Adam’s Thesis: Part Eight

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "adam's thesis: part eight"

Also, my efforts in this play extended beyond the writing. I spent the last week helping with production elements such as gathering props, hanging and focusing lights, and helping to put together the music, which incidentally added an enormous amount to the final product. The writing, directing, and acting had come together, but helming this project allowed me a greater look into all of the other aspects that must be implemented in order to put up a complete show. Fortunately, I’ve acquired enough education in the areas of set and prop construction, lighting and sound over the past few years to have been able to contribute to all of these elements in different ways.

We did not have an official lighting designer, so the addition of lights into the show became a collaborative effort between several different people working on the production. We had to work within the confines of a general hang which suited the needs of another show which was in the space a few days before we opened. Because of this, moments of the play were not lit as sharply or as skillfully as I would have liked; but everything that needed to be lit was lit, so I can’t complain about that element too much. I particularly liked the special we found to light Charlie at his piano.

One of the big challenges turned out to be the music. We had a wonderful theme composed by Donna M., who wound up recording her song in about twenty different versions, with several variations and sound changes. The process of getting the song recorded proved much more difficult than any of us could have anticipated, due to some frustrating and uncooperative software. But after a good deal of time battling with this hindrance, we ended up with several beautiful and interesting recordings. Amongst them, Ryan Hemphill and I chose a handful to serve the needs of the play. We pieced everything together with an editing program and found ourselves with a marvelous soundtrack when the performances finally came along.

So much was accomplished in the short amount of time we had to get it mounted. My anxieties about getting everything done were quelled by an astoundingly hard working and dedicated group of artists. The process from the writing of the play to the presentation of the final product felt like it passed in an instant, and I was very fortunate to be working with so many capable people in order to get it all done.


Adam’s Thesis: Part Seven

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "adam's thesis: part seven"

Probably one of the most difficult pieces of revision I had to do with this play was in addressing the ending. As I said previously, the final scene was one that I knew had to be changed. This was not going to be easy. It was a very sensitive area, because the way a play ends can be so important to its overall success. The original ending tied everything together rather nicely and left the characters as well as the audience with very few questions. We tried running this ending in rehearsals a few times, but it clearly wouldn’t do. Something else had to be written. I agonized over this for quite a while. It was important to me that the actors had some input into the ending as well. I wanted to know how they felt it should end. I asked them how they thought their characters would react in the given situation.

One of the things that became so important in this project was how familiar the actors became with their own characters. They learned so much about who these people were, and I think that was a crucial element in creating the realistic and believable world of this play. Ryan Hemphill, Dan, Kirsten, and I talked at length about what should happen at the end of the story. Everyone voiced their own opinion about it, and from that, I tried to write an ending. I had a lot of questions to answer in doing so: Should Grace and Charlie restore their relationship in the end? Should we see this happen or can it just be suggested? Should there be a sense of ambiguity? Is there a moral to this story, or are we simply looking in on a slice of someone’s life? How would these characters really behave in this situation? What would they say? What wouldn’t they say? What do they have to say? With all of this in mind, and so much more, I set out to create an ending for Artless Charlie.

I brought a rewritten scene into rehearsal, hoping that it would come together in the hands of Ryan Hemphill and the actors. And eventually it did, and it was quite beautiful, but it still took some work. The first time Dan and Kirsten read through the new scene, I knew immediately that it was infinitely better than what had existed before it. But there was still a question about the final moment. It ended with the suggestion that Grace and Charlie would get back together. The final image I wrote was of Charlie at the piano, with Grace watching him from the bedroom doorway. There was something simple but strangely wonderful about this image, and that survived the continued cuts and changes.

With a couple of rehearsals with Dan and Kirsten, we found what we were looking for. The idea was that Grace is actually going to leave. It still ended with the same image, but the message was slightly different. There was suddenly this sense that maybe everything doesn’t always work out in the end. You can’t always fix your life simply because you’re finally ready to. There is still a feeling of possible hope at the end, but it is more ambiguous, and there was a unanimous feeling in our rehearsal that this was the ending we had been searching for.

