I’m sitting in a lecture hall at a university, about to hear my play Unbound read out loud for the first time in Los Angeles.
The place is packed. Many of my friends and colleagues are in the audience. Three important-looking people are sitting together near the front – two men and a woman. They must be “industry.” Agents, managers, maybe even producers.
I’m excited. And tense.
I wasn’t able to make it to any of the rehearsals because of other commitments, but I was told by the people who’d put the reading together that things were going great, and that I was going to be very pleased. I took them at their word.
But something seems off.
It’s a four-character play. There are eight readers sitting around a table at the front. Even if you include an additional reader for stage directions, that’s still three readers too many. I’m not sure what’s happening, but I don’t like it.
Not much I can do about it now. Should have gone to rehearsal.
The reading starts, and the actors are talking so softly I can barely make out the words. Who directed these guys? That’s when it hits me that most of the actors look like they’re still in high school – they’re several years younger than the characters in the play. I shift around in my seat, frustrated, unable to hear.
The three industry people sitting in the front can definitely hear, though, and I see the expressions on their faces turn from curiosity to confusion to disgust.
This goes on for a good while until suddenly, one of the actors removes a bowl from under his seat. Inside the bowl is something that looks and smells very much like a pile of dog shit.
He starts eating it.
I really wish I’d gone to rehearsal.
The industry people stand up abruptly and head to the exit. I feel my mind disengage from my emotions, and a calm sense of detachment overtakes me – this usually happens when I find myself faced with the truly horrific.
The two industry men walk out. The woman stops, turns around, and says, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but this isn’t the play we were expecting.”
You and me both, lady. I can only stare at her, stupefied.
My friend Marcus – who I’ve worked with on several projects – stands up and says, “They made these changes during the rehearsal, without the playwright’s permission. This isn’t what the original script looks like.”
“Well, where’s the playwright?” says the woman, looking around the audience. “Can he do something about it?”
Silence in the lecture hall. I take a deep breath. I stand up. I look her in the eye. “I can fix this,” I say.
She stares at me for a good while, and I swear it’s almost as if she’s trying not to smile.
“All right, Daryl,” she says. “Here’s the deal. Imagine you have a tape recorder. And you’ve recorded everything you just heard. Now that you have the recording, you can go back and change things. This is your chance to fix it. So fix it.”
I walk towards the front of the lecture hall. I make eye contact with Marcus and nod. He walks to the front as well and takes a seat between two of the actors. I see an older man in the audience, watching us anxiously. The director. I make a mental note to exact revenge, but first things first. I got a play to save.
I’m holding the original script in my hand. I ask the actors, “Can someone pass me the script you’ve been working from so I can see what changes were made?”
An actress nexts to me hands me a script. I see on the cover page that the title of my play has been changed from Unbound to Our Notre Dame.
I open up this abomination and read, and I’m just not prepared for the degree of damage I’m facing. There’s not one word in this script that is my own. This isn’t even something I can fix, because it’s a totally different play. How could this have happened? Why would someone do this to me? Why didn’t I go to rehearsal? Why didn’t I-
I wake up in my bed, heart thudding wildly against the inside of my chest. It’s Wednesday, February 13th. 6:30 AM.
8 days before the reading of my play.