BLOG POST #5 My Mentor, Mark Graham

I joined The Theatre Artists Workshop of Westport in 2009, after having written Draft One of my  first full-length play about Shakespeare.  I submitted this draft as part of my application for admission to The Theatre Artists Workshop, a group of dedicated professional actors, directors, and  writers banded together to practice their crafts.  I had been writing short plays for years,  many of which were done as readings throughout the state.  But this was my first serious full-length play, and I sensed I was in over my head.  Four playwrights who already belonged to TAW read my draft and agreed that it, and I, had promise.  I was sponsored by Jo Anne Parady, a longtime member of TAW and also my friend. And so I was admitted. 

For months I attended meetings and watched how things were done, and who was acting in what; also who was directing what.  Because I knew I needed a director who would "get" my work and be willing to work with me.   I came to believe that Mark Graham would be just the person,  if he had the time, if he had the interest.  But he seemed so busy, I wondered if I was crazy to think that he might consider my work worth so much of his "spare" time.  He  already did so much, not only in the theater, but FOR the theater. And then there was the matter of his day job.  But, I figured, nothing ventured, etc.  So, I handed him my (mammoth) script and asked him if he would take a look at it.  To give him credit, though his eyebrows went up over his glasses at the weight of the thing, he took it graciously, and said he'd need a few weeks before he could get back to me. 

When he  ran into me again he said, "You realize, you have written a monster."  I was gob-smacked. Of course, the play, in its original form, did attempt to tell the entire story of Shakespeare's life.  What did he have in mind?  He said, "If you're willing to work on this, if you're willing to cut, I might be able to help you."  Since then, we have gone through many drafts of this play, many phone calls, many meetings at Penny's Diner, eating rice pudding and drinking tea to justify all the time we stayed at a table, with yellow pads and scripts all over it. We focused the play, renamed it, had public readings, and listened to the audience's critiques.

And I listened to Mark Graham, and continue to listen to him, because he knows just what I need to know.  He learned years ago what he's helped me to learn, in order to shape and polish "Shakespeare Rising" as well as "Judith Shakespeare Has Her Say."  We plan to continue work on the third play of the trilogy.  (And then, I have an idea for a collateral play.  But, one play at a time.) He has generously said to me:  "I couldn't write this play; I couldn't write a line of it."  But he SEES the play.  Even before I've taken it in a fruitful direction, he sees where it should go.  Even when we disagree, our discussion leads to a new and good outcome.  So I can honestly say I have found in him a remarkable creative partner.