I needed that scratch to awaken me. -Zorro, 1940
The greatest influence on my becoming a playwright is the person who told me I had to face the fact that I wasn’t a writer.
We had co-written a full-length work as a team and had just come back from an out-of-state staged-reading of the piece. At the staged reading I saw a scene performed that I had never seen on the page. No one had consulted me about it, no one had told me it would replace one of my scenes. I addressed the issue upon our return. That’s when my writing partner told me that I had to face the fact that I wasn’t writer. What-the-what? Oh.
I set out that summer to see if it was true. Could I write plays?
I read every book about playwriting that I could lay my hands on; attended every staged reading that summer at the O’Neill Theater Center (the place where I worked); lurked around the playwrights table at lunch time; went to every lecture given; and bought more than a few drinks for playwrights and directors in order to sit in their company well into the night. Gathering my courage, I asked the new director of the National Theater Institute if I could take their playwriting course, although I had no money for tuition. He granted me a space and waived the fee.
The classes were held on Sundays throughout the fall semester. Three hours of reading each week’s assignment and learning to discuss the plays. Before the first several sessions I would become physically ill. I learned not eat before the class. You see, I was going to find out once and for all if I could write plays. I wanted to write for theater, but I didn’t want to be a purveyor of schlock.
I consider that fall, the fall of ’98, the time when I became a determined playwright.
A friend of mine who is also a writer has heard me tell this story, and he tells me about watching Zorro with Tyrone Power, how Zorro receives a scratch from the sword of the villain, and Zorro’s response, “I needed that scratch to awaken me.”
I got scratched. I woke up. Now I write like mad. Z.