Happy New Year!!
Full disclosure: posted this on my Facebook page today; and because we're within a week of welcoming a new baby into the Sony household and I'm on a deadline to finish a new play, I'm totally copy and pasting that post into this blog. Lazy? Or selective prioritization? You decide. :)
As the curtain opens on 2017, I want to take a moment and thank some people for making 2016 a creatively memorable year. First, THANK YOU. Yes, YOU. For liking this page, for following my creative endeavors, for seeing my shows, for liking my posts, for sharing your comments, for supporting the arts, and for being part of my universe.
Thank you Available Light Theatre for welcoming me into your space once again for 24 Hour Theatre; your fearlessness and passion is inspiring, and I love playing in your world.
Thank you Curtain Players and Westerville Parks & Recreation for staging 'Robin Hood & the Secret of Sherwood' --- from the previews in January at CP to giving the Secret of Sherwood its second full production (and first outdoor staging!), it was grand to see my work on such a scale in my hometown; you are noble hearts, all.
Speaking of sophomore outings, thank you to Elaina McKnight Shaver for bringing "The Last Queen of Wonderland" back to the stage and doing so in the context of arts education; your devotion to teaching and nurturing young theatre artists fills my heart with joy --- I look forward to our next stage adventure in 2017!
Thank you to MadLab for inviting me to take part in your Young Writers program for 2017; I love your commitment to creating new plays and supporting playwrights, especially young playwrights, and I'm honored to have the opportunity to mentor a writer and work with you all this year.
Thank you to John Newkirk for your support and invitations to collaborate; I'm excited to see what we create on film!
Thank you to Bianca Sams for the chats, the insight, and the encouragement; you inspire me to reach higher.
Thank you to King Avenue Players for another year of designing your show posters, and thank you Todd Adam Decker for bringing me on to design posters for your projects --- I love creating in many forms and truly appreciate the opportunity to work with all of you on these designs.
Thank you TreePress for your drive, passion, and support of playwrights and theatre; I look forward to growing my relationship with you and getting more of my plays onto more stages in the coming year.
Finally, thank you to my wife Laila Sony & family for the love and encouragement to pursue all of these wonderful opportunities.
As you can tell, 2016 was a wonderfully creative year, and I look forward to the projects lined up for 2017 and any new ones that come along!
One of the hardest things in this world is to convince someone of a truth they don't believe in; one of the other hardest is to convince someone that their truth is a lie.
Part I: On the stage
That is all in response to my friend and fellow playwright Sarah Bowden prompting her Facebook friends for our thoughts on the importance of being honest in writing. This is what I typed in the comments:
Truth, to me, is about trust of information. If I believe what you're telling me is true, I react to it based on that. If I later learn that you lied to me about that thing, I see that moment in a new light, I see you in a new light, and I further question every subsequent interaction until I believe trust is restored.
Truth is more about perception and belief on the receiver's end than anything. What I believe to be true and what IS true can be very different things.
With that in mind, in a play, I follow the playwright's lead and decide what to believe based on how the story is presented. Obviously, in a play we set things up and we subvert expectations. At some point, I determine, as an audience member, whether the narrator is reliable. A reliable narrator can subvert my expectations and give me a perception shift, and still be truthful to me. Just because I see the play differently after a perception shift doesn't mean I've been lied to.
However, if the playwright "lies" to me --- and I cannot reconcile the perception shift with what I've already experienced, and I then believe it's not a shift, but that everything before that moment was a "lie" and erases the experience I just had, then I lose trust in the playwright and I lose all emotional investment. It's a betrayal. Just like with a person. So, yeah, it's important to be honest in writing, just as in life. It doesn't mean we can't subvert expectations or create reveals and perception shifts that rely on slight of hand. It's just creating an understanding of when you're doing slight of hand and when you're on the level, so I know what to expect of the experience.
I expect plays to use slight of hand, but I expect them to be honest about it and so when I go back, the end makes sense with what I've seen. If one part of the play creates falsity in another part, if it invalidates it and that invalidation is not explained as part of the perception shift, then it's not honest anymore and my experience is marred. It's like getting to the end of a magic trick and instead of being amazed, you feel conned.
