Why Write A Play
The first play I ever wrote was called "55 Dollar Refrigerator." I was 16, and I was immensely proud of it. This was during a time in my life when I colored my hair dark blue and wore vampire-red lipstick and lined my eyes so heavily I was convincing as a raccoon. It was also a time when I was watching a lot of "Degrassi: The Next Generation." (If you missed that show because you were cursed with merely basic cable, the tagline was, "It goes there." Popular themes were: school shootings, self-mutilation, stabbing. This wouldn't have been funny if the characters weren't all rich Canadian white kids. Except for Drake. Drake starred as a rich Canadian black kid.) What I'm really trying to say here is that for me, art was an opportunity to show the world how seriously deep and tortured I was, if it wasn't already abundantly obvious.
Here was the premise of "55 Dollar Refrigerator:" A girl gets on a bus. She is down because her boyfriend broke up with her, but she's got TONS of money and nice parents. She is approached by a man whose goldfish died that day. Slowly, it is revealed that the goldfish is the least of his worries: his parents killed themselves (or something) and he's homeless and he doesn't have anything except this fridge. It was very bleak. I wrote it for a high school playwriting class, and while other kids also wrote plays, I felt deep down that mine was the best. A local theatre company staged some of the student-written plays, including mine. The male actor in the production of "55 Dollar Refrigerator" came up to me after and said, "Hey, are you Sophie? This play was actually really good!" That's a direct quote, everybody: he thought it was actually really good. And that guy was an actor. He had read tons of plays.
I sent the play around to my extended family so they could know what a genius I was. My grandmother congratulated me, although she noted it was "a little dark." I thought she probably just didn't get it.
Last year, I was at her house on a brief holiday, when I came across a binder in her office labeled "Sophie's Writing." It contained roughly a full ream of printed-out copies of everything I'd ever e-mailed her -- 'zines, newsletters, magazine articles, the like. (I know, I know: I'm really lucky to have a grandmother who is not only very thoughtful, but also knows how to work a printer, which is not a given.) Somewhere in the middle of the binder I found a copy of "55 Dollar Refrigerator." Here is what is true about that play: it is not only "a little dark," it is objectively awful.
Over the weekend, I wrote a play for The Skin Horse Theatre 24-Hour Theatre Festival. The idea is pretty straightforward: a theme is selected, and then local writers compose plays which are given to directors, each of whom produce a staged version of a play, all over the span of 24 hours. The writers have the night to write their plays, and everyone else has from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to bring them to life.
I liked this writing assignment because I'm terrible with revisions and excellent on a deadline. Honestly, the more I work on something, the worse it becomes. College was hard for me; blogging is a cakewalk.
This is a time in my life where I wear shirts with cats on them ironically, sometimes to work; partially for comfort reasons, and partially because I believe in comedy as the force that has the greatest potential to save the world. This is also a time in my life where I am watch a lot of campy Nickelodeon television comedies aimed at tweenagers. What I'm really trying to say here is that for me, art right now is all about making people laugh first and think later. I feel like everyone takes everything too seriously, and we should all behave more like children.
Here is the premise of the play I wrote for the 24-Hour Theatre Festival: Two 13-year-old boys are at a Jamaican Me Crazy Dance. One wants his friend to ask this girl Claire to dance. The friend doesn't feel like it. It is slowly revealed that the friend is not just a regular boy, but a CAT boy with CAT powers, and that he is embarrassed of them. He eventually asks Claire to dance, and steals her hair thing. The production was amazing; I felt giddy watching it. The cat boy was played by an outstanding actor wearing impossibly cute red mittens (to cover his paws), and the director incorporated a Madonna-style cat-ified "Vogue" dance sequence that had to be seen to be believed.
There are so many reasons to make things. Creativity is distinctly human; it's a force that seems to boil inside all of us in one way or another. (Some people knit; others sew aprons. I picked two very domestic examples, but there are manly ones too. Some people make... carburetors. I assume.) One of the reason to make things, then, is because we must feel that we have to; that if we aren't creating something, we aren't really living.
But also, the things we make have this way of leaving neat little self-contained imprints of the people we once were. You can look back at something you made years ago and remember your preferences then: for lemon-colored yarn, or for hyperbolic adverbs, or for bombastic major seventh chords. To create is to leave a monument to the person you are now; to memorialize her somehow; and, perhaps, to understand in so doing, that that person will inevitably change. Everything does.
Writing a play is uniquely wonderful for this, because a play is in and of itself such a fleeting thing. A play will be a different creation every time it's taken up; it is never merely so many words on a page; it is not even the same performance to performance. Just the slightest breeze can affect a staged performance of something. Theatre has a certain gigantic nowness that no other art form truly does. Maybe that's why I've always been so terrified of it.
The Cat Boy actor came up to me after the show and put his arm around me. He smelled like deodorant and the waxy face makeup you put on when you get up on stage in front of all those yellow lights. He said, "I hope I did that wonderful part some justice." I didn't have words for the gratitude I felt; he had given me a lens to see my own life through.