Saturday we spent a great day with Greg Pierotti of the Tectonic Theater Project. Greg was in town to workshop with the University of Maryland, Reston Community Players, and other groups in preparation for the simul premiere of an epilogue to The Laramie Project (which I performed with RCP in 2004).
We read a draft of the script (one from September 1) in sections, a third of the play at a time, and then Greg offered notes and other information that will color the performances. Since Greg did a lot of the interviewing for the material in this draft, he was invaluable as a resource to find out what this character sounds like or where another is coming from. He made it clear that one of the roles I will be reading on October 12 has the biggest, most emotional arc, and is also his favorite role of the 50-odd. No pressure.
Greg also went into some detail about the company’s process of building up a play from “moments.” Each 1- to 20-page scene starts out as a proposal and presentation by a company member. Once there are sufficient moments, polished to a certain degree, the writers assemble them into a running order, sort of in the way that tesserae are assembled into a mosaic (my image). Once so ordered, the moments begin to interact with one another and may require rearrangement and rewrites. Thus, in this draft we have evidence of the shuffling, as a speaker carries forward from one moment to the following but is reintroduced unnecessarily by a narrator. There’s also an incident that Russell Henderson refers to in this draft, and the draft doesn’t make it clear that it happened after the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard—this will be fixed. At any rate, Greg reminded us that the closing line of each moment is a button, a question to be considered, a thought that tinges the way we watch subsequent moments, a challenge that may be confirmed or contradicted by the next moment.
While the company definitely has a story that they want to tell with this script, Greg says that they are fine-tuning the emotional temperature of the material, lest the enterprise come off like a crusade by the “Gay Avengers.” He gave some specific advice on how to play a specific laugh line (the joke is at his expense, no less): the writers are eager to inject as much lightness into this production as possible, as the last third of the play is rather rough sledding. “Laugh whore,” I think he called himself. More advice from my notes: play against the thoughtful quality of the text. More than once he told me, “X is very clear about what he is saying; avoid rumination and the naturalistic searching for your thoughts.”
He offered several anecdotes to illustrate the deep empathy shown by Fr. Roger Schmit, who echoes Greg’s own charge to find the inherent dignity in each and every one of these people.
Directory Andy and the cast will put this material on its feet with some simple staging, starting with a rehearsal on Friday. Maybe with a new draft of the script?