Thursday, October 16, 2008

ANPF, continued...

So... From my last post, you might get the idea that these theater festivals are all about wandering around town, seeing theater, going in shops and meeting nice people. There certainly was a good bit of all that on my visit to the Ashland New Plays Festival last week, but my main reason for being there was to WORK ON MY PLAY with SMART, CAPABLE PEOPLE. I did a good bit of that, too.

Each festival and/or workshopping/reading opportunity works in its own way. I've been lucky enough to be part of a number of great festivals, including:

  • hotINK International Festival of New Plays at NYU (New York, NY)
  • HotCity Theater Festival (St. Louis, MO)
  • Coe College New Works for the Stage - residency (Cedar Rapids, IA)
  • Last Frontier Theater Conference (Valdez, AK)
  • Great Plains Theater Conference (Omaha, NE)
  • UMBC IN10 at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Baltimore County, MD)
In the Ashland New Plays Festival, four playwrights were selected as winners, and all of us were required to attend the festival. We were given housing and a stipend to help allow us to do that, wherever we were coming from. Four directors were asked to read the eight finalist plays, and select which one they'd like to direct. The directors then selected actors from the Ashland area, both Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors and other local thespians, to be in our readings. Each of us had two readings of our plays, and at least one rehearsal with our director and actors. Each of us playwrights also led a writing workshop, on a topic of our choice.

Christopher Acebo was my director, and I felt lucky to have him at the helm of my readings. He is the Associate Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and a top-notch designer.

On Monday the 6th, I was able to meet Christopher for the first time, at the opening festival party. We'd exchanged e-mails, but it was great to actually sit down and talk about the play a little, and about my goals for our time working together. I was in a slightly different place in the process than a person usually is when at a festival -- leaving rehearsals for my production, and coming to work on the play some more. But I assured him that I wanted to take this opportunity to take one more really hard look at the script, and that changes in the script could still be put into the production, and happily so. I told him about a couple problem areas I was planning to look at particularly.

On Tuesday afternoon, I attended our big rehearsal. The cast had already met once with Christopher before I arrived in Ashland, and did a table reading of the play, but this was my chance to meet everybody, and to give thoughts, feedback and suggestions about how they were doing the parts. (Those are given to the director, who then talks to the actors.) They could also ask me questions about things, if they wanted. What a wonderful cast Christopher had selected for me! I can't say enough about the actors. They were smart, bold and wonderful to watch. I felt like my "baby" was in good hands.

Cristofer Jean (left, in a picture from his role in the OSF play "The Clay Cart") played the role of Khim Phan -- the biology teacher who is a survivor of the Cambodian genocide.

Tasso Feldman (right) played the role of Max Forrestal -- the musically talented, but emotionally devastated high school student who Khim Phan reaches out to.

Rounding out the cast were Brad Whitmore and Liisa Ivary as Ellery and Lilly Forrestal, Max's parents, Jeffrey King as Gill Morris, the evil land developer, and Neil Shah, as the young doctor, Joshua. What a great group! I definitely hope I have the chance to work with each and every one of them again someday.

The rehearsal went great -- four hours of concentrated work on the script, and making the seating arrangements and the entrances and exits, and playing with the lights and sound -- all those details that make a reading look professional for the audience.

There were talk-backs after each reading -- an opportunity for the audience to respond to what they just heard. For both readings, response was mostly fabulous and positive and excited, which is... you know... good. There were two guys in the audience for the first talk-back who doubted that the play could work without someone reading the stage directions. This is a fair question, I'd say -- the play glides from hospital rooms into Bolivian jungles, from real bus stops and classrooms to dream boats on magical rivers. It combines music and science, story and existential debate, and three levels of engagement with the question of death -- cancer, the extinction of a species, and genocide (without any intention of collapsing the issues). That's a lot! But I have a strong belief in the power of theater to do magic. It's not just about the words. Action and music and light and sound can do amazing things to transport us from one place to another. The play is in the process of being tested now -- that's the beauty of production, is you get the chance to see what works and what doesn't. But I believe in the magic.

In all, the Ashland New Plays Festival was a wonderful experience. I loved spending time with my fellow playwrights, whose work I respected and whose company I enjoyed. I loved the AWE folks who put on the festival and hosted us, and the OSF folks who I got to work with on my reading. I appreciated enormously the fact that a bunch of my family members came to see my reading. Mom and Dad and Jason, Uncle Harold and Aunt Lori, and Aunt Donna all made the journey to Ashland to see my reading. What a gift of a family I have! I love them dearly, and it was very special to share my most intimate self -- my writing -- with them. Scary, but awesome. I was really glad to have them there.

Now -- back to work in Los Angeles on the production!

No comments: