Play Submissions Much Easier after a Few Years of Writing

I am consistently sending my plays out to festivals and theaters with the hope of getting produced. Sometimes I’m successful. Many times not. The competition is fierce, to say the least.

But now that I’ve been writing consistently for the past 7 or 8 years, I have a volume of plays (especially short plays) at my disposal to send to festivals. One minute play festival? No problem. Got it. A play based on the lives of senior citizens? You bet. Just sent one of my favorites, REVENGE OF THE GRANDPARENTS, to just such a festival. Short play with a strong female lead? You betcha. A unique take on Shakespeare? Got it covered.  Typically, in no time, I can have my submission off into the pool of potential. Then I cross my fingers.

Full-length plays are much more difficult. I’ve been pitching my play The Last Bastion the last two years. I’ve received some good feedback, even a recommendation from another festival, but still no bites. Must keep at it. Recently, I’ve started pitching my new full-length play For the Glory of Nat Turner as well. Only time will tell.

I’m fortunate enough that I’m a theatre professional in a school setting so I get to produce a lot of my own plays which is really cool. I love seeing my work come to life. But it’s even cooler when a festival or theatre decides to produce my shows out of their own free will. I hope that will continue in the future. I currently have two of my plays set to be produced around the world.

GRADE SEMANTICS will be part of the Short & Sweet Theatre Festival in Penang, Malaysia in November.

SAFE SPACES will be part of the Conservative Theater Festival in Columbus, Oh in January.

Besides that, I’m producing two of my own shows in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the next few months.  STORIES VOL. 2 will be on October 30 and the world premier of CRAZY LOVE will be in April.

So now you’re up to date. Hope there will be much more on the horizon.

Writing Collaborations: What’s the Goal?

This weekend, I’ve been collaborating on a short play writing project with one of my students. We have a finished draft on a fun and meaningful script which I plan on using in my new show coming up in April.

It’s been a while since I’ve collaborated with students on a creative writing piece. I used to do it all the time. In fact, these type of collaborations are what kick-started my writing career. I have many students to thank, because they helped me to just write and put my work out there.

This weekend, I’m writing with a student who has never written a play before. She came up with the idea for the play and I helped to formulate it into scenes. We each took different scenes to write and then there’s the process of combining them together, editing, adding new ideas, and the general non-stop revisions which are needed. I’m excited to see the final product of this script.

This endeavor got me thinking: what’s the goal of this type of writing collaboration? A new writer with an experienced writer.

Here’s how I approach it. I, first, want the idea to originate with the new writer. I wanted her to have ownership in the process because I know how I can be: I get an idea and I can’t stop until it’s done. This allows a new writer to catch-up to my overbearingness, so to speak.

The new writers are typically reluctant to edit my work. That’s understandable, but I want to make it clear that there is no hierarchy in this collaboration. There’s only one goal: write a quality piece. That’s it.

That means that I will edit the new writer’s scenes thoroughly. I’ll make additions. Suggestions. Give feedback. Get feedback. And, invariably, the new writer comes back with “yes, yes, yes, that’s so much better. yes.” I’m not a better writer than they are. I just have more experience. I’ve also produced 25 shows. I know visually how the dialogue will look on-stage.  I know what will work, what will sound authentic, and what won’t.

My goal is for the new writer to see my entire process and, hopefully, learn from it. Then they get their name as a co-writer in the playbill which is always fun. And, if they act, which they almost always do, I let them star in their own play if they so choose.

What’s important in the process, at least for me, is not to settle for less quality because a writer is new. I will push them, I will encourage them, I will ruthlessly edit their stuff in order to make the piece better. An okay piece will not be acceptable to me if it can be a great piece, because I’m putting my name on it as well.

I guess what I’m saying is: don’t dumb it down. Keep the standard high.

I had a past school principal who said that the lost practice of kids and parents eating supper together every night has hurt the kids’ development. They need to hear adult conversations. They need to be able to ask questions. Wonder what that word means. It’s one of the ways they grow and learn.

This is exactly how I view writing collaborations with students. I hope my intent is reached with this one.

This is going to be a good play. It’s entitled: “Why Leaves Change Color.”

Writing for Pleasure

Last night I decided to write for pleasure. My pleasure.

Sadly, a lot of writing time can be consumed with the less desirable parts of the trade: marketing, editing, blurb-writing, social media, writing-to-get-the-blasted-thing-done.

We’ve all been there. But when’s the last time you wrote for pleasure, not for purpose.

Much of what I have written this year has been purpose-driven, and, of course, that’s not bad. It’s good actually. Get a plan, stick to it, work hard, reach your goal. That’s been my driving force for years. Luckily, most of the time it has coincided with pleasure, simply because I love to write.

