Thursday, December 23, 2010

Block A: the insider's report

PTC welcomes six emerging writers each fall to join a senior playwright for an in-depth exploration of the craft of playwriting. Stanley Katz, one of our 2010 Block A participants, offers his take on the experience.

I’m leery every time I join a creative group. They always start off with such lofty intentions and then they go sour so easily. And then that makes me doubt my constitution and I wonder if ‘maybe I’m not meant to do this?’ And it doesn’t matter how big, or small the group is, all it takes is one insistent sharer, or know-it-all, or one know-it-all-naysayer, and suddenly you dread going, if you go at all.

But… lately I had been feeling adrift in my writing. I was writing. Chipping away at various projects, and having good days too, but I felt drained. I was easily distracted. I needed some oomph. And I needed some solidarity in what I was doing.

So… PTC Library, that first meeting: surrounded, floor to ceiling, with scripts of “established” playwrights, the six of us at the table, looking down at our clean ready-to-go notebooks. This was Block A, 2010, a workshop for “emerging” playwrights. The age spread in the group was wide, but culturally we were all variations of the Western Civilisation motif.

Now, Jan Derbyshire will say it was us, the group of six that made it what it was. That it was our effort, our enthusiasm that made the experience so phenomenal. And there is truth in that, everyone really gave of themselves and put their writing out there. The whole thing was this lovely creative oasis. Our discussions about theatre and writing were insightful and lively, and our work blossomed into vibrant foundations - we all pushed to completed first drafts of our plays. And there was no irritating person… unless it was me…what?

But, you know how it goes in these groups - ninety percent of time it’s the facilitator that makes it or breaks it, especially when the facilitator is more credentialed than everyone else. The facilitator sets the tone; they guide, they mentor. So I can’t say enough great things about Jan Derbyshire. She was genuine, respectful, energetic, and focused – an angel who will be forever sitting on my shoulder.

The group met once a week for ten weeks, and every week we brought in our writing, and we talked about our writing, and it was extremely informative. That was the plot. That’s what happened. But the theme of the entire ten weeks was more profound – and even as an “emerging” writer I knew this was something fundamentally true about creating – that writing, like the violin, like love, like travel, is a continual practice. You are never done, there is no glory in slow motion, you just practice, and sometime you get acknowledged with praise. That’s it. You practice writing because it feels good, and so that when you get slammed, or froze, or blocked, you’re practiced enough to write your way through the void. The end. And the beginning. And the middle.

So it was a good group. And a good experience. Which, unlike a bad group, makes it sadder when it ends. Joy Russell, Lenore Rowntree, Nathaniel Roy, Christopher Cook, Melissa Haller, and Jan Derbyshire, thank you, you charged me up.

Stanley Katz

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