Sunday, August 30, 2009

Week 32, Day 224 -“A Thing I Wrote”

“A Thing I Wrote”

Written by Joe Janes

8/30/09

224 of 365

CAST

Vaughn, 40s

RICHARD, late 60’s

JAY, 20s

SARAH 20s

KENNETH early 30s

BARBARA 40s

(Lights up on five empty chairs. Offstage, we hear someone struggle with something. Vaughn enters.)

VAUGHN (to the audience)

So, this is a thing I wrote. If you’re like me, you really hate it when the author creates a character to represent him and then has the character address the audience. “Why don’t you just tell a frickin’ story?” “Why do you have to be so weird?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” The answer is, “This is what I wrote. This is how it came out.” My goal is to write one full-length play a year. I started that goal ten years ago. I have since written three plays. But, this time, I’m serious. I’m 45 years old. Or, as my brain hears it, five years from 50. I’m single. Not married. Never married. Apparently incapable of marriage according to my ex-fiancé. Straight. No kids. I want to leave something for the world. I want to create something that lasts. So, in another 50 years, some theater guy somewhere takes a stack of my plays and says, “Hey, let’s do a Vaughn Tweeder play festival. His stuff is still vital today. Whenever we put on one of his plays, we make money. People love his guy.”

I have never made money from one of my plays. Never.

So, how do I make a living? Depends on how you define “living,” but I make money teaching sketch comedy writing.

(Five students come out and sit near Vaughn. There is RICHARD, an older man in his 60’s, JAY, a young man who dropped out of college, SARAH, a young woman in her late 20’s, KENNETH, a young man in his early 30’s, and BARBARA, a housewife in her 40’s.)

VAUGHN (continuing)

All right. The assignment was to write a Fish Out of Water scene. Who’d like to read their assignment? (Silence) Who’s going to read their assignment? (More uneasy silence)… Richard?

RICHARD

I wasn’t able to get to a copier before class.

VAUGHN

That’s okay. We can just crowd around your one copy and read that.

RICHARD

Well, since I wasn’t able to make copies, I didn’t bring it.

VAUGHN

There you go. Jay?

JAY

I meant to do the assignment. I was going to do it this morning, but I got really drunk last night, which kind of bled over into this morning. And this afternoon.

VAUGHN

Perfectly understandable. (Barbara raises her hand.) Barbara?

BARBARA

I wasn’t here last week, so I didn’t know what the assignment was.

VAUGHN

You have my e-mail, right?

BARBARA

Oh, yes, I guess I do.

VAUGHN

You all seem a little surprised that in a writing class, you’re expected to write.

SARAH

I wrote mine.

VAUGHN

Does it in any way involve any of the characters being decapitated in the end?

SARAH

Yes. …But it’s funny.

VAUGHN

Please find another way to end your scenes other than ritual beheadings.

SARAH

Oh, in this one it’s spontaneous, not premeditated. Just saying. I took your feedback.

KENNETH

I had an idea for a scene. Do you want to hear my idea?

VAUGHN

Sure. Why not?

KENNETH

Freddy Mercury is a Catholic priest who anal rapes an altar boy. He seduces him by singing Queen songs. (He thrusts his hips while singing) “Ooh, you’re my best friend…”

VAUGHN

Freddy Mercury is dead.

KENNETH

That’s the Fish Out of Water part. He finds himself alive AND a Catholic priest.

VAUGHN

Okay. There seems to be some misconception. We are here to learn to write scenes. Solid scenes that feature fleshed out characters with strong passions and flaws and histories and relationships. Characters and situations we can relate to.

JAY

But that’s not what I see on television.

VAUGHN

We’re not writing for television. We’re writing for the stage. This is where you learn your craft.

JAY

I’d write if I had something to write about. I just didn’t think any of my ideas were funny.

RICHARD

I wrote a scene that wasn’t the assignment.

VAUGHN

Excellent.

RICHARD

A pirate, a retard and Dr. Phil are all on “Real World.”

