Episode 70: Talking to a Playwright on Skype
What’s it like to talk to a playwright? In this episode Lindsay shares three different Skype sessions with three different groups. What do students want to know when they have a playwright in front of them? Listen to find out.
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Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
Today, we’ve got something a little different and a little interesting, I think. I do indeed think so. And so, one of the things that I have been doing on a regular basis lately is talking to classes and also to casts those who are working on my shows, via Skype. It’s just been a great way for students to talk to me, to actually see me, see that the name on their script is actually a live person, and they can ask questions directly, you know, of their playwright. And, because it’s all through, you know, the tubes and the wires of the internets, it really is so easy. It’s such an easy way to communicate. I sit in front of my computer, and they sit in front of theirs, and, you know, poof! Away we go!
So, today, I have a collection here, a selection of Skype recordings from three different groups – two productions and one class who were testing a lesson plan for an upcoming monologue book that I’m working on. So, the first group you’ll hear is from – and this is really the best example of how technology basically can bring the world together – they are from a Northern Canadian community in Inuvik, so far north that there are no roads. It’s a fly-in only community, and I did this Skype at the beginning of November, and they had enough snow to snowmobile on, and they were also telling me about their in-town polar bear problem. I can’t even visualize that but that’s what’s happening where they live, and this is the Drama club at the high school, and they were preparing to put on one of my issue plays, Floating On A Don’t Care Cloud. They did another issue play of mine last year, The Bright Blue Mailbox Suicide Note and they prepared them and they performed them for their school, and also, their community.
So, Floating On A Don’t Care Cloud is a play about pot use in a high school, the stereotype of a drug user, and, sometimes, how the person abusing drugs just does not fit the stereotype. Sometimes, they’re like the yearbook editor.
So, these guys had great questions about the play, but also, broader questions about writers’ block or just how do you learn lines? And, have a listen. I really enjoyed getting to know these kids. And, in this recording, you will hear my biggest theatrical pet peeve of all time.
Lindsay: Okay. So, how long have you guys been rehearsing?
Respondent: A week?
Respondent: No, no, two months. More like two months, probably.
Lindsay: And when’s your first show? It’s tomorrow, isn’t it? No, Tuesday, Tuesday.
Respondent: Tuesday and Wednesday.
Lindsay: And who will you perform for?
Respondent: First, the school, then public.
Respondent: Yes, two public schools and two school shows.
Respondent: Two public shows and two school shows.
Lindsay: So, will your whole community show up for the show, you think? Maybe?
Respondent: Maybe, yeah.
Respondent: They’ve got two or three questions ready for you whenever you want to feel.
Lindsay: I’m ready, lay ‘em on me.
Respondent: Okay. You want to ask your question there, Kevin?
Kevin: Why did you write this play?
Lindsay: I wrote this play for a couple of reasons. Writing issue plays is one of the things that we do. We like to cover a lot of issues with Theatrefolk, and I was asking some teachers and some students what is a problem, and the problem was that what’s sort of done twofold and floating that there’s a lot of pot use where teenagers don’t think that it’s very serious, and yet, they do all the things that Jamie does. You know, he doesn’t go to school, and he steals, and he does all those things, and I really like what Miss Hogarth says in the play where she says, you know, “I may have done it, but I never didn’t show up for class and I never stole and I didn’t hurt my family and my friends,” and that’s where you have to sort of think about that.
And, also, the other side, Mya who is very judgmental about people like Jamie, she separates herself but she’s a drug addict, too. Just because she thinks she’s taking it for a “good reason” – to have good grades – she’s just as much of a drug addict as Jamie is, and I wanted to show that too that you can’t stereotype people. You know, people think that drug addicts look and talk like Jamie, they don’t. They look and talk like Mya, too. So, that’s kind of what I wanted to explore, and I love theatricalizing strange things so I was like, “Okay, I’m going to theatricalize pot. I’m going to turn him into people. I’m going to turn him into characters. And, how do I do that?” That was, for me, if there was a fun part in writing this play, getting to theatricalize a thing that isn’t supposed to walk and talk and interact with other characters, that’s what I love about theatre. I love that we can take something that isn’t supposed to walk and talk and it can do that.
