Finishing a First Draft for Fringe Festival

Brrr! Is there a draft in here? Damn right there is! First draft of my Fringe Festival eFfort. Cool!

The title of this work is yet to be confirmed (but stay tuned!). It is a comedic drama (as in, “if you don’t laugh, you cry”), which must not exceed 60 minutes in length, to be premiered at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival from July 4th to 15th. It will be my* third play to be staged, (and my first not to be workshopped by Theatre New Brunswick with actors from Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal). *Unlike my previous plays, which were entirely my own ideas and developed with no outside contribution prior to rehearsal, this Fringe show is based on the writings of Paul Clement and conceived of as a stage show by Daniel Mackay. It is an adaptation and it is very much a collaborative effort. The three of us have met several times to experiment with different approaches to the material, and we will continue to do so now that this draft is finished.

Playwright Tavern, photo Tim Carter

Playwright Tavern, photo Tim Carter

It’s funny to use the word “finished”, though. Any first draft is more like a foundation to build on than a house to start filling with furniture. But this is even more the case with theatre than with other types of writing. A playwright is more of an architect than a painter. Write a piece of prose and you can get feedback, but no matter how many suggestions you heed, the changes are made by the writer. A script, on the other hand, gets filtered through actors and a director. (The exception would be a monodrama scripted and performed by a single creator. And even then, if such a solo artist engages a director or dramaturge, the work becomes a collaboration.)

So, “finished” is misleading. What is finished is the preparation. This stage is not quite the laying of the foundation but the sketching out of the blueprints. Now our creative triumvirate has something to compare notes on. Up to this point, what we had was a wild stallion of a concept which we corralled into a chicken coop of ideas. Now we have a crude block from which we can hew away the chunks that impair a clear view of a vision we hope to share. (Hmm, could I cram another metaphor into this paragraph?)

The significance of having a completed first draft is that we have something tangible to work on. This would be equally true if I were developing this script all on my own, but it is all the more urgent when there is a creative team waiting to get their hands dirty.

For writers who haven’t yet learned the hard way, take it from one who did: It is counterproductive to discuss a partially written draft. (I spent 12 years getting feedback on a partially written novel which I consequently kept re-inventing. Once I stopped discussing it, I finished the draft in six months.) If your baby is not yet able to stand on her own, you can’t ask her to dance for an audience of even one. If she still needs you to hold her up, the onlooker won’t see her dance but will just see her dangling there. You can discuss an idea, and you can discuss a first draft—which has a thread you can pull on and twist and tie in knots and still follow how one end connects to the other—but you can’t discuss a partial draft because it is as vulnerable as a half-born fetus.

Showing a half-written draft would be like showing a half-finished haircut, so hold off the unveiling until there are no more “and then a miracle happens” gaps that need filling in. Especially in a play, you need to be able to explain why this happens at this point and that happens at that point because, if not, even the most well-intentioned listener can crush your fetal idea by asking what your point is.

The draft has been presented. Will it be tackled by builders or the wrecking ball?

2 Comments

Filed under beginnings, theatre, writing

2 responses to “Finishing a First Draft for Fringe Festival

  1. FANtastic! You’re on the path.

    P. Zel

  2. Jadesmom

    Very eFfective use of metaphors.
    Please let your readers know the title when it is agreed upon.

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