I blindly assumed the class that sparked this post was on playwriting and hurriedly typed out the above. Sarah thanked me and specified that they were talking more about essays and speeches in her comp class, asking about why people "follow writers," and "how [writers] specifically draw us into their perspectives to prove a point." With that in mind, I hurriedly typed the following:
Part II: Another kind of stage
For speeches and essays that move people, I think that honesty plays out in the examples and info presented. In that type of writing, we use facts to back up opinion. If those facts are later determined to be lies, then the opinion is potentially invalidated.
Obviously, speech writers carefully craft the facts to include the ones that help them win their argument and downplay those that don't. These days, if your essay or speech is full of lies, it's pretty easy for someone to discredit you and devalue your opinion by showing everyone the lies (pretty much the job of political pundits right now).
One of the hardest things in this world is to convince someone of a truth they don't believe in; one of the other hardest is to convince someone that their truth is a lie.
Often, we follow writers and speeches that speak "truths" to us that we already believe, that we can rally behind; and the opposite is true. If we hear something that we don't believe, even if it is scientific fact, we disengage; we lose trust in the speaker, we lose respect for them. Now, that "liar" has an uphill battle. That speech is tanking.
To combat that, as writers, we have to first identify with the audience, to find truths that our audience believes, and we speak to those truths. Get them nodding. Get them smiling. Get them to say "Yeah! That's right! That's so true!"
We get them to admit that everything we just said is truth and get them all rallied behind us, and then once they are totally enthralled, we correlate something they don't believe to the truth. To their truth. And now, they can't deny the new truth, because to do so would invalidate their other existing truths ---- so the writer has either convinced them of the new truth, or has convinced them that they didn't know the truth at all.
Either way, a paradigm shift has just occurred.
The truth has changed.
In a strange twist, you have to be honest to change the truth --- because if you change the truth with lies, then when the lies are exposed, the truth changes back and you've accomplish nothing.
I then apologized for monopolizing her comment feed with my soapboxing. She responded: NEVER APOLOGIZE. And something about cheesecake. Sage advice. Also, I feel like "The truth has changed" is going to become a tagline on one of my future plays. Thanks, Sarah for an intriguing lunchtime topic!
I've failed at stuff before. We all have. We don't like to talk about it, and there's this massive stigma against failing that is stomped into us from an early age, but why is that? Why are we told from day one that if we do something for the first time and do it badly that we've failed at it?
Here's some Friday food for thought I gleaned from Sara Blakely, the CEO of Spanx, as she explains in a concise 95 second video (shared below): Failure isn't trying something and not doing well; failure is never trying it at all.
So for a second, I'm thinking, 'hey, I know that -- that's not new.' Because like I said, I've failed at stuff before, and for a long time I've been the 'don't be afraid to fail' type --- go out there, try, fail, fall, get back up, try again. Except maybe I've been putting the word fail in the wrong place.
If I try something and I suck at it, why is THAT failing? How many things are we brilliant at right out of the gate? My first few plays weren't awesome. They were far from it; I mean, I cringe when I read the dialogue and story structure I was churning out 15 years ago. Yet, I never considered them failures. Were they badly written? Yes; but I learned from them. I learn from every scene I write, every scene I read, every play I watch, every story I tell. I learn. I get better. That's the point, right?
But there are tons of things I've never tried because I was so worried that I'd be bad at them. Worried I would fail. Sport comes to mind. I don't play sports. I watch them. I understand them. But when I was younger, I was convinced I'd fail on the field, so I didn't try.
This past year, I started working out with a trainer, as part of group. And there were times where we played basketball, and I was almost reluctant to try; because I convinced myself at some point that I am not good at sports. I was afraid of looking ridiculous and doing poorly and losing. Of failing. Luckily, my trainer and my workout pals were encouraging and supportive (and some of them had the same anxiety) and so we played. And we were awful. And we played some more. And we were less awful. And we had fun. I had fun.
Sara Blakely offers us a lovely philosophy that all too often can get lost or pushed aside. Even if we attempt something and we're awful at it, we can learn and try again and get better at it, or we figure out that there's something else we can do. Either way, we tried. And by trying, we didn't fail. It's a great concept because no one is great at everything, but fear of failure keeps so many of us from even trying in the first place to find out what's possible.
I've failed at stuff before... not because I couldn't do something, but because I was too afraid to try.
What have you been putting off because you're afraid to fail at it? Auditioning for that play? Writing that script? Going back to school? Taking cooking lessons? Applying for that job? Working out? Learning a new language?
