This week, we’re happy to introduce a guest blogger, Will Hare, a Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA) writer who was willing to share with us a story about his experiences at ESPA:
“When I started basic training in the Army, the first thing the drill sergeants taught us was how to march. Seems like a silly thing to teach, doesn’t it? I mean, if you can walk, you can march, right? It turns out the answer is a resounding “No.” For starters, some people didn’t know their left from their right. Seriously. You had 15 different rhythms, which made our platoon sound like a herd of buffalo. This annoyed the drill sergeants and they made us do push-ups every time we screwed up. It seemed hopeless.
But somehow, over eight weeks, we all learned to march together. By learning the basics. And we repeated the basics. And repeated them. And repeated them. And then we repeated them some more, until we sounded like one person walking.
This is very similar to the experience I’ve had at ESPA. No, the ESPA instructors don’t scream at you like drill sergeants, but when it comes to the basics, the fundamentals, and learning the simple things to get you to where you need to be… ESPA and the Army are identical.
When I started taking classes at ESPA in 2010, I thought I knew everything there was to know about screenwriting. I had read some books, done a few exercises in the comfort of my living room, and I had even written some screenplays, or things that looked like screenplays.
However, when I started class, I quickly realized that I was as far from a screenwriter as I was from a soldier on that first day of boot camp. I got to class and saw what a REAL screenplay looked like, and I knew I had a lot of work to do. In the quest to learn to march, there’s something called singing cadence. Contrary to popular opinion, the cadences aren’t vulgar, nor sexist at all. Some people think they raise morale, or exist just to make noise, but the cadences have a purpose—to keep everyone together. The cadence was there to help us stay in time. In other words, it’s like training wheels for walking. And eventually, we stopped singing cadence when we were able to march in time without a single mistake.
ESPA instructors are training wheels for writers. Each teacher has their own method, kind of like the drill sergeants had their own cadences, but they all share a common goal. They share the goal of making the students better, more cohesive, and consistent. They sometimes tell you things that you do not want to hear, things that push you further than you think you can go. And when you combine the cadences with the basics, what you get is a stronger writer.
Working in the ESPA environment – a safe place for students to learn how to listen, how to grow, and how to work together – reminded me of my platoon, walking together, as one. The entire unit behind you, supporting you.
Tessa LaNeve, Director of ESPA, once said to our class that she didn’t want to see us year after year in class. She wanted us to go out into the world and apply our trade. This stuck with me. In other words, there comes a point where you have to work without the cadence and work with others.
I feel blessed that one of my screenplays is getting turned into a movie next year. A screenplay I wrote at ESPA. ESPA gave me the tools I needed to succeed, a safe space to use those tools, and a space to fail. And Tessa, Sarah, and the rest of ESPA community continue to give me support whether I’m in class or not. From time to time, like many of my writing colleagues, I need a refill of the spirit and sense of family nourished at ESPA and I know ESPA is there, ready to fill my cup and have a chat. I’ll never forget that. Get ready for an Oscar shout out!”