When I visited the modest marker at the site of the crash of Sabena 548 near the Brussels Airport in 2001*, I had the idea of writing something about the tragedy, but no idea how.
The first essential step towards achieving that goal was finding out that I could, after all, be a playwright. As a novelist, I had always felt playwriting was just too hard: How could I write using nothing but dialogue and stage directions, without the prose that was so essential to telling a story like Flower of Iowa?
But nearly a decade after my visit to Belgium, I found myself trying out the form for the first time, when I completed the initial draft of In Love with the Arrow Collar Man. No sooner had that happened than I drew an assignment in my day job, as a writer for Vassar College.
Vassar was nearing the 150th anniversary of its founding, and something was needed for a series of events celebrating its sesquicentennial. The result was Vassar Voices, a look back at the college’s history that stitched together material from letters, speeches, newspaper articles and more, Ken Burns-style. I was the principal writer, creating the arc of the college’s history and crafting the interstitial material.
Although I already had been with Chuck for 35 years at that point, and he had been a performer throughout that time, this was my first personal experience of the unique teamwork involved in creating a theatrical production. I realized that I could, indeed wanted to, write plays as well as novels.
So when I finally circled back to the idea that had come to me on a chilly March morning in Belgium, I had a form in mind. But a lot more would happen before the play was written.
(To be continued…)
* Just a couple of weeks ago, a newer, bigger monument was placed on the site (see attached photo). It’s … a matter of taste, I guess.