“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie. Except for that line. I hate that line. Because I always wanted to go places, see things, stretch out far and wide beyond the boundaries of the life I knew. And I thought this was telling me, it wasn’t worth it.
As a writer, part of my job is to go places and see things and be someone I’m not. But when I do, I usually start by digging in my own backyard: my family and friends. Their lives are fodder for my plays.
When I was telling a colleague a story about talking a very empathetic Fed Ex employee into telling me who shipped a package to someone else – I was trying to help a friend find his sister who was missing under bizarre circumstances – the colleague, who had always enjoyed my stories up until then, said with an exasperated sigh, “Now you’re just making things up.” I wasn’t.
I wasn’t making things up when – at private viewing before my grandfather’s funeral – my brother untucked my grandfather’s feet to check out what socks he was wearing. And we were shushed by the funeral director for making too much noise – laughing.
I wasn’t making things up when a friend told me she wouldn’t check into a hotel without inspecting her potential room for cleanliness first and even then wouldn’t take her socks off. And she would sleep covered head to toe – including wearing the hood up on her sweatshirt.
And I wasn’t making things up when my sister married a man 26 years younger than herself. In Las Vegas. On the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. In full costume. On April Fool’s Day.
The last one is the only one that hasn’t found its way on stage. Yet.
A playwright friend put it, “It’s no wonder you write comedies. Between your family and friends, you live in what your dad might call a target-rich environment . . .”
My dad was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps.
And if I don’t steal their lives for my stories, I make my family and friends inhabit my plays. The neurotic mother. (Not mine, I swear.) The goofy brother. (Yes, him I gotta claim.) And the non-stop chatterbox who babbles incessantly in a stream-of-consciousness way. I take their quirks and foibles and push them to the extreme. I watch the way they interact with others. I listen to the way they talk. I actually have a file of things they have said.
In fact at any gathering where folks start telling stories, I issue a disclaimer. (Some might call it a warning.) “Anything you say can and might be used in play.” Maybe this is why – when I announce I’m working on a new play – everyone takes two steps back and, with terror leaking from behind their eyes, asks with trepidation, “What’s it about?”
To be fair, not all of my plays come from family and friends. I did base a play on one of those cool-but-in-no-way-true emails that clog your inbox. (It’s a farce.) And my latest came from a newspaper article I read 10 years ago. But mainly, I write about the things I find in my own backyard.
My only drama is about six wives of Marine fighter pilots. Once an audience member asked how long it took me to do the research. I replied, “A couple of weeks or 18 years. It all depends on how you look at it.”
My husband will tell you my plays are funny only because I surround myself with funny people who do funny things and make funnier statements. He should know. Without a computer in front of me, he’s way funnier than I am. So I keep oneliners.doc in the same folder as playideas.doc. Here’s an example. Two friends at one of those make-up parties with wine involved.
“I’m 40, and I finally got boobs. I’m not breastfeeding. I’m not dating anyone. I don’t own any low-cut tops. What’s the point?”
“Morale, honey, morale.”
With friends like these, there’s no need to worry about the old adage, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Because my backyard is pretty much as lush as the Amazon rainforest.