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Williamstown Theatre Festival

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Page to Stage | How a world premiere production, like WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THUNDER?, is born

by Dramaturg Clare Drobot.

As Noah Haidle’s play What is the Cause of Thunder has its world premiere on the Williamstown Nikos Stage tonight, you might find yourself asking, how do new plays make it from page to stage?

The process varies from show to show, but in general, if a show is not commissioned by the theatre, its journey begins when someone on staff reads the script. Scripts are received in many ways, through agent submissions, recommendations from industry professionals, or from writers with a prior connection to the theatre. In this case, playwright, Noah Haidle, had met Artistic Associate and director, Justin Waldman, on a previous show. “Justin was the assistant on a play I did at the Huntington called Persephone and then he was the assistant on Saturn Returns at Lincoln Center [Both directed by WTF Artistic Director, Nicky Martin]. So Justin and I have been fast friends for years. And we made the decision [to work together] in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. We were at intermission for South Pacific, and we were just enchanted, as you are. And I said, ‘Do you want to direct my play?’ He said ‘Yeah’ And that was that.” –(From my interview with Noah Haidle included in the Thunder program.)

After a theatre company expresses interest in a script, they often organize an informal reading of the play with staff members. Informal reads allow the theatre to hear a play out loud and get a better feeling for the text. Here at WTF, Thunder was part of the festival’s Fridays @ 3 reading series which offers a first public glimpse at new works. Shows are given a short rehearsal period and then read for a small audience. These readings help a writer to explore the text and see how an audience responds. Readings can be invaluable in the development process as texts often mutate when read out loud. Sometimes a scene will work on paper, but aloud will feel too short, too long, or certain jokes won’t land. In the case of Thunder, an additional scene was added post reading. This summer’s production of Knickerbocker by Jonathan Mark Sherman was also part of the Fridays @ 3 series.

Once a theatre company commits to producing a play they hire designers and actors. The play continues to evolve throughout the process, before and during rehearsals and into the run of the show. So there you have it, an insider look at the process of developing new work.

[photo] Sam Hough for © WTF ’09. Pictured: Betty Gilpin and Wendie Malick in WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THUNDER?, Dir. Justin Waldman

© [Scenic Design | Alexander Dodge, Costume Design | Nicole V. Moody, Lighting Design | Jeff Croiter] 2009

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