Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Staged Reading Series: Going Through Hell. Meet Steve Martin, the playwright.

During the staged reading series at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette, at least one script written by a local playwright receives its world premiere. There are two scripts that will debut at Civic Theatre in the 2012-2013 Staged Reading Series. The second is Going Through Hell by Steve Martin, which will receive a staged reading Tuesday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the historic Monon Depot Theatre.

Steve was interviewed by Diane Littleton Bahler, who wrote the other script that will receive its world premiere this season.

Question: How excited were you when you learned Going Through Hell had been chosen by Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette for a world premiere staged reading? Did you pee your pants?
Steve Martin: When I received the email, initially I read only that A Wonderful Suicide had been selected for a world premiere. I was disappointed for about a millisecond, then I realized that I had just completed a full-length script and submitted it to Civic Theatre's contest. I felt pretty good, then. Then I read the remainder of the message, and I was floored. This is the first time since the inaugural staged reading series that two scripts will receive world premieres. That season included Deborah Gray's Pia Zadora Sings Gershwin and Scott Haan's A Very Bad Day for Brandon Butterworth. I was happy, stunned and excited ... and I still am now!

Q: If you had to describe your play in terms of a Shakespearean play, what would it be?
S.M.: The only time my name and Shakespeare's should be used in the same sentence is, "That Steve Martin ... he's no Shakespeare."

Q: What would you like for the audience to know about Going Through Hell before they go see it?
S.M.: They should know Going Through Hell would not exist without the contributions of the Civic Playwrights Group; Kelly McBurnettte-Andronicos, the director; the cast, whose talent and enthusiasm showed me aspects of each character that I hadn't expected; and the uncountable number of friends who have heard me babble about this story since June 2012 or earlier.

Q: The play is about two men who fall in love. The Midwest isn't always the most liberal atmosphere for the creative writer who tackles the subject of same sex marriage. Did you ever feel like your creative freedom was influenced (either inwardly or outwardly) by the more conservative attitudes that seem to prevail in Indiana?
S.M.: Anyone who is creative is affected by when and where they're creating. They may acknowledge their surroundings and support them, reject them or ignore them in their work. Although marriage equality seems to be in the public's conscience at the moment, I hope I've written well-rounded characters so the play doesn't feel like a single-topic drama. The lead up to the marriage ceremony and the ceremony itself take probably five minutes in a 100-minute play. Ralph and Bike's love had to be so strong that Ralph was compelled to search for Bike after his death. I needed to show that level of commitment during the first act, and that meant they would be married. The characters aren't just saying that they're committed to one another (let's face it, talk is cheap) ... they're showing it.

Q: Speaking of the creative process, can you describe yours?
S.M.: My first step is being engaged in what is happened around me, noting whatever I find interesting - it can be joyful, profane, ludicrous, heart-wrenching, silly. Often it is something as small as a newspaper headline, maybe a painting in a book of work by "illusion" artists, or something as frivolous as thinking to myself, "I wish I could levitate to my car after work rather than walk."

The next step is writing. The Civic Playwrights Group has been important because everyone is expected to create work, read it and discuss it. This pushes me to produce and advance the story. I'm also invigorated by being around other creative people. When someone else presents a really great scene, monologue or even an outline, I think to myself, "Yes! That's awesome! I want to create something, too!"

While writing, I try to determine the key points of the plot - where the characters begin, what changes in their lives, how they complete their journey and how they've changed. I admire people who can free write without mapping out the journey; they let their characters speak and act for themselves. I have to focus mine otherwise they will go off on a tangent and I'll never seem them again.

After I've written a draft with a definite beginning, middle and end, and the Playwrights Group has heard it and offered comments, I send it to more people whose theatrical tastes I trust. They share their thoughts, and I start to polish the script.

The final step is hearing the script read aloud, and developing it further from that point.

Q: Jung said that we are all of the people in our dreams. As writers I think we both know that there is a little bit of our own souls in each of the characters we write about. Is there a character that you identify with the most in Going Through Hell?
S.M.: I can identify with all the characters. None of the play is autobiographical, but all the characters' perspectives come from me, even those that aren't noble or heroic.

