Writing is so very different from acting, but I love it all the same. I think we have all felt, as actors, that we only have so much input on a film set or in rehearsal for a play and while acting is a great joy, writing gives me a way to unleash my own vision.
As an actor you start with a roadmap, a script, a vision to fulfill. But a writer starts with a blank page and their vision. There is no road map whatsoever. This allowed me to dream and let my imagination run wild. I could write things into the script like, "The footage that runs behind the actors must be in black and white and look like it is out of a Cassavetes film." It is a powerful feeling to create a new world on a page. I also try to flesh out my writing as much as I can and make it sound as natural as possible, with all the "uhs," "ohs," "ahs," and "yeahs." I put all that in. I guess it's the Mamet in me.
For as much detail as I try to put into my writing, though, it takes the actor to bring it to life. There is not yet a writing program that allows you to write in 3D, and I find that frustrating. So when an actor brings your material to life and makes it sing, and makes you look good and confirms that your vision works, well, it is just about the best feeling in the world.
I also see that as an actor, you can't take cuts personally. Trust me, the writer takes them as personally as anyone. I have little funerals at the end of every week for all my beautiful one-liners and bits that just simply had to go. I have a short list now on my computer of three lines I am trying to fit back into my script. But scripts are funny—when they're done, they're done. If a script really works, there simply isn't room for another line. Every line drives the story forward and you couldn't squeeze another one in if you tried. It is as if a script becomes its own beast and starts talking back to you. It will say, "No! I told you, I end here. Anything more is indulgent!"
I have found writing and acting in the same piece to be a fun and interesting challenge, as well. It is like my actress self is showing the writer in me what she wrote. Sometimes as I am discovering the role, I find a moment when I realize, "Wow, so that is what I meant by that! I had no idea!" It signals to me that writing comes a bit from the subconscious. It pours out of you and sometimes you write something that you didn't really think through fully at the time. So that person in the back of the room, looking very interested and sometimes with a bit of a blank stare, is the writer seeing his imagination walking around the stage. Yes, it is surreal.
I guess as actors, that is what we do. We have the final job of bringing the material to life, and writers will love that you care for their script enough to bring it into the world with a combination of imagination, charm, humor, love, wit, heart, and sexuality. To the writer sitting at their desk trying to see it all and hold that vision in their mind as they write, it is a slice of heaven.
"Us," a new play written by and co-starring Clunie, runs Sept. 5-24 at The Lion Theater @ Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC.