Tuesday, September 05, 2017

SURF'S UP -- my one act play

I recently participated in a terrific writing exercise. It’s a one-day play event. Five playwrights arrive at the theatre at 9:00 AM, we’re given a topic, headshots of two actors, and we find a desk and write a ten minute play. Four hours later the actors and directors arrive, they’re given their scripts, and they go off and rehearse and memorize. At 7:30 that night is the performance.

It’s scary, it’s crazy, it’s really fun.

What I thought I’d do today is post the script. Then tomorrow I’ll walk you through my thought process. I did something similar on my podcast with another one act play and you guys seemed to really like it.

Here were some parameters: They had to be between 7 and 10 pages. No longer than a ten minute play. They all had to be set in a café (there was a small table, a couple of chairs, and a counter), no monologues, no internal light or sound cues (no time for tech), and since the actors had to memorize them in like five minutes we were advised to have short sentences.

Obviously, expectations are low. For my other ten minute plays I take days, generally cast and direct them myself, have hours of rehearsal, lots of rewriting, and hopeful a reading. But the goal here is to be creative on demand and all the aspects of it that make it scary also make it exciting. Plus, what the hell? There are no reviewers, the audience knows these are slapped together, we get free bagels, and from time to time magic appears. What was also fascinating for me (and hopefully the audience) was hearing the other plays. Five very different takes on the same subject. And five different styles.

The topic was “the end of summer.” My two actors were a young woman in her 20’s and a gentleman in his 50’s.  They were played by Julia Arian and Jim Stapleton.

Here’s what I did. Be kind. It was written on the fly in only a few hours.


SURF'S UP!

INT. CAFE - DAY

WENDY (20's) sits at a table. She
wears a suit. Her father FRANK (50's)
ENTERS gingerly, stooped over a little,
holding his back, and limping slightly.
He wears a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and
flip flops. Wendy crosses to him,
concerned.

WENDY
Dad?

FRANK
(as if nothing's wrong) Hey, Wendy, how are you?

WENDY
Me? How are you? Jesus. You're a walking question mark.

FRANK
I wiped out on a five-footer. Gnarly wave. The board spun
out and hit me.

WENDY
My God.

FRANK
And hit me again.

WENDY
You poor thing.

FRANK
And again.

WENDY
Come, sit down. It's good to see you.

She tries to hug him. He flinches.

FRANK
Easy. My ribs are still broken.

WENDY
Oh, right. Forgot. Last month's wipe out.

They sit. He GRUNTS as he takes his
seat.

FRANK
That was a good one. I hit the pier.

WENDY
Dad, you're not 20 anymore. You're not even 50.

FRANK
Nothing's changed. I just heal slower. (grabs his shoulder)
Ow! What do you do for fun on the weekends?

WENDY
I fill out your insurance forms.

FRANK
That's my one regret about divorcing your mother. She did
all that paperwork.

WENDY
So why'd you want to see me, Daddy? Your email said it was
important.

FRANK
I'm changing my life.

WENDY
To what?

FRANK
I had an epiphany. As they were giving me CPR I realized:
it's September. The summer is over.

WENDY
You don't need paramedics to realize that. You can do it
with a calendar.

FRANK
I meant September in the bigger sense.

WENDY
What bigger sense is there? It's a month.

FRANK
Another summer is over and how many more do I have?

WENDY
Are you kidding? You are still young.

FRANK
So I'm quitting my job and surfing year round.

WENDY
What?! You can't do that. You're old.

FRANK
I'm going to follow the waves. Around the world. I'll have
an endless summer.

WENDY
Okay, that's it. No more Beach Boy records!

FRANK
Hey, don't knock the Beach Boys, Wendy. You were named after
a Beach Boys song.

WENDY
Yes, and thank you for not naming me "Little Deuce Coupe."

FRANK
You can thank your mother (off her look) I'm kidding, I'm
kidding.

WENDY
Dad, you can't do this. It's crazy.

FRANK
I should have done it years ago. I'm tired of "working for
the man."

WENDY
I hate to tell ya, but it's not just summer. The '60s and
'70s are over too.

FRANK
In the words of the great Brian Wilson: (with reverence)
"Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world."

WENDY
Even Brian Wilson, who is crazy, would say to you: "Don't do
this."

FRANK
First stop: Ulu Watu, in Bali. Or Huntington Beach,
California.

WENDY
Dad, you've been at Time-Warner for 25 years. You're one of
six people in America who still has health benefits.

FRANK
I'm on a quest, Wendy. To find that perfect wave.

WENDY
You're serious about this.

FRANK
I gave notice yesterday.