When asked if there are endings which he finds inappropriate for the modern stage, John Guare answered, “Yes, I think that any ending that just says that no matter what, if you want it enough, you’ll get it and you deserve it and God loves you. I think that we have to have endings that say, You know what? God doesn’t care, and chances are if you win it he’ll take it away in about five seconds anyway”(83.)* Guare’s perspective is significant, I think, because there do need to be those endings which don’t allow their protagonists to get everything they want. I for one really like a story which ends with a hopeful note, but I found that there was something very important and curiously satisfying about ending the play the way that we finally did.

My work continued until the night we opened. Even in the final week of rehearsal I was looking for ways to fix moments, to clean up sections, to move the action along. In one of the last rehearsals, I ended up cutting two large sections which it had never really occurred to me to cut before. The sections had never worked that well, but I just attributed that to the fact that the actors needed to do some more work on them. Finally, in this rehearsal, I realized how much smoother the scene could run without them. I had wanted to avoid making cuts and changes to the script that late in the process, but this was something that felt necessary, and the actors were fortunately happy to comply. The cuts having been made, the scene ran quicker and actually seemed to make a lot more sense. Additionally, in a similar attempt to push the action along, I cut a couple of pages of dialogue from the final scene. This was partly based on a suggestion made by Royston, and the result was a much tighter, more satisfying finale.

Adam’s Thesis: Part Six

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "adam's thesis: part six"

Starting in mid-March, the actors were rehearsing quite regularly, and I attended essentially every rehearsal, with the exception of one that I skipped early on for the purpose of getting some rewrites done, and one later that I opted to skip in order to give myself an evening of rest from the work. I met a lot of interesting challenges while in the process of rehearsing the play. In practically every rehearsal there were problems I had to address – lines which simply weren’t working; moments where the actors may have been confused about the subtext; alliterations which unfortunately turned into tongue twisters; and so on. Most of these things were fixed very quickly and easily. Erin, our stage manager, was there at every moment with her script in hand, noting every little change. She was very important for my work, and I was extremely fortunate to have her there doing that.

Amongst the many small, easily fixable problems with the script, there were also a handful of potentially large, frustrating ones. The scene with Charlie and Madeleine which I rewrote fairly early on was one of these problems. Several more followed later on in the process. One of the first issues I tackled involved the scenes between the characters of Grace and Walter. Walter’s character began as not much more than a romantic foil for Charlie. The actor playing the role had the unfortunate challenge of trying to shape Walter into someone with a sense of dimension and humanity, and it is a testament to the hard work and talents of Chris D., who did take on the role, that Walter ultimately did have those things in abundance.

Chris, Ryan Hemphill, Kirsten S. – who played the role of Grace,– and I spent a lot of time working on the relationship between these two characters and on the scenes which shaped that relationship. I found that the original scene I wrote between the two of them was too long and often contained superfluous material. We spent an entire rehearsal dedicated to that scene at which time I was able to cut a large amount of text and clean it up a lot. At that rehearsal, I revisited the idea of writing an additional scene between Grace and Walter to place earlier on in the play. I wasn’t sure if that scene would contain some of the information I had cut from the already existing scene, or if I would write it entirely from scratch, but I did know that I wanted it to be there.

I ultimately ended up writing something completely new, which I placed in the middle of the first act. It helped to better illustrate the evolution of their relationship, and it also gave Walter a little more stage time, which I thought was important if he was really going to be considered a significant presence in the play. The rehearsals that we spent specifically on those scenes, plus the time I spent on revisions at home, truly improved that aspect of the play immensely.

Just as they did for the Grace and Walter scenes, Ryan Hemphill and the actors offered me a great deal of inspiration and ideas with the majority of the other moments that I “fixed” in the play. I was able to shorten several scenes significantly based on the work that Dan, Evelyn, and Andrew H. were doing in their scenes together. Watching them over a period of time really helped me figure out the moments in their scenes which really worked and the ones which absolutely didn’t.

The trickiest parts were those which sometimes seemed to work and sometimes didn’t. Andrew, who played the role of Joe, had a good majority of the jokes and one-liners in the play. He had a lot of responsibility in this way, because so much of the humor was coming from his character. Therefore, it was really important for me to keep a close observation of his work in order to figure out which jokes were winners and which were duds. There were certainly a few duds, and I was more than happy to get them out of there. At certain times, I found myself having to cut jokes which were actually very funny, but simply weren’t serving the scenes other than making them longer. One of the major things I tried to do throughout this process was trim down the script to the fullest extent possible. There were many things I liked which I had to concede were not necessary within the context of this particular play. After all, I could always save them and apply them to another work in the future.

