Saturday, December 2, 2023

Enter stage left

As I've mentioned before, it's rare when I get to see a production of one of my own plays. It's not that they're not being performed. Since I moved to the Phoenix area six years ago, there have been 21 productions of my plays here.

It's just that I don't want to insert myself in what is normally a private, educational experience. Most of my plays are performed by schools and, as I've been told many times by teachers, the presence of the playwright makes kids super nervous.

They don't need that kind of pressure, so I generally opt to skip those shows.

But it was different a couple months ago when I learned that Stage Left Productions in Surprise--a northwest suburb of Phoenix--would be performing An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas.

For one thing, it was being performed by the youth theater arm of a highly regarded professional theater. For another thing, it was being performed by a mixed cast, with Margie the bookshop owner, her sister Ellen, and billionaire Philip being played by adults with a ton o' stage experience.

Oh, and one more thing. I'd never seen the play performed before.

So I contacted artistic director Cody Dull and he set me up with a pair of tickets for today's afternoon performance (even better, I was able to attend with my wife Tammy, who sees even fewer shows of mine).

A weird thing happens when a playwright sees one of their plays for the first time, especially if it's been a few years since they'd written it. They forget they wrote it.

Or maybe that's just me. Either way, I saw the play with entirely new eyes. I'd forgotten the plot. I'd forgotten most of the dialogue. I'd even forgotten the ending. So it was a very eye-opening experience. In a way, I got to experience the play the same way a lot of the audience did (except for the one guy who said he'd been to performance to date).

And I really liked it. Sure, there were some implausible parts. And some of the jokes fell flat. But overall--in my humblest, most objective opinion--I found it quite funny and heart-warming.

Of course, most of the credit for that went to the supremely talented cast. Every single one of them got a well-earned laugh from the audience, from Margie all the way down to the Little Match Girl. And the direction was top-notch, a particular challenge in a mixed cast like this. The pacing was perfection and the cast really played together like a team. I was especially impressed with how they managed so many characters on what I thought was a fairly small stage.

Interestingly, Cody announced before the beginning of the show that the play was being performed in repertory with Jones, Hope and Wooten's Dashing Through the Snow, since they could use the same set (the lobby of an inn in the JHW play, a bookshop in mine).

Anyway, I enjoyed the performance so much that when I ran into Cody after the show, I told him that I'd like to work with him in the future. He was surprised, since he'd assumed I'd already had a relationship with the East Valley Children's Theatre in Mesa.

I didn't tell him I'd submitted four different plays to their Aspiring Playwrights Contest over the years with not even an honorable mention to show for it. What I did tell him, in an email after our conversation, was that I had a new play that was almost done. Would be interested in looking at it?

Yes, he would be.

Oh, happy day. I would love to develop a relationship with a local theater. Of course, I'm currently working with Belmont Day School in Massachusetts on Bringing Down the House, but the development process is so much more effective when the playwright can sit in on rehearsals.

So I'm putting a final polish on that play now. If he decides to develop it, great. If not, I'm no worse off than if I'd never sent it.

I'm just glad I discovered am exciting new (for me) theater company.

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