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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Wow Factor

Vanessa Rios y Valles | Photo: Petr Jerabe
Leslie Dillen tells us about the new way of working that inspired her Psalm of the Castle, which opens tomorrow night at Santa Fe’s Theaterwork as part of its Four by Four festival of chamber plays. Boy, do I wish I could see this!

Six months ago my writing life changed. I put the play back in my playwriting and discovered a new direction for my work. The director, David Olson of Theaterwork, a theater company here in Santa Fe, approached me and three other women writers to generate four chamber plays from our individual responses to an American woman poet, living or dead, of our choosing. Whatever we wrote Theaterwork would give these pieces full productions in February of 2012! 

Wow! I’ve never had anyone say to me whatever you write we will produce, especially before it’s even written. So right away that took care of that wretched critic voice inside that says, who’s going to want to produce this?! Of course quickly that voice was replaced with the fear voice that said, you don’t know poetry or poets so how can write this? 

Fortunately Olson encouraged us -- to break new writing ground, do anything we wanted, no boundaries or restrictions. We would meet every two weeks as a group to check in on our progress and share whatever we were doing. Good. Safety in numbers. I felt less afraid.

Trish Vecchio and Vanessa Rios y Valles | Photo: Petr Jerabek
I found a poet I liked – Denise Levertov. Rather than going the biographical route I decided to read her work and respond as though we were having a creative dialogue. Whatever poems hit me I set them aside to see if I could discover a common thread. Since I was writing this for a director who responds strongly to visual imagery in set, lighting and sound, I decided to make those elements integral to whatever I wrote.

Then the fun started. I composed weird music on my iPad with Garage Band and recorded some of the poems over the music. I made collages full of fantasy and danger. Favorite poems became dialogues. Confusions became dances. Soon I had two characters, a lost woman and a fallen angel inhabiting a Landscape of Longing.

Finally a script emerged integrating Levertov’s poetry and my words, a kind of adult fairy tale that falls off the edge. After some years of writing semi-autobiographical work I found a new avenue of expression because a director and his theater took a chance with me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more theaters in communities took chances like this with their playwrights?

On February 17 my chamber play Psalm of the Castle opens. The actors, the director, the sound, light and prop people have responded with their own imaginations and taken the play to a new level. How will an audience respond? I hope they enjoy experiencing the world of the play as much as I did in creating it. 

Vanessa Rios y Valles and Trish Vecchio | Photo: Petr Jerabek

1 comment:

  1. Hi Leslie,
    I'll be thinking of you tomorrow night.
    Best of luck with the new opus.