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John M. Prophet

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Seven Jolly Playwrights
By John M. Prophet
Friday, December 02, 2005

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A group of people gather together to collaborate on writing a play.

     Paul O’Neil sat in his den contemplating his next move. A playwriting contest loomed on the horizon. For some inexplicable reason which can only be ascribed to his fickle muse playing sport with him, two weeks ago he had dredged up an old children’s picture book manuscript from his files, one that he had been struggling with to get published. He had read it to his writers group and one member suggested turning it into a play for children.

            “I think this is a great story,” declared the member. “It would make a wonderful play for children.”

            This remark had the effect of a lighted match to a gas stove. “Yes,” he replied, “I think you’re right about that. I’ll get to work on that right away.”

            Now, in the safety of his den, with his pen and pad of paper at hand and a writer’s manual, How to Write Screenplays That Sell, he was ready to work in earnest: Ten minutes of planning, five minutes of writing. That was his daily goal knowing full well that he would exceed that. That was his modus operandi for as long as he could remember. However, fifteen minutes went by without a plan and without a word written.

            Hmmm, he thought, my name is O’Neil. Eugene O’Neill’s name has two ls. But, two ls do not a playwright make. I like that. Quickly, he wrote that in his file of writers’ insights. He flipped through the pages of the manual and at the beginning of his manuscript, but nothing triggered a response. He gazed at the point of his pen and mumbled, “There’s a play in you somewhere. Hmmm, that’s another good thought. He added that to his idea file. Then, it came to him.

            “Eureka,” he cried knowing full well that he was quoting Archimedes. “I’ve got it. I’ll find someone to collaborate with me.”

            Excited, Paul turned to his computer and tapped out an e-mail message that went out to forty members and former members of his writers group. It read: Who would like to work with me on a play? We can learn playwriting together. All those interested in taking this journey with me are invited for coffee and coffee cake at my home on December 7. Bring your thinking caps.” He was pleased with himself for that dash of humor at the end.

            When he realized that December 7th was Pearl Harbor Day, a wave of uneasiness passed through his body like the time a 3.2 earthquake hit his home town. Undaunted, he and his wife made preparations for the event.

Six writers, three women and three men arrived at his door. They all seated themselves in the carefully-arranged chairs so that they could look at each other.

“Where are you going?” he asked his wife as he observed her putting on her coat.

“Out,” she replied. She whispered into his ear, “You don’t think I’m going to stick around with that crowd, do you? Not on your sweet bippy.” And out the door she went.

The first twenty minutes went by quickly. Paul sat back and watched as the group cackled and brayed, honked and baaed like farm animals in a barnyard, each trying to out shout the others. This is great, thought Paul, but we aren’t getting anything done. “OK,” he shouted tapping his spoon on his coffee mug. “I think it will help if we settled down here.”

The body language that ensued was a clear message that any attempt at regimentation would be a bad idea. Nevertheless, he calmly proposed that it might be more fruitful if one person spoke at a time. Silence filled the room like a blown-up air bag. Paul felt a sudden increase in the force of gravity which pressed him into his seat and the density of the air in the room made it difficult for him to breathe as all eyes focused on him. The six writers sat back, folded their hands in their laps and waited for Paul’s next decree.

“I think it’s wonderful that we’re all here together today to work together and together we can write this play together and learn together. We can do this if we work….” His voice trailed off to a murmur and the group roared in unison.

“Toge-e-e-e-e-ther.” And they all snickered.

“OK,” one of the members piped up, “where do we start?”

“Yeah,” said another and, again, the noise level rose like an incoming tide.

“Well,” said Paul, “there’s this thing it says here about storyboarding.”

“Sure,” someone answered, “I know that, that’s easy.” This was followed by another chorus from the group, “We know that.”

“Did you all get the story I sent you?”

“I don’t think so,” said one.

“I got it but I didn’t have time to read it,” said another.

“I have my copy here,” said another. “What do you want us to do with it?”

Paul pulled out four copies of his manuscripts which he had anticipated that he would need and handed them the members who needed them.

“Where do you want us to start?” someone said.

“Well, the story is about this orphan boy named Donny Brook who lives in Happy Hollow.”

The group showered Paul with questions.

“Happy Hollow, what kind of name is that?”

“It’s the name of the village he lives in.”

“I thought you said he was an orphan.”

“He is. He lives on the street. All of the other kids in Happy Hollow yell at him because he’s dirty and poor.”

“So, I think the play should start out with Donny on stage with the other children hollering at him.”

“Donny? Who’s Donny?”

“Donny Brook, that’s his name.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. That’s a fight, isn’t it, a donnybrook?”

“Well, his name is metaphorical. He’s a fighter.”

“You mean he’s a boxer?”

“No, he’s tough. He’s brave in the face of adversity. Moving on, this giant named Bombo visits Happy Hollow and he eats all of the vegetables the townspeople have grown.”

“A giant comes to Happy Hollow?”

“Yes, a giant named Bombo.”

The group looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

“After he eats everything, he lies down and crushes all the houses in Happy Hollow.”

“And you want to make a play out of this? What kind of stage are we going to need?”

“That’s up to us,” said Paul. “That’s what playwriting is.”

“I don’t know about this. Where are we going to find someone that tall?”

“He doesn’t have to be really tall,” said someone, “he can wear stilts and dress up like a giant.”

“How does a giant dress?”

They all chimed in with one of the members directing them like the conductor of the Tabernacle Choir followed by gales of laughter. “In extra-extra large.”

“Can we get serious for a minute?” asked Paul dejectedly.

“OK, what’s next?”

“Well, we have to decide where the play starts. Should it be in the street or when Bombo lies down?”

“I think it should start in the streets. All in favor of the streets raise your hand.” Three hands went up. “And for Bombo?” The other three hands went up. “That’s three hands for each. You decide.”

Paul couldn’t believe this was happening. He looked at his watch. Forty-five minutes gone and nothing accomplished.

“I have to leave in about five minutes,” said one member.

“Me, too,” said another.

“When do we meet again,” said another.

“I’ll call you,” said Paul.

When the group was gone, Paul picked up the manuscripts that were left on the chairs. He carefully tapped them on a table to align them, and then slipped them back into his file drawer. -END-


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