24-Hour Fest March 2014

Another 24-Hour Fest for PCSF is done and I’m exhausted, but inspired.  Mostly I’m grateful for all of the time, effort, and care that everyone involved puts into the show.  Jennifer Roberts, Bill Hyatt, Rod McFadden, Bridgette Dutta Portman, Elizabeth Flanagan, and all of the volunteers for PCSF are incredible.  My cast Jeffrey Blaze, Brian Flagle, and Laura Espino were lovely and I felt safe leaving my script with them.  Joey Cherney did a fantastic job interpreting my little piece and I knew he understood exactly what I was trying to do, both at a superficial level and deeper beneath the skin of it.

the program inside the program

I was definitely challenged by the topic:  How did vanilla get a bad rap?  But ultimately found something that worked and though I’d groaned when I heard it, am glad for it now.  It wasn’t until 3am that I found my idea, but by 4am it had shape and form and something that I liked.  At 4:45am my computer froze and I had the horrifying realization that I hadn’t saved the play at all since starting it.  Thankfully auto-recovery had saved up to the very last edit I’d made, so I just had to retype four or five lines of dialogue.  By 5:36 – with a 6am deadline – it was done enough that I felt I could safely turn it in.  In the morning I was preparing myself for directors and actors to bombard me with questions and that even the simplest of the questions might find the things I feared didn’t make sense and show it to be weak.  Instead, I was relieved and happy to discover only two or three line adjustments precipitated by kind and very good questions.   I was comfortable and relaxed and felt completely confident in all of them as I left the theatre at 10:30am to hopefully get some sleep (I didn’t, but that’s another story).  I don’t think the play was an easy one – it tells the story in reverse in three scenes in just 6 pages – and they really did a wonderful job interpreting a not fully baked idea into something that conveyed what I wanted it too.  This afternoon after a solid 10 hours of sleep, I am tweaking a few things here and there and looking forward to submitting the play, maybe.

I actually started and abandoned three plays before settling on the concept for PERSONAL SPACE.  Ironically, the opening moment for PERSONAL SPACE was the first thing that I jotted down while we were having dinner six hours earlier.

I drew the number 3 out of the hat for the number of actors, and when I drew two men and one woman, all I really knew was that I wanted the woman to be driving whatever action happened.  The first play I tried was an activist law firm with the female character as the one in charge.  After two pages of absolutely no point and nothing I felt I could work from, I tossed it.  The second one was absurd, but it takes time to do absurd and to weave in the theme would have been beyond me (it was now almost 2am).  In the third, I caved into the love triangle, but it was an affair and like the first, there was no point, nothing original, and I tossed it.  So I went back to that image I’d had at dinner of a woman leaving a bar to hail a cab and being harassed by a guy on the street.

I wanted to convey an ordinary situation where women, especially young women, don’t have the right to their own space.  I also wanted to play with the “nice-guy” trope a little bit.  Even though I was giving in to the relentless idea of a love triangle, I wanted to deconstruct it a little bit.  I wanted to put the audience in one situation and at the end have them realize it was a completely different situation than what they’d thought.  In part I wanted to bring forward one reason girls break up with the “nice guy” – the ones who wear it like a chip on their shoulder and use it as a manipulation, the ones who aren’t really nice guys they just think they are – but in a way that the audience wouldn’t already have the preconceived sympathies informing the situation.  I didn’t fully succeed, but for what amounted to two and a half hours of writing, editing, and polishing, I think it got close.

For those who are curious, I’m posting the play below.  The only edits I’ve made are the ones that were made for the cast that morning.   I am a firm believer in having very few stage directions, but part of my process for first drafts is to type out what’s happening in my head in a lot of detail, I then go back and challenge every stage direction for necessity and delete 80% of it; which is my explanation and apology for how many and how specific the stage directions are here.  Thankfully, Joey, with my full permission and encouragement staged it better than I’d written – or why playwrights don’t need to do the director’s job in the script.

PERSONAL SPACE
A 10-Minute Play in Reverse
by Laylah Muran de Assereto

SCENE 1
To one side of the stage is a low black rehearsal box (the bar scene). On lights up, PORTIA is just on the other side of down center stage from the bar scene.  She is adjusting her purse etc.  JAKE is leaning against a “light post” (one of the columns on either side of the stage), occasionally sipping from a beer bottle, and watching her.  She sees him and hesitates.  She looks “down the street” for a cab.

JAKE
Not many cabs out tonight. [pause] Might need to call one. [pause] I said you might need to call one.

PORTIA
Yeah.  They called one for me.

JAKE
Oh. Sorry. [pause] Just trying to be helpful.  You know some people appreciate that.

PORTIA
Look, I just want to get the cab and go home.  I’m not really … I don’t feel like talking.

JAKE
Sooorry.  I’ll just leave you alone then.

He returns to the light post.  There’s a long pause.  She looks down the street again.  He looks down the street.  She takes a few steps to get a bit away from him.

