Running My Fingers Through the Water: Creating a Play from Scratch with Annex’s and Rain City Projects’s SECOND DATE

It’s nearly April, and it’s been over a month since SECOND DATE, a project co-produced by Annex Theatre and Rain City Projects, ended. It’s taken me awhile to get it together to write about this project, but here we go.

 

SECOND DATE Project Postcard, image credit to Annex Theatre
SECOND DATE Project Postcard, image credit to Annex Theatre

Back in December, I mentioned an email I received proposing the SECOND DATE project to those of us that had participated in the SPEED DATE event, which Rain City Projects sponsored so directors and playwrights could get together and talk. I apparently wasn’t the only one who thought the event was great, but lacking one crucial element – producers! As a director, it’s wonderful to know playwrights, but tough to help them when you’re freelance and have no specific ties to theatre companies to produce their work.

The SECOND DATE project fixed that gap by offering playwrights and directors from the event to get together and create a show. Annex would take three proposals total for shows between 15 and 25 minutes, which could be in any stage of the rehearsal process, and any part of a script, from a complete work to a smattering of scenes from a potential longer work.

I’m proud to say my proposal to work with Jaime Cruz was selected as one of the three. I’m also proud to say that all three of us had complete, fully-rehearsed and -produced shows – actors off-book, full tech, costumes, etc. We had two weeks to put up a show from scratch, and we did. All of us did it.

Jaime has an incredible, vivid imagination and passion for writing, and I pegged him at SPEED DATE as someone I desperately wanted to work with. As soon as I got the email from the SECOND DATE producers, I reached out to Jaime and suggested we do our best to create a play that could, potentially, translate to other mediums. In my December writing, I said that I’d received criticism of my solo performance before, asking why it was a theatrical medium rather than a short story, and after several months of chewing that note over, I determined that I didn’t give a shit. Art is art is art, and pretty much everything can translate across any medium. There’s no such thing as a perfect play, which couldn’t work equally well as a TV show or painting. Inspirational subject matter and creative ideas are just that, and you can put them in whatever medium you choose.

Jaime agreed, and we got together a week before official rehearsals started to hash out a plot. We’d batted some ideas back and forth about the Greeks and prophecy and family, and Jaime was wonderful at feeling out what was important, determining characters, and outlining the plot in a way that would reasonably work. In the meantime, I did my dramaturgical best and threw YouTube videos and Wikipedia entries at him to help his process.

Keiko as Melissa, scrying in a puddle. Photo credit to Ian Johnston and Annex Theatre
Keiko as Melissa, scrying in a puddle. Photo credit to Ian Johnston and Annex Theatre

The script he emailed me, at about 4 AM on the Saturday of our first production meeting, was intense, dynamic, and, most importantly, filled my mind with staging images.

The SECOND DATE producers cast the show for us, based on what we felt we needed for the script. I asked for actors with movement experience, and got three incredibly talented actors (one of whom I’d worked with before, the other two I had never met but who brought a high level of energy and creativity to each rehearsal).

Most interesting, to me, about the whole process, was that Jaime and I started with the idea of “Fuck it, let’s ignore this Ideal Play bullshit and just create some art!”, and what we ended up with was a 25-minute complete script that I genuinely do not think would work in other mediums. You could take the idea and translate it to film, for instance, or you could write several songs about the fucked up family and create a rock opera album, but the script itself in its existing format would flop without the stage. The three characters bombarded the audience with personal experiences and tough decisions and clashing personalities, all in the form of engrossing memories that the main character relived onstage, in no particular chronological order.

Also interestingly, while the plot and characters of the play were in no way realistic (a world in which prophecy and magic actually exist and affect reality), I had two audience members, both of whom are social workers, comment that the play struck them as the most realistic portrayal of schizophrenia they’d ever seen. Jaime and I had talked about mental illness, but not in the form of schizophrenia. He focused on immersing the audience in the main character’s experience of prophecy as an addiction, and the desperate need for maternal love that drove her to kill her brother by misusing her gift. As a director, I focused on taking the mindfuck that was the script and making it a head-rush for the audience, so that they walked away feeling everything the characters experienced, without necessarily being able to articulate that experience. My aim was to make it a dark but transformational experience of awe, at the universe and the hugeness of everything.

I couldn’t do that without the stage. There’s much less intellectual distance between the audience and the actors in the theatre, and there’s no way such a head-rush could have worked in any other medium.

It was a hell of a way to start 2013, let me tell you.

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