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“Laurels and Rehearsals”

Laurels and Rehearsals

Cynthia’s Column Dec. 2008

It’s time to do some bragging.  Four of my Portland screenwriting students have recently broken into top finalist lists in national screenwriting competitions.  Nancy Froeschle and Stephen Trow are in the top ten finalists for the Nicholl Fellowship sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  (Famous for their other awards, the Oscars.)  This is the award that catapulted Mike Rich to fame and fortune ten years ago when his original screenplay for Finding Forrester made the top five.  Many of you know Nancy as the Willamette Writers conference committee member who scheduled our Hollywood film agents and producers this last August.  Nancy and Stephen’s script, The Greater Glory, will now be headed for representation, remuneration and renown.

Another of my students, Cassie Winter, is a top ten finalist in the Writers Digest screenwriting competition.  And Jamie Read’s Ghost Sonata has made the finalists for three competitions:  Gotham Screen, Queens International Film Festival and the Monaco International Film Festival.  The latter involves flying to Monaco equipped with two evening gowns and a cocktail dress.  Portland screenwriters are finally getting some well deserved glitter and glamour.  I’ll keep you posted on deals as they come in.  But this is a champagne moment.

As we go to press, we are deeply into rehearsals for our play, Holidazed, which opens Nov. 21 at Artists Repertory Theatre.  It is a huge gift to writers to be a part of the rehearsal process for a play’s world premiere.  Things that look polished and perfect when you finally send it off to theatres, are seen in whole new light once actors begin to embody the characters.

The first day of rehearsal was a table read.  You have the whole cast together for the first time and you get to hear your words in the air.  At this moment the whole thing makes a paradigm shift from a paper play on the page to a performance piece with actual people playing the parts.  (Sorry.  Got a little plosive happppy there.)  After this first rehearsal in one of the large rooms upstairs at the theatre, Marc and I walked a block over to the DeLuxe Hotel and commandeered a table in the Driftwood Room bar.  We had our own personal Happy Hour huddled over a tiny table, and did a polish of the entire play, cutting over seven pages of text.  We also befriended the bartender Mike when he leaned over the empty bar to inform us “that’s a good line.”

We had written that Grandma would be played by the same “fullback-sized” actor who plays Nicholas, the gay best friend of Julia, our harried Mom protagonist.  But once the amazing Todd Van Voris stepped into the role, we were surprised to realize that we’d only given Grandma one line.  “Why is there an extra place setting?”  This is not a funny line, but he still got a huge laugh.  Never underestimate the comic potential of a big man in Barbara Bush drag.  So we added dialogue to take advantage of this obvious comedy goldmine.  (Things about knitting little tam-o-shanters and getting patterns off the inter-web.)

Then there is Luna, the pagan homeless teenage girl with a fork in her hair.  Luna had a lot of personality and humor.  But once we were gifted with the brilliant Ana Reiselman we realized we had only begun to tap Luna’s verbal potential.  First we had to solve the question of whether to use current slang, (“fierce, sick, sweet” etc.) or is it better to invent our own slang, as Stephen Sondheim did for West Side Story to avoid being dated?  We finally opted to follow in the brilliant Diablo Cody’s footsteps (Juno, Candy Girl) by enhancing Luna’s vocabulary to a more original voice.  So a line like Luna’s “sudden craving” for peanut butter, becomes a “massive craving.”  Instead of our society “destroying” Christmas, now Luna declares Christmas has been “disemboweled.”  When asked her age instead of replying “Sweet sixteen,” Luna now deadpans, “I’ll give you a hint.  When Juliet was my age she’d been dead for two years.”

You also realize that when it becomes an actual play, having an actor in a light-up Christmas tree fringed mini-dress drag show on page 67, who then appears as a tough cop on p. 71, then back in the tree dress and heels on p. 76, then the cop again on p. 80 and in a whole new Santa mini-dress on p. 92 – well you realize this might not be humanly possible.  You can solve the eye make-up problem by putting the cop in mirrored aviator sunglasses even if it is nearly midnight, but even so, you, as a writer, have to take pity on the actor.  So you make the second cop scene one in which Julia says she gets one phone call, as opposed to the cop coming in and telling her she gets one.  The play is no worse off and you manage to save an actor’s sanity.

It’s great fun having a writing partner.  We’d been calling ourselves George and Moss after legendary playwrights Kauffman and Hart.  (I’m Moss.)  Our director Jon Kretzu calls us Adolph and Betty after the famed Broadway musical partnership Comden and Green.  (Marc is Betty.)  But every day I feel more like Mickey and Judy putting on a show with our best friends in some adorable backlot barn.

As we go to press there are still tickets available to Willamette Writers’ special benefit performance on Saturday night November 22.  First preview will be November 16 and the play is scheduled to run through December 28.  Come when you can.  It’s family friendly, funny and heartwarming.  If it sells well enough (as so far it absolutely is) we may extend to a special performance and closing night party on December 31, with an added after-show-show, champagne, noise-makers, streamers and special surprise guests.

Our other fantasy adventure, the 16 Day Trans-Atlantic Writing Cruise, is also shaping up to be an amazing event.  A smart and talented group.  You’ll want to be part of this if you can.  We depart Fort Lauderdale April 17 and arrive in England May 2 (by way of Bermuda, Bahamas, Azores, Portugal, Spain, and France.)  During our 7 At Sea days we’ll have writing class in the mornings, writing all afternoon, dinner together and evening writing salon critique sessions.  For more information email me at cwhitcomb1@aol.com.

I hope to see some of you at our Willamette Writers table at Wordstock and more of you at our W.W. Holidazed night.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all.  At the moment, I’m giving thanks all day every day for the joys of living the writer’s life.

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