Launching 1,000 Ships

A year and a half ago, Megan Cohen and I sat in the grass in the Marina for hours with a netbook and a copy of Robert Graves’ Greek Mythology and drafted an outline for a one-woman play based on the story of Helen of Troy.

Around 9PM, we realized we were freezing and ravenous, so we caught a bus back to my apartment and picked up some sushi before resuming the brainstorm. Since then, we have stabbed at this idea with equal parts intensity, enthusiasm, and infrequency. Today, we began a month of intensive workshops to, you know, actually write this thing.

One of my artistic goals for 2012 is to find different modes of collaborative theater-making with every project I am working on. The one constant is likely to be Robert Graves’ Greek Mythology… and maybe also post-it notes. Because let’s be honest, they are the best thing ever.

In 2010, Megan and I tested the co-writing waters by typing out together what might be the first page of the script. It was a slow and careful process, and I think we both felt a little overwhelmed by the idea of writing this way for the next hundred years until we had finished a performance text.

Today, we tried something new. Setting timers with funny sounds to go off every half hour, we each typed frantically, writing down whatever came to mind. Prompted by something Megan had written in an earlier session, I examined my ring finger intensely for about three minutes. Writing is weird sometimes. Then we’d regroup and see what had happened on each other’s screen.

We switched documents and then “bookended” what the other had written with our own thoughts. We were both surprised to find that, though we each have our own distinct voice as writers, our visions of Helen were remarkably compatible. All that brainstorming seems to have been a pretty good idea.

Maybe just sitting next to each other and thinking about how the other person might express an idea was enough to give us permission to find a new voice. I know that I would not have started a section with the line “Can you believe that CHUMP?” when left to my own devices. And who but Megan would encourage me not only to KEEP the lightbulb jokes, but to write MORE so that they can be a recurring theme to lighten (haha) the mood throughout the piece? (How many Greeks does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Only one, but there’s this whole army that promised to help…)

I can hardly wait for next weekend’s 7-hour intensive. Stay tuned, y’all. This is going to be pretty awesome.