Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Out in the cold

When I arrived at the Millibo Art Theatre for our monthly meeting last night, a dreaded feeling settled over me. The theater was completely dark.

Had I gotten the date wrong? Apparently not, because there, in front of the theater, were several intrepid writers and actors huddled in their cars.

No, good ol' Jim had forgotten about us (first time too!). Fortunately, I was able to get him on the phone and he zipped over from his home to open the door for us. Good thing too, because the temperature was in the single digits.

Things quickly turned cozy once we got inside though. I laid out the buttery cookies I brought from Boonzaaijer's (you really gotta try this place) and Jim promptly had a hot pot of coffee brewing. Better yet, we had 15 warm bodies to fill the place.

The meeting went fantastically well. We were delighted to welcome one new writer--the great Phil Ginsburg--who I've been trying to reel in for over a year, and one new reader, the equally great Ashley Crockett.

We started with Jeff Schmoyer's suicide piece, Back From the Dead. He was worried it would be too somber, but it got some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Jeff did a great job balancing the dark stuff with the light stuff. I know I can't wait to see more of his writing in the future.

Next we read a brief scene from Tim Phillips' edgy girl band drama The Decibelles. The characters are really starting to show some depth here, and the dialogue is taking on a fun, sassy tone. We even got a bit of a song. I can't wait to see the road this takes.

After that we read Crypto-Spam, a really innovative piece by Phil. In it, a family argues over an inheritance while speaking only in sentences Phil collected from email spam. There were lot of laughs here too.

We turned a little darker with a new section from Katherine Gee's full-length play Selkie, which is based on the Orkney myth of the seal-wife. Everyone found it quite beautiful and haunting.

Sadly, Katherine announced that she and her husband will be moving to Seattle in a couple months, but at least we'll get to hear the end of her piece before she leaves.

We wrapped up the evening with my 10-minute comedy, How Not to Behave at the Theatre. I wrote it as a fun way to communicate the "turn off your cell phones and pagers" warning at the start of a play. It turns out the play needs a lot of tightening, both in the length and the number of characters.

I also had a big announcement. I'm going to be producing a full-blown production of my backstage farce, Kill the Critic! We read it last summer and people really seemed to like it. It's got a lot of physical comedy, however, so it'll be quite a feat to pull off.

Fortunately, I can count on the very capable assistance of Drama Lab member Nancy Holaday, who has agreed to direct it. Believe it or not, she has cast a professional stuntman as the critic. The poor guy is also a trained fight choreographer, which will come in handy when we work through all the physical comedy.

Oh, and I can't forget the eminently talented Karann Goettsch, who'll play the cougarish diva Sylvia.

The show runs June 28-29 at the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts in Palmer Lake. For more info, click here.

I also brought up one issue for discussion. We've been steadily growing over the last year, which is a truly wonderful thing. Unfortunately, it also presents a challenge: how do we fit an increasingly number of plays into our one-evening-a-month format?

I originally had seven writers scheduled for this month's meeting, but two had to drop out at the last minute. Still, it's only a matter of time before we have to come up with some solution.

I thought of four:

1) Meet twice a month. This gives everyone a chance to get read, but would be a lot to ask of Jim and may require us to cough up more rent.

2) Cut back to 10 pages per playwright per meeting. This was roundly rejected by the attendees as it would take forever to get through a full-length play, which more and more of our writers are tackling. It would also make it harders for audience members to follow the flow of the play.

3) Run the meeting as long as it takes. This also met with some resistance. Two and a half hours seems to be the limit for people's attention, and there just won't be any useful response to feedback after that point.

4) Limit each meeting to five or six plays. This seemed to be the most popular option, although it means that some people won't get read at a particular meeting. I would have to work out how to decide who gets in and who doesn't. First come, first served is the obvious answer, but then where would I fit in the mix (after all, I'm the first to let me know what play I'll be bringing!)?

Anyway, we can discuss this some more at future meetings. If you have any additional comments or alternate suggestions (please!), you can always email me.

See you all next month. And let's hope it's a whole lot warmer!