Hi! My name is Max Schwager and I am The Inkwell's intern! Or, as advising dramaturg Jenn Book Haselswerdt punned, I'm the company's Inktern. (Inkwell people love their puns... I'm still getting used to them.)
On Saturday, February 9, I had the opportunity to attend my first ever FIRST CONTACT Showcase at The Inkwell (hopefully the first of many). I am a junior at The George Washington University, studying Theatre and Journalism, and just started interning with The Inkwell this semester. I have never seen a staged reading before, and am completely new to the "new play" environment, having only worked on established works in school. The showcase was my first time getting a glimpse behind the scenes a professional theatre environment, something I have never had the opportunity to see before. Not only was it exciting to see three brand new works being worked on (and they are awesome by the way), but it was really exciting to see how professional actors work in a reading setting. So much of The Inkwell's process is about "pulling back the curtain" on new plays, and the day I spent observing definitely pulled this curtain back more than ever before for me.
The day started at 2 pm, when I walked into a classroom turned rehearsal space at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in downtown DC, and found a group of actors waiting for their director, Ryan Maxwell, to arrive. It was interesting for me because I had never met anyone involved in this first reading, so I didn't know what to expect when I got there. As soon as he arrived, the cast set up music stands and got right to work on the first piece of the day: Monnie King's The Apple Falls.
All three of the works had been previously rehearsed earlier in the week at table reads, so this rehearsal was focused mostly on blocking. Blocking? For a staged reading? Doesn't make sense, right? But the directors actually used a surprisingly large amount of movement to help clarify the relationships and story lines in the plays.
The next three hours were a rotating door of directors and plays, all rehearsed in 80 minute blocks. The cast stayed for all three rehearsals, which gave a sense of continuity to the day (for me at least). The rehearsals for the other two plays, Jen Silverman's Phoebe in Winter (directed by Amber Jackson) and Erin Bregman's A Bid to Save the World (directed by Jess Jung), were rehearsed in a very similar manner to the first.
After a two-hour dinner break, the cast and directors reconvened to the same classroom, now transformed into a performance space with an audience, to perform the readings for an audience that included The Inkwell leadership team, dramaturgs, friends, and guests.
It was interesting to see how a staged reading can really transform with only a short rehearsal period for only excerpts of the plays. The readings carried the magic of these plays and really gave an idea of what a full production could feel like. Each excerpt was carefully thought out to give a real arc for the characters and stories. The directors also made sure to take advantage of the space, and have actors move between different music stands (and one even incorporated a division in the room in his blocking). The actors also did a great job differentiating characters, as the plays were performed back to back with the same actors.
The experience as a whole was a standout in my theatrical experience, and I loved my first real "inky" experience - and can't wait to see more and also see what becomes of these three great plays!