But there is something to be said for deadline-free, purpose-free, just-have-fun kind of writing.

That’s what I’m doing now. I’m writing a dramatic duet.  Just because I want to. How selfishly creative of me. For me, pleasure writing using comes back to writing drama. It’s just so fun to watch the characters begin to form and to have new ideas pop into my head which lead to more ideas. I can get consumed by the narrative and forget about the outer-trappings of the world. To be transported as a writer! How delightful, indeed.

If you haven’t written for pleasure in a while, take a day off from your novel. Refresh your creativity on something that grabs your mind. Allow yourself to “go down the rabbit hole” and forget about the deadlines and the unfinished work ahead of you.

Enjoy the words. Laugh at the characters. Be silly with your expectations. Remember when you had yet to publish anything? When you would sit for hours all alone and laugh at the ridiculous things you’d written. You didn’t care what others thought or whether you should query an agent. You wrote for the love of it. You wrote for pleasure.

I must admit–it’s quite fun to be doing that again.

Checking in from Ireland

I’ve been in Killeagh, Ireland at Greywood Arts for a little more than two days now so I wanted to check in with everyone concerning how’s everything going. Well, in a word, great!

Greywood is a terrific venue for the arts. A renovated (and still being renovated) 18th century Georgian house specifically for promoting the arts. Here’s my amazing writing room.

2018-03-31 07.57.06

It overlooks the Dissour River, more of a stream in my mind, but has a beautiful view of  a small cascade right from the desk. I even saw a river otter! It is bright, cheery, and quiet. A perfect combination for creativity. How’s it been working? Amazingly well. On day one, I completed a play called “Embrace” which I started nearly five years ago and wondered if I would ever finish it. Well, I did. Seven hours of hard labor on that script completely revitalized it and I’m very happy with it. Unlike anything I have ever written.

Today, day two,  was spent working on a play called “For the Glory of Nat Turner.” I had started it last year with a mere 2000+ words and I hammered out the entire first act, clocking the whole thing in at around 7000 words now. Tomorrow, I’d love to finish this one too! Amazing productivity.

The village of Killeagh is small and quaint. No more than 500 souls live here. Here are a few shots.

The weather today turned toward the nasty. Really cold and rainy. No walks and very little out and about. The forecast isn’t great, but I hope it clears a little tomorrow cause I was going to take the bus over to the seaside town of Youghal only 10 minutes away. We shall see how it looks in the morning.

I’m also hoping to take a trip into Cork for a day and check out the city. That will likely be the extent of my touring since my main focus is on writing, writing, and writing.

This is such a terrific opportunity. So relaxing and rewarding and I can’t think Greywood enough for their hospitality.

Let’s get back at it!

Spring Break in Ireland

Spring Break in Ireland

I’m officially three-quarters finished with my first year of teaching drama in Saudi Arabia. Spring break has arrived. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s been a challenging year in many respects – a good year – complete with unique challenges I had not expected. The show that I’m currently producing and directing – You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – has proved to have more downs than ups with a revolving cast and a myriad of obstacles. It’s been exhausting. I’ve never had a production like this. The show is April 18-20, so what better time than now to take a break from it and go to Ireland? The time away will do me a world of good.

I’ve never been to Ireland, so the promise of overcast, chilly temperatures coupled with the famous Irish green will be a delightful change from Jeddah’s taupe and arid make-up.

What led me to Ireland? I always wanted to have a writing residency. It sounded so idyllic – a time set aside on my own for one singular purpose – creativity. Last fall, I started searching worldwide opportunities since my job here affords me the flexibility to travel where I want at certain times of the year. Perhaps I could find something in an interesting place?

I did. I found a call for submissions from a small arts center in Killeagh, Ireland called Greywood Arts. They were selecting three individuals for their Winter Writing Residencies for poetry, play-writing, and visual arts. My submission was my full-length, yet-to-be-produced play “The Last Bastion.” One delightful November day, I received an email from Greywood that they had chosen that play to be the recipient of their residency program. That was a glorious day. When I proposed to them that I use my spring break for the purpose, it fit their schedule perfectly, so here I come!

Killeagh is a tiny village east of Cork in southwest Ireland.  It has a population of 500. It has a Catholic church, a famous thatched roof pub, a couple other pubs, a river, a convenience store, a Chinese restaurant (!?), and Greywood Arts.

Greywood hosts artists and writers throughout the year, promoting the arts in various creative ways. I’m thrilled to be a part of what they are doing.