VAUGHN

Why are they on “Real World”?

RICHARD

Because it’s funny?

VAUGHN

Okay. Fine. It’s a funny idea, but then what? Is it a scene? Aside from the fact the three of them would never be on “Read World”-

RICHARD

Thus the funny.

VAUGHN

Where does the scene go from there? What keeps it from being another Saturday Night Live sketch that tells it’s joke in the first thirty seconds and then goes on another three-and-a-half painful minutes. How does the scene move forward? How do you raise the stakes?

RICHARD

Dr. Phil is a vampire.

VAUGHN

And why is Dr. Phil a vampire?

RICHARD

Because he got bit by a vampire.

VAUGHN

Look, let’s rewind a little bit and just talk about writing. You guys keep waiting to have funny ideas before you start writing. Don’t wait to have something to write about. Write even when you have nothing to write about. (Aside) I don’t do this, by the way. (Back to class) Free write. Let the words flow and discover an idea to write about. (Aside) That either.

Writing is rewriting. A good scene takes time. Revision. Don’t give up on a scene before you even finish the first draft. (Aside) Unlike me.

Have a plan. Plot out your ideas. Know where you want your scene to go and take it there. (Aside – Vaughn just does a take to the audience, shaking his head)

What you write about is arbitrary. It’s the process of writing and your perspective that makes your work unique.

BARBARA (raising hand)

I have no perspective.

VAUGHN

If you’re a human being you have a perspective.

Go see live theater. Go see sketch revues. By seeing what’s out there, you’ll see for yourself what works and what doesn’t work. When was the last time any of you saw a show?

SARAH

I watched SNL – The Best of David Spade.

VAUGHN

Better than nothing. How was it?

SARAH

I don’t really remember. I think it was funny.

VAUGHN

Write every day. It’s like working out. You’re developing a muscle here. Write every day.

Write for the stage. Stop putting in things like “and then they drive to the restaurant and get out of the car” How much time is that? Do they talk in the car? Does the audience sit in silence as the characters do that? Does a large man dressed in a bunny suit jump out and move his arms like a clock and make ticking sounds to indicate time shift? You’re writing for the stage. You’re putting real people in a real place in real time in front of other people. Make it worth their while. (He looks apologetically to the audience). Take a break. You have an assignment for the break. Eavesdrop on conversations. Come back with a few lines of dialogue. We’re going to work on writing scenes about human beings. (A man dressed in a bunny suit comes out and makes ticking sounds while moving his arms like a clock. He says, “ding!” and exits.) Okay. Who did their assignment on the break?

KENNETH

What assignment?

(Vaughn slaps his forehead. Lights out.)

6 comments:

Aly said...

So you basically shaved a few years off Vaughn's real age, and maybe combined students from the class I'm in, with other students? It's funny, I like it... and, not to be an obnoxious student/obsessive compulsive blogger, but it reminded me of something I wrote in regards to the Moral Transgression assignment called "Excuses"

http://gangsoftheneweconomy.blogspot.com/2009/04/excuses.html

Joe Janes said...

What makes you think this is about me?

Actually, I wrote it three years ago, thus the age difference. On Sundays, I post stuff that I have previously worked on but never had produced. It usually requires a good amount of rewriting, this was more editing and extracting it from a larger piece. The only reference to a current class is the SNL - The Best of David Spade bit. (Sorry, RJ!)

And for the record, I really do love teaching.

Aly said...

Oh, I was just guessing it was about you, and now I see the part in your description about previous stuff posted on Sundays. I can tell that you love teaching even from the sketch, it seems like a fun job, and all teachers probably face lots of dog-ate-my-homework moments. Is Kerala one if your students?

Aly said...

i mean one "of" your students

Joe Janes said...

Kerala just got the boot.

Anonymous said...

Cool.
- oh this is Alisa, not Anon, I am in newsletter mode, and have to be on Firefox... for some reason I can only post blog comments while using a Safari browser. Weird.