I’ve crossed over. New experience, again.
When we’re writing for the stage, or writing a novel, I participate in the creation, sometimes by co-creating structure, sometimes by providing verbal improvisation to develop character or story, and always in the developmental and line-editing process. With short stories, however, I come into the room after the party is in progress. CB invites the people, sets the scene, opens the door, and then I join the crowd.
Right now, probably as an aftermath of having been at the Kate Wolf Festival, I suddenly had a story march into my brain, set up camp, and demand to be heard. I’m not used to being a primary originator, but I obediently created a new Word document, sat down, and listened.
Back when we were first writing our memoir (Co-Creation: Fifty Years in the Making), I had to get over myself a lot, ditch the creepy-crawlies I’d get when reading what I’d written, and learn to take personally what we’d been telling improvising actors for decades: fire the editor on your shoulder, assume that five valuable minutes out of an hour’s work is a titanic success, and learn to be shameless. Eventually I began to find my own voice.
Now I find myself accidentally pregnant, and I’m not at all sure how to react. But there is precedent.
In 1962, Conrad needed a musical score for his student production of Prometheus Bound and innocently asked me to do one. I freaked and said, “You’re nuts.” I’d been a keyboard performing seal for all my life until I left home for college, but I’d taken a required composition course that, to my relief, proved I had no creative ability whatever. He was implacable, so we did an end-run by getting an instrument I’d never used before, a Japanese koto, and I found at rehearsals I could put my fingers on these thirteen strings and music just poured out.
In 1972, after twelve years of our strong partnership with him as director and me as actor and often composer, I suddenly proposed to our new performing ensemble, Theatre X, that I should direct a production of Beckett’s Endgame. In the early Sixties, as early-marrieds, I found the myth of Sisyphus to be something that could help me survive my massive depressions. My next hero was Beckett, and I found myself obsessed with the sly ironic blackness of Endgame. I had to do it, and I did. Conrad was a memorable Clov.
That was a one-off: I’m a helluva good actor-coach and dramaturg, but I never again had the itch to direct. We continued creating new works regularly, but I never initiated one myself, until I did, in 1984. We’d scheduled a production of Waiting for Godot, which took the cream of our male actor crop, and we wondered what to do with our wonderful core of actresses.
I have no idea what planted the idea for Summer Sisters in my head, but it sprouted, thrived, and flowered. Three women whose only connection was summer work at a pizza parlor on Cape Cod met annually to reconnect, and this play was the occasion of a new marriage. The fourth character was a young daughter whose meddling with a forbidden light switch (Hands off, we don’t know what it does!) flips the three women into past scenes that only the audience sees. As the young girl, our own daughter Johanna became the toast of Lancaster PA theatre in 1984.
This virgin short story is a new challenge. I was apprehensive about how I’d react to our normal collaborative editing process, but we have sailed smoothly ahead. I haven’t raised hackles or gone into a defensive snarling crouch yet, a situation that’s as amazing to me as the seamless way in which the first draft rolled out. So I mean it when I say, with a grin, “I’ve crossed over.” By the way, I love this story.