Writing in the air

The hardest part of writing a play for me is sitting down and starting. I think that’s true for a lot of writers. It’s easy to think about what I want to write, and as much as I intend to actually begin work on a new script, it’s even easier to do something other than write. This summer especially, between directing Godspell at The Kelsey theatre for M & M Stage Productions and taking a grad class, I found myself easily distracted.

Once I actually sit down and start, though, the ideas flow, and I often have a difficult time doing anything else. I’ve spent many nights forcing myself to shut my laptop at 5 AM and go to sleep, even though I wanted to continue to write.

Well, I just began my next play: a joint project with my brother, Matt Steele. I began writing on the airplane on a trip to Vegas. I figured if I was going to be trapped 3,500 feet in the air for five hours and ten minutes, I might as well put the time to good use. I couldn’t make any excuses not to write.

So I began writing the first draft of the first scene of a murder mystery comedy on the beginning of a trip with two of my best friends. The three of us sat in our row with our laptops on our tray tables. My friend Angela was to my right, laughing out loud as she watched Bridesmaids. My friend Abbie was to my left, bobbing her head as she watched Glee. They both seemed highly entertained by what they were viewing. I can only hope that audiences will enjoy this play just as much.

As usual, I’m writing the first draft of the script, and once I have a solid first scene, I’ll send it to my brother. So far, I’ve introduced all of the characters. There are 18 of them in total, along with some extras. Now, all I have to do is go through the scene a few times to get it into a state that will make sense to my brother, and he can work his magic. Hopefully, I can send it to him within the next few days, and he’ll send something back to me before my trip is even over, so when I get home, I can work on the next scene.

Also, hopefully I’ll win a million dollars.

My little list of characters

People always ask me how I begin drafting my plays. Well, before writing a single word, I make a list of every character in the play. I don’t give any of the characters names until several drafts in, but I write a word or so that describes each character to form a complete character list. I usually create this list on a scrap of paper, and it ends up sitting right next to my laptop until I finish the play.

Here’s what the character list for my latest play looks like (maybe I should begin actually writing soon):

Character list

The start of a new play

Summer is here, and for the past several years, that has meant one thing: it’s time to start writing a murder mystery comedy.

Every year, I’m commissioned to direct a murder mystery play at a local high school, and for the past four years, I’ve co-written an original play with my brother (and sometimes with a few of the students.) Since I’m busy this summer directing Godspell and with grad school, I don’t have time to collaborate with students. My brother and I will be writing on our own, which hasn’t happened since the summer of 2009 when we wrote A Family Reunion to Die For.

My brother (who lives in L.A.) flew to Jersey for our cousin’s wedding this past weekend, and we spent last night discussing the concept for this year’s show. We work best in the middle of the night, so between 2 and 5 AM, we chatted about how many characters we want, where and when the setting will be, and how we can do something different than we have ever done before.

Without giving too much away during this early stage of pre-writing, we are excited about a few things:

1) For the first time, we are writing a period piece. Instead of a present day setting, we are planning to set this play in the 1940’s. This will be a challenge because we will need to be true to the time in terms of dialogue.

2) We are returning to the dark and stormy night setting that is popular with murder mysteries. It’s been awhile since we’ve done that, and we think the audience will respond well to this more traditional feel.

I’m excited to begin work on this show. The production is slated to open in a little less than five months. …Here’s to many days sitting at the computer!