When I was young, I dreaded slumber parties. I only went because it was easier to accept an invitation from somebody as formidable as Kathy Schlegel than to try and come up with an excuse to not go. It was a badge of honor to see who could stay up and talk. All night. I longed to close my eyes and press the Social “OFF” Button.
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PMPers reconnect after a three-week hiatus. The kids unanimously agree that three weeks has been an eternity, and even for the adults, it’s felt like a very long time. There’s comfort to be found in the warm-up routines, which by now are as intuitive as blinking.
Kate introduces a writing exercise:
Fill in the blank.
I feel alone when I am with other people because ____.
I feel connected with people when ____.
Some of the kids choose not to share, and that is fine, but for those who do, everything they say resonates with at least one other person in the room. “That’s exactly how I feel!” “It’s like you’re inside my head!” The terror provoked by finding a seat in a crowded cafeteria or walking through a phalanx of upperclassmen in a teeming hallway.
In a sitcom universe, these little moments might be laugh-track opportunities, with the punch line usually coming at the expense of some unsuspecting innocent victim. At PMP, there’s a lot of laughter. But it’s the real kind, that comes with connection. “Hey, I know what you mean!”
There are only 20 minutes left. Really? Kim joins us, to introduce some wordless group exercises.
Create a square.
Create a square and fill in the center with a circle.
Face one direction and then, like a covey of migrating robins, seamlessly change leadership and direction.
Kim’s right. What comes of this, without artifice, without role-playing is something “visually gorgeous.”
Early in the evening, one of the kids muses about his Christmas. What was weird, he said, was that for the first time he can remember, everybody got along. This becomes fodder for a final improv, first wordless then with brief dialogue. It’s as poignant as it is funny.
Hard to believe, Kate tells us, but PMP has reached the mid-way point. In just a few weeks, Chris Newbound, the group’s playwright-in-residence, will join us for three-hour sessions. Now’s the time to take a closer look at what we have created and start to commit. Kate invites everyone to submit music, writing, or other forms of expression that might be incorporated in the final plays. So many possibilities! So little time!
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The anxiety that preceded my adolescent slumber parties weighted me down like those aprons the dental hygienist drapes over your chest when you need a new set of x-rays. It wasn’t the staying up all night that made me so tired.
It was the role-playing. Who does Kathy Schlegel expect me to be? Will I play my part well? But I joined in, an actor fulfilling a variety of roles on demand: Cynic, Court Jester, Conspirator, Turncoat.
And finally, in the cold light of morning, when the slumber party is over and it’s time to roll up my sleeping bag and wait for my dad to pick me up: Who Am I?
Even now, as an adult, I’m pretty sure the answer to that question can never be tied up as prettily as a ½-hour sitcom. But I can say that it’s somewhere in that PMP room, in that sanctified space, where commitment to truth resides.
Eventually, my slumber party days went the way of other cringe-worthy adolescent epochs. Don’t get me started on 10th grade, when for nearly a year, I wore a Victorian mourning dress and sneakers to school.
Late ‘70s. Pennsylvania Dutch country. Take my word for it. Not cool.
Meet our PMP Blogger
Jane Denitz Smith is a proud member of Dramatists Guild, through whose aegis she recently held a staged reading of Death by Chocolate and Barbecue, new full-length plays. Most recently, Spread My Ashes By the Rental was part of the Made in the Berkshires Festival. Last May, Mary Durning’s Soup and Other Cultural Divides was included in Boston Theatre Marathon. Ten-minute plays have workshopped in Jen Whiting’s Ten-Minute-Play Workshop podcasts and, in 2011, scenes from After Prom, a full-length play, were staged as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Jane is the author of three Young Adult novels, published with HarperCollins. She teaches and lives with her family in Williamstown, Mass.