Crowded Fire Resident Artist, Michele Leavy, talks about an actor’s perspective on working with new plays:
I think every actor has a “Bucket List” of sorts, certain things one hopes to accomplish in their career: play a specific role, collaborate with a particular company, work with a certain director/playwright, etc…. These things may or may not happen in our lifetime, but they’re fun to envision. Sometimes, something will happen that you weren’t expecting or hoping for at all, and viola! A gem has been dropped in your lap. (Like getting a special present when it’s neither your birthday nor Christmas.)
Back in college a friend said to me, “Hey, I just wrote a new play. Wanna be in a staged reading of it?” My first thoughts were; “What’s a staged reading?” and, “How did you just write a play?” I soon found out that the process of new work development is an adventure, and that journey is something that has followed me through my life as an actor. Shortly after college I found myself involved with the annual Bay Area Playwrights’ Festival, and the West Coast Playwrights’ Workshop. In succeeding years, there were readings and/or productions with The Key West Theatre Festival, SF Playground, the National Center for New Plays at Stanford, and of course…Crowded Fire Theater.
What’s exciting about new work? Well, it depends upon whom you ask. I love the collaboration, the discussion, and the mash-up between the artists (playwright, director, dramaturg, and actors). I like the feeling of being a part of something greater than myself. I love being the actor who “originated the role of ______.”. But as an actor, you cannot marry yourself to a particular idea, or character, or scene. Things may change. That monologue you loved…gone??? My character was written out?!? WTF!?!? Well, if it wasn’t serving the play in some way, or moving the story along, you’ve got to be able to look at the greater good of the piece, and let it go. In this way, the work is fluid, and it certainly keeps you on your toes.
With Crowded Fire in particular, I’ve had the opportunity to work on the development of three new plays, two of which culminated in full productions. The process for each of these plays took over a year, with public readings, and workshops held over time. It’s fascinating to see the work change, and grow. Presently, Crowded Fire has commissioned a piece from one of our resident artists – Marilee Talkington – to create a work specifically including the company’s acting ensemble, entitled, Sticky Time. ARE YOU KIDDING?!?! Someone is going to create a character specifically for ME? Really?? A playwright is crafting a role to fit my particular strengths and/or quirks and thereby involving me in the process from its inception? How many actors get to have THAT in their lifetime? (Holy crap!) The other thing that makes this process unique and special is that the acting ensemble is already familiar with one another. I know and respect these people and their work, and, in the case of a few I am finally getting the chance to act with them.
As we move through this process of developing the story with Marilee–trying out new incarnations of her script–it is becoming an intensely personal experience. Dialogue appears in the text that resonates with me so deeply at times; I wonder where the hell it came from. How could Marilee possibly know…? Did I inadvertently reveal something during an improvisation? Sure, there are frustrations, but there are also epiphanies. There are moments of hilarity, followed by moments of sincerity that can tear your heart out. The process itself serves it all up. The final product remains to be seen, but overall, I feel like one very lucky gal. Wow. Who could have anticipated? Here is a special present. Guess I can cross this one off my Bucket List.