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Rachael VanWormer, Playwright of “Art Play” (Working Title)

July 1, 2011

Rachael VanWormer is well-known locally as an actor, appearing on numerous stages throughout San Diego.  However, when she was in high school, she won the California Young Playwrights Contest and the first play she wrote – Funny – was produced in our 17th season of Plays by Young Writers at the Old Globe Theatre in 2001.  Playwrights Project is thrilled to have supported the recent development of Rachael’s second play in the Play by Play program.  In this edition of Backstage Diaries, Rachael shares her insights on her play development process.

Join us for a FREE staged reading of her play next Tuesday July 5 at Old Town Theatre (details below).

What was the inspiration for your script Art Play?

The germ of the idea actually sprang from an experience I had.  I was in the middle of a rehearsal a few years ago, when suddenly two women wandered into the theatre and stood there watching us and whispering to each other.  After a moment, one of the other actors asked them to leave in what I thought was a polite manner, but the cast later heard that they were upset by it.  That got me thinking about how far removed the creative and performing arts – and the artists who do them – can be from the people who patronize and support them.  We, the “doers,” sometimes wrongfully assume that everyone understands the process and the protocol that those involved in the creative process don’t think twice about, when in fact there is no reason why anyone not directly involved in the process should have this awareness. The real-life experience ended there, but I continued to mull over the ideas that the experience generated until I started writing them down.  At first this was really just as a way of trying to understand and clarify for myself what I was thinking about, but eventually I saw the potential for a play, and kept writing.

What do you hope the audience takes away?

My greatest hope would be that individuals on both sides of the equation realize from the play what I realized from my experience, and perhaps think about ways to narrow the gap that exists between patron and artist.  This is more an idea play than anything else, and I wouldn’t kid myself into assuming that it might spark any major change, but I think it is fair to hope that it might change how people think about where they are in relation to the main issue, and whether or not they are comfortable with that.

What motivated you to apply to this program, Play by Play: Cultivating Emerging Playwrights, and why should other local playwrights apply?

I do not necessarily consider myself a playwright.  I have always considered myself an actor first.  I have always loved writing, though, and have experimented with playwriting at various points throughout the last ten years.  As an actor, it seemed only natural to turn to the theatre as a way of exploring something that was eating at me, and since the play that dealt with the issue directly didn’t exist yet, it seemed only natural for me to write it.  Because my experience in playwriting is so limited, I knew that I needed feedback and suggestions and constructive criticism from people who did know what they were doing, which is what made me decide to submit it to the program.  I hope my experience speaks to anyone who is interested in playwriting, but who does not necessarily think of themselves as a playwright.  The Playwrights Project is just as interested in helping you develop yourself as a writer as they are in producing strong scripts.

Each Play by Play script receives two table reads with professional actors, before the community performance. Describe the process of working with actors, dramaturg and producer during the table reads. How did the process help you shape your play?

The Play by Play program is fantastic in that it adapts so easily to the specific needs of the writer and script in question, and in that everyone involved is focused on the same goal of making the play in question the best that it can be.  Whether a playwright needs only a few plot suggestions, or help developing major ideas in the script, or input on character relationships, the program is constructed in such a way that the points that need attention can be directly addressed.  The table sessions after the table readings are also incredibly helpful, because everyone at the table is eager and willing to share their ideas in the hopes of bettering the play, from their various perspectives – the actors could speak to the progression and plausibility of their individual characters, the producer could offer insight into the ideas of the play as a whole, and the dramaturg could offer suggestions about the play structurally.

Each playwright is paired with a mentor to dramaturg their script, in your case, Stephen Metcalfe (local playwright and screenwriter).  Describe the process of working with your mentor.

Stephen Metcalfe and I corresponded over email and face-to-face meetings, and he was very helpful to me because he is on the one hand very meticulous and has a great attention to detail, but on the other hand is able to see the story of the play as a whole, and was able to make suggestions that I would never have thought about, but that made perfect sense in the world of the play.  He calls them his “what ifs,” and he had dozens of them.  I was able to incorporate many of his suggestions directly into the various drafts of the play, and am hoping to explore more of his suggestions in further future drafts.

Did this program help you grow as a playwright?

This program helped me better understand what it is that goes into writing a play, and gave me an even deeper appreciation for those truly great playwrights.  It also drove home the collaborative and multi-disciplinary aspect of the theatre at large, because not only does the fact remain that whatever the “finished product” of this play turns into, it will be full of ideas and suggestions from other people who were willing to offer their opinions, but also, as I was writing, I found myself increasingly aware of not only my words on the page, but what I was asking of actors, directors, designers – costume designers, especially, with the coffee fiasco, and prop designers with the sculpture – to do, as well what I was asking the audience not only to follow, but to care about.  As the generator of the play, the playwright has a lot of people to answer to.

What advice do you have for young playwrights?

Write what you know and then ask for help and then write some more.

Art Play (Working Title)* will be performed as a staged reading on Tuesday July 5th at 7:00pm at the Old Town Theatre, presented in partnership with Cygnet Theatre.  This is a FREE event; $5 suggested donation.  Doors open at 6:30pm.  Please allow at least 10 mins for parking.

Old Town Theatre: 4040 Twiggs St., San Diego 92110

*This play contains adult language

For more information, contact Playwrights Project:

(619) 239-8222 or write@playwrightsproject.org

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