Making a play is always a unwieldy journey.
WAIT FOR ME started on slips of paper taped into a notebook, tiny private moments of public solitude that nameless characters would experience. A sorrowful woman clipping photos from a magazine. A giggling child hiding in a home furnishings store. A sweet-looking nurse cruising Goodale park, despite the comatose patient he is wheeling around with him. When a man in neat-looking suit knelt praying in a church and proceeded to shove his wallet into the collection box, I knew some kind of play was taking shape.
WAIT FOR ME is a play about faith – what we choose to believe in, where we place our trust and direct our attention, and how we navigate the moral/ethical values of our evolving society to move forward in our lives. It is a play about friendship over long stretches of time, and how economic inequality and privilege can slowly poison relationships and communities. It is a play about loneliness, which was captured in those early bits of information I gathered from my subconscious; many of the characters are surrounded by other people and yet feel completely alone. How can faith help to dissipate that condition? How does it fail us?
Of course, I had no idea these were the questions I was asking when I began to actually write the play, slowly, over the course of over a year and a half. Dialogue and then characters and situations began to emerge in tiny drips and drabs. A relationship between two characters – Drew and Tim – announced itself, causing me to totally change my idea of a moment or a scene between them. Another, Larry, threatened to dominate the play entirely with his savagely funny anecdotes, and another – a headstrong woman from Philadelphia named Margot – huddled at the edge of the story ready to dive in, even though I had no idea how she fit into the story or who she really was in relation to these other characters, a web of urban gay men at the dawn of a new era of rights and privilege and purpose.
Writing this play was a very different experience for me. I’ve been thinking and wrestling a lot with the concept of “shape” in theater – what the play’s container looks like. And this play, with its tiny random moments and large chunks of dialogue floating around, just wasn’t acquiring a shape. I had no idea what the whole of it looked like, how the entire story would play out over the course of an evening. In many ways, the process was similar to what I was taught in acting class – the breaking down of a character into moment-to-moment authentic existence. Over and over again, I would attempt to form a linear narrative around these moments. I had an ending for the play, but had no idea how to get there. Nothing coalesced.
I flew home to Columbus. Matt Slaybaugh and Acacia Duncan took me to the Columbus Museum of Art and the gorgeous new Margaret M. Walter Wing. I whined to them about my play and what a mess it was. I told Matt “I just want to . . . “ and described a dramatic moment that I was impulsively thinking about throwing into the proceedings of the play. Matt’s response: “Why don’t you write that? I’d want to see that play.” By giving me permission to act on the impulse I had (which derived from the months and pages I had spent with the characters in my play), Matt helped me unlock the shape and structure of the play. And Acacia was the actress I wanted to play Margot.
Now, a mere two months later, a group of Columbus’ smartest actors will read WAIT FOR ME in front of a public audience for the first time. This play is the result of over two years of writing and thinking and observing as our country moves forward in terms of progress and back in terms of our humanity towards each other. It is the result of a delicious lunch (at the bright Schokko Art Cafe!!) with trusted friends and collaborators. Available Light Theatre is at the forefront of new play development in Central Ohio, and it’s a particularly dynamic company to return to again and again. I always look forward to sharing my plays with their audiences and learning from their responses.
Fellow writers: give yourself permission. Don’t wait for Matt like I did.