SCRIPT FEEDBACK & CAREER COACHING SERVICES
Donna Hoke offers page-by-page script analysis and career coaching for a reasonable fee. If interested, please inquire at donna@donnahoke.com.

EPISODE 1: FINDING NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, A Play In Process

March 25th, 2020 donnahoke


Like much of the world I’m shut in. I’m on day 16, my birthday being the last day I did anything normal like go out to dinner (and even then obsessively washing hands).

 

Image may contain: cat, possible text that says 'STAYING HOME SAVING LIVES'

 

Like much of the theater world, I’ve lost opportunities. To date, I’ve said goodbye (hopefully only temporarily but when things change, they often change for good) to two residences; two to four full-length world premieres; at least three ten-minute productions; and a conference. I’m grieving these losses, but more the loss of momentum that I will likely never get back. I know I’m not alone in this; we’re all worried what theater looks like at the end of this road. What in our bodies of work will still be relevant? Will those theaters be willing to take a chance on new work? Can we start over?

 

Image result for coronavirus theater canceled

 

Most of all, like much my playwright community, I’m struggling with what to write, how to write, if I can write. For the first two weeks, I couldn’t concentrate on any work—forget about writing—for more than a few minutes at a time. I dismissed the idea of writing on demand for any of the coronavirus-specific opps that popped up almost immediately; even in the best of times, I don’t write quickly and or do well with prompts.

 

But now… it’s been two weeks. My other work is caught up. I’d been prepping to move so my house is already cleaned out (and with pick-up services suspended, my garage is full of boxes ready to go). I don’t feel like I have enough time for daily museum tours but I am getting the itch to do… something. Like write.

 

Image result for writing motivation quotes

But what?

A lot of people have been saying they’re having trouble with new ideas right now, so they’re doing a lot of rewriting and editing. I get that, and I have a couple projects due for revision. And I also don’t have any new ideas leaping into my brain right now, but I do have four full-length plays that were in process when the world ground to a halt.

 

One of them is, I kid you not, about a family trapped in a house because of a rampant and fatal virus. I’m shelving that one permanently. Not only will it no longer seem remotely like an imagination (so much of it is already eerily true), but I don’t think anybody will ever want to see it anymore than we really want to watch plays about 9/11 except in the most tangential of ways.

The second is about population control, also not the best choice right now, though I don’t discount it for the future, especially if our current administration doesn’t change. The third is a dark comedy that also doesn’t quite feel right in this time. And the fourth, FINDING NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, is a straight-up comedy that probably can’t in any way be interpreted as a response to this crisis. That appeals to me because I’m not ready to be writing in response.  And because I’m hoping that when this is over, comedy plays will see their day as people, finally feeling safe enough to go out and spend money on something not necessary for survival, seek relief and laughter. And Neil Patrick Harris.

 

 

FINDING NEIL PATRICK HARRIS is in the early goings. What I do know is that I’m writing it for three friends as a lark, but also as—I hope—a viable comedy that maybe someday finds a home. The premise is that two women embark on a mission for a friend, which will become clear soon enough because I sort of know how the first scene needs to go.

 

Beyond that, I haven’t figured it out. What I’m going to do in this blog over the next few weeks, months, whatever it is, is–for better or worse–write this play. Some days you’ll get some dialogue, some days a monologue, some days just some thoughts/questions that I need to ponder. I’ll basically be sharing my process—at least for this particular play—which might be interesting and might invite some conversation in a different way than writing lessons and general rules do.

 

So to that perennial talkback question: where did you get the idea for this play? Answer: from Anthony Chase,  Buffalo’s foremost theater critic, who has a favorite joke about a certain wish. The joke wasn’t a play at that point; it was just funny. But later, two comedic actresses I adore said they wanted me to write a play for the two of them. The idea of marrying that joke with these two women seemed ideal. But how?

 

I felt the two women needed to know each other as well as the man but not in a way that made them feel obligated or in a way that made their objective obvious. Because of an exercise I did at Kenyon Playwrights Conference a couple of years ago, I decided to have them all meet in a nail salon. With that, I started the first scene not sure where it would lead other than establishing the premise. (I promise if you read this play in the voices of Anthony Chase, Charmagne Chi, and Caitlin Coleman, it is infinitely funnier.)


As always, I essentially know how the play ends, but don’t have the details worked out. I won’t share that part because I don’t want to ruin the surprise if you somehow stick with me through this whole thing. Maybe you won’t because this is going to end with a first draft and first drafts often suck. I hope you do. I hope we can chat with each other as we go. Especially if you know comedy; it might be hard to find the funny right now.