Respondent: Cool, yeah. Who’s got another question there? Justin had a question.
Respondent: Okay. Maybe you want to ask the one about… Larry had a good question earlier. Larry, you want to fire your question from back there?
Larry: My question for you is how do you deal with writers’ block?
Lindsay: You know what? That’s something that I don’t often have and I think it’s because I don’t want for inspiration to write so I don’t sit around waiting for, you know, ideas to hit me. You know, there’s that stereotype of writers that they just sort of sit around, and then, they say, “Oh, I’m going to write a play,” and then, a magical pony kind of shoots out of their head down a rainbow, and, like, “I got a play! All right!” and it doesn’t happen that way. It’s a very practical, tangible act for me. So, I approach it in tangible ways.
So, I do a little bit of writing every day. So, I don’t worry about writing for two hours or three hours or four hours. Sometimes, I only manage five or ten minutes. But, if I do it every single day, I get to the end. And, I also don’t worry about if I don’t feel like it. If I don’t feel like it then my writing is really crappy, and that’s okay. I’m very happy to write badly because bad writing is better than no writing at all.
So, that’s really my biggest tip for getting over writers’ block is learn to love your ugly writing and just learn to do it as a habit. Do it every day and just take a notebook or take your phone. Get your phone out and just sort of, like, you know, open up a little box and just write some, you know, keep a thing in your phone where you can just cab your notes or your ideas. And, if that happens on a consistent basis in a little chunk, you’ll never have writers’ block.
Respondent: Cool. Any other questions? There was another question. Yeah. Go, Ethan.
Ethan: Is this play real?
Respondent: Was it based on real?
Ethan: Yeah, based on a true story?
Lindsay: Yeah, is it based on a true story? It’s not based on a true story. I did a lot of research beforehand because I didn’t want to say things that were false, but I have a very active imagination. I make up, I love making stuff up.
Respondent: And, Lindsay, we were wondering as well, what was your idea behind having all of the characters on stage in chairs rather than coming on when they were needed sort of thing? Why did you want to have them on stage all the time?
Lindsay: You know what? It’s something that I like. I thought that it just creates an atmosphere, you know? Like, TJ is running out of time. And, if everybody is there sort of overlooking and they’re right there to be in their scene, that everything snowballs very quickly as opposed to that scene-and-exit – scene begins, next person enters. I’m all about getting rid of any dead time. I hate blackouts. I hate blackouts. Blackouts are my biggest theatrical pet peeve because it gives the audience time to think about their laundry, or what they’re going to have for dinner, and we want them in the world of the play from beginning to end. We want to suck that audience in, and you want to grab them by the collar, and you don’t want to let them go.
So, anything that takes people out of the world of the play is bad.
Respondent: I hear you. Now, that explains it wonderfully. Thank you.
More questions there, guys?
Respondent: What is the best thing to remember the lines?
Respondent: The best way?
Respondent: The best way.
Lindsay: I have a horrible, horrible memory and I have to give speeches quite often and the only way that I can do it is I write them out. So, I get a lot of scrap paper. People see me. It’s so funny because I travel a lot, and so, I’ll be on a plane and have this pile of scrap paper in front of me and I’m just, like, practicing my lines for my speech, and I write them out, and I write them out, and I write them out, then I rip up the page and I put it to the side. And I’m sure people look at me going, “What is this woman doing? She’s writing and then she’s ripping up her papers.” So, that’s how I get it in my head. I just write it out and write it out. And, the best thing to do is just the more you do it, the more it gets in you.
Sometimes, people record their lines and so they can hear them. So, they play them back and they can hear. And, some people just say them out and say them out and say them out.
Respondent: That’s a great idea. I’ve got a few Dictaphones in my classroom. You may have given me some ideas for some of the kids having problems with memory.
Lindsay: Absolutely, and it all depends on how everybody learns things differently. I think I learn with writing because that’s what I do all the time. But there are so many people who learn orally that it sort of seeps in your brain that way.
