How to create an Ugly Princess in 24 hours (or less)

I will be writing a new play, The Ugly Princess, almost from scratch, in 24 hours for APN’s Writeathon on 23 November. I say “almost”, because I have two scenes. This post…is about making you want to see the whole thing.

The story is linked – in my head, somehow – to this painting, now at the National Gallery in London, a painting which, the story goes, gave Sir John Tenniel the idea for how the Duchess should look in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

by Sir John Tenniel, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865. Courtesy of eBooks@Adelaide

by Sir John Tenniel, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865. Courtesy of eBooks@Adelaide

When I was asked to provide one scene, no more than ten minutes long, with two characters, for my workshop at Playworks Ink, and I realized I didn’t have anything fitting the bill, that’s when the “squidgies” set in, and I had to write a scene from this play still sitting entirely in my head. And here, exactly, is what happened:

There were twenty of us playwrights in the workshop room the first day. Robert randomly picked one person. Her scene was read out loud by two actors in the middle of the room. Robert asked the playwright what she’d intended, and she explained. Then he said: “Your assignment…is to remove all the dialogue of this character, and give ALL the dialogue in the scene to the other character. Make it a monologue.”

And I could feel everyone else in the room thinking the same thing as me: Holy. Crap.

One playwright brought part of her stage adaptation of Things Fall Apart. He told her to set in the year 3000 and make it Sci-Fi. My fellow tweeter James was told to take his very idyllic scene of a brother and sister between the two World Wars, and transform it into the first level of a violent, gory video game.

I remembered the one brilliant moment in the Muppets Tonight series, when Cindy Crawford (yeah) was on. There were some besotted pigs asking what made her a supermodel, and then laserbeams came out of her eyes and vapourized one pig. The remaining pig ran after her shouting “Cindy! Do me! DO ME!”

I was that pig. Sitting there, in trepidation and glee, thinking “Me! Me next! What do I get to do?!”

So. The two actors got my script, and after glancing at it, they asked if I wanted British accents. Hell yeah. So they read it. Everyone laughed. Robert laughed. When the scene was done, he said, “This is very interesting.” I remained calm. He did not ask me to rewrite what I had, no. My assignment was to write a NEW scene, bring in the prince, and have him meet the two ladies at once, but when he spoke to one, the other answered, so he’d be flipping back and forth between them…for five pages. He said “It’s a bit complicated, but judging by your writing I think you can do it.”

We took a break, and I was vibrating in the hallway. I went off to write, and I had those five pages in 30 minutes.

My intention is to let the rest simmer, and then pound it out in support of the marvelous group that let me go to Playworks and got this to happen. And then enter it into the KidsFringe draw for next year. Want to see it?

Audacity.

Robert O’Hara used this word a lot in our breakout session, Don’t F*ck with my Play, yesterday at Banff. About we playwrights having the audacity to say to a director:

“No, I can’t work with you.”

To people not in theatre: “No, this is not just a hobby.”

To the director, producer, or actors who want to change what you wrote to suit them. “NO, that is not what I wrote, you’re not doing it.”

About asking the production team what they need from me, the playwright, and informing them what I need, at the start, so that the play doesn’t get screwed up.

And if the situation changes during rehearsal, work to fix it. And if it can’t be fixed, decide if I’m going to shrug, wait for the terrible production to be over and move on. OR, if I’m going to tell the production team I, the person who wrote the play which has given them all work, isn’t happy, and take the crap that comes with being a ‘difficult writer.’

Sometimes, it’s not enough for the show to go on. I did recently pull the plug on a project I was really looking forward to, because it was already making me unhappy. And that’s not the point. I’m still disappointed and miffed, but better that, than insane.

This weekend, an Obie-winning playwright told me I was good. I met Karen Hines and told her about the award I was nominated for and how proud I was to lose to her, and she laughed. I made a whole room of people laugh. I don’t deserve to be f*cked around.

I am a lucky bunny. For one: I haven’t met a rutting elk.

Not a joke. Genuinely. Getting between a male elk – the ones with the ANTLERS – and the rest of his heard when all he’s thinking of is mating…bad.

