News

The Playwrights’ Platform “village”: keep those comments coming, folks!

November 19th, 2014 by

I know there are playwrights who want only general, not specific, comments on their plays.

But I’m not one of them.

I’ve read three full-length plays at the Playwrights’ Platform meetings over the past year and the feedback from the other playwrights and actors has been tremendously helpful. Each play was read in two readings. I write down every comment that the listeners make even if I think I won’t use it, because–who knows? I might make the change some day.

The first act of SAY YES TO TOOTLEBRITCHES had one character, Amanda, an aging woman walking around the stage talking to her fake dogs, and lots of stage directions. I won’t forget the heavy, leaden feeling in the air as I read the stage directions out loud. Talk about tedious! The second act went much better, with the appearance of the angel and then Amanda’s best friend. The comments from the listeners were super helpful. I sent a revision of the ending to the actors and one of them suggested a more subtle ending, which I used. We can call it the Eric Skoglund ending.

My big memory of DADDY DUSTBALL was how we got off on a tangent after the reading, with commenters wondering whether the character Sandra would or should call another character “retarded.” Many people had an opinion about this! One playwright in particular thought “retarded” should stay. I kept “retarded” in the play, but now the character Norman says it. We can call this the Lawrence Hennessy word choice.

I’m still working on incorporating the comments from THE MIND HAS LEGS. One of the playwrights gave me an extremely useful technical comment–something I was vaguely aware of but trying to ignore. Most of the scenes start with Megan and Hardy sitting on the floor together, and the time sequence is unclear. How long has been it been since they were sitting there in the last scene? And why aren’t they doing something else? If I can figure this problem out and structure the play better, we can call it the Chris King structure.

It doesn’t exactly take a village to write a play. But it does take several playwrights and actors reading and listening and commenting and contributing. No comment is too small to make a difference in a play.

RE-introducing Boston Play Cafe video series

October 21st, 2014 by

For the past two years playwright I have produced and directed a video series call Boston Play Café  - first on local Watertown TV station, WCATV with links to Video On Demand (no longer available) and now as a straight-to-the-web YouTube series. The show focuses on play development. It brings its audience to a table where a cast reads a new script and teases out what’s behind their roles with the playwright and a host. This year, the informal action is followed by a formal, final read of the piece. Theaters like New Repertory Theatre have been experimenting with opening the rehearsal process to curious theater goers, and this show fits right into that trend.

I started the program because I really wanted to be part of bringing more new works to the public and recognizing working playwrights. I had worked with Public Access for many years and thought that blending theater and TV would be a great way to do that.

At the end of season one, I was looking for a new home for the series so that it would find a larger audience. I kept reading about the fact that young audiences were switching from traditional broadcast media to the web more and more, and decided it was time to make the platform leap! I love the fact that our shows are seen all over the world. But the value of theatre is its emphasis on the real-time relations of actors and those are the core of each episode of Boston Play Café. Not only do they work with the script, but they have a lot of fun with each other- just like in a real theater.

All of the plays are ten-minute works and have featured playwrights from as far away as Texas and Chicago, as well as many local writers, including George Smart, Lawrence Hennessy, Ludmila Anselm, and June Bowser Barrett from the Playwrights’ Platform.

The first episode of the new season can be found below (and via our YouTube channel):

Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open

October 16th, 2014 by

My 10-minute play, The Eulogy, which will be read this Sunday at Playwrights’ Platform, is a perfect example of how inspiration can come from anywhere at any time — so you need to keep your eyes and ears open. I often make little notes about things I’ve seen or bits of conversation I’ve heard or events I’ve read about in the news that could be the germ of a 10-minute play.

For example, I recently participated in the Hovey Players 24-Hour Play Festival, which was not 24 hours worth of plays but 5 plays written and performed within 24 hours! I met my cast, two 20-something women, and the director at 9pm on a Friday and had to get a play to them by 8 the next morning. Yikes! For inspiration, I went to my list of writing ideas and saw, “Young woman sitting alone at a bus stop in a party dress, crying,” which was something I’d actually seen downtown. So, I put my young woman on her bench and had the other young woman come along and find her, and it went from there—successfully, judging from the responses it got.

