Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Playwright Directs and Gets Questions

So I'm directing a ten-minute play that I've written (the wisdom of directing one's own play is a topic for another time) and the fact that these two characters and their situation comes wholly from my brain, might reasonably lead the actors to think I know all about these people.

One of the actors sent me very good questions about (among other things):

socio-economic status
level of education
marriage or in a long-term relationship
other close family members

Some things I know and feel comfortable answering. I think there may be ways to play it otherwise, but I pretty much imagined the characters to be middle class. The character above lives alone in her own home and her nephew is in college. Lower class and certainly upper class people might have these circumstances, but the middle class angle is the one I will play.

But it's a ten-minute play. There's only so much in-text information that a playwright can put on the page. I think this is where the collaboration between actors and director becomes fun and the playwright has to get out of the way. Within this ten minute play, the actors can decide any number of things about these characters. As I told my actor asking these questions, I had been willing to cast this play across racial lines and I would have expected the cast to talk about what dynamics that would have created in their relationship. That I ended up with two white actors still leaves us with a lot to talk about, a lot of subtext to create.

I will direct with an eye toward creating as interesting a picture on the stage as i can, and I will guide my actors into as as truthful performances as possible.

But the truth of these characters? There's so much room for the actors to build that for themselves, for this particular production of the play, and I wouldn't want to take that away from them.

I wrote a few pages of words that are open to quite a bit of interpretation. I can't wait to see what they discover under the words.

I'm excited by what we might end up creating together.

February to August will be performed November 19, 2005, at the O'Kane Theater, University of Houston-Downtown as part of an evening of Student Directed One-Acts, 8:00pm. Free and open to the public.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Theatrical Turn

I haven't posted on this blog in some time, mostly because I haven't been making performances lately. I've been writing the last few months, and that's been good, but I'm about to start up with some performance again.

And the next couple of things will be more straight-forward theatrical. As in in a theater (or theater like space) with a sitting audience, as opposed to the performance art I was making for a while (and no doubt will make again).

First up is a ten-minute play that has had a ten-year gestation period. I wrote the first draft of it while still in grad school (so more like a 12 year gestation period!) and the germ of the idea came as I watched a classmate, Kelly, do a brief performance in a class. There was some five-minute play competition coming up and I wrote up a five-page script on this germ. It wasn't accepted in the competition, but I've revisited the script a few times over the years. I've altered the script to be illustrated for a comic, but never submitted that anywhere. I've adapted it into a screenplay, and shown it to a couple of filmmaker friends, but nothing came of that, either.

Then an idea came to me about the one character, the woman, the aunt, something to give the play a slightly more surrealist feel, if not to the play itself, then to the character. I did some rewrites to it over the summer and I feel it's much improved.

My day job is at the University of Houston-Downtown, and every fall, the theater program offers a directing class. This class culminates in four nights of "Student Directed One-Acts." Last year, I crashed that party with a short play, "Box Step," written by another grad school classmate, Laura Weiss Lyngaas. (The teacher and director of the theater program likes to have broad campus involvement in the theater, so it wasn't exactly crashing, but I certainly wasn't a student and it wasn't a full-length one-act play.) Having a newly edited ten-minute play of my own writing, I asked if I might crash the party again. I'm grateful to be allowed to do so.

So, this short play February to August, will finally be brought to life on November 19th at the O'Kane Theater at UHD. I'll be posting more about it, as I want to use this blog as a bit of a production diary.

For tonight, I want to record that we had our first rehearsal this evening and while it was little more than reading through the script twice and talking about what's going on it, the interaction of the two actors, and the response to what little direction I gave has left me feeling very good about this. Excited even.

This just might work out pretty well.

* * * * *

Also in the theatrical offing is a long(ish) one-act play I have written, based upon the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. This is another project with a long gestation period, a good five years since I wrote the first scene. This went through a bigger change in concept than August to February did. Originally, my take on the Abbas and Ammas was much more performance arty, almost vaudevillian in nature. That wasn't working at all and I had to let what I wrote lie for a while until a form became evident. It finally did and I've had a draft of it for a couple of months now. I just completed formatting the script and I hope to get together some folks to do a reading of it in the next couple of months. 

But I'll write more about that in the coming weeks and months, too. 

I don't feel like I've abandoned performance art, but my performing roots are in the theater and I'm pleased that the muse has led me to this place of play writing.

And I've said from the start, the performance in Breath & Bone/Orts Performance was broadly defined. At the moment, the definition is more recognizable as traditional theater. I'm sure my performance art experience will be apparent in some of this as I move forward.