How Many Writers Does it Take to Make a Play?

How Many Writers Does it Take to Make a Play?

by Tracy Shaffer

One. But he really has to want to share.

For the past seven days, ten writers from around the country and within the Telluride community have been hunkered down at the Sheridan Opera House or gathered in Jennie Franks' living room for a post-supper salon and informal reading. The event is the Telluride Playwrights Festival, a glorious blend of featured playwrights and theatre professionals existing in a fluid blend of rehearsal, response, reflection and rewrites with the goal of making good scripts better. Now in its fourth year, Ms. Franks has made impressive strides, attracting extraordinary talented writers, garnering support of the community and providing an experience unlike any other. As we lean into our public readings, tonight James McLindon's DEAD AND BURIED and tomorrow's offering LOVE ME SOME AMNESIA by James Still, I asked our two Jameses about this Telluride experience:

"I find the Telluride Playwrights Festival unique in that it's such a small, intimate group of artists working together on these plays.  Here, you have an opportunity to get to know everyone and to build relationships and trust.  These are essential ingredients for any playwright seeking the constructive criticism necessary to take his or her play to the next level.  I've also been impressed by the intelligence, artistry, kindness and generosity of the people Jennie Franks has gathered, and the result is, I think, a much better script that will performed Monday night than the one I arrived with last Thursday," James McLindon told me over cocktails at the TPF funder at the Onyx in the Capella Telluride.

My personal experience two years ago was much like what I learned from listening to James Still. "Unlike a typical one-day reading/workshop… Being given the gift of immersing yourself in your play for 10 days is like finding yourself in a waking dream.  The dream is the play you've written and are most often rewriting.  There's a tension for me in the fact that the writer's creative life is a strange combination of the 'private' and the 'public'.  Unlike novelists who spend almost all of their writing lives alone (and then later go on book tours and readings in which they interact with their readers), a playwright spends a lot of time alone with his play, and then suddenly finds himself spending time with a big bunch of people and his play.  It's in that moment that the play becomes something else, something more.  And that's what's happened to me this week in Telluride… I've spent time around a table with actors and other TPF members listening to LOVE ME SOME AMNESIA being read aloud, asking it questions, poking it, prodding it, begging it, threatening it, loving it, being mystified by it… And after several days of that, I took the play and retreated back to myself for a couple of days, shutting myself up in the condo where I'm staying and going back to that original relationship:  just me and my play.  It's kind of like that moment when you've had house guests and you stand on the front porch and wave goodbye, watching them back out of the driveway.  You go back inside the house and it's… quiet.  And different.  So I've been back inside the quiet house that is also my play and is also not so quiet anymore.  And I've cleaned up some messes, changed some wall colors, rearranged some of the furniture, and even discovered a few rooms I didn't know were there!  Rewriting.  Tomorrow I'll throw the doors open and invite people back in… more time around the table with actors where we'll read the newest draft, more changes overnight, and then the reading on Tuesday.  Private to public to private and back to public.  It's this writer's life."

Sheridan Opera House will set the stage for both readings. DEAD AND BURIED by James McLindon on Monday, LOVE ME SOME AMNESIA by James Still Tuesday. Both start at 7:30, admission is FREE.

The Palm Theatre hosts a workshop production of selected playwright, Phillip Gerson's play THIS ISN'T WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE, directed by William Missouri Downs in collaboration with the Telluride Repertory. THIS ISN'T WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE  runs from Thursday, July 15th-Sunday, 18th also at 7:30. Tickets: 728-4539

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