Written by Managing Director: Alyce Householter
It’s 10 p.m., an hour after the first day of the workshop has ended, and we are sitting and staring. Laura and I sit in silence, except for the occasional “What about….this?” Eventually, I stand up, walk over to the chalkboard, and tell Laura not to watch what I am about to do. I begin writing numbers next to a bunch of scenes, in an attempt to reorder ACT 2. I sit back down and say, “I’m out, I can’t look at this board any longer today.” Little did I know, the next day Laura would be handing me a new ACT 2, including edits from the fatigued Good Will Hunting-esque markings on the board.
This is pretty much how the entire 4 day workshop ran. A director, a playwright, and 5 wonderful actors; all dedicating their time and talent to develop a piece of theatre: laying it all out on the table and picking and choosing the best pieces. There was no audience, no stage, and there were no boundaries.
Miss Penitentiary, by Laura Neubauer, is an incredible story about being a woman, and the kinds of prisons we get trapped in by social and personal pressures. The play has gone through several drafts leading up to this workshop, so it was a perfect time to let some actors sink their teeth into the script. Coming at directing Miss Penitentiary from an actor’s perspective, I was concerned that I might be asking a lot of our workshop participants. “Hello actor, would you like to give me 4 full days of your time, to focus on script analysis, for no pay?” I was surprised that I even found people to say yes, but low and behold, we had the most remarkable group of women step up and bring unparalleled insight and life to the script. The workshop involved several days of deep script analysis, character tracking, and clarifying of the world. There was also a Suzuki movement workshop, conducted by the extraordinary Mary-Liz Murray, which really brought to light a lot of character qualities and instincts. Allowing the actors to bring the emotional underbelly of the script into play really began to fully shape the women on the page.
Due to Laura’s diligent work, the script has made amazing strides, and every draft is clearer and more rousing than the last. As thrilled as I was to see the workshop turn out such amazing progress, I realized this is only the first few miles in a marathon year. In January, I will be directing a staged reading of Miss Penitentiary. It will give me and the actors a great opportunity to delve into some deeper character work and really begin to bring this intricate story to life. After that, the play will move into another phase of rewrites, finally coming to its final stage and full fruition with a fully developed production in November 2015, at which time it will close Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company’s season. Of course, even after the production next year, Miss Pen (like any other script) will never be complete. It will continue to change and evolve, as every good piece of theatre should. But right now, I am pacing myself as the marathon continues, and we endeavor closer to our “finish line”: a comprehensive, layered, moving journey of identity, individuality, and ownership. Laura and I are focused and excited to see where our year with this script takes us. We are in it. We are in it deep. We are in it for the long haul.
Come join the journey of Miss Penitentiary…
January 31st, 2015- A Full Staged Reading at the Democracy Center in Cambridge, MA
November 2015- A Full Length Production (Location TBA)