Watching her perform on stage I was struck by the fact that this woman began as just a figment of my imagination. I created this old hippie and made up the storyline that was starting to unfold in front of a packed house. All those voices heard inside my head so long ago were now being repeated by actors mimicking my imagined characters.
‘Riot at Sage Corner’ was coming alive in an old converted church after a brief four weeks of rehearsals. That was scary and even more unnerving than I had expected it to be as a first time produced playwright.
Fortunately, Sage was being played by an accomplished actress who had the role down pat. The rest of the cast was comprised of great actors whose limited time on stage hadn’t diminished their enthusiasm or acting abilities. There was a minimalistic set design that defined the area but didn’t distract from the action taking place. The set designers had provided a wonderful environ-ment in which to create a fun and entertaining story.
But most importantly (from granted, a self-serving point of view) it provided invaluable lessons for me as a playwright. Writing novels is an entirely different gladiator contest from drafting a play. Playwriting was no longer a solitary venture for me; a journey inside my head. Instead my playwriting was meant to be consumed by other creative types and ultimately the general public.
The lessons learned were easy to list and yet hard to define. This summer I had to learn team work, the idiosyncrasies of small town America, clashing and compromising personalities and life in Community Theater.
It meant discounting ingrained prejudices for my ‘baby’ and the anguish of ‘letting go.’ It’s almost akin to ‘killing your babies’ which in the world of writing is defined as editing your work despite the blood, sweat and tears that came with its creation. My limited take on the process of play production had to give way to the reality of group consensus and the director’s vision.
It meant knowing the venue and recognizing the limits of Community Theater as compared to a professional theatrical venture. Knowing the production staff meant recognizing their boundless enthusiasm but also the limitations of finances, support staff and physical venues.
As important to the playwright as working with producers was, it also meant sharing ones vision with the director. The director has to be a team-leader, a cheerleader, a teacher and a counselor. I can see now that having a voice in casting the actors ingratiates the playwright into the creative process as does the ability to make comments during the rehearsals. There must be a shared vision for your story. It can’t just be the director’s next gig.
Storytelling is the same recipe no matter what the format. The storyline must be engaging from the very start. Act one; Scene One must grab the audience’s attention. The second scene must hold that attention and by the third scene it’s ‘go for broke.’ Each scene must take the action/conflict/tension/suspense to the next level. Grab the audience by their collective consciousness and never let go. Every scene is important. Every actor is important.
The actors portraying your characters must be believable and realistic. The audience must care about them even if they dislike them in the process. If the audience doesn’t care then you’ve lost the battle before it even began. The common goal for all is entertaining story-telling.
As a playwright the lessons are very clear and indisputable. Despite its folky façade, the creative/entertainment industry is not known for its warm feelings and caring concern. It isn’t a basket of puppies or kittens. Instead the business is rife with insecurity, jealousy and sabotage. That doesn’t mean there aren’t clusters of very talented people brought together for a common cause or story to tell.
We were fortunate enough to be sold out both evenings. I give full credit to my wife, Sharon, and her brilliant marketing acumen for filling the house.
‘Riot at Sage Corner’ provided me an invaluable lesson in the theater. My learning curve was on an accelerated thrust that could only be described as ‘rocket to the moon.’ Where it takes me next is still up for grabs. On reflection, I loved the process, hated the uncertainty and was thrilled with the results.
Many people have asked…and yes, there is another play concept that I’ve had mulling around in my brain for some time now. The storyline encompasses universal themes such as the challenges of growing old and the culmination of a lifetime of living. I would describe it as a lighthearted drama with some serious moments.
Oh, and there’s original music too.