"Hi Taryn, Congratulations! You were selected to have your work read in Paula Vogel's...." Oh, shit, I thought.
To be fair, I was in the middle of tech week. As I glanced at my emails for updates on a late actor, I was also talking with my producer and tech director about changes needed on the set and furniture that was not as durable as it should be, checking the time to make sure we're not starting late, doing a subconscious check for pre-set props, and (unsuccessfully) trying to transfer sound cues from my laptop to an app on my phone, with two days till opening night. Actors, be kind to your stage managers.
I had read about Paula Vogel's Bake-Off a few weeks ago, where writing a 5 minute play in 48 hours during a three-show opening weekend of a play sounded like a good idea. Add to that my professor, all-around bad-ass female, and mentor encouraging me to submit my name, and I had no choice! As I got into tech week and realized how little time I would have, I crossed my fingers that I would not be selected for public reading and I could quietly back out (only 50 writers would have the chance to have their plays read publicly at the Playwright's Center).
I also have some trepidation about the content. Ms. Vogel's "ingredients" are clearly political, satirical, and skewed towards one party. I prefer the subtle "commentary on society" approach to politics, which I don't think is possible here - one "ingredient" character is described: 'A groveling, conniving, servile counselor who believes in conversion therapy for queers and trans & does not spend time in the company of women except his wife.' Hmm, I wonder who that could be?
Nevertheless, my name was chosen for public reading, and I am excited!
I wasn't allowed to start writing until noon on Saturday, but I didn't start then. I did a little research, looked over the provided materials, and mapped out my plan of action. Playwriting is a little like treasure hunting, to me. Except I have to create the map, draw in landmarks, and pray that the X really does mark the spot.
I was cautious about the clear route to mock our president. It's way too easy, it's been done before, and I'm certain that the majority of the plays will do just that. I expect it will be a little like SNL, with Alec Baldwin making the same jokes and impressions each week. There's more to say than just "Trump is a joke". Point your finger, and you have four pointed right back at yourself, right? So that was the map I drew - what have I, or we, done (or not done) to allow this presidency to happen?
I wrote five pages during a three-hour show. The map was drawn, the landmarks were in all the right places. Now, tonight, my play will be read publicly in front of playwrights Paula Vogel, Carson Kreitzer, and a hundred other strangers. Tonight I'll find out if my X marks the spot.
Edit: Monday night my play was read, along with almost 50 others. Paula Vogel was there, as was my mentor, my MFA peers, and loads of other writers I'd never met. Almost immediately I regretted the play I'd written. "I think I've made a terrible mistake," I texted my boyfriend, "they're all funny." I had judged the content of the plays before I'd even written my own. Was what I had to say that much more important than anyone else? I learned a lesson in humility. The plays that leaned into the joke were really funny; mine fell flat.
I met Paula Vogel and offered her a ride to her hotel in my little car, windows frozen over with ice and tires that could barely grip the fresh snow. I spoke with old friends and met new ones. We left the warm, cozy, theater and stepped into the bitter cold, refreshed, inspired, and united. And I found a new proverb for my writing: Lean into the joke: it helps with the pain.