Whatever it is --- make the attempt. You won't fail if you try.
Here's Sara's take on it. Watch it. Think about it. Live it.
I had an absolute blast taking part in Available Light's 24 Hour Theatre event. It was my second time writing for AVLT, and the entire event is such an adrenaline kick. Had the chance to work with the wonderful Audrey Rush as my director, and a trio of actresses for whom I would write anything, anytime, anywhere, just to see them breathe live into my words. Josie Merkle, Eleni Papaleonardos, and Krista Lively Stauffer. Such a privilege to work with them!
If you've never been to an AVLT 24 Hour, I highly recommend doing so. They brought together 6 writers, 6 directors, and an ensemble of actors on Friday night. We drew names and formed into teams, and then went from there. I wrote the script overnight and then came to the theater on Saturday morning to work with Audrey, Josie, Eleni, and Krista to finish it up and polish through rehearsals. There's something invigorating about rewriting in the room. I LOVE LOVE LOVE working with actors. So much of play is often written in a vacuum, and that's one of things I've adore about events like this one. It forces the collaboration element that is essential to theatre to begin much sooner than it might have otherwise.
Thanks AVLT for a great weekend!
Tonight, I'm heading to a screening of short films here in Columbus, Ohio. One of those films, I had a hand in creating, so it will be extra special to sit in the theater and see my name flash up on the big screen. It's been almost six years since I properly worked on a film (for my movie, Separation Anxiety), and so when my friend Brant Jones called me up to ask if I wanted to write a script for the 2015 48 Hour Film Project here in Columbus, I didn't hesitate to say yes.
Each year, in cities around the world, filmmakers gather over a 48 hour period to make short films. The specific 48 hours varies from city to city. For Columbus, it was last weekend (July 24-26). The 48 Hour Film Project rules are simple. Filmmakers are given specific parameters at the outset (parameters they have no previous knowledge of) to include in their films: a genre, a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue. Those are the base guidelines. Once the requirements are announced, they start the clock.
Why the rules? Because it's a competition. Over the next 48 hours, each team must write, shoot, and edit a film, which ranges in length from 4-7 minutes. So it's up to the team to manage their time. How much time do you spend writing, how much in production, and how much in post? There's probably no magic formula --- just a ticking clock, and the wonderful challenge of creating something out of (almost) nothing.
Each city's participants are vying to win in their own city and move on to compete with other winning films. So the winning film at the 48 Hour Film Project Columbus will eventually go up against the winner of, say, the 48 Hour Film Project St. Louis, at Filmapalooza in Hollywood. This annual event, which brings together the winning films from all the host cities, is used to select the best of the best and send them on to a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
Cannes is a pretty huge deal. To show anything there, ever, would be pretty awesome for any filmmaker. It's like the World Cup of film festivals. Many would argue that it is the pinnacle of film festivals. So, ultimately, one of the 28 teams that made films in Columbus last weekend could advance all the way to Cannes, France, and show their film to the world. It's happened twice before. To even have a chance of getting there, we had a lot of work to do; in the aforementioned 48 hours.
Without getting into a complete play-by-play, let me quickly run you through the 48 hours over at Two Pop Studios (Brant's production company), at least from my perspective. This was my first 48. I had an idea of what was going to happen based on having had friends participate in earlier years, Brant (a returning filmmaker) had prepped me, and I recall my own days of film studies at Notre Dame with tight weekend shoots on shoestring budgets. Even still, it goes faster than you think.
The kick-off event was a crowded flurry of excitement and anticipation. Held at the Gateway Film Center (where they will screen the films tonight), representatives from every team were there. Lots of chatter, lots of networking, and lots of waiting for the unveiling of the required elements and the genre draw. The genre draw ensures that only one or two teams cover each genre (yay for variety!), but also adds to the challenge. You might get drama, comedy, horror, sci-fi, romance, thriller, etc., and the entire tone and aesthetic of your film is thus determined about five minutes before you set off to film.
We pulled DARK COMEDY. Sweet. I like dark comedy. I was pretty happy with that genre. Once we all had a genre, we were given: a character to include (Ron) who had to be a twin; a prop (a wrapped gift); and a line of dialogue that had to be included ("Try it. What have you got to lose?"). There was a moment of acknowledgement that the rules had been set, and then we were off. Off to film, off to write, off to... wait, do we even have a story?
