I've spent the last few days in Fairfax, Virginia stirring up conflict. Since Thursday, I've been working with the Hub Theatre on my play BIRDS OF A FEATHER, which tells the true story of the gay penguins so desperate for a chick they tried to hatch a rock at the Central Park Zoo, the hawks who threw bones and gristle out of a nest on a Fifth Avenue co-op, and the birdbrained human behavior they inspired. (The world premiere will occur July 15th in Fairfax, which is in one of the counties that protested the children's book about the penguins, AND TANGO MAKES THREE, the most banned book in the country three years in a row.)
I often start with theme as a writer, so I used the workshop with the director, producer, dramaturg and cast to focus on Acting 101 stuff - what the characters want and what obstacles stand in their way. It's the most basic element of drama, and yet it's rarely my entry point, both in life and in writing. For reasons too psychologically boring to mention, I've been someone extremely conflict averse. It's made me a nice guy - which is to say, frequently dishonest - but it makes me wonder whether I've backed down from challenges.
Think of it this way - the vacation that goes horribly awry always makes for the better story than the idyllic one. Because the nightmare trip has conflict. I'm not advocating looking for trouble, but avoiding it can make for a boring life story.
With that in mind, I have no story to tell about my weekend at the Hub - because there was no conflict. I stayed at the gorgeous home of a generous and gracious board member who is actually named Gay Beach (on a sidenote, it's a good thing she married the equally generous and gracious Billy Beach - she once dated someone named Barr); the creative team and cast couldn't have been more insightful and supportive in helping me find the play; and everyone got along. When I told the Hub's artistic director Helen Pafumi that she denied me a good story, she said it was by design. "I want everyone to save the drama for the stage," she said. "It's like improv: the only way forward is by saying 'yes.'"
Perhaps that's why one of the keys of success is building a coalition of like-minded people. You need a strong team to take on the inevitable conflicts.
And birds of a feather flock together.