This is the third in a series of blog posts by our 2015 Emerging Artists, Intiman’s summer training intensive for a diverse cohort of up-and-coming theatre artists.
Today’s post is written by Anthea Carns, a playwright with a BFA from Carnegie Mellon who uses her art to make sense of herself and the world.

Shortly before the Emerging Artists Program started, while I was in the throes of finishing a first draft of my script, I had the chance to hang out with some friends from college and catch up on what projects we were all working on. I described a little bit of the program: how I’d been given the task of writing a piece inspired by Lillian Hellman’s work, to showcase six talented actors and a director new to the community.

“Are you excited?” one of my friends asked.

“Honestly?” I told him. “I have never been so scared by a piece of my own writing before.”

I’ve used that line a few times, and it remains true: this whole process is terrifying. In a good way, I promise–but terrifying nevertheless. Like standing on the edge of a canyon and surveying the view, admiring the beauty but wary of the drop.

The fear is because I’m doing something big and challenging and exciting, because I’m writing about a person to whom I want to do justice, and for a group of artists that I’d like to help shine, and because writing makes you vulnerable and the best art comes from that vulnerability.

Having the script read for the group on the first day of the program was the first hurdle we had to clear. Starting rehearsals was the next one. And as we’ve spent more and more time in rehearsal, with the entire team bringing their expertise and skills to bear on the text, I’ve had less time to be terrified. Too busy working, as our team creates something beyond my imagination.

See, writing is often a solitary act. Even with the communities of writers I’ve been lucky enough to be part of, most of us are most productive when we put on our headphones, close our office doors, and focus on the world we’re creating rather than the one we’re inhabiting. The end goal of writing is connection with someone else, sure–Stephen King calls the writer-reader connection “an act of telepathy. No mythy-mountain shit; real telepathy”–but the writer and the reader are both going to be alone when they’re experiencing the words.

Playwrighting, though, involves a group even in the moments when the writer is sitting alone trying to put words on the page. The lines on the page are going to be spoken and embodied by someone, who’ll be in dialogue with someone else, who’ll be part of a larger cast, who’ll be connecting with an audience full of people. And once you get into the rehearsal room, the cast, the director, even the design team is helping you refine your text. If you’re lucky, the actors will speak the lines exactly the way you imagined them when you were writing.

If you’re luckier, the actors will come up with something better than what you imagined.

I’ve been very lucky indeed. Our cast came to our first rehearsals willing to roll with whatever we could throw at them. And we started throwing stuff pretty fast: from me, new pages and scenes that I’d written two nights before, and from our director Alice, non-traditional gestural and movement work. We asked a lot, the cast responded with “yes, and,” and I got the inexpressible delight of watching them discover things in my writing I’d had no idea were there.

Alongside our regular rehearsals, we’ve done work with the whole cohort to help shape and develop our pieces. You’d be amazed how much you can learn about your own characters and how you’ve written them when you watch your actors improvise and bounce them off characters from other works. I got to watch Joan of Arc get into an argument with a 1960s Vietnamese-American lesbian while a 1930s strikebreaker harangued them for money. And if you don’t think that’s worth the price of admission, man, I don’t know what to tell you–I learned a hell of a lot about what the actors had already discovered and what I might need to help them find in just five goofy minutes. At the start of the program, Andrew Russell told me and Alice that actors were often the best dramaturgs, and so far (with the greatest of respect to my fellow dramaturgs, of course), that’s been true.

There’s a lot of work yet to be done, of course: new material to write, existing material to shape, tech rehearsals, performances. And I can’t tell you how excited I am for it. Scared, too, sure, but not of the drop.

There’s a pretty awesome team on my side taking the leap with me–and I trust us to catch each other.

Or maybe we’ll take off. Hey, it’s theatre; it’s writing. We’re already engaged in acts of telepathy and creation. A little flight isn’t out of the question.

Photo Credit: Pamela M. Campi Photography