But what will I be doing? Writing, mainly. I have tasked myself to finish two full-length plays which have been languishing for a while – one more than the other.  Several years back, I wrote an unfinished play themed on the tensions arising over the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage. It’s an interesting two character play which explores evangelical Christianity’s struggle to come to terms with the SC’s decision. I’m convinced that there’s something there in this play. It has some interesting angles, and has been difficult to write in many ways because it’s raw. Grittier than I usually like to go. But it felt needed. Until I abandoned it. But now, it’s time to resurrect it. And finish it.

The next play which I started about a year ago and haven’t got back to is a historical piece related to Nat Turner’s slave uprising in 1831.  I have quite a ways to go on this one, but hope to finish it.

I’m also working on my next ensemble show which consists of a series of similarly themed short plays which I will produce for my show in December. I am mostly finished with this show, but I’d like to spend the week editing what I have and writing any pieces which the show lacks.

Also, I want one more. I want one more brand new idea for a full-length play that I can start during my week in Ireland. I’m waiting on the idea to hit me. Perhaps my new setting will be exactly what I need.

Oh, and if you happen to be in Killeagh, Ireland on April 5, I have an event!

READING @ Greywood Arts by playwright Mark W Sasse

Hope to see you there!

Gearing Up for Greywood Arts Residency in Ireland

I’ve found myself virtually walking main street of Killeagh, Ireland using Google Maps Street View, trying to imagine what it will be like to stroll down it in person. I won’t have to wait too long. That makes me so excited!

Through a submission of my play “The Last Bastion,” Greywood Arts – an arts residency house in Killeagh – awarded me with the Greywood Arts Winter Residency 2018 for playwriting. My reward is a one-week stint at their place to do one thing – write. Yes, it’s kind of like a dream come true. I’ll have my own room plus a writing room overlooking the Dissour River.  Right across the river is the Old Thatch Pub – a family establishment for 300 years – one of the oldest in Ireland, and I’m getting the feeling I’m going to be surrounded by Irish quaintness.

The strangest thing I’ll have to adjust to is my reasoning for being there – writing. I’ve never had a week, let a lone a day, when my only responsibility was writing. I have no other pressures, distractions, or responsibilities. Simply writing. Doesn’t that sound like bliss?

Oh, and I have a reading. Here. Look:

greywoodartsreadingannouncement

I’ll get to present excerpts of what I’ve worked on that week with the local arts community. I’ve been told there may even be some local actors willing to help me out with the reading. How cool would that be?

What will I be working on? I have a lot.  I have two full-length plays I’ve started but have not finished. I’d love to knock them out this week. One is a historical play related to the Nat Turner slave uprising in 1831. The other is a social commentary piece highlighting the conflict between the conservative Christian church in America and the issue of gay marriage.  Third, I am mostly finished with my brand new ensemble show “Crazy Love,” so I’d like to polish off those 8 short plays which comprise it. Other ideas include an embellished play of my childhood which walks through small town America in different time periods of the 20th century.  Oh, and knowing me, a new idea will pop in my brain and perhaps supersede all of these. Who’s to say?

Anyways, I head out for Greywood Arts on March 30.  I will certainly be posting photos and highlights of this week. Stay tuned.

Where will the ideas come from?

Writing is such a mind game. The creative process toys with the writer to such an extent that I sometimes wonder who’s in control – do I control the creative process or does the creative process control me?

Ok, I’m already confused. But this I know: I have 10 dramatic sketches to write in the next two months for my new show coming later in the year. Where will the inspiration come from? What procedures, ideas, words, will I engage with to get this writing done?

If I’m still being confusing, this is actually what I’m saying: on August 1, I know I will have written 10 more short plays. But on June 6, today, I just don’t know the process which will actually accomplish that.

Creativity is so strange. The other day, I sat down to write one of these 10 and the creative process came so intuitively that I couldn’t have even described it to someone if I tried.

Writing happens by writing. That’s as best as I can explain it. One chain of ideas linked together, all starting with a simple thought, and expounded on by a few words. Those words give new life to new words and soon I’m following the rabbit down the trail or I’m plowing a footpath through the jagger bushes (sorry, jagger bush is a colloquial western PA term!)  A writer might get jabbed and pricked along the way. It could be bloody and painful, but soon enough, a clearing will appear and the most beautiful scene will present itself to make the process worth it.

And then, of course, the writing will take on new life as the author re-writes and re-edits and re-writes again until the remaining work is sleek and ready to be performed.

In the end, that’s the best part of all.

In December, there will be a show. I just can’t tell you definitively what it will look like. I need a few more jagger bushes to slap me in the face before I will know that.