According to ourdocuments.gov, the 19th Amendment of the United States Constitution was “passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920.” It goes on to say “the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote.” The Amendment “prohibits the state and federal government from denying citizens of the United States the right to vote on the basis of sex”.
To mark the 100 year anniversary of ratification, Burning Coal Theatre Company in partnership with The League of Women Voters of Wake County and thirteen other theatre and/or opera companies from across central North Carolina will present The 19th Amendment Project, a collection of 14 short plays written about the passage of the 19th Amendment 100 years ago and its impact on our society.
I’m honored and humbled to be a name on this roster of playwrights for my 10 minute piece THUNDERCLAP.
THUNDERCLAP description: Parents Rachel and Jake are stoked that their daughter, Alice is now 18 and can vote, but she doesn’t believe that her vote will actually help. Content warning: language and sexual violence.
This week, I’m grateful to have been given space to talk about this project in podcast form and in print. Big thanks to journalists Lauren Van Hemert and Byron Woods for listening to me go on about writing generally and writing 10 minute plays more specifically, setting a play in the current moment, the future of theatre and what voting means to me.
If you’d like to listen or read, please see the info below. And then grab your tickets for The 19th Amendment Project. The other playwrights are amazing (including 2014 Piedmont Laureate Carrie Knowles) and it has truly been an impressive collaborative effort across our theatre community.
ALSO, VOTE. #votevotevote
RDU ON STAGE PODCAST
Do you know about THE 19th AMENDMENT PROJECT?
Want to hear me confess my love for Geraldine Ferraro?
Listen to this podcast from RDU on Stage and the ones to follow!
This is the 1st episode in a nine part series featuring playwrights and creatives working on The 19th Amendment Project. Lauren speaks with the wonderful Playwright Hannah Benitez (The 19th), Dianna Wynn with the League of Women Voters, Jerome Davis, the Artistic Director of Burning Coal, ….and ME saying things (a lot of things!) about my play Thunderclap, what voting means to me, the conflict I feel about celebrating the 19th Amendment, and the present and future of theatre (just a few small topics!).
Below you’ll see some writing tricks that have worked for me when I can’t seem to make any headway or even get started.
What has worked for you?
Writing tricks for getting unstuck:
Write with a timer. Just 5 minutes of committed writing time might get you in the flow enough that you want to continue beyond the timer going off. Just getting started can help you build momentum.
Write knowing that you have the option to throw it all away and never show your writing to anyone else (you don’t even need to show it to yourself again!). Take the pressure off and just let those words flow without expectation.
Pull inspiration from another author. Grab a book from your bookshelf and choose a piece of random text as a jumping off point. See David Menconi’s suggestion to jumpstart your writing here.
Find an accountability partner or writing group. In these stay-at-home days, you might still reach out to friends to talk thru your story ideas and to gather the encouragement you need. Writing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. 🙂
‘Go visual, aural, or physical’ — clip photos from a magazine, listen to music, or move your body for inspiration.
Take a break. Come back to it tomorrow or another time when you feel your well has filled again. It’s ok to dream about your work away from the page. It’s ok to take a break and percolate for a bit.
Construct boundaries or a list of required ingredients for yourself. Occasionally creating some restrictions around our work can help to free us up.
Write for another medium or genre. If you are a playwright, try writing for audio or for video. If you write dramas, try your hand at comedy. An occasional switch up can be inspiring!
Give yourself a deadline. I love a deadline as motivation, even if I’m the one setting it for myself!
Do any of those resonate with you?
Those tricks in practice:
This month, I’m feeling really grateful that the STUCK MONOLOGUES from PlayMakers Repertory Company allowed me to call on almost all of the items from the list above in order to get my contribution completed on time. 🙂
In particular, I want to point out #7 (list of required ingredients) and #8 (writing for another medium) from the list above.
As you’ll see below, the playwrights for the STUCK MONOLOGUE project were asked to adhere to a recipe of three ingredients when writing our short monologues. Those items gave my writing focus while still feeling expansive enough that I could follow my own voice. I was able to write more quickly than usual, and wow, during this time of corona-distraction and molasses-creativity, it was a balm to finish something.
And, as you’ll see/hear, each playwright developed a unique piece based on the same ingredients. So thrilling.
As a playwright who writes for the stage and for audio, it was also a fun challenge to write a short piece for pre-recorded video and to consider ways to use that visual element to tell the story. Check out LEVERAGING MR. BUMBLE and see if I succeeded.
Hop on over and enjoy all of them. If you have a moment, please let the staff at PlayMakers know if you are eager for more of this type of project – I know they’d love to have that feedback and support.
