To discover the impact The Mobtown Playwrights Group has made on three playwrights, I presented questions to playwrights Jessica McHugh (Fools call it Fate), Mardee Bennett (In the Ramble), and Pat Montley (Brigid of Ireland: A Tragedy), whose plays were given a production at The Mobtown Players by being selected by The Mobtown Players Project.
(1) Jessica McHugh (Fools call it Fate):
Tell us about being selected to have a full production of Fools call it Fate.
My dark comedy Fools call it Fate was chosen for the workshop series as well as the full production. It was written solely for the chance to be chosen, and as I’d never written a play before, it came as a huge surprise and honor that Fools call it Fate was considered for this opportunity. The story involves six characters whose lives intertwine in meaningful ways and a mysterious character named “No One” who might have some control over the intertwining.
How has the MPG project impacted your writing career?
For one, I’m writing plays! Fools call it Fate being chosen was a wake-up call to an inky world I hadn’t touched. After the experience with MPG, I wrote another full-length play and a one act play that was recently in a festival. Once I escape editing hell with my novels, I intend on turning back to the stage for more playwrighting fun.
What was the experience of audience feedback like and how did it impact your vision of the production?
The feedback was extremely helpful. As a novelist, I don’t often get the opportunity to revise the things readers don’t quite understand. In this instance, when several audience members had the same questions, I was able to answer them with revisions in the dialogue.
What changes to the play did you make a result of the feedback?
The largest one was regarding a brother/sister relationship. Members of the audience couldn’t understand why a sister would allow her brother to continue down a destructive path (harmful to himself and others) if she could stop him by involving the police. I am glad that so many people did not understand being in that situation, but unfortunately, I do. When members of your family have addictions, you make allowances you’d think you wouldn’t. Your choices and actions defy logic because of love, and to people on the outside, it doesn’t make sense at all. I had to go back and force those people to understand what it’s like being a part of that kind of relationship, and I did so by adding and altering dialogue. By the end, I believe I was successful.
Read Teresa’s interview and Fools with Jessica and Fools call it Fate’s director Mark Franceschini at Mobtown Theater.
(2) Playwright Mardee Bennett (In the Ramble):
What’s In the Ramble about?
In the Ramble has been in gestation for several years. As a writer in my mid-twenties, I wanted to write honestly about my lost, often spoiled, generation. Too many of us wear the hipster façade. In our minds it’s Berkley circa 1970. The reality is that a lot of us young artist – myself included – went to private school and grew up with parents in the top 15 or 10% income bracket. We’re not starving. It’s not 1970. We’re not hip.
In the Ramble follows Chloe, an artist in her twenties whose run away from home. She’s forced to return to the Upper East Side when tragedy strikes her family. Some hilarity ensues. But I’d call this play a character study with a plot. It’s my attempt at writing a well-made American play.
There have been a lot of popular plays about families in the last few years. This play is written from a unique perspective. Mainly that I’m not a white middle-aged man.
The play speaks frankly to privilege. It’s not a conversation most people want to have. There is a lot of shame attached to money. (That goes for those of us who have it and those of us who don’t.)
The workshop will, I hope, bring the characters, themes and motifs into focus. No one wants to see a didactic play. There’s a beautiful photograph of an American family here somewhere. Right now the color is a little off – the composition isn’t right. This process is like the photographer going into his dark room. I’m lucky that I don’t have to work alone in my darkroom. We’ve assembled a wonderful group of actors with a lot of professional experiences.
Has your involvement with Mobtown impacted your writing in other ways?
It’s hard to say at this point. I will say I have renewed faith in my talent as a writer. I studied playwriting briefly when I was at NYU, but I’ve focused mostly on my so-called acting career for the last few years.
In May I was asked to give a speech at Center Stage as a part of their Young Playwrights Festival. I had a play in the festival there when I was seventeen. It was a full circle moment. I hadn’t written anything in almost four years and I thought, hell, it’s time to start writing again. I felt inspired then. The opportunity to work with MPG leaves me even more inspired.
Tell us about the changes you to Ramble made as a result of the public readings.
I’m on my fourth draft. Brent [Englar] has been a big help. Hearing actors ready during auditions has been a big help. I don’t know who said it first. It wasn’t me. But plays aren’t finished. They’re simply abandoned. It’s a long road from the page to production. There will be plenty more changes.
Watch an interview with Mardee Bennett.
(3) Pat Montley (Brigid of Ireland: A Tragedy:
Pat Montley has had twelve plays published. She has also taught playwriting courses at colleges and universities in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, most recently at Goucher and Johns Hopkins. She recently published a poetry and non-fiction book, In Nature’s Honor: Myths and Rituals Celebrating the Earth.
What other works have you written?
I have [created] nearly 20 full length plays, including two adaptations of Greek classics, one musical (book and lyrics), an adaptation of Japanese folk tales, and feminist adaptations of bible stories, Greek myths, American history, and Grimm’s fairy tales, as well as five one-act plays, and a dozen 10-minute pieces.
What is Brigid of Ireland: A Tragedy, which was selected by MPG, about?
Here’s the synopsis: What is history and who gets to tell it? What is biography? How does folklore intersect with fact? with faith? with politics? What is sanctity? How did the goddess religion intersect with Christianity? Why did Ireland accept with relatively little resistance a new religion so at odds with its culture? How was the status of women affected by this transition? This play–inspired by the mythology and folklore of Brigid, once the Celtic Goddess of Fire and Fertility, co-opted by the Christian church and reduced to saint – is her unauthorized biography…or the possibly true, though not historical story of why a young druid abandons her heartfelt faith and reluctantly accepts Christianity.
How has the MPG project impacted your writing career?
The reading of Brigid provided the first opportunity for audiences to be exposed to this play.
What was the experience of audience feedback like and how did it impact your vision of the production? What changes were made as a result?
The feedback from both the audience and the actors was very helpful – in my making revisions between the first and second weekend, and between the two performances of the second weekend and in the revisions I still plan to make. The audience was small but devoted (just about everyone stayed each night), so I think the informal style of the feedback sessions was appropriate and conducive to getting people to contribute. The reading alerted me especially to which characters and relationships needed to be further developed, and what words/lines/passages could be cut.
As a member of the Dramatists Guild, I am always reading articles in The Dramatist or The Loop – or hearing playwrights complain – about new plays getting readings rather than productions. Or playwrights complain that their plays are “work shopped to death” – literally having the life beaten out of them with revision after revision to please all the people involved in the workshop (actors, director, dramaturg, audience members). I believe this is sometimes true. But I also think readings can be illuminating.
Like most playwrights, I generally assume my script is ready for production when I submit it. Otherwise I would work on it more before submitting it. So it is a humbling experience to discover otherwise in the context of a reading. With Brigid, before I got a word of feedback from the audience, I heard for myself much of what still needed work. I think it is that experience I am most grateful for. By providing these readings, Mobtown is rendering an important and helpful service to playwrights I’m truly grateful.
In the Ramble plays from December 2 – 10, 2011 at The Mobtown Theater at Meadow Mill – 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Suite 114, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online. Directions are here.