For a playwright accepted into Brigham Young University's Playwrights/Directors/Actors Workshop, the thought of having the script thoroughly scrutinized and reworked by a group of fellow writers, directors and performers can be an intimidating prospect.
Adding to the pressure are staged readings of the play each spring when audience members are encouraged to provide feedback and criticism. Audiences, in the words of PDA director Char Nelson, "are ruthless, but very helpful."The PDA workshop selected three scripts for winter semester, and they will be presented at 7:30 p.m. April 12-14 in the Nelke Experimental Theatre in the Harris Fine Arts Center. They are free and open to the public.
The first, "Es War Einmal," directed by Nelson, is written by Carolyn Owen, a Provo resident who says her best creative work is accomplished in the shower. Her actual writing comes between 10:30 p.m. and 3 a.m., when her children sleep.
"Es War Einmal" is the story of Jennifer, an excitable bookworm who has worked long on her dissertation without writing a word and has squandered the family funds on books. Her husband Paul, who prefers sofas to bookshelves - and working wives to lounging scholars - is shocked to discover that his wife is not studying chemistry, as he thought. In a temper, he demands "Chapter one in the morning!," but Jenny gets help from strange quarters.
"The plot thickens through a series of mistaken identities that leave us wondering, `Who is Rumpole? Who is Sevcik?' And, of course, `Who is Sylvia?' " says Owen.
Owen came to the workshop with a bachelor's degree in English literature and a master's degree. She, like other writers, applied for PDA to experience "special attention from faculty and perceptive students."
The second play comes from the pen of BYU languages professor Thomas F. Rogers, who has been both author and actor in the workshop. His play, "Gentle Barbarian," is a loose retelling of the personal life of 19th-century writer Ivan Turgenev.
In the script, unrequited loved blends with an ironic theme. "It's about a liberal intellectual who wanted to bring about personal reform yet whose life was a disparity of his ideals; his personal relationships reflected another kind of narrowness and tyranny - despite himself. He was not entirely a complete human being. I hope all males will be able to identify with his character," says Rogers.
Daunell Jensen of Aberdeen, Wash., a PDA actress in "Gentle Barbarian," says the audience will find the script disturbing, but she adds, "The first process with the script was to clarify the ideals. The development is to the point where I hope it is a little unsettling and shocking. It's an enervating experience; there's a lot of exploring and investigating available."
The third play, by Rory Scanlon, directed by Wendy Maybee, is called "Cubits," a tragicomic work that deals with an older man who comes to live with his daughter and son-in-law. Many issues are explored, including conflicts in relationships, ways of measuring one's life, the concern about aging people and their families, and appearances.
Theater professors Max Golightly and Charles Whitman founded the workshop to provide an opportunity for collaboration among writers, directors and actors to develop and bring plays to fruition. The intent has been to make the relationships between students and faculty horizontal, rather than authoritarian, to allow more of a free reign for the participants.
Scott Rust of Mesa, Ariz., a freshman accepted as a PDA acting student, says the workshop allowed him to express opinions and assist with play and character development. "I've been able to see firsthand the work that goes into the writing of a play. Through it, I have developed a permanent appreciation of the playwright and what goes into a production from many sides."