I search for inspiration in almost everything I come across in life. It could be in the emotional tension of a well made, and some times not well made, movie, the turn of phrase in a favorite book, the colors or lack thereof in a thought provoking painting. But I also find it in the more common things. The kindness between two strangers at the counter of a coffee shop, the way the leaves blow across the sidewalk in the fall, the sound of music being played by someone just learning a new instrument.
As writers were are artists, and by definition creative. But that doesn’t mean the creativity is flowing off us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go back to sleep. For most of us it ebbs and flows depending on our mood, how much sleep we’ve had, or maybe what we’ve had to drink. But for me, more than anything else, creativity is often stimulated by outside influences.
As a creative type you can’t always know when or where inspiration will hit you, but you can sometimes put yourself in a position it can find you if it wants.
That’s what I did on Tuesday night.
A very good friend of mine who I’ve known for over twenty-five years has become a successful theater director here in Los Angeles. So much so that he has been able to do something many of his colleagues only dream of doing, and that is directing full time. Doesn’t mean he’s make tons at it yet, but he is doing what he loves. He’s also starting to make a very good name for himself. And I couldn’t be happier for him. He is a great guy, and a loyal friend. If you ever get a chance to look at the acknowledgments of any of my books you see the name Jon Rivera or Jon Lawrence Rivera…same guy, and they are both him. Jon will always be in my acknowledgments because he has proven to be a better friend to me than anyone ever has the right to have. For that, I’ll never be able to thank him enough.
Jon directs several plays a year at theaters all over town. He’ll occasionally be asked to also direct a play at one of the local colleges. In addition, for the past year, the faculty at USC asked him to teach theater directing at their school, something he’s been doing for over a year now.
Anyway, the play he is currently working on is a world premiere called LAWS OF SYMPATHY. He’s doing it though the theater group he formed called Playwrights’ Arena, whose mission is to produce plays written by people who live in the Los Angeles area. A pretty cool idea.
Tuesday night I went downtown to the space they were rehearsing and watch for awhile as Jon and his actors worked on two of the scenes from the play. Since this piece has never been produced before, they were working out a lot of the issues that established shows would have had worked out years ago. Things like “Why is this scene set in this location?” or “Why are you having this conversation now when you could have had it on the phone earlier?” or “What is the emotion behind what you are saying?”
It was absolutely fascinating to watch. Plays, as you may are may not know, are a writer’s medium. Whatever is on the page is what the actors have to say. It’s not like the movies where often the script is more like a guideline. Here, if a director or an actor want to make a change bad enough, they must consult with the playwright, who may very well just say no.
What I really enjoyed as I watched was the first scene they worked on. In the script, the scene starts in the middle of a conversation…a pretty intense conversation, by the way. But even as they began rehearsing it there was some question as to how the characters would have gotten to this point, and why the conversation was occuring in the location indicated in the script. I watched fascinated as Jon and his actors, Ahmad and Celeste, talked it through, Jon often asking the actors why their characters where doing what they were doing or saying what they were saying. Then Jon had them act out the whole seen, not just from the middle as it was written in the script, but from the beginning, improvising so that they could explore the backstory, if you will, and reach the point where the playwright had begun. This was not stuff the audience will ever see on stage, not directly anyway. They WILL see it in the way the actors will be totally comfortable with characters they are playing, making the audience forget they are watching actors at all.
It was great to see how the Ahmad and Celeste handled this. Both were excellent and really seemed to know who they were even while they were still figuring out things about their characters. What was also great was seeing them working together to explore the relationship between the characters, because that is just as important as knowing the characters themselves.
In many ways I found it to be just like what I go through as an author, and what I assume most authors go through. We are the playwrights, directors and actors of our own stories. I often act out parts, looking for motivations, and emotions. But sometimes it’s actually harder when it’s just one brain playing all these parts. I envied the fact that Jon and Ahmad and Celeste could play off each other, and not just themselves, and even daydreamed about having actors come to my house and play out scenes from my whatever I was working.
When I left the theater, I felt like I’d been mainlining creativity. I couldn’t wait to get back to my keyboard. I’m sure this jolt will be with me for several days. But the great thing is once it’s gone Jon has said I can come back any time I want to observe again. I will definitely be taking him up on that.
So what are some interesting things that have inspired you recently? Did you stumble upon them, or did you put yourself in their path?
No song this week, but something even better given our topic. A little piece of incredibly inspired creativity I came across on another blog. Enjoy!