Great Expectations

Next week, Theatre Aquarius puts on its Reading Week. The artists in the various programs that Theatre Aquarius supports during the theatre season will get a chance to present an excerpt from the piece that they’ve been working on. My turn is on Wednesday (June 19).

It’s always good to get your work in front of an audience. But it can be nerve wracking.

I always find it tricky to manage my expectations in these situations. First and foremost, the play is a work-in-progress. And yet, an excerpt of it is going to be read by professional actors in front of a live audience. A sliver of about ten minutes.  Short enough that if people hate it, it will over quickly; but it might be too short to form an accurate opinion of the piece.  It’s a short play anyway, so what ten minutes do I choose?

The reading is free, so no one will be able to demand their money back if they don’t like it. But it is difficult to quell those anticipatory fears: Will the audience like it? Will they hate it? Will they think I’m a talentless hack? Will they think I’m some kind of sicko?

My play is called A Killing at the Cottage. They’ll be reading an excerpt from the fourth draft that I just finished.  It’s a departure from my previous plays. It’s a dark comedy. Really dark. The only thing that comes close is probably my play Mommy’s Mask, but that wasn’t a comedy.

The problem is that sometimes I worry what people will think of me. What kind of a mind comes up with this stuff…? I’m not worried about what my friends and family will think. They can separate me from the work. But it’s the people that don’t know me.

And yet, the only way to grow as an artist is to do the work that you are called to do. We don’t always have control over things that inspire us. And you don’t want to ignore inspiration because it’s the fuel that drives you to complete a work.

I had intended to write a different play. I intended to write it for almost six months and finally gave up. Then the idea for A Killing at the Cottage came…. and I wrote the first draft in a few days.

This play scares me. I don’t know if audiences will like it. I don’t know if it will ever get performed. I’m driven to keep working on it, though. Something about it, that I can’t quite articulate to my satisfaction, makes me want to keep chipping away at it. It’s a block of marble and each draft gets me a bit closer to the statue underneath.

Next week, I’ll sit in the audience as the actors read my play. It will be an excruciating experience, because I will be trying to listen to the reading and gauge the audience’s reaction to it. And I’ll be trying to see if it becomes any clearer how I can improve the play.

Ideally, I’d like to be invisible so that I could observe the audience’s reaction without them knowing I was there. More importantly, I wish I didn’t care about the audience’s reaction.

The best way to develop is to be open and not have any expectations. But man, that is so hard, isn’t it?


For more details about Theatre Aquarius’ Play Reading Week, check out their Facebook event.


© 2019 Peter Gruner

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