In which playwriting instructor Elizabeth Heffron magically transforms herself from interviewer to interviewee to discuss the New Play Lab.
So, Elizabeth, how can the New Play Lab benefit an emerging playwright?
What a great question! I would say there are two big benefits. One – being the chance to work on a 20-minute segment of your play with your fellow writers, find the build to the scenes, your forward arc, extricate what is unnecessary and really hone it. At which point you are ready to – Two – take it off the page and pass it over to other living participants and midwife the journey that happens from there. Once the piece is in the hands of your actors and a director, you discover where the heartbeat of the play really is and how hard it is beating.
Sounds like transformation is a big theme here, can you expound?
Certainly. Your work can be so elusive and it is always changing. Starting at the moment of conception, the moment you have the idea and it seems perfectly formed in your head. Then you begin the process of extracting it from your brain onto the page, which is often difficult and disappointing, but you power through to a first draft on paper. Now you have something you can work with, and this is where we start in class. As you, and your fellow writers rewrite and refine your first drafts, the piece is transforming, getting clearer, closer to the center of what drove you to write it. Once the play is handed to a director and actors, the points of view of all these theatre workers then influence the play as well. The questions the playwright is asked by these artists – who are there to help you find what is under your work – can feel dizzying and there’s the fear that the piece is getting away from you. But this is when the playwright needs to let go of the rope and finally fly – when everyone is in the room and things are happening in the moment and the room is alive.
This is called a ‘Hybrid’ course. What do you mean by that?
The point to the class is the chance to rewrite and revise a 20-minute piece of work until you feel it is ready for actors and director. Then to pass the play over to them and to participate in rehearsals in real time and three dimensions. Given what appears to be the trajectory of Covid-omicron, we’ve decided to start the class on Zoom, for those sessions where you’ll be working with me and the other writers to revise and refine your play. Then, towards the end, you are assigned a professional director and you gather your actors for two in-depth rehearsals and finally a public reading at Freehold. This last half of the class will be in-person at Freehold, with precautions as they are required at that time.