Thunderstorms were predicted. The temperature was high in the 90's -- a record for that time of year. Traffic would be horrible, not only was it a Saturday night, but festivals in the city would further choke streets.
Parking would be a nightmare. Many planning to attend would be over the age of 60 and habitually punctual. If they did manage to get to the theatre, they'd surely be lining up long before the start of my 6:30 p.m. show. Would they grumble at the wait? Would arthritic-hampered friends realize an elevator was available that could lift them to the second floor? Why hadn't I noted that in the invitation to my Staged Reading?
Along with those audience concerns, I had promised my cast of 10 there would be no rehearsals. Since they were all actors comfortable performing on stage, and scripts had been in their possession for two weeks, I was confident they'd be at the top of their game. But, what if I was wrong? What if at least one run-through would have perfected the performance of my proposed TV comedy pilot?
This combination of things totally out of my control, plus decisions completely under my direction, combined to find me thrashing nightly in bed, as if I were a canoe battling breakers. Worse, my level of anxiety was threatening to skim the joy from my accomplishment.
Two months earlier, in my customary cheery and naive quest for a new project, I had signed up for an eight-week class at Chicago's iO Theatre. Although primarily known for teaching Improv, iO also offers a script-writing program. I enrolled, eager to execute an idea that had been in my head for several years.
I titled my imagined TV pilot, Layover, which told the story of a woman, suddenly widowed and in need of funds, who decides to rent out her spare bedrooms to flight attendants and pilots for their Chicago overnights. While purely fictional, the idea was spurred by a suggestion from a former neighbor who was a United Airlines pilot.
Michael McCarthy, an experienced TV writer, taught the workshop, and welcomed me to his group of 20- and 30-year-olds. Because I am a longtime writer, and had previously completed two other pilot drafts, the age difference between my classmates and me wasn't a concern. They were all clever and kind, and I morphed into the dutiful student I've always been, completing homework assignments, refreshing my understanding of the Final Draft script-writing software, and gushing to anyone in earshot about characters and dialogue I thought to be sparkling.
According to McCarthy, our Staged Readings were not to be considered completions, but rather an opportunity to gauge audience reaction and to learn places in the script for polishing or tossing. He encouraged us to invite friends who would populate the 85-seat cabaret, and provide the needed feedback.
This is where I believe my anxiety took root, and then sprouted into an enormous Oak that threatened to burst my brain as if it were an unlucky sidewalk. Heeding McCarthy's suggestion I posted an announcement on my Facebook page, and I sent invitations to 73 friends.
As promises to attend gathered in my e-mail box, I grew tense. What if I had oversold the evening? What if pals were expecting my proposed TV pilot to top earlier books or blogs? What if they assumed my script would flow with brilliant writing, huge laughs, and heartfelt pathos? But what if it was merely mediocre, or worse, what if it stunk? Soon, I became terrified that I would not live up to their expectations.
I considered cancelling, deleting it from my class' calendar. Instead, I summoned courage. There was no turning back; I needed to overcome my fears and produce.
Gratefully, all of my disaster scenarios proved unfounded: There were no thunderstorms. Air conditioning defeated outdoor temperatures. People found nearby parking or took taxicabs or Uber. The elevator was easily marked and accessed.
My stellar cast: Joe Bill, Sophia Mia Canale, Diane Cohen, Tyler Davis, Meghan Flood, Susan Messing, Chuck Otto, Anne Taubeneck, Greg Taubeneck, and Edwin Wald, performed as if we had been rehearsing for months.
Our audience laughed at the right moments, clapped at the pilot's end, and congratulated us for delivering a script and an evening that brought them pleasure. Was my pilot brilliant? Hardly, but hopefully it measured up to my audience's expectations. And for that particular evening, which featured the "Staged Reading of Layover -- an original pilot by Elaine Soloway" -- that's all that really mattered.