Writer Impressions: Communal Creation
Post by Writers Lab Member Melisa Tien
What has struck me about this journey is that new play collaboration might be analogous to having a child. When the subject first comes up, it’s scary, exciting, and new. The decision to actually do it is heady and fraught with doubt, but buoyed by hope and the idea of making something beautiful together. The child’s conception—the messing around, the playing with ideas—is fun and passes all too quickly. It’s followed by the gestation process, which conversely feels like self-imposed isolation. (In this creative process, I’m referring to a period when the writers go off to work, apart from the rest.) And then finally, the birth occurs—the moment when the writers release the work into the hands of all of the collaborators, which for this project includes the directors and producers. The product is out there for those who took part in its conception to witness. It is out there in all its ugly, screaming glory: the first draft. After a short while, the ugly baby grows into itself a bit more. It becomes more refined and defined. Everyone starts to provide feedback on how best to raise it; everyone wants what’s best for the child. We are now the collective custodians of a communally conceived child.
We run into obstacles that typical parents run into; we don’t always agree on how to raise it, but because we can’t stop it from growing (which it is doing, fast), we do the best we can and hope we aren’t mucking it up. Sometimes, there are impasses. The things one parent is doing might bump up against something quite different that another parent is doing; and the two, alas, can’t co-exist or the child would go crazy. Who’s to say which way is better? It’s emotionally easier to allow each collaborator to do what she wants. But it isn’t practical. So after a few rounds of push-and-pull, of holding-on-then-letting-go, after actually quite a lot of discussion, we agree on certain key decisions about our child’s future. And the idea that this is really a single, unique living being that has a little bit of each of us in it, starts to emerge. Now we’re at the point when we’re showing close friends (i.e. designers), and asking for their experienced input in raising this child.
It’ll be exciting and scary to see how it’ll do when, seemingly far from now (but actually it’s right around the corner), it faces the world on its own, on the first day of school.
Melisa Tien is a playwright whose plays have been developed and/or produced by The Wild Project, Rising Circle, New Dramatists, Theater for the New City, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Theater at Riverside Church, Second Stage, 59E59, Manhattan Rep, The Tank/Collective Unconscious, Adelphi University and India’s Mumbai University, among others. She has presented work at the Women Playwrights International Conference and the Great Plains Theatre Conference co-founded by Edward Albee; she was a 2007 Winner of the Theater Masters MFA Playwright Award and a recipient of a 2011 residency at Byrdcliffe; and she has taught playwriting to kids via 52nd Street Project, Q Up, and Center for Talented Youth, and to undergraduates and grad students via Columbia University. Melisa holds a BA in English from UCLA, an MFA in Playwriting from Columbia University, and a Culinary Diploma from the French Culinary Institute.