Transferring The Script To The Stage: A Reflection on The Process of Mounting a New Play
Sitting in the darkness…with popcorn on my knees…and my innermost fears tearing at my soul. This was me back in January as I sat in a plush movie theater seat watching La La Land. What caused this reaction you ask? Two words. Emma Stone. Not necessarily the actress, mind you, but rather her character, Mia. If you haven’t seen the film yet, brace yourself for the following spoiler: Mia, hoping to boost her career, decides to write and produce her own play. In that moment, I saw myself and what I was I about to undertake. And I was terrified.
While my previous blog discussed the writing process behind the script for my new play Lost and Found, this blog will instead focus of the process of transforming said script into an official staged performance.
So back to my panic attack if you will…right. January. It hadn’t yet been a month since my advisor Dr. Miller-Day and I had hosted a performance reading of my comedy Lost and Found, but I already knew that I was going to produce it onstage for school credit. Hopefully by the fall semester. Well, it’s fall, and I’m pleased to announce that Lost and Found will be premiering at the Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills on November 9th-12th (**cough, cough** Buy your tickets here: https://chancetheater.com/production/lost-and-found/?referrer=4). However, while this process has been an amazing adventure, it was not without its challenges. Especially after I decided to become the stage manager for the production as well.
At the beginning of this undertaking in the spring, Dr. Buckner of the Chapman Theatre Department gave me two valuable pieces of advice. First: “When producing a play, expect everything to go wrong.” Having this mindset enabled me to see any obstacle as a part of the journey. Lose a rehearsal because of the Canyon Fire 2? It happens. Work around it. An actor has a family emergency and can’t make rehearsal? Make sure they’re okay. Then roll with it. Focus on the tree in front of you, not the whole forest. Second: “Hire a director.” Although I was tempted to direct this play myself (call it control issues), I am forever grateful that I hired a director. Not only did the director, Deb Marley, offer mentorship and sanity in a whirlwind of chaos, she added quality to the show that my untrained eye would never have seen. Oh, and on top of all that she’s training me to be a stage manager. Votes are in. She’s phenomenal. Thus, these two pieces of advice have been the building blocks for this production.
Reflecting on the past several months, I automatically think back to that moment in the movie theater as I sat watching multiple movie cuts spliced together to convey Mia’s journey in producing her own play. Brace yourself for this second spoiler: They left a lot out. But I’m here to fill in the gaps. Here’s an edited version of my own personal La La Land endeavor that began in January.
Scene 1: Mia surveys the perfect theater and shakes hands with the assumed proprietor of the theater.
Reality: Before you can produce a play, you need a venue to produce it in. And in Orange County, you need to book it at least a year in advance, if not more. Oftentimes you’ll have to compete with the already established show line-ups of local theaters. Keep your budget in mind throughout the whole process, especially if you’re a college student. I learned that you need to knock on twenty doors before you can even expect one yes, and even then, maybe the dates coincide with finals’ week when you need to focus your energy on study sessions during that time. So, you keep searching. You keep asking. Then one day you receive a call back from a wonderful lady named Bebe Herrera at the Chance Theater, and suddenly you’re booked for four performances there.
Scene 2: Mia is at her computer writing an email to someone, telling them about her play.
Reality: Unless your play is being produced by a theater and, hence, has its own marketing team, you’re on your own. Send out fifteen emails to critics begging them to come and pray that you’ll receive a yes from one of them. Check your email twenty times a day wishing to hear back from that casting director you emailed. Post on multiple social media sites in the hopes that some of your college friends might spend their own discretionary income to come see this play. Send out countless emails to family and family friends just in case. At some point, you’ll find yourself drowning in emails and nostalgic for the days when you were forced to talk face to face with people. Then one day a professor selflessly offers to arrange sponsorship and transport for 20 COM/SCC majors to come see the play. And you didn’t even ask her. And she gives you a blueberry muffin because it’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon and you didn’t have breakfast or lunch and you’re praying not only for a miracle because you’re afraid no one will show up but also for food and suddenly your day is brighter. Sometimes, as I’m slowly learning, it’s okay to ask for and receive help.
Scene 3: We see three boxes (presumably full of props) and a wall poster on Mia’s bedroom floor.
Reality: I won’t bore you with stage manager details. I’ll be brief. When you’re not reading someone’s line to them, you have to get all the props. And they have to be cheap. But they also have to look nice onstage. And they can’t be glass or easily breakable. Get the props. Then be prepared to bring all the props to every rehearsal and try to keep track of them all at the same time. And when you’re not trying to keep the props together, do your best to keep the actors’ schedules together. I’ve learned that schedule communication is incredibly important, and that it’s a skill that needs to be fostered more.
Scene 4: Mia takes a bow before a sparse audience…
Reality: A sparse audience?! Is that panic attack coming back…sorry false alarm. It was only a movie. Let’s go back to reality…Many rehearsals later, the cast and the production team are working hard to ready the show for its first performance. Want to see how it turns out? Come see for yourself!