Thoughts on the Workshop by Rachel Kent, Centre College
As someone who is very interested in directing, acting and writing, the chance to be a part of the early stages of development for Micheline Auger’s new play (currently entitled The Descent of Man) was an absolute dream come true. I really didn’t know what to expect from something like this. While I did have the distinct pleasure of getting to work on the first College Collaboration play, Lindsay Joy’s In the Event of my Death, I became involved during the later stages, once the show was already on campus. This time, however, I got to be in the room from the beginning, and for that I consider myself very lucky.
The (very cool, intelligent and well-spoken) others in the room had a vast array of opinions, backgrounds, and reactions to the story, all of which were incredibly valuable. We had a smattering of professional New York actors, a grad student, myself and other undergrad students and professors from two of the schools that will be a part of the College Collaboration (these are Centre College in Kentucky, where I hail from, SUNY Brockport, and the unrepresented University of West Florida), and, of course, our lovely playwright.
We assembled on the 4th floor of 440 Studios, on Lafayette St. (and noted immediately that this was across from the Public Theatre). It was hard not to notice the sizable amount of us around one table, all from different acting, directing, and technical backgrounds, and it was intimidating at first. I described my initial feelings to my Centre cohort as the crippling fear of not sounding smart enough in a room full of people doing exactly what I want to do with my life. However, the gentle, inclusive moderation of Padraic Lillis, director of this whole wonderful project, as well as the genuine kindness and passion for theatre evident from every person at the table helped me get over that fear almost immediately.
The story, currently about a specific instance of violence against women and its far-reaching effects (but, as we were frequently reminded, subject to change at any moment), was one everyone in the room could relate to on some level. This universality helped everyone contribute to the discussion, whether it be from an artistic or a personal standpoint. In fact, by nature of the subject matter, much of the discussion became deeply personal. This could have easily gone bad, but Padraic helped to ensure that nothing was said without a constructive intention to serve and improve the text.
Personally, I had never been this close to such an early draft of anything, and the first thing that struck me was how far along it really seemed to be. It was a fully constructed piece of theatre that impacted me intellectually and emotionally, even upon the first reading. Of course, the more we discussed, it became apparent that little details that initially seemed perfectly alright could be improved in interesting and creative ways I never could have thought of before. We did plenty of readings, and went through the script scene-by-scene, making sure to comment on things that excited us, confused us, or made us think. It could be a fine line between so many opinionated creatives offering input and seemingly wanting to hijack the project, but everything tended to go very well. Micheline took the advice she wanted to use to make changes, defended the choices she didn’t want to change, and above all listened – very openly, and, I think, very bravely, as a bunch of people she barely knew discussed and re-discussed and criticized her artistic baby.
The most exciting part for me, however, was on the final day when she brought us over 60 pages of re-writes. As genuinely good as the first draft we saw had been, I was absolutely blown away by her sensitivity to each of our comments, and the way she took our often nonspecific, disjointed opinions and made them into her own strong, creative choices which truly furthered the play she set out to write. Not to mention the fact that she did it in a matter of days! Excited as I was for the whole process, it was this final moment – reading the brand new pages and hearing everyone’s (often very vocal) reactions to her expert integration of our wide variety of ideas – that took my internal fire for this project from a nice steady candle to a full-on bonfire blaze.
The things in this play are things that need to be said, and Micheline says them well. I cannot wait to see what else she whips up, and how the brilliant designers, directors and actors from each school – including the ones I didn’t get to meet – turn this awesome script into a full-blown show. I don’t know how I’ll be able to wait until Micheline, Padraic, and the play arrive at Centre this winter, but I do know the incredible process I was lucky enough to be a part of these past few days has inspired me as an artist and a person, and I hope everyone gets to experience something similar at some point in their career – there’s nothing quite like getting to express your passion in a room full of awesome people and getting to make your mark, however small, on a brand new piece of art.