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Clews Clues Act III - It's Called a PLAY!

I've been so focused on the Major Dramatic Question (MDQ) of the play I'm writing at La Napoule -


-that I've forgotten the equally important corollary:


What I'm writing is called a PLAY.

But as I start Week 3, all I do is WORK.

I skip communal breakfast. Shut myself in the villa dining room with my notes from 7am to 7pm. Forego my daily walks. Don't hang out. Don't chat.

Don't get me wrong: I LOVE MY WORK. This is my favorite part! Wrangling and wrestling my ball-of-yarn thoughts into a coherent, tangible thing.

And yet - I have less than 2 weeks left to write a whole play. Pressure.

So I almost bow out of the group field trip to the outdoor sculpture museum at Château La Coste. Then FOMO wins. I go.

And I toss a coin - and it sticks! (see video above)

Such a simple delight. Others try. Only my 10 centime piece and the magnet click. Woohoo!

Next, I am moved to tears in a Tadao Ando chapel, awestruck. Is this a moment in my play. A near-religious experience for Marie feels in the presence of Henry's work?

Then I see this Damien Hirst, read words that get at the heart of what I'm writing about, that say "keep going."

Damien Hirst work at the Château La Coste

Finally, we opt for more play - skip the last sculpture and indulge in a wine tasting (La Coste is also a winery). I buy a bottle of wine for the lovely people at La Napoule who made this happen.

Can it get any better than this?

YES! Because this week I get to do nothing but write. And then get to share it with an audience.





My goal for my artists' residency at le Château de La Napoule:

Research and Write a first draft 

of a visite théâtralisée 

(a combo play/guided tour)

about Marie and Henry Clews,

artist-owners of the chateau, then

Perform it



I have dramaturgical mysteries to solve:

Will Henry get recognition for his art?

Will Marie keep him going?

Will she remain "unsung"?

And personal suspense:

Will Marie and Henry come to guide me

so I know I'm getting their story "right"?


One week from today is the Open Studio. 50+ guests will tour all the artists studios. I commit to opening the evening with Scene 1 from my play. As yet unwritten.

Again - eek.



Writers block has never been my problem. I can spew a lot of words on paper.

Structure, however, is my biggest, baddest bête noire ("black beast" or nemesis). Organizing all my research. What are the character arcs? Chronology linear? flashbacks? Narrator or no narrator? One-woman show or a two-hander?

I remind myself of what the brilliant Skip Kennon, our teacher in the first year of the BMI musical theater writers workshop, always said:



Content I have. 


DAY 1 AND 2, I transcribe all my research – handwritten lists, texts to myself while walking, photos of books/photos - into a handful of word docs:




Research (her-story&his-story of Marie&Henry&the château)

Kernels – a Punch List of cool things I don’t want to forget

Big Beats – the major moments I want to dramatize


Form starts to appear: a topline outline with Big Beats as anchors.


DECISION: chronology is my friend. It’s a long story – 40 years – and telling it in order is the easiest way for people walking around on a tour to keep track.


DECISION: I won't limit the Fun Facts I love. It’s a tour! People are expecting facts! So I get to keep more than I would in a play, where people want drama drama drama.

Late afternoon, I print the outline and walk through the chateau, as a tour would go.

It's starting to take shape...


DAY 3 - 7 am


I start writing. Actual writing.

In 6 hours, I have to present Scene 1 at my European Playwrights Group.


I start with the weird "Hum" I love. (see Decisions here)

Then I let Joy, the narrator/tour guide, talk. I guess that's a sort of channeling.

She comes out very personal (ie my tics) and hopefully funny. It's important to give the audience “permission to laugh" ASAP. Or they may never do it.


I make decisions on the fly:

Song: I throw in snippets of existing songs Joy sings a cappella. Original songs will come later - as in, in a few days.


Story: there’s so much I still don’t know about these people! I'm reluctant to make decisions for them. So I wuss out. Give alternate versions.



Before they tie the knot, Henry “rechristens” Elsie “Marie.” There is no information about no how this conversation goes. I wonder.



(lofty) From today, you are Marie. Like the Virgin Mary. Because you are the quintessence of beauty and grace and you bring light into the world.



(moved) I love you, Henry.



(manly) And from today, I am Mancha.



Henry identifies with Don Quixote, Cervantes’ fictional Man of La Mancha who lived for beauty and chivalry, who believed in a better world. And lost his mind.



Or maybe it’s her idea. Name Change Take Two.



(exalted) Henry, I want to be someone new. No more Goelet, the name my husband gave me. No more Elsie, the name my parents gave me.



Brilliant. (an inspiration) You shall be Marie! And I shall be Mancha.



I could be Dulcinea?



Too many syllables.



Name Change Conversation – Take Three.



(lofty, carbon copy of earlier) From today, you are Marie. Like the Virgin Mary.



Is this because of your big sister, Elsie, who you can’t stand? Because she stole your toys and claimed to be a witch and scared the dickens out of you in the middle of the night? Because she got undergraduate and doctorate degrees from Columbia and you failed to graduate from any of the five schools you attended?



(pouts) Never mind. 

I finish Scene 1. It's 10 pages.

It may not be awesome-awesome, but it’s on paper.

Done is better than perfect.


Day 3 (cont'd) 3 pm

I share Scene 1 with my European gang, including amazing writers/people Sherry Bokser and Jean Koppen.

They love it (yay!), offer great thoughts on how to edit/focus.


I do rewrites.

7pm Dinner. Lunch was not part of the day.


I decide not to go on the aforementioned field trip to Chateau La Coste tomorrow.

Too much to do in the four days I have left.


Well, you already heard about that.

I do feel a bit fractured that day - as I am by this crystal sculpture.

I need a man to play the role of "The Man." I get up the nerve to ask Raeden Richardson, an Aussie novelist in residence as well. He says yes!


SCENE 3 – Day 5

I keep writing, scene by scene, following my outline, working in my Fun Facts, creating scenes to dramatize them when I can. Show don't tell.

Don’t stop to think too much.

Nelcy, the director of our program, says we can wear Marie’s clothes for the Open Studio.

I’m shocked – her clothes are 100 years old! Nelcy says Marie loved costume parties and would be all for it.

I try a hat. Feel like Mr. Ed, the talking horse. Others say go for it.

Raeden is gung-ho to wear Marie's coat.

SCENE 4 – Day 6, Week 2

I share what I have with my musical theatre writers group They are less non-stop-love than my playwrights group. Which means it's probably more useful feedback.

I'm so grateful to have both.

Where would we be without our colleagues, peers, our Creative Life Support?

Aaron Jafferis, Clay Zambo, me - part of our Musical Theatre of CT writing group: (thanks Kevin Connors for having us!)


The Open Studio arrives.

I am the first to present - I give the audience an overview of the story of the château and Marie and Henry.


I love going first. I get to get it over with so I can enjoy the rest of the evening. I’m spoiled: since my name starts with “B” (both my names) I always went near the beginning in grade school.

Most of the audience are French. They don’t really understand – but are attentive. My weird hum works - they all hum along!

I don’t screw up or fall down the stairs.

Raeden is adorable.



I wrote and presented my play!

I'm elated as I drink my glass of champagne. Then I come back to earth:

That was only Scene 1

I've only written 1/3 of the play

And I only have 4.5 days left to finish

And I still haven't "heard" from my main characters

If only I could walk in Marie's super narrow shoes...



And please - share below any of your writer hacks - or other similar experiences. When it comes to making things, we're all in this together!


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