Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Further Thoughts from Rick

Working as a writer on the T plays is like playing the slots at Foxwoods. Except these slots have actors and directors instead of lemons and cherries. Pull the arm and you suddenly see who and what you have to work with. Completely random. And John O'Brien, the evil genius behind the T Plays, is always mixing it up on us. New actors, new directors, new bus lines are thrown in every year. So which is most important to a writer: the actors? the director? the T line? It is an interesting question.

As a writer, knowing the actors I am writing for is very important. For the past two T Plays, I have not known any of the four actors I have been assigned. Had never seen them onstage. The first year, I didn't even get a chance to meet them until their first rehearsal, by which time it was too late to change anything in the script. But the actors that Mill6 uses, not only for the T Plays but for their other productions, are all talented, confident people. I mean, come on, you don't agree to sign on to a project where you get the play on a Saturday night and you open that play on a Wednesday without a pretty large set of cojones (or the female equivalent, whatever that may be...). These actors have to be able to memorize a 10-minute play in a couple of days and then be able to run with it through a dizzyingly quick rehearsal and tech process. So while I sometimes get nervous wondering if I will be assigned 2 actors or 3 (since plays for two people have a completely different dynamic than those for three), I never really worry about the quality of the actors in the pool. I know John has assembled a terrific group of thespians from which to draw from and it is always fun to meet a new actor and immediately get some kind of vibe from them, some kind of odd inspiration to arm yourself with when you get on the T the day after meeting them. So, getting good, hardworking and talented actors is a given.

The same thing can be said about the directors working on the T Plays. They are all good, solid creative people who have already proven their mettle in the Boston theatre scene. I have been extremely fortunate in the past with having been able to work with two terrific women who immediately understood what I was going for in the plays I have written. Meg Taintor brought to life my two star-crossed gay dolphins and Dawn Simmons nary blinked an eye when I wrote "A mirrored ball drops into the Red Line car as the disco music thumps loudly". Again, it was two completely different working situations with Meg and Dawn. Meg I had never met until the one rehearsal I was able to get to for "Please Report Any Suspicious Activity", whereas I was able to sit with Dawn the Friday night of the pairings, as well as sit with her after the first read thru. Both did incredible jobs, enhancing my play in ways that a playwright can only dream of and I never had any reason not to fully entrust them with my words. So, to paraphrase myself, getting a good director is also a given in the T Plays.

Which brings us to the actual T line that one is assigned. Here, in my opinion, is where things get really interesting. The T lines are, of course, Red, Blue, Green, Orange and Silver. Last year, two bus lines were added in (joining the Silver line). Each of the subway lines holds its own special qualities, some good and some bad. The Blue line seems to have the most wonderfully character-laden stops of any of the lines: Wonderland, Revere, Airport, Aquarium. I also like the Red line because of its diversity of people at its many stops. I mean, the character differences between someone riding to Broadway versus someone riding to Harvard Square versus Charles MGH versus Ashmont: the whole range of the human condition is traversed by the Red Line. The Orange Line is a bit of a mystery--all the different types of folks living from JP to Malden, with some basic cityscapes (Back Bay, State) thrown in for good measure. The Green Line is the line that gives me ADD. Too many arms of the Green Line, too many stops that are too similar. It would seem a cop-out to use something like Copley or Arlington if assigned the Green Line but I can't seem to get a grasp of which line (B, C, D or E) to choose to ride on the Green Line. The Green Line also has a whole lot of stops relatively close together. It lacks the trip out of JFK/Umass on the Red Line that is a full 4 or 5 minutes with no stop, for example. The bus lines bring up a whole different set of problems (for me), the biggest being that on a bus, you are never more than 35 feet from the driver, the same driver who you had to pass in order to get on the bus, the same driver that can see you in his mirror. On the subway, the driver is in his own closed off compartment (unless you are in a car that has no driver). You often don't see the driver when you get on the train. On a bus, there is no doubt that your presence has been noticed and noted. It would be hard to write a play set on a bus, then, where something overtly suspicious is happening, since the driver can SEE you. Busses (which include the Silver Line) seem better for plays about quieter moments, about conversations rather than events. Two gay dolphins having a lover's quarrel would never make it on the #39 bus the way they would on the Blue Line.

So what do I hope for in the next drawing of the T Plays? I try not to think about it too much. I try not to psych myself out about what will happen if I get three actors versus two (and I haven't even touched on gender issues here!) or whether I get the Green Line or a bus. The key to the T Plays is to just go with it, like a runaway train that you know will eventually stop and let you off. You just don't know where you'll end up.

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