Over the many years writing my blog the stats report a recurring key phrase, ‘How to write a play’, and I thought my readers might find it interesting to read about what inspired my play scripts.
The short answer is: A true story…. something that caught my attention that was someone else’s story.
The long answer: My first play ‘Lost Child‘ back in 1994 was based on a true story of a Dad dealing with his gay son. Back then HIV and AIDS was a death sentence. The father was homophobic and macho. He rejected his son. To make the story complete I added another set of parents that were totally supportive of their gay son. Sadly this story did not end well and the script was lost on my hard drive ….someday, I may finish it.
Next came ‘Cook County Justice‘ based upon a fifteen minute segment offered on one of those TV magazines like 20/20. Bill Heirens had been incarcerated for over 40 years (even though his sentence included parole) for a murder I came to believe he didn’t commit. This story took me on a six year journey; letters from Bill (inmate), support from his team trying to set him free and several productions of my play.
While visiting Bill in the Illinois state Prison for Men early one Sunday morning, I sat in the reception area waiting to be ‘processed’ through into the visiting room. I was surrounded by women of all ages and their children. Mothers, sisters, wives, daughters….as I sat there they figuratively took me by the nape of my neck and shouted….’you must write about us…tell our story!’ That was the birth of ‘Women Outside the Walls’ a full length play and later a novel.
‘Scent of Magnolia‘ A Tribute to Billie Holiday was conceived in 2001 when a very talented jazz singer/actress out of Chicago asked me if I would write her a one woman show as Billie Holiday. I used, as my inspiration, the early years of Billie’s career before she succumbed to alcohol and drugs.
NEXT! A Hollywood Tale was based on my own experiences as a young actor in Hollywood and all the story swapping we would do in the green room, waiting to ‘go on’. There was nothing worse than going to a cattle call audition and in the middle of your monologue or reading have the casting director yell: ‘Next!’ That was your cue line to exit right. The razor sharp teeth of the machine known as Hollywood chew up aspiring actors and spit them into the gutter.
I grew up on my mother’s stories about growing up in the forests of Tumwater, Washington with her 13 siblings. Back at the turn of the twentieth century life and its entertainments were simple.
‘The Guyer Girls’ is a cross between Little Women and I Remember Mama. The first act is almost all based upon her stories. The second act was my creation of what happened when the six sisters come back home fifteen years later. With this age of technology I didn’t want these stories to die with her or with me.
‘Sins of the Mother’ was also partly biographical. Again stories told by my mother of her years in San Francisco (1920’s) as a bar owner, women’s basketball player, flapper, and mother. She used to say, “I’d work all day and dance all night!” This full length play developed into a novel, ‘Wild Violets’.
There’s more but this is where I will stop. Every play plot has conflict. The trick is to solve it within two and a half hours.
This post is a re-run from 2014 but well worth the read.
Want more? Click here for Part 2
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