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Elements of Theater

Getting over myself with Brass Tacks Ensemble

by Charmie Gholson

From the August, 2020 issue

I dial the number, sort out the audio permissions, and join the meeting. Pre-Covid, this playwriting club met at a local coffee shop; now they meet by Zoom.

Mary Conley and Isaac Ellis introduce themselves. Conley's "kind of the leader," Ellis says. They're both on the board and Ellis is the executive director.

It's just the three of us at first, which actually works to my benefit. I'm a seasoned writer but I'm new to playwriting and have lots of questions.

The group is hosted by the Brass Tacks Ensemble (BTE), whose name is derived from the old adage, "getting down to brass tacks." They mean business. BTE has always been small, Ellis says, and that's how they like it--that way "the focus is more on storytelling, less on spectacle." This sounds like my kind of action. They just celebrated twenty years--of producing theater in rented space--as they have no brick-and-mortar to call home. "We try to be fiscally responsible," Conley says.

Once they're done catching me up to speed, it's time to get down to brass tacks. BTE has produced things they've written themselves; mostly short, ten-minute plays. Now they're focusing on full-length plays and transitioning to working together over Zoom. "There has been a lot of adjusting," Conley says.

Someone joins the conference just as I have to ditch out to take a quick call from my son. When I get back Ellis is getting real. He is talking about a workshop where part of the process was throwing away your work. Just literally throwing it right in the trash.

"Get over yourself," he advises. "Throw away what you just wrote." I love it.

He's encouraging in many ways, including offering some tricks if we're overwhelmed by the enormity of writing a play. "Just do manageable chunks," he says, "Just tell yourself, 'I'm going to shift my focus and just write a couple of monologues.'" Again, stellar advice.

For the next meeting, we agree to upload our writing to the Google Group

...continued below...

a week in advance. Ellis has a goal of finishing a specific act. Conley is working on some monologues. I'm going to research formatting, and by research, I mean read Shakespeare and try to finish my outline. I feel pretty darn excited by the time we say goodbye.

"The world is pretty crazy right now," Conley says, "and you almost feel like I shouldn't be writing. But we're all here because we love theater and we keep getting pulled back into it."

The Brass Tacks Ensemble's playwriting club meets next on August 11. Email for the online location.     (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2020.]


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