I feel a bit bad that I haven’t really put myself in any danger of meeting an elk here in Banff, because I haven’t been outside much. People go to Banff to BE outdoors – to hike, to ski, to climb mountains, to go camping. I’m here to write, and bloody hell. Everything I’ve heard about the Banff Centre for the Arts…it’s like everything I heard about the Edinburgh Fringe before going. It’s all true. Multiplied by a million.

First, you do need to step outside to get from one building to another, and every one of the buildings has enormous windows…so one way or another, you see you’re in a valley surrounded by the Rockies. Yes, they’re snowy, and tall. But it’s like being hugged.

Then: for however long you’re here, you sleep here, eat here, and work here. The rooms are lovely, the food…I’m going to be dreaming about the buffets of EVERY MEAL I’ve had here. Our first dinner back on Friday, one choice was Lamb Shanks. There are at least six kinds of dessert after lunch and dinner: Homemade butterscotch ice cream. Cheesecake. Linzer torte. Everyone’s shocked at how much tea I’m drinking. Hey, if they keep offering, I’m drinking it. I haven’t seen anyone else turn down more free coffee.

food
I haven’t even talked about the Q and A or performance of Mr Christopher Plummer. I asked him a question. I SPOKE TO HIM. (Over a microphone, but whatever!)

I can’t write about my re-writing course with Mr O’Hara until after our session today, Don’t F*ck with my Play. I’m too giddy.

I’ve got Banff-playwright squidgies

I don’t know how else to describe it.

Oh, there’s been a lack of time, certainly. Partly it’s procrastination – never had I felt a stronger need to wash and sanitize my rubbish bins and change my cat’s litter than this past weekend.

But the greatest enemy is SELF-DOUBT. Never doubt that. And it took a large Second Cup holiday tea, nanaimo bar and 4 HOURS to conquer it enough to get out my scene for Playworks Ink.

You see, besides seeing Mr Christopher Plummer (I can’t stop thinking that), Playworks is also going to have workshops. Classes. Classes which mundane me gets to take, from people who really, REALLY know what they’re doing. Chris Craddock is doing Solo Creation. If your life’s being is meant to be alone, onstage, JUST YOU, this is the man you need to show you how. He’s amazing. Classes with Sharon Pollock, who is among the best playwrights in Canada ever, and planet earth, and wrote Doc one of the plays which made me think “Oh God, let me write something 10 per cent as good as that one day…” I once met her, at another APN event, years ago. I hope she’s forgotten, because on hearing her name I squealed. Dignified.

I myself am taking Facing the Rewrite, with a playwright named Robert O’Hara, from New. York. City. Who has won an Obie Award. These facts would be enough to make my brain melt, but I’m also going to be taking a session with him called Don’t F*ck up my Play! This makes me weep with happiness.

Until this past weekend, on realizing, f*ck, I had to write something new, to rewrite during Facing the Rewrite, with an Obie-winning-playwright from NYC at the BANFF CENTRE. I knew exactly the scene from the new play I wanted to write…it just wouldn’t come out.

In this situation, it doesn’t work to say – “I’ve already paid, they’re not going to NOT let me in.” I’m going because I want to learn and I want to be GOOD because it’s Banff and this writer is good, and I can’t bring…mediocre.

It’s hard to explain the relief, when it did come out. It frightens me a bit that it took so long, that it felt so hard to start…and how relieved I am that once I got going, it was fine.

So. I’m excited again. I’ve heard today there is still a bit of room left in both Facing the Rewrite and Sharon’s course The Playwright as Storyteller. Really, you should sign up. Soon. Because…Don’t F*ck up my Play is full. (And Christopher Plummer is coming.)

Pulling the plug.

This weekend, I gave up on something.

It hadn’t gotten very far, but it was something I’d been very excited about, and I was forced to admit that I simply don’t have the time or wherewithal to be a producer anymore. It sucks. But I decided I would rather pull the plug now, before too many people had invested a lot of time in something that I couldn’t do well. And I really don’t have the means to do what this project deserves.

Phoo.

I have something much smaller, hopefully more manageable, in the offing. And there’s Playworks Ink to look forward to. So. Much MUCH better news shortly.