Day One: NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop

by Simon Levy

The Kennedy Center, Washington DC

(July 25) First rehearsal today from 2:30-6:30 in Rehearsal Room 2 somewhere in the bowels of the KennedyCenter. The place is so huge and full of twisting, interlocking corridors and multiple floors, you need a guide to take you to your location. And, because of security, you have to have a special badge to even be in the building, but only employees with special key cards can get you into certain corridors. (The one good thing about the badge is you get 10% off in the KC Cafe and 15% off in the gift shop!)

The creative team gathered around the horseshoe arrangement of tables and the day began with introductions. Besides myself and Amanda Shank, the author of THE GLASS MAN, the team consists of: Miriam Weisfeld, dramaturg from Woolly Mammoth Theatre here in DC; actors Lawrence (Larry) Redmond and Kimberly (Kim) Schraf; Dody DiSanto, movement specialist; Laura Garza, asst. director; Susan and Heather, student dramaturgs; Sandy Shiner, roving observer from Victory Gardens in Chicago; and David Goldman, founder of NNPN and this program.

Amanda Shank

We read thru the play, which took approximately 70 minutes, took a break, and spent the better part of the rest of our time discussing “glass-ness.” Amanda’s play is about a man made of glass who shatters at the end. The wide-ranging discussion covered everything from: Is he literally made of glass? Is it metaphor? A poetic device? Is he a product of his wife’s imagination? Does she “break” him to achieve emancipation? Does he drive her to it as a means of suicide? What is glass, its properties? If he’s glass then what “material” is his wife? And on and on.

Amanda wanted to hear the team’s thoughts and impressions before revealing her intentions. At one point, Dody got the actors on their feet to experiment with what it means to physically be glass. For the wife we played with the idea of her being soft, protective, like a pillow stuffed with cotton. How do these materials interact? What does it look like? A wonderful discovery process, both pragmatically and thematically.

Within all of the various ideas and points of view, I kept bringing the team back to intentions and objectives, wants and needs and emotional life, contrast and conflict. Not to answer anything – certainly not on the first day – but to raise questions. To put up as many question balloons in the room as possible. Why is today different than any other day? Why does Henry want to “go off to war?” Does Joyce purposefully hug her husband to death? Why have they lived together in isolation so long? Is the outside world of mud real, imagined, stylistic? What is the nature of their love and relationship? Where are the power shifts? Ad infinitum.

It was a stimulating round table of idea sharing… and Amanda took copious notes. Ultimately, we are there for her, to bring our collective experience and expertise into the room to help her hear, develop and answer questions about her play. She told us a few things, but today was about the team’s instinctual, virginal thoughts. Tomorrow we’ll dig into Amanda’s intentions and the moment-to-moment work with the actors.

The collective brain trust is a wondrous thing to behold.

Afterwards, most of us attended a reading of WHALES, a new play by Bob Bartlett, part of the DC Area Writers’ Showcase presented by NNPN.

Ironically, the heat index in DC has been over a 100 degrees since I’ve been here, but it’s 55 degrees in the building. There’s some scientific reason for keeping it that cool, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. We all sat around bundled up like we’re in Alaska.

I’m bringing a blanket tomorrow!

Simon Levy is Producing Director/Dramaturg of the Fountain Theatre

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