Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

When Is the Play Finished?

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

When Is the Play Finished?

Article excerpt

One of my favorite questions to ask playwrights during interviews is "how do you know when the play is finished?"

They can spend months (or more likely years) crafting their story and characters. If they're lucky, after sending their scripts to dozens of theaters across the country, they find one interested in producing it.

And then the work begins again, as the director, producer and actors add their opinions on how to best get the play ready for the stage.

Sometimes, playwrights do so much work, you might not recognize the opening night script from what it looked like months before, or even yesterday.

Consider the example of "For the Ages," a new project commissioned by Florida Studio Theatre for playwrights KJ Sanchez and Emily Ackerman.

The theater's staff spent months interviewing area residents about the many aspects of aging, the good and the bad. Sanchez and Ackerman then turned those notes into a docudrama.

They came to Sarasota a few weeks ago with a script for two staged readings during the theater's new play weekend. They left with something quite different.

The first reading had an audience made up of what the theater referred to as "stakeholders," people interviewed for the project whose stories may have been included in the script.

They didn't sound happy during the post-show discussion.

There were a few nice comments, but overall they said the play was too negative, had too many facts and didn't have enough of the good things about getting older. (Curiously, I thought the play was more positive than I expected.)

Aging is a big subject to tackle in one play considering the fact that none of us are getting younger. It could touch on almost any subject and there's an aging aspect to it.

It was clear that some were disappointed that their stories didn't make it into the play.

At one point, Sanchez, made forlorn by the negative (and occasionally hostile) response, said she just wanted to go sit on the beach and cry.

She and Ackerman got back to work and rewrote 30 to 40 percent of the play in time for the second reading the next day. That performance had a more general audience without any connections to the project. …

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