On June 11 thru 20, WorkShop Theater Company is presenting a Plays- in-Process production of COMPOSURE by playwright Scott C. Sickles. In the play, an ill-timed college production of Romeo & Juliet leads to a modern-day star-crossed romance between two men whose past tragedies suddenly encroach upon the present. Here’s what Scott has to say about it:
How’d you come to write Composure? This is actually a really complicated question. A long time ago, I can’t quite recall when, I came up with the title. I’d wanted to write a kind of “gay prodigal son returns” story about a theater artist who returns home to direct a production and confronts his past while taking on a new romance. Gradually, the plot began to form and with it some of the backstory and themes. Some of these themes were things I’d only speculated about (coming out late in life, being closeted and married) and other things I’d had to deal with head on in my own life (surviving abuse, the search for romance when we’re not getting any younger, the prolonged adolescence that is common among gay men of a certain age who didn’t have any role models until their twenties, thirties or later and having to live through dating, first kisses, first love, various forms of virginity all over again). All of this bounced around in my head for years. I outlined it over and over again. Two big questions I had to answer were: what play brings the main character back to his town and why are they doing it. Then the Virginia Tech shooting happened in 2007. I wanted the production to be about an on-campus tragedy. I originally wanted the main character to work on a new play inspired by whatever inciting incident I created, but that whole concept just became a snake swallowing its own tail. Then more shootings happened with greater frequency and I noticed something: no matter how great the tragedy, it would leave the news cycle in a matter of weeks, if not days, and then leave the public consciousness in a matter of months. That fascinated me. In my play Shepherd’s Bush, a woman discovers that her husband had an affair with their closest male friend but that the affair ended over thirty years ago. How do you react to tragedy, betrayal, and the like, when it’s over? Or when it’s distant? So I decided there would be a shooting, but this would not be a play about gun control laws. It would happened for different reasons than the ones in the news. And it would happen a year before the main action of the play. I wanted to explore life after a national tragedy and the resonance remaining after such distance. And that’s when I was able to figure out the tragedies and traumas in the characters’ histories. Almost every character in the play has survived something significant — death of a loved one, an array of abuse, the dissolution of a marriage, even bearing witness to horror that stays with you after you walk away from it. What is it like for these people to live with what happened to them? Has time and distance helped them? What do they do when it catches up to them? I still only had notes and concepts, but then I decided to apply for a program that would help me write the play. The application required a synopsis and in creating that, I was able to outline the story. From that outline, I was able to get out scenes and then a draft. It was the first brand new play I had started and finished in a decade. This characters in this play deal with a myriad of issues, but this is not about those issues; it’s about the characters and how they and by extension we face human frailty and loneliness in the wake of tragedies both great and small.
Wasn’t this performed at WorkShop as a Sunday Night? How is it different? I first brought in scenes from Composure to the Workshop’s Monday Night Writers meetings. After several rewrites, it was selected for a 3Day Staged Reading. [Note: it was never a Sunday.] There were several aspects of the play that had not yet gelled. I knew what story I wanted to tell but was still figuring out the most effective ways to tell it. (A journey that continues to this day.) There was a lot more Shakespeare in the script back then, sizable chunks of Romeo and Juliet. Fletcher and Jeff, the play’s central couple, have a lot going against them just as Romeo and Juliet did: time, impending separation, and their individual histories (as opposed to warring families) crossing their stars as it were. We needed to figure out how much Shakespeare was enough to accentuate the parallels between the two relationships without beating the audience over the head. In the 3Day, we had four actors on hand to play members of the student cast. Artistic director Thomas Coté, strongly encouraged me to rewrite as much as I needed to between the three performances. The performances were on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and I did heavy rewrites Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Fritz and I got our machetes out and hacked away. We cut huge chunks and individual lines and words. We trimmed the Shakespeare down so much we ended up not needing all the “student cast” by the end. Now those roles are voice-overs. In the midst of all that trimming and revising, we discovered that a pivotal scene was missing, so I wrote it late Friday night and we added it on Saturday. The cast were such troopers. They rolled with every change we threw at them. Since then, there have been rewrites, a Roundtable Reading at the Lark Play Development Center and then more rewrites. And here we are.
What’s it like working with Fritz? How’d you two meet? FACEBOOK!!! I was looking for potential directors for the WorkShop’s one-act festival of Jewish-themed plays in 2011. Because Fritz and I both worked in soaps, we had lots of mutual friends. I saw in his profile that he was a director and I asked him if he did stage work. He wasn’t asked to direct anything in that show, but he showed up and we started hanging out and became pals. He’s also directed several shows here, large and small. Working with Fritz is a dream. He’s one of the best dramaturgs I’ve ever had and I’ve worked with some really great ones. He can say things like, “I know you’re gonna hate me, but I think we can cut from the middle of page 8 until… the top of page 13.” Then I’ll look at the cut and say, “I think we still need this moment in the middle of 10 and also this bit at the bottom of 11, top of 12.” and together we find what the script needs. Sometimes we don’t find it, but we can usually agree on what’s wrong and that we’ll need to find a way to fix it later. We’re both about serving the story. He listens. He expresses his opinions and vision with great clarity. He’s one of the most allergic-to-bullshit people I’ve ever met in both art and life. We don’t have to agree and that’s fine. But we always manage to hear each other out and work towards what’s best for the play. That’s been especially challenging in the best of ways with Composure because it’s changed so much and, frankly, needed to. He’s guided me through lots of trial and error and exploration. He’s been a joy.
What do you hope will be realized with this piece? I’m looking forward to seeing it on its feet and finding out how it resonates with audiences now that I’m not rewriting constantly. We got a really good response from the 3Day reading and now that we have a grounded story, we need to see how it plays and determine what to do next. That said, I hope the audiences find the humor and romance in all the serious goings-on and tsuris. I think they’ll know people like the ones in the play or realize they ARE those people.