Saturday, June 29, 2013

"If I Did This" becomes "True Story" at the Arkansas New Play Festival

I try to calculate the experiences of my life in gifts and friends and opportunities.  The ten days I spent at the Arkansas New Play Festival was full of all three.

I met the Artistic Director of TheatreSquared, Bob Ford, and his Associate Artistic Director (and wife) Amy Herzberg a few months ago, when I was responding to student work at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region 6 Finals down in Shreveport, Louisiana.  They both teach at the University of Arkansas, in addition to running the theater and writing, directing, producing and acting in plays, and they were at the KCACTF event to support one of their students.  They invited me to share some of my work with them, which I did.  And soon after, Bob called to invite me to come down to Fayetteville and workshop my new play in the Arkansas New Play Festival.  The play will be having its premiere this fall, so the timing couldn't have been better -- I welcome the opportunity to take one more good look at the script before bringing it to the stage.  And y'all know I always like a theater adventure!

From June 6 - 16, I worked on "If I Did This" (now "True Story") in Fayetteville.  The TheatreSquared team took such good care of all of us!  Morgan Hicks picked me up at the airport, and she and I chattered all the way into town.  Then I had lunch and a fantastic, far-reaching dramaturgical conversation with Bob.  He'd just returned from workshopping his own play, "The Spiritualist," at New Harmony, so of course I wanted to hear about that.  He had read my play carefully, listened closely to my plans for revisions, and offered some wonderful suggestions and thoughts.  After lunch, he took me to Anne's house -- Anne is a wonderfully kind friend of the theater who was my host.  (I did a whole lot of rewriting in her lovely back yard, sitting under a tree, and in her kitchen.

Over the next few days, I met the rest of the ANPF participants.  The three other playwrights were local writer/teacher Les Wade (with his play "Raw Vision"), Susan Felder from Chicago ("Swimming with Van Gogh"), and Juan Francisco Villa from New York, now living in Chicago ("Don Chipotle").

Local Morgan Hicks directed Juan's piece, which was in the early stages of development -- about two boys and their poetic, dark journey through New York City on a Don Quixotesque quest.  Kevin Christopher Fox from Chicago directed Susan's play, about a painter trying to find her vision and inspiration again in mid-life.  Chicago director Andrea Dymond directed Les' play, which is about art and appropriation in rural Louisiana.  And I worked with New York director Shana Gold on my play, which is about a grieving mystery writer who grapples with issues of justice when he's hired to ghostwrite the story of an acquitted murderer who everyone thinks is guilty.

I loved working with Shana, and we had a fabulous cast, anchored by New York actor Sean Patrick Reilly, who played the lead, my troubled mystery writer, Hal Walker.

The entire company of writers, directors, actors and tech folk had dinner together every evening, at the theater.  The food was provided by the theater's board members and other supporters.  We had four hours of rehearsal every day, and when we weren't working together in the theater, we playwrights were writing and rewriting our plays.  The week culminated in readings of all of the plays, followed by discussion with the audience.

I emerged with a stronger draft of my play, a new title for my play, and a whole bunch of new friends.  I hope I get to work with Bob and Amy and their TheatreSquared family again soon.  They know how to foster and support the development of new work.
"True Story" by EM Lewis, directed by Shana Gold, at the 2013 Arkansas New Play Festival. 
The cast of "True Story" by EM Lewis at the 2013 Arkansas New Play Festival.  John T. Smith at Donnie Lawrence, Bryce Kemph as Brett Martin, Sean Patrick Reilly as Hal Walker, Kevin Christopher Fox as Hayden Quinn, and Alyx Claus as Miriam Lawrence.
Hal and Miriam.
Hal defends himself from Detective Hayden Quinn.
Afterwards, director Shana Gold and I had a conversation with the audience, moderated by Bob Ford.

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