Staged Reading!

This week has been so full that I didn’t even realize a week had gone by until I looked at a calendar this afternoon. I’ve been working almost every day and yesterday, in between a double, I ran to two auditions. Now that I’m home for more than three seconds- although not much more- I can talk about one of the more exciting things that happened this week: the reading of my play!

Most of the people who read this blog know what I’m talking about, but in case you’re not one of those people: I started writing a prequel to Peter Pan in 2010, and after finishing a first draft of it at the very end of that year, it became my senior thesis. As part of that project, a reading was staged. I was super lucky to find an awesome director who assembled a wonderful cast, and the reading was pretty successful. However, the head of the theatre department was unable to come, and he and I agreed that another reading would be staged for him. That reading happened on Thursday.

I was able to get most of the original reading cast back, save for one person, so I did a bit of rearranging. I worked the lunch shift and was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to get to the theatre early to make sure things were set up. It hit me before work that while I had asked for five music stands, I had forgotten to mention that I needed chairs, too. I stressed about this through my entire shift. When I arrived at the theatre, I saw that someone smart had given me exactly enough chairs… but only two music stands. We ended up having the school safety office break into a music room so we could steal some more, one and a half of which ended up being broken.

Though the reading was technically just for the head of department, I really didn’t want it to be just him because then I’d spend the entire reading staring at him, watching his reactions. I had made a Facebook event, to which a surprising number of people RSVP’d “yes,” but as always happens with Facebook, that number didn’t show up. A few people did though, a few of whom had already seen the first reading, and that was really awesome. It was enough of an audience that, though I still felt like I was going to throw up, I wasn’t quite as nervous.

The first act went pretty well, and I got some good feedback during the break. One girl came over and started talking about all of the themes that she saw and then was like, “Sorry, that was stupid, that’s just the sociology major in me coming out.” I told her that what she saw was absolutely right- those themes were there on purpose. It was great to hear that someone could see them in the play.

Once the break was over, no one wanted to go back into the theatre because it was ridiculously hot. When we had exited before the break, all of our clothes were soaked with sweat, and no one was willing to go back in and sweat for another hour. So we grabbed the stands and the chairs and set up a make-shift reading space on the lawn outside the theatre. It was a little harder to hear out there, and of course every plane, train, and automobile decided that it needed to come by during that hour. I always get worried when I find it hard to hear (and therefore understand) things during the reading, because if I, the writer who has a few chunks of the play memorized, can’t figure out what’s being said, someone who’s never heard it will have even more trouble. However, as I was told afterward, the heat in the theatre made it really hard to concentrate and the play was more enjoyable outside.

Readings are super weird for me. I’ve only had a few pieces of my work performed, and this play has only been read before an audience three times, but because I’ve been living with the material, I’m always terrified that the story is boring. It’s not that all I see are flaws- that’s the great thing about plays over, say, stories solely on the page. The actors bring something new and often very good to what’s been written- but still, the errors, big and small, always stand out in my mind much more than the things that work. Overall, though, I think the reading went well. It was lower energy than the first one, but the actors really can’t be blamed; most of us had come from work, some people were acting with others they’d never worked with before, and no matter where we were, it was still hot. In any case, the audience seemed to like it and I enjoyed it, too.

Afterward, the head of department asked if I wanted to have a mini-talkback with him. I said absolutely. “We can do it now,” he said, “or in a week.” Since he can be kind of hard to get ahold of sometimes and I’ve been working like crazy, I said that I wanted to do it right then. So we sat down in the lobby and he asked me what I had written down during the reading. I got out my notes and started rambling on about too-long opening scenes and how this and that line had to be cut, and he stopped me. “Let’s think bigger.” We discussed the themes and time jumps that were jarring and characters and scenes that were unnecessary. I didn’t agree with everything he said, and he said that was fine. “You, especially, need to be told over and over again that no matter what feedback you get from anyone, this is your play and you decide what goes into the story.” He also said that though the play wasn’t at the point where it only needed little tweaks, the writing was interesting and sophisticated, which was really great to hear.

What we discussed the most was the event in the play that is the catalyst for everything that happens in the second half of the play and in the rest of the main character’s life. It’s not fleshed out enough, and though this has been said to me before, I could never figure out what exactly I needed to do about it. What he said that night though, made everything make sense. Sometimes someone says something a little different, even changing a single word, and something huge clicks. That’s what happened during the talkback, and my mind has been churning with all the things I can and need to do. It’s probably going to mean huge changes, possibly big cuts, and going into subject matter that I’m not completely comfortable with or even prepared to write about. But I was and am so excited about this revelation that I can’t wait to have a free second to work on it. I’ve already started scribbling ideas onto the back of my order forms at work. I don’t know what it is about this summer and all of this writing inspiration, but I am definitely not complaining.

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