If you haven’t seen this video before, please watch it: Toy Story 3: Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned. This is an hour-long lecture from the writer of Toy Story 3, Michael Arndt, about the process of making the film. My dear friend Mackenzie Worrall shared it with me, and I was able to finally watch it at just the right time. I believe there’s something that could be learned here about new play development and the idea of “iteration.”
The Pixar process (and also now the Disney process) is to write the story, create storyboards, do a cut of the film with storyboards and temp voices/music, and then meet to discuss what is working and what isn’t. Then, the process begins again and again until, boom, the final film is made.
Playwrights are always looking for new play development, but there are multiple things that don’t quite work in the process. If there is a developmental opportunity for a play, it usually doesn’t end in a production. Then, if there’s a production of a play, there isn’t usually time and space for iteration and development.
Of course, much of this comes down to money. I know that’s the case. But what are the ways that playwrights can iterate on their own? What does iteration look like? How can more theatres build iteration and actual development into their productions of new work?
So many questions.
What I’ve been doing for myself? I asked actors to read through my script together. I applied for local new play workshops. I used a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council to hire dramaturgs. These same opportunities may not be open to me in the future, so how do I keep going? How do I keep iterating? I’m living with that questions right now.
When Melanie Marnich was a visiting artist at The University of Iowa, she had us all do an exercise: imagine where we saw ourselves in 1 year, in 3 years, and in 5 years. We thought about our personal trajectories and, in some way, how we would get ourselves there through short term goals. Something that I've been lacking lately is a focus on goals. I don't quite have any. Okay, that's not entirely true. I suppose I don't have large, specific goals. We often are asked to define what success means for ourselves since success, especially success as a playwright, is so personalized. I've been concentrating a lot on my family, my wife's goals, and have had some very distracting business going on at the day job, so my playwriting goals have been out of focus. Mainly the goal has been "I want to write plays." I've also extended the goal to "I want my plays to be performed." Easy enough.
What I've decided to do is take bite-sized action towards this goal by submitting at least 1 play a week. It's not as ambitious as Brian Doyle's 1 submission a day, but it's doable for me. It's been especially easy after having done all the prep work as recommended by Donna Hoke. I can get a play submitted in about 20 minutes, not including research about the theatre or contest. The most difficult part of the process will be pairing the right play with the right theatre. I just recently sent off a copy of Father Bob, a play I haven't sent out in a while, because it seemed like the one play of mine that would work in terms of theme and casting. Maybe. I don't know. All I can do is read the missions of the theatres, look at their previous productions, and try to be honest about whether or not one of my plays would work there. I'm doing my best to not send something simply to send something.
In other news, I have a fun new project that's going to start in December. More info to come. I hate being vague, but it's coming soon enough!