Archive for March, 2010

Scenes from an Office

March 26th, 2010 by Colleen Hughes '04

I was so sick earlier this week. My brother’s cookout on Saturday was fun, but by late-night Sunday I was really sick with some sort of stomach virus. I ended up having to take both Monday and Tuesday off from work. You know it’s bad when you work from home and still feel the need to call in sick because merely turning on the laptop and working from bed is too difficult. I only work a half day on Tuesday though, so it wasn’t as bad as missing two full days. And I did manage to drag myself into class on Tuesday. I felt much better by Wednesday, but my schedule was all thrown off by getting sick and I’m still trying to recover. I didn’t get my writing assignment for Tuesday’s class done, because I had been planning to do it Sunday night and after work Monday, which of course never happened. So now I have to get that plus the new writing assignment done for next week. And I need to keep revising my full-length play.

And now we’re here, a Friday morning in late March, and it’s snowing as I write this (actually, the snow appears to be winding down). I know that snow in late March is hardly uncommon around here—I remember in 1997 when I was a freshman in high school we had a blizzard on April 1 and school was cancelled—but it’s always so disappointing to think that a week ago you were wearing short-sleeves and flip-flops to a cookout and then today it’s back to the winter hat and mittens. On a normal Friday, I’d just be curled up in my room working from 8–6, but today I’m only working from 8–2. I’m taking a half day because we have another “skills lab” at school, which is when we get to meet with the MFA directors and BFA (that would be “bachelor of fine arts”) actors at BU’s College of Fine Arts (CFA). I think I talked about this in an earlier blog when we did our last one.

I always love meeting with the CFA actors and directors. I think this afternoon, if I manage to get a revision done after work but before I have to leave the house, I want to bring in that crazy short play I wrote earlier in the semester that involved a boss and his employee at Disney—it was written for my “overheard conversation” exercise. I think I want it to be part of my “evening of theater” final project for my Tuesday class that I mentioned last week, so I want to fix the ending a little. I think for that project, I’m going to try to do a one-act and a few ten-minute plays that all take place in an office. Some will be comedy, some might not be comedy, and they will each examine different types of office experiences.

…And now it’s a few hours later, and I’m back from the skills lab. It was a lot of fun. I did bring in that Disney play with a revised ending, and the actors went all-out and had fun with the craziness of it. We all couldn’t stop laughing the entire time, which is an encouraging sign for the play. I wanted to take a video clip of the performance to post here, but we only ended up reading through the piece once, so my plan of waiting till our second read-through to record it didn’t work out so well. But I learned that the revised ending is a lot stronger and funnier. And that the section leading up to the ending of the piece is sort of circling back in on itself instead of “raising the stakes,” so I still have revisions to make. As always.

Countdown to April 23

March 19th, 2010 by Colleen Hughes '04

Some updates: One of my classmates got a ten-minute play and a one-act into the finals of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in DC. A student in last year’s class also got one of her ten-minute plays in, and another student in last year’s class won an award for his full-length play. It’s a big competition, so it’s really great that they were all recognized. And another classmate of mine got a ten-minute play into the DC Source Festival, which is also awesome. In less-than-awesome news, however, I found out that I didn’t get that global fellowship I applied for back in January. There were only two allocated to the playwriting genre, but they went to two very great people in my class, who will be headed to India and Italy. They each have a play already in the works set in their respective countries, so it’s especially good for them to get some hands-on experience there. I’m really excited for them. And don’t worry about me—I’m already plotting how I’m going to get myself to Ireland sometime soon.

I also just yesterday found out that the staged reading of my full-length play will be on April 23rd. That means that I am going first out of my class, kicking off eight days of staged readings of the work we’ve been putting together all year. The plays we present will serve as our MFA thesis projects—depending on when each of us is scheduled to graduate (once we complete the four electives), we’ll have to hand in a printed copy and have two of the faculty members sign it. What’s good is that the final copy of the thesis isn’t due until closer to the graduation deadline (I’ll hopefully finish in September), so we can use the feedback from the reading to do another round of revisions. I’m nervous about my play going first in the reading series. I won’t know what to expect because I won’t be able to see anyone else’s before mine. But in a sense, going first is nice because I can then spend the rest of my week just watching everyone else’s readings and not having the stress of my own still hanging over me. Having the date set for my reading made it all a bit more real for me. April 23rd is just over a month away. Thirty-six days actually. I need to revise like crazy to get it to where I want it to be.

