Monday, July 13, 2015

A Playwright's Out of Body Experience

There is magic in the process of taking a play from the page to the stage; for a playwright, this process can feel like an out of body experience.

Timothy Scholl directs actors Cecilia Burkhart and John Burkhart in my ten-minute play Kitchen Garden. 

Back in 2011, my play Kitchen Garden began as a vague idea in my head, which became a conversation with my husband Bob during a long evening walk, and then morphed into a hastily scribbled first draft over a cappuccino in the Mill in College View. It went through various lengths and versions and then lay dormant for four years as nothing more than a computer file. I took a playwriting class, wrote more plays and saw them performed, but always wondered if there was a future for that first play. Then came Angels Playwriting Collective and the First Flight Festival, so I dusted off Kitchen Garden, tightened it into a ten-minute play with the astute feedback from my fellow Collective playwrights, and now am experiencing the magic of watching it make that leap from page to stage.

Cecilia Burkhart and John Burkhart rehearse my ten-minute play Kitchen Garden.

The out of body experience hits me during rehearsals as I watch my amazing director Timothy Scholl find subtext, character traits, motivations, and conflict that enrich the play so much beyond the written word. In succinct direction to the actors, he can communicate ideas that for me are so internalized that I can only get at them indirectly through dialogue. The actors, Cecilia and John Burkhart, inhabit my characters with a stunning familiarity, as if they were inside the characters’ heads, which translates to inside my head, a bit unnerving when you think about it. So watching a rehearsal of my own play is like watching the contents of my head take shape outside myself. Hopefully, I’ll get used to this strange phenomenon by opening night and be able to enjoy seeing my play on stage just like any other audience member, though I seriously doubt it. If you suspect that someone in the audience is having an out of body experience, that would be me.

More information about the Angels Theatre Company First Flight Festival at
Contact Brigid through her website at

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Live Theatre in Nebraska City!

Getting ready to take a bow. Left to Right: Bob Hall, Brigid Amos, Paula Ray, Robin Buckallew, and Bob Graybosch.

"It's live theatre!"

The waiting audience burst out laughing as the staff continued to fiddle with the lights in the conference room, at one point plunging it into utter darkness. The observation came not from an actor but rather from an ebullient audience member. The live theatre had not, in fact started just yet.

Let me back up a bit and explain how we got to that point.

About a week before my husband and I were to leave for a family Christmas/ski vacation in Montana, I received an email from fellow Angels Playwriting Collective member Robin Buckallew saying that she was still looking to fill some roles in a reading of her one act play "Until They Forget". She also had some exciting news about the play: it had been chosen as one of three regional finalists in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre one-act competition. But that reading was to be in Minneapolis toward the end of January. The reading she needed to cast was to take place at the Lied Lodge & Conference Center in Nebraska City, Nebraska on Sunday January 4.

Robin is completing her MFA in Playwriting at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. "Until They Forget" is one of the plays that make up her thesis, and one of the graduation requirements of the program is a reading of an excerpt of a play. Hence the concern about finding actors. When my husband Bob Graybosch got home, I approached him about the idea of the two of us taking the roles. I assured him that it would just be a reading, i.e., sitting at a long table with our scripts open in front of us. At the most, perhaps standing at podiums. What was I thinking?

The reading was scheduled for 5:15 pm, and there was to opportunity to rehearse before convening at 1:30 pm in the timbered lobby of Lied Lodge. The other two actors arrived: Paula Ray, playwright, actress, and psychologist (also an Angels Playwriting Collective member) and her husband Bob Hall, playwright, actor, director, founder and artistic director of Flatwater Shakespeare Company, comic book creator, and artist. We were in great company, and that was reassuring. Robin introduced us to our director Michael Oatman, Playwright-in-Residence of Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio. We followed him into the conference room where we would rehearse, and after the first read through, Michael cordially dismissed the stage direction reader and announced that we would perform the play as a staged reading (i.e. still reading from the script, but up on our feet, moving around and carrying out the physical action of the play).

Michael is what I would call an "actor's director," and it was such an exciting experience to work with him. He is the type of director who can intuitively sense the potential in actors, and knows how to draw that potential out. My husband Bob has no stage experience (although he and I did once take an acting class with Sarah Imes Borden, and I thought he did quite well.) In a very direct, demanding, but kind way, Michael challenged Bob to find the character within himself, to loosen up, and to deliver some of his lines with confidence to the audience.

I should also say that we were very grateful to have theater veteran Bob Hall in the cast. It is always nice to have a really solid actor that leads the way and whose performance everyone else can latch onto! 

We moved into the big conference hall for one last run through, which brings us to the last minute light checks and other technical scuffling about. After very moving speeches by Charlene A. Donaghy, Robin's playwriting mentor, and by Robin herself, we launched into the performance. Although the play examines serious themes of life and death, there is a great deal of comedy in it, and the very engaged and appreciative audience laughed throughout. We received wonderful comments afterwards, as did Robin for her writing, and we all retired to the Timber Dining Room for a well-
deserved meal. (By the way, I also had a chocolate martini and my husband had a Guinness.)

An epilogue:

A few days after the staged reading, I was hanging up the slacks I wore that day. (In order to tell this story, I have to reveal a bit about my housekeeping habits.) Out of the pocket of the slacks fell a '63 Corvette. OK, that sounds weird, so let me back up again with a spoiler alert. At some point during the play, Bob Hall's character, Larry, pulls a toy '63 Corvette out of his pocket. My character, Andi, takes the car and plays with it for a while. I needed to get the car out of my hands, and it seemed natural to put it in my own pocket. Each time we ran through the play, I handed the car to Bob Hall to put into his pocket, but of course, after the performance, we ate dinner instead. I sent the car to Robin, and she will take it to Minneapolis for the reading there. That little '63 Corvette sure gets around!

Reading through the script. Left to Right: Bob Hall, Paula Ray, Brigid Amos, and Bob Graybosch.