<em>The Eulogy</em> grew out of a conversation between my sister-in-law and a few of my siblings at my brother’s cottage in Wisconsin last summer. She insisted that she was going to have to write her own obituary and eulogy in order to ensure that she was remembered as she wanted to be remembered. It was hard to believe that this was a real-life conversation, but there it was, just itching to be written about. When I got home from Wisconsin, I pictured a middle-aged woman on the beach with her husband, a real worry wart for whom this is just the latest concern. Her long-suffering husband tries his best to calm her down and get her to remember that she’s supposed to be on vacation.

I think it worked out well, but we’ll see what my fellow playwrights have to say about it on Sunday…

Pam Newton’s new play

September 7th, 2014 by

Inline image 1

Dear George,

I am embedding my newsletter regarding a full performance of the play I started at Playwright’s platform. It was called “Sassy” when I had a couple of readings with all of you, and the name has changed to Songs From the Moon. Here is the information with the most recent information. Thanks and see you in October, I hope. Best wishes, Pam Newton

The Dreamscape Project Group
Dreaming Up New Possibilities with Dance and Drama

Pamela S. Newton:
Artistic Director

August 29, 2014

Inline image 4 Newsletter #2

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

This second newsletter is a shorter one with some practical information about directions to the Robsham Theater Arts Center, parking near the theater and buying tickets. In three weeks we will be opening Songs From the Moon and hope that we will see many of you in the audience.

The Dreamscape Project Group is hard at work rehearsing, costuming, and polishing our production of Songs From the Moon. The music has been completed and recorded, we have play rehearsals two more days this week and a run-thru next Wednesday, and the choreography is being rehearsed over and over to refine it!

We have arranged for the Robsham Theater Box Office to handle our tickets for the September 19 and September 20 performances at 7:30PM. They will become available on September 9, 2014 through www.be.edu/robsham/tickets or you can call 617-552-4002.

Here is some information about getting to the show!

The Boston College’s MBTA “Green Line” (B) ends at the Boston-Newton boundary on Commonwealth Ave. It is across the street from St. Ignatius Church on Commonwealth Ave. Cross the street, walk by St. Ignatius Church and follow the perimeter road around to the first campus entrance. Walk into the campus at this point. The Robsham Theater Arts Center will be the third large building on your left. For more information, visit the MBT website at www.mbta.com.

If you are driving, parking is available for handicap parking directly behind the theater in the paved parking lot and across the street from the Robsham Theater Arts Center in the parking garage. To get to this garage, “The Commonwealth Avenue Garage,” use the intersection of St. Thomas Moore Road and Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. From St. Thomas More road, take Campanella Way into the campus and into the Commonwealth Garage. This will be on your right after you pass the theater. The fee to park on the weekends is $5.00 per exit.

“Never Give Up Your Vision”: An Interview with George Smart

July 26th, 2014 by

Geo 2Note: George Smart served as president of Playwrights’ Platform from September 2010 to September 2014. As he prepares to transition out of that role, he agreed to share his thoughts on his work, Playwrights’ Platform, and the challenge of writing for the stage. 

How long have you been a playwright?

I took my first (and only) playwriting course in 2004 and have been writing ever since.

Why did you start writing plays?

I have always enjoyed creative writing. I have kept a diary for the past 40 years. Once I tried my hand at playwriting it seemed as though that was a very natural way for me to find my voice and communicate with other people.

You seem quite diverse in your playwriting. In just the past couple of years, the pieces you’ve had read at Playwrights’ Platform have included elements of comedy, drama, farce, science fiction, politics, social satire…and that’s just off the top of my head. Is there a genre you feel most comfortable in, or do they all come naturally to you?

Nothing really comes naturally to me. Playwriting for me requires a lot more discipline than I often possess on a given day and it takes considerable effort for me to get started on something. I write what I know and what interests me but feel most comfortable when I can inject humor into a piece as that is how I tend to see life. A world without laughter would be a terrible place to be.

Of all the plays you’ve written so far, do you have a favorite?

My favorite 10 minute play is “Olympic Fever” which has yet to get produced. My favorite full length play is Mr Teddy (not a children’s story) which I self-produced in June of this year.

