On PlayWrite

So this is the third time I've been asked to MC the semiannual PlayWrite Showcase. I find this kind of thing challenging. It's a delicate task to set the right tone for this work, enough that people understand what's going on, but not so much that the whole event becomes maudlin or cheap. Below is the full draft of my intended remarks; in the even, the wider-angle-lens paragraphs about the world around us were truncated, understandably, and just like both other times I've done this. (I still feel that the wide-angle-lens about art and truth and fear is essential to say, though. And I really wanted to wear the red dress a friend lent me for the occasion, but that, too, was vetoed, in consideration of more conservative sensibilities that may or may not have been attending. Yet another instance of how the good and progressive broad-minded ones always get shafted by fascist homophobes.)


Thank you all so much for joining us this evening. I'm Paul Susi, proud actor and coach on the magnificent PlayWrite team, and I've been detailed to help walk you through what we're doing tonight.

For those of you new to PlayWrite, here's how it works. A crack team of 8 or 9 professionals helicopters in to one of any number of underserved youth organizations, right here in Portland. The first four days are spent urgently exploring the core of what makes a strong play: conflict, tactics, character--and all that makes a strong character: needs, secrets, fears. We strip away whatever feels settled, whatever feels like a story. If there's any hing of a predetermined plot, or of a character's inevitable fate, it's the coach's job to challenge the writer, at the very least that the writer might earn their conclusions, really learn and experience themselves what they propose for their characters.

To that end, we spend a lot of time encouraging our writers to be specific. How does it feel to be a hungry buffalo? How would a fat rattlesnake move? Does a calculating, edgy knife experience rage? And--my favorite question as a coach--why?

This is what makes the coach's job so ticklish, and so crucial. Like Chiron, the half-man half-horse tutor of Achilles and Hercules, the coach readies the writer for epic things, but we do not, we cannot fight their battles for them. We can't even answer the very questions we so endearingly ask, over and over and over and over again. Our object always is to spur our writers to discover their own truths, and face their own fears.

And this, in my view, is the real core of what any of us do in the arts. In our daily lives, this reality we all share binds us with terrible truths, things so powerful that we as individuals only dimly grasp their meaning: ballooning oil spills, police violence, or the death of a lover, or the loss of a home. And we fear what we so dimly understand: we fear the stigma of addiction, the blind rage of a child, the burden of consequence, the loneliness of the labels we wear.

All great art--insofar as such a thing could possibly be defined--all great art operates on the things we know to be true, and the things we fear. As artists we seek to reshape and reveal, discovering for ourselves these things we all struggle with, in our own desperate way, every waking day. In this seemingly small and inconsequential act of creating something our own, the great and terrible truths and fears that surround us become subject to ourselves. From slaves and debtors, we crown ourselves monarchs and heroes.

In the typical PlayWrite workshop, the heavy lifting happens in the second week, when the writer faces the blank page alone, the coach writing down the writer's words only, and no two such journeys are ever alike, and no the most accomplished and brilliant writer in the world can ever write the plays that these writers have given us. If they cannot say what needs to be said, then no one can, and we are beyond fortunate that they chose to write. They chose.

Now, tonight, you'll hear what they chose to say, and how they chose to say it. Sometimes it's a single speech. Sometimes it's a full-fledged play. And sometimes the writer commits to a whole new level of work, shaping their words into music. They all chose to share this tonight, but not every writer could choose to be here tonight, for all kinds of reasons. Nevertheless, we acknowledge every writer's work, even if it's with a simply, empty spotlight. We are here tonight not only to celebrate what they've given us, but to experience for ourselves the reshaping and revealing of our own truths, our own fears, profiting by their extraordinary journeys. Think on this--no other art form so critically requires a living audience to complete itself. This work is never finished, never can be finished, unless and until you join us in this room, tonight. This is your cue to turn off cell phones, pagers, recording devices of any kind, things that flash, buzz, vibrate or explode. Consider this your initiation, o heroes, your rite of passage, for by turning off your ipad, you join an epic confraternity older than Aeschylus.