Finishing the Draft


I’ve been working on Voyagers since November 2016.

Maybe you’ve heard me talk about it. Maybe you’ve sat down with me as you try to share good news with me and all I can talk about is how the play isn’t working. Or how hard it is for me to write about hope. Or how little hope I was willing to share with my audiences. Maybe you came to the staged reading in September 2017, an event that coincided with my birthday despite my desperate drive to ignore the celebration. (My director Maureen brought cupcakes to rehearsal. Everyone sang. I loved it.) Maybe you were in the staged reading. Y’all wouldn’t recognize it today.

After coming back from New York, I tried to fix the play with notes from my director, notes from friends, notes from anyone who wanted to talk. I spent literally one week entertaining these ideas before turning to Maureen and saying “I need to start over.”

Okay, I didn’t actually turn to her. Maureen is based in New York and was, as she most always is during our conversations, on the other end of a FaceTime call. She trusted me, but she wanted some answers. She trusted me, but she wanted to know I was sure.

We talked about characters we wanted to know more about. (The offstage character of Joanna’s mother!) We talked about women in our research we were big fans of. (Everyone from Rise of the Rocket Girls. Everyone currently retiring from JPL without a FORTRAN-fluent successor.) And we talked about our favorite planets. (It was a one, two, three “Saturn!” situation.)

In January 2018, I started writing the play again.

And this time, I was happier with the tone and character makeup. I wrote five songs, giving Saturn a true intergalactic voice. I held a living room reading so I could get every voice properly in my head. (I made everyone tacos. It was delightful.) I sent an audio recording of the reading to Maureen because she was on maternity leave and she was still my teammate. And then, when we gathered again in October to discuss the plan of action for the rewrite, I accidentally threw the play out again.

Okay, so this time it wasn’t on purpose. But we were ditching a narrator character and restructuring a lot of the scene work to fit a slightly new tone, but I thought for sure I would be keeping the general outline and a bunch of the outer space scenes.

I was wrong. I love proving myself wrong.

That sounds like a cheeky comment, I know, but it’s true. I went into this new draft thinking I would do one thing, and then I did the total opposite. The characters are the same and so is the subject matter, but everything else is completely different. I’ve made our FORTRAN expert and longtime Voyager mission ace the central character. I’ve constructed a narrative where the A story is a best friendship long gone and the B story is the tale of two Voyager spacecrafts. The C story is a love story, one that’s so delightfully queer and exactly what I want to be saying with my work right now.

I started writing that version of Voyagers in January 2019. Six months later, I have a draft.

It’s three hours, 26,000 words, and loves to sing. I finished it exactly when I thought I would and way earlier than I ever imagined I could. I’ve sent the draft off to Maureen and our dramaturg, Sara, and tomorrow evening we’re diving in with notes. (I’m very excited!) In late August, we’re going into rehearsals with our all female and non-binary cast and creative team. And in September, we’ll be presenting this play to the world. Well, to Seattle. And then to the world.

I was going to celebrate with oysters yesterday, but I had a fever. And it was disappointing, because after Tuesday’s meeting I’ll be right back to work on the play. It won’t be a major throw-everything-out rewrite process. That much I know for sure. But it’ll be work. It’ll be a humming in the background until I come up with a version of the script that I’m ready to rehearse with — that we’re happy with. I made J promise me a raincheck on the celebrating. Because I created an epic. And I need to acknowledge that.

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