(L-R) Ellen McLaughlin and Francis Cowhig at the Flying Point Retreat.
When we five playwrights came to Joan and George Hornig’s astonishing house on Flying Point Road in Long Island for the alumni writing studio, the spring was still groping around without much conviction. After our brutal New York winter, it was hard to believe that such a promised warmth and regeneration was even possible.
But then it seemed just as unlikely that the five of us would be put up in such luxury and fed for a full week by our own private chef (oh, the food!) on grounds just a few minutes’ walk from a glistening beach. So when we found ourselves exploring the strange jackpot world that we suddenly inhabited, we couldn’t help grinning like children for a while.
As it happened, several of us were in the vulnerable position of just beginning a play. Some, like me, hadn’t yet put pen to paper on the Brand New Something and had only the vaguest notion of where we would start. The beginning of a project is a perilous and lonely state of being. It doesn’t matter how many times one has done it—there is no sense of accumulated knowledge or mastery.
Every play demands a different alchemical process and a playwright only learns how to write it by writing it. The magician has to figure out how to pull herself out of her own hat every time. It was comforting knowing that I wasn’t the only writer in the vicinity struggling with the peculiar torment of being unclear on where I was going or if where I was going would be worth the ludicrous effort it would take to get there.
As the days went by, we found that the work, like the weather, warmed and flowed. We opened the windows and let the breeze play across our new papers. In the lengthening days, the sun came out and stayed. Flowers that had been tightly furled when we arrived loosened and beguiled. Suddenly there was color everywhere. And writers who had been showing up for meals looking sheepish and uncertain appeared by the end of the week with the private half smiles of people who have been listening to new characters speaking their first sentences.
It’s a rare privilege to have such an experience in the company of one’s peers, people one likes and respects. And to have it in a place of such beauty, both inside and out, made it just that much more joyful. The world woke from a bad winter and so did we. I know we will always be grateful.
Ellen McLaughlin is a playwright and actress for stage and film and recently attended the Theatre Program’s Alumni Writing Studio at Flying Point. The retreat is conducted on the Hamptons property of George & Joan Hornig and is an extension of Sundance’s dedication to its alumni. For two one-week sessions each year, Theatre Program alumni are given uninterrupted time and space to work on on their projects in a studio setting.