Monday, May 23, 2011

The Festival weekend begins

This post marks the halfway point in the NJ Young Playwrights Festival schedule. We’ve had a packed week of rehearsals and the early morning hour for this entry should indicate that the prep work will continue right up to the morning’s curtain time.

We began rehearsals on Saturday at 12:30 pm with the high school playwrights joining us at Playwrights Theatre for a first reading of the scripts. This full company reading is the only time until Tuesday that everyone in the Festival will see/hear all four plays. After the reading, we split into two performance groups, each of which will perform two of the winning high school plays. I am directing the first group, which includes the plays For the Sake of America: A Story of Patriotism by Sam Gelman and Yesterday by Michelle Cheripka. Jim Ligon, a professional actor and director and member of the Playwrights Theatre staff, is directing the second group, which includes The Prologue to After by Jenna Postiglione and Wacky Wednesday by Justine DeSilva.

At 2:30 pm, we transitioned from the high school plays to a rehearsal of the junior high and elementary scripts. Four actors from the high school casts are also cast in these plays along with two other actors specifically hired for this section. In three hours,we read through the six plays to be performed tomorrow. Since this performance will be a reading, there will not be any movement meaning that the stage directions take an important role in the audience’s understanding of the play. So an important part of the rehearsal was to figure out which directions would be read or performed. Props and blocking were kept to a minimum in an effort to maintain focus on the story. The high school plays will take a similar approach, but with staged action.

It is a great benefit to the actors and directors to have the playwright in the rehearsal room. Michelle, Sam, Jenna, and Justine also seemed to benefit and did some remarkable work on their scripts and provided us with concise revisions that the actors had a relatively easy time settling into the plays and working out characters, conflicts, and intent. Over the years, I’ve noticed that our Festival playwrights typically have great moments of inspiration the first few times that the actors speak the words that, until now have existed only on the page and in their minds. And in my group, I felt that we were able to help the playwrights smooth out any rough edges and address any lingering questions that may have remained. It was a great day today and all of us working on the Festival are looking forward to the first performance tomorrow morning.

Monday morning we’ll move the Festival over to Kean University thanks to the partnership of Premiere Stages which is in residence on campus. The reading of the junior high and elementary school plays will begin at 10:00 am in the University Center Little Theatre. Admission is free and we hope that you will join us. Rehearsals for the high school plays and a quick walk-through of the honorable mention scripts will be in the afternoon. I’ll write more then.

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