Reflection on the NJ Young Playwrights Festival from Julie Ann Earls (July 2nd, 2008)

I asked each of the High School playwrights to send me their thoughts and reflections on the NJ Young Playwrights Contest and Festival process. The first response is below:

“So, I guess that means I’m going to need to get a violin case for Michelle…” said the stage manager as I walked into the rehearsal space one weekend morning. A violin case? I had pretty much forgotten that the character I had written, Michelle, even played the violin and these adults, who had volunteered to work on my play, saw significance in this prop. This was only the beginning of my wonderful experience with the NJ Young Playwrights Contest.

The first day was the rough reading of all the plays and, to be honest, I was so intimidated. The first play was read and there was such symbolism with the artist and his colors. Then, there was “Treading Water”, a delightfully clever play about an affair and a boy who had drowned. There was such profundity in her writing in the most subtle ways that I started to look at my play and say, “now, how did you win?” Next, my friend and fellow winner’s play “Sorry Allie” was read. Oh man, what a tearjerker that was. Finally, it was my play’s turn to be read and I was a little nervous. Mine sucks compared to everyone else, I thought, my true worst critic coming out as all artists find at some time. But, as the reading went on, I started to smile. The actors found so many different things with my writing that I didn’t know it had. I didn’t know my play was so funny! Their dedication to my work and their intellect with the piece brought my confidence back in a heartbeat.

But, that’s what this experience was all about: real actors taking my real work very seriously. This was invaluable to a young artist like myself. It made me feel like I wasn’t just some kid who wrote some play about moody teenagers and their moody rings — it made me feel like I was a real dramatic force that had something to say and they were there to cultivate that. Adults. Real actors. My own play’s stage manager. It was unreal. I clearly remember the director asking me to change the wording of something in my play and the actor saying, without hesitation, “How do you want to change ‘father’? Do you want to make it ‘dad’? ‘Pop’?” I was a little surprised at first when I quickly remembered, “oh, that’s right, I’m the writer.” I was so touched that he took my opinion seriously! I paused, then grinned and said “Old man”.

It wasn’t just about me either — there was a great collaboration between me and the director. In my original ending of the play, I had a spotlight on each character go out as they said their last line. (As a side note, looking at my play again during this process, I became really proud of this visual aspect of my play. I realized that I had a good eye for the stage and that I liked to incorporate images.) But, Dania, the director wanted to try something a little different for the ending. I remember her describing it, how she wanted the characters to look at each other, realize that what they learned about themselves is a lot more than an essay their teacher assigned, and just drop the papers and walk away. The actors started to giggle at me because they saw how I was absolutely beaming when I heard this ingenious direction. I loved it so much that I put it as an alternate ending for my play. She was always willing to listen to my suggestions and I was very supportive of her vision. Dania found such a deep layer to my play and I’m so glad that she did.

My play wasn’t the only one that grew from this experience — I did. Though I see myself mainly as an actor and singer, I realized that writing opens a new and very different door of expression. As an actor, you are somewhat limited to express yourself through an already formed character. On the other hand, if a person wants to discuss an issue, bring life to a character they’ve had in the back of their mind for ages, or even make a statement, all they have to do is write it. And, I like knowing I have that door available to me. Being in the performing arts field, you want as many doors as possible. The most uplifting thing was feeling like my play could really go far. Seeing my play up on stage for my peers and other people to see made me feel like it could be seen at other venues, other places, for other audiences, Broadway, who knows.

Jim DeVivo had told me that he was thinking of getting blogs/reflections from the winners. Being the organized dork I am, I made sure to take notes because there were so many wonderful thoughts and emotions that I was feeling that I didn’t want to leave out. Looking at my notes now, the one phrase at the bottom of the page, written big and in caps that perfectly sums up this experience is: I LOVE BEING AN ARTIST.

– Julie A. Earls, author of The Moodring Monologues