"Make your bottom more appealing." That's not advice from the latest exercise guru, it's a line from my play Lovers, Lunatics, and Poets. The play is the direct result of a writing contest; and also of my long-standing love affair with the theatre. The contest was called Pitch 'N' Play, and was in two parts. In part one, people were asked to tweet a pitch, or idea, for a new play that was somehow connected to this line from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, "The course of true love never did run smooth." My winning pitch was: "Real life Puck messes with teens in high school prod of Midsummer Night's Dream." That pitch, along with two others, won the first part of the contest. In the second part, people wrote short plays based on any of the three winning pitches. I decided to write a play on my own pitch. And while it didn't win the grand prize, the very wise folks at Playscripts decided it was so good that they would publish it anyway. And as of last week, it is available to the general public to read, perform, quote from at parties, etc. It's perfect for high schools, actually. It's set entirely on the stage of a high school theatre, has a large cast, and, of course, it's hilarious.
I wrote the play quickly and drew on my own experience: a high school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that my brother and sister were in when I was in 8th grade, and a production I was in at San Jose State University. Wow- I just realized that I saw my first production of that play over 30 years ago. How can that be? I can see it so clearly in my head. There's my brother in a bad toga playing Aegeus.
I remember going to rehearsals of the production my siblings were in at Blackford High School. I was the tag-along younger brother, watching all those cool older kids on stage, and being completely taken in by how fun it all looked. And every now and then, a little spark of magic would happen, and I'd catch my breath and wish I was up there, leaping about and speaking in verse. By the time that show opened, I was hooked. I wasn't any good yet, but I wanted to get up there and do some things, speak some lines, touch a little of the rough magic that seemed to course between and through all those actors on stage in the auditorium/lunch room that served as the theatre in our high school.
Years later, I was a junior in college at San Jose State University. I had done a few shows my first two years, gotten some small parts in some, and worked backstage in others. But then, the mafia was formed. The mafia- that's was the nickname given to a bunch of us at SJSU that year. Several of the drama majors- including my brother and sister- decided to do some of their own work at SJSU. One acts, student productions in the studio, that kind of thing. And I went along for the ride. I think it was solidified when we did a production of A Marowitz Hamlet at City Lights, the experimental theatre in San Jose. Somehow I got the role of Laertes. It was weird and wonderful and profound, and instrumental in my learning about theatre and all its possibilities. By the end of that show, I considered myself an actor. A member of the tribe. A lunatic. By the end of that one school year, I had worked on eleven full productions.
There are, I think, certain times in your life where you are happy and growing and full of that wonderful, fleeting feeling that for just a flicker, you're where you're supposed to be in the world, doing what you're supposed to be doing. This was one of those times. At the end of that year, I got cast as Snug the Joiner in the school's main stage production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. And I milked it for all it was worth. Snug, as written, is not the brightest of folks. I took his non-smarts and ran with it. I made Snug wide-eyed, innocent, and fun- a sort of big baby without a trace of irony in his bones. And people loved it. My fellow actors would laugh during rehearsals. Something was starting to happen when I got on stage. I didn't understand it exactly, but I dug it immensely.
The reason I bring up that production is that there was this one rehearsal that was so gloriously strange, it cemented forever my deep and abiding love for theatre. The show was directed by the great Richard Parks- one of the funniest, most talented, and terrifying people I have ever met. He was incredibly smart, knew the show inside and out, and could coax beautiful performances from a stone. But he also had a temper. One night, we were rehearsing the scene where Puck comes in and does some magic. There was going to be a sound effect of chimes (or something) when the "magic" happened, but we didn't have the sound effect yet. So Richard recorded his own voice, rising from low pitch to high while saying, "Doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle." His plan was to use this as a substitute sound effect so we could get used to hearing something. Sadly, he didn't tell anyone in the cast about this ahead of time.
Rehearsal was going along fine, and we got to the scene where the sound effect was supposed to happen, and suddenly, out of the speakers, came our fearless leader's voice. "Doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle." There was a pause, momentary confusion and then we all burst into laughter. There were at least ten of us on stage, and more backstage and in the audience waiting for their next scene and all of us were laughing. Except Richard. He was fuming. He screamed out, "What's so funny? We needed a sound effect, so I made this to use until a better one comes along." We got ourselves under control, and went back to running the scene. "Doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle." More laughter. This time, Richard ran onto the stage. "Stop laughing! Stop laughing right now!" Slowly, we got it together. We all said sorry, asked if we could please go back to rehearsing the scene, and looked as remorseful as we could. Richard strode back into the audience, and we started the scene from the top. "Doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle, doodle." As I remember it, we tried not to laugh. Faces contorted. Some people seemed to be giving birth. Then a strange, high pitched squeal broke out of one of us, and that was it. An explosion of laughter erupted from the entire cast. Richard turned a bright red, and screamed up to the stage manager (who ran the sound), "Play it again! Play it over and over! Play it ten times if you have to, so they can laugh their little ***** off and we can get back to work!" I'm not sure he meant for the stage manager to actually play it ten times in a row or not- but that's just what happened. I have never seen so many people laugh so hard for so long. We were keeled over, rolling on the ground, screaming.
It was a glorious night. And also instrumental in my becoming a writer, because a few days later, I wrote a short story about the rehearsal, in which Richard ran back in with a machine gun and shot us all in iambic pentameter. I remember reading it to the cast, and everyone laughed. A lot. And something about making people laugh from something I wrote was as satisfying as making people laugh by what I did on stage. Wheels were set in motion.
And so, here I am, years later, with a one-act about actors and theatre and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Life is good sometimes.
This post originally appeared on i, McAllister.
It was a difficult decision, but our literary staff has chosen three winning pitches:
- The real Puck messes with hearts of teens during high school prod of A Midsummer Nights Dream. @rkmallister
- Young girl wins a TV singing competition, but to launch her career, her agent says she'll need to create a tabloid scandal. @Theatreaneater
- Sweethearts take Course of True Love: zen of snoring, white lies, multitasking, accept shortcomings Profs=historical figures @KennerLeslie
Next Steps: The playwriting portion of the contest is now open! It's your chance to turn one of the three winning pitches into a one-act play.
The Rules: All plays should:
- Be based on one of the three winning pitches
- Be PG-13 or cleaner
- Be comedic
- Feature 8 or more characters
- Run between 20 - 40 minutes
All play submissions should be sent via http://www.playscripts.com/submit and must include #pitchnplay in the Comments or Special Instructions field. Please read the Pitch 'N' Play Submission Disclosure and Agreement before your submit your play.
May 5: Play submissions are closed.
June 5: The winning play is announced!
The Reward: The winning playwright will receive a $1,000 advance against royalties, and his or her play will be published by Playscripts, Inc..
High school drama programs often find themselves in the following situations:
- Twice as many girls audition as boys.
- Budget permits only simple sets and costumes.
- Full cast is not available for every rehearsal (many school plays are episodic, allowing scenes featuring different characters to be rehearsed separately.)
And remember, a great title goes a long way.
Thanks again for your votes and tweets, we look forward to reading your plays.