Adam’s Thesis: Part Five

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "adam's thesis: part five"

One of the major problems I had to deal with in the process was figuring out how to filter out all of the feedback and suggestions I got, to implement the good ones and discard the rest. It’s difficult to know sometimes when you are getting useful advice and when it might be leading you astray. I realized that I am not at the point in my writing where I am confident enough to know when I have done something really great or really horrible – usually it feels like it is somewhere in between – and additionally it is hard to turn down other people’s suggestions or be able to tell them their opinion about a particular issue does not necessarily mesh with my own.

Throughout the process, I found myself wrestling between the notions of wanting to entertain the ideas that the actors, the director (Ryan Hemphill), and sometimes even the stage manager had to offer, and wanting to maintain my own personal vision and artistic ideology. But as I said, it can be very hard to determine when an idea might be an improvement, and when it might be detrimental.

In discussing the contributions of others to his plays, Edward Albee once said, “I’ve evolved a nice rule: If an actor or a director does something to a play of mine which diminishes it, which makes it less interesting than I thought it was, they’re wrong, and I will not take any responsibility for it; if, on the other hand, a director or an actor finds something in a character of mine or a play of mine that makes it far more interesting that I have consciously known that it was, I instantly take credit for it”(15.)* Albee’s take on the issue is very funny, but somehow has a ring of truth.

There are moments in the play which I ultimately may receive the credit for, but which wouldn’t have existed without the contributions of an actor or the director. I’d like to take the credit for all of the things that ultimately worked in the play, but too many people contributed too much to it for me to do that. It’s nice to get praised for your work; but it’s also nice to be able to share the praise with a group of people who really put a tremendous amount of effort into their work, and this was certainly a case where everyone put that effort in to their maximum ability.

The rewrites began small in the first few rehearsals, and continued at various levels up until the final week, even the final days of production. They began with the simple cutting and changing of lines. Ryan Hemphill would run scenes with the actors, and I would listen to how things sounded.

If I heard something I didn’t like, I’d ask the actors to try something different. If I heard something unnecessary, often times I would ask the actors to cut out lines, often entire sections and link the remaining text together. If the actors found something they had problems with, I asked them to always voice those problems to me so that we could find a way to address them. Often times if it was just a word or a line that was giving them trouble, I would simply tell them to replace it with something which felt more comfortable. As long as my ideas were still there, there was room to play with the actual presentation of those ideas.

As we got further into the process, the cuts and rewrites became more involved. I often found myself taking out large chunks of dialogue which simply seemed extraneous. I wanted to push the action along and get rid of those things which were somehow awkward, confusing, or even too neatly constructed. As Jean and I discussed several times, sometimes a little mystery is good in a play. You want to keep the audience wondering. At various points in my original script, I almost felt like the characters were saying too much. Part of the rewriting process was attempting to deal with these moments and editing them down to the most essential pieces of information.

Additionally, we reached a point in rehearsals where I knew certain scenes had to change drastically. I think that the way these scenes finally did change was largely dependant upon the people that I was changing them for. I tried to stress the idea that I was writing for characters and not for specific actors, but at the same time, the direction of the work was inevitably influenced by the way the play was working in the hands of this specific cast and director.

The first scene to be almost entirely changed was Act Two Scene Three, the second to last scene of the play. This was a scene in which the protagonist, Charlie, experienced a series of revelations through a conversation with his mother, Madeleine. Ryan Hemphill had been running the scene with the actors – Dan as Charlie and Evelyn as Madeleine – and just as I had felt about the scene at the beginning of the semester, it simply wasn’t working. Charlie’s change was boring and, as E. Brogger had noted in the past, the character in general did not seem to be volitional enough.

Much of the dialogue seemed stilted and/or melodramatic and the actors were having trouble connecting to the scene. It had to be changed.  Over the course of two nights I rewrote the scene, scrapping all but a few exchanges of dialogue, and creating the rest from scratch. What resulted was a much more intense, much more interesting and active scenario. Charlie’s actions and recognitions were better dramatized, and both actors found a great deal more to connect to, both emotionally and intellectually. The success of this change, essentially a primary experiment in rewriting, resulted in a heightened sense of personal confidence for me and helped lead to several other major rewrites in the play over the course of the following weeks.

