I was at dinner a few years ago when a friend (also a playwright) asked me about the new play I was working on. It’s a flattering question. You mean someone actually wants to hear about my new play? After three or four minutes into the conversation the waiter was standing there asking us if we wanted to order something to drink. My friend quickly glanced at the wine list and ordered a Malbec; however, the waiter politely explained that the Malbec he chose was bottle only. I quickly ordered a Cabernet while he continued to look at the wine list. He had a blend. I can’t remember.

“Now where were we,” he asked. “She’s a paraplegic—.” But he cut me off and asked me to go back a little. I did. At some point he said terrific or something along those lines. I smiled and pushed on, but by now the waiter had returned. Once again I had to back up a few sentences. And I went on. And on. Five minutes or maybe longer.  I kept waiting for another “terrific” but no such luck. I looked for an expression on his face or maybe a gesture, something that told me he liked it. I kept on. Nothing. I wasn’t done with the play at the time. In fact, I’d only written about twenty pages but I had plenty of ideas. The waiter returned. The food arrived. And I went home. 

The next day I started to work on the play and I was bored out of my mind. I didn’t know why; so I put it aside. I tried every few days but nothing. Why? I realized that in order to explain the story to my friend I had made sense of it. I had to let some parts go in order to make it easier for him to understand. I had sucked the life out of the play in order to be able to discuss it. That night I had thrown away all those messy parts that make a play exciting and unpredictable. Now the play worked as melodrama. It wasn’t true to life. I became aware of this but being aware of it didn’t mean I could fix it.  The play was now a straight arrow. I had talked the play right out of me. 

It was at this time I learned that what attracted me to writing was mystery…the chase. What made me happy was that moment a character goes off the grid. When a character does something I had not thought of prior. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t tell people the trigger for the play, but it’s dangerous to discuss the play itself while you are writing it. In making something clear for a friend to understand you are making it clear for yourself and that may be deadly. Proceed at your own risk.

No Talking
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Rogelio Martinez

Rogelio is the winner of the first ever Mid-Career Fellowship at the Lark Theater Company. Ping Pong, his play about Nixon, Mao, and the hippie that brought the two together, is part of this season’s Public Studio series at The Public.  His new play, Born in East Berlin, will be given a workshop at the Arden in April.  Some of Rogelio’s plays include Wanamaker’s Pursuit  (Arden Theater),  When Tang Met Laika  (Sloan Grant/ Denver Center/ Perry Mansfield),  All Eyes and Ears (INTAR at Theater Row),  Fizz (NEA/ TCG Grant/ Besch Solinger Productions at the Ohio Theatre, New Theater Miami),  Learning Curve (Smith and Krauss New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2005/ Besch Solinger Productions at Theater Row),  I Regret She’s Made of Sugar (winner of the 2001 Princess Grace Award),  Arrivals and Departures (Summer Play Festival),  Union City... (E.S.T, winner of the James Hammerstein Award), and Displaced  (Marin Theater Co.) In addition, Rogelio’s work has been developed and presented at the Public Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Mark Taper Forum, South Coast Repertory, the Magic Theater, and Ojai Theater Company among others. Rogelio is an alumnus of New Dramatists and his plays are published by Broadway Play Publishing. He has received commissions from the Mark Taper Forum, the Atlantic Theater Company, the Arden Theater Company, Denver Center Theater, and South Coast Repertory.  In the past Rogelio has been profiled in a cover story in American Theater Magazine. In addition to writing, Rogelio teaches playwriting at Goddard College, Montclair University, and Primary Stages as well as private workshops. For several years Rogelio was a member of the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writer’s Group at Primary Stages. In television, Rogelio has written for Astroblast, a children’s television show. Rogelio was born in Cuba and arrived in this country in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift.  He lives in New York with his family.  
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2 thoughts on “No Talking

  • April 18, 2017 at 11:08 am
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    Just what the doctor ordered.
    Much needed today ~ thank you!!!!

    Reply

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