I say officially (several times on this website) that I've written three plays: Good Knight and Goodbye from 2009 (rewritten as Knights of the Square Table in 2014), The Thousand-Year Rose in 2016, and See Amid the Winter Snow in 2018-19. As you can tell, there is quite a large gap between Good Knight in 2009 and Rose in 2016. I can say that I didn't write at all in the years between (as I describe in my other blog post, "The Playwright's Progress") - but that's not entirely true. The truth is, I have written six plays. In that great dark period, I wrote the full scripts for three plays that have (mercifully) never gone anywhere outside of my hard drive - and now they're great for a laugh.
Lost Play #1 - Good Knight and Goodbye 2: A Midsummer's Knightmare (June 2010)
Yes, this script happened. It is real. And it is terrible. Entranced by the level of attention I received for writing Good Knight and Goodbye, I decided the most immediate thing I needed to do was create a follow-up to that success. That did not come to me in the form of writing a new, imaginative play that took me into a different creative risk, but instead I chose to do what many misguided filmmakers do and wrote a shitty sequel to my actually-mostly-decent play.
Now bear in mind, Midsummer's Knightmare was written as a sequel to Good Knight and Goodbye - not Knights of the Square Table. Good Knight ends quite differently than its darker, officially published rewrite. In the final scene of Good Knight and Goodbye, Sir Galahad inadvertently kills Sir Krause by dropping him into a fountain, causing him to melt exactly like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (and mirroring that, there is no foreshadowing whatsoever that Sir Krause melts in water). Sir Galahad is then rejected by Princess Jacqueline at the altar, who says "I don't!" and it is revealed that she and Merlin have carried on an affair for most of the play. Merlin and Jacqueline exit together. Leslie Godzillabride laments that all that work she put into the wedding was for nothing - and Sir Galahad takes that opportunity to propose to Lady Heron. The wedding is turned over immediately to be a wedding for Sir Galahad and Lady Heron and they get married and live happily ever after.
Midsummer's Knightmare picks up a few weeks after the events of Good Knight and Goodbye. Merlin is prophetically warned by his crystal ball that Lady Heron will be in danger in two weeks' time. As Merlin is getting ready to leave to warn the newlyweds, he is killed by an unknown assailant. Sir Galahad and Lady Heron return to Slekochovakia from their honeymoon and meet up with the royal family at Merlin's funeral. Princess Jacqueline awkwardly tries to win Sir Galahad back - at the funeral - to no avail. We are introduced to our villain, a witch, and she speaks to her magic mirror (a college intern she transfigured into a mirror) and asks her who the fairest in the land is. The mirror states Lady Heron is the fairest in the land... You get where the story is going.
Lady Heron runs away to a boarding home in the forest, run by a vegetarian, guitar-playing hippie (modeled largely after Phoebe Buffay of Friends) and the plot of Snow White plays out in the rest of the play - but with poisoned cake instead of fruit. Princess Jacqueline learns to accept that Sir Galahad no longer wants to marry her and she moves on. Lady Heron leaves her position as the royal messenger to go to law school for reasons not made particularly clear in the play. Sir Galahad is just sort of there to save the day after Lady Heron eats the poison cake, like the prince in Snow White.
The plot of this show really isn't terrible. I think I had a good handle on how to create a story with a satisfying setup, middle, and end. It's by no means a particularly interesting or original story - but it's not an inherently terrible story on its own. But one of the worst traps a sequel can fall into - and I know for damn sure I did here - is rather than deepening the characters that exist and furthering their stories therefore making them more complex and well-rounded, the characters were diluted and reduced only to the character tics that got laughs in the first installment. This phenomenon is often referred to as Flanderization, named for Simpsons character Ned Flanders. Over time, the well-meaning but religiously extreme Flanders became a parody of himself, focusing on his over-the-top religiosity rather than any other quality of his.
Flanderization happens to some extent to all of the returning characters in Midsummer's Knightmare, but it is certainly at its worst in the role of Queen Victoria. In fairness, she is not given much of a personality in Good Knight and Goodbye (or in Knights of the Square Table, either, for that matter), but she is known to often say "Let them eat cake". This happens around eight times in Good Knight - but her entire character unironically revolves around saying that phrase in Midsummer's Knightmare. Queen Victoria says "let them eat cake" - and I kid you not - TWENTY-FIVE TIMES. The script itself was only 55 pages - that's nearly once every other page.
Reading this script is a chore, slogging through rehashes of old jokes and lazy characterizations. To be fair, it is difficult for me to read Good Knight and Goodbye in its original state at this point, but some of that could be chalked up to simply: I wrote these plays when I was a child. But Midsummer's Knightmare is a special kind of bad: it is both written by a child and it also makes a lot of stock mistakes that your average shitty sequel makes.
I had plans to direct a production of this play in the summer between 10th and 11th grade to meet a community service graduation requirement, but lack of big enthusiasm from my cast and crew led me to quietly cancel the plans. For my graduation project, I assisted Sue Fisher in directing the following year's middle school play - a much better use of my time and creative energy.
Lost Play #2 - The Saboteur, An Edgy Murder Mystery (October 2010)
I don't recall much of the specifics of this script. This script I actually have no record of in paper or on my hard drive, as I am fairly certain I deleted it. A small-town mayor is threatened by the mafia(?) that they will release a serial killer into the town and start killing people for reasons fifteen-year-old me definitely had not thought out. The mayor brushes this off and goes to a dermatology appointment, he asks out his dermatologist, she accepts (certainly breaking HIPAA, but hey, Stella had just went on a date with Ted in How I Met Your Mother) they make plans for that night. The Saboteur indeed has been "released" and kills somebody in the dermatologist's office and then a high school math teacher (who was certainly not modeled after a demanding teacher of mine). The mayor goes to pick up his dermatologist for their date, only to realize she's been abducted by The Saboteur. He teams up with the police, they solve the riddles, save the lady doctor, arrest the Saboteur, and the fact that the mafia was involved is literally never addressed again.