Adam’s Thesis: Part Four

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "adam's thesis: part four"

A question which haunted me throughout the process was verbalized at one of the first rehearsals. Evelyn, the actor playing the role of Madeleine, came up to me one night during a break and asked me why I had written this play. I tried to explain it to her, more because I wanted to provide a satisfactory answer for myself than for her, but I found myself unable to do so. It was a question I had asked myself over and over again while writing the play. I thought it would offer me some helpful insights into where the story should go, or why I decided to make things happen the way that they do. But I had no real answer to the question. And it wouldn’t be until the very end of the process that I would possibly come to one.

In the meantime, in my search for answers to the growing number of questions intrinsic in this project, I came to the major, and longest, part of my work: the rewrites. Recently, the playwright Mac Wellman told me that when you rewrite in rehearsals, you usually do so out of fear. If this is the case, during our rehearsal process I must have been terrified. By the end of the rehearsal process, I had completely cut two scenes and replaced them with new ones, I had written an entirely new scene and found a place to insert it in the first act, and I had made countless line and word cuts, changes, switches, and alterations. I did not immediately know how to engage in this work. It was something I had to let develop over a period of time, and even now I feel that there are things I need to learn about doing it properly.

There seems to be quite a lot to think about when rewriting your own work. The simplest change, cut, or addition can help a moment immensely. Likewise, a cut in the wrong place or a poor word choice can destroy a moment just as easily. Even the smallest changes can be very important. You have to be careful. At the same time you have to learn to trust yourself, the actors, and the director with a scene, and know when to let something live as it is and expect the work in rehearsals to correct the moment. You have to know your own limitations and abilities as well as the limitations and abilities of the people around you. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and I can’t say it’s something I could master right off the bat.

The first rewrites I did come before we even had our first rehearsal. I had some notes on things I knew I wanted to change which had come from several sources: my English department meeting on the play back in December; my subsequent talks with Ryan Hemphill about the text and what I thought needed to happen with it to make it work on stage; some feedback from my Drama department advisor, Jean G.; hearing certain parts of the play read in auditions, where I was able to hear my words out loud for the first time, not counting the times I read them out loud to myself in my room while writing. Based on these few experiences, I was able to go through the script and make some preliminary changes where I knew without a doubt they needed to happen. Most of these changes involved fixing typos, moving a few words around, replacing a line here and there, and occasionally cutting out small sections which I didn’t like very much and which didn’t seem to serve their respective scenes all that well. I knew at this time that I didn’t like the final two scenes very much, and I wanted to change them rather drastically. I had an inclination to do so before we had our first read-through, though ultimately I did not have time to do this and had to settle for the play the way that it was, at least temporarily. In retrospect, it is very fortunate that I didn’t have the time to change the scenes at that moment, because the way that they developed in rehearsals later on proved very organic and exciting and I would not have had the perspective to shape them into the scenes that they became without that experience.

In truth, my earlier theory about the play was correct – I had essentially done all that I could with it on my own. I had written and shaped it over a period of several months, and there was really no way now to go back and fix it without moving on and getting it into rehearsals. The next part of my job depended on getting the other people in to do theirs.  With this thought in mind, we had our first read-through, and my first opportunity to hear the entire play spoken aloud. This was probably one of the most difficult evenings in the entire process. It can be very painful to sit and listen to your own writing, especially in such a raw and flawed form, and read by people who are mostly seeing it for the first time. I had to work very hard to concentrate and not want to leave the room halfway through. As best as I could, I took notes on the things which seemed to work and seemed to not work during our first time though the piece. I hesitated to make any major changes from these notes, as this was just a first reading, and things which may have seemed awkward or poorly written the first time through could actually begin to work better with successive readings.  But I had heard the play read out loud and could begin to assess what did and did not work in my script. In all honestly, after the first reading, I was very nervous.

