I spend a lot of time on this blog geeking out about new plays and their development. Â This is partially because I find something so incredibly out of this world exciting about new works. Â This is also because I feel like new works are often overlooked by the general public, and I hope that I can make one person out there reading this blog see a poster for a new play and be willing to take a chance on it. Â Passion and advocacy, that is where I stand.
There are generally three stages of new works. Â I’ve touched on this in previous posts, so I’ll just give a quick review. Â Remember, no two plays are alike in their developmental processes. Â These three steps can come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors.
The reading: This can happen many different ways, usually either within a close group of friends or collaborators, door closed, or on a stage with actors sitting the whole time with a small audience. Â This is usually the first time the playwright has heard his work read aloud. Â He has another critical eye or two in the room (director, dramaturg, possible producer, etc) to help him use the reading to the best of his ability. Â In this setting, the actors have the script in hand. Â There is no blocking- they are usually at music stands or sitting, depending on the setting. Â For audiences who are not text-oriented or used to really focusing on the writing, this type of production can feel a bit mundane or confusing because they cannot see the full picture. Â This is mostly for the writer, although sometimes it can help potential investors or collaborators decide if they want to work on the production. Â From this stage, the playwright usually makes tons of revisions to get to…
The staged reading/developmental production: Again, this stage can take two different forms. Â The staged reading is similar to the initial reading in that actors still have scripts in hand, but it is closer to a full production. Â There is blocking, which means there is also a director attached to the production. Â Sometimes there are a couple furniture pieces, minimal lighting, and the suggestions of costumes as well. Â There is a small audience for this production. Â This gives everyone an idea of what the piece looks like on its feet, how it moves theatrically. Â The other way this stage can work is called a developmental production. Â If done as a developmental production, the piece generally looks the same– the blocking and design elements aren’t too complex– but the Â actors are off-book and can give themselves over to the material more fully because of this. Â In this stage, the playwright usually has more rehearsal time with the cast and is revising throughout the process. Â That is why things are kept simple– they could change at any moment. Â Of course, the hope is that this will lead to the end goal…
Full production: This is what most people are used to seeing in a theatre. Â Impressive lighting, sets, costumes, actors running all of the stage, impeccable direction, a show (usually) that will look exactly the same from night to night. Â For the first full production, the playwright might be involved, but after that (unless you’re Edward Albee) the playwright is out of the picture, entrusting his work to the capable hands of theatre professionals worldwide.
This weekend, we have the opportunity to see a play that has traversed all three of these steps at this very university. Â This is an opportunity that only happens once every few years, so I would suggest that we all take advantage of it. Â Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Emma Jeszke, a senior in the theatre school, will be presented in Studio 1 at the Walgreen Drama Center Thursday-Sunday. Â Information can be found here: http://www.music.umich.edu/departments/theatre/index.php# Â This production is a part of a re-emerging initiative called Plays-in-Process, in which SMTD faculty will take student work and give it a full production.
I think this is an incredible thing both for student writers as well as audiences at the university. Â As a new works nerd, this of course, is my cup of tea because it is both allowing students to cultivate their own passion for new works and advocating for a theatre community in which new works are valued. Â We can do Shakespeare over and over, and I do think there is great value in that, but what good is Shakespeare if we don’t learn from him and write something that speaks to the current moment? Â I have had the privilege to see Manic Pixie in its staged reading incarnation, last year at the University-sponsored Playfest, and I can say with absolute certainty that it speaks to the current moment in a way that students and community members alike should understand and encourage them to truly think.