November 1, 2009
Writer's Stage presents workshop of Jim Reyland play
By Fiona Soltes
FOR THE TENNESSEAN
For some, "workshopping" a new play means allowing actors to read it out loud, inviting critique. Jim Reyland jokes that it's something deeper: "sheer terror."
It's Monday night, and Reyland is flanked on stage by professional actors/directors Mark Cabus and Barry Scott. They're discussing the script of Article 4 "Reyland's script" in great detail. Altering words. Questioning interpretation. Picking it apart bit by bit by bit. The mood, however, is far from antagonistic; Reyland has been around the theater long enough to know that "painful as the process can be" it's better to let trusted peers give an honest assessment before an audience does.
"It's really wonderful," he says, "if you're surrounded by the right people.
In addition to veteran actor Cabus (who takes the lead in the production) and Scott (a longtime friend who will direct), those "right people" include the cast of Evelyn Blythe, Jamie Famer, Chris Goodrich, Ted Welch and Greg Wilson. With them in tow, Article 4 opens this week still in workshop mode before its full premiere.
It's the story of a reclusive millionaire who wants to give away his entire fortune, and a certain woman who's willing to, as Reyland says, "pay the price." Audiences can expect costumes, staging and acting "off-book," without scripts. But they'll also have an opportunity to take part in the creative process themselves, since audience interaction offers a completely different element than simply reading the words on a page.
"It's a ride," Scott admits. "Jim is being very modest and humble with his work being hacked on and scrutinized by others. But he's finding his voice in it. Being a part of helping that happen is enjoyable. And having Mark in the room at the same time is even better."
A big part of the process, Cabus says, is finding the checks and balances when everyone comes together.
"But sometimes the most difficult struggles produce the most beautiful work," he says.
As for this work, Reyland wrote the first draft close to a decade ago, and offered it as a reading through his theater company, Writer's Stage, last April. It was one of two readings Writer's Stage presented that month, and the one deemed ready for the next level. Before reaching its next audience, the latest round of workshopping and tweaking will have lasted several weeks.
"I just want this piece to move forward," he says. "And if I need to rewrite it 10 times for that to happen, then that's what I'll do. But these things can't be created in a vacuum. I'm just thankful for the opportunity to have been able to take it this far, to create something new. There are a lot of people out there, a lot of writers, who want to see their pieces read, workshopped, whatever. That needs to be supported. It gives people an idea that they can do it, too."
Playwrights and production companies sometimes present pieces prematurely, however - "works that haven't been vetted, talked about and changed."
"But if I was just out on my back porch, and decided to call this a world premiere without really going through the process of staging it, then I would have missed a big opportunity. You have to be careful about growing a play. It has to be nurtured."
Reyland premiered his piece STUFF last year after numerous readings and substantial workshopping. "That one was ready," he says. "This one is not."
Back on the stage, Reyland turns to the professionals nearby, this time contemplating the way a certain character should enter.
"So far," Reyland says, "I've been extremely blessed. . . . It's the difference between Uncle Fred and Placido Domingo singing your song."
IF YOU GO
What: Writer's Stage presents a workshop of Jim Reyland's new play, Article 4
When: Wednesday through Nov. 14. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Nov. 8. Opening night is considered a preview.
Where: 1008 Charlotte Ave.
Tickets: $15; $13 for ages 60 and older and high school/college students with ID at the door.
Contact: www.writersstage.com or 636-9177. Cash and check only at the door; online purchases can be made with credit.