For the most part, after this point, all the rewrites occurred either in rehearsals, or were influenced directly by my experiences in rehearsals.  The changes that were made in the play and the scenes that I wound up rewriting for it were affected tremendously by the specific people I was working with. The environment we established in rehearsals was a very open one. Everyone was invited and encouraged to offer their input on any given scene or moment. I was genuinely interested in what the actors had to bring to their own characters. If there was a question about how a scene ended or how a character behaved, I wanted to know what the actors thought about it, if they agreed, what ideas of their own they could contribute to the work. Additionally, if Ryan Hemphill had his own ideas or questions about the text, I tried as hard as I could to be open to any and all suggestions that he had. Similarly, he was very receptive to input I gave about direction. I believe we set up a very effective atmosphere of give and take, where each person felt comfortable contributing to the others job, as long as ultimately we respected that it was the others job. As a result, both the director and the actors had a lot of valuable input into my work, and I believe I have a stronger play because of it.

Adam’s Thesis: Part Three

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "adam's thesis: part three"

This brought us to the next step in the process: auditions. We needed a cast, and they needed to be a smart, flexible, capable cast. Of course you’re always looking for the best actors you can get when putting on a play; but in this case, we felt that it was absolutely essential to find people who could handle the kind of intense and experimental work that this project was going to require. We had to decide how to go about finding this cast. There were two options: we could simply try to select people from our group of friends, people who we had seen work and knew could get the job done, or we could hold auditions and select from a larger group of candidates. We went with the auditions for several reasons. One was that of the small number of people we could think of to ask, the majority of them were involved in at least one other project during the semester, and we didn’t know how many people would really have the additional time to dedicate to our piece. The other reason was that we thought there were probably many actors at Hofstra University in New York whose work we were not familiar with, and who could have made a very good addition to our cast. The pool of options would be a lot larger that way, and therefore auditions seemed like the proper way to cast the show.

We put up a list on the drama callboard announcing the auditions for a Saturday in early February.  About thirty people signed up on the list, and we ultimately ended up auditioning around forty people. This was an incredibly flattering, if overwhelming turnout, especially when most of the people who came out to audition did not really know what exactly it was that they were auditioning for. I tried to explain to everyone, to the best of my ability, what the play was about and what the project would entail for them if they were to be cast. I wanted to make this as clear as possible, so that if anyone there was not up to the challenge, they could leave before the auditions even began. Nobody left.

Casting was probably one of the hardest, and most important, things I had to do all semester. The cast that we selected was going to be crucial in dictating how the rest of the process went. I don’t know if I even realized how essential this part was at the time, though looking back on it now, it is quite obvious how much of an impact our particular cast had on the direction and outcome of the play. Additionally, in hindsight, I am very thankful that Ryan Hemphill and I selected the cast that we did. I can’t begin to imagine how drastically different the play may have turned out if even one of our casting decisions had been different. In fact, over a two-month period, the actors shaped and grew into their roles so fully, I cannot picture anyone else in them. As a playwright, when you write a scene you often have at least suggestive images in your head of the characters you are writing. Sometimes the pictures in your head are very clear.  By the end of this process, the pictures in my head were quite vivid images of the actors I had been working with.

One of the things I had to learn in this process was how to collaborate with a director (in this case, Ryan Hemphill), and one of the first things Ryan Hemphill and I had to collaborate on was picking this cast.  We had to sort through forty or so “applicants” and figure out who would be best for the job. There were a huge number of considerations while doing this. We had to consider our own previous experience in casting. This was my first time casting a show. Ryan Hemphill had cast a couple of things the previous semester, so although his experience with it was also fairly limited, I tried to follow his lead. We had to consider people’s schedules – who would be the most available to us? Who would have the kind of time that we wanted them to commit? We obviously had to consider talents, at least to the extent that we could gauge them in a brief reading. Some people quite clearly and quite immediately did not possess the skills I felt were required to handle these roles. Not because I felt that the roles were incredibly complex or well written, but perhaps just the opposite – I was not comfortable with a lot of the writing, and I needed people whom I knew could help make it better. Some people simply did not seem to possess this skill.

Also, Ryan Hemphill and I had to consider our friends. Unfortunately, in this environment, we had many friends wanting to work on this production. This made casting incredibly challenging, because often I’d find myself wanting to give someone a chance because they were a friend of mine, even if maybe they didn’t give the best audition. Additionally, it made me feel guilty when I had to dismiss a friend. But this project was becoming too important to me to allow it to be less than I knew it could be in order to provide a friend with a role.

