Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Way I Danced With You (process)

Michael Johnson & Sarah Blubaugh
(Blank Canvas Theatre, 2018)
Several of my plays have been commissions. There is a need, a proposal, I satisfy certain criteria, the play gets produced, we move on. Then there are the plays I write because I want to write them, I need to. But where do they go? And how do you know if they are even any good?

The Way I Danced With You has followed a process, it keeps moving forward. We read it at music stands in Valdez, Alaska following a two-hour rehearsal. We took three days to rehearse and stage it with scripts in hand, no tech, no set or costumes in Waterloo. And now we have taken three weeks to fully memorize the piece, dress up the actors, and see what it actually looks like or could look like in some future, premiere production.

It makes a difference, hearing the script aloud. A big difference in this case. At the first read-through a few weeks back, Sarah (playing Dani at Blank Canvas) observed that the second scene or act is entirely different when read out loud, looking at the person you’re speaking to you, about the person you're speaking to.You really have to do that to understand what is happening and the emotions involved.

It is still a script in progress, but not by much. The first two scenes are pretty much right where I want them. The first was almost completely set in stone after Alaska, I remember cutting an entire page during our brief rehearsal. Tyler and Chloe read it and I was like, wow, we don’t need that at all! It was liberating.

But that third scene … my lead adjudicator at Last Frontier was Kevin Armento (Balls, Devil With the Blue Dress) and one of the most significant questions he asked was; whose play is it? I said I wanted the play to be about both of them. He said that’s fine, but that it was currently Charles’s play, the man’s play. And that this was largely due to the third scene or act.

Chloe Cotton & Tyler Browning
(Last Frontier Theatre Conference, 2016)
Significant revisions were made, for Playwrights’ Local, and then for Blank Canvas. My wife says the play is now about Dani, the woman, that it’s her play. And I am all right with that. But even now, listening to Michael (Charles) in the third scene, playing it all out, I am in sitting in the house constantly thinking about every line -- this could be different, that is unnecessary... Hearing it, seeing it, and seeing her (Dani’s) reaction to everything … it’s important. It’s necessary. I’m seeing and hearing things I’ve never heard in the previous workshops, when scripts were in the way. Reactions are as important as the words themselves.

Having said that, the performances this weekend have been tremendous. And during that scene, that final scene, you could hear a pin drop in the house. No one in the audience moves, they’re all hanging on every word. It’s thrilling. They want to know.

Interestingly, while I leave the ending with a question, Lara, the director, has pretty much made up her mind her mind as to what happens next, after the curtain, and I think it’s pretty clear. Another director might handle that differently, and that’s okay, too.

So there are a few minor edits still to be made on that last scene. But it’s ready to go, this script is ready for a full production.

LAST CHANCE TO SEE: Blank Canvas Theatre presents “The Way I Danced With You” tonight at 78th Street Studios, March 24, 2018.

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