Monday, October 16, 2006

Adventures in Commission: Epilogue

I'm listening to some hot funk music right now. Real cool.

Saturday provided my first chance to see Witness in action. There is nothing to prepare a writer for that out of body experience: a play in the hands of actors. Well of course, chime in Derrida and Barthes, "it doesn't belong to you anymore--is not of you." Well, shit. Admittedly my only other reference points were stagings where I was in control. In those cases the script never left my hands, effectively--I channeled it through the cast, but it was still my project. On Saturday, in the cozy twilight zone of the zoo auditorium (yes, my play was performed in a zoo auditorium), I was just another audience member. This was exacerbated by my unavailability for rehearsals. I listened to the initial reads, and then had to be fed questions and emendations via the interweb.

You'll remember that Witness is my short play addressing the complex organism that is bullying in middle and high school. I wrote it, and as the lights dimmed even I was skeptical about how realistic and potent it could be. Not the best omen for a show. The first line was delivered, and then it dawned on me that I had written a play. A play is not the same on the page and in the performance space. All that potential that has been enscribed (if you were successful at all) has to be delt with, and when that went down this weekend the familiarity I felt was more like reincarnation than reunion. I knew that the bases for all of these choices were my words, but the whole structure erected upon them was foreign.

So here was my play, which had seemed the last time I read it--and even when I heard it read--to be on the inactive side, lacking palpable rhythm, convoluted. With actors, not so much. There was a quickness and meter to the dialogue that I humbly report was compared to Mamet by one of the actors, and for the most part I found it to work truthfully. The matter of what they did with Ms. Plant is my only real contention--she is a social scientist (maybe a bit eccentric or overly-methodical in her expression, but rational and sane nonetheless), but in this production she became a mad scientist or close to it. She was a loon, and that didn't achieve the necessary contrast to Mrs. Fox, the old-fashioned teacher that relies on authority more than community.

In regards to Witness there aren't seats that need filling, and my reputation will not be enhanced in any dramatic fashion by exposure, so I could sit back and appreciate the production without concern for audience response. I gathered that only half at most were walk-ins, with the other fraction being accounted for by friends and family of the cast and company. I did notice that the show is maybe not as funny as I anticipated--that or the actors aren't comfortable enough in the text to draw out the humor, I can't tell which. My Hamlet joke--yes, I put a Hamlet joke in there (in a play for teenagers, you've got to hit them with some Shakespeare)--got laughs, and my attempt at bad high school poetry was actually kind of moving, which is what I wanted. The audience did seem consistently engaged--and there were teenagers in the audience, if only a few!

I have to be proud of this. It may be flawed, and it may bespeak my age, but I completed the process and I have a production that's playing at times to audiences of five hundred or more. Time for the next step.

Oh, did I mention I received my first check in the mail about a week ago. I am officially a paid playwright.


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