Weird Science | Ingram New Works Project

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Ingram New Works Project - We Experiment on Plays

Tennessee Rep's Ingram New Works Project

You may have noticed a bit of a shift to the look of the Ingram New Works Project. Our new graphics for the project have a test tube pencil bubbling over an atomic symbol. You may be thinking to yourself "Huh? I thought you wrote plays!" We decided to asked our Playwright in Residence Nate Eppler to help explain our new look.

Nate Eppler at a Ingram New Works Lab Session

So I’m talking to a friend and he asks why they call it the Ingram New Works Lab. He says, why do they call it The Lab? Is that, like, just an advertising deal or do you actually experiment on plays?

And then he doesn’t believe me when I say Yes we actually experiment on plays.

For a while I guess I thought that plays were made out of a dynamic collision of artistic enthusiasm, naiveté, scotch and furious typing. And that playmaking happens sort of like a movie montage with the slightly drunk and tortured-yet-hearty artist typing wildly behind closed doors while, like, Beethoven plays dramatically in the background or something. And, you know, the next morning we would all wake up to find a beautiful play.

But, yeah, it doesn’t work like that at all.

A play doesn’t abruptly appear on the page fully formed.  Turns out, it’s nowhere near that.  It takes careful craft and experimentation. It takes the willingness to keep what works and throw away what doesn’t. And it’s very difficult to do that alone. So you put a bunch of people who know plays, who love plays, who build plays, together in a room to experiment and test. To build and rebuild. To work together to make the most muscular plays possible. And there’s your Lab.

The Lab started meeting about a year ago and, at the time, all we had was ideas for the plays. All of the playwrights got together with Rene at the Rep offices and we talked about the plays. And the plays were hypotheses at this stage. Zygote plays at best. Notes scribbled. Maybe there were a few scenes. One of the plays was sort of about cancer. One was about a scientist and his wife. One was about friendship. And dreams. And the internet. My play was about time travel. Sort of. And that was pretty much all we had. We talked them out. We asked questions. We poked and prodded a little. And then we all went off to type.

Ingram New Works Lab Session

So we met again the next month. And this time we had little piles of pages. Characters and plot were clearer now. The design of these strange experiments was starting to take shape. The play about cancer was really about a dying mother’s secrets and her daughter and the father she never knew. The play about the scientist and his wife was really about the scientist being terrified he won’t make a good father because he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant the moment after he asks her to marry him. We poked and we prodded again, but this time we pushed a little harder. We asked closer questions. The plays started to take shape. And then we all went off to type again.

And we met again the next month. And we brought in full drafts this time. Very rough drafts. The play about friendship and dreams and the internet was about a young man looking for real connection. He goes to a service that connects you to a machine that lets you meet the man of your dreams in your dreams. It’s bizarre and exciting and totally different from any play I’ve seen before. My play about time travel ends up being about Victorian newlyweds. She wants the kind of romance she reads about in novels and he’s hung up on his past, so she travels to the future to fix things, but the future isn’t what she expected. Trouble ensues.  And this time instead of poking and prodding the plays, we dug into them. We turned them over and inside out. We started measuring what the plays can really do. We brought in actors and had them take the plays out for a test drive. We figured out what was working and what wasn’t. We came up with a plan for rewrites. And then we all went off to type again.

Ingram New Works Lab Session 2

And we met again the next month. The plays were more muscular this time. They were ready to be more rigorously tested. We brought in the expert, Theresa Rebeck. And she kicked the shit out of our plays in the best possible way. We went after the plays with knives. We did major surgery. We cut into the plays. We sliced them open. We tore out what was unnecessary, and rebuilt the broken pieces. Major experimentation starts to take place. Scenes were shuffled and characters were dropped. The play about the mother and the daughter and the father she never knew turned into a play solely about the mother and the daughter. The father disappeared. He’ll end up in his own play someday. The scientist who was afraid he’d make a bad father transformed into a woman. The story now centered on a scientist whose partner is pregnant. And if that makes my partner the mother, she wonders, what does that make me? The plays became more focused and clean. Everything became more exciting. And then we all went off to type.

Ingram New Works Playwrights Jennifer Blackmer and Nate Eppler

The weird science of the Lab is a sort of alchemy. All of the rewrites, all of the pages, all of the prodding and poking, all of the cutting and changing, all of the actors and all of the questions and all of the notes come together to form the building blocks of the play. But until we put it in front of an audience, it’s still just a pile of pages.

So now it’s time to go into the trial phase of the experiment. It’s time to take the plays out of the Lab. It’s time to test the plays on you. Without you, our plays are just words holding hands. With you, they’re a message from the playwright to the audience, and with your response to the plays, they become a conversation.

So, yeah, it’s really a Lab. And we really are mad scientists of a sort. We really do experiment on plays in a controlled environment. We really do analyze and collect data. We really do invent and test and poke and prod. But that’s just the first part.  The second part is the Festival. We get to show you what we’ve been working on, and you get to tell us what you think.

And after that, after we’ve had the conversation, after we’ve listened to you laugh and gasp and clap and question, we’ll all go off to start typing again.

Learn more about Nashville Rep's Ingram New Works Project here. Our Ingram New Works Festival runs May 8-18, 2013 with staged readings every night at 7:00 PM, located at Studio A at Nashville Rep's office and rentals location. For information and a schedule of the Ingram New Works Festival please click here.

Photos by Britanie Knapp of Charm Photo Salon

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