by: Molly McFadden
I am back.
I have been offline so to speak as I was working on my play, Fish Feel Pain, and preparing for the first reading of my life and it has been daunting to say the least.
First and foremost the cast I was fortunate enough to work with was wonderful. I want to thank them for their talent, support and insightful suggestions through this process! So blessed to be living in Cleveland and surrounded by such talent; as well as a nurturing environment Celeste and Tyler provide with Ensemble Theatre and the StageWrights group – thank you again.
So ... how am I doing? I started this blog last October in 2017 with the words, “I can do this, I have to do this and tell my story!” OK I did it. I put pen to paper and created the characters and wrote the play ... now what? Is there life after a reading? Of course there is and it ranges from going back to work on the script, or putting it away for a while to marinate and write something else.
WHAT? What if I don’t have anything else within me to write about? This is the thought that echoes through my being and causes me to stop dead in my tracks for now.
OK, slow down.
The main take away from this process and these last few months is the fact that I can pretty safely say I can write. I have received validation that I have a talent to write and that is quite an important first step. Take a breath and feel that warm glow that you have something.
Did I succeed in saying what it was I wanted to share with people with this play? I think so, but remember this is a play for the theatre and it requires more than just going down a reflective journey about one’s life, which is what I realize is what I was writing. That is certainly nice, but is it drama? Not at the moment. Could it be made into a drama? Yes, I believe so but what is the point? What is the one sentence that can summarize Fish Feel Pain that I have poured myself into?
Playwrights need instinct and heart but must also be pragmatic. I believe we learn from the masters and I for one love Arthur Miller and the play Death of A Salesmanon many levels and would often go to the script for inspiration and guidance as I worked on Fish. Salesman addresses loss of identity and a man's inability to accept change within himself and society. The play is a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments, all of which make up the last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life. The three major themes within the play are denial, contradiction, and order versus disorder.
Right now Fish Feel Pain is all over the place and until I can surgically identify what it is I am trying to say with these characters and their relationships to one another, my play will just be a warm aroma of a soup too full of spices and ingredients for anybody to smell or taste. In other words ... way too much is going on and I need to step back and rethink the whole play and process. I can do that now because I had to throw it up on the wall and write it from my very inner soul, but now I need to step back and take a look at what it is I am trying to, not only say ... but more importantly ... dramatize! This is why it is so daunting and that writing for the theatre is not for the fainthearted. I can write prose, come up with delightful imagery, paint a pretty picture and offer up sentiments that make us feel warm and fuzzy ... but that is not theatre. What will it take to truly step into the ring and swing with the best of them.
You see in Death of a Salesman each member of the Loman family is living in denial or perpetuating a cycle of denial for others. This is important as to what the characters are doing to one another and what is at stake. Currently I don’t have that right now with my members of the family in my play. Willy Loman, unlike my Maggie, is incapable of accepting the fact that he is a mediocre salesman. Instead Willy strives for his version of the American dream — success and notoriety — even if he is forced to deny reality in order to achieve it. Instead of acknowledging that he is not a well-known success, Willy retreats into the past and chooses to relive past memories and events in which he is perceived as successful.
I stand in awe of how Arthur Miller was able to write a play about denial, contradiction, and the quest for order versus disorder; the three major themes of Salesman. All three themes work together creating a dreamlike atmosphere in which the audience watches a man's identity and mental stability slip away. What is so important is that this play continues to affect audiences because it allows them to hold a mirror up to themselves. That is something I am trying to do with Fish Feel Pain. Willy's self-deprecation, sense of failure, and overwhelming regret are emotions that an audience can relate to because everyone has experienced them at one time or another. Individuals continue to react to Death of a Salesman because Willy's situation is not unique: He made a mistake — a mistake that irrevocably changed his relationship with the people he loves most — and when all of his attempts to eradicate his mistake fail, he makes one grand attempt to correct the mistake. Willy vehemently denies Biff's claim that they are both common ordinary people, but ironically, it is the universality of the play which makes it so enduring. Biff's statement, "I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you," is true after all.
So, after last night’s reading I realize too many words and not enough action. My universal theme I was attempting to dramatize is that we all have pain similar to what the fish feel and what we do with that pain is what identifies who we are in the end. SO what? Well … I go back to the recipe for my soup and start all over again ... or not.
I want to leave you with one final thought that occurred to me. Remember how I wrote that I not only love to cook, but knit as well. I worked on a sweater for two years for my husband and he wore it last night. I had the pattern, beautiful yarn and glorious buttons. When all was said and done I had succeeded in finishing this project. But looking at this sweater on my husband I realized one thing ... after all the hard work over the last two years, I have to start all over because it doesn’t really fit him and just doesn’t work. Such is life and we go back to the drawing board be it the play or a sweater. I shall keep you posted. I leave you with this quote from Death of a Salesman:
WILLY: You wait, kid, before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens.