Surprises happen every day. You’d think they would feel more commonplace, but they still can shock you at times. A squirrel runs that runs out in front of your car, or a surprise card in your snail mail from a friend who is sending sympathy for your lost, loved pet–surprises can be good or bad.
I had a surprise lately. It had to do with writing–plays, to be exact. A few months ago, my friend, Alex, asked if I’d help him facilitate a playwright’s workshop. In a discussion he’d had with Miss Paige–the director/producer of the playhouse in the Providence section of Scranton that we both participate at–brought up the need for more parts for actresses. Miss Paige said that there are almost always more women auditioning for shows than she has parts to distribute–and often those parts are somewhat flawed anyhow. They can be mere stereotypes of women, or archetypes that can be unrealistic or only two-dimensional. Her theatre welcomes original plays, doing several most seasons. Together we saw a need in our local theatre community, and we all acted on it. So, our “Plays for Women Workshop” was born. In it, I figured I’d play the part of writing instructor–not that I’ve ever taught creative writing–but with the essays I help my students write, and my proofreading expertise, I could still be a decent addition to the mix.
This isn’t the surprise though. We were delighted at the number of eager participants that appeared at the first session–some of them not even the usual theatre-types we’d been expecting, but other local writers from the community excited to try their hand at scripts. This was not the surprise either. That was yet to come.
Now, I’ve tried to write plays before. I have a portion of a screenplay I tried to construct in a workshop a few years ago. I wrote a play in high school that my friends performed that dealt with losing loved ones to dementia. One I wrote in college got published in our literary magazine. I’m convinced the staff felt obliged to include it by default as it had been the only dramatic work submitted for the writing contest. That, or they felt guilty not including it because I was on the staff of the magazine with them. I feel little about these works in hindsight beyond their personal topics that were close to my heart. Stylistically, I think they left much to be desired.
While I had agreed to help run the workshop with Alex, I had my doubts about being able to produce anything meaningful. I had plenty of ideas for characters and settings, but I felt as if substance was lacking. But I shouldn’t have thought that way. I should have thought about my research in graduate school when I tried to study the effects of learning in cooperative group sessions. It’s amazing what working with others can accomplish, for in the subsequent sessions, I had not only one script with possibilities, but three one-acts. My friend, Paul, a workshop member and theatre-type whose opinion I value, told me he thought they had potential for production (and that he liked them, too).
What a great, happy surprise–the kind you just don’t see coming. Those are the best ones. I hadn’t sought it out, but there it was, and is, waiting for me to make that surprise into something substantial and sempiternal.