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Casual encounters with creativity

by Brooke Berman

I went back to work when my baby was six weeks old. I had a book to adapt and a play to revise and eventually, a director’s notes to incorporate on a screenplay I’d written two years earlier. I had a babysitter 20 hours a week, and I worked at home; I nursed, napped, and tried to be as pleasant as I could to the various people in my life (not always successful). When my son was nine months old, all of my writing jobs came to a close. I’d gone through each step on each contract. It was time to get more work.

But to get more work, urged my agents, I needed new samples. It was time to write more work! Only I was burned out – and none of us were yet sleeping through the night. Working through the pregnancy and then the first nine months of my son’s life had left me emotionally and spiritually exhausted, tapped out, on thin ice. And no one was sleeping. I worried that I had nothing to say.

Down time is never comfortable for me. “Resting” is a foreign concept. Even when sick, I find myself vacuuming, reading scripts, answering email and catching up on viewing assignments – all of which constitute “resting” in my book.

But I’m a firm believer in returning to basics after the completion of a big project (or a few big projects). As the Tao says, “Renew the root.” I had to rest and then, become reinspired. But how do you do that?

First, I panicked and picked fights. “I will never write again, I have nothing to say, I’m irrelevant” played incessantly in my head. I kicked and screamed (and got a few pedicures and saw a lot of movies). And then did something smart – I went to New York and did a play. For free. In a bar. I’d written Casual Encounters after a failed TV pitch (“It’s like Love American Style with laptops and Grind’r!”). I wrote the first draft of the play after a Mike Leigh-esque process wherein the actors placed personal ads on Craigslist as their characters and brought in the responses. In addition, they were free to IM and text one another during rehearsals (also in character) and I wrote from their improvisations and questions. It was a grand way to build a play. And all the better when we staged the play at Jimmy’s No. 43 as part of Cino Nights in the kind of place where these encounters might happen! I started writing plays because I was an actor. I love rehearsal. And it is this – doing “art” for free in a damp basement or bar – that feeds me.

I came back to L.A. five days later refreshed and ready to write.

Brooke Berman

About Brooke Berman

Brooke Berman is a playwright, screenwriter and the author of No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments. She recently wrote and directed the short film "Uggs For Gaza." Plays include: Smashing, Hunting and Gathering, Out of the Water, The Jesus Year, Sam and Lucy and others. More information: www.brookeberman.net

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