Okay. So, this next group that you’re going to hear is from a class in Alabama. You’ll hear me mention, they ask me about hockey which I know nothing and I mention they’re ROLLTIDE which is a catchphrase for the University of Alabama football team – notice how well that rolls off my tongue, and, through Skype.
So, these students shared monologues that they had written using a lesson plan of mine and just how cool is that? So, they’re working on a project in class, you know, that was put together by me, and then, I get to directly see and hear of the results of their work. Love it. I love, I love the internet. I do!
But, aside from that, this class had also prepared some questions for me, and it was fascinating what this class was interested in was completely different. They were really interested in my human aspects, right? To sort of make who I was not just a name on a page. And, some of them knew my work because the teacher was familiar with my work. It seems really important to them to make me human, right?
So, who did I know? Who have I met? Where did I come from? What did I like? What’s my degree in? What’s my favorite color? A really interesting mix of questions.
Respondent: How long have you lived in Canada?
Lindsay: All my life. So, I have lived in Canada for almost forty-four years. I’m going to be forty-four really, really soon.
Respondent: Uh-oh! Uh-oh! Okay, what’s next?
Respondent: What made you want to write plays?
Lindsay: I started out as an actor, and I didn’t like the parts that I was getting as an actor, and I got to a point where I just said, “Oh, I’m going to write my own,” and I started writing my own material, and I got to a point where I was more interested in the writing and listening to an audience respond to the writing than I was being an actor. And I have a very specific moment where I’m on stage and I’m performing one of my own pieces, and I’m just like, “I don’t care what I’m doing on stage. I’d rather be at the back sort of listening to the audience.”
So, I went from being an actor to being a writer.
Respondent: Have you ever met Justin Bieber or any other celebrities?
Lindsay: No. I live in a, if there’s a thousand people in my town, that’s on a good day, and Justin Bieber doesn’t live anywhere near me so nope.
Respondent: How many plays have you written?
Lindsay: Over fifty. Over fifty and I would say I get about 400 productions a year. All my stuff is done in schools and my plays are produced across Canada and all over the US and overseas, too. I just had one in the UK and Singapore, one in Peru.
Respondent: I like Peru.
Respondent: Okay. When did you write your first play?
Lindsay: I wrote my first play when I was twenty years old, 1991.
Respondent: What’s your favorite hockey team?
Lindsay: None. Zero point zero. I’m a proud Canadian and I couldn’t watch hockey to save my life. I do watch a little bit of football though.
Respondent: I told them that you watched football!
Lindsay: I know all about your ROLLTIDE. I know all about them.
Respondent: So, where did you go to college?
Lindsay: I went to a small university called Wilfrid Laurier in Waterloo, Ontario, which is near Toronto.
Respondent: What is your favorite type of play that you’ve written?
Lindsay: My favorite type of play? I like things where I can theatricalize something on stage that’s not supposed to be on stage like when an inanimate object talks, or I take somebody who’s a literary person and turn them into a living, breathing character. So, I like doing things theatrically that you don’t see in real life and that aren’t supposed to happen, and I think that’s when theatre is the best, more so than movie audiences because movie audiences, they want realism, right? You know, there’s got to be the real battle and the real alien attacking the real Transformer and I don’t think theatre audiences are the same. They’ll go with you and they’ll use their imagination.
Respondent: What is your degree in?
Lindsay: I have an English degree but, if I could go back, I don’t know if I would go to university. It’s hard to say because I guess it kind of helped me because I did a lot of reading but I like to read anyway. So, you know, I could have done that in my spare time and not in classrooms. But I think it’s really important to know how you learn and, for me, like, I don’t have any degrees in playwriting. I learned by doing it, and I just did it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, and that’s how I learned to be a playwright. So, I don’t know if I would be a better playwright if I went to school for it. I do pretty well so I don’t regret not having a playwriting degree.
Respondent: What’s your favorite color?
Respondent: What’s your favorite movie?
Lindsay: What’s my favorite movie? I love Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and there are bits of timing in that movie that show up in my plays all the time. When Cameron is sitting in the car and he’s going, “I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go,” I use that all the time – the timing of it, not the same lines but the timing of it.
