Elmer's English 304 Magazine
I Screamed All The Way There
Elmer G. Wiens
At first, I was just obsessed by the desire to write a play. Writing a play is not easy, but I did write the play, Critical Paths. Then I became obsessed with the desire to present it on stage. The obstacles to writing the play were small compared with the obstacles to producing it. I finally did produce the play at the Vancouver Fringe Theatre Festival in 1994, but I only succeeded because I was obsessed.
I am not sure when the obsession to write a play started to grip me. Perhaps in high school, reading Julius Caesar, or watching the Taming of the Shrew by a touring troupe of Shakespearian players. Perhaps in London in the summer of 1969, watching The Mousetrap in a West End Theatre, or touring the Old Vic Theatre as guests of special friends. Like an invisible anaconda, the obsession slithered around me and then it squeezed. I just had to write a play.
To prepare myself for writing the play, I read books on the art of playwriting. I studied the work of playwrights I respected, including Chekhov, Ibsen, and Albee. To understand how actors work, I took classes in acting, and I landed a part in the production of The Caged Dream by the Vancouver Experimental Theatre Company at the 1993 Fringe. Acting in this play gave me valuable insights into how actors take a script and bring its characters to life on stage. Our Director believed in the Stanislavski method of acting, so I learned how an actor could use the character's background to present him or her as a real person, with a history and real desires.
I wanted to write a contemporary story. I settled on the story of a high school drama teacher, George, who marries one of his students, Jane. They have a daughter, Morgan. Jane leaves to pursue an acting career in Hollywood, leaving Morgan to be raised by George. When Morgan is about eighteen years old, Jane returns. When she finds that George is about to marry another former student and lover, Sandra, she decides to murder George. The play evolves from this decision.
I finished Critical Paths in the summer of 1993, while rehearsing for my role as Fat Canizio in the Caged Dream. After the 1993 Fringe Festival, I asked some acting friends to join me in forming the Vancouver Actors' Theatre (VAT) Company for the purpose of producing my play at the 1994 Fringe. To cover the Fringe's entry fee and other expenses, I sold ten shares in the production of Critical Paths to VAT members. I bought three shares as producer, writer, and actor. We agreed to distribute any profit from our venture on the basis of the share distribution. So, I had a play and my own acting troupe. My obsession was being realized.
Then the problems began. To handle a troupe requires excellent interpersonal skills. Well, my first two directors quit. I tried in vain to find another director. Because I was already playing the character of George Sorenson, I didn't want to direct the play. Besides, I had not directed before, and I was obviously too close to the play to interpret it as a director. Although we lacked a director, the other actors wanted to rehearse, and so we fumbled along, learning our lines. Then two key actors quit because of conflicts with troupe members who were also their lovers. Sarah, my lead actress, and her husband separated. I spent countless hours talking to her on the phone. My friend, Judy, quit to get married. The troupe seethed with dissatisfaction, and my ego took a severe trouncing. My spouse, Pat, told me to quit. I was obsessed, so I refused to quit, but because of all the interpersonal problems, I stopped rehearsals for the time being.
I desperately needed a director and more actors. I advertised for a director. A month passed. Out of the blue, I received a call from Ed Farolan, an experienced director and an acting instructor at Vancouver Community College (VCC). He agreed to direct my play, on the condition that we present Critical Paths at the Fringe as part his summer acting class at VCC. I was saved! I had a director, actors and a crew: I recruited his students into the VAT as actors, stage
managers, and gofers. My desire to produce my play would be fulfilled.
Opening night at the Vancouver Fringe Theatre Festival finally arrived. Five minutes before curtain, Sarah hugged me and said that the play was sold out. Was I relieved? Ecstatic? Terrified? Ego-tripping? Yes! I struggled to regain my grip on the moment and gave Sarah my special squeeze. "Back in character," I whispered, feeling ruthless.
In the opening scene Sarah, as Jane Tron, stalks me as Jane's former husband, George Sorenson. Jane enters the theatre as a late-arriving theatre patron. While George reads a letter on stage, Jane stomps to the front of the theatre and takes a gun from her purse. Before she can shoot George, their daughter, Morgan, calls to George from off-stage. Jane doesn't want to murder George in front of her daughter, and so Jane leaves the theatre. Then in the second scene, she appears on stage to confront George with the effect he has had on her life.
Acting in your own play is challenging. If I write another play, I will not act in it. I will watch and enjoy it from the audience. I could not judge how well we performed because I was too busy playing George Sorenson. An actor who plays his part well is not self-conscious of his actions. At the start of the play, I was worried about the acting of the inexperienced performers. Fortunately, the three members of the cast who were experienced actors carried the others. Our performance was okay--in fact, it was great.
The hour of the play slipped away quickly. Suddenly, it was over. We took the ovation from the audience, and we gave them our bows. Friends of cast members came backstage to offer their congratulations. We stored the set and props for the next performance. I was exhausted. My friends, from out of town, invited Pat and me to their room at the Wall Hotel for champagne. Pat claims to this day that I screamed all the way there. Maybe I did. To achieve some goals requires that one be obsessed.