Mr Teddy

In a recent e-mail message, as you described your experience staging Mr Teddy, you said that you made lots of mistakes but that “it was the equivalent of an MFA for me” and that you were ultimately happy with the results. What are some of the most productive mistakes that a playwright can make?

Try something different even if you are not sure how it is going to work out.  Take risks.  Listen, really listen, to what people are saying about your work and don’t assume you have all the answers. Be willing to fail, get up, and start all over again.

What’s the worst or least productive mistake a playwright can make?

To think that someone is going to discover them without their putting in a huge amount of effort.  Writing a play is relatively easy compared with selling the play and getting an audience. Self-promotion is key and putting your work in as many possible venues as possible is essential. If you don’t put yourself out there don’t complain when no one knows who you are.

What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d give to a beginning playwright? Believe in yourself and write—a lot—and submit your writing to festivals—frequently.  Listen to what others have to say about your work—take in what seems relevant and discard the rest. I have had twenty or so productions of my plays over the past ten years but have submitted over 300 times—so be patient and keep writing.  Attend as many plays of other people as you can to see what other people are doing.

As president of Playwrights’ Platform—and as a “regular” member—you’ve seen many productions and staged readings. What do you look for most as an audience member? What do you want out of theater?

I want to be enthralled. I want characters who speak like real people and who are being challenged all the time. I want funny, witty dialogue that sings not plods. I want relevant plots that speak to the real world we live in. I want a beginning, middle and an end that satisfies the degree of energy I have put into the play as an audience member.  I want to never be bored.

Being president of Playwrights’ Platform seems like a potentially thankless job. What made you agree to do it?

The organization needed a person to serve as President in order to keep us legal and no one else stepped forward so I did. I wish I had loftier reasons but that is the truth.

What are you most proud of, from your time as president?

Being able to get a new website up and running and stabilizing the membership. Also four successful Summer Festivals.

What was the hardest part of being president?

The transition between the old president and the new one proved to be very challenging.  Also lots of old members left the Platform around this time and we were losing membership.

If there’s one thing that Playwrights’ Platform members can do to help the group run smoothly, what is it?

Two things.  Volunteer—the platform doesn’t run itself. Remember we are a collective. Second: Change the way they present a critique to fellow playwrights. Three simple rules I would like to see everyone incorporate into their critique are:

1. Pay attention to character, pacing, where a play excites you and where it loses you.  Take notes.

2. Listen for repetition, where the play could be tighter, where the dialogue gets preachy or melodramatic or too expository.

3. Don’t offer suggestions on how to rewrite the play or alternative endings

As Playwrights’ Platform president, you worked with both writers and actors. What insights did that give you? Do playwrights and actors get along, generally speaking? Or is there a natural tension? What advice would you give playwrights about working with actors, directors, and other members of the theater world?

In general I have found the AIR actors to be fantastic collaborators with the playwrights. Playwriting really is a collaborative experience. Actors add a whole new dimension to the work and bring out nuances of character that words on a page cannot. My advice to playwrights about working with directors is to never give up your vision and don’t give your work to someone you don’t really know. On the other hand be open to changes that people might suggest as it may improve your work

What advice do you have for the incoming president of Playwrights’ Platform?

Decide early on what the one or two goals you want to achieve over the next few years are as president and get members involved in helping achieve those goals. Also, start the Festival planning very early and set up a committee in the fall to start working on it.  Most of all have fun with it.

What’s next for you as a playwright?

I find myself in the unique position of being able to devote myself full time to playwriting due to a forced early retirement. I am currently working on another full length play about gay marriage. I have a few short pieces about the process of growing old that I am working on.  I hope to take a screen writing course at Emerson this fall as that is another area I am interested in exploring.

 

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Winners of the 2014 Playwrights Platform Festival

July 6th, 2014 by

Week One:
Best Actress: Linda Goetz as Raechka in Ludmilla Anselm’s play The Return.
Best Actor: Jacob Sherburne as Dan in Vicki Meagher’s play Loving Dick Cheney
Best Director: Megan Nussle for Vicki Meagher’s play Loving Dick Cheney
Week Two:
Best Actress:  Tracy Bickel in Lawrence Hennessy’s play Long Time
Best Actor:  Jim Manclark in Lawrence Hennessy’s play Long Time
Best Director:  Tim Diering for Lawrence Hennessy’s play Long Time

 

The Art of Saying No

June 10th, 2014 by

The no thank you note said other things too. But two words stood apart:

“Please refrain.”

