Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More
Here at Eclectic Voices, we are just as interested in the behind-the-scenes madness of creative minds as we are in the final product. So, we decided to offer you some juicy interviews with movers and shakers in the creative worlds of literature, theatre and film. This issue features our one and only Eclectic Voices Writer Taylor Ashbrook. Enjoy!
Eclectic Voices: So, how’d you get involved in Eclectic Voices?
Taylor Ashbrook: I’ve been a Member of The Eclectic Company Theatre most of the last 25 years. Over that time, I thought often about how we needed a writing group. But I knew I wouldn’t be the right person to try to start or lead such a group. When Chelsea decided to start one, I cheered and joined up immediately. I struggle to write pieces of my own, being much better disciplined when writing projects with partners. Although I continue to struggle, Eclectic Voices helps enormously. I’m always inspired by the work of everyone in the group and truly appreciate the ongoing support and encouragement I receive for my own work.
EV: What are you working on right now?
TA: Working on a monologue (maybe more than one) for an upcoming show and continuing to work on a full length play I started actually writing in 2013. I’m calling it NOVENA at this point. It’s a very dark piece that is stuck in my head. Even if I ultimately decide I don’t ever want to see anyone perform it, I have to finish writing it to get it out of the way. Basically the story of a 50-something woman trying to find a way to move on after making a horrible mistake that dismantled her life and her family many years before. Wow. I really don’t know how to describe this piece, obviously.
EV: What was your inspiration for your current project?
TA: Several years ago I directed PROOF by David Auburn. After the production was over, I found myself thinking about the structure of the play, how Auburn organized the scenes, used flashbacks, etc. I thought it might be interesting to try to write a play using a similar structure, and I started tinkering with ideas until one stuck. I’ve spent literally years thinking about it, playing with outlines for possible scene structure, rethinking and reorganizing various plot points. I finally realized I needed to actually write the play down so my brain will allow myself to move on to other “bigger” writing projects. Still slow-going, but I’m going to finish at least a first draft this year. I swear.
EV: What is the most exciting thing about writing and/or theater?
TA: The most exciting thing about writing, for me, is the mystery of where the ideas and words come from. I took a relatively easy summer writing class at UCLA once. The first class session we were presented with three pictures, told to pick one, and given thirty minutes to write something inspired by the chosen picture. Then we were asked to read what we’d written aloud. I was fascinated by the diverse stories. There were absolutely NO similarities from one story to the next, even when based on the exact same picture. How does that magic happen?!? Where does the magic come from?
That and I’ve always been an avid reader, so I am fond of words, generally. And stories. A good book can change a person, you know?
Same for theater. I’m born and bred a theater-geek (seriously: my parents met in a play). The magic of a variety of creative, artistic mediums pulling together to take an audience on a journey… Hell, a person – even the world can be changed by a great play. And I’m not saying it has to be expensively produced, although I’m a fan of using all the theater arts when it serves the play. An actor speaking beautiful words, no “magic” around them otherwise, can be very powerful. Great theater can be presented in a “black box” if it serves the story or is used creatively.
I’ve forgotten many things over the years (Dying brain cells? Too many parties? Information overload?), but books and plays (productions, not just scripts, I must admit) that touched me, moved me, impacted me, inspired me, educated me… that blew my mind and expanded my horizons… Those are treasured memories that will never fade.
(Sorry, a digression: that phrase, “blew my mind” is distracting my adolescent brain. I’ve always associated the phrase with a big shock/surprise, that sort of thing. Just now, writing this, I thought what it could mean with a sexual connotation… Hmmm. That would be something. Okay, pulling my brain back out of the gutter now.)
EV: What is the most terrifying thing about writing and/or theater?
TA: I suppose it’s that you have to put it out there to be judged. I mean, you want to share it, and you hope it moves the audience/reader in some way (maybe even have hope that it will move folks in a dramatic way – whether via humor or horror), but I think what’s terrifying is that there is a critical audience out there looking to judge every aspect of the work. With theater, of course, no one person can really control every aspect of the production (even a one-person show performed by the person who wrote it most likely has at least a director collaborating).
As for writing, you can end up judged more individually, although much of my experience writing for theater has been in collaboration.
I struggle so much with actually getting myself to put words on paper – especially if I don’t have a partner. And yet I very much want to finish a long form piece all my very own. (Okay, honestly, I have no problem spewing words out – just a hard time for creative writing projects…)
And, digging deeper, I suppose some of the terror comes from what you reveal about yourself, or what the audience/reader will think you are revealing about yourself. You have to be very brave to not edit the harder truths. I guess that’s part of my difficulty with the play I’m working on: the main character is described as a woman I could be, so I feel embarrassed to a certain extent about the dark, sad, sexual, and perverse places she goes. I’ve often laughed over what people have interpreted from my writing – my almost-husband, Biff, (we’ve been living together over 30 years) often sees himself in characters I’ve written, especially if I’ve “used” anything that he inspired. I’ll explain and explain how I just used that character trait or experience from real life, but none of the story is real! Then I’ll find myself touched by a love story written by someone who never expresses a softer side in person and find my entire perspective on the writer has changed – I find myself trying to figure out what’s based on something real and what isn’t.
All art reveals, somehow, even when it’s not true. And the artist needs to go ahead and let it out. Because what is revealed is completely open to interpretation. You can’t control what is received. And you have to push through the fear of what anyone else might think, even those you love. Because it’s the hard stuff, the edgy stuff that’s most interesting. Right?
