Parts of these characters were once farmers and farm workers I've met or characters from stories and articles that I've read. Then they became a chorus of voices clamoring in the blank space between thought and page, a jumble of emotions and motivations of which I had to make sense. Now they're undergoing a final metamorphosis. The actors are molding their own three-dimensional figures from my two-dimensional pages of words. Sidney's a smart spunky redhead, a hand-talker with a jutting hip and a flint-hard squint when she's working on a problem or trying to figure somebody out. Walker is tall and lanky, spry and wry, with a half-grin and an unapologetic vulnerability. Uncle Ed relishes the taste of certain words like sweet and sticky taffy and has moments of delighting in his own power over Mitch. The people of Farms & Fables are inflating to round and full with life - and now and then, Jennie and I hear the hiss of air escaping, evidence of a hole we have to plug up.
What do I do as the playwright during this new and final stage?
Help plug those holes (it's a team effort between playwright, director, and actor: this week, Jennie, Harley, and I are tackling Uncle Ed).
Tweak roles to fit the realistic abilities of a five-year-old performer.
Adjust language to reflect the reality of the community - whether it's changing "driveway" to "dooryard" (thanks, Stacy), reworking Karen's exhortations to her daughter about college as per Penny's insight, or taking out "bananas in the shade" when Jae says it doesn't feel real.
Answer questions about motivation or backstory, when I can.
Work with Seth, our sound designer, to interview farmers for material for our interludes.
Man our booth at farmers' markets.
Attend Green Drinks with Kati Benson King and hand out postcards.
Be ready to become Emily's ASM (helping to tape the space, carry props, be on book) or Jennie's AD (coming up/leading exercises, solving blocking problems) or Claire's pasty-handed chauffeur at a moment's notice.
Teach my playwriting workshop at The Telling Room to a group of very cool and open-minded teens.
There's a black fabric that's used widely in agriculture, a woven plastic that covers a bed with holes cut or burned into it, at intervals. Those are the holes where you plant your plants and grow what you're growing. The fabric has the benefit of greatly minimizing the amount of weeding that you have to do. It also has drawbacks: it can protect and foster pests, keep the soil from drying and block its absorption of healthful sunlight.
A bed of peppers on Jordan's Farm. Photo: Claire Guyer.
Depending on the weather conditions and on the season, the benefits of using fabric or plastic on beds can outweigh the disadvantages - or vice versa. During my last weeks on Ryder Farm this season, we spent a lot of time pulling up fabric. It had gotten us through the weedy spring but was causing problems in the wet summer and into early autumn, keeping the soil wet and letting root-gnawing pests thrive.
The technique of sitting alone at my desk wrestling with the script was what the play needed for a while, but solo writing season is over. Now we've torn up the fabric. What this dirt needs is sun.
...And, in less than two weeks, an audience. Don't forget to reserve your tickets.