This past Monday and Tuesday, Theater J hosted a fruitful and productive new play development workshop of The Hampton Years. We had ten glorious hours to read, investigate and ponder the script. The "we" being director, Shirley Serotsky; dramaturg, Otis Ramsey-Zoe and cast, Edward Christian, Crashonda Edwards, Lolita-Marie, Julian Elijah Martinez, Sasha Olinick, Colin Smith, Emily Townley and David Lamont Wilson. Suffice it say, I am blessed with a brilliant, generous, and thoughtful artistic team and cast. You can read more about my director and dramaturg here, and my cast here.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I took the riches given to me in our time together and worked on rewrites. It isn't easy work, but I really enjoy the rewriting process. I love asking the great "what if ..." and seeing the impact such a question can make on the lives and desires of the characters and on the overall dynamics of the play. With each new draft, the characters grow richer and more complex and the plot becomes increasingly clearer and more cohesive. It's interesting to see how the play takes shape. As one character comes center and more into focus, sometimes complete scenes are deleted and another character's storyline may fade into the background. This can be challenging to balance. It's a real luxury and privilege to have this time to write, question, explore and work through it.
Our work culminated in a public staged reading on Friday followed by a post show discussion. The reading went extremely well. In truth, it's during the reading, when I'm able to observe the verbal and nonverbal response of audience, that I learn so much about what works and doesn't work about the script. The post show discussion offered the audience an opportunity to reflect critically on all they just experience.
Post show discussions are a beast. I've led a great many of them as a dramaturg and participated in quite a number as a playwright. No matter what your role, it is challenging to guide, elicit, and negotiate the questions, opinions and suggestions of a newly formed community. I come from the Liz Lerman school of the Critical Response Process. I've shifted her suggested structure to suit my own style and the needs of the playwrights, but always I ask the audience to hold their prescriptive feedback, their well-intentioned and often insightful "you should do this" and "you should do that." I mean, they may want to write their own play one day, so they should really keep all of those delicious gems to themselves, right?! Also, I frame my questions to the audience in this way:
In doing so, I learn three valuable points of audience feedback:
When all is said and done, post show discussions require practice, preparation and patience along with sophistication, finesse, a healthy dose of objectivity and a thick armor of skin. My advice: don't be wooed by the love or wilted by the hate. Focus only on what's productive, what will move the script forward and never lose sight of the heartbeat of your play.
At this point in new play development process, I eagerly await the notes from my brilliant creative team and look forward to digging into more rewrites. At the same time, I'm leaving the world of The Hampton Years to work on my new play, Our Man Beverly Snow, ahead of its upcoming reading on Sunday, December 9th. Also, I'm working on two 10-minutes plays, one for Round House Theatre's Heyday Players and the other to be announced tomorrow! For now, please enjoy these pictures of The Hampton Years team from our time together this week.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!