Better Together – Collaborating on 180 Degree Rule (Part 1)

Though playwrights often rely heavily on a team of friends, editors, directors, actors, and audience members to help bring their work to life, it is less common to see a work with two playwrights attached. How do two separate souls collaborate on a creation as personal as a full-length play? We asked ensemble member Barbara Lhota to give some insight on the process of collaborating with the late M.E.H. Lewis on our upcoming world premiere 180 Degree Rule. What follows is the first in a series of posts that not only illuminate the process of collaborating on a piece for the stage, but serve as a fitting memorial for a great artist and friend of the company.

MEH Lewis-Granville

Margaret, while working with Barbara on 180 Degree Rule at The Waterfront Cafe.

The Background

We always had “The Babes” in mind for this work, and both of us loved the idea of telling women’s stories, particularly those of female characters that we don’t frequently get to see dramatized: tough women, inventors, artists, scientists, archaeologists, coders, film directors.

I always say that each play I write has a different process. Some emerge quite easily without much pushing. Some are coaxed gently with offers of popcorn and drink to get them on the page. Still others require the big mental clamp and a couple of epidurals. Delivery-style does not necessarily predict outcome or success. Having worked with Margaret on two full-lengths and the outlining of a third, my sense is that she did a lot of pre-thinking work. She did a lot of “letting the soup stew till it’s ready,” as our dramaturg Heather Meyers likes to say. Once it had been on the heat awhile, Margaret wrote effortlessly. I don’t imagine her computer’s backspace key is nearly as worn as mine.

I admire one thing very much in myself, and that is that I tend to choose genuine souls: witty, talented people with fabulous vocabularies, sharp minds, who know when to tell people to “f-off” at the right time and place. I consider Margaret a perfect example of that, and I consider her one of the best yings to my yang. I miss her daily, weekly – particularly on Fridays because that was the day we’d meet to work. We’d work at cafes, diners, and each others’ houses.

You are more than friends when you write together – it’s sort of like finding a soul mate. Your collaborator is someone who shares your values and who is also willing to share the characters in your brain. It’s a rarity. And yet both of us had done it several times before because I think we were/are both collaborators at heart. In this case, the time and place was right for both of us. We were on the same wavelength, same page, and we were very close in age, so we shared the same timeline. We got each other’s jokes and references. We understood each other.

When we started outlining 180 Degree Rule, she had recently finished her play Freshly Fallen Snow, which was produced with Chicago Dramatists. I was in the midst of Leapfest with Stage Left Theatre with Warped. Both plays used memory and perspective in different ways, so these thoughts were ever-present.

Having those ideas in mind, I expect I can only present this collaboration of 180 through my eyes. I wish she could tell you her perspective, too, but this is only possible now through our emails.

Pre-180 – Destined to Work Together

MEH Lewis & Barb Lhota

“You are more than friends when you write together.”

Margaret and I formally met back in 2010 or 2011. Both of us had several mutual friends and artistic cohorts in common: Amy Harmon, Leigh Barrett, Kate Black-Spence, Joe and Lila Stromer, to name only a few. I always admired Margaret’s work. When Babes With Blades Theatre Company had an opportunity to apply for Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep using the concept of women and war, I suggested we reach out to talented playwright friends. At the top of the list was M.E.H. Lewis. I asked Amy if Margaret would be willing to write a short piece using the concept of women and war through history to see if we could gather an interesting collection for an evening. We playwrights started to develop our work individually because there was preliminary interest. But, we didn’t have a full script completed (we had very little time) and who knows who else applied…they turned us down for one reason or another.

Our BWBTC Artistic Director, Leigh, and (at the time) Managing Director, Amy, asked if anyone still wanted to work on these play ideas. Both Margaret and I said, “Yes, we would! AND we’d like to work together.” Happy me!

…to be continued

**Be sure to see 180 Degree Rule come to life in our World Premiere Production Opening April 25th!**
Blog Post contributed by Barbara Lhota


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