Wow, have I been in Minnesota for four days already? (Technically five days, if you count my arrival on Monday). Well, let me tell you, the past two days have been the most exciting. Yesterday was the first rehearsal for Winter Miller’s play-in-progress, The Arrival. Every year the Playwrights’ Center has two weeks of PlayLabs, during which four playwrights come in to have their plays directed and read aloud by professionals. The current rehearsals are table readings which, for The Arrival, anyway, will lead to a public staged reading at the Center on Wednesday, October 19th, at 6 p.m. Following this reading are additional rehearsals (and likely, additional changes made by the playwright), culminating in a final public reading on Sunday, October 23rd, at 1 p.m. And then I hop on a plane back home to Pennsylvania that night! Talk about a whirlwind.
I want to tell you a little bit about the two rehearsals I have been privileged to sit in on so far. Here’s one great thing that happened yesterday: the actors sat down with the script, the director, stage manager, sound designer, dramaturg, and playwright for the very first time and just read through Miller’s play. (I had the privilege — and yes, I mean privilege! — of reading stage directions for the rehearsal.) Afterwards they began to go around the table and discuss and at one point Miller stood, hand on the director’s shoulder, and just addressed everyone with tears in her eyes, saying how REAL these characters were to her. They were so real to her — and so broken, she said — that she had to leave the room for a while “and just be.” I, as a playwright-in-training, was truly moved by this moment that I witnessed; a moment in which a playwright’s characters stepped off the page and came to life. A moment in which she realized that she had not really written characters; she had written people.
Today was another great rehearsal. Miller spent some time standing on her head (literally, she stood on her head…I’m serious) so she could think through the plot points being discussed, and I had another great moment of realization. It may seem obvious, but the Playwrights’ Center is all about the playwright. Let me be more specific; PlayLabs is not about a production or the readings or the rehearsals or the actors or the directors or the desingers…they are all important and play key roles in the process, but the GOAL of PlayLabs is to give PLAYWRIGHTS an opportunity to decide what they want their play to communicate. I really saw that in practice today from the director. The director’s approach is so interesting in this process because while normally he would be figuring out the playwright’s intent for his actors (based only on the script in his hands), in this case he is giving the playwright his impression of her intent, so that she can see how her intent is read and figure out how to make her intent clear.
Miller works brilliantly with the director AND the actors, seeking advice on the characters’ language, their motives, what they know, what they don’t know, what they mean or don’t mean, and the ultimate question of what on EARTH is going on in this play?! It’s a fascinating process to watch and Miller takes full advantage of the roomful of people dedicated to this endeavor.
I’ll tell you one thing: as an actor/director/playwright it’s an odd thing indeed to play the role of silent intern (well, mostly silent), to sit and observe and take notes and let others do the talking, discussing, dissecting. It’s not always easy to be the fly on the wall; I’m not used to it and I have to suppress the urge to jump in on a conversation that I’m not really a part of. But when I let myself relax, when I sit back and really listen, I realize I still have so much to learn. And even though I’m tired, and slightly out of my element, and still a little homesick…I know I am incredibly blessed to be in that room in any capacity at all.
To learn more about PlayLabs 2011 at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, go behind the scenes at the official PlayLabs blog, written by my friend and fellow intern, Finn Lefevre. The blog includes interviews with the playwrights involved in this year’s PlayLabs.