Finally, we had to consider one another’s opinions. Although I said Ryan Hemphill and I share similar artistic visions, it was inevitable that we would get some differing ideas on who would fit in each role. We agreed on some and disagreed on others. The cast that we finally did agree on was a compromise based on people we both agreed could handle the parts. We ultimately ended up not casting a few people I would have liked to, but one of the things I realized was that we needed a cast that Ryan Hemphill felt completely comfortable directing, and this was the cast. And as I mentioned, looking back, I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles.

The Four Best Day Trips from New York City

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "the four best day trips from new york city"

Ah, New York City. The Big Apple. So many people dream of living the big city life, and why wouldn’t they? With more restaurants than you could visit in a lifetime, a store for everything you could possibly need or want, world-class entertainment, and a collection of some of the most prominent global businesses, New York City beckons those seeking a suave, urban lifestyle.

For those that live outside New York City, the city makes for a wonderful vacation. However, for those who already call the city their home, the bright city lights, cacophony of sounds, distinctive odors, and cluttered streets can become overwhelming. If you’re looking for a brief escape before summer draws to a close, consider making a day trip out of one of these four places, all located within a four hour drive of New York City.

Fire Island, NY

Fire Island is the perfect, tranquil escape from New York City that’s only about an hour and 45 minutes away. The barrier island off the coast of Long Island, which forms part of the Fire Island National Seashore, is only accessible by ferry, but luckily the ferry runs frequently in the summer months.

To make the most of your day, you’ll want to spend some time on one of the beautiful beaches- check out the family-friendly Robert Moses State Park, or Smith Point County Park. Looking to do some shopping as well? The town of Village of Ocean Beach is bordered by the bay and ocean, and offers a charming collection of shops and restaurants. If lounging on the beach all day isn’t your thing, be sure to stop by the Fire Island Lighthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sleepy Hollow and Nyack, NY

Pay a visit to Sleepy Hollow, just a 30-45 minute metro ride from the city, and you just may catch a glimpse of the Headless Horseman — just kidding about that, but you will experience a taste of history if you visit the Philipsburg Manor Upper Mills living-history museum. The museum consists of a farm and mill dating back to 1750, and you’ll be able to try your hand at traditional tasks such as grinding grain.

After all that work, you’ll probably have an appetite, so swing by the Bridge View Tavern for craft brews and pub grub. While you’re in Sleepy Hollow, it’s just a short trip across the Tappan Zee Bridge to Nyack, a charming riverfront town with a vibrant downtown featuring boutiques, restaurants, theaters, and galleries.

Wevertown, NY

Wevertown may be a little out of the way (about 4 hours), but the trip is worth it if you’re looking for an adventurous, action-packed day! It may be hard to believe, but there are some intense class III and class IV rapids located just hours from New York City. Beaver Brook Outfitters runs three different tours down two rivers for whitewater rafters of all skill levels. Tours run through October, so there’s plenty of time to check it out!

Cold Spring, NY

Just about an hour and 20 minutes from New York City is the town of Cold Spring on the Hudson River. While visiting this riverfront town you can have experience the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation.

If you have an enthusiasm for history and hiking, be sure to explore the ruinous old mansions along the Cornish Estate Trail. Those with a sense of adventure can tackle the climb to Breakneck Ridge which, though challenging, will reward the climber with spectacular 360 degree views of Storm King Mountain, Bannerman Castle, and even the distant Catskills on clear days.

Adam’s Thesis: Part Two

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "adam's thesis: part two"

The first draft was completed in December. I had spent just over three months putting together the one hundred plus pages. It was a fairly monstrous work, at least compared to anything else I had ever written before.

I felt accomplished, though concurrently confused about the final product and unsure of the ultimate extent of my success in achieving my goals for the project.  Whatever my feelings about it, the play had been written, and I needed to take some time to simply let it exist before I could figure out exactly where it needed to go from there. I was creatively and emotionally drained. I was uncertain about the next step of the process. And quite honestly, I was a little tired of the play. It was time to take a break away.  

I put it away and didn’t look at it for about a month. I didn’t consciously examine any changes to the text, nor did I think heavily about any major concepts to implement in the production. It was a complete departure from the work I had spent so much time on for the past semester.

I had mixed feelings about this so called break. Part of me was very relieved simply not having to think about this play for a while. The other part of me was very nervous. What if I could never get back into the same frame of mind again? What if I was losing valuable revision time? What if the things in me which allowed me to write the play, which fueled the themes and the dialogue and the characters, which sparked my inspiration and my questionable theatrical impulses, what if those things were dying a little bit more every day that I didn’t work on it, or at least think about it?

