Monday, October 3, 2011

The New Play Lab Showcase: Renewing My Interest and Imagination by Malika Lee

Photo: Christian Jenkins, Carl Kennedy, Amontaine Woods, Ieisha McIntyre in The Purification Process by Malika Lee

Writing has been a solo journey; until I attended Freehold's New Play Lab. I started writing my first play, The Purification Process, about three years ago and while I shared a few scenes with a handful of friends, I was finally ready to advance my work by sharing it in a safe space. Being a transitioning artist, starting your first project is a lot like walking through a dark cave with a lit match. I was stuck and wasn't exactly sure if I was on the right track. In the workshop phase the instructor, my fellow writers, & I took time reading each other's plays aloud. Their responses of enthusiasm and inquiry renewed my interest and imagination in my play, which had been lying dormant.

Sometimes we are so close to our work that we can't see it clearly. Receiving immediate feedback helped me correct some major oversights. One example is the element of my play involving audience interaction and participation. Elizabeth Heffron (the instructor) pointed out that introducing that dynamic so late in my play would pose a challenge for audience members and they probably wouldn't participate. Now why didn't I think of that!?!! She coached me that the audience needs to know the rules of engagement and what's expected of them early in the play instead of later to maximize that type of scene. As a result, I added a new opening scene which set the tone for the audience and (per my director Erin Kraft) added to the intensity of the following scenes.

The opportunity to experience my writing 3 dimensionally with the help of actors and a director is what enticed me most about the Lab experience. Where else would I have access to these highly skilled and talented people so early in my writing process? Having a fresh set of eyes (director/actors) was yet another opportunity to get feedback on whether my intentions were clear. They asked questions about the characters and relationships that challenged me to clarify back story and situations. The cherry on top was having a portion of it performed in front of a live audience. The audience's immediate feedback of laughter, leaning forward in their seats, deafening silence, (or yawns!) is a gift to any playwright during the writing process.

With the feedback and support from the Lab, I've been rejuvenated and plan to complete a strong draft of my play by the end of the year. Sharing my play with so many through this process has made this work real and attainable to me for the first time! It has gone from just an idea in my mind, a secret between my journal and I, to a living, breathing thing. This wouldn't have been possible without my experience at Freehold. Thanks to Freehold, Elizabeth, my fellow classmates, as well as, all the actors, directors and audience members that joined us on the journey.

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