No. We didn't. Not yet. So we headed to the cantina next door. Me, our director Matt, our DP Scott, and Ben (one of our actors), ordered some food, some drinks, and began brainstorming. I won't go into details, but by the end of that meal, we had a great starting point and I took off home to write. And write. And write. All night. Between fits of slumber and writer's block. Between dusk and dawn. Between several cans of Coke and a bag of cookies. I wrote.
Sometime in the morning, I emailed off the script to Matt and Brant. Later, I sent revisions. They went to work. I went to sleep. By the time I arrived on set that afternoon (again, sleep), they'd already shot half the film (it's 7 minutes long, but still!). It was such a thrill to watch the actors bring characters to life that had only been created twelve hours before.
I tried to capture some behind-the-scenes photos while I was there, but I'll admit that most of the time I simply enjoyed watching these talented people work. Here's a smattering of pics that won't spoil anything from the film.
The shoot lasted all through Saturday, just up until dusk. Our four amazing actors, Ben Gorman, Sonda Staley, Linda Dorff, and Peter Graybeal, blew me away with their commitment to everything; and by how much fun they made it. Scott, our DP, and Micah, our sound man, knocked it out. There was another crewmember, Ryan, who left before I got there, but I heard he was awesome. I don't know about anyone else, but I had a right, lovely time. We had a small cast and crew, a mix of friends and new friends. Our hosts (the owners of the house we filmed in) were wonderful and gracious. Our producer even made us lunch (even though I wasn't there to enjoy Brant's tikka masala).
Once the shoot was done, it was up to Brant and Matt to work together to edit it down to fit the 4-7 minute regulation time. Brant was already starting the rough-cut while were still shooting, actually. It's strange, sometimes, being the writer. You're very much the first person in the relay race that is filmmaking. Sure, I was on set for the filming, and Matt and I talked about some script changes on the day, but in the end my work was mostly done in the first 12 hours of the event. Once filming was completed at the half-way mark (or just beyond it), I was done. Much like the actors and the crew, I went home, got some sleep, and said a little prayer for Brant that we gave him everything he needed to put together a solid film.
We must have, because we all received an email from Brant on Sunday night that they'd completed the film and turned it in on time. Matt worked with him on the editing process, as any director would, and I have to give major props to Brant and Matt here. Matt's directing style is pretty great; and I felt like he understood and had a great respect for the script, which as a writer is always such a gift when working on a film. Of everyone who worked on the project, he and Brant did the lion's share of the weekend. Matt was there at the kick-off, for brainstorming, on set all day, and working with Brant to edit and deliver the film. Brant, as our producer/editor, has been working hard for months to put together this wonderful team of people (I'd work with any of these people again in a heartbeat), and was always on the go during the shoot, doing whatever was needed of him to get the job done.
Tonight, we see the results of our hard work on the big screen. It will be awesome to see what the other teams did, and how they worked those parameters into their own stories in their own genres. I'm quite happy with what we made.
For my first 48 Hour Film Project, I couldn't have asked for a better experience.
UPDATE (8/9/2015): The Last Con is now shared on Vimeo! Enjoy!
TWO POP STUDIOS PRESENTS "THE LAST CON" BEN GORMAN LINDA DORFF SONDA STALEY
AND PETER GRAYBEAL DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY SCOTT SPEARS SOUND BY MICAH JENKINS
PRODUCED AND EDITED BY BRANT JONES WRITTEN BY JEREMY SONY DIRECTED BY MATT HERMES
The lights faded out, and just as quickly as we had come together, my latest play came to a close. The Century Box. Itself, a play about history, about the people of Grove City, Ohio, and Jackson Township --- about remembering them --- is now itself, history. Below are some final thoughts about this experience, why this play was different than my others, and some wonderful production photos courtesy of The City of Grove City.
I like to think of theatre as this culmination of frenetic energy that bursts forth onto the stage and then disappears. It was there, it happened. You go see it. You live with it. You applaud when it's over. You go home. They pack up. Everyone moves on. It's like the circus that way. It's like life. So why did The Century Box feel different?
