[ theater ]
New-play development, says Philadelphia playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger, "is one of those crazy things, with a million permutations." The trick, she explains, is finding what works. "For me, having everyone in the room not focused on anything else but my play is terrific."
PlayPenn, actor-director Paul Meshejian's annual new-play conference, suits Goldfinger perfectly. Her play Slip/Shot is one of six receiving a professional director, dramaturg and cast; rehearsals of the works-in-progress begin July 8, and the whole process culminates in free public script-in-hand performances a couple of weeks later.
The Tallahassee, Fla., native, who settled here with her husband three years ago, says the writing of Slip/Shot started in an InterAct Theatre Co. playwriting forum organized by local director Rebecca Wright. The play — about an accidental shooting and how it affects the families of both victim and perpetrator — soon took on a life of its own: It was showcased in New York's National Newborn Festival, then received a reading last summer at actor Benjamin Lloyd's White Pines Productions at Elkins Estate. That's where Ed Sobel, the Arden Theatre Co. associate artistic director who'll take over the directing reins for its PlayPenn reading, came aboard. On June 2, Slip/Shot was read in New York City as a finalist in Reverie Productions' eighth annual Next Generation Playwriting Contest. Most importantly, Slip/Shot 's première is already scheduled: Philadelphia's Flashpoint Theatre Co. will produce it in April/May 2012, and Wright will direct.
"It's wonderful to develop this play in my community, in my home, and then to première it here, too," says Goldfinger, who's become a fixture in Philadelphia theater through work with a variety of companies as well as teaching playwriting at the University of the Arts. "A lot of playwrights, directors, designers and actors live out of a suitcase," she says. "One of the reasons I love living here is that I can go from first draft to opening right here."
She's done it before, with Azuka Theatre's acclaimed production of the terrible girls in March. "We worked with the same actors in the development process, so they all came in on the same page, knowing what we've tried, what worked and what didn't, and all heading toward the same focus," Goldfinger says. "You need a place where you feel safe to experiment, to throw things up against the wall and be really bad sometimes."
PlayPenn affords that opportunity with a relatively lengthy 29 hours of rehearsal and rewriting over two weeks (some full productions don't rehearse that long) and actors whom Goldfinger understandably gush about: terrible girls star Amanda Schoonover plus James Ijames, Evan Jonigkeit, Aubie Merrylees, Jasmine St. Clair, Cathy Simpson and Bill Zielinski. Allowed one designer in a discipline of her choice — whatever's most important to the play's development — Goldfinger picked sound designer Rob Kaplowitz.
PlayPenn's development process starts with setting goals. "You have to know what the strengths and weaknesses are, going into rehearsals," Goldfinger explains. "It's hard to make myself set goals, though, because I can get wishy-washy."
Case in point: "One of my challenges as a thirtysomething woman is writing characters both significantly younger than me and older than me," she says. "I get the younger, I think, but I'm not sure about the older, like a 60-year-old woman. I'm not sure I have her voice yet, or her emotional arc."
In PlayPenn's seven seasons, Meshejian reports, they've helped develop 42 plays, 26 of which have received 77 productions across the country and the world. PlayPenn 2011 also features American Wee-Pie by Lisa Dillman, Nerine by Brian Quirk, A Man, a Wife and His Hat by Lauren Yee, Another Girl by John Yearley, and Stefanie Zadravec's The Electric Baby, employing a total of 43 actors as well as directors, dramaturgs and designers for each play.
Goldfinger's work continues here at home with Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins, an adaptation commissioned by Gas & Electric Arts, in December, and her adaptation of Little Women at the University of the Arts next May, as well as development of another new work, Skin & Bone, with Azuka. "Local playwrights get produced less than local actors and directors work," Goldfinger admits, "but playwrights compete with all the plays ever written, by people living and dead. Theaters can't always import famous directors or actors, but they can always choose a famous play" instead of a new one. PlayPenn and Jacqueline Goldfinger hope to change that.
PlayPenn, July 18-24, free (reservations recommended), Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St., 215-253-8838, playpenn.org.