So here we are... looking back at our showcase reading of local writers that The Inkwell hosted at The Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival in September.
Yes, it's taken us a while to gather our thoughts... and observations from some of the 36 people that worked on that project. That's right, there were three dramaturgs, four directors, four playwrights, and somewhere around 25 actors helping to put four excerpts from four plays on their feet. We attracted quite a crowd on Labor Day, filling the South Atrium Foyer at The Kennedy Center.
Here are some observations about one of the four plays we showcased -- Blue Straggler by Rebecca Bossen -- from Mary Watters, the dramaturg for this excerpt and play. She is a huge fan of the play, championing it as she helped us review plays submitted to our second open call for submissions.
I was intrigued by Blue Straggler from the first page. It begins without words, which is uncharacteristic for word-loving playwrights.
The scene is just simplicity and one action. A young woman, Lisa, enters the stage. Nothing happens. Still nothing. More nothing. Then, a feather falls and Lisa catches it and curls up on the floor with the feather in her hand. Hmmm. I was ready to read more.
Those of us lucky to be involved with The Inkwell ask, “What makes this play Inky?” or how does it fit with the aesthetic of Inkwell scripts. Well, just looking at the scene locations for Blue Straggler gives you an indication that it’s not going to be theatre-as-usual. One of the locations is “at the edge of a black hole.” Blue Straggler is about astrophysics, multiverses, and grief.
While playwright Rebecca Bossen could have gotten caught up in all the cool science and played theatrical tricks, she crafted a play with four disparate (and desperate) characters; she crafted a play with an incredibly rich center because the driving force of this play, its very heart, is love.
Lisa, a young woman who should be completing her dissertation in astrophysics and teaching university classes, is dealing with the death of her lover, Clarissa. To attempt to process her grief, she turns to the only language she really knows: math. Her mother, May, comes to Lisa’s apartment because Lisa hasn’t been seen for days. May, a self-made, can-do Southern woman, wants to help Lisa return to normality – or May’s sense of normality, which is having your hair done and getting on with your life.
Clarissa, who is not of our universe, confronts her keeper, an entity of the universe named Ragged. Clarissa pleads with him to let her into Lisa’s world, but the universe, or multiverse, has rules – rules which Clarissa seems determined to break. Ragged allows Clarissa one chance to reach out to Lisa, but she absolutely must stay within the bounds of the universe’s rules.
That’s where our scene begins. It’s the second scene, or orbit, as the playwright calls them.
Talented playwright Rebecca Bossen tells us that this orbit beings in a place that’s no place. Lisa is in bed. It is Lisa’s dreamland….
So that’s how I introduced the play for the showcase. That’s all I really needed to say because Rebecca’s characters and their emotional interactions took off after that. And just like a good script, a good story, should sweep you into its orbit, the audience was quickly pulled into the play’s gravitational field.
Dramaturging this play was a bit of a nail-biting experience for me. I was actually coming to this task as a playwright who liked to read and comment on scripts; I’d never been a dramaturg. I’d taken the eye-opening course on dramaturgy the Inkwell offered last year taught by Michael Dixon. But I was taking in the class almost as much as a way to “be my own dramaturg” and to better refine my work.
Okay, there’s definitely more to say about this process – the fun and the learning involved in working with the great people the Inkwell assembled while delving into our Inkwellian work. But that will have to wait for another posting.
Let me add a little bit here about Mary and her keen dramaturgy skills. She did come into the process with a lot of trepidation, but she was driven by such a strong love of this play and innate ability for thoughtful analysis. I served as a sounding board for her and discovered that she just needed a little help to release her inner dramaturg, which in this case was to point out to Rebecca the strengths of the play (like the beautiful language), the challenges that Rebecca was facing (weaving difficult scientific concepts around a story of love and grief), and encouraging Rebecca to experiment and explore through this first step in a collaborative process.
It was a terrific collaboration, and we at The Inkwell can't wait to see the next draft of the play. And we can't wait to work with Mary again.