A mighty exhausting Workshop

Today’s workshop went really well, but I am so tired. About 2 1/2 hours into the writing process I was exhausted and my writer was exhausted but we pushed through the final half hour and got some great work done.

I should elaborate on the workshop more. I know I have spent more time writing about how I feel, which is part of the purpose of the blog, but I also feel I need to do the workshop justice by describing it in action so that you can get more out of the posts. Plus, it’s an interesting process.

It’s two weeks long, as I might have mentioned before, and the first week is four days then the second week is five days, then the following week we have a performance day. The goal is that each student write and then direct a play.

The first week is about setting boundaries, guidelines and understanding of how the process is going to work, along with getting time to build trust and for each coach to work with each student, so both student and coach can see how they work together. There is generally equal number of coaches to writers although we often have an extra coach to work as what is called a floater- someone to help out if a coach or writer finds themselves stuck.

The first day we stand in a circle: coach/writer/coach/writer and we learn a game called popcorn. In this game you get eye contact then you simultaneously clap hands and send the clap around the circle. It is about connecting and getting eye contact of course but as we all get better and faster through out the weeks we add more tricks like double claps or two claps going at the same time. We talk about respect and what it is and how we respect each other in the workshop. Then we talk about performance. Two of the coaches come up to act a short two line play called five bucks- which is really boring and the kids talk about what is needed to make the scene more interesting. Then there is the first break where a writer and coach work together doing the “car” which I had mentioned in the earlier post. We add more games, like a name gesture game and the zip game. Then two new coaches come up to perform a scene from Death of a Salesman and afterwards they dissect it, to find the conflicts, internal and external, the histories, the stakes etc. A final actor comes up to perform Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be,” and we dig deeper into internal conflict and complex character development. Lastly, we break up into new pairs and write a quick play between two inanimate objects. As a group we read their histories and wants, fears, secrets and conflicts and all the writers were provided with the same first two lines, then with their coaches they write the rest of the dialogue and then we all sit in the circle and we, the coaches read the plays. That is just day one.

Day two is a lot of the same games but we also do a game where we all walk around the room as an animal. Later with a new pairing of coaches the writers dictate to the coach in first person about their animal. As coaches it is our job to pull out more detail, more emotional drive, hidden, motivation and personal connection to the character. It is a game of 100 questions, we all get tired and it is just for 30 mins. Day three is more of the same games, than another walking game where we play that we are an object in nature and then off with a new coach to repeat the same question answer and design game with the object in nature. Day four is more of the same but now we are an object that we may use in daily life and again the writer goes off with a new coach and we do 100 mill questions. In between, we all have private writes and we also play a machine game where we all work as a machine till it breaks down. Once that game is over and discussed the writer dictates to the coach (coach writes everything) about a real time in their life when things were going well but suddenly everything seemed to break down and then change. Then we all take a break because all this thinking and delving and writing and connecting is exhausting.

Week two- A coach is paired with one writer and that coach and writer will work one on one together for the entire week. This leads me to today.

Day one with my writer, and we sat down for three hours, with just one 10 min break. We went through everything in her notebook bit by bit, pulling out what was strong, what was active, what was interesting, what had connection. There was a lot of writing to go through and we covered it with a fine tooth comb. Our goal was to pick two of the three characters from the previous weeks sketchs that we were going to choose for her play. We didn’t get to this. Which was fine because we got into serious detail and questions about the other two characters and by the time we got to the third I was loosing steam and energy.

It is a really taxing process. In order to have truly interesting believable characters the writer has to drill down to the core of the character, make it real. And, the best way to do that is to connect it to real events in your life- you don’t need to record the events but you want to honestly capture the emotions and have your characters act in a true action in order to engage an audience. Most writers and performers know this, but when it comes down to the heart of the work many of us don’t want to go there. I find this to be true for myself from time to time, I mean its taken me months to write my novel and two months to get to the heart and truth of a 13 page short story, and I hardly drill myself for a solid three hours. Here I am sitting with my young writer and I am on her, pushing her to go deeper to think specific and to touch into her personal, fears, wants and secrets. It’s pretty hardcore.

It is hard for me to contain my excitement about seeing what she and all the other writers create because you don’t get this far without pulling out some great work.


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