It’s all about who you know. Who likes you. That sort of thing. I know this dude Geoff. In fact he’s a good friend who has a theater company with a bunch of other real fine theater folks. One summer ago he cast me in this play where I played a crazy guy. That was cool and made me feel a little crazy myself. When I was working on the crazy play, I started writing this new play, because what I want written on my urn is this: “This is Joshua Mikel. A writer.” Probably something a little more flowery than that, but that’s a fine placeholder.
I had a big idea while I was doing this crazy play and writing this other one, and I gathered some of my new and old friends together, and we read through the first couple of pages of this new play in Charlottesville, VA in the summer of 2007. It was pretty funny, but that was about the extent of it. My good friend Geoff came down to teach in Tallahassee where I have been living since I graduated. That makes anxious sometimes, living in my Alma Mater town, and so I got to finishing up this play I wrote, and Geoff directed a staged reading. It had four characters. It was funny, but that was about the extent of it.
I worked on it a little longer. Geoff told me he would like to put it up at his theater company. He was my good friend. I felt maybe I talked a lot about writing plays, and maybe I weaseled myself in, but I had gotten myself into it this time. I wrote a couple more drafts of the play, but not a whole lot was happening. I started drinking more coffee and staring at my computer longer, but wasn’t getting a whole lot of writing done. Geoff left Tallahassee, and we kept talking about it, but with Geoff gone, I got to doing other things. Geoff would call me from time to time. “Josh, I need a draft.” He would write me e-mails. “Josh, how’s the draft coming along?” And then, “Josh, I’m going to be in town around the holidays.” Something stupid took hold of me. Geoff, we should do another reading of a new draft of the play while you’re around.
And so I stared at my computer and drank more coffee and dreamt up excuses I could tell Geoff about coffee and my computer. About three days before folks were supposed to gather in Tallahassee for the reading, I started working on a draft. I made some changes. Don’t know what they were. Walter and Sergio were driving up. My friend Guerrin was coming over to read too. I made some salsa and vegetarian chili so Geoff would be less angry about how the play wasn’t awesome yet. He gets irritable when he doesn’t eat. He gets irritable when things aren't awesome. We had the reading. Jason, this other playwright I know who also knows Geoff showed up. He gave me some good notes. The long and short: It was funny, but that’s about the extent of it.
They left. I went back to coffee and computer. Coffee. Computer. Coffee computer. I got more calls from Geoff. “Where’s the draft. Give me the draft. Send me the draft you idiot. People are waiting on the draft. You’re going to have loser written on your urn. No, scratch that. No urn. You’re going to be deep deep with the fishes if I don’t get a draft.” Those sorts of things. I sent him a few drafts with line edits. I had a month remaining before I went up to Amherst, at which upon arrival he would pound me into the pavement with his hulking fist. I left him a message to buy myself some time. “Geoff, let’s try and get a conversation in. Let’s get one good draft together before I come up to visit.” Well, that didn’t happen.
(Author note- a bit of artistic liberty has been taken with Geoff’s charcter and direct quotations, but not much.)
I was leaving for Amherst. I’ll get some writing done when I get there before our two o’clock read through. I bought some coffee. I took my computer. I blew a tire. I got lost around Greensboro. I arrived around midnight on the 31st. I roomed with Drew and Krista. They were real nice to me, maybe because they felt sorry for me knowing what Geoff was going to do to me. I kind of went to sleep.
I met with Geoff the next morning. He didn’t beat me up. He was surprisingly optimistic. We had a good talk. The talk we had been meaning to have. We had a read through. I met the cast. I knew the cast- some of them, Walter and Sergio. Amazing dudes. And then I met Kirin and Melissa the stage manager. Also amazing. All these folks were going to be working on my play. All these folks were waiting for me to get a good play written. I was ready to write.
The play as it stood was at around ninety pages. Geoff and I made some discoveries when we had our talk. For a week I pounded away at the drafts, and we had readings. I would get notes and go back to working. Well, more or less. I wasn’t working all the time. We partied a few times. I went to the gym a few times. I walked around. Sweetbriar Campus is beautiful. I would wake up early, and write the next draft before our two o’clock reading. It started slimming down. Sixty eight pages. At the end of the first week: It was funny but…
And then that weekend I had a real revelation, and Geoff had a real revelation, and this play that I didn’t think was ever going to be much better than what it was got so much better. And I think back to a time at Florida State when Geoff directed my play Quentin G. “These characters don’t have wants, Josh. I don’t understand why they’re doing this, Josh. Make them have wants, or I will beat you up. Bad.” All right, Geoff. Chill the crap out, dude. I’ll make some changes. And I would go home and edit and add a few lines like, “I want you to love me.” And “I feel angry about this.” That way their wants were especially clear. I wasn’t making those kinds of changes this time around. This time we were making huge huge changes.
Good actors and a good director make me look like a better writer. It’s as simple as that. I have a hard time hiding my Cheshire grin when I see Geoff, Walt, Sergio, and Kirin working through a reading. I am a common crook. Sergio does a funny ad lib, I add it in. Geoff directs a funny little bit. Noted. Added. I sat in on a tech meeting. Drew, Krista, Bryce and Dan are about the most capable team of technical folks one could have working on a play. I have hit the mother load. The ideas the cast and crew generate to make the play better end up in the draft. It almost feels nasty. Almost.
It’s amazing what the workshop process can do to a play. And all joking aside, this has been such an amazing experience. Endstation has given me the most incredible opportunity, and brought together such an amazingly talented group of individuals to help me fully realize the potential of this play. I am so honored to know that Geoff saw something in the piece and decided to go for it before he even knew it could make it this far, or maybe he did. After all he is a bad ass.
I leave today, but I come back to see the play in July. And I feel good, because we did good work while I was here. We had a reading yesterday, and I think it went pretty well. It’s a different play. Completely different. And it’s not just funny.
Thanks Endstation. Take care,