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The Playwrights Forum > The Art & Craft of Writing > The Playwrights' Gym - Re-writes > Grace?

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 Posted: Wed May 16th, 2007 06:37 pm
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BillySundae
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Mana: 
Below is another version of Grace. The previous version dealt with a pedophile who had abused a much younger person and wanted to join a church.  However, where the last version involved a character seeking acceptance by joining the church, in this one the character was himself abused and the abuse he is accused of may not have been abuse at all.  

This version lacks the rightousness of the pastor and the anger of the abuser. Maybe the play has lost everything. Maybe the play is now too ambiguous to be interesting. Maybe I just need to make it into a two or three act play instead of one. Reactions to those possibilities?

If it is turned into a 2 act play the victim he is accused of harming, Christina, might visit Pastor Walker. If it is a 3 act version perhaps Act 2 could be the meeting of the Board of Deacons and Act 3 could be Christina's meeting with the pastor.

Then again, maybe I should make some "minor" changes and go with the first version. Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

The verson attached below begins with the last line on page 6. The previous pages are as they appear in the version originally posted in "Playwrights Gym." Please go there if you'd like to read them. Thanks.

ROBERT


 

                                    A love the sinner, hate the sin approach?

 

Page 7.


 


 


JAMES


 

                                    You sound a bit jaded, but yeah. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

 

ROBERT


 

                                    And Anna would confirm this?

 

JAMES


 

I suppose. I didn’t mention Anna’s real name a minute ago. But after you’ve joined us and gotten to know some of the men and ladies of this church you’ll get to know their stories and can confirm for yourself what I’ve told you.

 

ROBERT


 

It sounds like you’re asking me to take a leap of faith and simply believe what you’re telling me. Is that the case, Pastor?

 

JAMES


 

                                    Call me Jim, Robert.

 

ROBERT


 

Alright, (beat) Jim, are you asking me to take a leap of faith about how I will be received?

 

JAMES


 

Yes. Churches and Christians believe ardently in what they can’t see and what science can’t prove—that Christ is the way to the Father and that God is love and understanding and acceptance. God knows our hearts, our faults and still He loves us for who we are. So as His people and His church we strive to show those aspects of His character to each other and to those who worship here.

 

Long uncomfortable pause. It is as though the conversation stopped. Robert seems to want to ask something, make some comment, but can’t. Finally, James speaks again.

 

 


Page 8.


 


 


JAMES


 

                                    May I ask a personal question?

 

ROBERT


 

                                    I … I suppose.

 

JAMES


 


                                    Were you abused by someone?

 

ROBERT


 

Well, as a matter of fact I was abused. But, how did you know?

 

JAMES


 

I’ve been in ministry a long time. This is an urban church and though abuse happens in all parts of town, among families in all income brackets, abused people—whether they are survivors or recipients of spouse, elder or child abuse seem to flock to this church as a place of refuge. We can help you, Robert. I can help you if you’d like our help.

 

ROBERT


 

That would be wonderful. It was that sense of comfort and caretaking that you express so often in your sermons that drew me here in the first place. I have so been wanting to join something, be a part of something; instead of always being, feeling shunned.

 


JAMES


 

Then come and join us tomorrow. I’d like you to be part of this congregation, to join my flock.

 

ROBERT


 

                                    I’d like that. There’s just one more thing.

 

 

 

Page 9.


 


 


JAMES


 

                                    Okay.

 

ROBERT


 


(blurting it out)


 

I went to jail for abusing my step-daughter.

 

JAMES


 

Oh… my. Well, that does put a different light on things, doesn’t it?  (beat)

 

Okay. (two beats)

 

Well, tell me about that.

 

ROBERT


 

                                    I was eighteen. She was fifteen when…

 

JAMES


 

                                    How old was your wife, to have a fifteen year old daughter?

 

ROBERT


 

                                    Thirty-six.

 

JAMES


 

                                    Thirty-six?

 

ROBERT


 

                                    Yes, sir.

 

                                    My wife was previously married to Dr. James Abbingdon, Sr.

 

 

 

Page 10.


 


 


JAMES


 

                                    So, you were the boy who married Mary Abingdon?

