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Perils and Possibilities: Entering a Playwriting Competition

by Joan Graham

I went to Toronto in May and asked a New York friend if I could stay with her one night on the way up and one night on the way back. She agreed and said that, coincidentally, when I returned she would have a houseguest from Toronto, a transgender woman who had "breasts she loved but still had balls." Would I be okay sharing the living room, which had a couch and a daybed? Yes.

The Torontonian, a photographer, was having an opening when I arrived. I went, thinking it would be fun to meet my soon-to-be New York roommate in Toronto. So cosmopolitan!

A few days later, on the way back to New York, I thought a lot about what it must be like to know in your heart that you are in the wrong body. Mine might be wanting in some respects, but it's always felt like home.

While traveling and musing, I receive an email announcing the annual Eventide Theater full length playwriting competition. Like two magnets clicking together, the idea of writing a play about a transgender woman is born.

The first deadline, June 1, was a scant three weeks away. It could be a work-in-progress, I learn. Having nothing beyond the idea, I ask for a definition of "work-in-progress." A title and a couple of pages was the answer. Knowing nothing about gender nonconformity, and having written only one not-very-good 10-minute play, I decide to forge ahead. I can be nervy at times!

I manage to submit the title and Act One, Scene One on time. My plan is to do research in June and write in July and August for September 1, the next deadline. Best laid plans.

I start reading everything I can, watching documentaries, Hollywood movies, and attend a few PFLAG meetings where I am welcomed. I hope to somehow meet up again with the woman from Toronto. Would she be in Boston or New York or like a trip to the Cape?

Yes to New York, but she's not sure when. One day I get an email. Can we meet in New York on Saturday for lunch? I drop everything and plan my weekend trip.

Again, we both stay at our mutual friend's house. We walk down to MacDougal Street and have lunch at a table tucked in a corner of a glass-covered courtyard.

Perfect. But whether it is my lack of interviewing skills, or the fact that she is more interested in her present life than talking about how she achieved it, I don't feel the interview is a success. On the way back, we sit in Washington Square Park, my old stomping ground, and people watch and chat.

But I am disheartened.

I am stuck! What's the plot? Who are the characters? What's the conflict?

However, within two days of each other, my niece and my writing group suggest I write the play from my perspective – about how, as I watch the transition of another, I might experience a transition of my own, how my understanding and awareness could grow. I want always to know the answer to the question, "who are we?" Eureka! I think I can do this!

I discard Act One, Scene One. It no longer fits. But I am writing. The plot is evolving, becoming layered, the characters deepening.

The jury is out on whether I can be ready by September 1, the second of three deadlines, which is a month after the deadline for this piece.

We'll see.

A former New Yorker, Joan Graham has lived in Brewster for 36 years. She is widowed and has two grown sons. She has written profiles and personal essays for numerous local publications and has been writing a mystery for so long her protagonist is almost eligible for Social Security.

A Realtor, Joan loves helping her customers find their perfect property. As a mature student, she earned an MA in Counseling Psychology and Certificates in Art Therapy and Thanatology. She is also a dementia caregiver.