Sunday, July 15, 2012

Playwriting 101

I thought it was going to be my favorite class that semester. Introduction to Playwriting with Dr. Anthony Santaniello.  I thought the course would give me the tools to turn the events of my childhood into something tangible.  A play.  First produced Off-Off Broadway. Then it would gain a cult following — eventually moving to the Big White Way — possibly starring Jaclyn Smith or Stephanie Powers as the grown-up me.

This class was going to be my beginning.

This class — the one I was betting all my cards on, was turning out to be a huge disappointment.

The professor could barely be bothered with anything I had to say, even though there were barely nine of us in class. Any time I ma
de a contribution, he’d say: “What was that you said?” or “Could you repeat that for me?”  in his phony British accent, but he didn’t say that to anyone else — seemed he was paying attention when everyone else spoke — listened to what they had to say. This class wasn't turning out how I’d hoped.

Through the semester I pushed aside my disappointment. I tried to ignore my hurt while we read plays, discussed them, and did writing exercises while working independently on a final project. My play consisted of four characters: The Mother, the Father, the Boy, the Girl. It was a thinly veiled autobiographical look at the chaos of my home life.

As the fall drew to a close and the
weather got colder, we’d finally turned in our first drafts and were meeting one-on-one with the professor for feedback. Though I wanted feedback on the writing, I was on edge and feeling vulnerable.  This was the first time in college I was showing my personal writing to someone else. I was dreading the meeting.  

When Dr. Santaniello started speaking, I was so worked up I could hardly concentrate on his words. Through the haze in my head I could vaguely hear him asking me questions, probing about the characters and their motivations, prodding me to think differently about their actions and then I clearly heard him say in his clipped and breathy dramatic voice,

“Now I just don’t understand why the girl doesn’t try to see things from the boy’s point of view and...”

And before he could finish his criticism, I burst into tears. Sobbing, wrenching tears where I couldn’t catch my breath.  But then
 — most surprisingly he patted my arm and soothingly said, 

“There, there dear. It can’t be all that bad…”

It was so caring and kind in such an almost loving way that I blurted out,

“But it IS that bad and it’s been that bad ever since I CAN REMEMBER!  Ever since second grade
 — even though all the grown-ups kept saying, ‘Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be alright.’ But it WASN'T! It never was all right but no one would admit it!  And you, YOU! WHY are you suddenly being so nice to me? You’re never nice to me. YOU NEVER LISTEN TO WHAT I’M SAYING IN CLASS AND IT REALLY UPSETS ME!” 

With a pained look on his face he replied, “My dear, that’s because I’m partially deaf in one ear.  You sit on the left side of the room and that’s the ear I have trouble with.”

As I took in this stunning admission, all those months of feeling hurt and rejected and unimportant were swept away. His behavior had nothing to do with me! It was hard to take in.

“Why didn’t you just SAY so?” I asked plaintively, begging with my voice to hear his explanation.  What could he say to make up for all those weeks?

He looked down, then looked up again, and turned away avoiding my stare, his eyes looking slightly past me. 

“I was ashamed to admit I was flawed,” he said in the smallest of voices.

Aren't we all? I tho
ught — understanding him and myself through new ears.

Just found this (current) shot of my professor!
He calls it "The Seer With a Sneer"


  1. Hi Denise! Thanks so much for the post. It was right on time for me, as I was started to make up my own stories about a recent encounter with a teacher. Extremely helpful reminder. Keep writing!

  2. Love the picture of your professor too! Ha... just adds to the whole thing.

    1. He calls that photo "The Seer with a Sneer"! I reconnected and am happy he remembered me!