Beginning scene one:

FINDING NEIL PATRICK HARRIS

By Donna Hoke

 

A NAIL SALON.

 

CHA-CHA is giving a pedicure to TONIO, and KATIE is doing other spa chores, like cleaning basins or organizing. KATIE wears a mask, which she slides off her mouth every time she speaks, except when she forgets.

 

KATIE: So Lily goes to school with the jacket, and she’s super excited because who wouldn’t be excited about a purple suede jacket with fringy sleeves and turquoise beads going up and down each arm?

 

TONIO: Anybody from this decade.

 

KATIE: And this Alicia girl comes up to her and says “You stole my jacket.”

 

CHA-CHA (to Tonio): You sure this is the color you want? Midnight in a Bathhouse?

 

KATIE: It’s Midnight in Babylon.

 

CHA-CHA: Is that supposed to be something to aspire to? How about Orgasm on the Riviera?

 

TONIO: You’re hired!

 

KATIE: You have a one-track mind. So my Lily says, “I did not steal this jacket.”

 

TONIO: I’ve heard snappier comebacks.

 

KATIE: I taught her to stand up for herself.

 

TONIO: Teach her to be funny. She’ll win a lot more friends.

 

CHA-CHA: I better get a tip as big as these callouses. You’re a freakin’ crustacean.

 

TONIO: Bad genetics.

 

CHA-CHA: I’ll still take you over one of those entitlement parties any day of the week.

 

KATIE: There’s one coming at four. Ten bridesmaids. So the Alicia girl started trying to physically remove the jacket! And Lily didn’t say anything else because what could she say?

 

TONIO: “We obviously share the same exquisite taste.”

 

CHA-CHA: But would there really be two purple suede fringy jackets with turquoise beads on the sleeves/

 

KATIE: So she punched her.

 

CHA-CHA: Foolproof comeback.

 

KATIE: I can thank her no-good father for that! She got called down to the principal’s office!

 

TONIO: Would you like me to be a character witness?

 

KATIE: And she wouldn’t tell them where she got the jacket, so they suspended her for three days/

 

TONIO: /A felon! You must be so proud/

 

KATIE: /all because she wouldn’t just say “My mother bought it for me at a thrift store.”

 

CHA-CHA: Oh.

 

KATIE: Oh?

 

CHA-CHA: Well maybe that’s fucking embarrassing for her to say.

 

KATIE: Maybe his tub full of dead skin is cleaner than your mouth/

 

TONIO: /You can leave me out of this/

 

CHA-CHA: /Maybe I just need a new fucking job.

 

KATIE: Maybe you do.

 

CHA-CHA: I’m not gonna die in this place.

 

KATIE: Then stop inhaling the gels.

 

CHA-CHA holds a bottle under Katie’s nose. KATIE quickly puts her mask back.

 

TONIO: If you die here, I’ll make sure Katie sweeps you up with the nail clippings.

 

KATIE: And throw you out back.

 

CHA-CHA: New color. Dusk at the Dumpster.

 

TONIO: Would that be kind of a reddish pink with brown undertones?

 

KATIE: No pink, shit brown. I’ll make sure of it.

 

TONIO: I want to be cremated.

 

CHA-CHA: I can’t do your toes if you’re ashes.

 

KATIE: And don’t you want that awesome dead person makeup?

 

CHA-CHA: If you think that makeup is awesome, that explains a lot about your… look.

 

KATIE: It’s peaceful!

 

CHA-CHA: It’s vampiric.

 

TONIO: They suck out your blood. It’s unnatural. Send me to the incinerator, melt me down, then take my ashes and fling them at Neil Patrick Harris.

 

If you made it this far, thoughts? Are characters distinct? Did you laugh even once?

Stay tuned for more… And until I get a subscription thing set up (it’s a much more complicated process than I thought!), please follow me on Twitter (@donnahoke) or Facebook (Donna Hoke, Playwright), or just send me your email and I’ll send you a note when I post a new entry.

 

(don’t forget to check out my new website by clicking on the home page!)

–Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.

–Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.

–To read #PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York) interviews, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.

–To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.

–For more #AHAinTheater posts, click here or the category listing at upper right.



15 Comments on “EPISODE 1: FINDING NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, A Play In Process”

  1. 1 Caitlin Coleman said at 5:27 pm on March 25th, 2020:

    Can’t wait to read more! Thank you for posting!

