Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Staged Reading Series: In the Weeds. Meet Steve Gooch, the playwright.

Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Staged Reading Series includes at least one original script in its five-script season. This year's original script is In the Weeds, written by Steve Gooch.

Steve is a graduate student at Purdue University, earning his Master's degree in comparative literature at the end of this semester. His interest in writing plays began, however, in a different academic setting.

"I was in a Master of Professional Writing degree program at the University of Southern California, fully intending to be a fiction writer," Steve said. "I took a playwriting course and fell in love with the script fomat. I found I enjoy writing dialogue much more than writing exposition."

Among Steve's favorite playwrights are William Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Martin McDonagh and David Mamet. He said the plays of the latter four share at least one characteristic in common.

"I admire the language in their plays," Steve said. "They write sparse dialogue that at times is delivered in a rapid-fire way. Sometimes the point isn't about what the characters say, but it's more about how they say it."

In the Weeds is the first play Steve wrote. Set in an Italian restaurant, the play includes characters based on people he worked with in the restaurant industry. The play's plot centers around the theft of a deposit. He said the theft is a "MacGuffin," which is a device playwrights use to push a plot forward and motivate characters. The precise details of a MacGuffin are usually unimportant, however.

"I wanted to write about this restaurant, and having the deposit stolen seemed like the most high-stress situation to put the characters through. It offered the characters the opportunity to plot and scheme," Steve said. "There is a lot of stress in the restaurant industry every night, but I don't know if an audience would get into seeing a regular Tuesday night at a restarauant. The theft is more exciting."

Steve's writing process for In the Weeds began with a skeleton plot, and then writing the play from start to finish. The script went through several drafts before it was submitted for the Staged Reading Series.

"I ended up throwing away a lot of stuff from the script," he said. "There were two or three characters who I wrote a lot of dialogue for, but the characters didn't fit in the play. I try to realize the characters as fully as I can -- all the characters are fully developed in my mind, even if they have only a few lines -- and then place them in a situation. Although I generally know what's going to happen, sometimes things change when I wind them up and set them in motion."

Steve has previously performed in two staged readings this season: Nickel and Dimed and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. He looks forward to experiencing this staged reading as the playwright.

"It will be very interesting to see it on the stage, to hear the dialogue," he said. "I will get a lot out of it, seeing people embody those characters. The way the actors read the lines is always different from how I hear them in my mind. Working with a director like Brent Wick and getting other people's opinions takes the play out of my head and makes it real. I can see and hear what works and what doesn't."

Steve concluded by sharing his thoughts about Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette and the Staged Reading Series.

"Civic is an amazing organization to have, especially for a city the size of Lafayette," he said. "And the staged readings are brilliant. As a graduate student I couldn't participate in a full production, but to be able to do two or three rehearsals is great. It's a wonderful opportunity to be involved to do things that might not be done during the Mainstage Season. And then to give a spot to an original script is fantastic."

In the Weeds will be performed as a staged reading on Tuesday, March 10, at 7 p.m. in the historic Monon Depot Theatre in downtown Lafayette. The reading is a Pay What You Can Event.


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