“In the future, please refrain from submitting your work…” was their fuller context.

Over the years I have been writing and submitting plays, I have received a few memorable replies beginning, “Congratulations!”  Most, however, say, in so many words, thank you, but no thank you.

Rejection

Rejection goes with the territory, I know. And I know it both from the artist’s and gatekeeper’s side of the gate. During stints at Long Wharf Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre, I churned out dozens of no thank yous by the day. Yet in thousands of thin envelopes sent and received, I have never used or seen a phrase quite like “Please refrain.”

Too fantastically tone deaf to take personally, too great a plot turn in one play’s epic journey, and too unmissable as subject for a reflection here, I replied, as I nearly always do: “Thank you for considering my work and for letting me know.” Then I wished them well, and left it at that.

But I didn’t leave off thinking about that phrase, until there formed in my mind three guiding principles for a graceful no:

1. Show gratitude and care

A play is, as any creative work is to its creator, like a beloved child. To the beholder, it may be an ugly child, an awkward child, a misfit, even offensive child. Yet, it is a child nonetheless, offered up by one who knows he must depend on others for it grow into the fullness he alone now sees. A graceful no shows gratitude and care for so precious a gift.

2. Acknowledge the inspiration and “general beauty”

Even the most crudely constructed piece of art had inspiration. It sprang from something that compelled an artist to create and share it with the world. William Ball, stage director and founder of the American Conservatory Theatre, spoke of the “general beauty” in all art. There may be little to applaud in the execution. Yet, there was always inspiration. Acknowledge that and the glimmer of general beauty.

3. Tread carefully on hope

Add my name to your do-not-pass-go list. Relegate my future submissions, unopened, to your recycling bin or junk mail file. Eventually, I will stop troubling you so. Yet, do not trifle with my hopes. The creative life is so rife with disappointments, hope (even the vain kind) is sometimes all that sustains. Tread carefully on it.

Here is the formula:

Dear [FirstName],

Thank you for sharing [PlayTitle] with us. We found it to be a [novel/creative/intriguing or some other generous adjective] treatment of [concept/issue or story-summarizing phrase]. While we will not be pursuing [PlayTitle] for [TheatreName], we wish you all success with it and your future work.

Sincerely,

[Signature]

[PrintedName+Title]

Please feel free to adapt and improve upon this template. Please refrain only from including phrases like, “please refrain.”

Caution! Therapy in Progress!

May 26th, 2014 by

Caution Therapy in Progress Image

In the summer of 2012, a New York Times cover photo caught my eye. It was of a lecture hall full of grey haired men women, all smiling, laughing, and raising their arms in giddy triumph. The accompanying article, “Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe“ was about something called the Large Hadron Collider, sub-atomic particles, and theoretical physics. I was utterly confused, but also intrigued. In the weeks that followed, I read more about this $9 billion dollar tunnel 100 meters below the Swiss-French border, designed to accelerate and smash together sub-atomic particles in hopes of detecting evidence of something called a Higgs Boson, which had, for decades been the basis of theoretical physics, but had not, until that day caught in that New York Times photograph been proven. In the popular press, the Large Hadron Collider project was commonly referred to as a quest for the “God Particle.” Some feared that, if it worked, it would create a black hole that would swallow the earth. At some point in my reading, I came to concepts of anti-matter, and dark matter I hadn’t heard since high school physics. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but turns out to be the invisible, undetectable (until now) building blocks mass, and the keys to unlocking new physics beyond the “Standard Model.”

I was completely out of my depth. Yet, something in it all got me thinking of relationships, complete with their own hidden truths, their dark-matter subtext that governs all. And I wondered at what it takes to release such power, and to make the invisible visible?

