The Young Writers Showcase is one of the most satisfying projects I have at Geva.
Geva’s new play development programs provide support for writers. The many readings and workshops feature the work of writers who are emerging on a national level, and through the readings we form a relationship with those writers which will support their work and may result in world premieres down the line.
But we also serve a different writer population: teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, many of whom are trying playwriting for the very first time.
These writers are invited to submit work to Geva in the spring, and selected scripts are given staged readings in May. We have been doing that for 17 years, and have always felt delighted with the process. The writers would learn so much about their work by hearing talented actors bring their words to life, and then hearing an audience react.
But it seemed too bad that after the performance, there was nothing for the writers to do with the insight they had gleaned. The process, and the relationship, stopped after the showcase was over.
So we hit on an idea that would expand the experience of the writer, put to use the new learning, continue our relationship with the writers and also connect them to other artists in the community. We asked local production companies, and individual directors, to give the scripts full productions. The plays would be cast, rehearsed, and technically mounted by these companies. Then Geva will present these productions as part of our Festival of New Theatre.
The process for this year’s writers started this summer, during script meetings with their director/producers. How interesting those meetings were! I would introduce the writer to his or her director, a person who from that moment would act as a mentor through the process. And then we would talk about the script — about the writer’s original intentions, about the perceptions during the first reading, about the goals the writer wanted to set. We always stress that the writer is not required to rewrite at all, but that, if they choose to do so, it’s an opportunity to test out their choices in the bubbling cauldron of the rehearsal room. These writers embraced the opportunity with a passion, and, with the guidance of their producers, generated wholly rewritten scripts. For some of the writers, the scripts had originally grown out of class assignments, and had been written to meet a deadline. But there had been so much more the writer wanted to do with the work, that time would not allow! Now, they have an opportunity to realize the original vision, and they have the help to bring it to life.
Most of the plays go into rehearsal this week, although some have already started. I will be visiting the various rehearsals next week. I can’t wait to see the process in action. So much more comes to the surface in a full production of a play than in a reading, because decisions that could be left open before now need to be made concrete. Actors have questions and need answers from the writer. What does the character really intend at this moment? Scenery choices have to be made. What does that mysterious sound effect really sound like? The whole process demands a specificity which is very good for a writer to confront.
The next big steps will be a technical rehearsal, during which all the production elements will be confirmed, and performances on both Saturday and Sunday, the weekend of October 27 and 28. These are short plays, so all six will be performed in the same program. The technical elements will be simplified for that reason (everything has to be able to be moved very quickly between shows) but they still need to be the right things to tell the story.
After the celebration, then what happens? Well, who knows? All we hope is that these teens keep writing. These are talented individuals, and that talent could take them in a lot of different directions. But we hope that we will have nurtured their gifts and helped them understand the elements that make their work strong. And that they will have learned something about the development process that all new plays go through.
Young Writers Showcase by the numbers:
Three production entities each producing two plays
Four directors (one company dividing the plays up between two directors)
An as-yet-uncounted number of actors from our region
Two performances of all six plays: October 27 and 28, at 3:00 pm
One amazing experience for the writers, directors, actors, technicians, and yours truly
Jean Gordon Ryon
New Plays Coordinator