After the curtain falls, the actors and crew strike the sets, lights, costumes, and everything else that made this temporary world something more. This is how every theatre show ends. I know this. I live this. It's simultaneously one of my most favorite and "unfavorite" things about making plays. I love that they are ephemeral and real and just for us, those in the room in that moment, and then they're gone. Yet, I hate when they're gone. I miss them.
This one, The Century Box, I will never forget. This one was real. A century box is simply another term for a time capsule. So, much like building an actual century box and filling it with history, I built a play which centered around a century box and ultimately served as one. Usually, I write about fictional people. I make up stories. This play --- these people, these stories --- this one was based in truth; based in history. It came with this enormous responsibility to honor these sons and daughters of Grove City and Jackson Township, to tell their stories, and to remember them.
You see, this year marks the 200th Anniversary of Jackson Township --- specifically, the Jackson Township located in the southwest corner of Franklin County, Ohio. I specify because, just in Ohio alone, there are 37 Jackson Townships; something I now know because I wrote this play. This Jackson Township, the one which encompasses The City of Grove City, has been my focus for over a year; and it has been my absolute pleasure to get to know the story of this township and the people that built it.
It was all the more sweeter to see it come to life; to see history take the stage. Even more rewarding was watching the audience watch the play. More then once, I saw people recognize the historical figures I chose to highlight, or remember a story because their parents or grandparents had lived it. A family name would be said and an excited chatter would crop up somewhere in the audience. Family names like Grant, Hoover, Miller, Breck, Chambers, Schilling, Gantz, Borror, Willert, Orders, Smith, Dunnick, and so many more. Descendants of the people we were portraying were there, watching their grandparents and great-great grandparents exist again, if only for a moment; and every time one of them came up after the show and shared their story with me, I was moved.
Like I said, it's an enormous responsibility to portray history on stage. History is such a fragile concept; it truly is just stories isn't it? Stories that we pass down from generation to generation. Our stories. Our viewpoints. Of which we all have our own, don't we? History is a combination of facts and memories; so to take that and then dramatize it... there may be two sides to every story, but there are an immeasurable number of sides to history. Thus, there are infinite possibilities as to what a century box for Grove City and Jackson Township could hold. This play was but a glimpse of what I found, and even that feels like just the beginning.
While this chapter of The Century Box has come to a close, I'm not done with this play. I hope to share more stories, to see this play back to the stage, and to watch it grow and evolve as the City of Grove City and Jackson Township has grown and evolved over the centuries. Until then, I will fondly remember the last weekend of May 2015, when the Little Theatre Off Broadway took a bunch of my words and made history come alive. I love what my director, Lisa Napier-Garcia, and her cast and crew put together, but it was no easy task.
200 years carries with it more history than any one person could have possibly encapsulated into one play. My hope is that the play inspired the audience to do what I did --- I hope it encouraged them go to the Grove City Library and read about their history. I hope they will visit the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society, and that they will take some time to find out more about the people who came before them; to research the pioneers and entrepreneurs that built their city; to find and share the stories of the people that lived here.
To remember them. Because they are fascinating. And I hope I did them proud.
Photos courtesy of The City of Grove City. May 29-31, 2015 at Central Crossing High School.
The Century Box
by Jeremy Sony
Presented by: The City of Grove City and The Little Theatre Off Broadway
Directed by: Lisa Napier-Garcia.
Featuring: John Bils, Kate Charlesworth-Miller, Amelia Crabtree, James C. Daniels, Glen Anthony Garcia, Nicholas Garcia, Kathy Hyland, Tahrea Maynard, Mark Miller, Holly Rahrig, Sue Rapier, and Martha Kathryn Smith.
Production Crew: Donnie Lockwood, Kat Wexler, Bev Babbert, Michael Bynes, John Heckman, D.C. Simpson, and Jai Furlong.
Special Thanks: Grove City Museum, Karen Lane, Jim Hale, Mike Lilly, the Staff at Grove City Library, Central Crossing High School (Billy Smith, Catherine Knoblauch, Sophia Friend, Nathan Weaver).
Join us for the final performance of The Century Box.
When: Sunday, May 31, 2015 at 2:00 p.m.
Where: Central Crossing High School
4500 Big Run South Road, Grove City, Ohio
Tickets are free and available at the door.
About the play
I'm thrilled that we're just weeks away from the premiere of my new play, THE CENTURY BOX, which celebrates the Bicentennial of Jackson Township and the history of Grove City, Ohio. Premiering May 29-31, in Grove City. Details below.
