Saturday, February 9, 2013
RUMPLESTILSKIN RAPS and BOBBY BECOMES A PUBLISHED PLAYWRIGHT: How I Got My First Play Published
It will be three years in March since my first play was accepted for publication by the good folks at Brooklyn Publishers. I was thirty-two years old. The play, "Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel" had been sitting in a drawer (or, more accurately, sitting in a computer file, untouched) for about six years.
I will admit it--- I didn't know what to do when I graduated from college in the year 2000. To say I was a bit aimless is an understatement. It's not that I did not receive a fine education. I'm thankful for Bennington College, and quite proud to be an alum. I had several wonderful professors, including Gladden Schrock, who taught me playwriting.
I think my problem, as I look back on it, was that I didn't believe in myself or my work, though I had received a great deal of praise for it at school. Perhaps, more accurately, I was afraid of all of the "potential" everyone said I was chock-full of. What if they were wrong? Or, what if they were right, but I never lived up to this potential. As the years go by, potential and a dollar twenty-five will get you a cup of coffee. And no one wants to leave the world with everyone saying "He had so much potential".
So yeah, I was worried about living up to my hype, and I submitted nothing to publishers except for a few short stories that were promptly rejected. Then I did nothing.
Well, that's not entirely true. I was a bit depressed because I was living back at home in Dover-Foxcroft. My finances were grim. A lot of student loans to pay.
My father was the drama coach at SeDoMoCha Middle School for as long as I could remember. Back in 2003-2004, when I was living another stint at home, my father asked if I would like to take a crack at directing the middle school play, and I said yes. As long as I could write it as well.
I had an urge to finish a play, and figured that having this job would force me to finish writing one. I hadn't had a deadline since I was in college, and, believe or not, I happen to think deadlines can be a great spur for creativity.
I knew I would probably do something that was kid-friendly enough, like a mash-up of fairytales. But I didn't want it to be the same bland re-telling of stories we have heard a hundred times.
I wrote about twenty pages of a play called, at the time, "Rumplestilskin: Master of Rhymes". I wish I could tell you how I got the idea for Rumplestilskin to be a rapper, but I don't know for sure. (I'm sure the dark playfulness of a fella named Eminem, who was so popular at the time on the airways, had something to do with it). I wrote those first twenty pages to be used for auditions. You see, I didn't know these kids, really, aside from a few I had directed in a theater camp when I was in college. I wanted to see how many kids came out for auditions, and then try to tailor the play for the kids and their personalities.
I held the auditions before the school's February break. I had twenty-five kids audition, and I was determined to use them all. The week of February break, I wrote the rest of the play, having let all of the kids know they were cast before their break.
Perhaps because I was writing so fast, I didn't have to worry and panic about the number of students I had to accomodate. I just had fun. Rumplestilskin was the rapper, but I gave him an overbearing mother and a bratty little sister named Rumplina (who I love). The poor little guy just wanted to narrate the story, but kept getting into trouble. I added Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk fame, who has lost all of his money on bad investments, but who is working hard to invent the folding chair to impress Stacy, a local storyteller, who also happens to be the daughter of the Miller, who the truly terrible (and Machiavellian) Prince overhears bragging about how his daughter can spin straw into gold. Of course, I have a middle-aged woman, old before her time, who lives in a shoe named Sherry (well, she's named Sherry, the house doesn't have a name), with her many kids (named Perry, Terry, Scary, Sherry, Barry, and Cherry), and her carpenter husband who is obsessed with making shoe-shaped buildings and other objects. Throw in an agent named Crazy Miranda (catchphrase: "I'm Crazy!"), the Miller's neglected son named Jud, and a group of Royal Cheerleaders who announce the Prince (and, truthfully, hate his guts), and I had a big mash-up of stories that I found quite satisfying. To my relief, the kids loved the script too, and worked very hard to make it a success.
And it was! They did such a great job. It makes me feel old looking back on it, because all of these kids are legal adults now.
At the time, I talked about trying to get it published, and was encouraged by so many people to do so.
But I did not. I left it alone.
