Playwrights who've been there call it "the Sundance process" - and that's sort of what it is - a giant processor.
Writers, directors, actors, "resource" people, lots of paper, pencils, White-Out and other supplies are dumped in the hopper at one end of the Sundance Playwrights' Lab and, after a lot of hammering, whirring, fixing, revising, rewriting, debating, erasing, and more rewriting - playwrights' scripts come out the other end, looking a little more like a completed product.For Bill Harley, whose "Growing Up Is A Full-time Job" will have its premiere this week at Salt Lake Acting Company, involvement in the Sundance process began in a roundabout way.
Usually, the dozen or so playwrights who participate in the annual Sundance sessions are chosen from applications submitted by theater companies or writers. But in Harley's case, David Kranes, the program's artistic director, had heard the writer performing a monologue on National Public Radio.
"He called me up and wanted me to come to Sundance as a resource person," says Harley, "I mentioned that I was working on a theater piece and Kranes said, `Well, why don't you come as a playwright?' "
So Harley, who lives in Seekonk, Mass., spent 21/2 weeks last July at Sundance, honing the piece that Salt Lakers will have an opportunity to see in four performances at SLAC.
Indications are, "Growing Up Is A Full-time Job" is a gentle, humorous evening out of the Garrison Keillor/Bill Cosby mold.
If the quality of the work comes anywhere near matching the enthusiasm Harley showed during a telephone interview last week, theatergoers should be in for a real treat.
Commenting on the Sundance lab, Harley said, "It was pretty amazing to be in a place to just work on what you want to work on. Usually I'm doing the laundry or picking up the kids."
The Harleys have their own recording label, with Harley and another performer as the main artists. Harley's wife handles the booking and the business end of the projects. They're the parents of two boys, 7 and 3.
Harley found the Sundance Lab experience "just incredible."
"Everyone creates differently," he noted. "I have to create this space around me, almost a sacred space, where I can work and struggle and don't get bothered by the other daily stuff. That was what Sundance was for me.
"I got hooked up to a couple of other people who were sympathetic to the kind of work I do. While they worked in different ways than I do, it was a great experience," he said.
"Growing Up . . . " is Harley's first full-length theater piece. His premise is that some of us would be better off if we took an "adult competency exam" in order to prove our abilities.
The experiences Harley confronts include a 5-year-old anticipating Christmas, the death of a close friend, the uncertainties of parenthood and other monologues.
Harley is a writer, composer, storyteller and performer with a number of projects in the works in addition to his "Growing Up" production.
He's appeared at the National Storytelling Festival, on National Public Radio and at the International Children's Festival in Ottawa, Canada.
When he was performing recently at a festival in Indiana, someone told him, "Gee, you don't sound like you're from Massachussets."
They were right.
Harley grew up in Ohio and Indiana, and still has some roots there.
His father is a lawyer-turned-publisher (law books) and his mother has written children's books. An older brother is a classical musician and a younger brother sells produce. ("He's probably the most creative one of the bunch," Harley said).
He majored in religion at Hamilton College in upstate New York, then worked with programs that helped children, families and teachers deal with conflict. He also performed on the side as a storyteller and songwriter. About 10 years ago he plunged into performing and creating.
"But my training has not been traditional `theater' training - mostly just frontlines trial and error," Harley noted.
And, like most solo pieces, "Growing Up Is A Full-time Job" is still a work-in-progress. It's also very autobiographical ("Some of it is stretched, of course," he added).
"I'm always fine-tuning, especially in the way that I work. A lot depends on the audience and where you are at the moment," he said.
For four evenings next week, his "moment" will be on stage at Salt Lake Acting Company.