Told through a series of vignettes and monologues, THE CENTURY BOX follows a sister and brother who discover a forgotten time capsule in an old house up for auction. Setting off an adventure that reaches back to the origins of their hometown; they'll have to solve this mystery of the century box before the auction, or risk losing it forever.
Dedra Cordle of The Columbus Messenger interviewed me and director Lisa Napier-Garcia about the play. Read the article here, and look for it in print in the Southwest edition of the Messenger.
Working on this play has been quite a privilege. The Grove City Historical Commission reached out to me in early 2014 about penning the play for the forthcoming celebration. Little Theatre Off Broadway, in conjunction with the Historical Commission, presented an excerpt of the play in September, 2014, at Grove City's Arts in the Alley. Many LTOB regulars including Sue Rapier, Glen Garcia, Nicholas Garcia, John Grote, Jim Daniels, Kathy Hyland, and Mark Miller took part in the preview, portraying real-life historical figures from Grove City such as William and Elizabeth Breck, Hugh Grant, Jr., Jane Chambers, Edwin C. Smith, and A.G. Grant. Myself and my wife appeared in the preview as well.
The full version of "The Century Box" will premiere Friday, May 29 at 8:00p.m., in the Ed Palmer Auditorium at Central Crossing High School, 4500 Big Run South Road. Performances continue Saturday May 30 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00p.m., and a final performance on Sunday, May 31 at 2:00p.m. All performances are free.
Thank you to my friend Emily Turner for posting a status on Facebook about flying that resulted in the long-winded comment that, in turn, resulted in this, an impromptu monologue. I called it Bumped.
Bumped by Jeremy Sony
I flew first class once. Once. In my life. And it was by total happenstance of getting bumped up to it. Never have I felt so... separated from humanity. They were serving us sodas while the other class cabins were boarding. And by "other class" I mean coach, maybe business, but let's face it, the travel industry is like the poster child for modern day classism. So up in first class, we're having drinks while the rest of the passengers shuffle on. And why is this a bad thing? Well... they could see us, laughing with out FULL CANS of pop, enjoying the elitism that we lorded over them like fat kings over feudal peasants. And God help me, I enjoyed it. Sure, for a minute it felt wrong, like I was a turncoat to my fellow back-of-the-plane compatriots. I was one of them just hours before. And I would be again after this short flight. Then I thought, it's okay if I get my caffeine a few minute before them. It's just a few minutes. They should be happy for me. It's like I won the lottery. I was one of them. Now I'm here. By happenstance, after all. That meant there was hope for everyone in coach. They, too, could get bumped, to sit where I was now seated. Later, my fellow coachers would ask me what it was like "up there". I would bring hope to those trapped behind the curtain. Hope of a new dawn for all airline travelers where seats are roomier, snacks are plentiful, and the drinks flow like nectar from Mt. Olympus. Except, none of that would happen. This was all a lie. The moment we finished our drinks and the plane had boarded behind us, behind that thin curtain that did nothing to hide our debauchery, the flight attendants made an announcement that would bump me back down to reality. There would be no drink service on this flight. It was just for us. The fat kings. The soulless elite. The bumped. The flight attendants had just made us drink our pop in front of the coachers AS THEY BOARDED, and then denied them their sweet refreshment. I knew then that first class was evil. The kind of evil that you bump into, the kind that leaves a mark. I only flew first class that once. And I'm still trying to get back.
Adaptation is a part of life. It's how we evolve and adapt to our existence that ensures survival on an individual and species level. The same goes for writing. Especially when you're writing an adaptation of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. On a general level, a playwright's play evolves and adapts throughout its development process. From thought to outline to treatment to draft to workshop to staged reading to performance to publishing to... well, maybe it stops there. Maybe not. For me, I wrote my version of this classic American tale for a wonderful company in Nashville. Street Theatre Company's ClassAct Dramatics wanted a fresh take on the classic for their youth division. So I wrote one. They liked it. They produced it. We called it Ichabod: Missing in Sleepy Hollow. And now, over a year later, I'm renaming it. Rebranding it. The title needed to adapt. To what?
Sleepy Hollow: The Lost Chapter.
