Friday, April 12, 2013

Original Notes from The Gospel Singer

Questions for 'In the Raw' Marketing
Answers of C. S. Wyatt
Playwright, The Gospel Singer (or, Religion is a Drag)

1) What inspired you to write this play?

My sister, Mysti, gave me the idea. She claims to have an endless supply of ideas for me – as long as I promise to invite her to any red carpet events. Mysti has given me the ideas for a dozen or more scripts. We share a dark, dry wit. We both find people amusing, especially the people unaware they are amusing.

Several people inspired The Gospel Singer. Mysti and I were active in community theater, which is how we came to know "Isaac" and "Donnie." All the characters in the play are based on real people. Though our hometown of Visalia is in California, it is a Southern town. Consider this article from the L.A. Times:
Visalia is… no stranger to controversy. In 1986, business owner Loren Lowdermilk announced that he would be named grand titan for the Ku Klux Klan in California and Visalia would become the KKK's headquarters. That set off demonstrations of protest by large crowds of townspeople outside Lowdermilk's auto-parts business. He keeps a low profile these days. — Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1991
Anyone calling himself a "Grand Titan" is pretty absurd. Then, you meet the man and the local Evangelical pastor trying to "clean up the town." The pastor's son drove a new red Porsche. The blind leading the blind. One of my high school classmates drove the General Lee from the "Dukes of Hazard" — and he was Mexican-American.

Imagine being gay, black, devout Christian, and an entertainer in such a community. That's a story better than any fiction I could craft. People were offended when the AIDS Quilt came to town a few years later. So, of course, Mysti volunteered to work on a panel and the local production of Quilt.
I worked on the production of the musical Quilt doing drag make-up. Connie created the panels for John and Brent. We couldn't get enough actors to fill all the roles because people didn't want to work with the "gay theater company." It was sad. — Mysti Wyatt, 2013.
Some situations (and people) are so absurd, you need to laugh at them. I hope The Gospel Singer does just that — allows people to laugh at hypocrisy, including our own. That would make "Isaac" smile.

2) How do you think the In the Raw process will help you?

As the saying goes, comedy is hard work. It's even harder when you aren't a funny person. Friends tell me I'm funny on paper, but caution me against trying stand-up. We have friends who can make any story hilarious. I can ruin the funniest story simply by speaking the words. Hearing and seeing a play, it's easier to see where the humor does and doesn't work.

If people aren't laughing even at the serious moments, then a script isn't ready for production. When I hear laughter through the tears, then the play is finished. It's not there yet, so it doesn't do justice to the men who inspired The Gospel Singer. They were among the naturally funny storytellers.

3) How does this play fit into the larger body of your creative work?

The Gospel Singer was in a tightly packed box, along with my other scripts. It is much easier to stack full boxes; they hold weight better. The plays were supporting my box of mediocre poetry.

High-quality drama and literary works impress me, yet when I have attempted to write something serious, the dark humor comes through. If you want to persuade people, make them smile. Normal Lear is a role model, along with comics like Sam Kinison, George Carlin, and Lewis Black. I was fortunate enough to meet Kinison twice during college. His advice was, paraphrasing, "Scream at the audience. They deserve it. Look at the world around you! It is a joke."

The Gospel Singer addresses serious issues without being preachy. Well, the music is a little preachy. From getting older (The Garden) to fighting city regulations (Clown and Mime), my works are about real people, real situations, and the choice to laugh in the face of absurdity. You can either believe "Life sucks, and then you die" or you can realize the cosmic joke is how seriously some people take stupid issues. Mock those people — they usually don't recognize themselves, anyway.

4) What was your biggest challenge in writing this play? How long did it take?

The biggest challenge for me is submitting a script to a theater company. I'm a productive writer, but not good at doing anything with what I write. My wife, Susan, says I get distracted by the next project before the current one is complete. We tried to-do lists, schedules, and every imaginable task management suggestion. Friends say I need an assistant to keep me on task. It would be full-time job.

I wrote the first draft of The Gospel Singer during November and December of 2003. I was "between jobs" and wrote five or six plays during that winter, most of them simultaneously. When I have an idea, I write quickly. I log the writing time for each project, because that's what every obsessive person would do. The Gospel Singer took almost 20 hours to write. If I pause and think about the writing, I find only the faults and suffer creative paralysis. Unfortunately, I tend to write something and move on to the next idea. That's why I have boxes filled with scripts and other writings.

I returned to graduate school in 2004 to study composition theory and the rhetoric of fiction —not a very marketable master's degree. The Gospel Singer joined many other scripts in a storage box. We moved to Minneapolis in 2006 and the box ended up in our basement. On a summer day in 2010, I sat on the floor of our basement and read several of the scripts. I though, "This script isn't horrible." I sent The Gospel Singer to my sister, asking her what she thought. I partially revised the script… and then my wife and I moved to Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The scripts were "lost" again until late 2012.

Vowing not to forget old scripts again, in early 2013, I sat down and started typing them into Final Draft. While I was revising The Gospel Singer, I received an email announcing "In the Raw." My wife told me to send the script to Bricolage, so I did.

You can say the play took nine years to revise, or you could say it took three months, spread out over nine years. Maybe I should do something with the other scripts in the box, too. But, I have other ideas to get onto paper….

5) If you could eat your play, would you like how it tastes?

At least it isn't bitter. I have a sweet tooth.

Playwright's Notes

I have already pondered what people will ask when they first read this or see it produced. No, on the surface you couldn't ask for a stranger proponent of faith. I'm agnostic, or something like that. Then again, I'm also not gay, black, a Southerner, or a singer of any skill — ask anyone unfortunate enough to hear me try.

Writers should explore what they don't know. Being outside a story gives me more reason to research themes. I learn a lot talking to other people and trying to tell their stories as best I can. It is fascinating to me that few people think their experiences are interesting or could teach lessons to a wider audience. Granted, writers get to fill-in what they don't know with whatever they fancy.

This play is about faith. Not really the faith in a higher power, which I leave to theologians and philosophers for now, but faith in yourself and what you must do to be true to yourself. If you aren't true to yourself, no other faith matters.

About the Playwright (original version, from 2004)

(I always write an "about"  — and then few people see it because I stash the writing into a box.)

We are assured C. S. Wyatt exists. Rumor has it there is photographic evidence he roams Central California, looking for inspiration. Many suspect this quest is a thinly veiled effort to avoid editing, that painful process of recognizing he makes a lot of mistakes when typing. At least he ventures beyond his home office and into sunlight, regardless of the reason.

The Gospel Singer is Wyatt's nineteenth attack upon the dramatic form. For some reason, he attempts to make a statement with each script. This is a more plausible explanation for his reclusive manner.

C. S. Wyatt is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc., the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights, and the Visalia Community Players. The Players are authorized to present his works for fundraising purposes.

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