[Genevieve Swanson, Nathan Manahan, and Isabella Segovia in the play MEET & GREET]
Writing is a superpower, and it comes with its own high stakes.
It was hard for me to imagine that words on a page—mostly written for my private entertainment—would be projected on the stage of Symphony Hall, a gorgeous theater with high ceilings and velvet cushioned seats. I had no idea what it would feel like to see the characters that I had written four months ago strut around stage, taking audiences on an emotional journey. I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to be transported into the setting I had scrawled on a piece of paper. And I was definitely not prepared for the overwhelming sense of pride I felt as applause, whoops, and cheers filled the house.
This was the first year that OCSA’s Creative Writing Conservatory collaborated with the Acting Conservatory for the Annual Playfest. My play MEET & GREET, about a chance encounter with a character at Disneyland, was among the nine plays chosen to be directed by Acting students and performed by actors of all conservatories. The Playfest, themed One Act of Heroism: An Evening of Original One Acts, ran for two nights, Feb. 20 and 21.
As soon as the Creative Writing playwrights, including myself, were notified that our plays had been selected, we immediately met up with the prospective student directors. It took a great deal of bravery to pitch our scripts to directors, hold our breaths, and hope that someone liked our plays. The directors pitched their vision back to us, and the collaboration between writer and director began. I was blessed with a fantastic director, senior Tara Byk. As a first time director, she was a bit daunted at the prospect but also very excited to sit on the other side of auditions with me next to her.
“It’s cool how you know the person who writes the script,” said Byk. “You can see how the ideas sort of formed. When you know your writer, you can ask them questions and know all the answers.”
[MEET & GREET involved Director Tara Byk, Writer Cassandra Hsiao, and actors Bella Segovia, Genevieve Swanson, and Nathan Manahan]
Writers were invited to attend as many rehearsals as possible. We had the opportunity to revise our scripts, and the director-writer super team allowed for last minute changes to make a particular line sound better or to switch blocking around.
“It’s incredibly heartening to see [my script] brought to life,” said Sophie Neely, a junior Creative Writer. “My director and I had a very open communication line so if I felt like something needed to be shifted in a different direction, he was very open to that.”
The flexibility of the organic process turned out to be a tricky thing to handle, but the end product was remarkable, something that had never been done before.
“I was excited,” said Mr. Michael Fountain, one of the Acting Faculty Directors. “There were moments of, ‘We don’t have a lot of time,’ or ‘This is going to present some interesting challenges,’ but for the most part it was pure excitement and we were ready to go for it and see what happens.”
Though the writers’ presence did add a certain pressure for actors, it pushed them to be better performers.
“Now that I’m performing for the writer, I need to serve that script to the best of my ability and honor that writer who created this remarkably beautiful script,” said Hayden Allcorn, who was cast in two plays. “It is my job as the actor to tell the world every single word, every syllable, and every punctuation mark that was in that script.”
For Mr. Pete Uribe, one of the Acting Faculty Directors, seeing students take ownership of their art and mentoring young writers and directors was the best part of the experience.
“It’s been fantastic to empower both the writers and the directors. Almost all the work you see up there, it’s theirs,” he said. “We threw them into the pool, gave them a few tools and said ‘swim,’ and I think everyone has swam fantastically.”
The night was filled with laughter and heartbreaks as each play presented a different spin on what it meant to be a hero. Everything from the transition music to the costume designs to the themes in the plays paid homage to the classic superhero genre. Like iconic superheroes leave an impression on our minds, the action-packed evening left the audience in awe of the evening’s heroes: the writers, directors, actors, and set designers.
[Actors, Writers, and Directors]
“The best part is seeing how many people we could get involved and how many people are happy right now,” said Ms. Tira Palmquist, Creative Writing Faculty Dramaturge. She looked around at a lobby full of audience members congratulating cast members. “Being a playwright, I know how great it is when you can see your work fully realized and see how actors enjoy the words that you’ve written. Having a director bring that to life with you is really gratifying.”
At the end of the night, I realized that though I may not be an archetypal superhero with martial arts skills and a cape, I do have a deadly superpower. Stakes are high in that everything is built from my Hero’s Journey, but it is my job to fight off the bad guys of doubt and insecurity. It is my sworn duty to do my best, and now I fully understand what a great hero was once told: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
This year’s One Act plays were: SUPPORTING CHARACTER by Lani Kording; AMERICA’s NEXT TOP VILLAIN by Emma Kuli; FAME IS FOR THE FOOLISH by Jerica Dunton; SUPER HERO CREW by Emily Normandin-Parker; HOW TO BE A HERO by Chayse Peña and Katie Boër; FIRST CHAPTER OF JAMES: SEVENTEEN by Sophie Neely; MEET & GREET by Cassandra Hsiao; BRAVE FACES SAVE LIVES by Bailey Saewert; and MY BROTHER IS A SUPERHERO by Michelle Vera.
[Poster for One Acts]
1st Photo by Cheryl Walsh | http://cherylwalshphotography.com