 

ROBERT


 

                                    Yes, sir. (beat)

 

                                    Should I go?

 


JAMES


 

                                    Yes.

 

Robert starts to leave.

 

JAMES (Cont)


                                    Wait.

 

Robert stops and turns around.

 

I think I ought to hear your side of things

 

ROBERT


 

                                    Are you sure?

 

JAMES


 

                                    Yes. (beat)

 

                                    Absolutely. Please, take a seat, Robert; tell me what happened.

 

ROBERT


 

I met Mary when I was twelve and she was thirty; she was my seventh grade social studies teacher. There was something alluring and girlish about her at the same time. She dressed kind of like the girls in my grade: short skirts and revealing tops. But she had long legs, big breasts that almost none of the girls my age had, and blonde hair, nearly to her waist. She was a blonde bombshell before I even knew what the phrase meant. One day after class she asked me to stay after school and clap the erasers.

Page 11


 


 


.JAMES


 

                                    Clap the erasers?

 

ROBERT


 

Yeah. She wanted me to take her chalk erasers outside the building and clap them against the building or sidewalk to get the chalk dust out. I thought it was a weird request; her room was what used to be part of the hall. If she wanted she could just open the door, clap the erasers herself without actually leaving her room to do it. But I was 12 and I already had a crush on her so I agreed to come back.

 

JAMES


 

                                    What happened?

 

ROBERT


 

I was no fool. I went back and clapped the erasers. Afterwards she flirted with me, for maybe two minutes, before hurrying off to a faculty meeting.

 

JAMES


 

                                    Are you sure she was flirting?

 

ROBERT


 

I don’t know that I knew it at the time, but yeah. She flirted with me. She complained about how hot it was before opening a couple of buttons on her blouse.

 

JAMES


 

                                    Sounds like flirting to me. Anything else happen?

 

ROBERT


 

Not that day. But I went back every day after that. It was a boy’s fantasy come to life: the prettiest teacher in school flirting with me, an awkward, boy of 12; I loved it.

 

Page 12


 


 


JAMES


 

                                    When did things become more than just flirting?

 

ROBERT


 

After about two weeks. One afternoon, Mary asked me to get something for her off the top shelf of the janitor’s closet. This seemed weird since she was still taller than me, she was five –six; I was about an inch or two shorter. But I agreed to do it. I walked in the closet and—surprisingly—she followed me. When I asked her why she’d come too, she told me to turn around. When I did she was unbuttoning her blouse—all the way. Her breasts were in a very lacy, very sheer bra. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Then she asked if I wanted to kiss them. I was no fool—I said yes and started kissing and licking her breasts after moving her bra out of the way. After a few minutes she buttoned back up and left the

closet. A few minutes later, as she’d told me too, I left the closet and went back to her room where I could see her still hard nipples pressing against her golf shirt. Boy was that exciting.

 


JAMES


 

So how did things progress from that to sex and her eventual pregnancy?

 

ROBERT


 

Do I really need to go there? All this crap has been on national new programs and in the newspapers?

 

JAMES


 

I’m sorry, Robert. I can’t be of much help unless I know your version of things. Media tend to exaggerate and focus on the sensational; I need to know what really happened.

 

ROBERT


 


                                    Looking back, they got it pretty right.

 

                                    Okay.

 

Page 13


 


 


JAMES


 

                                    Take your time.

 


ROBERT


 

                                    Okay. (pause)

 

I think it was the very next day that Mary offered me a ride home. I accepted. Then rather than go home she took me to her house and we made love in her bed.

 

JAMES


 

                                    Her bed? Where was her husband?

 

ROBERT


 

Some place, on assignment with the Army. He was in the Reserves, a surgeon. He’s been to Iraq, but this happened long before that. I don’t know where he was. Gone, is all I know.

 

JAMES


 

                                    Was that your first time?

 

ROBERT


 

Of course. I didn’t even enter puberty for a few more months. I got an erection, but I didn’t know what I was doing and couldn’t do much.

                                   

But making love became a regular part of our routine, particularly after puberty started and I developed what Mary called, “good equipment.”

 

JAMES


 

                                    Oh, Robert. I’m so sorry.

