Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cranking 'Em Out

I've always admired those creative types that consistently turn out new work at a rapid rate. Folks like Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh, Stephen King, Louis CK, Dave Sim. People like these—and several others—who produce new works in their respective field at least once or twice a year (or in Sim's case, once a month). Prolificacy is something I've always looked up to. Hell, even with creative types whose work I hate, I've still been impressed with their productivity.

Some of it's motivated by compulsion. No matter how many times he's announced his "retirement," King clearly just can't stop—or slow down—writing. Woody Allen has said in interviews he makes a movie every year because it takes his mind off his life and feels restless when on vacation for too long (he also comes from a background in television, where you don't have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike before creating—you have to produce content week in, week out, no matter what). Some of it's dictated by the rules of the field. Monthly comics, like television, have to produce on a fixed schedule. And some of it's motivated by good old-fashioned work ethic. Louis CK announced that he's going to start from scratch with material every year, and come up with an hour's worth of new material annually. (Even amongst other professional stand-ups, this is unheard of.)

Whatever the reasons—and look, I don't know these people personally, so I'm not interested in engaging in too much mind-reading armchair psychology—there are creative types that are known for being unusually prolific in their medium, and it's something I've found incredibly inspiring and compelling.

This is not to say that the output of these people is always gold (there are many films by Woody Allen that I've found seriously rushed and underdeveloped), or that I don't appreciate, admire or enjoy the work of those artists who meticulously take their time with seemingly forever to complete their projects (the Kubricks, the Malicks, the Flauberts, the Brian Wilsons and Lauryn Hills). It's just that when contemplating my own work, I've always wanted to be in the former camp in terms of creative output.

I'd rather write and stage 20 plays or more in 10 years that are hit-or-miss than two in the same timeframe that are considered (by either myself, the audience, critics, or some combination of all three) masterworks.

Although I'd like to consider myself prolific in the playwriting field, it really seems I'm just on par with the scene (my buds and colleagues Qui Nguyen, Derek Ahonen, Joshua Conkel, and Jeff Lewonczyk among many, many others, are all staging one new play a year or more). I guess for folks like us, it's inconceivable to do less. I mean, we love doing this, we can do this, and we're fortunately in a position where we can get our work staged the way we want it staged. So what's the alternative? Just not write?

Lately, however, I've wondered about the advantages of taking considerably more time to work on a new script or project. Now that Nosedive is over 11 years old, we no longer have Something To Prove (we've done over 20 shows in 10 years and have two new shows lined up for the summer; I think we can be seen as an actual theatre company at this point). We can afford to take time between productions.

Also, at this stage of the game, I don't want to just be producing solely for the sake of producing: writing a play simply because we've got an open slot in the upcoming season that needs filling.

In other words, I don't want to just be marking time.

And again, hey: I'm still a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick. Maybe there's something to taking a substantial amount of time in creating something. So maybe, after 11 years of writing and producing theatre at a steady clip, it'd be worth looking into being more meticulous with the next project.

Besides, wouldn't it be fun to spend over a decade producing two to three new works a year, then go into hiding for a year or two (or three), then unveil some new long-in-the-works secret project?

(This isn't to say that I'm against revising or rewriting, but just that the revision process is still part of the fast turnaround—a month writing the rough, a month putting it away and working on something else, then a month revising.)

Well, it doesn't seem to be sticking. I've quickly found that "taking my time" rapidly devolves into "procrastinating writing," which in turn rapidly devolves into "not writing at all."

It's not that I've run out of or am having a tough time coming up with ideas. Quite the contrary. I've currently got a number of ideas I'm contemplating. But I'm really only doing just that: contemplating. I've been procrastinating, dragging my feet, waiting for one of these ideas to grow on its own before making a decision to cultivate (translate: write) one.

Yeah, clearly this method of creating just isn't for me. In some ways, at this stage in the game, I wish it were. But I don't think I have it in me.

So, although this season—Blood Brothers, Captain Moonbeam & Lynchpin, and possibly Infectious Opportunity—has already been written (not counting if we're invited back to the Vampire Cowboys' Saturday Night Saloon), there's currently nothing yet written for 2012. Which means that needs to change. And soon.

This also means I need to make sure this isn't just a case of me marking time: it means I need to follow Louis CK's philosophy of keep working, keep producing new material, but make sure every new work is better than the last.

We'll see how this goes.

Back to work.

Breaking for nobody,

James "Spaceball One" Comtois

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Blogger RVCBard said...

I dunno. I find that everyone's process is different. "The Rose Knight" and "Tulpa" are about 5 years apart, but I did write some shorter pieces between that time, including an abandoned non-verbal piece I'd wanted to do.

Much to Gus's disappointment, I simply can't write fast (compared to my glacial pace, 1 play a year is fast). There's a definite cycle to my process, one that can't be rushed no matter how hard I try, that simply takes longer to come to the point where I have to write about something.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous ahonen said...

James keep writing and producing baby. Do it for your fans (and I'm one of them) and do it because thats what writers do. Writers write, actors act, and hookers hook. Its your job as an artist to create. Great blog man.

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For someone who can't afford it, but is in such need of therapy writing should be very beneficial for you.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Nat said...

I'm right there with ya, JC. I look to cats like Louis CK and Stephen King (as well as the Beatles and George Carlin) as sterling examples of a work ethic I've always tried to emulate--not out of a desire for copying their success (though, wouldn't that be nice?), but because I recognize in them (and in you) a similar need to just keep working, and getting better, and finding out what else is there.

2:29 PM  

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