You’d think that the rush of nerves I experienced last night would have led to my spending hours on revisions, but no. Instead I decided to watch the episode of Full House where DJ has a nightmare about failing her SATs and Vanna White shows up and tells her she’s going to Clown University. But I think sometimes I need a good mindless dose of Kimmy Gibbler in order to de-stress just a little. I’ll need to get some revisions done this weekend. On Saturday my brother is having a late St. Patrick’s Day celebration that will hopefully involve a cookout because it’s supposed to be sunny and warm, so I want to be able to enjoy some of that as well. He’s taking the GMAT Saturday morning, so he’s been busy studying for awhile now and missed the real St. Patrick’s Day on Wednesday. It should hopefully be fun. April’s going to be really tough (I have my reading, plus my presentation on Beckett and a book review due for my other class, and as my final for that class I need to put together an entire “evening of theater”—meaning 60+ minutes of performance, made up of one-acts or ten-minutes or any combination of the two). All of that still needs to get done somehow. And then there’s, you know, my whole “job” thing that I do 40 hours per week. But Saturday can be a fun day in advance of all of this work, or at least a part fun/part work day. And I have Seasons 1 and 3 of Full House on dvd (why am I missing Season 2? I have no idea), so when I get really stressed out over the course of this next month I’ll have to pull those out.

Long Day’s Journey into Somerville

March 12th, 2010 by Colleen Hughes '04

I’m so beyond tired right now. I didn’t have class on Tuesday—it’s Spring Break this week—but I did have class on Thursday because we wanted to make up for a week in April where BU is having a Monday schedule on a Thursday due to getting Patriots’ Day off that Monday. All but two of us were able to make it to class this week. One of my classmates had planned a trip to New Orleans and the other a trip to Chicago before the make-up class had been announced.

Thursday was my scheduled day to workshop my full-length play again, so I brought in twenty pages of revised material, which was about two and a half scenes. I spent so much time on the revisions, but I had begun to feel like I was just going around in circles instead of pushing forward. Hearing it read by the actors helped though. I got to hear for myself how much stronger some of the dialogue sounded. The section that took up most of my workshop time was when we had the actors up and moving around trying to block out the big fight scene I’d reworked a little. My professor said that workshopping scenes like this is always difficult because the characters are moving around all over the place, plus I have six actors on the stage in this scene. Seeing the actors up on their feet going through the motions was so helpful. Some things that had seemed to make sense on paper were not working out as well on stage because of the time it takes for the actors to perform each moment. Some parts were happening too late or too early, so I want to go back and revise that section with a better sense of the timing of everything. I also want to make sure there’s more reactions and interrupting dialogue since parts of it felt too clean and polished for an argument that leads into a fight with six people in the room. That scene has a lot to juggle, so seeing actors walk through it helped me see the big picture of it a lot more clearly.

Our public readings are in late April, which is way too soon. It came up on us out of nowhere. I need to send my professor a title for my play and a little promotional blurb for the postcards they want to mail out to their subscribers about our reading series. A student from last year’s class who sometimes serves as an actor for our class suggested I call it The Prayer Bargain, after a line towards the middle of the play. The main character talks about how when her family had problems when she was a child, the only way she could deal with things is by hiding in a corner somewhere and praying for things to be OK. And she’d make a little “prayer bargain” as she called it, where she convinced herself that if she prayed about it three separate times and promised to do a really good deed in return, things would get better. And now that she’s an adult and her family is once again in turmoil, she wishes she still had that childhood belief that everything would be OK again if she prayed about it three times. I might use that title—I do tend to favor titles that are lifted from a small line in the script, and it does come from an important scene—but I’m not sure yet. I don’t want it to seem like the focus of the play is on faith or loss of faith because it’s really about the members of the family and their relationships with one another. In the meantime, I’ve been jokingly referring to it as Long Day’s Journey into Somerville, after Long Day’s Journey into Night, one of my favorite plays ever, which is also about a troubled Irish American family. I have to decide on a real title later today and get it and the promotional blurb sent in as soon as possible.

