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Friday, June 8, 2012

Playwriting fellows offer an inside look at New Rep's 'Festival of New Voices'

In preparation for this weekend's Festival of New Voices, each of the New Voices @ New Rep Playwriting Fellows (BPT alums Anna Renée Hansen, Colleen Hughes, Emily Kaye Lazzaro, and frequent BTM playwright James McLindon) was asked what they hope to learn from the readings. See what they have to say -- and learn more about their plays -- below.

To reserve your spot, please RSVP by calling the New Rep box office at 617-923-8487.

Saturday, June 9 @ 2 p.m.
Directive 47 by Colleen Hughes
Sr. Barbara O’Keefe has approved an abortion to save the life of a critically ill patient at the Catholic hospital where she works, an action which Bishop Michael Williams decrees worthy of excommunication. When he offers her a return to full standing in the Church if she repents, everyone has difficult choices to make: should Sr. Barbara sacrifice her beliefs to get back the community she loves? Should fellow nuns Sr. Catherine and Sr. Elizabeth support Sr. Barbara in her time of need or, as Williams desires, seek to remove her from their order? Inspired by a true story, Directive 47 explores faith and doctrine, power and compassion, and what happens when those values collide. 

This past month, we all shared excerpts from our plays with New Rep's new Artistic Director Jim Petosa, and I also shared a (different) excerpt with my other writing group of BU alums. The feedback from these two sessions was nothing short of amazing. I had more than one eye-opening "a-ha!" moment, and I feel like I suddenly saw the play with a new clarity. So I decided to tackle a major rewrite of the script two weeks before the reading, which is always a fun thing to attempt. So on June 9 I'll be hearing a very new version of the play read aloud. I feel like I haven't changed the script this much since I was writing the first draft back in the fall! I'm hoping to learn what is still missing or not working in this version so that I'm able to further revise it over the summer.  

Saturday June 9 @ 6 p.m.
Good by James McLindon
What if all you want to do with your life is to make the world a better place? What if, to get the job that would let you do that, you have to get straight A’s? What if you also have to work two jobs and graduate in three years because your parents are out of work and no one ever left you a trust fund? What if most of your fellow students seem to have been given every unfair advantage and yet mostly only care about making money or spending it? What if the only way you can beat them and get the grades you need is to cheat? Would you still play by the rules? Are you sure? 

This is the first time that Good will be presented to an audience in any capacity, so I’ll have a number of goals. What follows are a few of the things I’ll be looking for:
1.     How engaged is the audience in the play; more specifically, are there moments during the play when the audience’s attention wanders? 
2.     Does the audience find any parts of the play confusing or difficult to follow? While some allowances can be made for the fact that readings sometimes can’t communicate facts or ideas that would be evident in a full production, they are very helpful (and sometimes painful) in revealing holes in the plot or the characterizations.
3.     How interesting does the audience find the subject matter of the play and how compelling do they find the characters? Are these characters and a subject that they want to spend an evening with?
4.     Flow and rhythm. This play is a drama with a lot of comedy and each has its own meter and pace. I’ll be looking for where I need to make adjustments. Is this moment too long? Too short? Does this comedic or dramatic moment need a longer or a shorter build? 
5.     How satisfying (or perhaps I should say, earned) does the audience find the resolution of the play? An audience is particularly crucial at this point in my development of this, or any, play.

After working on this play intently for the past year, I’m much too close to the work to view it with fresh, objective eyes. For that reason, an audience is often far better able to hear repetition, identify confusion in the text, spot lapses in logic, and so on than the playwright. Most importantly, simply through their human response to the piece, to its comedy and its drama, an audience will tell me if the play is working or not, and where it’s not, what I need to do to fix them.  

Sunday, June 10 @ 2 p.m.
Reconstruction by Anna Renée Hansen 
Harvard Law one month following the Haitian earthquake. A bright new third-generation law student and personal assistant to the dean, Rose McKavenaugh, is confronted with her recent loss when a Haitian student, Nicolas Toussaint arrives and she is assigned the annoyingly commonplace role of tour guide. Will this perceptive newcomer pose a challenge to a New England royal, or help her find peace? How do we pick up the pieces of our broken lives and forgive ourselves for surviving? Is hope possible in the face of atrocity? For Rose and Nicolas, these impossible questions unfold as an unlikely friendship develops. 

You know how playwrights sometimes have readings because they can’t get a production of their play, but really the play has been developed and developed and it just needs a production? That is absolutely NOT where I’m at with this play. I see this as a step in my development process. I am going to write down EVERYTHING that happens on June 10th, every time an audience member coughs (kidding). But you know, you can feel when the audience is really connected to a moment – leaning forward, as Kate would say, just like you can feel when the energy drops – in the “What am I going to eat for dinner?” moment that Melinda talks about. That is hugely helpful.

Also, I think Haiti has sort of taken a backseat in most people’s minds now that it’s been over two years, so I am curious to see what comes up in the talk back, what people are questioning, what they are going to go home with.  I have been blessed with an amazing director, Megan Sandberg-Zakian, and incredibly talented actors – Georgia Lyman, Maurice Parent, and Paula Langton. Georgia and Maurice have been a part of this from the beginning and have informed a lot of the changes. In some ways, the actors and designers have been a part of the “dramaturgical team,” because their questions and contributions have shaped the play so much. I think the dialogues that have sprung from a workshop reading have been the most valuable. As for after the reading, I am going to block out huge chunks for time for revision, while it’s fresh, and then probably send the new draft to Bridget for more feedback along with a “thank you/help me” note.    

Sunday, June 10 @ 6 p.m.
The Circus by Emily Kaye Lazzaro
When a big circus goes bankrupt Walker and Tanya (a seventh generation circus performer and a newbie, respectively) decide to form a small, back-to-basics splinter circus. They bring along an elephant and a tiger and everything is going swimmingly until they run out of cash and the tent starts leaking. Now they have to nail a big audition to keep going. The Circus is an existential meditation on Capitalism and art. With talking animals. And puppets. 

My goal with the New Voices @ New Rep Playwriting Fellows program was to step outside my comfort zone. This has been unexpectedly difficult! I'm not sure why I thought it would be easy, but c'est la vie. I decided to rewrite the script from page one two weeks before the reading while simultaneously moving into a new apartment and throwing my husband a surprise 30th birthday party. Needless to say, it's been a bit of an uphill battle. But most of the boxes are unpacked, the party went without a hitch, and I have a full-length play written and ready to be heard by the public! It's still got a long way to go, but I think I succeeded in going outside my comfort zone. I'm looking forward to hearing what the audience thinks of the play at the reading.

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