I love that Fresh Ink understands that having time to workshop a play is an important part of producing a new play. For many small theaters, the logistics of putting up a new play can be so overwhelming that this step ends up getting skipped. It’s not a “requirement” when it comes to producing a play, but it sure does help the writer get a chance to address script challenges before entering the pressure cooker of production rehearsal.
Omar and Luis work on a torture scene
For Fire on Earth, it made sense for us to take the first night of our three-night workshop to just sit and read through the whole play. The language and history of the play, including all the Bible stuff, isn’t familiar to everyone, so this helped the actors all have a chance to really get a taste of the piece before we leapt up on our feet. Just as important, I’d had a chance to do a bunch of rewriting following the Fresh Ink reading in June and this was my first chance to hear those revised scenes aloud. I was relieved to hear that the changes worked quite well in addressing many of the problems we’d run across in the reading.
On day two, we were up on our feet. Parts of this play are very physical -- there’s a shipwreck, torture, burnings at the stake, and books and paper everywhere, serving a dozen different purposes. We didn’t try to work through all of these elements in one night, but we did have big stacks of books and paper to play with and actors who were totally game to try anything. We had them rolling around the floor in clouds of paper. There were lots of laughs (which you might not expect from a play about the history of the English Bible) and a lot of positive energy and ideas filling the room.
Bob does a little improv with a few Psalms
That’s one of the other big uses of a workshop like this -- not only are you testing out and poking at the script, but you also get a chance to see how the creative team works together. Are people willing to suggest and run with new ideas? Is there a receptiveness and generosity in all directions? Let’s just say that our group passed the workshop test with flying colors. We are going to have a blast in rehearsal, not just from joking around and having fun, but also because everyone seems to intensely interested in what this play is trying to do. As a writer, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.
Day three featured more time on our feet, and some rewrites I made that morning. We tackled parts of the script that still felt a bit rockier and a scene that I thought was pretty clear turned out to be a lot muddier than I expected. We tried improvising in another scene with the actor reading out passages from random scraps of highlighted psalms -- it was tricky work, but it pointed me in a good direction. Some days in workshop you get big “Ah ha” moments, but other times you come away mostly with a clearer understanding that this still needs work. Some of that work is going to get done by me between now and rehearsal, and some of it will have to be pounded out during the rehearsal process (I always find this is true for endings of plays). But it sure helps to know where those moments are going to be so we can be ready.
Rebecca and Pat discuss character motivation with Bob and Chris
In a workshop like ours, the time speeds past. We had a three-night set of appetizers for this play, and I left feeling hungry to get into rehearsal with Rebecca and the cast, with Jessie as dramaturg, the designers, and all the Fresh Ink staff. And that’s a good way to leave things. When we get into full rehearsal in December, we’ll be ready to devour this play.
Patrick Gabridge, Playwright