Nice, huh? I like it. I mean, yeah, of course, that's why I'm renaming the play. But why now? Why the change? Mostly, the original title didn't actually fit the play anymore. Titles are hard. Playwrights spend hours agonizing over them (some of us do). You want something that resonates with the play, something that looks good on a poster, something that draws in an audience and sets them up for what they're about to see. You want it to sound cool. I know that sounds simplistic, but it's true. There are tons of play titles, just like there are tons of book titles and movie titles and TV show titles --- all in, millions of fragmented sentences and words trying to catch someone's eye. To break out and get an audience member to pause, to click, to read. I mean look at the title of my blog post. It's click-bait 101. No, seriously, I went to a site and put in some words and it generated that. Except in this case, I'll defend using it, because not only does my play basically ask you to forget everything you learned about Sleepy Hollow; I had to forget a lot of what I thought about my own play going in to find the right title after it was all said and done.
You see, my play opens after Ichabod vanishes (in those final climatic pages of the original story). But it's not a sequel. Per se (which, I think, the original title indicated... you see why I was having trouble with it). In those few pages of Irving's text, after Ichabod disappears, but before everything settles down and (SPOILER ALERT) Brom and Katrina get married, I wrote a play. That's where it lives. There, and in the epilogue. It pulls from key moments of the original text (primarily the bit about the headless horseman, because, I mean, that's why people come see shows about Sleepy Hollow), but most of the script is my own invention of events of what really happened. The idea I had was that Ichabod's former students and their new teacher would solve the mystery of his disappearance. Hence, Ichabod was Missing. In Sleepy Hollow. Relying on the most recognized character in the story (since, it's his story), I thought I'd go with the name and play on it.
For some reason, I didn't think about changing it after that. It happened. It was a thing. I didn't want to negate that and I had a production to build on. A name change, I thought, would be a step back. As the play was finished and performed, and then subsequently read at Curtain Players theatre in central Ohio, and workshopped into a further polished play, it became clear that while Ichabod being missing was the event of the play (along with the upcoming nuptials of the future Mr. & Mrs. Brom Van Brunt), it wasn't the whole story. He wasn't even the main character of the play. And there's a reason for that.
Have you read the original story lately? (You can do that here at Project Gutenberg.) Going outside the part we all remember, with Ichabod being chased down by a headless horseman, the bulk of the story is full of detailed descriptions of small village life in rural 1790 America (which, if you remember, is just seven years after the end of the Revolutionary War... this story takes place when George Washington is President, and New York is the capital of the U.S.). The story focuses very little on anything that happens outside Sleepy Hollow. It's more about Ichabod Crane settling into this tiny village in upstate New York (upstate circa 1790, which puts it about 53 minutes by car from Brooklyn today); and the guy is kind of a louse. I'm sorry, but he is. He's mean. He's only after Katrina for her father's money. And he's kind of a snob to Brom Bones (his perceived rival for Katrina's affections). In Ichabod's defense, I suppose you could argue that he is written as a man of the times, though that thought is actually more disturbing.
When I set out to adapt it, I knew I wasn't making him my lead; but I still named the piece after him (or, again, after the perceived crux of the play). Which was strange, because the new school teacher, Abigail Seymour, and the oldest student, Hanna, were clearly my dual protagonists. Hanna going so far as to take on the closest thing to narration duties anyone could have in this script. After a year or tweaking it, I realized that the original title felt wrong. It felt like it wasn't genuine to the play. Or to Abigail and Hanna. This had really become a Lost Chapter of a larger piece; a play that pulls from the story of Ichabod, Katrina, and Brom, and of the residents' tales of ghosts that haunt their village, but that tells its own story. It's like the end of Back to the Future II, where Marty McFly is running around in 1955 again while the original plot of the first film is going on and you're watching all this stuff happen that you didn't know was happening, but now that you know, it's pretty sweet. Yeah, it's like that. It fits into the original; you could practically cut and paste it on that one page near the very end; but it also makes you look at the story from another perspective (and if you haven't seen the Back to the Future Trilogy, please do; both to get my point and because it's Back to the Future). I wasn't changing Washington Irving's world --- just shining a new light on it. Okay, I did change things a bit. Again, adaptation.