JAKE cont’d
I was leaving you alone.  Can’t I just stand here?

PORTIA
You can do whatever the hell you want to do.

JAKE mumbles something.  Moves away from, and then takes a step toward her.

JAKE
You know what?  No.  I was here first.  I should be telling you to leave me alone.

PORTIA
I did leave you alone.

He takes another step toward her. [pause] He takes another step, at first intentionally trying to antagonize her then asking an unspoken question.  She looks for a moment like she might say something then doesn’t.

JAKE cont’d
Whatever.

He goes back to the light post. TODD comes out of the club, holding a beer bottle, looking for PORTIA.  He doesn’t notice Jake. She looks between the two men and then down the street again for the cab.

TODD
Portia!  There you are.

PORTIA
Oh, great.

TODD
I’ve been looking for you in there forever.

He stands next to her, not noticing that he’s in her space.  She edges a bit away to reclaim the personal space.

TODD cont’d
What are you doing?  Are you going home?  C’mon.  Don’t go yet.

He moves closer to her.

TODD cont’d
Unless I can come too.

She firmly – but not violently – pushes him away.

PORTIA
No. Really, I just want to go home.

TODD
Aw, c’mon.

Jake steps forward again.

JAKE
She said no.

PORTIA
You know what?  If I wanted help from you I’d ask.

TODD
Hey.  What’s it to you?

TODD moves around Portia ready to confront JAKE

PORTIA
Oh for fuck’s sake.

TODD moves toward JAKE who moves toward him and they freeze (the more they look like two bulls about to lock horns – in pose – the better).  PORTIA slowly turns away from them and moves to and sits on the black box (if this can be done in a smooth graceful motion – like the movement of a matador’s cape – great, but anything that helps signal a break in the timeline is good), she picks up a beer bottle from behind it and sips.  She almost lounges.  She might bounce her foot as if to the beat of music we can’t hear.  TODD and JAKE break their freeze and JAKE exits.  TODD turns back and walks toward PORTIA as if through a crowded bar or club.  He sits next to her and she makes room for him. He leans in and says something to her.  She laughs.  They laugh.  They talk like they are in a crowded bar – hard to hear each other, but they don’t quite shout.

PORTIA
Right?  It’s like I keep ordering Rum Raisin or… no, Jackfruit or Saffron ice-cream but I keep getting Vanilla.

TODD
I have no idea what you just said.

PORTIA
You know, like what you were saying?  How the universe is mixing up the order?…  I just keep ending up with these guys that are so bland and normal.

TODD
Oh, right.  I get it. [pause] Sooo, you’re saying you’d like to try something a little … uh … spicy?

PORTIA
Well… um… yeah, I guess.

TODD
I’m pretty spicy.

PORTIA
Really, like what? allspice or cayenne?

TODD
What?

PORTIA
Nothing, never mind.

TODD
So do you have a boyfriend?

PORTIA
Yeah.  He’s around here somewhere.

TODD
He is?

PORTIA
He’s probably pouting or something.

TODD
Ooohh, you’re fighting?

PORTIA
Nope, Jake doesn’t fight.

TODD
He shouldn’t leave you alone.

PORTIA
Yeah, ok Mr. Spiceman.  I think I’m going to go to the restroom.

Portia stands up. And as he’s saying his next line walks away.  He stands up to be able to see her (through the “crowd”).

TODD
Right.  Sure. Sure.  Hey, do you want another beer?  I’ll get you another one.

PORTIA gives him a thumbs-up over her shoulder and rolls her eyes as TODD takes a few steps toward the bar (the opposite direction that she’s gone) at the same time JAKE enters and stands leaning against the back wall. JAKE and TODD freeze.

PORTIA turns or moves in some way similar to the last time-break and stands in front of JAKE.  JAKE and TODD unfreeze (Todd leans into the wall or column like he’s surveying the bar for cute girls.)  JAKE and PORTIA are staring each other down, having just had  a blow up.

JAKE
So that’s it?

PORTIA
I don’t know what you want me to say Jake.

JAKE
Right.

PORTIA
I don’t want to do this.

JAKE
This?

PORTIA
This. [gesturing around her at the bar scene] This. [gesturing to indicate the two of them]

 They stare at each other for a moment, he stares her down.

PORTIA
I’m bored.  I need something else.

JAKE
Bullshit.

PORTIA
Bullshit?

JAKE
You’re doing the same thing you always do.  You’re pushing me away, because I got too close.

PORTIA
If that’s what you need to tell yourself.

JAKE
Fine.  Do what you want. Walk away. I don’t have time for these games.

PORTIA
Right.

JAKE
Ok. Ok.  Push me all you want.  But be careful, one of these days it will work.

PORTIA
Like today maybe?

They stare at each other again and this time JAKE backs down, turns around and exits.  PORTIA turns around and sees TODD, he sees her and gestures to her with a beer questioningly.  She smiles and walks up to him; taking the beer.

END PLAY

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