Isolation for writers is like an invited guest who never leaves—we require its presence and yet are left feeling defensive and distrustful when we turn around: why are you still there? I’ve been writing stories all my life so the idea of a collective process associated to my art had never crossed my mind. But then I started writing plays and found Parley. The first thing that caught my attention was its logo, a white flag. I was smitten.
The term parley derives from the French verb parler—to speak—and refers to a meeting held between adversaries in order to negotiate an end to battle. This invitation to capitulate, meet and speak has changed the way I relate to my writing. We gather weekly to discuss each other’s work, and once per year we each get to bring our work to the stage under the direction of our fearless founder and leader, Rebecca Tourino Collinsworth. The regularity of our meetings and the certainty that the hard work will eventually pay off in the form of a workshop production has transformed agony into hope. Rather than worry whether my characters will ever leave the confines of my hard drive, I can focus on honing my storytelling powers with the assurance that a community of fellow writers will demand the next installment, and a larger community will eventually experience my piece. I know I’m not alone in this feeling, and the act of keeping each other company through this process is a radical one.
While our feedback and development methods are structured around a specific format, there’s a beautiful alchemy involved in the process by which an idea that nests inside the mind of one of our playwrights transmutes, a few months later, into a three-dimensional piece ready to shine in front of a live audience. When I’m stuck in a rut of plot murkiness or character weakness, my peers lend their problem-solving skills so I can go home and write. Each of our quandaries becomes a collective asset when we can help each other unravel the knots that choke our stories. We all know that whenever we get frustrated about a piece that’s moving forward but going nowhere, a community of compassionate and honest peers will help us correct the course.
There’s something mysterious in the way inspiration strikes us and ideas form in our imagination. Even when, in the end, we may be dealing with the same old obsessions, what is it that makes us conjure up a story over another at a given moment? I think of Parley’s process as a sort of corralling of thoughts and ideas running amok.
Parley was founded in 2014 and has since premiered over sixty plays in the form of workshops and full productions. As if all of the above didn’t seem radical enough, our group currently includes twelve playwrights who differ greatly in terms of race, gender-identity, sexual orientation, age and economics. This diversity reflects on our discussions and on the stories themselves, which reveal a rich array of life experiences, open up opportunities to all kinds of artists, and help diversify the demographics of our audiences. The topics are so varied that sometimes I leave a Parley meeting feeling like I do when I remember my dreams: a delightful display of seemingly haphazard stories talk to each other in my head, asking me to pick up the pen.
More information at www.parleyproductions.com
JULIETA VITULLO is a bilingual writer, playwright, and dramaturg born and raised in Argentina. Her fiction and nonfiction can be found or is forthcoming in Into The Void, The Normal School, The Fabulist, and other journals in the U.S. and abroad. Her plays have been taken to the stage in Seattle and Arizona. www.JulietaVitullo.com