The Play In The Drawer

by Clubbed Thumb

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

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(This post was originally posted on Think It, Do It, Blog It as part of  The MetLife/TCG A-ha! Program. We’re cross-posting on the Circle to better highlight the work of our grantees.)

From David Adjmi, SuperLab #4, Clubbed Thumb with Playwrights Horizons

Every playwright has at least one play in a drawer, possibly one he or she goes back to every now and again and thinks “Oh, maybe this could be something.”Some plays exist in a kind of miasma and it’s very hard to break them out of that. In 2005 I started 3C as part of a writing intensive at MCC theatre. I wrote the first draft quickly, in four or five days, and we did a reading, and it was an extremely thorny, undomesticated and odd play. And that became my play in the drawer.

I did a few readings of it over the years, but I knew it wasn’t ready to be sent out and so I left it alone. So I do credit Superlab with saving my play from the orphanage of abandoned plays and letting me play around and figure it out. A week before rehearsals Jackson came over my house and we read the play together and I took notes and asked her some questions — mainly about actions and obstacles.

My dramaturgy can get very conventional when I do rewrites, but it’s good, because the plays themselves can be rather maniacal. I did an enormous amount of rewriting that week. I cut ten pages from the play and drastically changed what was the ending. When I came into rehearsal that first day we had no ending — the play just kind of stopped.

During the first reading we got to the last page and, instinctively I just stopped the actors after a line in the middle of the page. Later I thought, “I think that’s the last line of the play.” I called Jackson and said, what do you think? And she loved it, and that’s the last line of the play and I love it too. Most of the next four days involved sculpting the action of the main character, and building his arc. Some days we did it with the actors and sometimes we’d send the actors home and I’d sit with Jackson and my assistant Kelly and we’d talk it through together and I’d take notes (or I’d make Kelly take notes — I can be bossy!). Then I’d go home and work in the rewrites all the next morning. Then I’d bug Maria Striar and Adam Greenfield. Then I’d bug the actors.

We all had an enormous amount of fun coming up with dirty lines for Marin Ireland in a particularly louche and silly scene. I don’t think I’ve ever written so much or worked so hard in a development process. I just managed to get an enormous amount of work done. I felt so relaxed in the process and you can see it in the rewrites — they feel so organic and alive, and I’m really proud of that. When one feels pressured in a process like this the rewrites get really mealy and stiff and perfunctory and blah, and there was none of that here — it was a blast.