On writing a play together
DARA: There’s no clear way to make a play. And don’t let anybody or any book tell you otherwise. There’s no formula that you can use that predictably creates a play each time. If you went down the same path, you’d keep arriving at the same spot. So we having to keep hacking new paths to find new spaces between.
When I was in high school, I had a particularly stellar drama teacher, Steve Bogart. (I know everybody who has ever “trod the boards” credits a good HSDT, but seriously, we had the best.) Who else would have the patience to lead twenty rowdy, awkward, over-eager teenagers through the delicate and bumbling process of collectively writing a play? Yet somehow, under Steve’s guidance, it always felt so easy. Day after day we would share scenes, (some strange and riveting, some hot giggling messes,) and eventually, somewhat miraculously, a concept emerged, then characters, then plot, then a full play. And even more miraculously, it was always something we were all deeply invested in and really proud of. I see now how much Steve was guiding us, the man behind the curtain, but as we moved through the strange wilderness of creation, it was so gentle we barely noticed we were being led.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, I think I went to graduate school for playwriting not because I wanted to be a playwright exactly, but because I wanted to learn enough about the play-making process that I could take on the role of leader with the machete.
When I started Agile Rascal, I had no idea how I would do this. There were lots of false starts and missteps. And I’m certainly no Steve Bogart (not yet, at least.) I can be pushy and bad at explaining things and I’m always worried it’s not going to come together in time. But so far, (knock on wood) we are finding our way. And the others in the group are teaching me how to lead, with each step of the way its own invention. I love creating exercises and asking questions that tease out the secrets of the play, to find the forms that will hold the expansive creativity of the whole group.
And everybody in the group brings something really strange and unexpected to the table. It creates the kind of chaos and kismet that you just can’t invent in your own mind, when you’re sitting alone at your computer. Our minds tend to follow predictable paths unless they hit a diversion. Other people are like rocks in the path, and eventually, this zig-zagging path creates its own kind of symmetry and logic. And when we catch new glimpses of the thing in front of us, the thing we’re moving toward, it’s completely exhilarating.
LELIA: Co-creating a piece of art is like watching gasoline being poured on a fire. One idea ignites the next. Pretty soon it’s not just juggling marshmallows on a bicycle over the fire, your making s’mores too, then someone throws in the idea to do it in 13 cities across the nation. Why not? The fun part about co-creation is that the fire keeps building whether together or apart. Co-creation never stops. While commuting, ideas are firing off, I can’t find my notebook fast enough, I spit them to the team later and they add their idea fuel. When people are this pumped, execution of those ideas is easy.
ALLISON: I’ve always fell into leadership roles in projects from grade school through college, maybe it’s my height. And while I enjoy being in control, there’s a part of me that seeks a more communal creative process. In working on an array of projects within this awesome Bay Area Theatre scene, I learned the tools and language to create a collaborative environment that seeks to utilize everyone’s skills and create something that is powerful and relevant and holy to each performer- which makes it that much more impactful for the audience. It can be infuriating at times, especially when the answer seems so close, but we are all just circling around it. I love it when building an idea becomes so shared, so co-created, that everyone forgets just where each piece came from.
JOHN: Co-creating this project has been pure theatre skill-sharing and raw awakening meditations. We start our rehearsal meetings by sharing personal check-ins. To help clean out whatever queries we have at any given time- a challenge we can all relate to. We do many fun exercises, both physical and theatrical. My contributions to the story are aching to come out. I’m working with very pro-active teammates who inspire me to learn how to be a better story teller. When I inform others of this project I am happily encouraged when I see them get excited for us. In my experience with non-traditional theatre, the process is a always a great learning experience and Agile Rascal definitely is as well.