November 2001 - When Visions Match

Sometimes it’s easy.

Most of the time, it’s not. It’s difficult, strenuous, problematic, complicated and just plain hard. I sit at the keyboard, waiting for just the right plot twist, searching for just the right character quirks and motivations, praying for just the right word. Sometimes they never come at all.

But sometimes, once in a great while, it’s easy.

Performink is Chicago’s trade paper for the performing arts. They let you know what’s going on at different theaters, they profile actors and, in the back, they have Hotlines. These are listings that mainly cover upcoming auditions and plays that are in need of directors. Every now and then, they list theaters that are seeking script submissions.

In the August 17, 2001 issue of Performink there was a listing that said the Bailiwick Arts Center was looking for short horror plays for an evening called TINY TALES OF TERROR. Wait a minute, I thought to myself, I write plays! I also write horror stories! This is a match made in Heaven!

I went through all of the short plays I’d written over the years and pulled out two. One was about a couple of guys who fight over who gets to eat a dead midget and the other was about a society where you help the local artificial limb salesman boost his sales by letting him cut off your appendages. I prepared them for submission.

That was when I heard through the grapevine that the Bailiwick was interested in plays that dealt with humans facing the supernatural in their daily lives. They weren’t interested in plays where people got chopped up. Both of the scripts I’d chosen were now out of the running.

That night, another play I’d written was being performed in a local festival. I was looking forward to it, but while watching my script being brought to life on the stage, I had a hard time paying attention. My mind was dancing with bits of dialogue based on some of the Cthulhu mythos I’d become familiar with. After the performance, I went home, sat down at my computer and typed. An hour later, I had a first draft of “Down There”, a short play about a boy, a girl and the Cyclopean Monstrosity that brings them together.

The following morning, I spent a half an hour on re-writes and that afternoon I dropped “Down There” off at the Bailiwick. A month later I got a call saying they were accepting it for TINY TALES OF TERROR.

Fast forward to October 13. Opening night of the production. I was sitting in the audience with my girlfriend, unsure of what to expect. In the past, I’d learned that directors working on my scripts either get it or they don’t. I’d had several plays produced that I loved seeing, and several others where I wasn’t even sure I’d written what was on the stage. Earlier in my career, I would attend rehearsals and try to help the director find what I was going for. This involvement rarely paid off. Directors have their visions and, as someone who also occasionally directs, I can appreciate that. The problem is, sometimes the director’s vision doesn’t match the playwright’s.

For “Down There” I was pleasantly surprised. The rhythm was there. The pacing was there. The actors found the characters. For all intents and purposes, the play being performed on the Bailiwick stage was the same play that I’d written. The visions matched.

Like I said, sometimes it’s easy.