In spite of these anxieties, I didn’t look at it again until late January. When I did finally take it back out, I found myself with a renewed sense of interest in the project, and a rejuvenated sense of excitement in approaching what would prove to be an incredibly difficult, time consuming, and rewarding next step in my dramatic exploration.

Having reunited myself with the work, the first thing that had to be done was to meet with the director and discuss a plan of action. Fortunately, the director, Ryan Hemphill, is also a very close friend of mine, and I could not think of a better person to be able to work with on a collaborative project.  He and I, I believe, share a similar aesthetic and creative vision and common artistic and personal values, and this was an incredibly important factor in the ultimate success of the production.

In late January, Ryan Hemphill and I met to discuss what was to become of the play I had written. We established an understanding about our roles in the process, which would become more defined as we got into the rehearsals later on. There was essentially a system of mutual control. Although I had final say over textual matters, and he had final say over directing matters, we wanted a shared say over all the issues concerning the production. We’d run all ideas and questions past one another, and the final decision was a cooperative one.

One of the first things we discussed was the logistics of staging. The play takes place in several different locations, and a major problem to tackle was how to create the various settings on one stage and keep the play moving.  Ryan Hemphill illustrated some ideas he had about the layout of the stage. His plan dealt with this problem by designating different playing areas on the stage to represent the different settings. It was a very good design, and the final version deviated only minimally from it, if at all.

We also discussed the text itself. I had begun to think about changes that I wanted to make to the play, either to specific lines of dialogue, or to particular moments in a scene, or even in a few cases to elements of the plot. I knew that there were many things in the script which needed altering; the question was how to find all of those things and how exactly to change them. I realized that only a small amount of this could actually happen before we got the play into production. Much of what needed to and did change could not be fixed until I could see what was and was not working on the stage.

Perfecting the Process: Best Methods to Improve Your Writing Skills

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "perfecting the process: the best methods to improve your writing skills"

Imagine this: you have a deadline for an incredibly important writing project just around the corner, and yet you cannot seem to muster the motivation necessary to begin your work. Perhaps this is because you are suffering from a case of writer’s block. Or, on the other hand, you may be feeling the consequences of having inadequate writing skills.

Your writing skills, along with your personal writing process, are the foundation upon which all of your future work is built. They not only act as supplements to the knowledge that you already have already acquired, but they also allow you to display that knowledge — and your talents — in your final draft.

As somebody who has worked in nearly every niche of the arts — from performing to directing to even a bit of playwriting — I can relate to any number of writing-related woes.

Therefore, it is my desire to share with you the steps I took to improve — though not perfect — my personal writing skills.

Revisit the basics

Yes, you know the difference between your and you’re; there, their, and they’re; and its and it’s. However, that is not enough to compose a riveting and engaging piece that is going to draw attention from around the globe.

In order to become a successful writer in your own right, you must first grasp the basic elements of style. In order to achieve this, begin researching and investing in different style books, or even bookmarking pertinent resources such as the Merriam Webster website, Grammar Girl, and so on.

Write without stopping

Granted, if you are dealing with a particularly bad case of writer’s block, this may feel like an insurmountable feat. However, by sitting down and devoting a small chunk of time to your writing, you may break through that wall and find an entirely new source of motivation and morale.

So, even if it means you spent 15 to 25 minutes writing incoherent nonsense that you will inevitably discard, write like it is your job.

Dissect another author’s work

We all have an author, playwright, journalist, or other writer we admire greatly. Set aside some time to read their work thoroughly, taking note of the tone they use the most frequently, and the way their language flows.

By conducting this in-depth research, you will be able to determine which of their traits you were drawn to and what kept you reading. Once you figure that out, it would be greatly beneficial for you to determine how you could incorporate such skills and tactics into your own writing.

Consciously improve your vernacular

It is simple to revert to using bland words like very, really, actually, good, and bad — after all, these are the words we likely use the most on a day-to-day basis. However, your writing is not supposed to sound like you, per se; it is supposed to convey a story that you are vying to share with the world.

Ensure it does precisely that by spicing up your vocabulary and consciously committing to using new words more frequently. You may find yourself feeling more and more satisfied with your work with every new copy.