So why the new title now? There are lots of adaptations of Sleepy Hollow out there, in and out of the theatre world. Lots of versions done by theaters all over, every year, and I wanted a title that stood out, but that made it clear this was different than a faithful adaptation. I want it produced elsewhere. I want to see it happening around the country, for it to become a Fall tradition. And I didn't think the old title was inviting that to happen. I just didn't. And I knew the play. One of my playwriting professors once said he didn't think there were many plays that could pull off a gerund in the title. I think he was right about this one. More so, when you read the old title and the synopsis, they didn't gel. If you read the first act sample, they didn't click. Because that's not what the play's about. It's not about Ichabod being missing. Ichabod just happens to be missing. It's much more the journey of Hanna and Abigail, their friendship, and the mystery as to why the horseman haunts Sleepy Hollow. It's Sleepy Hollow, but with more of the world being revealed. It's meant to complement the original, remind you of it, take you back to it, but it's its own story. Did I take liberties? Yeah. Is Abigail maybe more independent than young women of 1790 upstate New York were portrayed? I sure hope so. Truly, in essence, it's fan fic. Let's be honest, cards on the table; all adaptations are fan fic. The FOX TV show Sleepy Hollow (which I love), or Once Upon a Time on ABC, or the book (and musical) Wicked, or BBC's Sherlock, CBS's Elementary, or the film Maleficent, or hey, even Frozen, or pretty much every Disney film ever made... it's all fan fic. They're all adaptations of other stories. You know the movie Tangled was once called something else. Probably Rapunzel. But they changed it. Now, some say that Disney did that to market the film to boys as well as girls (apparently boys can't handle watching a film named after a women or some such rubbish), but gender politics aside, I think Tangled is a better title. That story is, yes, about Rapunzel, but it's also very much about her and Flynn Rider and this adventure that they (yeah, I'm going there) get tangled up in together. It's a cute title that ultimately fits that movie better.
In the case of my own freely adapted piece, I think it makes sense for the title to adapt along with it. The new title, SLEEPY HOLLOW: THE LOST CHAPTER, conveys more of what it actually is, what I consider it... a lost chapter. My play stays true to the title of the original Washington Irving story, while hopefully indicating that there's going to be something new coming to the table. To me, it gels. As the description states: When Ichabod Crane went missing in Sleepy Hollow on that fateful night in 1790, it was thought that to be the end of the story; but Ichabod Crane wasn't the only schoolteacher to come to Sleepy Hollow. SLEEPY HOLLOW: THE LOST CHAPTER picks up in the final pages of Washington Irving's classic, revealing a previously untold piece of the legend. After Ichabod disappears, his students are determined to find out the truth of what happened. Their new schoolteacher, Abigail Seymour, is more focused on teaching than chasing ghosts---that is until she has her own run-in with the Horseman. Now, she and the students must hurry to retrace Ichabod's final night in Sleepy Hollow and find a way to stop the Horseman once and for all; along the way, we discover new revelations, gain clues on who the Headless Horseman could be, and meet all the original Irving characters from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Adaptation is fun. As a playwright, it's not something I saw myself doing regularly, but now it's a huge part of my writing world. First Sleepy Hollow: The Lost Chapter, then I did my own take on The Legend of Robin Hood, and up next I'm working on The Last Queen of Wonderland (you can figure out where that one's coming from). But then, really, most writing is adaptation. Even original stories (if there are any left), get written and rewritten. Writers go through that process I mentioned earlier with workshops and readings, and eventually a writer is adapting her own words. She's taken an idea, a scene, and outline, and adapted it in the revision process. Evolved it. Made it into something new. Until it's just right. Thinking of it that way, it makes sense to me that sometimes our titles have to adapt during that process. I'm probably not alone on that at all. For me, it was immensely helpful. Once the title changed, the revision fell into place. It helped me to mentally forget everything I knew about the Sleepy Hollow I was writing, and focus on the one I was supposed to be writing.
Adaptation is a part of life. It's something I'll think about more with my future writing, especially if I'm stuck. Might not be just the play that needs to adapt. Might be the title.
Thoughts. From my brain. Anything to do with how we tell stories and the stories we tell each other. Literally and figuratively.
Writer. Husband. Father. Effulgent dreamer. A Fightin' Irishman (@NDdotEDU '01). A playwriting Bobcat (MFA in Playwriting, @OhioU '13). I write plays. I'm a geek. I wanted to be an astronaut. I go places in my head.