Tales of an Almost Professional, Twenty-Something Year Old Playwright – Volume II

Anthony J. Piccione

24 Hour Theatre at the Windsor Art Center 2015

Overall – in the relatively short amount of time in my life that I’ve been a playwright, thus far – many of the plays I’ve written that have been produced were a result of 24 Hour Play Festivals that I’ve participated in across Connecticut, including at Playhouse on Park, Windham Theatre Guild, and most recently (prior to this event) at Hole in the Wall Theater. This time, however, my playwriting endeavors would take me back to my hometown of Windsor, Connecticut. I moved there when I was 14 in 2007, I graduating from high school there in 2011, I participated at one point in the local community theatre as a teenager, and I still have family that lives there today. Now, I was back in town to participate in a similar 24 Hour Play event at the Windsor Art Center, in what would ultimately turn out to be one of the more interesting experiences that I’ve had in the theatre community.

While I had been following the Windsor Art Center on Facebook for quite some time, it was not until recently that I had begun to notice more theatre-related events were being held there. It was only a few weeks after I had completed the 24 Hour Play Festival at Hole in the Wall Theater that I had noticed that a similar event was being organized in Windsor. Given not only my pursuit of any opportunity I could get to write and produce a new play, but also my own personal connection to Windsor, I figured that this would be a good event for me to participate in. I quickly emailed Amanda– the woman who organized the event – and before I knew it, I had been signed-up for the event as a playwright.

The event was set-up to be largely similar to the 24 Hour events that I had participated in previously, with one notable difference: the short one-acts that were to be written were to all be at least somewhat inspired by mythology, thus providing the event with some sort of central theme. This would later prove to be an interesting element that would determine how I would write my play, albeit not in the way I initially expected. I was looking forward to this unique challenge that would come with writing this particular play, although in the lead-up to the event, there were still some slots open for artists to participate in the event, which would prove to make the experience even more interesting, both for myself and for the others who were participating…

I arrived at the Windsor Art Center on Friday the 17th, about 15 minutes or so before the event was set to officially begin at 8pm. The number of people who were there to participate by 8pm turned out to be quite small: 4 actors and 3 playwrights including myself. Unfortunately, word not had gotten out to enough people that this event would be taking place. Plus, since it was July, there had been a ton of shows running at other theaters that kept many of the usual people involved in these events quite busy. These included Playhouse on Park’s production of Hair, Windham Theatre Guild’s production of Into the Woods and Hole in the Wall’s production of Enron, the latter of which I recently had the pleasure of reviewing after having the chance to get a sneak peek on Thursday last week.

Nonetheless, we were determined to come together and find a creative way for all seven of us to put together a collaborative performance that our audience would enjoy by 8pm on Saturday. One person in the group remarked that we were “small but mighty”, while another responded that a better way to say it would be that we were “mighty small”. Personally, after that conversation, I thought that the best way would be to describe our talented group of seven artists would be “mighty small but mighty”.

So the seven of us all sat down in a circle of chairs in the art center, and began talking about how the performance was going to work, with the three playwrights – including myself – being given writing prompts to help us come up with potential ideas for what our play would be about. All of us – both the three playwrights and the four actors who would work together to bring the plays to life – began to brainstorm not only how we could possibly use the prompts we were given, but also how to somehow incorporate mythology into the performance. By the end of our meeting, we determined that four characters types – inspired largely my characters from mythology, such as Zeus and Hades – would be used in our otherwise distinctly different one-act plays. They were the authoritarian figure or “god of gods”, the bad apple in the group, the highly vain and narcissistic woman, and the old crazy lady. We also determined which of the four actors would play each of the characters types in all three plays. While I can’t speak on behalf the other two playwrights, I think I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to write by the end of our meeting.

At around 9pm at night, I went straight home to start writing my play. My last play that was produced – Material Dad – was largely a spoof of pop culture in the 1980s: the decade that my parents grew up in. Since then, I had thought of the possibility of writing a play that was more of a spoof of pop culture in the 2000s: the decade that I grew up in. Given the character types that I was supposed to work with, I figured this could be a perfect period of pop culture to incorporate into this one-act play. I began writing a comedy that was set in the year 2002 – which incorporated the dual themes of hip-hop and Wall Street – entitled The Real Tim Spacey. (It was going to be called The Real Tim Shady, but this was later changed after I decided the last name of the main character.) It had a lot of exaggerated and over the top humor – like most of my previous one-acts – and was about a disappointed father who was president of the fictional banking institution Cronus Brothers Inc. (a nod to both Greek mythology and the now-defunct banking institution Lehman Brothers) who was having a conversation with his son – an aspiring rapper and Eminem wannabe – that is not only highly vulgar and disrespectful toward his elders, but also doesn’t realize that he isn’t any good at rhyming words. After about four or five hours or writing it and then polishing up, I emailed it to Amanda and was thankfully able to get a few hours of sleep after that.

