Most writers don’t write for the money. “I received $100 for one of my plays to be performed in Florida,” said Dr. Rufus Cadigan, a playwright who spoke at the In Print Writers meeting held at the Cherry Valley Library on June 13, 2015. “But it cost me $400 to travel to see it.”
He asked the audience, “Why do you write?”
I have stories to tell said one person. I write plays to collaborate with actors, said another. I write to get the characters’ voices out of my head, to inspire, to leave something behind, to be surprised by the stories that emerge, others declared. And so began an enthusiastic, interactive ninety-minute lecture that felt more like a workshop at a writers conference.
Dr. Cadigan led the BFA program during the 27 years he taught theatre at Rockford University. As he spoke, he inspired me with his candor. He confessed that he quit writing plays for ten years after a harsh review from his peers, only resuming writing to submit his play to a competition. The famous playwright Edward Albee personally handed him the award of Excellence in Playwriting for Might Have Gone Fishing at the Last Frontier Conference in 2000. Dr. Cadigan counseled us to never stop writing, even when we receive a negative critique.
Edward Albee plans out everything before he starts writing. Dr. Cadigan said he couldn’t do that. He often doesn’t know where his story is going and gets so close to his characters that he sometimes writes through sobs.
He explained it can be expensive to mount a play. Once, when he needed funding to support a performance of one of his plays, a wealthy person gave him more than he asked, thus allowing several of his plays to be performed in Rockford. He likes to find theaters for his plays, but pointed out other places where they can be performed: jails, churches, clubs, schools. Many of these groups welcome short plays. He’s seen scripts as short as three minutes. When you start, it is best to begin with short plays. They must have strong emotions that build to a climax, just like novels.
Dr. Cadigan showed us a photo of an older woman with a tattoo on her chest that said DO NOT RESUSCITATE, then broke us into into small groups and charged us to write a short play about the picture. Fifteen minutes later, each group in turn performed their play at the front as if it were on stage. We laughed, oohed and aahed, then cheered for each and every one.
He closed by asking us what it meant to hear our words spoken by actors, then warned “When actors perform your words, there is always a disappointment.”
I realized plays, much like books, take on a life of their own, sometimes different than what we intended. As a result of hearing Dr. Cadigan speak, I feel that one day I might write a play. And when I do, I will be prepared to collaborate with the actors who perform it.