It is one thing to write a play, but getting a play off the page and up onto its feet is quite a different story. This is when the collaborative nature of theatre takes over; the artistic visions and perspectives of multiple theatre artists come together to create a single, cohesive production. I invited some of the PlayGround writers currently working on full-length commissions or co-productions to describe the process and experience of bringing their work to the stage.
Playwrights Jonathan Luskin (Ecce Homo), Katie May (Manic Pixie Dream Girl or The Lily Chronicles Issue #1) and Mandy Hodge Rizvi (Drive Thru-Open till Midnite or Later) are working on their first PlayGround full-length commissions. Daniel Heath and Evelyn Jean Pine are each currently working on their third PlayGround commission, Siren and Altair, respectively. Ken Slattery is preparing for the world premiere co-production of Truffaldino Says No at Shotgun Players this June and is also under commission for his new play, The Shakespeare Bug. Other upcoming co-productions include Lauren Yee’s Crevice at Impact Theatre in May and Kenn Rabin’s Reunion at SF Playhouse Stage 2 in June. Trevor Allen is currently working on his fourth PlayGround commission, Valley of Sand, a co-commission with San Jose Rep.
What is it like to see and experience one of your plays being realized into a staged production?
Trevor Allen: The production’s the thing. With a play, one is able to imagine anything and put it into the world of the theatre. It’s as if we create the blueprint, the director, designers and performers come in and build the house and then the audience comes in and makes that house their home for the evening. The live experience of being in that home with those people is magical. When it works, there’s no better feeling in the world.
Daniel Heath: It's an artistic satisfaction that doesn't really have an equivalent. It's not seeing your vision displayed before a crowd — that would be like looking at your painting on the wall of a gallery. It's an audience not just observing the product of your work but participating, as animals in a room with other animals, in an event whose gears you've set in motion and whose action you have circumscribed, but which in each actual performance is as complex, varied, and particular as the actors on your stage and the audience in the seats.
Katie May: It’s simultaneously the most exhilarating and terrifying experience I have ever had. The presence of the audience makes watching one’s play an entirely singular experience and one that is unique to writers of performance.
How does it feel to have your work put into the hands of other theatre artists?
Ken Slattery: Once you write a play, it demands to be performed, or at least read out loud; otherwise, why did you write it? It seems like a play is not a play until it passes out of the playwright’s hands and into the hands of the actors, director and designers.
Jonathan Luskin: Writing a play is only one step in its development. Rehearsing with actors and a director allows a play to be focused.
Daniel: It's actors giving body to people you imagined, and imagining them further (in ways you could not imagine because you are not the character's body on stage). It's a director and designers taking your story and your themes and giving them shape and light and texture.
Evelyn Jean Pine: Whenever a play of mine is produced, I learn what it can become through the collaboration of playwright, artists, and audience. Plays are blueprints, and productions, through the imaginative work of actors, directors, and technicians, transform the blueprints into magnificent, transitory edifices anyone can enter.
Lauren Yee: Plays are just as much visual creatures as they are aural ones, and giving the audience a complete experience means closely working with other types of theater people to create a fully immersed sensory experience. I love working with people smarter than me, who are able to understand the kind of universe I want to create, who are equipped to enhance the story in ways that I cannot possibly do.
Kenn Rabin: My favorite thing about that progression from page to stage is the element of surprise. I love watching actors and directors use my art to inspire their own. Often, I have the privilege of being shown something that I hadn’t even considered before.
Is there such a thing as a play that is meant to remain on the page?
Mandy Hodge Rizvi: While there may be a playwright out there who writes plays solely as literature, I certainly don’t know of any, and I think that’s probably a very good thing. When I create a play, I sit alone in the dark with my computer, but it is always with the hope that someday I will sit in the dark with a crowd of strangers to experience that play. Plays NEED performances.
Thank you to all our participating playwrights, and please tune in again next month for further discussions with and about these artists and the wonderful work they have been doing!