First draft of the one-act play "The Real Tim Spacey", originally entitled "The Real Tim Shady" - July 2015 (Photo credit: Anthony J. Piccione)

Early Saturday morning, I made sure I had plenty of coffee ready to go so I was fully awake, and able to go back to the art center at 7:30am to discuss my newly completed script before rehearsal had begun. After having a brief talk at the art center about the themes and characters in the play, I was able to head back home until the performance to catch up on some more sleep, leaving me with nothing left to do but wait and see how it would turn out. I had once again reached the point where my play was no longer in my hands, but in the hands of those who would ultimately bring it to life.

Normally, as I wait in anticipation for the opening of a play that I wrote that is being produced, I get nervous about how the audience will react to my show. I always write the kinds of plays that I enjoy most (even if the perfectionist in me always finds small things in each draft that should be tweaked or changed a bit) and would never, ever want to write any sort of play that was meant to please others, as opposed to pleasing me as a playwright and an artist. Yet to say that I didn’t care about how audiences viewed or reacted to my work would be a lie. I think that ‘s something that all playwrights – whether they all admit it or not – tend to think about when their work is produced, and it is something I always think about as it gets closer and closer to the opening of my play.

Yet this time, my typical concern in the lead-up to 8pm was overshadowed by a different concern: Would there be much of an audience AT ALL to see my show? Given that there was not a large number of people who were either available to participate in the event – or maybe hadn’t heard the news about it in the first place, for whatever reason – I was worried that there would also be an equally small number of people who would even go and see the show. For all I knew, it could have ended up being just me and my mother that would get to see what our group put together. I hate to sound like a pessimist when I say that, but that was a genuine concern that I had. As a playwright, nothing feels worse than the possibility of you writing a play that few people, if any, would ever have a chance to see.

By 7:45pm, I was back at the art center to see that – while it was still a relatively small number of people, compared to what I’m used to seeing at these sorts of events – it was still a bit bigger than the number of people that I was nervously expecting to see. It was still a fairly good audience. It appeared to be mostly a mix of local residents here in Windsor and friends of family of the artists involved in the performance. For this reason, I had a new concern that I was now focused on in my mind: Would this audience be receptive to my play?

Once the performance started – just a few minutes after 8pm – my play was the first of the three plays that the audience would see. As I said before, I always find at least a few small things – even once the play is finished – that I would like to maybe go back and change to help the play reach perfection. Still, I personally thought that – given how much time I had to write the play – it came out as well as I could hope for, and I also was very pleased with the way the actors brought it to life. The small audience that attended – as I previously stated – consisted primarily of local residents in Windsor, some of whom might not have been accustomed to the kinds of comedic one-acts that tend to come out of 24 Hour Play events such as this one. However, the play still managed to get a few laughs from them at certain points. It seemed that the reaction was essentially the same to the two plays that followed mine. It seemed thought that, for the most part, the audience was happy that they came out to see our performance, and that was good enough for me.

That night, I left the art center after the performance thinking that – while the event may not have been as big as we would have liked, in terms of attendance – I was still happy that our performance had gotten an audience, and I was of course proud of myself that once again, I had managed to complete a new piece of drama that was transformed by a group of performers into a fresh piece of theatre…all within 24 hours of meeting. After a few tweaks to the draft that had been written for the performance, I’d like to think maybe this one could also be performed again in the future, in addition to maybe some of the other plays that I’d written for similar events. But for now, I was just glad to have had this opportunity to work with some new, talented people to create some new theatre this past weekend.

With the end of that performance marked the end of yet another 24 Hour Play event. It was the 2nd that I’ve done this summer, the 3rd I’ve done so far this year, and the 5th that I’ve done so far in the still relatively young period in which I’ve been a playwright. As we put it in the rehearsal process, we were a “mighty small but mighty” team of artists that collaborated on the project, and I’d like to think that we all did a great job using our individual talents to put together a solid performance for the audience that turned out. Next up, I hope to have a chance to be involved in one more 24 Hour Play event this summer before spending the month of August participating in the 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge, and then going back to ECSU for one more year of college. 

So until next time, thus concludes Volume II of Anthony’s Tales of an Almost Professional, Twenty-Something Year Old Playwright.

To see some of my previous work as a playwright, please visit www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione.