Monday, June 29, 2009

Reflection by Samantha Berstler

The following is a reflection about the writing and Festival process written by Samantha Berstler. Her play, Requiem, was produced during the NJ Young Playwrights Festival 2009.

I am addicted to theatre - which is interesting, since I'm no actor. Instead, I like to slip into the very sinews of a performance. I like to mold, to craft. To be brief, I write plays.

I wrote my first script at age ten for a Playwrights Theatre class. It was terrible. This attempt was followed by several subsequent scripts, which were also terrible but were admittedly less terrible than the first. But I had good teachers and encouraging friends, so I never quit.

Last November, nearly seven years after penning my first stage direction, I tried to tell a story one more time. This story became Requiem, and Requiem became a winner of the New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival of 2009, and I learned that my words would breathe on a stage.

And I was terrified.

Here's the thing about Requiem: the play tells the story of a writer in a totalitarian prison and utilizes such devices as, say, torture and guns. My director and cast, I was convinced, would think I was an absolute psycho.

So as I listened to the first read-through and clutched my binder like a life-buoy, I wanted to crawl under the table. A heavy silence hung over the room after the last line, and then my director began to speak. I cringed, waiting for the question, "What on earth were you thinking when you wrote this garbage?" But a minute passed. Then another. And I realized that they - my director and cast - respected the story. This was a powerful validation of my work as a writer.

Indeed, it was inspiring to see four accomplished adults dissecting, probing the dialogue I had written. Several times, I paused to wonder, "Wait, really? Seriously? They're talking this way about my, a seventeen-year-old's, work?"

But ultimately this wasn't an exercise in flattering a writer's ego. The experience truly helped me learn more about my script. After only one read-through, I was able to hear a myriad of new things: rhythm that didn't work and rhythm that did, lines that needed to be cut or added, plot points that remained unclear. Sometimes someone asked me a question, and I realized I couldn't answer because I had never thought about that aspect of the story before. After the performance, I began rewriting the script based on information I had gleaned from this process.

Before the lights rose for the actual performance, I was trembling again. I cannot tell you what my audience thought as the play progressed. But I do remember hearing sharp gasps during the violence. I do remember my friends wiping dewy eyes. And I do remember the tremendous, painful stillness that swelled throughout the room after the Poet asked the audience to look at him.

By the end of the play, I realized I was no longer frightened. The Man spoke the final line. I closed my eyes and listened to the soft silence between his last word and the applause. It was a beautiful feeling.

Note: Samantha is currently working on a revision of Requiem.

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