 

ROBERT


 

                                    Thanks.

Page 14


 


 


ROBERT (Cont)


 

Anyway. A couple of years passed and just shortly before I was to complete my freshman year of high school Mary turned up pregnant.

 

JAMES


 

                                    You hadn’t used condoms?

 

ROBERT


 

No. Mary said she had an allergy to latex. We never used condoms.

 

JAMES


 

Okay. So what happened next? I remember this case from the local papers, though I had forgotten the names and details. How did Mary wind up in jail?

 

ROBERT


 

At the time Mary got pregnant her husband was on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and he had been for several months. He couldn’t have been the father of her child; that was obvious to everyone. So rumors started flying. Her minister came under suspicion. So did various teachers. No one considered one of her students until one of the accused teachers—to clear himself—hired a detective.

 

Almost immediately the detective found out that Mary and I were close. But it took him a little longer to figure out that Mary lived a quiet life. She was not going out to night clubs. There were no adult male friends in her life. So then he put 2 and 2 together and realized that I must be her lover, not just a former student. He even managed to get pictures of us, making love in Mary’s bed.

 

Within the span of a few months Mary was in jail for child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Meanwhile, Dr. Abbingdon was sent home from Afghanistan to care for his children; he immediately divorced his wife and moved the family out of the community.

 

Page 15


 


 


JAMES


 

                                    So how is that you were accused of child abuse?

 

ROBERT


 

After Mary got out of jail, we got married; she was 36, I was 18. Not even a year later, Dr. Abbingdon was killed during a deployment to Iraq, and his children came to live with us. One of those children was Christina, who was 15. I was still 18 and a senior in high school. Christina, who was a sophomore at the same school and I had a class together—Biology. How ironic! We weren’t lab partners, but we did get to know one another.

 

Truth is I hadn’t known Christina before she and her brother Mark came to live with Mary and I. Christina was only 9 when I met her mother, and Mark only 6. So I had never had anything to do with either one of them. But once they were living under the same roof with me, the three of us gradually became friends: and eventually, Christina and I became more than friends.

 

JAMES


 

                                    You became lovers?

 

ROBERT


 

No. We became boyfriend and girlfriend. We never progressed to making love. Heavy petting was about it. Anyway, one day Mary came home from her job as a waitress and found Christina and I kissing and making out. She hit the roof, of course.

 

JAMES


 


                                    So she swore out a warrant against you?

 

ROBERT


 

Yup. That’s exactly what she did. She claimed I had defiled her little girl. And of course the media found out about this circus and came calling again. What a zoo!

 

 

Page 16


 


 


JAMES


 

                                    What were you accused of?

 

ROBERT


 

Child abuse. How strange that all was. Mary had gone to jail after having been convicted of abusing me. And now she was accusing me of abusing her daughter, who was only three years younger than I was.

 

JAMES


 

                                    Why wasn’t the case thrown out?

 

ROBERT


 

I don’t really know. My lawyer tried to get it thrown out, but the judge wouldn’t do that. Maybe it was the notoriety of Mary and I. Rather than go to trial I agreed to a sentence of up to 10 years. Eventually, he gave me two years—which I served—and 8 years suspended sentence if I would agree not to see Christina; he also said I would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of my life.

 

JAMES


 

                                    That seems like a lot of punishment.

 

ROBERT


 

It seems that way to me too. Particularly, since it would not have been a crime if I hadn’t been known before I ever came before the judge.

 

JAMES


 

                                    Are you still married to Mary?

 

ROBERT


 

Heavens no. Immediately after Mary found me with Christina I moved back to my parents’ home. They sought and got my

Page 17


 


 


ROBERT (Cont)


 

marriage to Mary annulled—we had been married for less than a year. And they got me the best lawyer they could. I’m blessed to have wonderful parents.

 

JAMES


 

It certainly sounds that way. Well, thank you for telling me your side of things. I hope I’ll see more of you around the church, not just at services that you sneak in and out of.

 

ROBERT


 

                                    I hope so too.

 

Robert gets up, he starts to leave. Then he stops and asks:

 

                                    May I join the church?

