Playwriting workshop exercise

I participated in a playwriting workshop lead by Gil Garratt on Sunday morning. It’s the first “workshop” event I’ve been to where the participants have actually had to work—hard! But it was worth it just for the creativity exercises, feedback and discussion; there’s good reason Garratt was chosen as the PlayWrights Cabaret’s dramaturg.

The workshop lasted for three hours, and fully half of that was straight-up pen-to-paper writing, based on phrases, drawings and photos. I wrote several fairly abstract pieces—series of related thoughts, really, more than “plays”—but here’s what I came up with when Gil asked us to create dialogue for the characters in photographs he handed out. Every few minutes as we were writing he’d drop off hand-written index cards with phrases like “a poem” or “a lie”, and mock-Tarot cards with sayings like “There are no misteaks”; you’ll see their traces below.

Photo: A nearly-naked woman sitting/leaning on a well-dressed man’s lap, legs crossed, her back to the camera. His arms are awkwardly around her, trying not to touch her, fingers clenched.

  1. Patrick Those are great shoes. I can never understand how women walk in them without pitching forward all the time.
  2. June Well, I guess I put the lie to that, didn’t I?
  3. Patrick I suppose. But you were graceful until then. An icon.
  4. June An icon? Standing still, representing something but not actually being it?
  5. Patrick No, no… you’re quite beautiful. An image of perfection.
  6. June Until I fell over my own two feet. Umm… maybe I should get up now? The rest of the group need me for the finale, and I think people are starting to stare.
  7. Patrick What if I said no?
  8. June Would you?
  9. Patrick Maybe.
  10. June What if you said yes?
  11. Patrick I… don’t know.
  12. (together) What do you want (Patrick: me) to say?
  13. Patrick Meet me after the show?
  14. June I can’t. My fiancé…
  15. Patrick Just for a drink?
  16. June You don’t even know me.
  17. Patrick We’ve been sitting like this for five minutes now. That has to count for something!
  18. June I really need to get up. My leg’s starting to cramp.
  19. Patrick Meet me.
  20. June …One drink?
  21. Patrick One drink.
  22. June One drink.
  23. Patrick Until then, then. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost…”
  24. June Wait a minute. “Loved”?
  25. Patrick It’s… an expression.
  26. June You don’t know me. How can you love me?
  27. Patrick It’s an expression.
  28. June Yeah, an expression of love!
  29. Patrick You’re the one who threw herself at me.
  30. June That was an accident. A mistake.
  31. Patrick There are no mistakes.
  32. June Well, this was one. Let me go.
  33. Patrick You’re not happy.
  34. June That’s right. Let go of me.
  35. Patrick Not not happy here. You’re not happy out there.
  36. June You don’t know me.
  37. Patrick Tell me you’re happy. Honestly.
  38. June
  39. Biff enters. [New photo: a smiling yet tough-looking one-eyed man]
  40. Biff Hands off, buddy.
  41. Patrick We’re having a conversation.
  42. Biff Hands off my girl, pal.
  43. June You have to let me go. He’ll hurt you.
  44. Biff You bet I will.
  45. June I have to do the finale.
  46. Patrick Look, sir… oh, I do apologize, I didn’t mean to call attention to your eye… I mean…
  47. Biff Get your paws off my dame!
  48. Patrick As soon as she answers my question.
  49. Biff Buddy, I’m going to give you three seconds… two… one…
  50. June No!
  51. Patrick No?
  52. June No.
  53. Patrick Sir, my thanks and regards. Madam, it has been a pleasure.
  54. Biff Get off him, doll.
  55. June No.
  56. (Patrick and Biff together) No?
  57. June No. I’m not going anywhere.
  58. Biff Get. Up.
  59. Patrick I think you should…
  60. June No.
  61. Biff Get up. Now-ooowwwwww!
  62. June Back off, or the next one won’t be to your foot.

It’s rough, but not terrible for an hour’s work, right? I’m pleased with it mainly because it’s a conversation that’s full of subtext, something that I’ve never felt I had an ear for. (And maybe I don’t, but it’s a start.) It’s also the first thing I’ve written completely without self-editing in a long time: the few scratched-out words on my page are just where I got ahead of myself and started writing the wrong part of the sentence. So, all in all, I think it’s a pretty successful exercise that I’m eager to repeat.