My Creative Journey – Part Two

Picking up from my first realization that my passion might also be a gift, as explained in Part One.

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Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to display my creative demons before an audience. An effective little soap opera episode in Grade 12. Geeky science humour in my own magazine. Heart-wrenching poetry following the end of a close friendship that might have been much more.

I worked my way into the magazine world, writing interesting stories about interesting discoveries and advances, but it wasn’t the same. The words poured forth and the story-telling skills improved, but I was always a chronicler of someone else’s story.

Creativity expressed itself in my approach to the story. In seeing a story that no one else saw. In context that was invisible to everyone else. Creativity manifested itself in identifying authors and writers from all walks of life to fill gaps in the magazines. I may not have been the best project manager, but I was definitely the most creative.

As I matured in my jobs, I extended this creativity to everything I did. Looking for effective solutions to seemingly intractable problems. But it wasn’t enough. That voice within me cried out to be heard. And the more I worked—and overworked—to distract it, the louder it screamed. So loudly, that even my wife could hear it.

While sitting in an Orlando hotel bar one night, she finally challenged me and my workaholic tendencies, demanding that we come up with a hobby for me. When pressed, I admitted that I had always felt like I’d been born 30 years too late. That if I could have any miracle in my life, it would be to work on those old sketch comedy shows from the 1950s as a comedy writer. Sid Ceasar’s Show of Shows came to mind. Imagining myself in the writers’ room with Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen and Neil Simon.

Neither of us knew how to make that happen, but my wife challenged me to find something at home that would set me up in that direction. The next week, I signed up for my first improv class at Second City.

Although it still wasn’t where I wanted to be—more performance than writing—the improv classes were amazing; therapeutic on a variety of levels. Eventually, though, I stumbled onto their sketch comedy writing program and that’s when I hit my stride. A wonderful instructor, talented zany fellow students.

The words flowed incredibly quickly. Within weeks, I had dozens of sketches and felt like I was making serious headway in my education of what worked and why. If there was a problem with the class, it was that my production vastly outstripped the need. I tried new things. I broke out of my comfort zone. I pushed my limits. My only goal was funny.

As I honed my sketches, I prepared for the reality of rehearsals with actors, when all of this work would really come true; when my efforts became more than an academic exercise. Rehearsals went well. Out actors seemed genuinely grateful to be performing our work. I saw what worked and what didn’t, even in the work of others.

Interestingly, I wasn’t in control of the process and I was okay with that. There’s something to be said for being so far out of your element that you recognize the limitations of your control. I had complete faith in the director and our actors. I believed they too wanted this to work as badly as I did.

And then the day of the performance arrived. Nervous energy ran through my body and I couldn’t sit still. I could barely communicate. There was no fear. Only anticipation and potential validation. Was I funny?

The day we premiered Da Tory Code was easily one of the best days in my life. The audience laughed. Not at everything, which was a valuable lesson, but they laughed at enough to validate my talent.

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Unintended misogyny

According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Onlinemisogyny (n) Feelings of hating women or the belief that men are much better than women.

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Let me state for the record that I do not hate women, but over the last decade or so, I have come to realize the insidious ways in which I felt (or made it appear that I felt) men to be superior to women.

As a male writer, I have historically written stories from the male perspective. My protagonists were male. My antagonists were male. My peripheral characters were predominantly male. And when I did include a female character, she tended to be rather two-dimensional (see also my blog post For my friend Emma).

Several years ago, I had the fortunate happenstance to take a sketch comedy writing class at Toronto’s Second City Training Centre under the guidance of actress and writer Aurora Browne, best known locally as one of the actors from the show Comedy Inc. and former mainstage performer at Second City. Perhaps not surprisingly, the class was mostly comprised of men. And to a man, we wrote sketches about guys.

After the first couple of classes, however, when we had each produced a few sketches, Aurora challenged the men in the room to either rewrite one of their existing sketches or write a completely new sketch with a woman (or several) in the lead.

It was at that moment that I realized my unintended misogyny.

Aurora was tired of trying to find material with strong and/or well-defined female characters. She was tired of simply playing the girlfriend, the ex-wife, the nurse, the teacher. Not that there was anything inherently wrong in playing any of these roles, but more that they were almost always written as two-dimensional…if they could even be said to aspire to a second dimension.

This was her opportunity to put her heels into the dirt in moulding the next generation of comedy writers.

From my perspective, the task was amazingly daunting and very surprising, as I found myself breaking down walls and obstructions I never realized I had put in place. I had to think how might a woman character function differently in this scene, without getting cliché, and how would that change the dynamics of the scene. Or even would it?

In the years since, no matter what I write—sketch, screenplay, teleplay, poem—I watch for places where I might fall into gender bias. The minute I decide on my main characters, I ask myself if the protagonist or antagonist could be a woman (sadly, I still typically default to males). If the answer is yes, then I take a second run at my idea to see which way would make for a better story.

As a result, I have both dramatically increased the repertoire of characters I can bring to life and greatly enriched my stories. In fact, the two most recent screenplays I am developing have female protagonists, as do a couple of my television pilot concepts—not out of a sense of political correctness or fairness, but because those choices made the most sense for the story.

So thanks, Aurora, for the creative kick upside the head.

(Illustration used without permission.)

(Un)social media

Okay, so for the sake of another writing gig, I have finally signed up to Twitter…pith not being a particular skill of mine, I figured confinement to a mere 140 characters could only help my screenwriting (shorter dialogue, less narrative).

