the words vs sleep equation

Last weekend, I did something foolish.  In the good sense.  As in, something that the rational Andy would have backed out of.

The 24 hr fix: Poetry Play Challenge is a joint initiative of Red Eight Creations and the Australian Poetry Centre.  They select five poets, five directors and ten actors, put them into five teams, and give them 24 hours to brainstorm, write, devise, rehearse and perform a 10-15 minute play.  This year the play was to respond to the theme “Glass Clouds”, the title of Grant Caldwell’s just-released book.

Now, I rarely write outside the 10am to 4pm window.  And I’ve never written a play.  But I need a stretch.  And a stretch it was – the constraint of time, theme, lack of sleep – all added up to mean that when I’d been writing for four or so hours, at 3.30am, I couldn’t tell what I’d done.  Was it any good?  Did it make sense?  Would an actor cringe as my words came out of their mouth?  I woke up at 7am to go to a group meeting wanting to delete some lines, but it was too late!

It’s an exercise in trust and release from ego, really.  You have to give up over-editing.  You have to push through the blank uncertainties, the writer’s disorientation.  And you have to allow your work to be placed into the hands of others.  

As it turned out, “my” play was somewhat abstract and perhaps over-ambitious, but the actors Rachel Taufa and Luci O’Brien (along with director Bronwyn Dunston) took it’s emotional and psychological core, it’s sense of journey, and made something quite haunting.  Thanks, people!

I also have to say I agreed with the Judges’ decision – Elise Hearst‘s piece was a classic, humane, focussed work and deserved to win.  Steve Smart too proved again his skill in fusing pathos and humour.

I can’t say I’m rushing to write at midnight again, but the process was like a drug – euphoric and addictive.  So, if you’re thinking of doing it in 2011, don’t think too much.  Do it.

PS.  I was also very encouraged by the crowd’s welcoming of the judges’ criticisms – we don’t critique in this culture regularly enough, and with enough consideration and clarity.  We (especially I) need more than just encouragement.

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