The Writing Group I moved out to LA not only for the fabulous weather but because I write plays and screenplays. Yep, screepts. I have since realized that millions of other people in this town write screenplays too. I kid you not. It's millions.
But millions of people are not me. Or are they? I am not millions of people. Or am I? I don't think I am. Or am I me if I think? Ack, I'm thinking deep. Can't think deep out here. It makes the air heavier.
Since coming out here, I have sought out writing groups, safe spaces where I can develop my work. I have found some awesome stuff. One great one is called Tuesdays at 9 LA sponsored by Naked Angels. Actors get up and do cold readings of ten pages. It totally helped me with a rewrite. It totally did. Unfortunately, it is a luxury car among a lot of lemon clunkers. Last night, I test drove a real whoopsie-daisy lemon clunker.
I had heard the XYZ writing group was looking for new writers, so I emailed the person in charge. The emailing went well with no bad spellings or errors in punctuation. I learned that writer members brought in work for actors to read, then they all discussed it. Sounded promising.
I arrived a few minutes late, and two actors were already reading a script in front of the group. I slipped into a seat near the door and looked around. There were a dozen other people listening to the script. They were all older than me---by at least thirty years. Where had I landed? Who were these people? I bet they had some interesting stories to dramatize.
I focused on the scene being read. Two strangers (a man and a woman) were meeting on a park bench. Standard first year craft stuff. Playwriting 101: write a bench scene, then write an elevator scene. Conflicts, motivations, and turning points are a big deal, and the writer usually lacks voice. As I watched the scene, I began thinking in craft terms and wondered why these two characters were talking to each other and why I was even watching them.
I became even more baffled by the post-reading discussion which contained excessive praise and lacked focus. Yep, I had entered the room of amateur dramatics. I can never say to anyone, ‘Don't write, just, don't write.' If you want to write, write then. Sure writing is a lot of pain, sweat, work, and agony, but if it makes you happy, go for it.
I could have just walked out, but I figured that would be rude. I could have used the excuse ‘oh I am in the wrong room', but I was in the right room. This was the writing group I had come to check out. It became quiet again in the room, and it was so quiet that I was afraid to place my car keys on the table in front of me. I suddenly felt like I was back at St. Ann's Elementary School and had to sit up straight with my ankles crossed.
The second play reading started. Again, two strangers met on that magical place called a stage and a lot of boring talking stuff happened. What was happening? I have watched Shakespeare while sitting on the edge of my seat. I have laughed out loud at Beckett plays. Where did this sudden attention deficit disorder come on? Again, there was a discussion and there was praise. Huh? What? Have I entered the Twilight Zone? Dee-Dee-Dee-Dee Dee-Dee-Dee-Dee Dee-Dee-Dee-Dee.
Suddenly, from behind me came a voice—a voice of a later arrival than myself. She made a comment about setting scene and finding a motivation for the characters to speak to each other.
‘Does anyone agree with that?' The discussion moderator asked.
I nodded profusely, and the moderator noticed me.
‘Yes. You agree?' the moderator said to me.
Hold onto your hats, folks. Here comes the hurricane called Jen's opinion. If it's about playwriting, it's a real crazy gale force wind with sleet and hail stones. Over the years, it has become a bit more tactful at times, but it's definitely not in moderation. Pound in the Greeks, sprinkle a little physicality, a little avant garde, a little reality, a spoonful of sugar, and bammo! Shazammo! It! Is! Aliiiive! Miss Jen's in the house.
The room went silent. Uh-oh. I had ranted. I should've opened up a dialogue, but I ranted and raved. The writer (a lady who looked like Bea Arthur only without the wit and shoulder pads) glared at me. I smiled back. Dialogue anyone?
‘Let's take a break.' The moderator said, and cookies were pulled out.
I spoke with the girl I had agreed with. She had just joined the group and was an actor too. We compared notes on writing groups. Before I could speak with anyone else, it was back to work on plays. It certainly was a tight ship.
There were three more scenes (two of them on benches) and three more discussions. I couldn't take much more of it. Had I found a new ring in hell? I took a mental step back. It could be an interesting play---the avant garde girl storms the amateur dramatic lab. However, I was barely making it through the research phase.
I thought about how I could get out with tact and grace. Grace. That's it. I thought about Grace Kelly. How glamorous, how elegant, how mannered. How she wore that sky blue Edith Head gown in To Catch a Thief and kissed Cary Grant in the hallway of a four star hotel on the Riviera. Oh yes, Cary Grant in a tux. I channeled Grace. Focus. Class. Style. Tact.
The discussion was almost over when I lost Grace. Yep, I had to open my mouth. I had to give my opinion---and it was on a point of craft. As I expounded I became more Bette Davis than Grace Kelly. Fasten your seatbelts. It's gonna be a bumpy night.
I was taking a breath when Bea said something catty and condescending about my comment. She was probably sore about my last comment, so I naturally responded to her response to my response. Nothing nasty. Just a bit of subtextual jabbing to get the blood flowing. It's all about the dialogue.
After a few announcements from the moderator, the lab was over. I had to get out of there. Either they were gonna kill me or I was gonna kill them. Fortunately this town was big enough for all of us. I spoke briefly with the moderator who remembered my emails. She told me I would have to submit a play and that dues were twenty bucks a month. I said I would have to check my schedule. I lied, but they would never see me again.
The moderator also mentioned that the person I had verbally sparred with was a ‘very accomplished playwright'. I wanted to respond with some snide remark, but I only said ‘oh really' and wasn't even ironic about it. I was so out of there.
Accomplished playwright? I've known accomplished playwrights, I've worked with accomplished playwrights, and she was no accomplished playwright. Okay, Shakespeare (who I never worked with) is an accomplished playwright. If Sophocles works a little harder, some day, he just might be accomplished. What the hell is accomplished playwriting anyway? How the heck do you write a play in an accomplished way?
I chuckled as I started my car, then full-on laughed as I drove away. I got lost in Beverly Hills, but it didn't matter. I eventually found my way out.
I had definitely found the wrong writing group for me. I suddenly felt young---like some crazed teenager with manic panic in my hair and stomping through rain puddles with my ratty Doc Martens. I suddenly wanted to listen to the Sex Pistols.
I suddenly wanted a vodka tonic. Yes, oh yes, a vodka tonic will ease my mind (although my mind was at ease) and chill my blood. Oh yes, a vodka tonic will bring me to that Bacchae place of revelry. I even had some Raspberry Stoli left over from Thanksgiving. Oh yes! Yes! Yes! Life is good.
I will give the writing group credit. They had found their heaven. They seemed happy. I hope forty years from now that I'm still having fun on earth. Maybe I'll be in a room with younger people who find my hip retro references amusing. Actually, forget the room. We'll be out in the sun. And don't forget to bring the tonic.