I might go see a play in Cambridge tonight by a student in last year’s class (a different person than the one who suggested the title to me). It’s supposed to be really good and is based on the life of Sophie Treadwell, the woman who wrote the play Machinal that I read at HC in Steve Vineberg’s American Drama class and really liked. I’m just so exhausted though from all the revising and the busy week at work. One of my cats is curled up next to me making little kitty-snore noises. Sometimes I get so jealous of my cats and how they can just sleep all day. I, on the other hand, have copyediting and title-brainstorming to do, plus I need to work up the energy to see the play tonight.

A Flower on the Table

March 5th, 2010 by Colleen Hughes '04

We had an assignment that was due in Tuesday’s class this week—we were supposed to write a short play involving just two characters, and there had to be a table and two chairs on the set, as well as a flower on the table. And the two characters had to have a problem between them, but they were not allowed to talk about it directly. It was an exercise in subtext. It was much more challenging to write than I’d initially anticipated. We didn’t get to hear all of them this week, but I did get to finally show my ten-minute play that was due a few weeks ago. I got some great feedback on that one. Once again, it seems like if I make a stronger choice for the ending, I could improve the entire play. We got through about half of the subtext exercise plays, and they were all so different. I love seeing how everyone can be given the same basic parameters and each come up with something completely unlike everyone else’s. Even just the flower on the table and how people have used it—we’ve already seen a fake potted flower, a daisy in a glass, and a rose in a vase, among other things. Mine is a dandelion in a plastic cup (yes, I know dandelions are weeds… don’t worry, that comes up in the script).

On Thursday, I had asked my professor if we could meet after class to discuss some questions that I’ve come up with as I’ve been working through my revisions on my full-length play. One thing I’ve struggled with my entire life is my self-confidence. I’ve gotten so much better over the years—you should’ve seen me my freshman year of college—but it’s still something I always have to consciously be aware of. I always get a little nervous in class that my play won’t be good enough, and I feel this horrible need to apologize to everyone in case it’s really bad. I know logically that there’s no need to apologize for my work and that I’m holding my own in class just fine, but those doubts always creep up into my head and I’m always working to suppress them.

One thing my professor said at our meeting which is helping me think about it in a new way is, “you have to start seeing yourself as a writer, and the class time is like your work time.” It’s not only that focusing on the “work time” aspects of it will help me put aside my insecurities and feel more like I do at work—where I know I have the training and skills to be able to get things accomplished—it’s the “think of yourself as a writer” part that is really affecting me. I’ve always had such a hard time describing myself as a “writer” or a “playwright,” because I felt like I didn’t deserve that title. Shakespeare is a playwright. Tennessee Williams is a playwright. I’m just “someone who likes to write plays.” I felt oddly arrogant claiming to be a “writer” when I had very little success to show for it. But my professor’s allowing me to see myself that way is helping me look at the workshops from a new perspective. Instead of worrying that I need to constantly prove to everyone (and especially myself) that I deserve to be there, I have to start just trusting that I belong there, trusting the work I already have, and focus on using the workshop to improve that work. I’ve been improving and learning so much in the workshops all year obviously, but I like having something to remind myself about when I feel the self-doubts creeping up.

I’m now officially on Spring Break, which for me basically just means that I have no class on Tuesday. Everyone who’s staying in town (almost the entire class) is still meeting for Thursday’s class, and I still have to put in 40 hours of work at my job. So it’s not really much of a break in that sense. But not having Tuesday’s class at least gives me more time to focus on my revisions for Thursday, when I’m scheduled to present some of my scenes again. It is definitely going to be a busy week despite allegedly being a “break.”