Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Writing Advice: Winning the Arguement

"No. You're listening to me, but you're not understanding me."
"No, I'm disagreeing with you. That doesn't mean I'm not listening to you or understanding what you're saying - I'm doing all three at the same time."
- Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing

Everyone has arguments that come up again and again in their lives. Generally these arguments are with our families, our significant others, our closest friends. These arguments may start over trivial matters, but they return to a clash of core values. They return to an essential disagreement that may or may not be insurmountable. But the words used are always similar, the arguments always the same.

These are GREAT fodder for writing, particularly generating raw material.

I recently invested myself in one of those endless arguments, and I went down to sit at my keyboard. And I rewrote the argument. This time I got to say what I wanted to say from the depths of my heart, and I allowed all my messiest thoughts out onto the open screen. This time, I was able to win the argument. This time, I could make the other person listen.

I generated a great deal of good material. It'll need editing, and who knows how much of it will end up in my play...but it was a wonderful exercise in getting to the deep, vulnerable stuff that makes good writing and it also allowed me to have control over the situation, which I never do in real life. I simultaneously lost all control and gained complete control.

So if you're stuck right now as a writer, go back to some essential argument. A place where you fundamentally disagree with someone else's view. Rehash every bit of that argument -- really explore what's there. You might find that you change your mind. You might find that you still believe what you believe in your deepest core. But in the end, you should also have a lot of good material for your play.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Theatre as Ministry or How Theatre Can Heal the World

On Wednesday, I went to the Golden Broom Awards of the Jewish Cultural Arts Theatre. I directed The Sisters Rosensweig for them earlier this year, and wanted to go support the kids who teched my production.

J-CAT (as they term themselves) mostly works with kids and teenagers, with a smattering of shows for adults. The Golden Brooms was an awards ceremony by and for these kids, particularly some beloved seniors that were going off to college.

It was a great time. Not something I normally say about an awards ceremony.

It was great because in every little skit that these kids had put together, you could see the love that they had for the artform and that they had for this theatre. In the middle of this, I thought, "Micheal and Lillian Andron have a fantastic ministry here."

Now, Michael is a Jewish religious professional (a mohel), but I doubt he would consider his theatre ministry.

But I stand by my original thought. Micheal and Lillian's work with these kids at such an awkward time of life is nothing short of a mitzvah.

When I was a teenager, I whiled away the hours at the (now defunct) Davis Discovery Center, performing in Shakespeare. While I think I was in the world's worst productions of some of these classic plays, I was taken out of myself and transported to someplace wonderful -- a place where I was accepted and loved, even if I was an awkward, tall, overweight kid. I could disappear into a role and I became strong or hilarious. My time at the Davis Center made me feel whole and loved in a way that I didn't get in school or at home. I wasn't the only one saved by this environment -- I was one of many suicidally depressed teenagers who found that performing the words of the Bard could elevate their lives and make them feel loved and loveable, accepted and acceptable.

And what the Davis Discovery Center did and what Micheal and Lillian are doing is no less than what I think of as ministry. Making people feel loved, needed, accepted, and whole.

I've spent the past two years volunteering for a congregation that I have since left. During my time with that congregation, the congregation itself was in turmoil over ministry. Who did it serve? Why was it here? I asked those questions again and again, and received no clear answer. I left because it seemed to me that they were more interested in having a church building than having a ministry. And all along, below my office, a fantastic ministry was already going on.

I started this blog and openly declared my intentions to the world because I'm no longer interested in art for art's sake or church for church's sake. I want more out of my creative life. I wanted to share my desire that theatre can heal the world. And this past week, I got a nice little reminder that it already is.