The Conversation Continues

Post by Megan

Annotated by Ruth


After our month in Minneapolis wherein neither of us turned out to be serial killers, Ruth and I went back to pursuing our own theatre interests: her in the twin cities, forging ahead with her first theatre company, and me in Manhattan, hitting the audition circuit.  Our friendship had started online, and it snapped right back into place after I went home.  We had never been phone friends, and that didn’t change – at least, not at that point in our history.  E-mails, and especially AOL Instant Messenger, were our preferred methods of communication. 

Ah, the days when we had entry level admin jobs and could do that.   I don’t even feel guilty that I misused company time- the big bank I worked for back in the early aughts deserved it then and deserves it now.  I like to consider myself an early adopter of the “Occupy Cubicles” movement.

As it turned out, this was a good thing. It meant that as long as we cut and pasted our AIM chats into documents (this was before Google autosaved chats), we had a perfect record of every conversation, which became important as we turned from sharing fan fiction to building original stories.  Every brainstorm, every character backstory, every geographical feature or government structure we invented was saved and accessible. The Tyme series is actually our second round of massive world building – we did it once before, with another world that we may or may not come back to one day, and though it’s been many years and I’ve forgotten all but a few key elements of that series, it doesn’t matter. I could reread those brainstorms and plunge right back into that place.

I remember that I was always banging up against my hotmail storage limits.  That really dates these chats and emails!    

Brainstorming together came naturally for both of us. Sometimes we approached things differently, but equally often we achieved mind-meld. “Same brain!” we would type, after we both came up with the exact same idea just seconds apart. The whole process was comfortable and collaborative. There was no clamoring for the credit of this idea or that one.  We just wanted to make a world and play in it, making people and stories that entertained us.  I think that we both had vague ambitions of publishing something eventually, but we didn’t work with that in mind.  We just had fun. 

And it was SO much fun.  Making up magical rules and creatures feels like you’re really making magic.   

Our two-brained process may seem a bit alien. After all, as I’ve mentioned before, writing is usually described as lonely, and common wisdom alleges that writers are solitary creatures.  And maybe that’s true, on the whole.  

Theatre, however, is far from solitary.  Even a one-woman show requires more than one woman. Also involved are the writer and director, the designers and technicians, and of course the live audience.  It’s a community process and a group event – a whole company working together in the service of telling a story – and Ruth and I are theatre people first.  It’s my theory that the reason we fell so gracefully into our collaborative routine is that we grew up onstage, where large-scale collaboration is necessary and expected.  We’re both so used to working in company that there’s nothing unusual (or threatening) about having someone else inside the intimate creative process with us.

It’s great.  Because having a partner means having access to another way of thinking.  I don’t have to stay stuck, when I’m stuck.  I can reach out to someone who knows the story just as well as I do and cares about it just as much, and I can whine “This was happening, and then that started happening, and now I can’t figure out how to make this other thing happen.” And together, we will tackle it.  Conversations often sound like this: 

Me: “I don’t know what to do because X.”
Ruth: “Huh.  What about Y?”
Me: “I know, but we already said Y isn’t supposed to do that.”
Ruth: “Right… but if X did this, then wouldn’t Y have to do that?  And if Y isn’t supposed to do that, couldn’t that be the thing that drives Z, later on?”
Me: “YES.  Perfect. Gotta go.”

Another major benefit of having a partner is that there’s a built-in audience. I’m an ex-performer.  I could play aloof and pretend I don’t care about the audience, but I’d be lying. Knowing that Ruth will read what I write – and usually she reads it right away – keeps me going in the moments when I’m confused, anxious, and self-defeating.  Wanting to hear what she thinks about a scene can be a real motivating factor in writing it.

This is so very true.   And the immediacy of the audience response in theater is very addictive- this is definitely the biggest piece of the theatrical process that we took with us into collaboration. The response we can provide each other is as instant as it can be when you’re working with the written word.   Our engagement in each other’s work and brainstorms have slowed down nowadays, because we’re in different places in our careers and lives, but it’s still pretty immediate, and it’s more of a joy when we carve out time for it.  I’m also a person who needs constant fuel to keep a creative fire burning.   

None of this would work, of course, if we didn’t get along so well and have such similar ideas about what stories ought to be.  But we do. And on those occasions when we don’t share a vision and one of us challenges the other, it ultimately makes the story better, just like workshopping and listening to feedback makes a piece of theatre stronger. 

I rather like when that happens, actually.   Having to articulate your vision/motivation/logistics is never anything but a good thing, no matter what the final solution turns out to be. Inevitably, it will fix something else tangentially, or shed light on another problem, or find a home in another place.

These days, we’ve moved on from AIM.  Our careers and lifestyles have undergone many changes. Lots of our brainstorms now happen on the phone, and plenty of our conversations are about life events outside of the Tyme series.  

But one thing is definitely the same.  We’re still making a world together so that we can play in it.  And though publishing is no longer just a vague ambition, the first order of business is still having fun.  We’ve definitely got that covered.  

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