 

JAMES


 

Not tomorrow. I’ll take this conversation to the Deacon Board and ask for their input. We and the church will keep a close eye on you and on the situation for a while. See how you do. See how you get along with other members and make sure you keep your distance from the children. 

 

ROBERT


 

Why wait? I’m not going to harm anyone. Didn’t you hear what I just said? I didn’t do anything wrong.

 

JAMES


 

Unfortunately, Robert, you were convicted of child abuse. Whether you should have been is a moot point—you were. It’s great that you served your time and passed your probation successfully. But I have to look out for my flock first. I have to check this out and then bring it to the Deacon Board. I can’t do it any differently.

 

 

 


                                                                                                                                     Page 18

 

                                   

ROBERT


 


                                    Any idea how long that will be?

 

JAMES


 

No. The Deacons meet in a couple of weeks. I’ll have to see what they say, then we can talk again.

 

ROBERT


 

                                    I can’t join now?                                  

 


JAMES


 

Robert, I don’t see how. But come to the service tomorrow a little early and I’ll introduce you around to some folks. Afterwards, stick around for the fellowship hour—coffee and cookies. Let’s take it a day at a time and see what happens. Okay?

 

ROBERT


 

                                    So I’m welcome to attend church here?

 

JAMES


 

                                    Absolutely.

ROBERT


 

                                    May I ask why you suddenly changed your mind?

 

JAMES


 

                                    I didn’t change my mind, I changed my attitude.

 

ROBERT


 

                                    What do you mean?

 

JAMES


 

Well, Robert I still think this is a bad idea. I still have the same concerns I had before. Jesus would have given you an opportunity.

Page 19


 


 


JAMES (Cont)


 

So I need to do no less. And I will do what I can to make sure that the Deacons and the church do likewise. Will I see you tomorrow?

 

ROBERT


 

                                    Yes. Thank you.

 

JAMES


 

Good. I’ll see you tomorrow. Now, I need you to leave so that I can revise my sermon.

 


ROBERT


 

                                    See you tomorrow Pastor Walker.

 

JAMES


 

                                    Jim. Just call me Jim. I’ll see you in the morning.

 


ROBERT


 

                                    Good. See you then.

 

Robert exits as James turns back to his work and

 

--- CURTAIN---


           

 

 

 

 


 

 

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 Posted: Thu May 17th, 2007 08:46 am
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Poet
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Mana: 
Hi Billy

Firstoff, I have to say that I preferred the first version as a work in progress - it seemed to have more conflict and something more important to say about a whole bunch of issues, and for me, I think you could do more with it; this one doesn't seem to be going somewhere as interesting.

The Deacons vote him in or not; because it's a fine line, there's no space for me, as an audience, to debate it. Here, I could easily see the justice of either decision, and all characters' views, whereas previously I could see the humanity of both points of view - the Minister's and the paedophile's - and it left me with a human dilemma. I resented the Minister's hypocrisy whilst sympathising with his desire to protect his flock (the good man taking a decision I hated) and equally I could admire the honesty and desire to reform of the paedophile, whilst reviling him for his previous actions (the bad man taking a decision I admired).

This version doesn't have that irreconcileable problem; I don't think I'd be debating the issue in the bar afterwards as I would with the first.

However... this one is perhaps more of an interesting backstory to explain some preceeding action. What do I know - but this feels like a denouement to me and (dare I say it) possibly not as original as your first draft.

Sorry mate - I really liked the first version, but this one, whilst nicely crafted here and there (I liked the eraser-clapping touch of life) left me a little bit cold. Also - I struggled a bit to keep all the character relationships / age-timelines in my mind, and I think anything that makes a reader/audience work too hard maybe needs rethinking?

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 Posted: Mon May 21st, 2007 03:41 am
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alan0198
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Mana: 
Like Poet, I think I prefer the original version.  This newer one adds too many complications--that Robert was himself abused would work, certainly, since that seems often to be the case--but the circumstances of his abuse become a bit over the top (even though the teacher/student relationship that results in marriage is based on fact).  Not only is he abused, but by a teacher, by a teacher who marries him, whose absent husband then dies in battle, whose teenaged daughter becomes his girl friend even though he's married to her mother, and there's only two years difference in daughter/husband ages. 

the original version raises the issues much more clearly.  And although it has its flaws, they're a lot easier to deal with than in this reworking. 

