Cleo’s Girls

It’s not often, particularly in movie dominated Hollywood, that one gets to witness the creation of a play from it’s first germ of an idea but that’s exactly what I was able to do. The play is Cleo’s Girls written by Jan O’Connor playing, for a micro second, at the Lex theater in Hollywood.

The Cleo of the title is Cleopatra and her “girls” are two slave girls. The play tells their story, inventively using some of Shakespeare’s words and a whole lot more original, very original, ones from Jan.

I am part of a writers group populated by a PA, an OSHA rep, an Artist, okay he’s also the OSHA rep, a Production Exec., a few support staff personnel and one writer – Jan.
Never once has she treated us as anything but equals but the play we watched last night served to demonstrate what words, in the hands of a professional writer, can create.
The story of Cleo’s Girls started from a prompt for a free write – a five minute writing assignment done at the table then shared – about past lives.  All of us wrote.  All shared.  All were good.  Jan chose the a-stereotypical character of a slave girl to Cleopatra. All of us, except Jan, put away our free write and didn’t give it a second thought.

Jan didn’t put it away.  She realized that she’d written the core to a bigger piece.  That little five minute two page free write ultimately became, after months and months of work by Jan, individual scenes. She brought in those scenes to share with the group and have us read aloud. Based on how those readings went, with allowances to the meager performances we delivered despite putting our hearts and bad accents into it, showed Jan where she needed to do further re-writes. Eventually Jan got the play to the point where she needed to do readings with actors. After many of these readings and more work Jan’s play was completed and ready for the public.
Fierce Backbone, a conglomeration of actors, writers and directors to which Jan belongs, raised the funds, rented the theater and took care of a hundred other minor and major details so the show could go on. The results were visible this weekend – an evocative, funny, touching, thoroughly enjoyable, clever and cleverly acted drama.

Sitting in the audience of the small black box theater I had to marvel at what a free write had wrought.


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