Teamwork is Keeping Your Buddies from Drowning

Each August, while the Greeks were rushing, so were the theater nerds. My home theater had a week of Open House, with different events each night designed to attract new blood. Though admittedly biased, my favorite night was the improv performance. By troupe tradition, that night was the only time the format “head in a bucket” was performed.


Every year, in the days leading up to open house, the tech crew would build a trough about one feet square and two feet long. Just before the show, the trough would be filled with water and then rolled out onto stage. The rules of the format are simple. At all times, someone’s head had to be submerged in the bucket. The rest of the players had to continue playing the scene, keeping one eye on the bucket. If we misjudged lung capacity, and the submergee started flailing, one of the characters would have to make an excuse to leave the scene and rush to the rescue. The newly relieved player would step into the scene, working to catch up on what they missed while submerged.

When I plunged my head into the bucket, the world disappeared.  All I could see was the refractions of the spotlights.  All I could hear was the muted world beyond and the thud-thump of my own heartbeat.  All I could feel was the faint waves that tossed my hair and the spreading burn of my need for air. In the bucket I was alone, and the world beyond ceased to have meaning. Every artist needs to spend time isolated from their world. In the quiet of the bucket our thoughts, imagination and craft have time to shape our words and worlds.  Too much time spent there, however, and we eventually drown, losing the rest of what we hold dear.

However, there are friends and family watching for my flailing, prepared to pull my head from under water when I need it. There are my writer friends, those still sopping wet from their own time in the bucket, giving understanding and camaraderie. There are our readers, alpha and beta, structure and copy, friends and editors, ready to help interpret what we saw and make the most of our creative isolation. There are the business contacts I have made, professionals keeping the show going and the product moving to market in time for me to emerge and play catch up.

In the end, no writer is entirely alone longer than they choose to be.


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