Behind The Scenes: La Jolla Playhouse’s DNA New Works Series
Check Out ‘The Tall Girls’
Thursday, January 31, 2013
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at the second play in the DNA New Works Series, "the Tall Girls."
Developing new plays is in the DNA of the La Jolla Playhouse. Its Page to Stage program has been enticing audiences with new works for more than a decade. But when Christopher Ashley took over as artistic director in 2007, he wanted more.
"So the DNA series is seeing plays in an early stage of development. Often it’s the first time that the words have ever been said. It’s the first time an audience has ever taken a peek."
So a play doesn’t have to be finished it just has to be promising. And there’s a lot to choose from. Literary director Gabriel Greene says about 500 plays are submitted to the Playhouse each year.
"What we are looking for when we are choosing plays for the DNA New Works Series are plays that are far enough along in their process that they are ready to be seen by a ticket buying audience and yet still early enough in their developmental stage that they will find this opportunity useful."
Playwright Meg Miroshnik is finding it very useful. Her play was inspired by a photograph she found of her grandfather from 1934.
"He’s 26-years-old and coaching a high school girls’ basketball team in rural Minnesota. It’s a really striking image, he’s standing in a suit surrounded by teenage girls in these starched white uniforms."
For Miroshnik, it’s a sad story about how women’s basketball disappears for a few decades: "I’m curious to see if audience members invest emotionally in the journey."
And that curiosity will be satisfied through the DNA program says Greene.
"Really there are certain things you can only learn when an audience is present in the room. And the audience does play a role in that. We will be holding post-show talkbacks every night to ask for what in the play worked for them, what did they find confusing or less engaging"
Add Miroshnik, "One of the really unique things is that there is a rehearsal period in between the first public presentation and the last round of public presentations."
That’s where Miroshnik’s play is right now, between performances. She made major revisions during the initial rehearsal, and is now tweaking the play again after initial audience feedback.
"We’ve been trying to sort of chip away at the excess and try to tell a more essential story," says the playwright.
Which is what Ashley wants, "We encourage authors to make the big change, make the big discovery, and not to be afraid to use every minute of it to perfect their play."
Losing that fear was key for Miroshnik. Knowing that the performances were of a work in progress rather than a finished piece allowed her to look at the process as an “intelligence gathering mission.” And sometimes what she discovered was very rewarding..
"One of the most exciting things that has come out of it is that almost every night there has been a fairly lively debate over whether one of the characters is good or bad. And the audience seems to fall at about half and half advocating for him or condemning him, which is really exciting to me because that’s sort of the intention."
The play is produced with minimal props, sets, and lighting. But Greene did have to hire a basketball coach and that was a first for the Playhouse but it proved useful to the cast: "It helped the male actor in the play because he is their coach and I think it helped him understand what it is to be a coach and how to nurture and still be hard enough to get results."
That’s the position the Playhouse finds itself in as well: they want to be nurturing but they also want to see the work move forward and evolve. For Greene, it’s all about the future.
"Like anything else art is an evolutionary process. If we don’t evolve, we risk becoming endangered or extinct."
Ashley agrees: "I feel like for the future this is exactly what we needed to have a kind of explosion of new work, and to be able to go, that belongs in our subscription season, that’s a writer we want to commission."
Miroshnik calls the DNA program a gift to playwrights: " I don’t feel any limitations on my imagination for the play which is really, really exciting."
It’s exciting for audiences as well who want to peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse of the creative process in action.
"The Tall Girls" runs through this Sunday at the La Jolla Playhouse’s Play Development Center . Performances of Aditi Brennan Kapil's "Brahman/I" begin February 21. You can see a behind the scenes video this Friday on Evening Edition.