Five Lessons this Playwright is Learning in Production

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We are a couple of weeks into rehearsal of Ham Buns and Potato Salad, which is a play I’ve written and re-written over the past five years. It will make its stage premiere April 10-13, 2014 in Pella, Iowa thanks to the hard work of Union Street Players.

FYI: I do not have a part in the play. I am working with the director, Ann Wilkinson, and am enjoying the luxury of observing the process as writer and playwright. Most rehearsals I simply sit back and watch and document things with my camera. I’ve had to make some small changes to the script, and have chosen to make others. Ann consults with me once in a while on whether I think this or that choice will work. She and the actors are doing a great job, and I’m anxious to see the finished product.

Here are five things I’m learning in the process of watching a script I’ve written be produced:

  1. The contribution of others makes it stronger. Over the past five years Wendy and I have hosted a number of readings in our home with a number of different people. I’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback and have revised the script based on that feedback. I also had the privilege of taking the script to the Missouri Playwrights Workshop at the University of Missouri where I received incredibly valuable feedback from objective sources who understand the writing process much better than I do. What I’m discovering is that not only did the feedback allow me to make my script better, but all of the readings allowed friends and community members to feel a vested interest in the piece. They’ve had a hand in it. They feel a sense of ownership and responsibility that I find humbling.
  2. You can’t please everyone. Because I received a lot of feedback, I had to make very thoughtful and sometimes difficult decisions about which feedback I wanted to embrace and which I wanted to respectfully leave alone. In the end this is still my vision, my story, my characters, and my script. I have to be true to the voice inside of me and what I’m expressing.
  3. It will never be exactly what you envisioned in your head. I can picture the little town of  Hebron. I see the houses, the yards, the porch, and the swing. I envisioned these characters. I heard their voices saying their lines in my head. Now that the show is in production, I’m finding that the set doesn’t look like I envisioned. The characters aren’t always saying the lines the way I heard them in my head. Sometimes the director and actors don’t get the things which I just intuitively know and understand about these characters and this story. Perhaps a movie script writer can storyboard, direct, shoot, manipulate, and edit the video to get exactly what they envisioned. The stage is a messier artistic playground. The bottom line is that I have to accept that I will never see on stage exactly what I envisioned in my head.
  4. There’s more there than you ever knew or intended. At the same time, I am finding that Ann and the actors are finding things in the script and characters that I never envisioned and that’s a good thing. I’m finding that there are layers to the story and the characters which I didn’t consciously write into the script. In the hands of capable artists the script takes on a life of its own. Things emerge. I’m blown away by it.
  5. You’ve got to let go. A professor of mine, and a playwright, always spoke of the process of writing in terms of birthing. You conceive an idea, it grows and is knit inside you, and then you give birth to it. The birthing process can be scary, painful, and messy. As with parenting, you’ve got to let go and let your baby become the person it was meant to be. Trying to cling and control will ultimately only serve to harm all parties involved.

Ham Buns and Potato Salad will be produced by Pella, Iowa’s award winning community theatre, Union Street Players, and performed April 10-13, 2014 on the stage of the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium in the Pella Community Center, 712 Union St., Pella, IA. Tickets are $8 in advance for adults ($10 at the door) and $6 in advance for students ($8 at the door). Tickets are available on-line. Click here to order tickets online.

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