Somewhere in the night there’s a room full of adults acting out poop jokes because of me, and it’s all thanks to the Young Playwrights Festival. The one-act farce that I submitted about a family taking its raunchy grandmother to a home is riddled with adult diaper jokes, which my actors are now woefully obligated to perform.
I’ve always written, but for a long time I was afraid to share my work. I go to an arts school packed with creative people, the kind where the phrase “I’m a writer” will earn you nothing but a heavy sigh and an eye roll. Of course you’re a writer. Everyone’s a writer.
So I stayed a closeted writer, sometimes literally taking my notebook inside my closet to write, just for laughs. Eventually I forced a foot out the door by applying to the YoungArts program for screenwriting, and was lucky enough to be a 2013 regional winner. The next opportunity came when a friend recommended submitting to the Blank Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival. I liked the idea, but by then it was already 10 pm on the day submissions were to close. Right away I dusted off an old file, ran a Google search on “how to format a play” and spent an hour-and-a-half madly making corrections. I finally submitted at 11:59 pm, and the moment the email went through I did a victory lap around my house and promptly stubbed my toe.
That fated file was Mom, Put Your Flask Away, a 30-page one-act play that explores issues around family and independence in a farcical frame. The play began almost completely by accident. As an only child, I’ve gotten used to carrying out an internal dialogue with myself to pass the time, and one day out of nowhere I came up with the lines: “I’m putting my foot down” and “well, prepare to lose the leg.” For whatever reason, I wrote them down and added to them gradually over about two weeks. Before I knew it, I was typing “the end” on a play and stepping far out of the bounds of my training as an actress.
Unsurprisingly, I tend to approach writing with an actor’s sensibility. I do the same detailed character study that acting requires, I just reverse the process. I get an idea of a person, and I go through life with them in my head. Eventually, I start thinking about how my character would react to the things I see. After a while, I get such a complete picture of them that I can just sit down and let them talk, so the writing isn’t really creating as much as listening. The whole thing sounds incredibly schizophrenic, but as a writer I’m sort of in the business of having voices in my head.
So far, my experience with YPF has been a reminder of how generous the LA artistic community is. The friend who recommended the Young Playwrights Festival was someone I’d met because of master classes I took with YoungArts. My YPF mentor, playwright Carole Real, was in the audience when I won a spot as a national finalist in the August Wilson Monologue Competition at the Mark Taper Forum; she’d come to support a family friend who also goes to my school. And when I sat down to write this article and poked around LA STAGE Times, one of the first articles I saw was by writer/director Justin Zsebe, who invited me to be a part of a summer theater show at Actors’ Gang five years ago when I was taking classes. It seems that six degrees of separation becomes more like two in the theater world, as I’m sure Six Degrees playwright John Guare knows.
Even though I was connected to the people involved, I could never have anticipated how nerve-wracking it is to let go of a script. Writing, unlike acting, is its own separate entity. It takes a lot of trust and an incredibly thick skin to hand over something so personal, but it’s an essential part of writing because, really, the point of view in the play doesn’t matter until it’s voiced.
And now we’ve hit upon a real point. One of the more personal reasons I started writing was to create full roles for women. As an actress, I’ve found myself continually reading scripts riddled with one-dimensional female stereotypes that crop up again and again. I don’t pretend to believe that this play is going to spark any monumental changes, but I’m more than happy to try sending complex female characters into the world one at a time. Mom, Put Your Flask Away features women, and I intend the same for everything I write hereafter.
Above all, my experience with the Young Playwrights Festival has given me confidence. I know I’m an actress first, but the Blank Theatre has made me feel like I can call myself a writer too. No matter what comes next, that confidence is a gift that will never stop giving.
Mom, Put Your Flask Away, Blank Theatre’s 21st Annual Young Playwrights Festival, Stella Adler Theatre, 2nd floor, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., LA. 90028. Opens Thu June 6. Plays Thu-Sat 8 pm; Sun 2 pm. Through June 9. Tickets: $14-$20. 323-661-9827, www.TheBlank.com.
Eliana Pipes is a third-year student at LA County High School for the Arts. In 2013, she was named a regional winner for YoungArts in the category of screenwriting. She previously focused on screenplays and short stories. Mom, Put Your Flask Away is her first stage play, and her first work to ever be produced.
**All Mom, Put Your Flask Away production photos by Anne McGrath.