The play that fits in the mouth of the actors
Last night I saw Morgan’s play Tanner and the Cotton at Carroll Community College. Because this play was started later than the others it did not have the benefit of a three day workshop in New York before starting rehearsals at the first school. This play was being written as rehearsals started. The first production is truly a workshop production – for the writer. Morgan is truly learning about the play through this process. She is learning about it like you learn about a new friend – Who are they? What do they have in common? What passions do they share? How do they connect to one another? It is truly a new relationship. I understood this through my conversations with Morgan as we both talked about how to use the process of the first production. What I didn’t take into account of the very fast process of putting the play together was that I had not gotten to know the play intimately as I am used to. I didn’t get to get to know it through a day workshop of questioning at the culmination of months of talking about the theme of the play and potential structure.
My concerns were about Morgan connecting to the themes, were the students feeling as though they were heard in the process of creating the play, is everyone excited about the conversation that can be had through the development process. All good questions – but as I entered the theater to see the play I realized I was preparing to meet the play and the actors for the first time. I was happy to be greeted with photos of the cast and the theater space is beautiful.
I sat down with some excitement of meeting a new friend in the play. I knew the ideas were good from my conversations with Morgan. I trusted Jane, the director, from our conversations from the beginning of the process. But realizing I hadn’t heard the words said out loud before I was excited and a little nervous to see how it worked.
At the top of the play the students entered the stage and starting moving scenery and setting up chairs for the first scene and there was a confidence that let the audience know that they got this. This is their play. And as soon as they started talking it was clear that this was a play for them. Or of them. It was theirs. They owned the language. They owned the issue. They owned the play. I love the College Collaboration Project because it is thrilling to have the actor speaking about things that are from their immediate experience. Not only did the cast own it but you could feel a sense of security, familiarity, and investment from the audience. This is their play too.
Afterwards the actors shared their appreciation of feeling like they were being represented on stage. That they were connected to who they are playing. They were surprised by Morgan’s ability to listen to them in rehearsal over a very short time and to be able to capture an essence of them that would appear in the character. However, I’m not sure Morgan was writing specifically for each actor but what I do know is that each actor felt as though they knew who they were playing. They felt close to it – and that gave them an ownership.
One actor is in her first play. You wouldn’t know it. She credits the support of the cast, writer, director, and whole team – working together on this project along with the trust of having to share bravely and openly on the topic throughout the process. All of that is vital. However, the first step is recognizing the value that the students’ experience bring to a theme or issue that a writer is writing about – and then bringing that experience out through the play.
I like this new play. I’m excited to see how the play and artists mature throughout the process. I am confident that this play and I will be friends. That confidence was born the moment the performance started and it was clear that the play fits in the mouth of the actors.