Alan

and thanks for grappling with a difficult, but apparently all too common, issue.  Continue on with it, please!

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 Posted: Sat Mar 15th, 2008 11:34 pm
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Will Kemp
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Mana: 
"Grace" is a great title.  Grace to me, means an unexpected gift from God of a synchronistic, supernatural event that absolves you of a sin.  If you can absolve Robert somehow, it would be a great  play.  What event happens?

I would like to see you show us this teacher.  What if you got Robert to confront her by putting them in separate spotlights:  He accuses her across time. Now that he is older, he can talk back to her.  Show her to him, and to us in her seductive clothes.  He confronts her from his spotlight:  "How can you do this to a child?"  etc.

You see, I think that he has every right to join a church.  I see him as a sex offender, not as a true pedophile though. A sex offender who makes a mistake getting involved with a child is different from a pedophile who intentionally seeks a child everytime he wants sex, and has no sense of commiting a sin, nor guilt.

But Robert has only had one affair with this one girl child, right? If so, he is not  a pedophile.  Sinner, but not pedophile.  Correct me, but my understanding of a pedophile is somebody who cannot be cured, most likely, during their lifetime -- my  understanding is, a pedophileis somebody grossly immature who  seeks to have his/her  physical and emotional needs met by a child because he/she  sees him/herself as an "innocent".In fact, they are narcississtic.

I make a distinction from having covered these cases as a reporter.  There are variations in male and female child molesters.  Some never quit molesting. ...some molest a child once but not again.  Some are mean and violent, others more like seducers or opportunistic.   And yeah, both sexes.

I read both versions.  I have found that there is usually a good reason for my  having done a major revision.

What were you aiming at in the revision?

I wondered if you were trying to alter Robert to show him as a sex offender just repeating what he learned from a sex offender-- and a woman makes it worse.  I am female, and I have trouble comprehending these women when I  read about them in the news. 

In my school, 3 of my teachers married my classmates (girls) and nobody sees anything wrong with that. And these people are still married. My coach, my math teacher and my social studies teacher all got their girls from my fellow classmates -- not including the girls who were also "molested" by another teacher.  If boys were molested, I did not know it.  However, there may have been more boys than girls. I read somewhere that sodomy is very common but not talked about.  Men, is that TRUE? Most people don't know it, I suspect.  And most people don't know some of the initiation techniques in the Marines, but there's a book of photos at Amazon dot com that shows Marine  he-men raping each other.  Is that common or just occasionally?    I did not read the book.  I think that must numb the heart and the soul more than the body even.

The lines between marriage and robbing the cradle blur for the female --and for the male too.  I see that now, from your play.  Can you make us see it better?  Can you SHOW it. ...not tell it.  Maybe use flashbacks. ..OR, there's a technique used in a play that I saw -- I cannot remember the name now--a play about a black seamstress who meets her husband as a penpal.  They talk to each other from separate spotlights on opposite sides of the stage.  He is in Jamaica and she is in the U.S.

YOU ARE SAILING UNCHARTED SEAS.  If you succeed, it will be a marvelous play.

 

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 Posted: Mon Mar 17th, 2008 12:18 pm
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BillySundae
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Mana: 
Will Kemp:

Thanks for your insights. I've done some research into pedophilia since I wrote what I posted last year. T've just finished a bad draft of the second act (so I won't be posting it anytime soon) and I have a third act in mind, but haven't started that one yet. Act One is a version of what has been previously posted. Act Two takes place four days later and involves a meeting of the deacons committee. Act III will be an interrogation of Robert, at the church, in the pastor's office, about the disappearance of a little girl. I have a long way to go before I finish even the second act. But when the 2nd Act  is complete (probably a good month, or more from now) I'll probably post all or some of it. I hope to have a final draft of the entire play by year's (2008) end.

Additionally, I've just finished a draft (literally, yesterday) of a 10 minute play called You Go Girl about a victim of child sexual abuse who, as a middle-aged adult faces down her abuser. I'll probably post a draft (but not the current one) of that this week or next.

