By: Khrysta Ryan & Melanie Rainone
The Brown Playwrights Rep offers playwrights a unique opportunity to perfect their work in the rehearsal room and on the stage. Now in its 10th year, the Playwright’s Rep has allowed three playwrights to explore their work’s potential. A playwright brings an unfinished piece of work and is able to watch it come to life with a cast and make changes collaboratively throughout the rehearsal process. See Bat Fly, Indian Summer, and The Droll have each gone before an audience at the Leed’s Theater so that the playwright may continue to prepare the piece for an eventual premiere.
“The spirit of Playwrights Rep is asking a playwright what they need as they’re writing a play and letting them use the rehearsal room as a part of the creative process,” said Kenneth Prestininzi, the director of Indian Summer. “In collaboration with the author, director and creative team, the writing process gets completed with the ensemble,” he explained of the innovative environment. Gregory S. Moss, playwright of Indian Summer, went on to say that with each member of the ensemble working together so closely, the process is more intimate than a regular professional theater company. He emphasized that the relationship and intimacy that is formed by having the playwright present in the room makes the creative process feel less like a job. Prestininzi added, “There’s an insight that actors and directors have that often a playwright can’t see … you need other peoples’ perspectives to open it up.”
For Moss, the Brown Playwrights Rep is the perfect place for his newest piece of work to develop. Indian Summer is a love story that takes place in Rhode Island. “I wrote it a little for this venue — its about the local culture of Rhode Island,” he expressed. This is Moss’ second time bringing a piece of work to the Rep. He went onto explain that because of his presence in the rehearsal room, “The work being done here is something [playwrights] can’t get elsewhere.” He explains that this is at the root of the Playwrights Rep. “What does this script bring out in us that we can show Greg? What can we bring out in the script that he can’t see?” Prestininzi described.
The format of the Rep allows the playwrights to take risks they may not have otherwise taken. Rather than writing a play and imagining an audience for two years, the playwright can write at his or her whim, knowing that their work will be seen in front of six different audiences. Playwrights come to the Rep with specific goals for their play. As someone who had been through the process before, Moss knew that he could achieve the goals he had for his play in a safe environment.The play was originally 250 pages, but has been shortened significantly because by seeing his piece come to life in the rehearsal room, Moss was able to determine which parts weren’t necessary to the story. “You figure out what you can lose, things that are implied, things that actors can do without language and then also where you need to put in more information,” Moss explained.
The process is equally invigorating for the actors as it is for the playwright. The cast of each work is able to watch their characters evolve during the entire process. Playwrights Rep uses a wide variety of actors, including the Brown Trinity MFA, local Providence actors, retired professors returning to the stage as well as recent Brown graduates.
“Even though something is no longer in the play, I know that it is a part of the character’s journey,” expressed Max Wolkowitz, who plays Daniel in Indian Summer. On having the playwright there in the rehearsal room, See Bat Fly actress Olivia Khoshatefeh stated, “This is what makes this process so unique; its incredibly collaborative. And from an actor’s point of view, it’s nice to have the playwright in the room. When something is unclear we can just ask, ‘What does this mean?’ Which is super helpful and an incredible luxury.”
“The audience is the final part of the company; they are part of the developmental process,” Prestininzi elaborated. “That sounds a little like marketing [laughs] but its true! The engagement and energy in the room the first time this play is being shown in front of other human beings is incredibly important and informative to us.” The works have been adapted after each of their six showings based not only on the opinion of the cast and crew, but on the audience’s reception. According to Prestininzi, “We’re not making theater for ourselves, it’s about this public square and this exchange with the audience.”
See each piece in its seventh performance and final form August 2 at the Leeds Theatre. See Bat Fly, Indian Summer, and The Droll will be marathoned to close out the Playwrights Rep. The marathon audience will be the final piece of the editing process and tickets are on sale now.