Why? I'm not 100% sure, but I think it was partly the old self-doubt, but also this notion of how I had studied to be a "serious" playwright (whatever that means). Pretty ridiculous when I look back on it, because I think this play has some of my funniest lines of any play I have ever written, including ones for adults.
Cut to 2008. I had been living in the Skowhegan area in Maine, but wound up moving back to Dover-Foxcroft. While I had been gone, a new town community theater had been building called The Center Theatre (the theater camp I had directed while I was in college was the first big project the Center Theatre had done, long before they had renovated the space which is so lovely now--- my kids in that first camp performed on the tiny stage upstairs at the East Sangerville Grange). I got involved at the Center Theatre, met a whole bunch of people, and, suddenly, it didn't feel like I was "stuck" in Dover-Foxcroft anymore, but was actually happy to be there.
In 2009, I directed a production of "Little Shop of Horrors" (one of my favorite musicals) for the Center Theatre, and, again, made so many wonderful friends who I began to share my writing with. At this new wave of encouragement, I decided it was time to submit my work.
I took a look at "Rumplestilskin: Master of Rhymes", changed the title (which I had never really been happy with) to "Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel", added some references to people calling him R-Dawg, made the ending a little less abrupt, and then submitted simultaneously to Playscripts, Inc., and Brooklyn Publishers.
In March of 2010, I heard from David Burton, editor at Brooklyn Publishers, who accepted the play with the first of many pleasant conversations we have since had. I had to go through the play, tweak it up some, copyedit it (fix any mistakes or typos--- for example, I had a character saying "hello" without the o on the end of the word), write a synopsis for the catalogue, write out a prop list and costume list, a bio for myself, etc., etc. My heart was beating so fast, I don't know how much of this first conversation with David was actually heard past the reverberating thump in my ears.
It was an exciting day (and exciting couple of days, actually--- my second play was accepted for publication the very next day by Playscripts--- that one is called "Confession: Kafka in High School", which I will talk about next Saturday). I had flowers sent to me, drank champagne with a dear friend, and received about a thousand congratulations from wonderful people.
So... why had I waited so long?
Again, it is hard to say, but I truly believe it had some notion of a fear of failure, perhaps with a new notion of fear of success... indeed, every time I go a stretch without publishing a play, I wonder if I'm all done, if this is it, my career is over!
But it's more than that. I had to grow up and readjust my notions of success. I learned with "Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel" that everything I write, whether it be for children or adults, silly or serious, comes from the same creative source. I finally learned how to be proud of the fact that I was actually GOOD at writing for younger audiences. So, no, I may not be Pinter or Mamet, but who cares? I wrote a play that alot of kids enjoy, and, who knows? Maybe it's the impetus for a kid to fall in love with theater. And if that's the case, I sure can't ask for any more than that. In fact, I have to say that's a pretty noble accomplishments.
Okay--- so, for those interested, it took about two months with that first script before a "proof" copy was sent to me via e-mail in PDF. I went through the script, making sure there were no typos (getting help from my friends), and then sent back a few corrections. Then I waited. I believe it was another three months or so before I actually had a script I could hold in my hands. And that was a sweet feeling.
(Note: since then, I have had other scripts that have taken longer, some much shorter... I've learned to expect anything).
Oh, and to date, "Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel" has been performed in over ten states and two provinces in Canada.
And, just for fun, my favorite line in the play:
Sherry, the woman in the shoe, has just been berated by Crazy Miranda, because two of her children were throwing rocks at her. Crazy Miranda threatens to sue her. Here's what Sherry says to her kids:
SHERRY: What have I told you kids? If you're going to throw rocks at someone, make sure they're not rich enough to be able to afford a lawyer!
Thank you for reading about my first publishing experience. If you have any questions or comments, you can post them below, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomorrow, I'll be talking about my feelings on how to become an actor in community theater (auditions, rehearsals, etc.)
Until then, take care, and remember: Theater is a sport.
To read more about "Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel", or to read a pretty lengthy script preview, follow this link: http://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=sd&st=RUMPLESTILSKIN+THE+R-DAWG%2c+HIP-HOP+MINSTREL&p=1595