On the brink of taking flight

TNCThis is the second of a short series of posts about my upcoming play, The New Colossus. (Here’s the first.) In the spirit of gratitude and reflection,  I’m considering some of what it took to stage this sucker (from a playwright’s perspective). We open this week!

Generally, plays require an enormous amount of collaborative and collective work to put up — way more than you would guess unless you do it on a regular basis. As a world premiere, The New Colossus required an even larger than usual dollop of investment, commitment, and risk-taking from everyone involved. It’s a brand new beast.

The New Colossus (TNC) would not be opening this week without a theatre company willing to take the risk to cultivate the script over the last two years, then put in the time/money/energy to mount a production. Thank you, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. Thank you, Manbites Dog Theater, for access to the venue and support thru the Other Voices Series.

It often requires years of preparation to bring a new play to the stage. This was the case for TNC. Research, several drafts, then readings, rounds of feedback, and more drafts, and then more drafts after that. It’s a long-game approach. It was a gift to have a producing company, like Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, that invested in TNC before we even entered the rehearsal room.

Even a script based on a beloved classic, like this one, is still untested. It’s untried and probably still a little unfinished. By the time most plays really pick up steam geographically, they’ve been workshopped and produced multiple times, so the first production is really the infant phase for a new play. And you know it takes a village to raise a child….

Dana Marks, the director of TNC, has been a superb detective, problem-solver and imagineer — reading the text closely, discovering moments I didn’t know were there, conducting the pacing, arc and emotional tone of the production, as well as folding in all the crazy technical elements written into the script. (Yikes, videos and live feed!) Dana, Jenn Evans and Erin Bell, our stage managers, and the cast have been upbeat, flexible and supportive as I made numerous script edits throughout the rehearsal process. We’ve been able to collaborate and brainstorm solutions for moments that didn’t quite work once we got the script “on its feet.” Bless the amazing cast who jumped in enthusiastically, and tried to make even the most awkward lines work.  They breathed life and dimension into their characters in surprising and wonderful ways. Together with the stellar designers, all of these folks created a world that I never anticipated.

And of course, in order for TNC to happen, I needed lots of support from my friends and family (hi, honey!) — from the people who read and discussed drafts with me, and the people who’ve worked with me in the past. Kevin Ewert and Jaybird O’Berski were crucial readers and script advisors. My friend, Cheryl Chamblee, and I wrote and produced a dozen plays together in the last 20 years; without those experience with her, I wouldn’t have been able to bring this play to life. Same thing goes for my work with Rachel Klem in Summer Sisters, and lots of other experiences with folks who have built new work in the theatre.

As a theatre-maker, new works are my jam. I love creating them. I love experiencing them. Happily, this community is rich with theatre companies who are commissioning and growing new work. Support them! Love them! They are laboring hard against the odds to bring you new art.  Here are a few examples: Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, StreetSigns, Archipelago, Common Wealth Endeavors, The Performance Collective, DIDA, Haymaker, Manbites Dog Theater, Duke University Theater Studies,  The ArtsCenter Carrboro, Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Common Ground Theatre, and more.

As an audience member, I’m thrilled by world premieres. Watching a never-seen-before-play is a special treat. It’s a secret discovery that no one else has access to yet. It’s opening up a surprise package. It’s watching theatre being born. I hope you feel that way too.

The New Colossus runs for three weekends. It’s about 90 minutes with no intermission. Rated R, so not for the kids. Get your tickets.