Not long after my big move to Chicago, I received notification of an open call for pitches for a story show at a prestigious theatre here in the city. The call asked for pitches of twelve to sixteen hundred words around the theme of love. I’ve done a few story shows in the past and have never seen a call for such a long submission before. I emailed the organizer, who told me that, if chosen, I wouldn’t be expected to recite the submission word-for-word; I think they’re most concerned with making sure they can have the highest quality show possible and would like to err on the side of length. I’m welcoming the challenge of combining a spoken art I’ve more recently come to enjoy and a written art which feels familiar and dangerous at turns.
Background: As a theatre major at Ball State University, I was blocked. I didn’t know how to be a good actor. I didn’t even know what being a good actor felt like or how to tell if I was doing it correctly. I still loved theatre and thrilled at each chance to see live actors on stage, and I ached to be one of them. Up to that point, school had always been a matter of reading material, taking tests, and checking boxes, but merging academia with an artistic discipline was an entirely new experience. I didn’t know how to bridge the gap between structure and creativity.
At the same time, I faithfully wrote in my Xanga (hello, 2005!) every day and decided to pick up a creative writing minor. This opened my creative doors. I couldn’t understand good actors because they worked imperceptibly, disappearing into the characters they were playing. But good writers gave me something I could almost touch; I could analyze story structure, yes, but also the physical forms of the words themselves, how they were laid on pages to suggest timing, rhythm, and music. I could also understand how my own feelings and experiences could be translated into words. The terrain of written words was varied and bizarre; there was room for Ntozake Shange and Jonathan Safran Foer along with Jane Austen and Mark Twain. And, I believed, there was room for me as well.
In working on this submission, I’ve identified a few key differences between my spoken work and my written work. When I build a story for a show, I work orally from beginning to end. I imagine myself in front of an audience, microphone in my face, and I trudge through. I pay attention to the showing and telling (as a writer would), moments of action, story structure. I also leave room for humor and little asides, trying to predict what will make an audience laugh and fill in gaps for them. I construct the pieces in this way until I have a complete story of ten to fifteen minutes and then tell the whole thing again, this time paying attention to the lags and awkward moments. As a storyteller, I’m upbeat, funny, intense, and direct.
But my process as a writer is more intuitive and vulnerable. I feel my way toward words and phrases with sounds that I respond to; they can be pleasing or haunting. I pay attention to sentences that communicate heft and silence. I believe that the shapes and sounds of written words are just as important as their meanings. As a writer, I’m melancholy and sensual.
I’m given the opportunity to craft a non-fiction story for possible performance and with that comes the challenge of uniting my humor and energy with my gravity and music. But this is what I came to Chicago for, yeah? To come home to myself as an artist?Written words don’t have the monopoly on the bizarre and dream-like; art is a heroic effort to make connections and merge disparate selves.
Carry on and happy Thursday. 🙂