make the world look different by degrees.
It may be a drop in the bucket...
... but it is a drop that wasn't there a minute ago.
It’s a good idea to see if they put up a fight.
If you are going to kill them anyway, kill them like a cat. Play with your food. Tug at them, toss them, switch them around. Perhaps the skull is worth keeping,
Or the pelt.
Because sometimes just having occasion to type the word “pelt” is enough.
I’ve been working on a play off and on for 25 years. I’ve gotten close, but not close enough. I’ve torn it apart. I’ve chewed on it. I’ve embarrassed myself for it. But even if, by some miracle, I finish it and nothing of its current form survives to the final draft, the journey I will have taken to write it will make it all the more rich when I do “get it right”. I am convinced that I need these missteps to make it into the thing I need it to be.
But it sucks.
It is demoralizing.
And at the moment, I have to admit, it is a worthless pile of shit sitting with its many iterations (and many formats) in a bloated digital file on my desktop.
But one day... one day it will be my Magnum Opus.
It better be, because I have been thinking about this dumbass play for more than half of my life!
The skull is good. The pelt is fine. The tail is beyond compare.
But the meat is rotten and the stomach has swollen to an unimaginable size (my cast of characters multiplying and metastasizing inside!!), and so I must dissect. I must know what went wrong with my beautiful monster.
I cant tell you, fellow writer, not to be despondent or frustrated or even angry. Those things are all part of the process. What I can tell you is to be curious. Be curious about your work and not judgmental. Curiosity will sustain you where judgement serves only to shut you down.
After all, a dismal failure is just a few rewrites away from genius. Be honest with and about yourself. Write daily. And eventually your skill will be up to the task.
Thats my story.
And I am sticking to it.
Most of the time, I feel like a woman who has lost her mind. (Assuming she ever had one.)
Four years ago I went on a trip that took me from a depressed, frustrated stay-at-home mom to a depressed, frustrated stay-at-home mom with a VISION. I am not sure how important the story of that trip is to anyone other than me. The point is I went on the trip, I came back and the idea for what Playful Substance is now in the process of becoming began.
I’ve been working quietly to build a community of artists, to implement writers’ programs, to consider business structures, and do all of the sexy things like find an accountant and research socially responsible banking options for the pocket change that is our current operating budget.
The Dakota Access Pipeline isn’t going to benefit from OUR $300! No sir!
In those four years, I’ve learned how many people will pat you on the back and say they support you but when you turn around they are waving at you from miles away. They are still smiling and waving. Some of them legitimately wish you well. But they are going to wait to see if you can deliver before they will invest time, money or energy in you. And that is, actually, OK.
I’ve also learned that the people who not only pat you on the back but also tap you on the shoulder to show you the pretty thing they made or just to see how you are doing, those people are the rock you build your company on. Focus on serving them. They are the ones whose needs matter. In serving them, you also serve yourself.
Don’t chase the ones who are waving from afar. They’ll come in closer to have a look once the party gets started. And the ones who aren’t paying any attention? Nah. Don’t even worry. You just have to get started.
You just have to get started.
I am excited to be part of these amazing writers’ groups, watching artists work and support one another as narrative structures get built and characters grow and surprise us. I am looking forward to being in the rehearsal room again, chewing on new material with a team of artists all looking at the same words but from different perspectives. Because when I am in these rooms, my vision doesn’t seem so far fetched. It feels like it is in the room with me. I can touch it.
Right now, the math isn’t quite working. But how many businesses have great math out of the gate? (Seriously, how many businesses? Am I doing this right?!?!) An audience takes time to build, just like it takes time to build a community and a body of work.
You just have to get started.
You just have to get started.
So we launched our writers’ program (Phase 1!) last fall. We are negotiating spaces and talent for our first season and will be launching our first fundraising campaign in a matter of days. Because of all this, I can honestly say that I am no longer depressed. I may be slightly overwhelmed, but I wouldn’t describe myself as frustrated anymore. I’m still a mom, but I can’t really call myself a “stay at home” mom with any honesty.
I’m on a different path now.
I think I’ve officially started.