GVT reached out to the playwrights to get their perspective for this years New Voices Play Festival. Here’s what they had to say about writing and the thrill of having their work performed live.
The Magic of Niagara – Much of my family is from Buffalo, so I’ve visited Niagara Falls many times. I’ve always been fascinated by stories about daredevils challenged by the falls and the rapids below. I’m equally fascinated by individuals who dedicated their lives to rescuing those that got a little too close – usually by accident. This is my tribute to them.
Q- Which do you enjoy more, writing or seeing your plays on stage?
A- I was a journalist for many years and I love the writing process. But the thrill of watching you play as actors bring your story to life on stage is second to none.
Q- What was your first play?
A- My first play was called Small Town Justice and it premiered at the 43rd annual Playwright Platform Theater Festival in Boston.
Q- What made you want to be a playwright?
A- I fell into it. I wanted to tell a story about an event I experienced in Cuba years ago. That play never materialized but out of that exercise so many others did and I realized how much I loved writing dialogue.
Margie Semilof is Boston playwright who has had plays produced at the Playwrights Platform Theater Festival in Boston, at the Havey Players Summer Shorts in Waltham, MA, and at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport, MA.
The Nude – With the opening of Lisa’s first show at a professional art gallery, Lisa and Claire contemplate what to do with Lisa’s painting of a nude Claire because Claire is freaking out. But patrons intervene: Brian, an attorney and former painter who no longer paints because he fears criticism, and Jeffrey, a jaded critic, who dismisses the painting, the show and the general trend of “aging housewives trying to be artists.” THE NUDE is a play about the challenges creative people face as they age and the timelessness of beauty.
Q- How did you come up with the plot for this production? Does it have any sentimental meaning for you?
A- As you get older, it is difficult to maintain your courage to keep creating new works, particularly in light of criticism. It’s easier to just give up. It’s hard to be taken seriously. This is, I think, even harder for older women artists. Also, I looked at my wife as she was coming out of the shower and thought just how beautiful she was. This play merges those two themes.
Q- Did you study creative writing or theatre?
A- I don’t have degrees in either. I took theatre courses as an undergraduate and playwrighting as an adult. I now teach playwrighting. My high school creative writing teacher were actually quite good. College was hit or miss. I come from a family of writers. So, writing is what we do. Like breathing.
Q- What is more challenging, full length plays or short plays?
A- Full length. A new full-length play takes me about two years. I write ten minute plays as writing exercises. Like études in music.
W.L. Newkirk has degrees from The Ohio State University and Harvard, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. His plays have won Vigoda Award for best dramedy, Best Play at the 4×6 Fest in Florida and Grand Prize, Emerald Theatre Company New Play Festival, in 2016.
Down on Sandusky Road – The story of a man and his son, who must confront their past and the struggles they have endured.
Q- This play has a very personal and sentimental feel to it, what was your inspiration?
A- It’s actually loosely based on some neighbors I have observed, how their addictions control them, how others (and even myself) judge when they (we) should try to empathized, and how easily we could all succumb to the troubles the characters face. But it is about family (not my family, in this case … thankfully), which I think adds another layer of complexity to the whole thing … especially the idea of writing about family.
Q- Is your technique for writing a short play different from writing a full length production? If so, how?
A- Not really. I just find that some stories take longer to tell than others. I’ve written over thirty plays. Some are one to ten minutes, others are 30 minutes, and several are full lengths. I don’t often start out with a length in mind. I let the story and characters take me where they need to go. Sometimes it’s a short trip, while other times it goes on and on.
Q- How long have you been a playwright, and what is most fulfilling about it?
A- I’ve been writing plays for almost twenty years. I love the challenge of building a story through dialogue, with the immediacy of the live audience always raising the stakes. It’s part of what attracted me to theatre as an actor when I started taking acting classes as a teen, and what keeps me hooked. All these years and I still get an incredible rush hearing something I have written performed by actors and listening to an audience respond to my words and their actions.
The Picture Window – An old woman’s front window is shattered by a baseball. For her it’s time to go get the instructions her late husband left her. There’s something special waiting for the kid who could hit a baseball that far. A poignant story about old age and regrets – and baseball.
Q- How did you hear about the New Voices Play Festival and what made you want to be a part of it?
A- I had the honor of having a script produced in the festival seven years ago (The Unopened Valentine, in 2010) and have submitted almost every year since then trying to get back in! While I’m thrilled to be produced anywhere (and I’ve been produced on every continent except South America and Antarctica), it’s always a special delight to be produced somewhere where I can actually see the show. Most of the time, I never get to see my own shows because they’re being done way far away from here. (Last year, that included Ireland and New Zealand). However, I’m reasonably local — from Fincastle, Virginia, about 90 minutes away — so here’s a rare chance for me to see my own work produced, so that makes this very special for me. Also, because I am reasonably close, I’ve been to see other shows at Greenbrier Valley Theatre. I remain especially enthralled by the production of Dracula in 2013.