WENDY
You're giving up a good career that you worked your whole
life for to go search for "Surf City."

FRANK
Hey, "two girls for every guy."

WENDY
Okay, we're done here.

FRANK
No, no, I'm kidding. That's just part of the song.

Wendy considers for a beat, then:

WENDY
Well, Dad, if you've quit your job and this is what you want
to do, good luck. Tell me where you are so I can send Ace
bandages.

FRANK
Thank you.

He leans over to kiss her on the cheek,
straining his back.

FRANK
I love you. Ow!

He sits back down.

FRANK
Hey, I just had another epiphany.

WENDY
Great. Should I call 911?

FRANK
Why don't you come with me?

WENDY
WHAT?!

FRANK
Yeah, it'll be boss. We've never had the chance to spend any
real time together since the divorce. It'll be great Daddy
Daughter bonding.

WENDY
Daddy-daughter bonding is us going to a Broadway musical, not
the Emergency Room in Bali.

FRANK
Are you happy?

WENDY
What?

FRANK
In your life? Are you happy?

WENDY
I'm not going there.

FRANK
You're dressed in a suit. It's Sunday.

WENDY
I have to go to the office later.

FRANK
There's a dress code on the weekend? Even the Secret Service
gets to wear Polo shirts on the golf course -- meaning 80% of
the time.

WENDY
I'm meeting a client.

FRANK
Do you love your job?

WENDY
I'm a sales rep for Verizon. How could I possibly love my
job?

FRANK
Then why do you do it?

WENDY
Because it pays well and... it pays well.

FRANK
The summers go by really fast.

WENDY
I'm not quitting my job. I get 40% discount on all products.

FRANK
Is there a boy in your life?

WENDY
You know there's not.

FRANK
Yes, that's why I asked it.

WENDY
I'm not going to meet him with my father as my wing man.

FRANK
You never know. I'll be hanging out with a lot of really
cute athletic surfer boys.

WENDY
Who are also bums that go around the world with no future.

FRANK
Yeah, but they have great pecs.

WENDY
I can't believe I'm discussing this with my father.

FRANK
You're a grown up woman. You have sex.

WENDY
If I had one wish in the whole world it would be to get into
that DeLorean and go back in time three minutes.

FRANK
The point is you need some adventure in your life. Everybody
does.

WENDY
Dad, I'm not like you.

FRANK
Yes, but isn't there a part of you, even a small part, that
wants to be?

WENDY
I don't surf. And when I'm your age I want the use of my
knees.

FRANK
The part about wanting to be free. "Summer" is vacation. The
rest of the year is all... school.

WENDY
Of course I love summer. Who doesn't? But it does end.

FRANK
It's always summer somewhere.

WENDY
Like I said, I don't surf.

FRANK
But you write.

WENDY
What?

FRANK
You write stories.

WENDY
How do you know that?

FRANK
You've posted fan fiction. There were a couple of days I was
in the hospital that I read it all.

WENDY
Okay, so I do.

FRANK
You're very good.

WENDY
You're just saying that because you want me to push you
around in a wheelchair when you wipeout in South Africa.

FRANK
No. Because you have a real talent for it.

WENDY
You seriously think so?

FRANK
Yes.

WENDY
Wow.

FRANK
Does it give you pleasure?

WENDY
God yes. I can't believe you read my stuff.

FRANK
Wendy, you still have lots of summers. So what's one or two?
Come with me. Sit on the beach. If you're going to write,
don't you need stuff to write about?

WENDY
Like seeing the world?

FRANK
Better. The world that has good weather.

A long beat, then:

WENDY
I can't believe I'm even considering this.

FRANK
You'll never regret it.

Another long beat, then:

WENDY
Okay, I'm an idiot.

An excited Frank gets up to hug her and
groans in pain.

FRANK
YES! And I love you for it. Surf's up! Ow!

WENDY
Y'know, I always thought you named me Wendy after Peter Pan.

FRANK
Maybe I did.

BLACKOUT.

THE END

Tomorrow:  my process.  

33 comments :

Bud Wilkinson said...

Brilliant. Concise. Funny. And her mystified boss will ask, "Wendy what went wrong?"

Kosmo13 said...

If Wendy really goes with him, pretty soon she'll be saying "I'm Bugged at My Old Man."

Anonymous said...

Very good. I liked those people, and I could hear their voices. Terrific ending, too. Thank you!

Dave said...

Damn, no need to offer disclaimers, that is excellent.

MikeN said...

This guy is younger than you, so really he is a late 70s/80s guy.

Ben said...

Should all the 5 playwrights be Jews?

Matt said...

This is great.