Released over the course of July, these short monologues were written by local playwrights including: Jacqueline E. Lawton, Julia Gibson, Lynden Harris, Tamara Kissane (me!), Alejandro Rodriguez, Madeline Sunshine, Mark Perry, Michael Perlman, Khalil LeSaldo, and Mike Wiley.
As early quarantine days had us feeling “stuck,” we called upon some of our favorite local playwrights to turn that feeling into art. Then members of your favorite acting company, past and present, worked their magic in bringing those monologues to life.
We gave our playwright friends a “recipe” to turn our common moment of being stuck into something creative:
It must have at least one local reference
It must contain at least one joke.
It must fit well under the title of “stuck.”
An image from my piece performed by Gwendolyn Schwinke
Go directly to LEVERAGING MR. BUMBLE on YouTubehere.
A couple more things….
#1: I was on the radio on July 24 to have a quick chat with Dr. B on WHUP (a local radio channel). We talked about Piedmont Laureate-ing, audio dramas, writing, and the pandemic. (Listen here starting at the 25 min mark.)
#2: The Durham Arts Councilis delighted to be partnering with Alamance Arts, Orange County Arts Commission and Person County Arts Council to offer the new Artist Support Grant. The grant program is funded by the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, with additional funding from the Durham Arts Council and the partner counties. The Artist Support Grant was created to provide direct support to individual artists during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative will fund professional and artistic development for emerging and established artists to enhance their skills and abilities to create work or to improve their business operations and capacity to bring their work to new audiences.
Eligible artist applicants: have lived in Durham, Orange, Person or Alamance Counties (NC) for at least one year, are at least 18 and are not enrolled in a degree program in their art form. Projects in performing, visual, literary, traditional and media arts are eligible. Grants will range from $500-$1,500.
Information sessions are currently scheduled for 6PM on August 6 (co-hosted with Alamance Arts) and August 11 on Zoom. Email Margaret DeMott to register.
Guidelines and scheduled information sessions can be found here.
A quick blog post to encourage you to attend an upcoming event and to listen to two wonderful podcast episodes with Triangle-based playwright, Jacqueline E. Lawton!
Jacqueline E. Lawton is a playwright, dramaturg, producer, and advocate for Access, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the American Theatre. Her produced plays include: Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; The Hampton Years; Intelligence; Mad Breed; and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a dramaturg for PlayMakers Repertory Company. She is also Dramatist Guild’s Regional Representative for North Carolina.
Jacqueline E. Lawton, photo by Jason Hornick
Jacqueline’s play, XIX, was commissioned by the Women’s Theatre Festival in celebration and reckoning with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment (the 100th anniversary is this year!). XIX is a socio-political drama about the role of Black women in the women’s suffrage movement.
Please make a note on your calendar to attend the virtual reading of excerpts of XIX on July 11 at 7:30pm as part of the Women’s Theatre Festival. Click here for more information. Post-show discussion will be facilitated by dramaturg Jules Odendahl-James, with panelists JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell (XIX director); Jacqueline E. Lawton (XIX playwright), youth voting advocate Isabel Lewis; Dr. Gloria Thomas, the director of UNC’s Women’s Center, and the President of the League of Women Voters of Wake County, Dianna Wynn.
And, listen to two podcast episodes featuring Jacqueline E. Lawton on Artist Soapbox. You’ll hear Jacqueline and guests JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell and Jules Odendahl-James talk in detail about the new play development process. So much helpful and powerful information in these episodes! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
The wonderful guest trio of Jacqueline, JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell and Jules Odendahl-James dig into playwriting topics such as translating a historical event into a contemporary piece, deciding what story to tell and who should be the center of the story, the development process and the roles of the director, dramaturg and playwright and much more.
ARDEO is a one act play inspired by research and personal narratives of health practitioners and patients at UNC-CH’s North Carolina’s Jaycee Burn Center. This play explores how patients and doctors communicate with each other; how health practitioners communicate with the public; and how theatre artists can be of service to patients, doctors and the larger public.
Jacqueline and Jules touch on the field of narrative medicine, the particular development process of ARDEO, the value of partnering the dramatic arts and science, and opportunities to create those collaborations. Speaking of collaborations, Jules and Jacqueline discuss their work together as theatre-makers and the awesomeness of dramaturgs and dramaturgy especially for new plays in development.
I’ve found that during stretches of lengthy melancholia, I am less likely to generate new material, and more likely to turn to familiar old drafts that need to be revisited, reconstructed, or regenerated. Perhaps if you are feeling at loose ends in these difficult times, then revision might be the phase of writing that feels right for you.
