John P. Loonam: An O.G. C.P.

John Loonam is a writer, teacher, and long-time contributor to Cherry Picking.  His play, The First Act, will be seen at this year's event.

The magic of Cherry Picking for me is tied up with Chris Tomaino’s reading of my short story “Guy and Doll", which he turned into a kind of dramatic monologue about a dozen years ago.  I remember clearly that I liked the story when I wrote it, that I thought it was funny and a little creepy and sad, and that I had gotten under the skin of that character and let the reader see a more real version of him.

But I had my doubts.  I remember being nervous that no one else would get it – that it would not be funny, or that it would only be funny.  I imagined how I wanted it read – where Chris should speed up and where he should whisper.  But I fought off the prose writer’s predilection to control every detail:  Chris told me he got it and that he was excited to read it and I simply trusted that he was the actor and knew what he was doing.  I thought, at worst, I would learn something about the piece.

We were in a bar that year and as Chris came to the stage I got a drink and went to the back where I could hide and watch the audience and him.  As Chris read the first sentence I got disoriented:  This character was so familiar to me, and yet brand new.  He did not slow down where I thought he would, he did not gesture as I had imagined.  That was because he was not Chris, but Ed Bracebridge, and this Ed was no longer simply figuring in my imagination, but being on that platform in front of me.  Ed was connecting to the audience and telling his story – making them laugh and using the laughter to draw them in to something else, some darker, more vulnerable part of himself. 

I was stunned.  I knew I had a hand in creating this moment, had written those words, but this also felt distinct and separate from me.  I felt the collaboration with Chris and Clare, felt how their interpretation changed my experience as a writer.  I realized that I had had my doubts about this piece and that they were meaningless because other artists had found strengths I did not know it had.

I am still not primarily a playwright.  Most of my work is fiction, written to be read from the silent page.  But I continue to write for Cherry Picking to get that thrill of collaborating, to listen to what these actors bring to my words, to continue letting them teach me my craft.

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