A couple of the lines don't work perfectly and some of the jokes are a little obvious, but more importantly on the whole it is funny.

I could see this being the opening scene of a pilot.

VP81955 said...

Considering the impromptu nature of it all, a pretty good job. I liked the array of one-liners. (And at least she didn't think she was named for the hamburger chain.)

Peter said...

I agree with Matt. I could see this working as a sitcom. Daughter who's a budding writer sets off traveling with her dad who can't accept he's no longer a young surfer dude. Lots of comic possibilities.

Dare I say, I think you and David should write a pilot based on this!

Sérgio said...

Wonderful! I loved it.

JeffR said...

Absolutely great!! You have given yourself great notes to further develop this!
I especially liked the layered references to many great things from the 60-70s...especially the Boss!
Thanks for a fun 10 minutes - do it again!

Jeff Maxwell said...

Sweet, funny, poignant, flows beautifully. Gentle look at you only go around once.

Bob Mungovan said...

This is just great. Funny and heart warming.

Bruce said...

What I find most amazing is that Ken was able to do this tightly written, very funny piece in not just in a few hours, but without the help of one single note from the network.

Donald Benson said...

How much did you have in mind when you started typing? Did you have the ending?

I enjoyed it, but the daughter's early dissection of how it was likely to play out haunted the ending. I thought of "Waiting for Goffman", where various characters chased their dreams and didn't get very far. Or even "The Seagull", where the young girl is lured away to become an actress, and is later seen as literally hungry, feeling the lack of a real home, yet grimly committed to mastering her art.

A facile comedy could be made of their decision to take off. But I think the real story would be when one or the other wants to "sell out", whether for money, fear, or even love.

Carol said...

Loved it! I'm dying to know for which fandom Wendy wrote fan fiction. :)

A friend of mine did that same thing recently at Haddonfield Plays and Players. It's a cool idea.

Peter said...

P.S. Julia is a cutie.

Jahn Ghalt said...


The sitcom idea is great, and you have Scene One.

Plus, all writers have non-network producers - which must be a bonus of sorts.

In case you don't want to go there - and even if you do - why not try a rewrite? And post it? I'll bet you already rewrite some of it every time you read it.

Here's a joke that occurred to me (no charge!)

FRANK
Is there a boy in your life?

WENDY
You know there's not.

FRANK
How about A MAN??

Roger Farley said...

Fun read--the characters really came alive. In ten years of reading your blog daily this is my all-time favorite posting!

Mike said...

Wendy: Hang on to your ego, Frank.

Liggie said...

When I saw the actors were a young woman and older man, the first thing I thought of was a May-December scenario. Very pleasantly surprised to see them as parent and daughter, never mind the inverse maturity level of the characters.

Next time, I'd like to see a scenario with an older woman and a younger man. December-May romance, anyone?

Pete Grossman said...

Fun stuff, Ken - and ballsy to take this on - AND share it. Appreciate it.

BTW, Good one, Bud Wilkinson

Donald Benson said...

Later I find myself thinking of "Wings", which originally centered on the mature, responsible brother versus the footloose globetrotter brother. That angle always lingered, and finally paid off in the responsible brother taking off to help his wife chase her dream (one that, incidentally, involved a lot more personal discipline), while their respective siblings accepted the burden of responsibility.

Is it possible there'll ever be a reunion show? Did the responsible couple EVER come home? Did the siblings become solid citizens, or eventually sell the airline and take off themselves?

Cap'n Bob said...

Liggie--If you want to see a younger man/older woman play read Forty Carats. Skip the lousy Liv Ullman movie; see or read the play.

Matt said...

Is there a chance you could get some of the other playwrites to allow you to post their 10 min play. I would like to see how other playwrites wrote scenes.

Xyore said...

Very nice post

Jahn Ghalt said...

Matt made a motion:

"to post the others' 10-minute plays"

I SECOND the motion.

All in favor...

Chris G said...

Lovely! Thank you for sharing.

MattP said...

Great script Ken well done, I could imagine it happening. Also a great idea for me in ten years, daddy/daughter trips are fantastic (did one to Japan last year with my youngest daughter).

DG said...

I enjoyed that. I hope to come back to it from time to time when my one-act plays are going nowhere, slowly and painfully, so that I can remind myself how to keep things moving forward. My favourite joke was the one about the Secret Service and the President playing golf, mostly because it's a good joke no matter who's president, but a very good joke just now.

MikeKPa. said...


Some really great lines. Especially the ones on insurance paperwork. What a great exercise. What a great script.

John Douglass said...

Your actors must have loved it. All their lines fed right into each other's.

Kevin Crews said...

Very enjoyable. We'll done.