So how did I write my solo play?
A couple of weeks ago a friend asked me that very question. I had mentioned that I was working on a new one, and she asked how I do it. Now, there are lots of people who will tell you how to turn events from your own live into a one person play, and if that’s something you want to do, then I highly encourage you to look at them.Â But that’s not what I did with the Commandment, and that’s not what I’m doing with the new piece. I write characters and stories, so turning my life into a solo play wasn’t something I wanted to do.
I’m not an expert (I have only written one and a third of solo play so far), and I can only tell you about what has worked for me. And I’m going to be honest this method isn’t fast. It took me eight years to write the Commandment, and I have until September of this year to finish the new one. There’s a big difference between these two time frames too: for The Commandment, I spent 7 of those years with absolutely no deadline, which meant that there was nothing driving me to finish it. So I didn’t, until I had a deadline. Deadlines are a powerful motivator.
But to begin: I had an idea for the Commandment: An atheist finds out that he’s been chosen by God to deliver His new commandment. That was the beginning, and a constant from the start. The first line I wrote, also remained unchanged:Â “The first time God spoke to me, I was on the toilet.” Of course, I didn’t know at the time that those things would remain the same, but that’s how it turned out.
I had a concept, and a first line. And the next thing I did, was I got a notebook, and I started writing around my idea. I say “around my idea” because that’s more accurate than saying I wrote about it. Because I didn’t write in any linear fashion. I would think about the idea, and write a bit. As I wrote I learned a bit more about the my character and who he was, as well as what happened to him in the world. I also wrote different little stories on the topic. Sometimes I wrote as my character, Thomas, and sometimes, I wrote from another point of view.
And when I finished the note book I transcribed everything I wrote. I learn a lot about the themes of what I wrote when I transcribe. And I get my first inklings of what might be working and what might not. Stuff just didn’t work, I put aside. Once I’ve transcribed I started arranging the sections that made the cut into some semblance of a product that might be performed. And then…I get a new notebook. And I fill that too. Rinse. Repeat. And Repeat.
Once I got into Hamilton Fringe with the thing, I knew that if I was ever going to get it into performance shape,Â I needed some people to hear it. So I got some trusted people together and read it to them and got their feedback. Which I used to keep working and refining: writing new bits, making changes to existing ones. Once I brought my director Richard Beaune into the picture. Things got a lot more focused, and we refined and then refined some more.
And eventually the play was ready.
I find myself repeating this process with the piece I’m working on for performance in the fall. I have filled a notebook, I transcribed, I arranged, and now I have a new notebook.
But there’s a different kind of urgency this time. When I started The Commandment, I had no deadline. I could write as long as I needed to. This time, I booked some performance time at The Red Sandcastle for the end of November of this year, so there’s a finite period of time. There’s more pressure to write and to make it into something sooner. But now that I’m looking at it, even with a more compressed time, the method is essentially the same.