Tag Archives: plays

Play Wins Contest, Writer Absent

stage fright

I’m pleased to announce that my ten-minute play “The Real Deal” is one of seven winning plays in this year’s Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase. The seven short plays will be given a staged reading on August 28, 29, and 30. I’ve submitted to the contest before, under the guidance of various NAU Creative Writing faculty. Last year, I volunteered to be a reader for NAPS 2014, and was typecast to read for “Morons,” by William Baer. This year I’m honored the judges selected one of my plays, and I hope my Flagstaff friends will be able to attend. However, I will be absent, as I will be starting graduate school in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s a two-day drive back to Flagstaff, and plane tickets are expensive.

The few times I’ve dabbled in theater have been rewarding, as well as painful. I’ve written, directed, and acted for fundraiser plays, and my experiences taught me that volunteer theater is a collectively-driven form of indentured servitude. The drama you see on stage is nothing like the drama behind the curtain. As a moron for NAPS 2014, I discovered the difficulty in holding a script while using props on stage. As with all volunteer activities, there is the challenge of people committing but dropping out at crucial moments.

Although I’ll be several states away from the stage, I’m still proud of my little play. Perhaps I’ll find similar contests in Lincoln; perhaps I’ll even see a full-length play of mine performed. Of course, that will never happen unless I keep writing.

Time to break a leg.

-jk

Three Nights, Three Theaters, Three Plays

PlaysThis week, I attended three plays in Galway, three nights in a row. The marathon of shows was part of the Galway International Arts Festival. I do not attend plays regularly, and seeing three in a row was a unique experience for me. I barely had a moment to process the last show before sitting down for the next one, until today when I paused to contemplate them separately.  At the end of each performance, the venues sold copies of the scripts, and I decided they would make good souvenirs from a city embedded in art, music, and theater.

The first show, at An Taibhdearc, was a trio of three short plays by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. The plays were Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby. They were performed in total darkness; even the exit lights were turned off. The first is a monologue spoken so quick that much of it is lost. The only light is shown on the actress’s mouth, so that all the audience can see is a disembodied mouth babbling intensely. The second portrays a daughter pacing as her mother passes away. They speak to one another as the actress (providing the voice for both characters) walks slowly like a clock, from left to right. The last, and perhaps most disturbing, shows an elderly woman in a rocking chair. She is motionless; the chair is not. The chair rocks her face into and out of a pale beam of light as she reflects morosely on her last days and lonely life. Each play is darker than the last, more disturbing, unsettling, and saddening. Evidently, Samuel Beckett does with plays what Stephen King does with novels.

The second was a new play by Christian O’Reilly, entitled Chapatti, at Town Hall Theater. Costarring American actor John Mahoney, it was a cheerful romantic comedy about a dog-owner and a cat-owner. For all its cute jokes and warm humor, it touches on several serious issues: terminal illness, dissatisfaction in marriage, suicide, and the poor way men treat women. The author places two lonely, elderly characters close together and draws them closer, but each time the plot delves into the complexities of the characters’ pasts, the plot veers in another, more lighthearted direction.  There are many instances when the author brushes aside these disconcerting issues, but the humor is well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable, especially after three live nightmares courtesy of Samuel Beckett.

The third play was another new show, Be Infants in Evil by Brian Martin, performed at the Mick Lally Theater, or Druid Theater. This play remains my favorite of the three. The audience walks into a room filled with incense and a Catholic Priest kneels and prays on stage. The author focuses on what first seems like too many issues to balance in a one-act play. The priest hides numerous secrets, a young woman and long-time friend has converted to Islam to marry a wealthy man, an elderly blind woman is beginning to catch on to the priest’s secrets, and a thirteen-year-old boy from the priest’s past has just shown up. The play juggles science and religion, child abuse scandals, abortion, forgiveness, guilt, and revelation, and ties them together by slowly binding the characters into concentric rings of conflict and secrecy. There is humor where there shouldn’t be, and love for characters who should not be loved.

I have often thought that the two primary centers of culture in the U.S. are Hollywood and Broadway, and while I love films, I find myself daydreaming about attending a new play on Broadway, but I have never once dreamed of going to Hollywood. I regret that I do not go to plays more often, and that I do not participate in theater more. Flagstaff has what I believe to be a rich but precarious theatrical culture. When I return, I hope to participate in that culture. Theater is far more intimate than cinema. The silences are more unsettling, and the noise is more overwhelming. The audience becomes a part of the show, and there is always the possibility that the players will improvise, develop a set of inside jokes with the audience, and wait outside to meet the fans. These three plays were written, staged, and performed brilliantly. Each was different from the last, and it’s thrilling to see the house lights dim and see the first characters step on stage to deliver the opening lines. It’s a thrill I hope to feel more often.

-jk

Ten Minutes to Tell a Story

TheaterEvery year, Flagstaff Theatrikos hosts a 10-minute playwriting contest, and this year I intend to enter. I’ve submitted plays in past contests, but they all had one thing in common: there was too much in the plot to fit into ten minutes.

The rules are simple. There can be no more than three characters and the play should be no more than ten pages, and must not involve complicated scenery or props. Apart from the rules there are certain parameters that a ten-minute play should reside within. To move the plot, it is best to have a change in action every two to four minutes. It should be like a short story, with a beginning conflict, a middle crisis, and an ending resolution. Because other people volunteer to direct the plays, stage directions from the writer should be kept to a minimum.

On the surface, it’s just one more writing contest. At the same time, it’s different from short story contests because in this case, the audience watches the story unfold rather than imagines it unfolding. It’s an opportunity for a writer to pack a great deal of information into a thin wedge of time for a live audience. For me, writing plays has always been more difficult than prose. My plots have always been too ambitious, too embedded in history, and had characters too complex to develop in sixteen hundred words. A few years ago, one of my plays was about the Napoleonic Wars; another was about Irish independence from England.

Conversely, the few full-length plays I have written have always been too short, and involved plots and characters more suited for a sitcom. How can I pack conflict, crisis, and resolution into ten minutes and keep it important? Similarly, how can I make a simple story worth telling? The deadline is fast approaching; this will likely be my last opportunity to enter, and I’d like to be able to hone this particular skill, like packing five weeks worth of luggage into one carry-on bag. It’s a unique challenge, and the entire Watergate scandal simply won’t fit into a ten-minute play, no matter how hard I try.

Enough thoughtfulness and reflection. I have a play to write.

-JK