Tales of an Almost Professional, Twenty-Something Year Old Playwright
Anthony J. Piccione
Volume I – Hole in the Wall 24 Hour Plays 2015
Have you ever worked as a team to write, rehearse and produce a short play within just 24 hours? Personally, I’ve had the experience of being involved in such an endeavor quite a few times, just over the past two years. Very few events in theatre, at least as far as it goes here in Connecticut, are as fun or as thrilling as this. I’d done a similar event at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, another at the Windham Theatre Guild in Willimantic, and now for the 2nd year in a row, I was back at Hole in the Wall Theater in New Britain to create a new script that a random group of actors and a director would bring to life only 12 hours after receiving it from me. In this first volume of Tales of an Almost Professional, Twenty-Something Year Old Playwright – in which I intend to chronicle my experiences as a young playwright that’s only a year away from graduating college – I intend to show you as much as I can about what this experience at Hole in the Wall Theater was like for me this past weekend.
When I arrived at Hole in the Wall Theater at around 7:45pm on June 12th, I came in with one prop to be used for the shows (I chose a flashlight) and a random photo of a family, which were the two mandatory items for participating playwrights to bring to the first meeting that night. After a brief introductory session, the actors, directors and playwrights were all separated. Each of the playwrights had been given one of the random family photos to be used for inspiration (the theme of the event was “family”), a line that we were all required to put in our play (“there is nothing you can do about it”) and a random colored piece of paper. (Maybe I’m overreacting, but I hope the people at HITW don’t get mad at me for telling people how this process works.) I got the color orange, which is how I was later introduced to the director I’d be working with – Rose Morse – as well as the three actors who would be in my play: Dan Collin, Sarah Hochman and Cat Haverkampf. During the brief time I had to meet with the cast and director, I had the chance to share some of the ideas I had in mind for what I wanted to write about. I told them how I was thinking of a comedy inspired by 1980s family sitcoms about a rebellious teenage girl and her father, but with a bit of a twist in the plot, in which the dad was trying too hard to be cool, only to end up turning off his daughter to the cultural trends of that era. During this time, we also had a chance to discuss possible costuming ideas for the show – which would prove to be a very important aspect of the play – before leaving the theatre so I could go begin actually writing the play.
At approximately 9pm, I got to work on creating an original 10-page play that was due by 7am the following morning. I first came up with a rough outline of the play and detailed character descriptions, as I do with every play I write, and then got around to writing the first draft that I would later revise that night. As I wrote the play, the plot evolved more and more from the initial ideas I had shared at the theatre. However, the general themes I had in mind – a family comedy revolving around teenagers in the 80s – pretty much stayed the same. As I wrote the play, I kept in the back of my head three things: The first was that I didn’t want to let the cast and director I had just met down, as this was their project just as much as it was mine.Second, whether or not the audience reacts as positively to this play as I could possibly hope. Finally, and most importantly to me, is whether this play live up to my own expectations for it, and whether or not this idea for a play I just came up with would be as good as I expected it to be. After all, I imagine that conceiving and writing a new play to be produced shortly after, within the span of only 24 hours, is a fairly big risk for nearly any playwright. Nonetheless, after hours of writing and revisions, I felt confident enough that this script had reached its full potential...or at least, the maximum amount of potential that it could reach by 7am.
At 4:11 am in the morning, I had finally emailed my final draft of the one-act play Material Dad to my director and actors, as well as the producers of this event. I’ll admit, in the 16 hours from when I sent them the play until I finally had a chance to see it come to life, I only got about 4 hours worth of sleep. This was partially because that I drank a ton of coffee that night to stay awake. However, it was also because – while I felt that I had written the best play that I could have at that particular moment, given the relatively short amount of time I had – I couldn’t help but wonder whether I could have done any more to make the play even better than it was when I submitted it. Could I have changed this or that, or maybe cut out one part and replaced it with another? These are the questions that I always keep asking myself when I write a play, whether it is a one-act comedy or a full-length drama. In any case, the play was no longer in my hands, but rather in those of the director and three actors I had met last night.
I arrived again at the theatre at around 7:40 pm that night, to finally see my play produced. I tried my best to relax, and to just hope that the audience was entertained by my work. For better or for worse, you can never be too certain about how an audience might view your work, as opposed to how you might view your own work. I should note that this feeling I had was not because of the team I was working with, but rather because of me ALWAYS second-guessing myself…perhaps more so than I should be, at least in some cases. The director and actors working on my play all seemed like they were experienced individuals in theatre, and certainly seemed up for the task of rehearsing for and production a short play within only 12 hours. The director came up to me before the show started, and stated that while I was away, she and the actors had a fun time working with my script. I took that as a good sign, as based on previous experiences, it’s hard to have THAT MUCH of a good time with a play that is total shit. Nonetheless, as reassuring to me as that was, I was still anxious to see how it would turn out. Plus, my dad was in the audience with me, and I hoped that he would have a chance to be able to see something I wrote that was of high-quality and was fun to watch.
Program for Hole in the Wall Theater's Third Annual 24 Hour Plays in June 2015
My play was the 2nd to be performed that night, and there were eight plays total, so I would find out sooner rather than later whether the play I wrote would be positively received or not. By the time I saw the actors in my play come on stage, I could tell that there was little reason to worry. The costuming discussions we had at the meeting had paid off, with the characters wearing 80s-inspired clothing and hairstyles that had the audience laughing from the beginning. The actors also delivered their roles perfectly, with some lines in the play getting more positive reactions than I was expecting. They even included a part with cheesy 80s dance music that I had in the script, and was uncertain would be included due to the minimal access to tech in the event. Granted, I might be a bit biased, but I’d say that after watching the play, it seemed to go very well. The audience seemed to agree.
By the time the event was over, I’ll admit that I left the theater even more satisfied with my own work than I thought I would be. There were certainly plenty of other entertaining plays that were produced that night, but I was just happy to see that my play appeared to have been positively received. Like many others in theatre, I strive to achieve perfectionism in my work. I always question myself and various aspects of my work, and even when it is done, I always wonder how much further I could have gone, even in the short span of less than 12 hours. But if the director and the actors enjoyed producing my work, and if the audience appeared to enjoy watching my work, that was enough for me to be able to call this production of Material Dada success, and it was enough for me to go home that night happy enough to be able to finally rest and catch up on some much needed sleep for the rest of the weekend.
It is events such as this that help remind me why I love to write plays, and more broadly speaking, why I love theatre. What these events involve is a small group of artists – a playwright, a director and a few actors – coming together to do something that is completely fresh, extremely fun, sometimes challenging, but always exciting. I’ve done quite a few of these 24-hour play events in the past, and they have always been a thrilling and worthy challenge. This was certainly no exception. This is why I will continue to do what I’m doing for as long as I live, and why I hope to continue to find new and exciting ways to create new theatre in my future career as a playwright.
But until then, thus concludes Volume I of Anthony’s Tales of an Almost Professional, Twenty-Something Year Old Playwright. Until next time…