Second Thought Theatre spotlights new play development with innovative STEP program
By Cristee Cook
Dallas’ Second Thought Theatre is answering the predicament of producing live theatre during a pandemic with a unique, 3-part theatrical event. Designed for an online audience through the use of zoom technology, Second Thought Theatre will take audiences through the process of creating a new play in their Second Thought Emerging Playwrights (STEP) program.
The STEP program launched in December with the first part of the 3-part series: Step 1: The First Read, which was a staged reading of the new play in front of an online audience. The new play was commissioned specifically for the STEP project by emerging playwright, E.E. Adams (also referred to in this interview as Erin).
Carson McCain, Second Thought Theatre’s new Artistic Director, talked with me about what inspired the idea for STEP, what creating a play specifically for Zoom has taught her so far, and what audiences can expect for the second part of the program, Step 2: The Deep Dive, which will be an open rehearsal that audiences can attend online on Thursday, February 28th.
Can you give me some background on what inspired this project?
We had started trying to run aground every option we could think of to produce Endgame [by Samuel Beckett] because that was supposed to be the last show of the 2020 season. And as we were going through that process we started talking about, well, if we can't make something in person, what can we make? And we decided to make something for Zoom. I personally am far less interested in watching a play adapted for Zoom simply because theater is theater, and somebody developed that for the stage, not for Zoom. I've worked on developing new pieces before. So, I feel intensely protective of playwrights and their original vision. If we're going to do something wild with it — I felt weird about it. So, we decided commission was the best place to go.
How did you choose which playwright to commission?
I was reading around, and I have several alerts set up on the National New Play Exchange for topics or playwrights I'm interested in. Similarly, when I'm searching for new plays or playwrights, I look at awards and theaters I admire. An award came up: New Light, New Voices. And I was seeing articles about it, and E.E. Adams had won this award for her play Ink’dWell. So, I pulled up Ink’dWell and I was just so moved by it. And then I found out that she had written a couple of short Zoom plays. And that brought me to a Zoom coffee date with her saying, would you even be interested in writing a full zoom play? That brought us here. Also, we wanted to do several events in the development of the piece to show audience members what it takes to make new theater.
You launched this project in December with an online reading in front of an audience. How did it go and how did the audience respond?
Everyone felt like: this is a great work in progress. And the feedback we got was sort of all over the map. Some people said, “Oh, I felt exhausted watching something else on Zoom,” or “I felt exhilarated seeing what it actually feels like to be going from one Zoom meeting to the next, to the next. I saw that represented and that excited me.” And more than that, we got just great feedback about seeing what it looks like behind the scenes.
What will the next event be like? What can audiences expect?
So, for Step 2, we're going to invite audience members to watch the rehearsal on Zoom. For our first reading, we did a webinar. But this time, I think we're actually going to have everyone where they can see each other in the rehearsal, simply because I want them to be able to see how our director does what she does. She is a really wonderful director, beyond just executing the play. She has a really great way of connecting to the actors and bringing everyone to be present in the room. Audience members will get to see a little bit of working with the text, but they'll also get to see a little bit of just Tiana playing with the actors.
I understand that new plays often undergo many changes. At this point in the process, are you able to share the title of the play and what it’s about?
The working title we have right now is Libra Season. And I think it’s safe to say at this point that the play is really asking questions about what we're willing to give of ourselves for security. What am I willing to give up to feel safe? And the thing that Erin sort of came up against was, she said, “I don't want to write a pandemic play, but I want to write a play that is reflective of the isolation that we're all experiencing.” And the experience that we often have on platforms like Zoom, of things moving really quickly, and we can't catch up, and feeling like at the end of the day, maybe we gave away too much of ourselves.
I admire Erin so much as a playwright because she's really willing to get at the heart of the matter, even when it scares her as a playwright, and not everyone can do that. And that's the kind of playwright that inspires me because they're going to drill down to the important meat of this play, and not hold on to anything that doesn't serve that.
Finally, what would you say has been the most surprising thing about the process so far?
Oh, that's a great question. Some of the Zoom magic we’ve been playing with is really fun. At the first read through, there is a moment that one of the characters is playing a video game and he would get up and tilt the screen, and move the screen around. And when that happened, it just felt so good. Like — yes! In a way that I hadn't felt in so long, because we've all been watching things on flat screens. So, when we finished the first read through, we all really wanted to play more with that. The playwright said she wanted to write in more and get a little more specific about how the whole set might be used so it's not just flat. And our director wanted to be play with the frame and play with the whole room, not just the flat screen or the curated box. It was surprising how exhilarating those moments were. And I look forward to how we’re going to keep playing with that in the future.
Second Thought Theatre presents STEP 2: The Deep Dive on Thursday, January 28, 2021 at
7 pm via Zoom.
For tickets, visit secondthoughtheatre.com.