I wrote three musicals during and just after my undergraduate years at James Madison University. ("Shoptalk," "Waiting," "All's Fair." I took some Shakespeare and a playwriting class, and my theatre friends offered to direct my shows. It was great, and it was painful. It turns out writing a play and letting someone else put it on stage is about as naked and vulnerable as I can handle, and at age 20 it was a whole lot more than I could handle.
I wrote musicals because I was clueless about writing actual drama. My first play, "Shoptalk," was basically a situation comedy populated by my very fun and funny theatre friends. It was well liked because no one expected it to be any good at all. I learned so much, and we all stayed friends and had a blast. I can't say the same for the rest of my plays.
The thing that stuck with me was this. At the post-mortem evaluation thingie they used to do, one of my professors intoned: "Sarah Motes needs to write a play where there are two people in a room that they cannot get out of." (Professor Tom King, James Madison University, 1983). I kinda thought he was right but it sounded impossible. But Tom's challenge has reverberated down the years, and I started writing in 2021 on that theme.
I have now written a two-act play ("Tape") that is approaching "full length" (probably 90-100 minutes with intermission) and a small pile of one-acts on this "stuck in a room" theme. I took a class at Chicago Dramatists' in playwriting and wrote my ass off and learned how to be kinder to myself in how I show my work to others and how to let myself just run around in the ideas and see where we end up. Nina Morrison is an incredible teacher and my classmates were fabulous, smart, wildly creative and fun people.
I'm actively, sort of, almost about to start sending "Tape" out for workshopping, and looking to have a living room reading or two of it, and taking another class with The Playwright's Center in Minneapolis.
I kinda think I was born to write musicals. I kinda think I need to not write musicals for a while yet. I kinda love just writing a play. I feel like writing musicals when I was 19 was like letting my dad do half my math homework -- got the job done but I didn't learn much. It's been a creative tornado of fast writing and fast learning and remembering and ... resurfacing.