O is for Only Five Sentences

This post will be longer than five sentences. 😉

Marsha Norman

I went to the Master Class taught by Marsha Norman on Saturday. (By the way, she never ended up getting to my scene–all that worry and she didn’t even go. :(. Sigh)

This class was, of course, focused on playwriting, but again I think her advice crosses disciplines and maybe helpful to my friends here.

She asked the group to write down five sentences:

“1. This play is about ________________.

2. It takes place in _________________.

3. The main character wants __________ but _____________.

4. It starts when ______________.

5. It ends when ______________.”

We then shared these and selected some of the memorable ones (there were a lot of people in attendance) for a vote until eventually, as a group,  we narrowed it down to one play that we would produce. (Side note, I knew which one it would be as soon as we had the first voting list–and, no, it wasn’t mine)

Through this process, Marsha pointed out some interesting things:

  • We all want to go to a play that takes place in an interesting location or a place that we want to know more about. But often writers forget about the importance of place.
  • There are some truly universal stories or themes that we all lean toward, for example the lost girl trying to find her way home.
  • When writing the actual play, she said “By page 8 you must let the audience know when they can go home.” (Marsha Norman) In other words, early on you tell the audience what needs to happen for this story to end.

Marsha went on to say, this is how to begin any playwriting process. She told us to do this, tell it to someone, and then LISTEN. The key thing is listening. According to her, if the response is “Oh, that’s interesting” or “that sounds like a good idea” then the play is not worth pursuing. However, if the response is another story, “Oh, that reminds me of the time when _______,” then you have a good idea.

I thought about how it relates to many of us in this community that hope to write an excellent story someday. In particular, Kathy’s story at Reinventing the Event Horizon popped into my mind. She has been working on her memoir of mental illness and sharing with us art and memories from that time. Today, she also shared some beautiful creations from the time when  her “bipolar symptoms have been managed by medication” proving that her amazing artistic ability and creativity move beyond her manic phase. If you read any of her marvelous posts, and then look at the comments below her posts you see something wonderful–you see more stories. Kathy’s stories touch us all in some deep ways, in ways that make us want to look at our own lives and share our own stories.

By Kathy McCullough--this is one of her later pieces.

By Kathy McCullough. This one was painted while she was dealing with the illness.

Her five sentences might be something like this (and these words are mine, not hers):

  1. This is a story about a woman trying to understand her history of mental illness.
  2. It takes place in her mind and in mental institutions in Lexington, KY
  3. The woman wants to feel normal but doesn’t want to lose the creativity and passion that come with her symptoms.
  4. It begins when she becomes overwhelmed by a reality other people cannot see.
  5. It ends when she embraces the true artist that encompasses all sides of her personality.

That, my friends, is a story that resonates with all. Please go visit her site if you haven’t already.

I think I need to start working on only five sentences, and see where they take me.

What are your five sentences?

I am Woman, Hear Me Write

Did you hear that?

The clamor of hundreds of theater practitioners standing up and roaring when it was announced that no recipient would receive the $25,000 Wendy Wasserstein prize given to emerging female dramatists.

Why not? Everyone demanded. How can you silence women like that? You cannot say that, out of 19 candidates, there was one worthy of support? That is unbelievable!

The battle waged over a weekend, and in the end came victory. The plays are going to be reevaluated and a prize will be awarded.

In the aftermath of this, I have been thinking about what the prize means. To be eligible for the Wasserstein prize, a female playwright must be under 32 years old. What does that mean? Where did that random age line come from? What does age have to do with being an “emerging playwright?”

While I commend any opportunities given to support female artists, playwrights, authors, musicians in a world which still undermines the value of a female voice, I’m suddenly acutely aware that many of these awards are limited by age as well. Of course I want to support youth as they enter their fields, but I also value the voices of age. How many people change fields, or only discover their desire to write or create at a later age? Some don’t find their voice until they’ve lived, and that voice can be truly powerful.

Can’t you be a new voice, and be over 32 years old?

I am a woman. I am trying to become a writer. I am in the middle of a career change (or at least a career adjustment)  which is not easy for anyone at any time of life. But, it seems my worst crime will be that I am over 40.

Yes folks, I’ve passed over the dreaded age line which allows me to be an up-and-comer and have landed squarely in the middle of a has-been. Funny thing though, I still feel like I have a lot to offer.

So, kudos to the Wasserstein committee for recognizing the error of their ways. But now I’d like to see the development of a grant program that would help women writers of all ages. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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