In our next blog post, Amanda Lee tells us about the inspiration behind her play and her process as a writer. Waiting for Van Gogh is Amanda's first play and we are very excited to present it!
(Get early-bird discount tickets for Amanda's play and our eight other plays today.)
What inspired this particular play?
I am obsessed with two things (well more than that but for the purposes of this question!): Waiting for Godot and Van Gogh. I have seen many productions of Godot, have used monologues from that play for auditions, etc. It's such a masterpiece. And Van Gogh has been a long-time passion of mine. I studied his letters and life in college, and have been lucky to go on pilgrimages all over the world to see his paintings. I went to see his grave in Auvers last time I visited France (Auvers is just an hour away by train from Paris). The cemetery was so peaceful and sad, situated right next to the wheatfield where he shot himself (the same field featured in one of his last paintings, "Wheatfield with Crows.") He was such a complicated, beautiful, and lonely soul, always seeking.
Last year, I was in PCSF's short play festival 2016 as an actor and really enjoyed the plays that I was cast in, so I wanted to see if I could write one myself. So I joined PCSF as an emerging playwright and my name got randomly selected for Round 1. I was in a full-blown panic, having never written a play before. I had no idea what to write about! I thought about pulling out of the contest, my fear was so great. But then I saw a small portrait I have of Van Gogh in my room, and the title just came to me and voila-a play was born. I did pull some of the story from personal experiences as well. When I visited the cemetery there was a lone woman also there visiting someone else's grave (not a famous one). So there was just the two of us, sitting in the cemetery at our respective graves, and I was just so intrigued by her presence. I wanted so much to speak with her and hear her story. But I respected her privacy. And now I get to bring her to life for this play in the character of Simone. I also have several friends who have lived in France and speak French so I made sure that both the French and her characteristics were spot on. And the other character, Lux, is an amalgamation of myself and some of my friends. The rest is pure imagination (with a few Godot easter eggs thrown in).
What for you is the most challenging aspect of writing a play? (Plot, overcoming writer's block, etc?) What is the most fun/rewarding aspect?
The most challenging aspect is balancing action with exposition. My play is a little wordy and prop heavy (an Achilles heel for first-time playwrights, I think). After about seven significant rewrites, I now have an idea of how to turn the text into more show than tell, but it's too late for this particular version. Next time!! And because I write fiction and poetry, I tend to have very detailed stage instructions about the environment and how the lines should be delivered by the actor, which I now understand can be cumbersome and restrictive for both the director and the actors.
The most fun and rewarding aspect for me is having people read the play and give me feedback, and then doing the edits based on that feedback. It has helped me so much to learn how to write well by rewriting this play so many times, incorporating all the excellent commentary that has been given to me. I am very grateful to all the people who have helped me shape this play (and to the PCSF directors and producers for choosing WFVG for production). Getting the notice that my play was a critical choice selection was one of the most surprising and happiest moments of my theater life.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I want to expand Waiting for Van Gogh from a 10-minute play into a longer one-act. I am also researching a play that I want to do on the 300 or so Ukrainians of Chernobyl, Russia, especially focusing on the elderly babushka's, who are living in their old homes in the abandoned city of Pripyat, 31-years after the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history (even though the area will be dangerously radioactive for 20,000 years, according to some estimates.) Their bravery and practicality is a wonder to me. I am trying to figure out if I have the nerve to visit Chernobyl myself, as the area around the now sealed nuclear plant, called the "zone of alienation" is open to tourists.
Anything else you'd like to share with us?
I am honored to be a part of 2017 PCSF's PlayOffs short play festival. There are some real gems in this year's production. I also am a company resident dramaturg for Spare Stage, a local bay area theatre company helmed by one of the playwrights this year, Laylah Muran de Assereto. Fun fact: I met Laylah last year, when she directed me in two of the three shorts that I was in for Playoffs 2016!