Auditions are officially one week away for the Southern Hills Community Theater production of “I Sent My Grandma Into The Past (And Other Chronological Conundrums)” or, put simply, “I Sent Grandma” or “ISG,” as I’ll refer to it in the future. Although that wasn’t the first title it went by anyway, (that was “The Grandmother Paradox”) but I’m getting ahead of myself.
After premieres and performances, I (like millions of writers before me) have inevitably been asked (either immediately after the show or at a gas station somewhere a few days later) how I come up with the ideas for the shows, or how I write them. I’m not not sure of any more blunt way to put it other than to just say that I make it up. Literally. That’s how simple it is.
Well, it really isn’t. You do have to understand a lot of things going on under the hood – narrative structure, character, and in the case of theater, the technical elements of what’s possible on a stage in real time and staying within a budget – but essentially it’s highly organized making stuff up. But anyone can learn these things.
Dialogue is tangible. You can listen to the people around you, or watch videos of people talking and pick up on nuances – cadences, vocabulary, and so on and just imitate that in your writing. Story beats are tangible. Similarly, you can watch other movies and plays and eventually pick up common structures… it’s just like learning about choruses and verses in songs.
Inspiration, on the other hand, is intangible, and I don’t really think it can be learned in the same way. I think it can be learned but I don’t think there’s a set way of learning it. That’s something I have more trouble explaining.
Where do you get your ideas?
Sometimes, like with Never Been to Graceland, I go “this is going to be a story about a fan who goes in search of a lost Elvis recording because that would be cool if that happened to me.” Not to downplay whatever narrative merits it actually has, but that’s the truth of what that story is at its core.
It’s partially based on ideas or people or things that are real – an Elvis fan, lost recordings being found – and partially fiction, and then sort of meshed together.
So, one week out from auditions, where did the idea for “ISG” come from?
Well, leaving out the obvious influences as far as structure and handling the logic of time travel, (*cough* Backtothefuture *cough*) I honestly don’t have a more clear answer.
When Betsy and I were talking about the shows for 2017, I mentioned I had a couple ideas. One was an adaptation of The Big Play, a short that we never completed, and the other I just mentioned as “a couple” because I wanted the flexibility of coming up with something else. I actually had no idea until probably a few hours after I sent the email. Faced with committing to “a couple ideas,” I just made one up. I wrote a draft outline, took it to the board, read them both synopses (synopsises? Synopsii?) that I had written, and they picked this one. So I rolled with it.
How’d I come up with that synopsis in the first place?
Heck if I know. Some things are certainly pulled from life. The main character in “ISG” is inspired by my four year old niece Zoey and my observations of her very literal “character” development as an actual person. But beyond that… you got me. The show’s titular Grandma is only barely influenced by my real grandma and, frankly, probably not by anyone I actually know, either.
I was telling Deana last night, I couldn’t even possibly speak about the show in terms of “executing a vision” because it wasn’t like there was ever really a “vision” so to speak, just an idea I thought would be cute, funny and maybe have a little heart. That’s not to say the story isn’t personal or doesn’t reflect me or my values… it absolutely does, in every much the same way as my previous efforts.
And the script is, I think, funny, cute, and touching. But more than that, it’s proof to myself that I don’t have to stop writing when I’m run out of “real” things to write about.
What I think I’m getting at is that as someone who spent 2006-2016 chasing old narrative threads, it’s both strange and invigorating to be writing something pretty much completely from scratch.
I hope everyone likes it.