"Open Mic" is a misleading name for these events. The playwrights are selected in advance, and at that time they state the casting needs of their play. The event itself is attended by various members of the Boston theatre community, including quite a few actors who come to read. Roles are distributed among the actors in attendance at the start of the event, and they have time to read the plays over before performing them. Then the plays/excerpts are read and there is a moderated discussion after each one. Our moderator for this Open Mic was Ron Pullins, a playwright who I've been fortunate enough to share a billing with several times and a great facilitator. The other playwrights having work read were Kelly DuMar, Emily C. A. Snyder, and MJ Halberstadt. There was a pretty impressive range of actors in attendance (far too many to list), as well as many people who were just there to see new work being performed.
For those of you unfamiliar with play development, the reading is a widespread practice intended to give the playwright an idea of how their script is working out without having to commit the resources of a full production. There are several levels of readings/staged readings with different amounts of rehearsals as well as different degrees of access for the public. The STAB Open Mic is a fairly low key event that tends to be by and for theatre people (it often takes place in a bar). Now, a reading is supposed to be a means to an end, and that end is a stronger play that will receive a full production. There is no end of argument of whether or not writing can be taught, but the conditions under which good writing can take place can most definitely be facilitated.
Burning Up the Dictionary is still in a fairly early stage of development, and is a new type of play for me. I'm writing about human intimacy in ways that I haven't really explored in my earlier work, so I was really curious to see how this would play out in front of an audience. I got laughter in the places that I'd hoped I would. This was in part because my actors (Elana Friedland and Tim Hoover) had great instincts, and hopefully in part cause I was actually funny. I've learned as a playwright that you can find out a lot about your play based on the instincts of a good actor (I actually had quite a bit to say about that in an interview for another blog on that very topic not too long ago), so it was really useful to have an actor who I know and has performed my work before (Tim in this case) as one of my cast members. As I think that this play is ultimately going to be very sad, it was really good to see that the humor was working (some of you recall my theory that no audience will cry until after they have laughed).
The section I brought in was a ten minute excerpt that's from the middle of act one. I was curious to see what elements of the story stood alone, what really required backstory, and how the dynamics of the characters were being read at that particular time. It's tricky to select a piece for en event like this as one wants both to bring in something finished enough to make it worth the audience's while in being there, and something rough enough that one can still learn about what they want to change. I heard several lines that can either just be cut or will need modification, and several gaps where I'll be filling in more details.
By the time I get to the Lark next month I'll most likely have a very different play on my hands, which, after going through one of their round tables, will most likely be in for another seismic shift. The Lark is a really great place to be a playwright. An earlier full length of mine, The Devil's Own Game, has had two round tables there and I know from that experience just how good they are at opening new perspectives and options. The first time I went I was hitting a wall with that particular piece and then in my head it got blown apart in the best possible way and I was able to reassemble it into something I am much prouder of. I hope that once I'm done with the next stage of my current play I'll be able to arrange for some way to show it in Boston.
A couple words on the other playwrights. They were awesome. Really diverse subject matter and styles, engaging work that made use of what theatre does best. The other plays were all self contained 10-minute plays. One was a piece about Perseus and Medusa that would be a really interesting challenge as a fight director. I spoke to the playwright (Emily) briefly about the sort of staging she might expect considering the parameters she had set up. It would be really fun to compose the violence for that play as most of its demands are outside the common vocabulary and/or would involve some pretty funky modifications.
I believe that this event is bi-monthly. Those of you reading that that are in and around Boston should consider checking it out.
EDIT: My Round Table for Burning Up the Dictionary at the Lark PDC has been rescheduled for early November.