Q- Do you know while writing which direction you want your plays to go in?
A- Yes. I try not to start a play until I know how it’s going to end. On the few occasions where I’ve violated that rule, I’ve generally had to back up and start over. However, even once I know where it’s going to end, there’s still a process of discovery in the writing process. I liken it to sculpting. I know what I’m trying to sculpt, but sometimes the stone has certain properties and directs the chisel a certain way.
Q- Are you working on anything exciting right now?
I hope so! I’m always writing something. Mostly I write full-length scripts, and then write shorter pieces when I’m in between bigger ones. I just finished a full-length Christmas play that I’m very excited about — and, hint, hint, would love to see Greenbrier produce! It’s called EXCHANGE OF GIFTS. Three foreign students who are studying in the U.S. find themselves snowbound in an airport, unable to get home for Christmas. One is from Canada, one from Australia, one from Russia. Over the course of the show, they help each other discover that they’re each studying the wrong thing — that their passion really lies elsewhere. That is the metaphorical “exchange of gifts.” I’d describe it as “sweet.” I also just had a staged reading in Roanoke for a new comedy, THE CACTUS RUSTLERS. Most of my comedies fit in the Southern comedy genre, where I’m trying to compete with the Jones Hope Wooten plays or the Greater Tuna series. I’m now making revisions to that script before I start sending it out. In terms of what I’m actually writing now, I’m writing something very unusual for me — a very dark play about patriotism. Most of what I write is not dark.
Dwayne Yancey is a playwright from Virginia. His play Unopened Valentine was produced at GVT in 2010 and he can be found online at @dwayneyancey.
SURVIVAL STRATEGY – Officemates Jerry and Jenny make a deal to get from each other at work what they can’t get at home.
Q- In your opinion, what are the elements of a good 10-minute play?
A- It has a beginning, middle, and end, and is a story, not just a sketch, or one-trick pony. Even in ten minutes, characters can change.
Q- Did you study theatre and/or writing when you were younger?
A- I took a few creative writing classes in college, but my background is in journalism, and my bread-and-butter job is still magazine editor.
Q- Have you ever acted in or directed any of your plays?
A- I don’t act, and have only directed when I absolutely had to — two ten-minute plays that were set in cars. I don’t really enjoy it.
Donna Hoke is an award-winning playwright whose work has been seen in 40 states and on five continents. She is the author of both full-length and short plays and is the only female to be named Buffalo’s Best Writer for three years.
a.d.a.m. – After discovering that a malicious virus has infected the world’s first lifelike android, a scientist must not only tell him about the virus, but also terminate him.
Q – Would you say you are a science fiction fan or is this a particularly inspiring subject?
A – Both. I am definitely a sci-fi fan. Though it certainly is a challenge to find a sci-fi subject that fits into a short one act play. The inspiration for my play came from some deep personal experiences in my own life that left me with the question: “What’s it like when you are confronted with your own mortality?”
Q – What made you want to participate in GVT’s Play Festival?
A – I wanted to participate in the Festival because the opportunity to have ones’ work produced is invaluable. Based on my research into this Festival and the theatre behind it, I felt it would be a great chance to see how my work stacked up against other plays. I’m extremely excited and honored that my play was chosen!
Q – What current projects are you most excited about right now?
A – I’m most excited to start the rehearsal process for the upcoming play I’m in. Not only because I love acting, but also because I find that it helps loosen my creative writing muscles and inspires me to put words on the dreaded blank page.
Rob Burke is a former attorney whose plays and screenplays have been into festivals in the U.S., Australia, the U.K. and Dubai.
Barrage from the Garage – For weeks, Marcia Sampson has been encouraging her husband Wendell to clean out the garage. He finally agrees to it. But he’s not excited about the job. Because he knows there’s something out there besides rusty tools, discarded toys and boxes of old shoes and rags. And he’ll have to come to terms with it.
Q – What do you want audiences to take away from this play?
A – I think it’s important for us all to be mindful of what we have in common as opposed to what makes us different. Also, it might be good if members of the audience cleaned their garages as soon as possible – before something similar occurs.
Q – When did you first know you wanted to be a playwright and are there any specific shows you are most proud of?
A – The answer to this probably requires more self-awareness than I’m capable of. Personally, my favorite play might be one of my first 10-minute pieces, titled The Gospel According to Bowser, about the pet dog Bowser explaining his worldview and theology.
Q – What is different about writing a short play and a full length play? Would you say one is harder than the other?
A – I definitely think a full-length play is more difficult. It demands more in-depth character development, a more intricate plot, and more surprises/revelations along the way.
Dan Borengasser has had plays produced throughout the United States and all over the world. He has also had several short screenplays produced, as well as a feature film he helped write.