Rewriting

 Mid-way through rehearsals in Jessica 

Mid-way through rehearsals in Jessica 

 

I hate rewriting so, so, so much. I always have. I don't where it started, but I imagine somewhere after my first long essay in elementary school. Showing my work to my dad and him telling me I needed to start over from the beginning. I always dreaded the idea that I had to take the sense of accomplishment I got from writing those seemingly endless pages and throw it out to start anew.

 Every play I've written has started as an idea that became a quick-lived obsession. Usually the idea will pop in my head, I'll let it cook in my mind for a few months, then one night I'll just literally pour it all out on the page. It's here where I'll begin to see all the holes and problems that I didn't initially think of in my mind. Usually the first draft will be compelling enough to let me know that a good play exists within these words, but it will take a long time before that 'good play' actually comes out.

And this is where, for years, I've fallen apart. That initial part is such a love affair. To get those words on the page for the first time is so fun and exciting and exhilarating. But then you wake up and there's flaws in the logic, characters with no arcs, and 'to' where should be 'too.' This is where often, I consider how much I actually want to write this play and how much I actually care about telling this story. More often than not it's easier to abandon this piece and go on to the next one rather than really try and make this first one work.

Cue Jessica. My first full-length play after college. After nearly a year where I felt like I couldn't write anything, Jessica's first draft was completed during a particularly rainy week in April 2016. It was a blast to write, and I knew something about it was special. But then I abandoned it for nearly 2 months, rewriting it just before submissions in July 2016.

And by that time, the love affair was over. Jessica was full of glaring problems. A passive protagonist, a catalyst that didn't occur until the second act, and characters that weren't really sure why they even existed. These problems were so monumental I didn't even know where to begin. I did what I could and I sent it to a few places. I started writing other plays, and I mostly put it in the back of my mind.

Fast forward to December: Someone sees something in my writing. It's Sanguine Theater Company, and Jessica's a finalist for their New Play competition. And then in January, after a brief 20 minute excerpt, Jessica was selected as the winner. A production would occur in late July. Awesome. Except now I had to do something I'd been putting off for a long time: taking my writing seriously. 

After I graduated, it was easy to detach myself when I was receiving rejection after rejection. "Oh, well I wasn't really trying on that one" or "I didn't really want that anyways" was basically my defense to the idea that rejections made me think: "Hey, maybe this isn't for you." Obviously, I know that's not true now, but at the time I was scared of going all into this and failing. I mean, I definitely still am. The more I share my work with people, the more of myself I put out there, the more it becomes possible that I'm going to fail colossally and publicly. It's terrifying and maybe it's irrational, but it's kept me from trying as hard as I should've been for years.

But Jessica, whether I liked it or not, was going to go up in July. I could detach myself. I could say "Oh this was something I wrote a while ago and I don't really care about it." But that's a giant middle finger to anyone who ever read my writing and found something they liked in it.

Not to mention, with a production, there's people giving hours and hours of their time, doing their best to serve this script that I wrote. From actors to the director to the designer, plays are a massive undertaking from anyone, and they are all relying on the idea that they're helping tell a story I'm passionate about. Theater is a collaborative art form, one of the most collaborative art forms that exists. And when I'm shitty to myself, I'm shitty to everyone around me. 

So this year, 2017, I've been writing like my life depends on it. I've written 2 new full lengths, with a third on the way, and countless one acts and ten minute pieces. But most importantly I've rewritten Jessica. Over, and over, and over, and over again. And honestly? It was still pretty hard. With every change, comes a bunch of new questions, and other changes that need to be made. But it's also unbelievably rewarding. To re-examine every line and discover it's purpose. To see things in your writing that even you didn't see for the first time. To finish a draft that actually made you feel something, and maybe it will make other people feel the same.

For the most recent draft, the one that's going to be performed at IRT from this Saturday until August 6th (Buy tickets here lol: http://irttheater.org/3b-development-series/jessica-by-patrick-vermillion/) I was having trouble finding an ending. I'd asked for an extension, cutting down to the wire on figuring out what I wanted to close out the play on. It went down like this:

It was July 7th. I was packing up from another failed writing session around 9pm, and it's about a fifteen minute walk from the coffee shop to where I was staying teaching a writer's camp that week. As I walked back, this MASSIVE rain storm occurs. I had no umbrella, there were no nearby trees, and the whole thing was up hill so I'm not about to run. I end up getting soaked and it sucks hard at first but eventually I embrace it and I'm like: ok. This is going to be a new start. A fresh try. And I started to think about the very fundamentals of my playwriting education.

I think: In the simplest playwriting terms, There's wants, and there's actions to get those wants. The climax of the play is when our protagonist either gets or doesn't get what they want. And their emotional growth comes through either achieving the want or being denied it.

When I got back, still soaking wet. I opened my laptop and started writing the last scene.

And as I finished my final draft of Jessica (for now) at 2:00am on July 8th in a small college dorm. I looked back on how insanely far this play had come in the last year and a quarter or so. How much more it looks like what I originally wanted now than it did when I first wrote it. How it was really hard and difficult, but ultimately extremely satisfying. I'll always be working on this play, trying new things and seeing where I can take it. But I'll always remember this was the moment that showed me: Rewriting is worth it. It sucks a lot, but it works.

Please come see Jessica, I've worked really hard on it. As have the director, the actors, and the designers. I hope you like it.