And then, there’s a guy whose name is escaping me right now but he did one of the new Batmans. I can’t remember but he has done a movie called Memento and I think that is a really kick—uh, that’s a really great movie.
Respondent: We knew what you were going to say!
Lindsay: I just caught myself in the middle of that one. Sorry, guys!
Okay, one more. So, this last one is from a middle school in Colorado that was in the middle of performing Alice, my adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. They literally had a performance and then they did the Skype and then they were going to do another performance.
Now, I have to warn you, some of the sound is garbled and it’s hard to hear. I’m pretty clear but they were in a big room and they were using a microphone and, as I say, things get kind of garbled, but stay with it. And I really wanted to include a selection from this group because, again, their questions had a completely different focus. They wanted to know what it was like to write a play but they were really interested in what was going on inside of me. They wanted to talk about what it felt like to write a play, what was I thinking during the process? And they really wanted to know what was hard. You know, was it hard to write a play? Was it hard to take a book and turn it into a play? And, when I was writing this particular play, what was the hardest part? And I just love that! I love that these are middle schoolers and this is where their brains went. And, of course, they wanted to know who my favorite character was and it just happened that the girl who was asking that at the time had played the part that I think is the best. I always wanted to be The Duchess in Alice. There you go, that would be my favorite part.
So, again, some of it is garbled, but stay with it. I just think the questions are so insightful coming from pre-teens. And, I repeat most of the questions mostly because, when I was listening to it, I had no idea what they were trying to ask and wanted to clarify for myself. Here we go.
Respondent: How do you write a play?
Lindsay: I think the question was how do you write a play?
Lindsay: Awesome. You know what? It’s something that, when you think about it, it seems really foreign and that it’s something that it shouldn’t be able to do, but it’s kind of the same thing like basketball or climbing a mountain – all it does is it takes practice. So, I’ve been practicing for almost twenty years. So, for me, it’s a very normal and everyday habit thing. That’s how I write a play. It’s a habit for me to sit down and put words on the page and I love theatre so I have conversations going on in my head all the time. So, it’s pretty natural for me to think in dialogue, so that’s usually where it starts. I have characters who talk to me and then it gets bigger.
Respondent: Is it hard to write a play based on a book without using all the parts?
Lindsay: Is it hard to write a play based on a book? Yes, adaptation is my favorite form of playwriting. I love taking something in another form like Alice in a book and I’ve also done Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry and Walt Whitman’s poetry and turned them into a play. I love doing that. So, for me, it’s not hard. It’s challenging, it’s not an easy thing, but it’s the kind of challenge that I love.
Respondent: Is it fun to write a play?
Lindsay: It is a lot of fun to write plays. I love it. It’s my favorite thing to do.
Respondent: What thing was the hardest to put together?
Lindsay: I think the hardest thing to put together was the beginning and her getting down the rabbit-hole because I wanted to do something that had some movement in it, not necessarily words because, you know, in the book and in a movie, it’s easy to have her falling down the rabbit-hole and you can’t quite do that on theatre, in theatres.
Respondent: How does it feel to know that kids all around the world are performing the plays you wrote?
Lindsay: It’s fantastic. A most amazing thing to know that I wrote something down and then it went in a book and then somebody actually bought the book. And then, even better than that, they decided they were going to put the play on. So, now they’re speaking my words to an audience I’ve never met.
Just recently, I’ve had plays in Peru and in China. That blows my mind.
Respondent: Okay. For one, I really enjoy doing the show. I’m The Duchess, the Knave, and the fourth Door.
Respondent: And it’s really fun screaming, “Pig!” and throwing the stuffed animal. I really like it.
Lindsay: Good. If I was going to play a part, I would want to be The Duchess.
Respondent: Oh, thank you.
Respondent: How did it feel to, as you were writing the play, what did you feel?
Lindsay: You feel a whole bunch of things. You feel excited at the beginning, and then, sometimes you feel frustrated when you hit a problem, and then, you feel proud when you have a finished product.
Respondent: I really enjoyed doing this play, to be honest, one of the greatest experiences for me. I was one of the Cheshire cats – there’s three of us.
