Finding some direction

Just a boy and his moose

My high school piano teacher would often become exasperated with me, and not just for the usual reasons that go along with being an exasperating teenage smart ass (me, not my piano teacher). She would become exasperated when I couldn’t do some piano-related thing or another because I had play practice. Or band practice. Or choir practice. Or any number of practices that didn’t involve sports.

“Jack of all trades, master of none,” she would scold.

It was like she was looking into a crystal ball.

They say you need to practice something 10,000 hours to become great at it. Me, I’ve more likely practiced 10 things for 1000 hours, the result being that I’m really, really okay at a number of them. Once again, though, none of these involve sports.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a play. “I can do that,” I said to myself. “It’s just dialogue without the boring parts.” I’d seen plays, acted in plays, been asked to come out and play, so how hard could it be? Besides, I’ve been writing for a long time – easily over 1000 hours – so I felt confident I would at least be really, really okay at it.

Let me tell you what the play is about.

(I’ve also worked over 1000 hours in public relations, so I’m really, really okay at slipping shameless self-promotion into what should otherwise be a thoughtful personal essay. Watch this:)

The play is called All Together Now and it’s built around a local myth that the former Beatles almost met at the Haskell Free Library, which sits directly here on the Quebec-Vermont border. But there are no Beatles in this play! I want to make that clear. I may be in public relations but I don’t want to lie to you. Much. Don’t come expecting Beatles. Remember: they almost met.

Instead, the play uses real-life and imaginary people and events to explain how the meeting might have been arranged and why it was possibly cancelled. Among the real events referenced is Mac’s Party, a music festival that took place in Holland, Vt over Labour Day weekend, 1973. Enter a mysterious stranger and a lost couple from Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the Mitchell Corn Palace. Pandemonium and (hopefully) laughs ensue.

I had great fun writing what is ultimately a story about life on the border, and I was happy when Borderline Players agreed to put it on its program this season.

(Full disclosure: I’m on the Borderline board, so running a theatre company is another thing I expect to get really, really okay at in about another 300 hours. So far, I’m pretty good at picking what plays to put on.)

I also decided I would direct my own play. I’d seen plays directed, been directed, used medications as directed, so how hard could it be?

Turns out it’s a lot different than I expected. Not hard necessarily but certainly different artistically than anything I’ve done before.

Writing is done in isolation. I create it alone, I put it out there and hope it gets a response. Sometimes people leave comments, other times I’ve had the pleasure of reading out loud and getting people’s reactions on the spot. But generally it’s me alone and in control.

Even acting, to a lesser degree, is an individual process. There’s the script and the direction, the other actors, yes, but you have a specific job to do – your lines, your movements, your screwups. You focus on your job.

Directing a play, on the other hand, begins in isolation – how do I want this scene to unfold – and I convey that vision to the players. But then something wonderful happens. That vision becomes shaded by the actors’ interpretation, the way they deliver their lines, their body language. They add ideas to mine, things I didn’t even think of. I lose control, but in a good way. A play, ultimately, becomes a collaboration, with the audience and their unpredictable reactions becoming the final ingredient.

See what I did there? I set this whole piece up to I invite you, the audience, to come see our show. That’s some okay writing right there and even okayer public relations. And, just like that, I’ve practiced another hour. Nine thousand more and I’m going to be great! My piano teacher would be so proud.

All Together Now runs May 10-12 and 17-19, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 adults, $12 seniors and students and are available now online through https://borderlineplayers.org (US$), at the Colby-Curtis Museum in Stanstead or contact borderlineplayers@outlook.com. 

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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26 Responses to Finding some direction

  1. Too far from Texas for me to attend, but I wish you much luck! This sounds like an awesome concept!

  2. , would love to attend, a 1,000 mile Uber ride from here, break a leg, I’m sure there’ll be a thousand tickled ivories on display in the audience.

  3. ksbeth says:

    I’m sure it will be wonderful and break a leg –

  4. pinklightsabre says:

    That took you an hour? Wow.

  5. Trent Lewin says:

    I would so be up for this, just am so far away. But to support you Ross, and to see what you’ve come up with in this your directorial debut, I wish you all the very very best. You are awesome just for having gone down this route.

    • Exactly. Many talk the big talk. Ross delivers the goods.

      • rossmurray1 says:

        I’m not trying to downplay it, but it’s circumstances as well: a regional community theatre that needs to put on plays and I just happen to be on that board. I had a conversation with a colleague about “success,” the other day, and it’s really about scale. That said, you still have to do the work. Speaking of scale, Mark, did you know
        Trent is long-listed for a national CBC writing prize? Now that’s impressive.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Thanks, Trent. I’m quite proud of it. And terrified. No one wants to die on the border.

  6. So help me, if it were feasible I’d drive up there and see it. I totally would! And I wouldn’t even request a comp. I’d pay full price. US or Canadian.

  7. List of X says:

    I know you’re supposed to say “break your leg” to and actor, but I have no idea what to say to a playwright/director – “bump your head”? “Poke your eye out”? “Get deported”?
    See, I probably spent close to 10,000 hours trying to write jokes, and that’s how I know that this “it takes 10,000 hours to be great something” is bunk.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Indeed. Although I just did a quick calculation: I’ve done one of these a week for 15 years, let’s say at most 3 hours of writing time, that’s only 2340 hours. That explains everything.

  8. ha loved this a well balanced with good wit as well, if i wasn’t in the UK i would 100% come to see it. also loved the fact that you set it all up and then it end up being an advert 🙂

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