Left to right: Jesse Strachman, Chris Larson, John Greiner-Ferris, Kevin Mullins, and MJ Halberstadt, reading the parts of Il Capitano Spavento, Lorenzo, Antonio, Launcelot Gobbo, and Shylock in a scene from The Conversos of Venice as part of the Small Theatre Alliance's Open Mic Night at the Factory Theatre on the evening of February 21st. Photograph courtesy of the Small Theatre Alliance of Boston.
After grabbing a slice of pizza with CoLab Theatre artistic director Kenny Steven Fuentes, we headed to the Factory Theatre for an evening of staged readings. This was the first time I've participated in a reading where I was not actually running the show. That was left to Ron Pullins and Leslie Powell.
While in the past, when I have produced staged readings, I have often auditioned actors myself to make sure they were suited to the part (there's generally a smaller pool of actors to choose from for staged readings); this evening the actors were chosen at random from whomever came through the door with little time to review the scripts they were handed before.
I noticed over the course of the evening was the over-all high quality of the scripts. This is remarkable because I attend a lot of staged readings and though this was a completely uncurated event (hence, "Open Mic Night") the quality was better than what is presented at many companies' curated staged-reading series (which tells me that some companies playing in the "new play sector" are dropping the ball.) I will not be posting comments on anyone else's works-in-progress, especially since a number of them were only excerpts from longer works, though I will mention that I loved reading a part in Ron Pullin's short play, Pico.
Of course one of the ways we measure the value of a staged reading (despite what The New York Times says) is what the playwright learns about the play when it's read by actors in front of an audience.
I learned that I write in a style that necessitates the involvement of a dramaturg to keep the actors informed of cultural and historical context (the play, after all, is set in the Venetian Republic of 1601 and the scene in question has the characters referencing everything from religion to economics to folklore of the time while making allusions to both Shakespeare and the Bible.) In staged readings of Total War, which takes place in the far less alien world of an American university in the 1990s, I had been unwittingly playing the role of the dramaturg, figuring it was just my role as writer and producer. It's simply a tough piece to "cold-read" without rehearsal, even after I simplified the script by changing some Ladino, Veneto, and Italian words to their English cognates.
I learned that my predilection towards including clown characters when other characters are engaged in dramatic dialogue is a good instinct. There was also an interesting split in the audience that caught the various historical and literary allusions (often framed in jokes) those who did not, and those who were anxious because they were afraid that they were missing an important reference.
All I can do at this point, though, is get back to work!
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
If you attended the Small Theatre Alliance of Boston's February 21st Open Mic Night at The Factory Theatre and did not have a chance to share your thoughts regarding the excerpt from The Conversos of Venice during the talk back segment or you found that you had further questions or comments, I invite you to continue the discussion:
I am particularly interested in the following questions:
1.) Knowing that the characters and situation are derived from another dramatic work, did you find that knowledge necessary to follow the action? Or did the scene operate independently?
2.) Did the world of Conversos come through in the dialogue and stage directions? Did the world building distract or did it flesh out the interaction between the characters?
Of course, if you have other thoughts you wish to share, feel free to ignore these questions!
You can make comments (anonymously, if you so choose) by way of talkbackr:
[N.B.: The Talkbackr page for this event has expired 3/1/2011]
email if you so care to engage me directly.
Monday, February 14, 2011
The Small Theatre Alliance of Boston just announced the line-up of playwrights for its Open Mic Night to be held on Monday, February 21st at the The Factory Theatre:
MJ Halbertstadt: Jick and Dane and Love
Ian Thal: The Conversos of Venice (Excerpt)
Ron Pullins: Pico
Lesley Moreau: Lowered Expectations
Kevin Mullins: A Southern Victory (Excerpt)
Emily C. A. Snyder: Cupid and Psyche (Excerpt)
The presentations will be in the format of a staged reading:
Playwrights [...] have the chance to see the work "on its feet". Actors, who will be randomly cast from those present, will be given the script and asked to read it at least one. Then the actors will read the work for the audience. The audience with then provide constructive feedback about the scene in a safe, nurturing environment.
The event begins at 7:30pm. The Factory Theatre is located at 791 Tremont Street, Boston in the back of the Piano Factory.
Actors who are interested in reading should arrive at 7pm. The event is free, though there is a suggested $5 donation. Space will be limited, so reserve a seat!
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
February 21st: The Small Theatre Alliance of Boston is hosting its first ever Open Mic Night for playwrights at The Factory Theatre. let us understand that in this case, the "Open Mic" is a metaphor, as there will not be a microphone and playwrights were asked to sign up over a week ago.
More simply: it's an evening of staged readings of six short plays or excerpts by six local playwrights. I will be presenting an excerpt from my work-in-progress, The Conversos of Venice, which is my on-going response to Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice (Some readers might note that I have a bit of an obsession with said play).
I will update once I know who the other playwrights might be.
The event starts at 7:30pm. The Factory Theatre is located at 791 Tremont Street, Boston in the back of the Piano Factory.
Actors: Show up by 7pm if you want a part!
Event is free, though there is a suggested $5 donation. Space will be limited, so reserve a seat!