Really Running Late

A friend pointed out to me that I had written about the rehearsals of my play Late but that I had unaccountably neglected to say anything about the production itself during the run of the Extremely Short Play Festival of which it was a part.

Well, the festival has come and gone, but … better late than never, right?

The main reason I didn’t write about it was that I didn’t actually get to go as I was in Germany at the time at the Theatertreffen Festival in Berlin. Missing the short festival was a disappointment, not only because I didn’t get to see the performances of Kristina Watt and Kate Hurman in my piece but because I missed all the other fine plays as well. I’m told that the event was quite the success, and that John Koensgen, who thought up the idea, has plans to make the festival an annual event – which I think is a wonderful idea!

Careful readers who did see the show will note that there were two significant changes introduced to the play between its initial conception and its presentation at the festival.

The first was a function of casting. As written, the play is about a man and a woman meeting for lunch as they energetically avoid talking about their shared past. To hammer the point home, the characters are identified in the script only as HE and SHE. But John called me up one day to say that he had some casting issues as he distributed his four actors across the dozen or so plays he was presenting. Would it be possible, he asked, to give the parts to the two women in his cast, namely Kate and Kristina. As I revisited the script I realized that except for the HE and SHE there was really nothing whatsoever in the text that required either character to be a particular gender.

In fact, we realized quickly, having both characters be women could well add a nice extra “oomph” to the story as it became clear to the audience that these weren’t just two old friends meeting for lunch; these were ex-lovers, and their former relationship was clearly an unhappy one. Once rehearsals started, it was clear that both Kate and Kristina saw the dramatic possibilities in this and they ran with it brilliantly. Since the play is really all about the subtext, I think they both had a lot of fun with finding ways to say “The salad looks good” while conveying “Why were you so awful to me when we were together?”

The second change was a smaller and subtler one. The title of the play that I came up with was “Running Late,” borrowing from Kristina’s character’s apology that opens the play when she arrives late for the lunch date. At one point in rehearsals, we decided to call the play “Late,” which managed to be both a simpler title and a more profound one, with its rather unhappy suggestion that it really may be too late to salvage this particular relationship. (And so with the title change I’ve retroactively tidied up my references to the play here and elsewhere.)

These two changes illustrate something I love about the theatre: it is truly a collaborative art, and I take delight in seeing what the other artists involved come up with – for whatever reason – in suggesting changes to what I’ve originally put on the page. In this instance, I think the suggestions enhanced the production and my only regret is in not having seen a performance.

Two nice things about ten-minute plays is that they are relatively easy to produce and there are plenty of short-play festivals all over the world that need material. So if perchance Late gets produced elsewhere – and I think the play will indeed retain the new title – I’ll be curious to see whether future directors will care to follow John’s lead in casting. I’m of two minds on the question, in part because I didn’t actually see John’s production: casting two women certainly works. so I’d like to see that version of the play, but I’m still curious to see what the story would be like if it were presented as originally conceived. And to see a performance of the play too, of course.

Hate Radio

Chilling.

Mesmerizing.

A play about Rwanda and the radio station RTLM that incited its listeners to genocide. It is a quiet play for the most part: survivors who bear witness to what happened and an hour of otherwise banal radio, except for the subject matter from the soothingly conversational chatter of the radio voices.

It’s a powerful production, a stellar example of what theatre can do. All the more so whilst in Berlin after visiting the Holocaust memorial, itself a brilliant monument down the street from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

More on the production here (English PDF).

At the Theatertreffen in Berlin

I’m in Berlin at the annual Theatertreffen theatre festival, where I’ve had the opportunity to see a wide variety of shows – different companies offering different kinds of performances, tackling different kinds of subjects, offering different kinds of styles … and yet I’ve observed a few features that seem to be there consistently across all these productions. Herewith a few of them:

  • People shout a lot. Not just project their voices, not just raise them in a heightened emotional state. They shout. They rant. They rave. And they wander around the stage while they do it. (Okay, sometimes, they sit in one place.)
  • It rains. I don’t know how expensive it is to handle all that plumbing, but it sure rains a lot in these shows. Global warming?
  • Someone is going to make a point of eating something to express some deep emotional meaning. It might be dirt. It might be a raw potato.
  • Someone, male or female, is going to be wearing a stunning pair of stilettos.
  • Someone is going to get something smeared across his or her chest, face, or other body parts. It might be food, it might be blood, it might be excrement.
  • Someone, usually a man, is going to be reduced to his underwear. And as often as not it’s going to be girlie underwear, too.
  • Someone, usually a man, is going to be subjected to (simulated!) involuntary coitus with another man.
  • The curtain call is going to take a very, very long time.