Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ashland New Plays Festival! And how I got there...

I leave on Sunday, ready or not, for a week in Oregon at the Ashland New Plays Festival. I am very excited about this opportunity to go do theater in my home state. (I live in southern California now, but I'll always be an Oregonian...)

So... how am I lucky enough to have my little play be part of this event? Many steps make up the journey. Here's what I did:

1. Write the play. It took me a good year and a half, minimum, to write Song of Extinction. The folks in Lee's workshop, which I've been taking on Saturday mornings, can attest to my hard work and inching along. It was a challenging 90 pages to write -- full of music and magic and ideas that occasionally felt like I was trying to push through peanut butter to figure out. The voice of Khim Phan, (the chain-smoking Cambodia-born biology teacher who narrates the play), was the only part that came easily. His monologues just flowed. The folks in my workshop were amazing help, keeping me honest all the way.

2. Send out the play. After I finished a draft of the play (July 2007 -- right when Heads was about to open at the Blank), I started sending it out. This is a very important part of the process. No one is going to come knocking on my door, asking if I happen to have written a play that they can produce. This is unfortunate, but true. So! For the last year, I've been sending the play out, primarily targeting the larger competitions. It's done pretty well for itself in the competitions -- which gives the play a bit of panache and history, which then helps to get it produced. (It's tough for theater companies to produce new plays. Would you rather see a play by someone you know, or someone you've never heard of? More people know Neil Simon than know me. A LOT more.)

Each opportunity required me to put together a submission package, often sent by mail, sometimes consisting of just the script, but often including biographical information on me, synopsis and character description for the play, cover letter, sample dialogue, and sometimes a personal statement of some kind. It's a time-consuming challenge -- but made easier with internet groups like The Binge List yahoogroup, which is kind of a marketing support group for playwrights who hate to send out their stuff, but know they have to. Which is, like, all of us...

So! Here's the history of Song of Extinction so far.
  • WORLD PREMIERE PRODUCTION -- Moving Arts at [Inside] the Ford, through a special Winter Partnership Program with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission (November 7-December 14th, 2008!)
  • Winner - 2008 Ashland New Plays Festival -- Ashland, OR (October 2008)
  • Reading - Atlantic Theater's Next Page Reading Series - New York, NY (June 2008)
  • Finalist - 2008 Sundance Institute Theater Lab
  • Finalist/Reading - HotCity Theater's 2008 Greenhouse Festival - St. Louis, MO (June 2008)
  • Reading – NYU’s 2008 hotINK International Festival of New Plays (sponsored by Atlantic Theater) – New York, NY (January 2008)
  • Staged Reading in the 2007 Living Room Series at the Blank - Los Angeles, CA
  • Reading at Moving Arts 2007 - Los Angeles, CA
3. Re-write the play. Each of the readings above (all but Sundance involved a reading and/or workshopping process) allowed me the opportunity to work with a director and actors on my play. I got to hear my work out loud, listen to a director working on it with actors, get notes from the director, the actors and sometimes from the audience. From all that, I changed lines, deleted lines, added lines, reworked portions of the play, tried to make confusing bits less confusing. The playwright OWNS his or her play, so all revisions were things that I thought could be made better, found through the generosity of all parties.

4. Get the play produced. Hopefully, steps 1, 2 and 3 are leading to this step 4: PRODUCTION. It's easy to find yourself on a merry-go-round of sending out and getting readings. I think a year of this, after finishing a play, is helpful. Much more than that, and you're treading water (to mix my metaphors). I'm feeling very positive about the fact that Moving Arts is producing my play just a little over a year since I finished writing it.

Okay... taking a half-step back, how did Song of Extinction get into the ANPF? Well, I finished the play, saw their submission opportunity on one of my playwrights lists, and sent it in -- and they began their assessment of my script and all the others they received. According to their website, the Ashland New Plays Festival has been running since 1992. It benefits, I'm sure, from the theater-friendly atmosphere of Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for many decades now.

The 2008 ANPF Readers Committee began its work in mid-February with scripts from 180 playwrights, (a 5% increase over 2007). The committee guarantees a minimum of three readings and evaluations per script, meaning that they will finish the selection process with more than 100,000 pages read during three rounds and more than than 1,000 feedback evaluations written. The second round of reading started in April and included about 50 of the original 180 scripts. These were evaluated by an additional eight readers. In the third round, about 15 remaining scripts were read by nearly 30 people, resulting in the final six selections. As a last step, a group of professional directors read and selected the four winners, which became the scripts for the October festival. The final four "winners" are Barbara Lindsay with A Death Defying Act (Seattle, WA), Tony Pasqualini with Loyalties (Los Angeles, CA), Steven Lyons with Mystery Spot (Berkely, CA) and EM Lewis with Song of Extinction (Santa Monica, CA).

What do the four of us who were chosen as this year's winners receive? (Again, according to the website)
  • $500 honorarium
  • One week of lodging at an Ashland bed-and-breakfast inn (this year, hosting by local theater patrons instead)
  • A reception
  • Professional director
  • Professional cast (as available)
  • At least eight hours of rehearsal
  • Two public readings
  • Feedback and written critique

Frequently they also provide:

  • Complimentary tickets to local theaters
  • One or two hosted dinners
  • Coupons for local restaurants and shops
  • A nifty AWE t-shirt
  • Good conversation and excellent coffee
My reading is going to be directed by Christopher Acebo, who is the Associate Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. My cast includes a bunch of folks from the OSF: Brad Whitmore, Liisa Ivary, Tasso Feldman, Cristofer Jean, Jeffrey King and Neil Shah. I'm looking forward to meeting them at our rehearsals, and to working with them.

It looks like I'm going to be able to meet up for coffee with two "sister listers" from the International Center for Women Playwrights while I'm in Ashland. Organizations like this one have made the world a warmer place, travel more fun, and friends and fellow playwrights everywhere.

From Sunday the 5th through Sunday the 12th, I'm going to be happily immersed in the world of playwriting in Ashland, Oregon. I couldn't be more pleased, and appreciate all the people who have made my trip possible.

Now I just have to figure out who's going to feed my cat while I'm gone...


jason Hanson said...

great talking to you thurs! looking forward to seeing you in ashland!

NoHoJax said...

Congratulations! I hope you have a wonderful trip. I've been enjoying your blog, and am looking forward to opening night of Song!

-your loyal stage manager ;)