Writing an Entire Play in One Night. The Performance.

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Good Evening:

Continuing the exciting adventure begun in my previous post

Perhaps the single most useless person taking part in a playfest (or a “play-in-a-day” festival) is the playwright. Yes, I am describing myself. You see, once I delivered the script via email to the producer, I became almost but not quite completely useless. If the director or cast had found something catastrophically wrong with “Le Bistro de la Verite,” a script based upon the theme “That’s Not True!”, I would have scrounged together a few desperation rewrites to repair the damages inflicted upon my unfortunate cast and director. However, after the initial read-through shortly after 9:00 on Saturday morning (September 15), they felt that the script was in excellent shape.

Lisa, our director, giving direction to the cast whilst downloading French cabaret, bistro, jazz and accordion music on her iPhone. In the end, we didn’t use the music.

At which point I became completely useless. But the Playwrights Center of San Francisco had brought donuts and coffee to our rehearsal space, presenting an excellent opportunity to load up on caffeine, sugar, fats and processed flour. Yum! And you would say yum, too, if you had spent most of the night writing and entire play between updates to your blog. Lisa the director did come to me with a few observations and questions about the script (and I will never cease to feel astonished at what people find in my scripts that I never knew existed), and devised a simple, pitch-perfect production.

Colin taking a break during rehearsals.

I have worked with Colin (“Ernst”) on numerous theatrical projects, so I have learned how to play to his strengths. One of these is something that causes most other actors to stumble; Colin knows what to do when he has nothing to do. At the end of my ten-minute play, when it becomes clear that his character’s girlfriend might still have the hots for her ex-boyfriend, Ernst doesn’t say anything, he just sits there–and Colin looked great doing that. When Ernst finally says something, Colin delivered the speech without moving at all, without making any faces, without any changes in timbre, and the audience roared with laughter.

Phil testing his memory of “Joey’s” big speech during the rehearsal.

Phil (“Joey”) had never worked with me before, so I didn’t know that I had accidentally tailored his role to conform so well to his talents. Phil’s greatest strength is comedy, and his greatest strength in comedy is The Awkward Pause. “The Awkward Pause” isn’t an actual acting term and no one else capitalizes the phrase, but I think they should. Running into an ex-girlfriend with her new boyfriend at the bistro they used to frequent presents many opportunities for The Awkward Pause, and Phil nailed all of them.

Rosalie is a native of France who moved to the United States quite recently, and unlike her character “Antoinette,” she has not yet become the same passionate fan of baseball in general and the San Francisco Giants in particular (who, by the way, won 2-1 on Monday night!), so terms like “WHIP,” “Infield Fly Rule,” and “Lincecum” posed quite a few challenges. However, once again I got lucky; Rosalie has a gift for portraying intelligent women with sharp tongues who can cut somone down to size with a single word. When Antoinette said, “Food” in response to one of Joey’s lame questions, the audience had a big reaction.

I wrote in the previous post about how I remembered that I needed garbage bags and liquid hand soap during my writing, and since I knew of a Walgreen’s only two blocks away, took care of that little domestic problem. I returned home to the aromas of pizza. Pizza, donuts, coffee: this is how the arts survive in America. I tried to catch up on sleep during the afternoon’s rehearsals, but all of the casts were practicing in the same large cafeteria and meeting space, which meant that glockenspiels, kazoos, plus actors portraying yowling cats and howling dogs produced an echoing cacophony that “murdered sleep” (one of the plays was a take-off on Macbeth), and would have convinced any innocent bystanders that a large number of lunatics had taken over the basement of a multimedia firm.

Finally, showtime.

24 hours after I had received the cast, director, and the theme “That’s Not True!”, the playfest begins. 7 plays in all, 10-15 minutes each. “Le Bistro de la Verite” was probably the shortest. My play was the last play before intermission, and I sat in the furthest corner of the house as far from the stage as possible. I had driven the director crazy with my own nervousness (a consequence of sleeplessness) and finally exiled myself from Lisa and the cast so that they would work in peace.

I’m sorry you couldn’t have attended. 24-hour playfests are notorious for the wildly inconsistent quality of the plays and frankly, tend to uh, um, well, uh, below average. This was the first play-in-a-day I’ve ever seen where all of the plays were good or better. 7 for 7 just doesn’t happen. It isn’t even supposed to happen. Period. Frankly, 1 for 4 is typical. Despite a few stumbles, “Le Bistro de la Verite” proved one of the better ones: all of the parts I wanted to be funny were funny, in fact, they were almost as funny as the parts that I had no idea were funny (another common occurence in my plays). Because the entire play was one 10-minute awkward situation, the occasional awkward moments became opportunities for the cast to make their characters both clumsy and sympathetic at the same time.

All of which made the post-show party very easy to enjoy; no one sat in a corner bemoaning disaster. Instead we gorged on cookies, chips and salsa, and wasabi rice crackers (yes, this was my dinner).

So thanks to the Playwrights Center of San Francisco for producing a great show. And a super-ultra-special thank you to Lisa, Rosalie, Colin and Phil for all of their efforts and triumphs.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I finally arrived home, I ate an entire four-pound Sharlyn Melon.

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4 responses »

  1. Pingback: The San Francisco Giants & The Logic of the Stunning Upset « The San Francisco Scene–Seen!

  2. Pingback: Street People in San Francisco, Saturday, 13 September 2014. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity) | The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

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