Last night I had the honor of attending the play Picnic with my oldest daughter. I hadn't intended to go simply because the logistics of getting out of the house without my other 3 children is nearly unfathomable. However, when my oldest (15) explained to her dad that she wanted to take me as an early birthday present and that her drama teacher has specifically said I should come to see the performance, how could he resist? So, I got a "night out" with my daughter.
The play, written by William Inge in 1953 is set in a fictionalized town near Independence, KS. My family and I just happen to spend many Saturdays in Independence. It is a nice 45 minute drive North from Bartlesville and my husband's grandparents used to reside there so he has fond memories of the place. It's a nice town to visit. They have a lovely park, a free zoo, a little train that takes you around the track twice for a quarter and a carousel that offers rides for just a nickel! I have a deep fondness for the old buildings and the newer statues that garnish the city in different places. I like to make my children pose by them. They look awesome on our Christmas cards :)
The play? Oh yes, the play. It was the High School Drama production which, I have to say, was quite impressive. Under the molding of a teacher I believe to be exceptionally skilled at her profession, Ms. Susan Crabtree, the cast performed wonderfully (I don't have to say that either. My daughter has an A in the class!). Just as I was with their portrayal of the Helen Keller story in The Miracle Worker in the Fall, I watched in awe as the cast and crew unfolded the story with an ease that made the task seem simple. Undoubtedly they put in a lot of hard work which paid off and was greatly appreciated by those of us observing.
In 1955, the play was made into an Academy Award winning movie by the same name. According to Answers.com, the film is "sometimes cited as a richly detailed snapshot of life in the American Midwest during the 1950s"; a statement which got me to thinking....isn't that exactly what I'm trying to do in my books and stories? Am I not offering my readers a snapshot?
Sometimes writing feels more like a play-by-play and the little details seem mundane or unnecessary, like when it takes 3 lines to let the reader know Terry has a mass of curls that she tucks behind her ears when she's nervous. Just like a fluttering hand to the throat of the main female character in a play right before she smoothes her skirt, however, these details may seem small but they are very telling and oh so important in the sculpting of that character. Each detail goes into the building of that snapshot.
I'm very glad I went to see this play. It took place in a short amount of time; the morning and evening of Labor Day as well as the next morning. Yet in that short span of time the character of these characters were brought out, explored, and exposed for who and what they truly were. We saw their past, their present, and their future. Not only did I enjoy the performance through the laughter and the tears (yep, I admit it! I was one of the ones with my tissue in hand) I believe it helped me to refocus in my goal as a writer. I realize now more fully that I must define the snapshot I want to create and compose the details in a compelling fashion that will evoke emotion in my readers just as the play did in its audience. The words are important, however, it is the snapshot those words create in the minds of my readers that will truly make the book a success worth telling others about. Thank you Susan Crabtree and the Bartlesville High School students. Bravo!