Of course, the brilliant thing about Twitter is, like all other forms of social media, it is totally disconnected from the people with whom I am connecting. Thus, it is a safe place to be myself…sort of.

Social media was developed by introverts in a vain attempt to camoflage their introversion…how can I be introverted when I am telling so many people so much stuff? Sure, there is the immediacy of the message…the feeling of common cause with others of like interests…the ill-considered photos of people in the all-together. But if I really wanted to communicate in any of these ways, I could also stand in a room full of people and talk out loud.

Several years ago, while taking sketch comedy writing classes at the Second City Training Centre in Toronto, I wrote a sketch about a brand new social medium that I called Face-to-Facebook. I offer a couple of lines from the sketch below:

JAN  (SURPRISED) Face-to-Facebook? How’s it work?

TED  Well, let’s say that I want to tell you our infomercial will start 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. I simply turn to you and say, “Hey Janet, our informercial is going to start 15 minutes earlier than scheduled.”

JAN  (AMAZED) Wow! It’s that easy?

TED  Yes, it is. (TO AUDIENCE) Face-to-Facebook puts the “instant” back into “instant messaging”.

and

TED  Hey Janet. “less than” “colon” “hyphen” “capital P” “greater than” (<:-P>)

JAN  (CONFUSED) What is that supposed to mean, Ted?

TED  It was just me sticking my tongue out at you in emoticon. (TO AUDIENCE) Aren’t emoticons annoying? But with Face-to-Facebook, you no longer have to worry about deciphering these strange little creatures. If you want to know if I’m happy, just look at my face. (HE SMILES)

JAN  That’s amazing! (QUESTIONING) But tell me, Ted; is Face-to-Facebook secure?

TED  Secure? The best thing about Face-to-Facebook is that no matter how hard he tries, only a blind kid would confuse a 45-year-old pedophile with a 13-year-old school girl. (OFFHANDED) And who needs blind kids, anyway?

Everyone laughed (LOLed, in fact), but I wonder how many people actually saw themselves as my target. I know I did.

So in my never-ending efforts to reach out and not actually touch someone, I have now added yet another way to annoy people with my self-important drivel.

You’re welcome.

PS I’ve linked all of my social networks together, so if the Internet comes crashing down in a couple of seconds because of a message loop, my bad.

PPS Forgot to include my Twitter address: @createdbyrcw (that’s right, I said PP)

Poster from my sketch comedy show at Toronto's Second City Theatre (part of the SC Training Centre)

Poster from my sketch comedy show at Toronto’s Second City Theatre (part of the SC Training Centre)

Tach-ing out

I do not take drugs. Well, okay, the odd Extra Strength Tylenol. But hey, all the kids with headaches were doing it.

Anyways, it is my understanding that cocaine brings the sensation of clarity and sends your entire being into a state of overdrive. Your engine doesn’t idle. It runs at full speed and if you’re lucky, you’ll never shift it from neutral to drive or you’ll explode into a wall.

Whether it’s true or not, that’s what I feel like right now, in the creative sense.

Everything about me is running at full speed and then some. Every sense is attuned to the universe and picks up every scintilla of stimulation, translating those sensations into thought and eventually into word.

And while I embrace this period of unbridled energy, particularly after a couple of months of intellectual torpor (or at least that’s what it felt like to me), this constant revving of my creative engines has its problems.

Am I making sense? The words flow out so quickly and the paper cup overflows so easily that I don’t leave myself much time to analyze what I am writing to determine if it isn’t just the word “banana” over and over and over again. (Or the word “over”, for that matter.)

Can I finish anything? Because I find so much joy in the creative process, I worry that I jump from project to project without actually completing anything. Building the seminal moments and scenes for my next screenplay are so much more fun than actually writing 110 pages of dialogue that I am seriously running the risk of waking up two weeks from now surrounded by ideas for 68 movies, but no actual scripts.

How quickly can I become ambidextrous? I have two hands, why can’t I write in two notebooks or on two laptops at the same time? I want to believe that it would cut the noise down by 50%, but something tells me that it would just feed the monster, which would expect 4 times the output. If my toes weren’t the size of rhinoceros heads, perhaps I could up my output even further.

And even if I can finish all of the projects that are exploding out of me, how do I keep them from just hitting the bottleneck of “So, now what?” It took me years, and a very caring friend, to help me deal with the backlog of comedy sketches I wrote during my time at Toronto’s Second City Training Centre and since then.

Must pull my head out of my laptop long enough to transition some of these projects from Word and Final Draft documents into actual films and television shows. (BTW, “pull my head out of my laptop” reads a little weirder than it sounded in my head.)

Oooooh! The ideas are only 30 seconds apart! Must remember my breathing exercises.

Oh god, my creative water broke! Quick, someone get me a notebook, a pen and two Extra Strength Tylenol!

When I am gone

When I am gone to join the dead,

I only hope it will be said

That I was quick if but with tongue

And from each word I too much wrung

A meaning lost or malaprop

If by the speaker a hint did drop

About something that was not said

But close enough to turn them red.

With words did play and contradiction

To turn your fact into my fiction,

And from one end of what you spoke

Would I reword to make the joke.

But whether you bethought it funny

Or at most insipid pun, I

Cared not truly if you laughed

Nor bothered if you thought me daft

But smiling delved at my own leisure

For another verbal treasure

But when I’m gone, and games have ended,

Please check with those I have offended,

For as it seems to be my lot,

I was much more than likely shot.Image