Playwright In Residence Jesse LaVerbcombe reminisces on his experience developing Resurrect for Beyond The Bard
When I applied to be a Trafalgar 24 Playwright, I summed up my short application letter like this, “Why do I want to write a play in a haunted castle? Well, it sounds fun as hell, but I also know that physical space and time pressure are the two things I creatively respond to best.”
I’d like to add something to that extensive list of two: good people.
But more on that at the end, because now that I’m not trying to convince Jeremy of anything, I’d also like to amend the tone of that quote. As it stands, it implies that I respond creatively to many things, but I only have space to list the two tippity top things, and that my process is very self-aware and intentional…As opposed to the truth, which is that my process is as follows.
I walk around thinking about structures of plots, characters and themes in my head, which sounds exactly like this, “I think I have something…I think I have something…Oh my God I—nope. I definitely have nothing.”
The clinical term for this is “brainfart.”
Now, eventually the very best (cogent, poignant, funny, character-arc-assisting) of the brainfarts make their way onto a page, and, if there was any sense that these top-notch farts were solid in my head, once I put them onto Good-Old-Microsoft-Word, it becomes very clear that most of them are, in fact, far from that, and they quickly evaporate as well.
And then months go by.
And deadlines approach.
Then I get real OCD and start making lists of the scenes I need to write (all of them), and I just start writing down the latest brainfart, not because it’s the best or brightest, but just because there’s no more time to wait for a better one.
Then I do things like pull all-nighters in the Lakeview Diner and drink coffee at 3am even though caffeine makes me feel like the world is ending.
Then I offer myself rewards, like, if I finish a scene (made entirely of brainfarts), I can “go for a run” or “make myself a smoothie” or “watch a West Wing clip on Youtube*” – but then a week later, I realize the rewards are getting weirdly dark, like, now, if I finish a scene (still 100% organic brainfart), I can “call my family back” and “buy vegetables” and “leave the Lakeview Diner.”
Now the brainfarts (and the normal kind, too) are really rolling at this point**, and all objectivity regarding bad writing vs. good writing and illogical plot leaps vs. that’s-totally-something-a-human-would-do is out the window – and yes, now there are words on the page, and the page is now more like 45 pages, then 60, but it’s occurring to me on a pretty regular basis that the gestalt of all these brainfarts isn’t a gestalt at all, but rather just an organized collection of nothings, ready to evaporate at the slightest scrutiny of another human as they approach, nose cringed.
Then the deadline arrives and I deliver a draft… And let’s be very clear: it’s not good. It’s technically there. And I’m desperately hoping that everyone is too busy to read it, and I’m writing them emails like, “no worries at all if you’re too busy to read it,” but then they do.
They read it.
And here’s why I want to add “good people” to the list of things I respond well to creatively: because when smart actors are given a script, they argue about it.
In the case of Driftwood, these six actors argued about what I wrote, with me and with each other, and slowly, my play – my raggedy-brainfart-cardboard-box filled with free-floating brainfarts, my collection of nothings with a title page mendaciously slapped on the front – it started to feel like something solid. Something that could stand on its own and be looked at and commented on, even if I, like, left the room.
And then something truly nuts happened – everyone else started offering brainfarts of their own. And yeah, some of them slightly soured the room as they ascended into the atmosphere, but a lot of them were really pretty good, and when I’d do another draft they’d end up on the page, and then we’d get to read the thing again, but now it would be little better, clearer, leaner.
So what did I get from the Beyond the Barb Residency? I got to brainfart with really good people, and it made me a better writer. I struggle a bit with expressing gratitude (like, sometimes when I try, I end up just writing a whole blog post about farting), but this summer Driftwood made it very difficult to forget how lucky I was, and so, for that, to the acting company, dramaturges, my director, and Jeremy, thank you.
*This is something that I would not recommend to anyone attempting to write dialogue.
**Am I writing about farting more than you expected me to? Well, in fact, I’m part of a very small, recently established and self-proclaimed “elite” book club (of two), and our name is Friends Are Reading Together, but we usually go by the acronym.