I had the great fortune of being able to take not one but TWO of my plays to the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska a couple of weeks ago, one in the Play Lab and another in the ten-minute play slam. I have been fortunate that both of these pieces had been fully staged, prior to the conference, and I had acted in all productions. So it was quite interesting to see other actors take on the roles I had played and to see what they brought to them that perhaps had not occurred to me.
This is where, among my fellow playwrights, I began to have a dialogue, not only with them, but internally, about how useful it can be as a playwright to experience your play from inside its guts like that, rather than the usual playwright’s role of watching others interpreting your work from the sidelines. Both are useful, but the former really allows me to understand the meat of the piece.
At the moment, I’m in rehearsals for my short play Wind Whispers Mary, inspired by the Jimi Hendrix album Are You Experienced, and going up as part of Self-Titled: A Live (Theatrical) MixTape a little later this month at the Rendezvous with The Metronome Society.
It is incredible how acting in my own play informs changes to the script…in rehearsal, I get to see which lines the other actors trip over, and those I trip over – either with my tongue or with my memory. I get the chance to feel, in my body, how a line flows (or DOESN’T), to experience the rhythm of the words (or lack thereof) and to see where a beat is connected (or where it needs more work).
Struggling through early off-book rehearsals is a great clue to this: sometimes it even comes down to one word just flowing better than another, even if they have essentially the same meaning. “You make it sound like a visit to the dentist” for example, is a lot less clunky on both the ears and the tongue if you replace “visit” with “trip”. But I wouldn’t have figured that out unless I had been actively trying to memorize it.
Another awesome thing is when you had intended one thing as a playwright when you wrote it, and you have a great director who, during the rehearsal process, gives you either some sort of idea or specific blocking that changes the meaning entirely from the original intent and makes it stronger. My character has a line, “Oh, sweet Jesus” that I wrote initially, from a playwright’s point of view, as swearing – not quite a “throwaway” line, but something less important before the big climax. In rehearsal, it has actually become a very active invocation of the divine that spurs on a final explosion. And this is now something I actually get to experience physically and viscerally and am now able to take into a potential rewrite/edit with a wholly different take than had I just been sitting in on rehearsal from the sidelines.
So, call me narcissistic, if you will, but I will probably continue to act in my own plays as I am able – it makes me, ultimately, a better playwright…but judge for yourself. Come check out ALL the plays and music in our album-inspired Self-Titled, July 16-18 in the Jewel Box Theatre at the Rendezvous! Tickets available HERE.