Q: What is your history with playwriting? Have you written other plays?
S.M.: I was a theater major at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where my one-act play Waiting Room Philosophies was produced. It feels now that I constantly wrote scenes and one-acts as a student, usually for a class but not always. In graduate school in Missouri, my Master's thesis was a case study of script creation and development for a play I wrote called Song of Norma. There were no playwriting courses, but I was introduced to screenwriting through the English department.

After graduate school, I rarely did any creative writing mostly because I wrote and edited for my career. It wasn't until the Civic Playwrights Group began that I really dived back into it ... a lapse of 15 years, give or take. I'm now working on another full-length play and looking into 10-minute plays, too.

Q: Why write plays? Why not novels or poetry or some other literary form?
S.M.: At Wabash College, I also took classes in short fiction, poetry and the personal essay. I tried (and failed miserably) National Novel Writing Month in 2012. I've found an LGBT writing group in Lafayette, and our first workshop consisted of reading four poems and writing three. It felt wonderful to stretch those muscles again!

I hope to continue to write in several genres, including those mentioned above, although plays will remain my favorite. There's something special about creating live people in action, who make decisions and live through the aftereffects. Plus, theatre is the most collaborative of art forms, and I like being part of a team that works well for an end result.

Q: Steve, I know that you lead the Playwrights Group, but I have a feeling that is only the tip of the iceberg of the things you do at Civic. Can you tell me more about your involvement at Civic?
S.M.: Currently I serve as vice president of the Board of Directors. I have been volunteering at Civic for more than a decade, serving on several Board committees and directing, acting and sometimes producing shows in the MainStage, Civic Youth Theatre and Staged Reading seasons.

One of the best things about Civic is that everyone is welcome to volunteer, to share their time and energy to be part of a team that puts together a show or keeps the organization running smoothly. No matter what skill sets a person has, they can strengthen the organization. Yes, acting can be a lot of fun, but it's just as important that there are volunteers to work in the box office, to review the budget and track the financial health of the organization, to place posters around Greater Lafayette, to build sets or find costumes, or to find people to serve on committees. And there are so many opportunities to grow and develop skills.

Q: Where does Going Through Hell go from here?
S.M.: The staged reading on March 19 will have an enormous impact on its development. During the Q&A session, I expect to ask a lot of questions of the audience. I want to know what they thought about various parts of the plot, the characters and the overall story. After the staged reading, I'll invite the cast, director and my friends to join me for breakfast at IHOP. Then I'll go home, fall asleep and make no plans to wake up until noon or so. When I do, I probably will put the script in a drawer and keep it shut for about a week - the notes, too - so that I can enjoy the thrill of having seen the characters I created appear on stage.

I'll look at the script again, look at my notes, perhaps review the staged reading on DVD. I'll try to be as objective as possible when I review them, and then make changes, adjustments, tweaks - hopefully no wholesale changes, though, unless there are extreme problems - and create the "final, final" version of the play.

I'll research theaters, agents and publishers who have an interest in this kind of play. Perhaps I'll submit it to contests, or perhaps there are opportunities for more readings, workshops, productions or even personal development. Regardless of how many rejection notices I receive, I will send Going Through Hell out into the larger theatrical world after the staged reading. I want to see it in a production, I want the characters and the settings to take physical form, I want to see and hear the story unfold in front of me. That's why playwrights write: to see and hear their plays on the stage. During all this, I'll finish my next script and start the process of sharing all over again.

Q: What questions would you like for me to ask you about Going Through Hell and how would you answer it?
S.M.: "Steve, can I buy your breakfast at IHOP following the staged reading of Going Through Hell on March 19?" Of course you can, Diane. Your generosity is heartwarming. Can I get a Breakfast Sampler and a Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity?

The staged reading of Going Through Hell will be Tuesday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Monon Depot Theatre at the corner of 5th Street and North Street in downtown Lafayette. It is a Pay What You Can event.

There will be a question-and-answer session immediately following between the audience, the cast, the director and the playwright.

The mission of Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette is to enhance the artistic and cultural environment of Greater Lafayette through theatrical productions and educational opportunities.

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