First Firsts: Inktern Max reflects on his first InkReading

Hi everyone! I’m Max Schwager, The Inkwell’s intern, and I am a junior at The George Washington University studying Theatre and Journalism. I have been interning with The Inkwell this semester.

Max3As a student, I perform and am involved with almost exclusively established, popular theatrical works, so getting to experience the development of a brand new work was an exciting change of pace for me. One of the greatest luxuries I found during last month’s Inkreading process for The Body was that the playwright, Steve Moulds, was in the room, so discussions and questions that the actors (the phenomenal Megan Graves and Danny Gavigan) or director Lee Liebeskind had could be directly addressed, explored, and changed if necessary.

Seeing playwright Steve Moulds’ newest play, The Body, go from a relatively finished to the final draft that was performed Saturday night was awesome. Each day, Steve brought in new pages and updated scenes. The ending even completely changed in the process.

The Body is in a genre I have never before seen on stage. If I had to classify it, I would call it a “mysterious thriller,” but this play is truly unique – and in my opinion shouldn’t have to fit a specific genre.

Danny Gavigan and Megan Graves in the Inkreading of The Body

Danny Gavigan and Megan Graves in the Inkreading of The Body

The Body is the story of Abby, a young girl, who is left alone with her stepdad Joe for the first time while her mother is away. When a mysterious crate shows up at their doorstep, they spend their time together trying to unravel the secrets of its contents. They try to make sense of a life-size doll that comes with a cryptic instruction manual, but as they delve deeper into the secrets, the stranger the situation becomes.

The play has had a long history with The Inkwell, submitted in our 2010 open call for submissions process. It was last presented in our March 2011 First Contact Showcase presenting 20 minutes of the 90-minute play. Although it’s been a part of The Inkwell’s process since the 2010 Call for Submissions, this was my first introduction to the play.

The final reading almost seemed like a different play from the draft I heard on Wednesday night (my first night in rehearsal), so I can only imagine the growth the play has had since its first draft in 2010. The play now fosters the personal relationship between the two main characters, Abby and her father, much more than it did with the original ending. The former ending presented almost a “safe” option, but the new ending leaves many new possibilities open. (I won’t say more as not to spoil it. The Body‘s dramaturg Jenn Book Haselswerdt wrote a blog post on the subject here).

Director Lee Liebeskind works with actors Danny and Megan while playwright Steve Moulds listens intently.

Director Lee Liebeskind works with actors Danny and Megan while playwright Steve Moulds listens intently.

Much of the development in the weeklong process came from discussions with the cast, Lee, Jenn, and the playwright. In his post-show talkback, Steve remarked how these discussions made rewriting scenes or adding moments easy because the motivations seem clearer than they do in other workshop styles of just re-reading scenes over and over again, because the actors were able to talk through their choices and find holes in their characters and story arcs, which Steve could go back and flesh out.

Lee helped the cast find a way to present the reading in a way that made use of the crate, doll, and manual, the three major prop/plot pieces that are needed for production. He realized this through unique staging, as well as using designs that design consultant Patti Kalil imagined and drafted for the team.

Patti created a draft of what the doll could look like. It was a faceless, large doll reminiscent of Raggedy Anne. She also drafted model pages from the manual (both pages described in the script and things she came up with).

It was exciting because she showed one possible rendering of what the manual within the show COULD exist as, but there is nothing to say future designers couldn’t explore the design of the individual pages more. We had long discussions about how Patti’s designs were just one possible interpretation of what is described in Steve’s script and that theatres could have fun exploring different and creative options. The designs allowed everyone, including Steve, to have a much clearer understanding of what these key objects in the plot looked like and how the actors would interact with them.

I loved this play because it is creepy and unlike anything I have ever seen on stage before. I had no idea how it would end, and even after it did, I’m not sure I knew exactly what happened. It took some time to digest and is still mysterious and doesn’t have a “clean” ending where all the questions are answered. The ending made the whole play creepier because it didn’t have the clean resolution we are used to seeing onstage. I am excited to see what’s next in the life of this inky play.

Observing this process made me realize how important the collaborative process is to theatre even before a play comes close to a production. It made me value every step in the process of play creation and made me think about how the established works I am used to working on developed over the years.

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