Ian Finley adapted the cycle below from our fellow Laureate Carrie Knowles, who introduced him to the idea of the Five Step Revision.
Note: It is strongly recommended that you don’t revise until you have a complete draft, but once you do, hammering away at revisions might be just the project for you while staying safe at home.
How to revise? Sometimes changes are obvious. Sometimes you’re sure a script can be improved, but don’t have a way into the Revision Chute. Try these five steps, and see where you end up.
FIVE STEP REVISION PROCESS:
1. Add What’s Missing. Now that you’ve finished the script, you know where it was going all along, and what you were trying to say. Now you can add all those elements that support that destination and theme that you may not have been aware of when you started writing. Payoffs can be set up, and set ups paid off, the arc of characters enriched and extended, because you know who they are now.
2. Take Away What You Don’t Need. This is the biggest step, by far. Again, now that you’ve arrived at the end, you know what your story is trying to say, so you can remove those sections that were necessary explorations in the first draft, but don’t move the story forward. Be merciless. It’s not “obliterating your darlings,” it’s giving your darlings a haircut, taking away the unecessary bits of them so we can see them better. It’s a lot of cutting. I usually aim to trim 25% between my rough draft and the next few drafts. That’s one of every 4 lines, but your writing will be hugely better for it.
3. Ensure Conflict on Every Page. In a play, conflict is what keeps the audience watching. As soon as the conflict relaxes, you have about two minutes before the audience’s attention wanders, perhaps for good. That’s why it’s called a “happy ending;” when the characters are happy, the play is over. But conflict is not just bad stuff happening. In the Book of Job, bad stuff cascades down on this poor schlub, but there are zero conflict in the piece, until the end when he confronts God, and God pushes back. That’s what conflict is: two forces in opposition to each other; the pursuit of a want, running into obstacles, and overcoming them with tactics. Conflict is active, in the same way that agreement or even suffering is merely passive.
4. Ensure Character Voice is Unique & Consistent. Now is the time to read through the whole script, out loud, only reading one character’s lines. This will give you a sense of the quality and consistency of that character’s voice. Do it for each character, one at a time, making fixes as you go, and you’ll bring them all into focus. Ideally, you should be able to cover the character names and still know who is speaking, and this has nothing to do with funny accents or the like. It’s because each character is different, and therefore expresses themself differently. Character voice is the most powerful tool you have for revealing character to the audience, because it is shown to them every time a character speaks. Their status, background, interests, and relationships are all reflected in the way they speak, and that is the most elegant way of sharing that with the audience.
5. Edit! Spellcheck, grammar, mechanics, all of that! And correct Standard Manuscript Format! All of that is as important in playwriting as anywhere else. But notice that it is the LAST step of the process, for the very simple reason that after polishing the grammar of a given line, you might be unwilling to cut it (see Step 2) when you realize it doesn’t help the story. Edit last.
Except… last isn’t really last, because these five steps are actually a cycle. Once you’ve finished, go back and run them all through again.And again. My experience is that time is a key element in creating my best work. If you have time now to devote to revision, then your writing will be well served.
Ian Finley holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School at New York University. In 2012, he was named the Piedmont Laureate in the field of Playwriting and Screenwriting by the arts councils of central North Carolina. He is the author of many plays, you’ll see them listed in the show notes including: The Nature of the Nautilus (winner of the Kennedy Center’s Jean Kennedy Smith Award), And There Was War in Heaven (finalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference), Native, The Greeks, 1960, Jude the Obscure, Suspense, A Perfect Negroni, 11:50, the Our Histories cycle of site-specific plays for Burning Coal and the First Night site-specific plays for Seed Art Share.
Imagine you have just 2 days to write a 10 minute play using the following ingredients:
What would you write?
Might you find freedom and focus by having those restrictions?
What would your bake-off ingredients look like?
[Hint: This would be a great writing exercise for you to take on with a group of friends as a weekend writing sprint just for fun or for distraction. If you are having a tough time generating a list of ingredients, then let me know, and I’ll send you some. See below for links to the origin of the Bake-Off.]
In early April, the Women’s Theatre Festival released the list of required ingredients above, and eighteen NC playwrights stepped up to create their speedily written masterpieces.
This weekend, you can listen to their freshly baked plays!
One Audience Choice play will join four Adjudicator Choices at the Women’s Theatre Festival’s #OccupyTheStage2020 for a reading. I have the honor of working with the playwrights to continue developing their work for that event.
Big thanks to Triangle Bake-Off director Madison McAllister and Johannah Maynard Edwards, Executive Director of the Women’s Theatre Festival for doing the heavy lifting to make this event happen. Congratulations to the playwrights and thanks to the actors and adjudicators for their good work.