Yesterday I went through my first version of the Erlkönig play which I started last year under the title of The Elf King; of the 30 pages I completed then, perhaps two of them will end up in Erlkönig. In addition, only two of the four characters in the early play will appear in the final version, and the time scheme of the play has been telescoped from two years to one day. Instead of twenty locations, there is now one, and the superfluous extra-dramatic technical apparatus that accompanied the original play — projections, video, music — has all been abandoned. The form seems to draw upon what I’ve explored in the past in In Public and What She Knew. This is a bow to the concision, the “taking out,” the cutting and cutting that is necessary to my own work process. It also explains why it takes me so long to write a play.
I have at times been tempted to race to complete the play so that I could submit it to various collectives and companies like New Dramatists and the Lark by their entry deadlines, but while I’m not bad at writing to deadline for critical work, I find it’s an impossibility for the creative work. The play comes when it comes and it knows no deadlines. In addition, I can only write in the interstices between my other responsibilities as a father, as someone who holds a full-time job in a non-theatrical field (and I do not seem to be the type to draw commissions, even meager ones, alas), and to pay the necessary attention to my friends and family; not to mention that writing does not come as easily to me now as it did in my 20s. I am somewhat heartened by the fact that all of Samuel Beckett’s plays and prose of his last decade could fit comfortably into a volume of 200 pages or so, and know that a prodigious output is no indication of its quality.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am writing for my daughters and my wife now, so it is necessary that I get it right. (It is not the same as writing for either posterity or the present-day, and I admit I don’t understand why anybody should think about this in the process of writing; I don’t.) Tossing out 28 pages is a small price to pay for leaving them something that, I hope, will be of value to them, in the end.