  2. 2 Josie said at 6:04 pm on March 25th, 2020:

    Yes, I think the characters are already defined, and yes I laughed more than once (chuckled internally a few times – nice banter among them – and then out load at “Fuck Me In A Dumpster.” I want that color. Brill of course.

  3. 3 Brigid Amos said at 6:13 pm on March 25th, 2020:

    I like the jacket. I’m guessing it was stolen and ended up in a garage sale? That’s a funny set up. The names of the nail colors really took me out of the play. The dumpster one made me think of a rape/murder victim dumped in a dumpster. Probably not what you meant, but it’s pretty jarring. The playing with the nail polish names is clever and could be really funny, but you don’t want people to hate these characters in the first scene and think they are racists or flippant about rape. A nail salon is a great setting by the way. Not sure that’s been done before.

  4. 4 Emma Goldman-Sherman said at 12:52 am on March 26th, 2020:

    I have to agree with Brigid. I thought the jacket was stolen from the girl (or her parent told her it was stolen and sold it) and I loved that because it seemed to me that Katie hadn’t realized yet that she is implicated in her kid’s drama. That seemed interesting to me, the blindness of the parent. The dumpster nailcolor comment was rapey, and that’s fine if that’s what you want. And I don’t know who NPH is but I know he’s a famous gay guy mentioned in Breeders by Dan Giles – I dramaturged it at GPTC. (I get my pop culture from theatre.)

  5. 5 Lynn Mes said at 8:31 am on March 26th, 2020:

    I’m enjoying it! Glad you found this outlet to entertain all of us. You know I like to read the endings though. The banter was fun to read.

  6. 6 Mel said at 3:09 pm on March 27th, 2020:

    Great start! Dusk at the Dumpster made me chuckle. Keep it. It’s funny.

    I can already see exactly who these characters are, and I’m looking forward to reading more as you progress.

  7. 7 Kara Krantz said at 12:08 pm on April 4th, 2020:

    I definitely laughed a couple times – I’m loving the movement, and how solid each character is – especially the dynamic between Cha-Cha & Katie. I love that sort of unexpected connection and repartee.

    And as far as your losses …”two to four full-length world premieres; at least three ten-minute productions; and a conference. I’m grieving these losses, but more the loss of momentum that I will likely never get back.”!!
    First of all, sincere congratulations on all those wonderfully hard-earned opportunities. And secondly, I hear what you’re saying about momentum but there’s the chance that people will happily pick up where they left off with the wonderful relationships they were cultivating with people such as yourself.

    We got this! And I look forward to seeing how this play develops. I hope I have similar energy and momentum in my writing soon, too! I’m still in acclimation/adjustment and just-breathing-and-being mode.

  8. 8 donnahoke said at 12:12 pm on April 4th, 2020:

    Thank you Kara!! I hope you’re right xo

  9. 9 Nick said at 4:18 pm on April 11th, 2020:

    Your dialogue is terrific. Cha and Tonio are not distinct yet. Katie is. The thrift store revelation is well done. Gives a whole life and relationship. I realize this is early, but I have no idea who is driving the limo here and what they want and why we should care. But you got 8 pages to bring it.

  10. 10 Donna Hok said at 4:48 pm on April 11th, 2020:

    Thanks, Nick! I’ll look to see how you feel it’s going by the end of scene 2, which is as far as I’ve posted to date. Thank you again!

  11. 11 Rob Nagle said at 3:54 pm on May 2nd, 2020:

    I have yet to NOT love everything you do. So, yes please… I’d like some more.

  12. 12 donnahoke said at 4:58 pm on May 2nd, 2020:

    You’re the best! Let’s see if you feel that way as it continues on (currently done with eight episodes). It’s going to get bad at some point, but I’m literally putting my first ugly draft out there for the world to see. It feels like something real lol.

  13. 13 Lynda Crawford said at 2:37 pm on May 9th, 2020:

    Very funny. Characters definitely distinct, even as I was orienting myself to just the names. Will continue reading.

  14. 14 donnahoke said at 2:40 pm on May 9th, 2020:

    Thanks, Lynda!

  15. 15 Chris Braun said at 10:54 am on September 24th, 2020:

    I should have read this earlier. I love how it takes off from the get go. Characters are distinct & the dialogue is real & fun. The dumpster reference was taken as a great metaphor nothing sinister. I will continue this voyeuristic journey into a great writer’s mind. (About your losses from Covid…the cream always rises. You are a rising star Donna.)


Leave a Reply