Each season, there are four productions in the Civic Youth Theatre season at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. The 2014-2015 season includes Retreat! by local playwright Neil Radtke, a U.S. history teacher at Klondike Middle School.
Question: What is Retreat! about?
Neil Radtke: It takes place at a company retreat that is put on by a firm that specializes in them. Companies that have issues with employees coming together hire the firm, and employees go to a woodsy hotel area to have a retreat. Julia, the main character, is putting on her first retreat and she wants things to go well. The employees who arrive are increasingly causing issues that culminate in an untimely death.
Q: What is the history of Retreat! and Klondike Middle School's annual murder mystery?
N.R.: Klondike Middle School puts on an annual murder mystery dinner theater that I started about 15 years ago. I write, produce and direct. A lot of the plays I wrote are specific for the space at Klondike. When I first started writing Retreat!, I wrote it with the idea of being staged elsewhere. It went over extremely well at Klondike.
Q: How many plays have you written?
N.R.: I started with two adaptations for the annual murder mysteries, but then I've written 10 original scripts for the event since. I've written several 10-minute plays that I've sent to various contests. Sorting It Out was named a semifinalist for the 2015 Pick of the Vine short play festival at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, California. I'm trying to expand and become more adept at longer works.
Q: What was the impetus behind wanting to be a playwright?
N.R.: I've always loved theater. When I started writing years ago, I thought it would be fun to do. There's so much information out there about the benefits of theatre for kids, and that's the kind of thing that is being cut from schools. You also see too many plays written for adults that they then try to shoehorn to fit kid actors. I saw a need for youth plays that are written for youth performers that are fresh and more timely than fairy tales. The more kids that are hooked into theatre, the better things will be for them.
Q: How do you characterize your writing?
N.R.: I'm very contemporary in my writing. I haven't written anything set in other time periods; they're all set in the present. There are two ways I go about writing. First, I'll write real characters going through real issues. Second, for something like Retreat!, I'll take stereotypes and blow them up out of proportion because those are funny to watch. I'm still in the experimental stage of my writing. I do try different ways to present characters so I can write what I need to write.
Q: What is the writing atmosphere in Greater Lafayette like?
N.R.: I think Civic Theatre's 10-Minute Play Festival is fantastic. Having one slot in the staged reading series for a playwright based in the Greater Lafayette area is important. I've found that publishers want to see that work has been done at some time. The Midwest has a lot of stories that aren't heard enough. There's a lot about New York and even West Coast plays. I think there are a lot of Midwest stories to tell. I co-directed a production of Bus Stop by William Inge, which is set in Kansas and the characters are Midwestern and it was great to see.
Q: Who are your writing influences? What playwrights do you enjoy?
N.R.: I like extremes. If I'm going to watch a comedy, it's going to be a farce. If I'm going to watch a drama, it's going to be extremely dramatic. Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire and The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellmann, which I acted in, are that way. I like extremes because if you're caught in the middle I don't know there's that big of a payoff. If you get an audience invested and take them to extremes, their reactions are such that it works out.
Q: What is next for Retreat!
N.R.: After the production closes February 15, I'm going to sit down the director, Aaron Newton, and we're going to talk about what worked and what didn't work. I know there are some minor brush-ups that I need to do. Then I'll put in more time to revamp it and then send it off to some publishers to get it out there. A lot of people have told me that the show is fun and it needs to be out there so people can have an opportunity to perform it.
Q: What's next for you?
N.R.: The 10-Minute Play Festival is coming up, and I've written a few things. I need to decide which two I want to submit. Klondike's 2015 murder mystery dinner theatre is coming up, too. I've been storyboarding and working on that. There are contests I'm going to continue to submit to, and sometimes you get good feedback on scripts that way.
Q: If a person were to tell you that she wants to be a playwright, how would you respond?
N.R.: I would say, good. It is fun and it is rewarding. You have to have a story to tell and write it. Get it down on paper. It's one thing to desire, but it's another to write it down. You'll never write your first play until you type your first word.
I also believe that playwrights must be involved with theatre. Civic Theatre offers great opportunities for that, on stage and off. Also, attend theatre, watch theatre, read plays and understand theatre. I've become a much better playwright being involved at Civic and understanding what it takes to put a production on, what makes a good show, having to deliver lines and seeing what works for an audience. It would be very difficult to write in a vacuum without being immersed in theatre is.