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  • Writer's pictureKathy Coudle-King

Putting away the dishes the day after the dinner party - (Or, after striking a new show)

Updated: May 22, 2023

How do you spend the morning after striking a play you’ve lived with for two and a half years?

You wake up and remember there’s a bunch of shit in your car left over from strike, and you wonder if you can leave it there for just a little bit longer or will that big tub of costumes obstruct your vision. Turns out it won’t! You can drive just fine if you just shift some stuff around.

Ignoring putting props and costumes away, you turn your attention to your yard. (Avoidance can sometimes be quite productive.) So, you pull some weeds. (While I’ve been at the theater, they’ve been growing like – well, you know!)

Then you take a shower and get online and look for places to submit your work.

Yep. We closed. And there’s no video. So, if you missed it, don’t ask.

Live theatre is not meant to be seen on a screen. It doesn’t translate well. The human eye can go where a single camera set at the back of the house can never go. A video camera can’t capture the audience’s tension. That exhale when you make them laugh after a particularly difficult bit? Elusive to the best video camera and operator.


Becky (Nicole Quam), Walter Criswell as himself, Lucy (Hannah Diers) at the "Madwomen's Ball"

The script is a living, pulsing thing once you get it into the hands of the cast and crew. They bring it to life in a way that I, as the writer, could never do on my own. They help me make discoveries. Actors may skip a word or a line – repeatedly. Then I realize it’s not needed. Maybe it’s redundant. Maybe it’s just too wordy. Maybe it just needs to go.

Endings I hate writing them. I’ve been known to write 3 endings, performed consecutively. Each time the audience began to applaud. Each time it wasn't over. Until it was. And then they weren't sure if they should applaud. Oy.

Many an ending has stumped me. The one for Retail Therapy, for example. I tried it three different ways. Then last Tuesday at 1:30 a.m., I tossed and turned it around in my head until I stumbled onto a new ending. I typed it up and tweaked it some more, then waited till a more reasonable hour to email it to everyone. (4:45 a.m.)

My amazing stage manager, Jace Erickson, sent out an email to the actors, asking them to

Jace Erickson, stage manager extraordinaire

arrive a half hour earlier than their normal call time. We rehearsed the ending a couple of times. I told them I didn’t care if they came on with the script in hand. I just needed to hear and see it. And, whatya know? It works! So much better than the old one. My lovely actors say they prefer it. Maybe I got it right. Maybe.

Other surprises

Each night there were far more people I did not know in the audience than those I did. Their positive feedback after the show was greatly appreciated. It’s one thing when your nearest and dearest tell you they like your work. It’s another when a stranger does. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does. (Thank you to everyone for the private and public notes. I’ve been writing plays for 40 years (!), but I feel like each play is the first one. “Does this work?” “Does it make sense?”)

What’s next?

I had planned to take Retail Therapy to small towns across North Dakota. However, early on I was dissuaded by friends who live in a small town that does a good bit of theatre. They thought the topic of mental illness would put local audiences off. Since I am not just the writer but the producer, I listened. They know their community better than I do.

So, no, we won’t be performing on a Main Street near you anytime soon. However, I’m thinking Fringe Fest. Next summer. Retail Therapy definitely feels "fringe-y". I will need to put in for the lottery, so no guarantees.

Ashley Fredricksen as Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

However, August 2024 sounds so far away and it’s hard to say auvoir to a play. The characters become so real. I’m going to miss Becky and Lucy, Virginia Woolf and Zelda Fitzgerald. Part of me is even going to miss Freud but not the eugenicists. Never the eugenicists. (Sorry, Walter.)

Ashley Fredricksen, Walter Criswell, Nicole Quam, Hannah Diers, Jace Erickson, Kathy Coudle-King. All photography by Michael Bogert.

Plus, the cast and crew become close in a way that lots of families aren’t. It’s like saying goodbye to your favorite cousins. When will we meet again? There's no assurance that this entire cast and crew will be able to work together on this play again. Life happens. Conflicts happen.

So, I'll hold on to the version of the play I watched performed eight times over the last two weeks. I'll hold on to the memory of creating something magical with other artists and audiences. Thank you to everyone who made it possible: ND Council on the Arts, Helen Hutton and Valley Senior Living, our amazing group of therapists who supported the play in various ways, Debra Pflughoeft-Hassett and everyone at Empire Arts Center, and, again, my phenomenal cast and crew. You're all invited to the next dinner party.

I'll hold onto this memory even as I plan the next meal.

Writing prompt: What part of the writing process is the most difficult for you? Beginnings? Middles? Ends? Revision?

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