I mentioned in my introductory post that I am an acting major, and as I am in my final semester of school, I have to begin working on my thesis. I am actually in a better place than a lot of my peers; I’ve had an option for my thesis since the beginning of the year, and technically even further back than that. But, as I found out yesterday, I still have a lot of work to do, and this semester is going to be ridiculous.
Let me back up a little and tell you about the project itself. Since taking a children’s theatre class my sophomore spring, I have been working pretty steadily on a play that is a prequel to Peter Pan. A few of the scenes I wrote were workshopped by classmates so that I was able to not only hear them read, but see them on their feet. The professor of that class is a playwright herself, and she gave me a ton of great feedback during the writing process. At one point during the semester, we had private meetings with her about our final projects (which, for me, was this play, partially written), and at the end, I told her that this wasn’t just a project for me- that I wanted to do things with it. She responded that she knew and hoped I would. And while I probably would have gone forward with the project anyway, because I am stubborn, hearing that from her really gave me the confidence to do so.
However, not everyone was so sure about this project. The next fall I enrolled in the only playwriting class my university offers, and when I pitched this play as my final project (this time required to be at least 80 pages), my professor responded with raised eyebrows, “Well, if you think you can make it interesting…”
Fast forward to now, and that same professor has become my biggest advocate. Quite quickly during that playwriting class, he became very supportive of me and my writing. I don’t know that it was even that I was turning out good-quality material, because a lot of the time, I wasn’t. I think he could see that I was serious and was willing to dedicate myself to a project. And dedicate I did: at the end of the semester, I handed in a 92-page completed script.
I continued to work on the script while I was abroad in England (where the play takes place), and while there, I took a class on asylums and mental health treatments in Britain, which are featured in a minor way in the script. When I returned to the US, I did another draft, and then finally another in December.
Now that thesis has officially started, the same teacher that has been my advocate is my thesis advisor. I’m really excited to be working with him, because besides being a published and produced playwright himself, he is so supportive of me and this script and, after our first real meeting yesterday, I know that he’s going to really push me to make this script great.
So here’s my plan for the next few months: my advisor and I have decided that we want to get two new drafts of the play completed by the end of the semester, when my work will be presented in a public staged reading. In order to make this happen, I need to revise twenty pages a week and there won’t be time to discuss the first round of changes until we reach the second. Twenty pages already seemed a little daunting to me, but then my advisor started giving me his feedback. Wow, is this going to be hard. As he pointed out, my play is good, but it’s not great. It has the potential to be surprising and brilliant, he said, but in order to get there, I know I’m going to have to work really hard.
The biggest challenge, actually, are the small things, of which there are many. If he kept saying things like, “Take this character out,” “Make her less of a brat,” “You don’t need this subplot,” etc., I think that would be much simpler than what I actually have to do, which is a lot of little things. Most of the notes he gave me on the first twenty pages are on very subtle things, like increasing the mystery of the first scene and having the main idea of the scene be left unsaid, but still be present. Of course, it’s not all gloom; a lot of his suggested changes are so simple but can change things so incredibly. For instance, in the first scene, my main character Mary (the Mary Darling you meet in the original Peter Pan story) is told by her husband that she can’t speak of events in her childhood because it is evidence that she may be going crazy (possibly again). Then the scene ends and the second one begins with her children running around and playing a game before bed. “Why don’t you combine the scenes?” my advisor asked. “It’s more powerful and overwhelming if she doesn’t have time to think about the conversation she’s just had with her husband.” Of course! That makes the play so much more active already!
Working on this thesis is going to be really hard and frustrating, but I’m also really excited to see the end product. I’ll be having a private reading before spring break, reserved for people who understand the process of putting on a play, and this first new version will be presented then. I can’t wait!