This play is probably the most time-stamped of the three plays, and I can tell you exactly the line of thought that resulted in this abomination of a script: the other kids in my high school drama club were developing more "refined" taste in theatre - and I started to feel inadequate. I largely have the exact same entertainment palate as I did when I was 14 (and that's OK!), but I was certainly insecure about it in the fall of 2010.
So what had happened in 2010? Two things had aired on television (other than Stella and Ted getting together) that influenced this script: Big Brother Season 12 on CBS, and the Psych Season 3 and 4 Finales, "An Evening with Mr. Yang" and "Mr. Yin Presents" on USA. Big Brother had a running theme through it called "The Summer of Sabotage" - which included one HouseGuest selected as "The Saboteur" who just made life in the house hell. I combined this with the serial killer chases in the Psych season finales in an attempt to write a more serious story - but this was a pretty well-behaved fifteen-year-old kid in Lancaster, Pennsylvania suburbia sitting down to try to write about murder and serial killers. It was doomed to fail from the start, and I probably knew that even then.
As quickly as I finished this script, it was swept under the rug to be forgotten. Probably for excellent reason.
Lost Play #3 - Fall From Grace, the Christian Melodrama (January 2012)
Once upon a time, when I was sixteen years old, after I had unironically found a fervor for right-wing evangelicalism after attending summer camp, I was inspired to write a play - and to my credit, I did technically write a play. In hindsight, I am a little ashamed to say this, but the play was inspired by deeply unremarkable Christian drama film To Save a Life. As I had done with The Saboteur, I was continuing to try to establish myself as a writer who was capable of "more serious art" than fanciful comedies. I wanted to write a stage play that had comedic moments but was primarily a drama and make organized religion the hero of the story. And I got what I wanted, but the result made for what I remember as a pretty bad play. Here is the synopsis:
It’s the beginning of high school for many new freshmen in the small town of Choate, Ohio, in the fall of 2011, and it plays out like a typical first few weeks of school for most. However, in a certain English class, four ninth graders who would on no other occasion speak to each other, (Drew, the popular jock, Lisa, the ambitious leader, Colby, the shy brainiac, and Cassi, the tomboyish artist) are forced to work together by their English teacher, and they initially cannot work together on anything due to their preconceived categorizations of each other. After spending some time together, they all discover they have more in common with each other than they originally perceived. However, not all is well when Drew’s other friends start to take notice that he’s hanging out with “losers” – and they do not notice quietly.
So, there is a bit to unpack here. From the synopsis I wrote in 2011, it sounds like a boring teen drama taking itself too seriously wanting to be a great story about different people in high school coming together as friends, akin to the The Breakfast Club. I recall not wanting to "scare away" non-Christians from enjoying the play. I also recall that even then, I didn't like when media made in Jesus' name clobbered you upside the head with Christianese from the get-go. But this synopsis itself does not sound like a compelling story. It was a bit too tame - Breakfast Club, for comparison, already has a more interesting premise in that each of the main characters misbehaved to the point of receiving detention.
When I applied for Survivor and corresponded briefly with a casting associate before not being selected, I received an interesting perspective from her. Survivor is first and foremost a television show. The final product needs to be compelling and that is produced by interesting characters interacting to create a compelling narrative and final product. They want to see conflict, comedy, and sexual tension. Well-adjusted human beings who are nice and kind to each other and stay out of trouble ... kind of make for boring entertainment. Unless they're hot.
I'm facing an uphill battle writing a play with four good kids as the leads. None of them are secretly bad. None of them really have much in the way of flaws, they're just nice people who are nice to each other. There is a little sitcommy misunderstanding around the middle of the play that drives the group apart, but everyone is fairly polite to each other. There's not much conflict or comedy or sexual tension in Fall From Grace - it's just sort of "high school as it is" (told from a kid's perspective who on the whole, didn't have a very colorful high school experience. I was quite boring for most of my time in high school).
I reread the 79-page script in about an hour and a half. To my surprise, it was less about smacking the reader over the head with Jesus, but more about the power of friendship. So that certainly exceeded expectations there. But the play was just boring. It was so OK that it was average. The dialog that I'd written was the most advanced up to that point and it was clear that I was two formative teenage years older when I wrote it - but the story was just sort of boring and ironically, unrealistic. For my play that had zero fantastical elements, it was probably the least realistic.
Well-established friends (as I had gone to great lengths to create in the early scenes of the show) don't turn on each other the minute they hear something bad from somebody they do not trust. While I do an actually pretty good job of developing each of my four leads (I was genuinely impressed with how much story I was able to rattle off for each of their lives), the other characters around them were caricatures and cartoons to stop my suspension of disbelief. Of course the jock's girlfriend and main antagonist of the play was a bitch - but that was her only character trait. She was a bitch. For the deep, fairly well-rounded four leads (Drew, Lisa, Cassi, Colby) to be threatened by any of these one-dimensional jerks in the play made almost no sense.
Spending time considering each of these plays has given me more appreciation for the fact that I didn't quit - and I've come a long way from these scripts. Finding one's identity as a writer is so key to being any good at it, and these three were simply exercises in trying out voices and identities that did not work - as one tends to do when they are a teenager. I'm not embarrassed to claim any of these my own - but I'm in no hurry to see any of these to full production or publication!