|Posted by Kris Bauske on April 15, 2015 at 12:45 AM|
Last month I was privileged to be a guest of the Phoenix Theatre in Phoenix, AZ. One of my plays had been selected for their annual Hormel Festival of New Plays, and they asked me to come spend a week with them developing the play and working with their staff. How could a playwright turn down such a delectable invitation? They had me at ‘Hello’.
As my travel day drew closer, I was incredibly impressed by the efficiency and professionalism of the staff. Did I want this flight or that? Direct flights were preferable, please. (Yes, they paid for my flight to Phoenix!) Could I give them a shopping list so they could put a few food items in my furnished apartment before I arrived? Sure! Yogurt and hummus! Yum!
As someone who’s grown accustomed to paying her own way to festivals when my work is selected, this was undreamed of luxury. A pleasant staff member picked me up at the airport and transported me to my home for the week; a tidy furnished apartment in an artist’s enclave near the theater. “Don’t worry about the rental car. Get some sleep. We’ll get your car tomorrow and bring it to you. Sleep well.” With that she was gone, and I dropped into a deep and glorious sleep.
The next day, I not only got my car, but I met my fabulous cast and director. I also had my first tour of the extraordinary facility the Phoenix Theatre calls home. To say I was impressed on all counts is an understatement. The actors were first rate and full of enthusiasm. The director took time to get to know me; my reasons for writing the play and my thoughts on the approach I’d taken with this particular piece – a drawing room comedy bordering on farce.
Was it normal to write a story about elder abuse as a comedy? Probably not for everyone, but for me, yes. I’m convinced laughter opens the soul and makes us more receptive to the stories we see on stage. I’ve taken this approach in a number of plays that have been very well received. Once the director, the brilliant and talented Pasha Yamotahari, understood my reasoning, he jumped in with complete abandon. And did we laugh?!
Remember, I am an East Coaster who was visiting Phoenix, so when rehearsals started at 5:30 PM each night, it was already 8:30 to my drowsy East Coast body. Still, I never grew tired watching these fabulously talented folks work with this script. Some nights, rehearsals went so well, both the playwright (Me) and the dramatuge (My good friend, John) laughed so hard we cried. Yes, the actors had scripts in hand, and yes, there were minimal props and sets, but you couldn’t have asked for more committed participants for a staged reading at a festival.
And the audience! Wow! These folks love new plays in Phoenix, and they are a knowledgeable, helpful group. I came away with a number of terrific suggestions that are already in the latest version of the play, and I also had some nice compliments that helped shore up that fragile artist’s ego. The best one? Intermission of the first night, I walked to the bar for a drink, convinced things weren’t going nearly as well as they had in rehearsals all week. There at the end of the bar was Michael, whom I’d never met before. He looked at me with a huge smile and asked me if I didn’t LOVE it! “I love it! I didn’t expect to, but I love it!” he gushed. When I didn’t immediately respond (shock, I suppose), he looked at me confused, and asked if I wasn’t enjoying the performance. I was sure he was pulling my leg, but I went with it. “Well, actually, I wrote it.” He was absolutely shocked. “Oh, gee. Kris. We thought Kris was a man because of the spelling.” “Most people do.” “Please, can I buy you a drink? I love your play!” And from that beginning, we chatted until Intermission ended. Needless to say, I felt much better going back for the second act after such unexpected praise.
Honestly, everything about the Hormel Festival of New Plays was unexpected, but in a good way. I had a tremendous experience, and I would definitely say this new play festival is by far the finest I have attended in all my years as a playwright, and there have been many. The staff is gracious and hospitable, and they leave no detail to chance. The actors were top-notch professionals; many were Equity. The director worked hard to understand my vision and bring it to the stage, and my dramaturge was helpful and insightful without being pushy and overbearing. I often find myself missing my new friends in Phoenix and hoping for the opportunity to return.
To my fellow playwrights, I can’t encourage you enough to send your best work to the Phoenix Theatre for their 2016 Hormel Festival of New Plays when the submission window opens later this year. To artistic directors who host new play festivals, I can only say, this is the blueprint you should hope to emulate. To my friends in Phoenix, you’ve given me the incentive to work hard to create another terrific play. Why? Simple. I want to be there again next year! I can’t thank you enough for a wonderful opportunity to see one of my fledgling plays come beautifully to life, and in the end, isn’t that what every playwright hopes for?
Now, who’s going to be the first theater to produce this one-of-a-kind comedy? As soon as the contract is signed, I’ll let you know. Thank you, Phoenix Theatre! See you soon! For more information on Phoenix Theatre, check out www.phoenixtheatre.com For more information on the playwright, check out www.krisbauske.com