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Reflections on KCACTF

This past week,  I had the honor and privilege to stage a reading of my (former) ten-minute play, Life Could Be A Dream, at the Region 1 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival as part of the National Playwrights Program. Here are some things I will take away with me as a playwright and wanted to share:

  1. Practice a Midwestern smile- The scariest part about having my play read was hearing from the panel of respondents that immediately followed. Four highly established theatre practitioners sat onstage, and spent approximately 20-minutes talking about each ten-minute play. I was still coming off an adrenaline rush from hearing my work aloud in the largest audience I’ve ever had, and I didn’t know how I was going to process any more information. So, I cemented a Midwestern smile on my face, a pen in my hand, and wrote down everything that anybody told me in reaction to this play. I then tucked those notes neatly in my backpack, and didn’t pull them out for another few days. In doing so, I was able to look objectively at the feedback given, without letting my nerves get in the way of hearing valuable feedback. My dear playwrights, when the time shall come for post-show discussions, and reviews, and god forbid after-parties, practice an easily applicable, waterproof smile, and keep a pen and notepad at the ready. Do not rely on memory, otherwise you risk jumping to the worst conclusions.
  2. There Is No Time Limit On When A Play’s “Done”- I’ve been writing this ten-minute play for nearly two years now. This was the first play I had ever completed. I thought once it got published through the University of Edinburgh that I was really “onto something.” Turns out, this past week in rehearsals for this play, I’ve realized that this play isn’t a ten-minute play at all. The form was not serving the function. It’s now a one-act. Which means that the first seven drafts I’ve done of this piece are about to undergo at least seventeen more. I could choose to be frustrated. I could choose to retire this play forever. But I could also see this as another opportunity to grow as a playwright. I realized that I was giving this play sentimental value, and in doing so, suffocating its potential for being something more. I’ve heard in our classes numerous times over how playwright’s rewrite whole plays, delete characters, add characters, and add or detract act breaks. Did you know the Old Man wasn’t in the original draft of Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love? If Sam Shepard remained beholden to his original intentions for this play, we would be reading an entirely different story to this day.
  3. Be Gracious For Your Actors- I think within our BU Bubble we all know each other so well that acting for one another’s work is just another aspect of our training together. However, not every actor has rehearsed with a playwright in the room before, and that I realized can be a terrifying prospect for some. This was a huge lesson for me in approaching work with ease, and not control. I found that oftentimes I had to make that first step in establishing an openminded rehearsal room. Thank your actors for reading your words. Really thank them. Ask them how they are. Remain open to any and all questions. Laugh if you find something funny. I know that sounds silly, but I was so nervous to hear my work aloud with a brand new group of people, that I had to consciously remind myself to breathe. To smile. To hug. And to laugh. I believe that you cannot make an audience cry before you can make them laugh. That laughter is a way of establishing trust. I learned this week that this also applies to actors in the rehearsal room. Laughter is the simplest way to begin a trusting relationship.
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