by Danielle Mohlman, Playwrights' Arena Playwright
Nexus is a chamber drama that follows two D.C. transplants from first meet to last goodbye as these iPhone-armed twentysomethings drift between intimacy and disconnect. I often joke that Nexus is sponsored by Apple, but as far as my writing process is concerned, Nexus is sponsored by Spotify.
Making a writing soundtrack has always been a part of my process, but this play has allowed that step of my process to evolve. What started as white noise behind the tapping of my keyboard has grown into both auditory research – allowing me to get to know my characters – and a means for these characters to express themselves. Because, yes, my characters talk to me.
M and W, the two characters of the play, meet over a song at a bus station – “Two-Headed Boy” by Neutral Milk Hotel – so everything I listen to while I write Nexus springs from this song. At this point in the process, the playlist very much belongs to M and W – it’s the songs they play for each other, the songs they listen to after they’ve said goodbye for the day, the songs that make them feel powerful, the songs that make them feel weak. I-should-have-said-that songs. This-is-how-I-really-feel songs.
I’ve mapped the arc of this play with the music – Neutral Milk Hotel starts off the playlist, followed by the two songs M and W play for each other based off their mutual love of the Neutral Milk Hotel album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: “I Don’t Want to Get Over You” by The Magnetic Fields and “Youth” by Daughter. The text of the play is intentionally vague – it really could be any song by The Magnetic Fields, any Daughter song with finger picking – but it was important for me to be specific in the music I listened to while shaping these characters. The middle section of this playlist is sprinkled with anthems for these characters. “Save Me” by Queen; they both need to shout those words into the void. “Second Chances” by Gregory Alan Isakov; this play is full of them. The playlist ends with “I’m Sorry That I Love You” – a song that carries a playful twang-y melody when listened to on the album, but gains a heartbreaking dissonance when underscoring M and W’s final goodbye.
Now, I don’t expect a director to find my playlist on Spotify and underscore the play with it. While music is talked about and shared in this play, both characters are referring to sound coming out of ear buds – sound the audience can’t hear. And while so many plays use music to accompany transitions, I picture the transitions between scenes flowing seamlessly. With a minimalist set and only iPhones as props, I don’t imagine there being any room for my playlist to inform transition music. The Nexus playlist I’ve created is for me – for my process as a playwright.
But if Spotify and Apple want to offer any sponsorship for the writing of Nexus, you know how to find me.