My mother had a long-term boyfriend who was a wonderful writer. Beautiful use of language, interesting stories and characters. Great stuff. But he had decided he wouldn’t even try to publish until all family members who might “see themselves” in his novel were dead. As far as I know, he still hasn’t even submitted it. Which is sad: I never got to read the whole thing, since they broke up before he was finished!
EV: Who are some of your writer heroes?
TA: IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER: Stephen King (fan forever and enjoying his newer stuff a lot – love that he’s so prolific, although there was a period when I thought I might be over him – not so! And love his book On Writing), Barbara Kingsolver (exceptional writer, always shocked when people haven’t heard of her let alone read her – READ HER!!!), Jeff Folschinsky (my dear friend who writes and writes and writes and with an imagination unique and hilarious), Chelsea Sutton (I’ve been saying for several years now that I want to be her when I grow up – and I’m twice as old as she is! Keep your eyes and ears open: her work is worth seeking out!), Tracy Letts (favorite quote, from a Tony acceptance speech: “We say it to their faces!”), Tom Stoppard (favorite quote: “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”), Kim Stanley Robinson (check out the Mars Trilogy – epic and fascinating, and sci-fi is not my usual thing), Peter Shaffer (Equus was a mind-blowing theater experience for me the first time I saw it at 16), Stephen Sondheim (okay, yes, I’m talking lyrics here, but they are exceptional words, you know?), Chuck Wendig (inspiring blog, great voice, finally reading my first book of his and LOVING it – “Art harder, motherfucker!”), Laura Lee Bahr (unique and fascinating and inspiring and such a talent – read Haunt: mind-bending!!!). Okay, that’s some of my writer heroes…
EV: What or who inspires you to write?
TA: Mostly my theater friends are “who”. I suppose the “what” is my desire to write something I’m proud of, without reservation, someday (fat chance?). I tend to get sidetracked with theater a lot (not to mention life, day jobs especially) – I do love to direct and act sometimes, and I struggle too much with actually getting my “creative” writing down on the page. Eclectic Voices is a great help, providing some deadlines and helping me establish goals. And encouraging me, giving me an outlet to share my writing in a warm, generous, supportive environment. And the ongoing work of the rest of the group inspires me so much, always impressing me and nudging me to keep trying. I’m also inspired by all writing I like: a good book, a good movie, a good TV show, a good poem – heck, a great bumper sticker can inspire me.
EV: What advice do you have for other writers just starting out?
TA: I strongly urge you to create a daily, or at least regular, creative writing practice. I mean, I mostly write every day, but a lot of it is emails and business writing – which sometimes I use as an excuse not to spend some time writing creatively. Separate from journaling even, unless your journal is more about creative writing than personal recording and such. I finally understand that you need to write, write, write – and then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I think those who can get themselves writing something creatively on a daily, or at least regular, basis have a better chance of developing their writing, finishing projects, and ultimately getting published and/or produced. In other words, writers write!
I also recommend reading a lot. But I have a horrible tendency to spend more time reading about writing than actually writing – so beware of that pitfall. And I strongly recommend finding a writer support system – a group of other writers you can share with and support each other. Helps you believe you can do it when you actually know people who are doing it.
Mostly, though, just keep trying as long as it feeds your joy in life – even when it sucks. I do believe there is more pain related to giving up than there is related to failing. Of course, whether you try or not is one of the few things you can actually control.
EV: If you could change one thing about theater or the writing world, what would it be?
TA: The money thing. I wish it was easier to be paid for work done in theater and writing. Of course, I’m talking about creative writing. I don’t want to make my living as a writer so much that I’m willing to freelance for minimal income writing faux blog entries about brands or products, you know? Believe me, writing is a large part of my non-creative day job, but it doesn’t feed the creative beast howling inside me. Hungry and frustrated and twisted and so often discouraged, my poor little beastie.
Perhaps a more legitimate way to put it would be that I wish it wasn’t so hard to get paid for the work I want to do. One of the difficulties I had when I tried to pursue my childhood dream of being a professional actor: I loved the actual work of acting, but I hated the largest part of the job: getting the job. Auditioning and constantly working on finding and then getting the next project. Yuck. I love theater enough, it’s such an important part of my life – my hobby, my passion, my club, my church – that I’ve kept it in my life in some form at almost all times over the course of my years on this planet, but I’ve made very few dollars doing it.
AND, I wish women were better represented, in general, especially in playwriting and other forms of entertainment. I was born in the 60’s and thought my mother’s generation had helped to create true equality for women in our society. Well, I thought that until I got out into the real world and discovered that sexism is still rampant, even if better disguised than at other times in human history. Sometimes it’s very subtle and hard to recognize. It can be exhausting to keep clear enough to see it. And I know I’ve been too lazy in my life to try to break down barriers and open doors for women coming behind me. Honestly, I’ve only recently realized I should have been fighting to do that all along. I wonder if that falls into the category of “new age guilt?”
TA: Hmmmm… Well, why not? Here’s a link to a blog I started several years ago. Only two somewhat lengthy entries so far, but I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to get back on it: taylorcelebrates.blogspot.com
Otherwise, may your muse French kiss you for hours and hours. Dream big. And keep trying.
More info about Taylor:
Taylor Ashbrook’s current favorite quote about writing: “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” By one of her favorite playwrights, Tom Stoppard. A born and bred “Theater Geek,” Taylor aspires to write more than she actually manages to put words down on paper. Having written mostly with partners for live theater projects, she hopes to someday write a novel she would enjoy reading. Currently, she’s working on a dark, full length play – sans partners – just to get it out of her head. Except she takes a lot of breaks to direct, act and produce. Taylor has been a Member of The Eclectic Company Theatre, except for a couple brief years, since 1990.