Bill

PS. Pedophiles can be "cured," and often are IF they admit they have a problem and get counseling and help. On the other hand, interestingly enough the recidivism rate (depending upon the study you read) runs 35-50%  whether the perp is treated or not. It seems, if  I'm understanding what I read, that for most pedophiles the crime is often one of opportunity; very few perps are actually wandering the streets looking for victims. (Personally, based on "To Catch a Predator" and other such media stories this doesn't make sense to me; it's counterintuitive.) Additionally, Robert probably would be guilty of incest which typically has a recidivism rate of 1.5 to 3% according to what I've read. If you're still a reporter and want to pursue this a bit send me a private message and I'll send you the (LIMITED) bibiliography I have put together.  

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 Posted: Mon Mar 17th, 2008 01:39 pm
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Will Kemp
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Mana: 
Hi Bill,

I was real interested to hear your response on this.  The difference in ricividism rates on pedophilia and incest make sense to me.  You've probably done a lot more research on this topic than me, but isn't there a difference in the psychology of the child abuser who rapes children in order to have sex or power and the child abuser who is seeking emotional support with the child  -- somebody who is really sick and  very immature.  The word for that without sex involved is "emotional incest".I think there are probably men who molest their children to get back at the wife, but the other type of pedophilie wouldn't even HAVE a wife. 

 I am not covering this issue as a reporter anymore, and not working as one now.  I am revising two plays and starting a third, and I've written two one-acts which are resting in a drawer.  One of my plays is about people in a courthouse involved in a child abuse case, and I may write another play about a policeman who cracks upI've seen two of them almost crack when confronted with child abuse and the denial and SILENCE from the community:  You are breaking the code of silence, and that's one thing playwrights have to do.  They go where the press won't or can't go.

I forgot to mention, I have a house in Lex.  I don't know you and don't have any desire to pry into your life.  It's just a coincidence.

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 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 01:14 am
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BillySundae
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Mana: 
I haven't done a tremendous amount of research. But my understanding is that emotional incest does not involve sex or inappropriate touching, it involves inappropriate intimacy. For example, telling a child about a spuose's infidelities, seeking advice from a child about how to solve adult problems. Such intimacies may well lead to the child feeling that he or she has taken over the role of a spuose and is not allowed to simply be a child. Again, we're getting into areas I have only a "little" expertise in, which is a truly dangerous thing. 

Since I'm not involved with a theatre or a theatre department, it can be difficult to connect with other playwrights. If you have any interest in starting one here in Lexington let me know.

Bill

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 Posted: Wed Mar 19th, 2008 06:00 pm
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Will Kemp
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Mana: 
I would definitely like to start a playwriting group, but I would not be interested in having prose writers in it.  Would that be ok?  I wanted to concentrate on plays, if I am in a group.  I wouldn't mind reading a poem every now and then or something, but I don't have any interest in novels etc. anymore.  I have been in three poetry/prose workshops and circles, and lost interest in that.

I will be in Lex. around April 5 weekend for myh niece's wedding.  I live there, but I am staying in east Ky., where I am selling off excess houses and land that my family owns.  I get 25% from the next sale, and that is how I survive right now.  I always worked as an editor or journalist in past.

We could meet in the community room in the back of Good Foods Co'op or at a theatre or library maybe???  We could rotate meeting locations too.

Yes, I understand that emotional incest does not imply sex abuse.  However, I think that pedophiles may be people who are physically mature but emotionally immature. That's what I was getting at.  They use emotional and physical incest both.

Greta

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 Posted: Sat Mar 22nd, 2008 10:59 am
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Martin H
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Joined: Mon Dec 31st, 2007
Location: Toronto, Ontario Canada
Posts: 184
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Mana: 
Based on this sample I'd say the story has only just begun. Where you take it from here I'm not quite sure. I find the ambiguous situation you set up here far more intriguing than the one you describe from the earlier version (which I haven't read, I'm only going on my impression of your precis). Definitely curious what develops.

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The Playwrights Forum > The Art & Craft of Writing > The Playwrights' Gym - Re-writes > Grace? Top




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