Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ordinary Couples

Ordinary Couples (2011)
by Michael Lipp

(She rises and fishes the seeds out of the garbage can.
She wipes the package on her apron, places it in JUDY's hand,
and curls JUDY's fingers around it.)

Edelweiss is a special flower ... it grows among the rocks on mountainsides where nothing else dares to grow.  We respect the edelweiss because it is a hardy plant that will survive in even the most difficult climates.  Plant the seeds and I'm certain they will thrive.
(A beat.)
Nothing comes from nothing ...

Nothing ever could.

Last night I participated in Theatre Jacksonville's first ever 24-Hour Playwriting Competition and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time - only one week after my acting and directing "sabbatical" began and the start of my year and a half of WRITING.

We arrived at the theatre at 6 p.m. last night, we were "locked in," surrendering our cell phones with no access to any electronic resources beyond a laptop for word processing, and had until 6 p.m. tonight to write an entire one-act play.  The plays from the competitors will be judged by an outside panel and the top three will receive public readings, with the first prize winner receiving an additional reading and a cash prize.   At six, following some final instructions and rules, we were given three secret words that had to appear in the final script.  We "set up camp" in different areas of the theatre, with air mattresses, pillows, laptops, munchies, and one page of notes we were allowed to bring with us, and got to work.  I was glad to be sharing one of the dressing room areas with my dear friend Mary Beth, who would be keeping me company for the LONG hours ahead.

I stared at the blank computer screen for about a half hour before finally getting to work.  I had notes with me for three full-length plays that I had previously worked on and to which I had already given a great deal of thought.  The question was: do I stick with one of my prior ideas and try to incorporate the three secret words, or start from scratch and write something completely new?  I decided to write a one-act version of a full-length play that has been written over and over in my head but never more than a single scene completed on paper - called Ordinary Couples.  It didn't take much work to figure out how to insert the secret words and I was ready to roll.

Ordinary Couples is a play that I have worked on for a number of years.  It tells the story of a widow (named Judy in my one-act treatment) who travels with her children to Salzburg, Austria, with the ashes of her late husband.  Along the way, she meets and is guided by the ghost of none other than Maria von Trapp (of The Sound of Music fame).  Judy comes to realize that her marriage was not as she would like to remember it - in the same way that Maria von Trapp's marriage was nothing like its depiction in the musical.  The title derives from a song, called "An Ordinary Couple," in the original stage production of The Sound of Music (though not in the film version).  My one-act version takes place in the Mirabell Gardens, the scene for the fountains and staircase in the film's "Do-Re-Mi" segment.  Although I did not have any of my previously-written scenes or treatments, I had done enough "head-work" with the script to be familiar enough with the characters and events as I "saw" them.

About seven hours later, I was finished.  I am mostly happy with the final product.  I'm particularly pleased with the beginning and VERY happy with the ending (the quoted section above is towards the end).  The middle section I wasn't too sure about, and worried that I had spent more time "telling" than "showing" ... a strict NO-NO for any playwright.  Most of all, though, I was proud that I had forced myself to complete an entire piece and it confirmed to me that I can find the time to write if I will just FORCE myself to make the time and set deadlines for myself.

So, today I'm happy to have discovered a reinvigorated desire to write and I'm proud to share with you some of MY words ... hope you enjoy them.

UPDATE:  I won Second Place in the competition and a small portion of my play will be read at two events in June!

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