Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Diving Into the Unknown by Valerie Mannucci

I tricked myself into taking Solo Performance with Marya Sea Kaminski. And I’m so glad! If I’d known that the process would bring such levels of insecurity and angst, I doubt I would have gone through with it (I have to add that these were offset by the safe environment Marya set up for us, the respect that the students had for each others’ work, and the dedication that everyone showed to the process).

But still, after just the first class, I wondered what I had gotten myself into: our first two-page draft was due in one week! I wasn’t a writer! I mean, I’d been excited to register for the class that finally meshed with my schedule and life, and I had a vague little vision of what I wanted to do, but had put zero thought into how I would get there. And I definitely didn’t expect that we’d have to produce something in a week. As I drove home that night, I vehemently promised myself I would not quit this class. The reason I needed to make this promise? Oh, just the shrill voice of fear screaming in my head.

A two-page draft. Ok. I can do this, I thought. Our first class included several writing exercises and Marya gave us plenty of structure to guide us in the task of writing. I was a good girl and did my homework. I wrote something every day. Freewrites. Looked for found texts as inspiration. Watched Spalding Gray on YouTube. Fine! I was generating material. Awesome. There was just one problem; it didn’t really fit together. There were bits and pieces, but they didn’t blend into a coherent whole. Like I said, I wasn’t a writer. Well...I certainly had never identified as one before.

I was blindly writing away, generating that precious material, but had no idea where I was going with it. You see, the subject I’d chosen to write about was the loss of my mother. Oy! Just a light little theme for my first time out. I knew the potential pitfalls.

I was terrified of creating something self-indulgent. Something heavy with no “in” for an audience. But I had seen several autobiographical solo pieces with similar themes and they were really good: thought-provoking, inviting, with universal appeal...but I was struggling to shape my raw writing into something, anything, like that.

At our second class, we presented our drafts. Emotions running high for most of us. Was this fear or excitement!? No idea. Both? But Marya offered great tools to help us learn how to give feedback too. “What questions do you have for the playwright” and “What stands out for you” were two questions she gave us that were very helpful in being able to provide something more than just ‘I really liked it’. But the insecurity and angst were still part of the process, for all of us, it seemed. It is just so very vulnerable-making to get up there and show your work. You have no idea if it’s any good. That’s the part I hadn’t realized would be there, and like I said, probably better that I didn’t know beforehand.

The weeks zoomed harrowingly by. We became editors to our playwrights. I wrote and rewrote. Cut and pasted. But I still knew in my gut that it wasn’t “it” yet. I had chosen something too personal, perhaps...I was too close to the material...I was stuck. But I kept at it. Week to week, I agonized, and with two weeks left until the final class (a showing with a small invited audience), had a minor meltdown and gave myself silent permission not to do the showing. I would still keep working the piece, but if I didn’t have something that was stage worthy, I would be there only as audience and tech crew for my classmates, but not show my piece.

But meltdowns can be really helpful: afterwards, in a burst of inspiration, I changed the piece dramatically. I did some restructuring, and I also took my mother out of it and replaced her with a fictional character. This might have been disappointing, but it totally freed me up. It was finally something I was proud of. I had to trick myself (again!) into writing the piece I’d wanted to write. At the showing, the piece was only two weeks old - a mere babe - but I was proud of it, and felt like it had a message to offer the world.

When I heard about the Studio Series, I was excited to try taking the piece to the next level. What the heck does that really mean though, anyway...well, that’s exactly what I’m finding out now. As I write this, I’ve had 4 rehearsals so far with Emily Testa, my fine director who was a fellow classmate in the Solo class. I made the decision to put my mom back into the piece since that was really my goal all along. It also needed plenty of other tweaking, and the script has again changed a great deal (as Emily puts it, we’re taking the training wheels off the first version). I’m diving into the unknown, again, but I trust the process, and am excited to see what happens this time around.

Valerie will be performing her Studio Series piece on Thursday, March 28 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, March 30 at 10:00 pm as part of Freehold's INCUBATOR Studio Series.

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