Lindsay: It was first written for a high school group and I had all these people that needed to be in the play and I’m like, “Well,” – and I couldn’t do the Cheshire cat the way they do it in the movies – I was like, “How can I make this a little weird?” and I thought, “Well, let’s put three people in and do the cat!”
Respondent: What were you thinking about as you wrote the play?
Lindsay: I was thinking about being that I really liked the book and I wanted to find a way to stage it anybody could stage it because it’s got a lot of technical elements to it so I thought about how I could make that happen.
Respondent: Who’s your favorite character in the play?
Lindsay: The Duchess.
Respondent: I play The Mad Hatter in the play and I was wondering, do you like being mad?
Lindsay: Well, I think I am in my own way. I think, because people ask me all the time, like, are your plays based on somebody? Do you use your own life? And I’m like, “Nope. I just make it all up,” and I’m like, “Well, I think that probably makes me a little bit mad that I can just…” I seem to have a bottomless well of things that I can use for plays. But I spend a lot of time working on that, too. Again, it’s a practice thing. I practice being mad, I think.
Respondent: Yeah, the role’s really fun.
Respondent: Why did you think of writing a play that is huge?
Lindsay: I’ve always loved theatre and I used to be an actor and I didn’t like the parts that I was getting as an actor and I just, one day, just said, “Well, I’m going to write my own,” and then, I found out that I liked writing more than acting.
Okay. So, if you’re sitting here and you’re like, “Ugh! I would love to do some kind of Skype session,
here’s some advice. The biggest piece of advice I can give is that, if you are preparing to do something with a playwright, prepare questions ahead of time, and you probably want about ten questions – that’s a good, nice number – this way, you don’t get to the session and everyone is staring at the computer monitor and, you know, I’m staring back at you, and you’ve got this opportunity, use it.
And, if you’re doing a play, think about specific questions you may have about the script, or something that happens to a specific character. You know, in the Floating session, as you heard, they asked about having all the characters on stage at once and why was that, and that allowed me to directly share what I was thinking when I wrote the play. You know, a great opportunity for me to get across something that I might not have been able to put directly into stage directions, or certainly I wouldn’t be able to put it into the text, and a great opportunity for them, you know? It takes something that they looked at in the script and maybe didn’t quite get, and to have somebody – the person who wrote it – give an explanation.
And, if you’re unsure about something, a Skype session is the perfect time to ask. I just Skyped this week with a school who are a week away from performing Humbug High, and they wanted to know my thoughts on how to portray a certain character because I don’t think they were quite sure, and you could see the relief when what I said matched what they were thinking. Sometimes that’s all you need. You just want to have your choices clarified or justified.
This was really cool, too. So, this production, after they were finished talking with me, they were going to run their lines, but their main actor was away because of the American Thanksgiving, but she was online and she was going to do her lines via Skype. Have I mentioned that I love the internet? It’s so cool.
So, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS. And while I think it just makes sense here to say that, if you’re doing one of our plays and you want to talk to the playwright, give us a shout. You know, if it’s one of my plays, I’m telling you, it’s the easiest thing in the world to set up a Skype. It’s the easiest thing to get Skype, and it’s the easiest thing to initiate a chat, it’s so easy to do. Email me, we’ll set a day and time.
Now, more and more of our authors are on Skype now, too. So, give your students the opportunity to reach out and connect to the person who wrote the words you’re trying to bring to life. Our email is email@example.com. Speaking for myself, I just love doing these. It makes the experience, the whole experience of doing a play, a little more intimate on both sides of the table, and I love that by giving some answers for my script, I can kind of be a part of the community of the production. After I did the Inuvik Skype session, the teacher told me that the students kind of looked at each other and said, “She knows us now,” and it’s true. It’s something that I never would be able to do. I’m never going to be able to fly to a community that has no roads, but I was able to sit down and have a conversation with them, and I just think that’s awesome.
Lastly, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? Well, let me tell you. We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on youtube.com/theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Head over there, give us some feedback, you know, give us a little review. We’ll love you for it. All you have to do is search on the word “Theatrefolk.”
And that is where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.
Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.