That was the spark of my short play, Hadron Collision Therapy, where marriage therapy meets particle physics. In a different lecture hall at Lasell College in Newton, I hosted two separate readings of early drafts, and collected ideas for improving it from my fellow Playwrights’ Platform members.

Playwrights Platform meeting - February 2014

In December, 2013, in the basement of the Drama Book Shop in New York City, Fresh PRODUCE’d gave the play a workshop. Earlier this May, at the Wimberly Stage in Boston’s South End, the Charlestown Working Theatre pulled off the first fully-produced collision as part of the Boston Theatre Marathon.

It was fantastic.

If you missed those fleeting events (or caught them and want to see it again to grasp at the deeper mysteries), fear not. More collisions are scheduled for this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night in a new production directed by Bryn Boice, and starring Michelle Dowd, Tricia O’Toole, and Ben Stanton, as part of the 42nd Annual Summer Festival of the Playwrights’ Platform at the Boston Playwrights Theatre.

For tickets, click here.

Stefan Lanfer

Great Beginnings

April 16th, 2014 by

What makes the beginnings of great plays great? What gets audiences leaning in from the moment lights go up? What keeps that theatre literary manager (or intern) from putting your script down after they draw it from the slush pile?

Last Sunday, a dozen Playwrights’ Platform members explored these questions in a workshop with Kate Snodgrass, Artistic Director of the Boston Playwright’s Theatre. We read the opening pages of Death of a Salesman, Hamlet, and Arcadia. After each line or two of dialogue or stage direction, we discussed all that was packed into them.

Monomoy Theatre Production Photo, “Death of a Salesman”

Monomoy Theatre Production Photo, “Death of a Salesman”

In these opening pages, we saw worlds in balance thrown out of balance, hero’s set on their journeys, and great urgency unleashed. At one point, Platform president, George Smart offered this synthesis, “Don’t waste a moment!”

“That’s right,” said Kate. “In the opening pages, you set the tone. You establish the world. Everything in drama means something – especially in the opening of your play.”

How do you not waste a single moment?

Here are three techniques that rose to the top for me from our discussion:

  1. Don’t waste the time before: Reading Death of a Salesman, I was struck by all that we see, all that we come to understand before characters even speak. In the play’s opening moments, we watch an exasperated, exhausted, Willy Loman, returning from a journey, entering his house, setting down cases, and heaving a deep sigh. Then, his wife, Linda, hearing him, gets out of bed, puts on a robe, and calls – the stage directions say, “with some trepidation” – “Willy!”  From those fraught, unhurried actions, and that first word, the audience knows something is off. The air is thick with concern.
  2. Illuminate the Larger World: Arcadia also begins with two characters on stage, a tutor and his young student. As he does his clever best to artfully dodge her opening question – “Septimus, what is carnal embrace?” – they discuss six other characters, painting a vivid picture of a wider world entangled in scandal. By the time they are joined, on page four, by the first new character (Jellaby, a servant), we already know about him, and the power he wields. Before we see the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the guards and Horatio are abuzz with wonder and fear over the apparition’s earlier appearances, and what it may portend. Then, just as we think we are going to listen to exposition about the ghost, it appears again.
  3. Beware the Bottom Effect: After reading and discussing some of the greats, we looked at the openings of some of our own new plays in progress – including mine. I shared a new opening to my play about Prudence Crandall – whose efforts to integrate her private girls school in rural Connecticut in the 1830s became cause célèbre of the abolitionist movement. My new opening was based on an encounter from much later in Crandall’s life. When she is in her 80s, living in poverty on a farm in Kansas, she is visited by a journalist on a bicycle odyssey from Connecticut to California and back. I imagined that his fascination with her would draw the audience into her story. When we read it out loud, I was surprised to find all the questions were about him and his journey. My colleagues were surprised to hear that she, not he, was the protagonist, rather than the catalyst for his adventure. I had imagined the scene to be a clever narrative trick – but forgot the “Bottom Effect.” Like Titania in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, bewitched by the spurned Oberon to fall in love with the first creature she sees, audiences are primed to fall for whomever they first encounter after the lights go up – especially if that character, like mine, is already on a journey.

Thanks to Kate Snodgrass for a terrific session.

What are some of your other favorite great openings?

What do you think makes them so great?