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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reading Trauma

I had a reading of one of my plays this week. It was in our apartment. I'll divulge nothing about the piece and the event (other than the fact that it's clearly a work of great genius). This is a safe place.

There was no audience. There was no judgement.

Well actually, there was plenty of judgement. Every actor was judging the others and everyone was judging my script, God knows. Moreover, I was judging more than anyone: judging whether I wanted these actors to continue with their roles; whether I wanted to remember them for other things; and whether I am a talent-free putz (despite what my family and friends tell me).

Set against the backdrop of my raging anxiety at hearing my words, the evening is essentially a series of traumas.

TRAUMA ONE: WILL THEY SHOW UP? - These are actors who are being paid gratitude and nothing else - and this is New York, where the subway rules. And people are fallible. Even actors.

About fifteen minutes before the start, actors come filtering in. I try to make polite conversation. At this point, I'm friendly with almost all the actors who read for me. Happily, there's food. In fact, our in-apartment readings have acquired the name Popcorn Rep (given, I think, by Austin Pendleton - a brilliant actor and popcorn-consumer).

Donna likes to put out some nice refreshments as a way to reward them for their efforts and to vitalize their occasionally flagging energy. Some actors are delicate. It's time to start. Rinnnnggg!

"I had subway trouble. I'll be there in 10 to 15 minutes." Okay. Fine. But I've run out of material. I asked the actors about their careers. I've even shown them my trophy for winning our Fantasy Football League. I've been through my "A" material. Fortunately, they are actors. They're delightfully capable of entertaining themselves (if not always others).

The actor showed up, was superb, and is now a favorite of mine. The sign of a good playwright is the capacity to forgive. (Sidebar: an actor was there with a direct connection to an important play, loved this tardy actor's work, and recommended this actor to the casting director - reminding me that so much is about showing up.)

TRAUMA TWO: DO I SUCK? - I'm not bragging: I'm not Mamet, but I'm not chopped liver. My work has garnered respect from many I greatly respect. People have actually paid their hard-earned money to spend time with my material. But do I suck?

I sit there and hear the words that I linked together and am generally appalled at what a moron I am. I seem fatuous, shrill, and goofy - and that's when I like my work.

Fortunately, I have the actors and my wife to counter that. They love the piece (and they really, really did!) and tell me I'm a genius.

Of course, the truth is somewhere between. Ain't it always?

TRAUMA THREE: ARE THEY LYING? - The actors are kind. I was an actor for many years. I won't claim that actors are generally any better or worse than any other profession or stratum of society. I do claim this: the best of actors are the best of people; the most odious, the most odious. I try and generally succeed in surrounding myself with the former.

This reading was a shining example of this principle. These monumentally charming and generous people could be lying to me to a) be kind b) curry the favor of a playwright or c) in the case of Donna, sidestep witnessing and cleaning up a very messy wrist-slicing.

They convince me that their enthusiasm is real. They love the piece. I am happy. They are actors.

POST-TRAUMA: THE PLAY WORKS, with a number of rewrites in the offing. I'll keep posting about its future - which is bright. I complete the very satisfying evening in what's become a tradition: I engorge myself with abundant carbs. It was a good evening. Just another anxiety provoking episode in that long journey to stage.

Happily, we go to bed. I know the play basically works. I drift off - a smile and banana bread on my lips and visions of rewrites dancing in my head.

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