So what’s your play about?

Don't even get me started on props.
Don’t even get me started on props.

When I was writing and rewriting Twin Set, it seemed to be a play about relationships. How a relationship between two sisters both serves and confines them, how their relationship with a third woman both expands and destroys them.

When I tried to interest theatre companies in the play, it became a play about 1976 Oak Park as a metaphor for change vs. resistance, as expressed by three strong female characters. As I tried harder to get artistic directors to read the script, I all but abandoned any talk about plot or conflict and focused on “great roles for women.”

Once the play was lucky enough to get a production, it became about the things that might bring in an audience: nostalgia and intrigue.

When we moved into rehearsal, it became a play about facts. What day of the week does the play start on? How long ago did their mom die? How many other siblings do they have? When was Betty born, and when was Meggy? How do you make the sign of the cross? Why do observant Catholics abstain from communion? How is their apartment laid out? Rehearsal seemed to be a process of actors absorbing facts.

Then Heather and I took on the role of costume design, and it became a play about clothing. Betty needs 9 outfits, Meggy needs 8, Marnie needs 6. How do we find clothes that are easy to take on and off, look like 1976, fit their color profiles, and sort of fit the budget? Why are there so many different days in my play? Suddenly I saw ways to rewrite it so that the characters didn’t have to change so often.

No, that wasn’t until Tech, when it became a play about transitions. How can we most effectively and efficiently shift the actors and set and lights and sound from one scene to the next? What equipment is available? How is one stage manager going to manage all the things our creative vision demands of her? (I still have no idea but she makes it work without ever suggesting it’s impossible.)

Now that it’s up and running, and I think I’ve made my peace with all these different ways to explain the play, a friend writes and asks if he can bring his 11-year-old daughter to see it. Is it appropriate? It has now become a play about: some language, a tiny bit of violence, and women kissing.

Is that inappropriate? Women kissing men is G-rated, but is same-sex kissing too mature for 11-year-olds? Somehow in my brain it seems to depend on whether the kid lives in the city or the suburbs, which makes no sense whatsoever. In any case, I describe the play in this laundry-list style and send it off.

Big relief, none of those items causes any concern. They’re planning to attend. He’d just wanted to make sure there was no nudity.

Which reminds me there are several moments of women in underwear, which hadn’t occurred to me when I thought about appropriateness for 11-year-old girls. Should I write him back? Nudity isn’t the same as underwear, right? But what if nudity is implied by the underwear?

Once again, I realize I have absolutely no idea what my play is about.

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8 thoughts on “So what’s your play about?”

  1. Thank you for that great glimpse into a play writer’s experience. There is probably a better way to put that than “play writer,” but as I’m not one, I don’t know the lingo. 🙂

  2. Love the glimpse into what happens before we see it on stage. Not that we don’t know a bit already from talking to you, but I like the various things the play has been about for you.

    Also, I wouldn’t worry too much about implied nudity. As a former teenage boy, I can tell you that most anything can imply nudity. You can’t win, there.

  3. The strange brain of Trina loves the idea that this is a play about all kinds of independence – with raking the shag being the opposite of “freedom” in a 70’s sorta way, although raking the shag … was worth 20 cents a week on the chore list at our house.

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