If you are interested in learning more about the steps you can take to further improve your writing skills, please keep an eye out for the second part of this series!

Adam’s Thesis: Part One

blog header for ryan hemphill's post, "adam's thesis: part one"

An Introduction to the Process

This semester brought with it a vast series of questions, all a part of a greater exploration into the world of artistic and theatrical production, interaction, and understanding. What began as a rather elemental inquiry into these topics developed into a wonderfully layered and educational aesthetic and humanistic experience. The inciting question was, on the surface, wholly simplistic; and yet it would ultimately prove to be immensely complicated, uniquely gratifying, and perhaps unanswerable, at least in an entirely conclusive way. My question was this: How does one go about staging a play? Or, more precisely, a play which one has only just recently finished writing; one which is still young and untested on stage; one which is still not entirely clear even to you, the playwright; one which has not been proved as a valid, worthwhile piece of art just yet. How exactly is this done?

Among the questions which were spawned from this initial query were a number which concerned the play itself. First of all, when is a play complete? Is it a completed work of art simply by having been written? Does it have a life of its own or must it be realized on a stage before life has truly been breathed into it? How will this play in particular translate on a stage? Will it work? Additionally, there were questions about the process. How do you collaborate with a director like Ryan Hemphill? How do you choose your cast? How do you know if you’ve chosen correctly? What exactly is your role in the rehearsal process? In the production process? In the decision making process? Whose suggestions do you listen to and whose don’t you? Do you change the play? If so, how much change do you make? How do you know if you’ve changed too much? And so on down the line of a practically never-ending string of questions and sub-questions, all of which I tried, to the best of my ability, to answer during the course of several months. Because of, and perhaps in spite of, my pursuit of the answers to those questions, at the end of those several months I saw my work brought to life on stage.

I had called the play Artless Charlie. This was in an attempt to both depict a sort of innocence and simplicity in the plight of the play’s protagonist, and also to illustrate one of the major themes which developed in the play – the notion of one man’s loss of, and subsequent search for, meaning in his life, in the form of creative expression. The story centers around a young man and his struggles to cope with the inexplicable loss of his musical abilities. It explores his ability, or perhaps inability, to relate to the people in his life – his mother, his best friend, his girlfriend, who has begun to turn to another man, and even his deceased father. Throughout the play, we see the young man, Charlie, try to maintain order and communication in his life after his main outlet for those things, his own piano playing, has disappeared. Charlie’s descent into an alternate world of dream and self-loathing culminates in an understanding, possibly too late, that in mourning the loss of an important element in his life, he has allowed himself to neglect everything else important.

As my exploration progressed this semester, I found the themes in the play beginning to reflect themselves more and more in my own life and art. Charlie’s search for art and beauty, his distress at not being able to communicate himself effectively, his strains to keep a clear line between reality and fantasy, all seemed to become my own. Or, perhaps, vice versa. I believe there is an inherently reflexive quality in the process of staging your own work, and with a piece which focuses so heavily upon artistic expression, that reflexivity is all the more present.

The reflection of the play’s themes in my own life is apparent even now, as I try to formulate and organize my thoughts on the process I’ve gone through. In Act One Scene Five (or Act One Scene Six as it now exists), the character of Charlie talks about the sort of creative block he has been experiencing. He says that he’ll stare at the keys of his piano, vividly hearing a song in his head that he simply cannot translate out loud, no matter how hard he tries. “I can’t play it,” he says, “so I just sit there and hear it, you know? And the next thing I know, hours have passed, a whole night’s gone by, with me just sitting there, staring.” Charlie’s condition is very much a reflection of what I often encountered while trying to write this play. Additionally, I find myself now in a struggle to articulate my experiences and observations over the past several months, so that I can make it clear what steps led up to the final presentation of the work. I can see and hear the ideas clearly in my head, but so far I don’t seem to have the tools to translate them onto the page.

At another point in Artless Charlie, Grace tells Charlie that maybe he just needs a break away from his work for a while. Sometimes the thoughts get so crowded and jumbled up in your head, you’re no longer able to view them with any kind of clarity or insight. I realized this was true after I finished the first draft, and decided to take a nice hiatus from the piece, a period of incubation. In my efforts to sort out and make sense of this process, perhaps it would be best to start right there.