Meet the Playwright

May 15, 2012

On Monday, clinic May 7, medicine our Inside The Writers’ Room passholders gathered in the Arden’s 3rd floor rehearsal hall to meet for the first time with resident playwright Wendy MacLeod, producer Becky Wright, and the Arden’s Associate Artistic Director Ed Sobel who leads the program. The nearly 50 passholders represent a cross-section of Arden audiences, from long-time supporters and board members, to subscribers and occasional single ticket buyers, to local playwrights and college students.  This initial gathering was an opportunity to learn about The Writers’ Room, get to know the team involved, and learn about the passholders role in this unique play development process.

Ed Sobel started the evening with a story about a young writer who, having failed to secure a production of his  new play, sent it  to  the famed Harold Pinter, asking “What does this play need?” Upon reading the script, Pinter responded with “What this play needs is a production.” With Pinter’s support, the  play ended up getting just that at the National Theatre of Great Britain, The young writer was David Mamet, and the play was Glengarry Glen Ross.  Just like with Mamet’s play, The Writers’ Room seeks to give a playwright a production, rather than the constant workshops and readings that have become the norm in the new play development cycle.  The Writers’ Room takes this idea even further, compressing the time between writing the play and seeing it on a stage down to just four months, keeping the work close to the writer’s initial creative impulse for the work.

Becky Wright took the passholders through a variety of materials to prep them for the experience, including a production calendar, a play development vocabulary sheet, and a set of suggestions for approaching new work. Instead of responding to a play and asking “What do I want this to be,” Becky encouraged the passholders to think “What is this trying to be.” This and other discussion topics will guide the conversations Becky will have with our group of passholders before and after each of their experiences with the play – from the table read in just a few weeks, to rehearsals in June, and the final production in July. While witnessing the process itself, the passholders are asked to be observers.  The Writers’ Room has not altered the process itself, but instead opens the door to what already exists.

Wendy MacLeod then shared her story of how she became a playwright, and what led her to be the first resident writer for the Arden’s new program. When Ed called asking her to write a new play for production, she replied:  “But I already have two other plays no one is doing. Why not one of those?”  But Wendy responded to the notion of a theater committing to a playwright, rather than a finished play and happily said yes.   When asked what she thought of the added component of having 50 strangers in the room, Wendy said that as a professor, she is comfortable talking about the process in front of people.  Adding to Becky’s overview of rehearsal etiquette she advised the passholders that she was writing a comedy and it would be polite of them  to laugh!

We then took additional questions from the passholders, which turned into a discussion that ran past our allotted time and could have gone on much longer! These questions ranged from: What scares you most about this process? What are you most confident in about your writing? What can you tell us about the play so far? But how will you audition actors if the play isn’t yet finished?

All the answers to these questions and those we haven’t thought of just yet will be addressed for the passholders and we hope here on the Blog. Stay with us for this very new journey into The Writers’ Room!

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