Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Get to Know our Playwrights!

The Active Theater is proud to present the final workshop presentations of our year-long play development process. We sat down with Ben Bartolone (TIMEPIECE) and Megan Sass (IN THE MIDDLE) to find out what the process was like for them. Check it out!

ACTIVE: What made you realize this was the story to tell?

BEN: I started to write TIMEPIECE years ago. I had never written anything before, but I had just lost my grandfather, and I felt the overwhelming need to write his story. That's where it started, and it ended up somewhere completely different. Six months after we lost my grandfather, I began working at a summer theater, and my next-door neighbor looked, talked, and acted exactly like him. I spent a lot of time with this guy, and as I learned to write through this play, I realized that my neighbor was the accidental inspiration for George. Not his demeanor, but definitely his charm and sense of humor. But long story short, I started there.

MEGAN: There was a boy I went to high school with who was always on the extreme side of things politically, and was incredibly vocal about his beliefs. As he got older, his ideas only got more extreme, and he started a blog to share them. A few years ago, I was reading his blog, which was full of mostly vitriol and anger. His arguments, bereft of logic, contained few facts, and were really fairly laughable. I asked myself, "How does a person get to this place?" And then I asked, "I was this man's friend. What is it that the two of us have in common?" Right then, I wrote the monologue that is now delivered by Ryan Jones in the second to last scene of the play. I kept writing from there.

ACTIVE: How do you find you work best in writing a play?

BEN: I have remind myself that just because words are in pen, it doesn't mean they're in stone. I just write. I cross out, I write something else, I circle a few lines and point them with an arrow between a different section. I think that some day, my notes will be dug up, and people will think "Oh, the workings of a crazy man!" But always with a pen and paper, it's just slow enough to let the ideas form as I wrote the words. Like the bridge at the end of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. If I step, the bridge appears, but I have to trust that it will even if I can't see a damn thing.

MEGAN: In a room with actors and a director I trust. The more I can hear things out loud and make changes in the room itself, the more I think I accomplish. When major structural and theme-based changes need to happen, I go away by myself and work for a while before bringing in the new text. But it is a group discussion, or discussion with a skilled director/producer/dramaturg that generally fuels these rewrites.

ACTIVE: What is it like for you on the first day of rehearsal for your show?

BEN: Unbelievably exciting. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, or meeting the love of my life for the first time. I count my lucky stars, I wave to the birds outside, and I probably seem completely insane from the outside. Really. I show all this by acting like a complete wacko. I find that if I'm acting in a show, I act like an... actor. If I'm producing a show, I act like a producer. If I'm writing a show, I act like Woody Allen.

MEGAN: There were three first days of rehearsal in this process, and I was fairly terrified for each one, as I always am on the first day of rehearsal. First rehearsal days are a mix of fear and excitement, because it is not until I hear that particular group of actors read that particular version of the script that I get a sense of the work I need to do. There's always that question of, "Have I accomplished what I intended to with the latest round of rewrites?" That's first in my mind. Second is, "Will these people get it? Will they get the jokes?" It's such a let down when jokes don't read. If you have to explain them to more than two other people in the room, they're probably worth cutting. I think that's one of my greatest worries; that something I think is really funny just isn't to anyone else. That, and that anything emotional I've written will come off as indulgent.

ACTIVE: Six months from now, what will you remember about this process?

BEN: The amount of work that goes into a new play. For film and TV, you get a writer's room. For theater, you get a devoted team of actors, designers, producers, and a director to help shape your vision into a living, breathe piece of work. Nothing else like it in the world, and I will never forget the amount of devotion and love my play has received. I can't believe how far this play has come. I used to read it and think, "Well maybe this is as good as it gets with this project." Active proved me wrong, and I couldn't be happier with the result. I can't wait for you to see it.

MEGAN: There was something I suspected would fail if I tried it with a character, but I couldn't be sure unless I saw it fully realized. I did, and it was such a resounding failure that it taught me not only about the character I was working on, but about any character I might try to create in the future. That, and plenty of other things, you know, how much I appreciated the process and the producers... But I'll save the sentimental stuff for offline.

Come check out the final presentations at Shetler's Theatre 54, 244 West 54th St, May 21st-26th. Visit www.TheActiveTheater.com for more information.

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