Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cats and Cats and Cats

Driving from Massachusetts to New Hampshire Friday evening, my girlfriend and I started joking about the sort of play I'd end up writing for Theatre KAPOW's 24-Hour Play Festival. 

"Maybe it'll be all cats," I said.

"How would that even work?"

"Like, adult cats have to tell their kittens that they're all famous Internet memes. It's my play Going Viral but with cats. I could just change a few words and be in bed by ten. Call it Going Meowral."

"Going Feral," she joked.

Fast-forward to the part of the evening where I randomly select my prompt, and what is it...?

This. Only this.

Tempted as I was to pen the genre-shattering (and, let's be honest, award-winning) Going Meowral/Going Feral, I decided to use this prompt to write something new. But what?
The playwright Chas Belov gave me some great advice: Have your actors improvise a bit and write your play around that. While I didn't end up transcribing their improvisations (maybe I should have! they were really funny), what I observed did help to inform my brainstorming process. 

I noticed that Kelly Litt was very, very good at physical comedy. He's a tall dude and can really impose himself in hilarious ways. Ben Bagley, I thought, would make a great straight man: earnest but also funny. Jackie Marcoux told me that she'd never done comedy, but in the two scenes they improvised she was really funny, though in a different way than the two boys.

So what to write with all of this?

Kelly and Ben had similar comedic sensibilities and played really well off of each other. Jackie's comedy was more understated, and I knew if I didn't give her character significant power in the scene I risked losing her voice. 

And then I had to include the line "You did what?!" And something about seeing yourself as more than you are. Or just cats. It wasn't too late for just cats, right?
I don't want to spoil the surprise of what I ended up writing, but I will tell you this:
  • Kelly is responsible for an Oprah Magazine reference that may or may not make it into the production.
  • I started writing around 9:30pm and finished the first draft around 1:18 am. It clocked in at eleven pages. As I wrote to a friend on Facebook (because there was much Facebooking throughout this process): The only muse I've ever known is a gun pointed at my head. (Or a ticking clock. Whichever.)
  • I was told that both Ben and Kelly could sing and play the guitar. Ben also knew how to play a tiny coconut-shaped piano. All of them were proficient in stage combat. I could have done amazing things with this, but I used none of it. (Except maybe the guitar. We'll see.)
  • The director, Jamileh Jemison, said that she finds dead bodies to be a source of great hilarity. I was unable to include a dead body in the script, unfortunately. But I did call the police, and they agreed that I was right to be concerned...

In any case, it's mostly out of my hands now. I can't wait to see what Jamileh and the actors do with it!

—Brandon M. Crose

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