This week’s blog features Mark Loewenstern, one of the playwrights participating in the 2019 New Works Festival at Gulfshore Playhouse. His play, NEAR NELLIE BLY will have a public reading on Saturday, September 14th.
For a few years now, in my little corner of New York, I’ve been hearing about Gulfshore Playhouse. Increasingly, in conversations with fellow playwrights, Gulfshore Playhouse is grouped together with O’Neill, Ashland and Oregon Shakes as a high-quality festival. Two playwrights with first-hand experience at Gulfshore (one on the mainstage and one in the new play festival) have raved to me about how supportive and insightful the staff is, and what a great experience working here was for them. They urged me to submit to the New Play Festival, so I did, which is surprising because I hardly ever submit to anything.
I joke that I am the Emily Dickinson of 21st Century playwrights. I let scripts sit on my hard drive, especially if they’re full-length plays. Why? My full-lengths tend to be period dramas, often with large casts and elements that are – let’s say “different.”
Case in point: my play Near Nellie Bly is a blend of fact, fiction and myth. It dramatizes the true story of how daredevil reporter Nellie Bly made her name by going undercover in an insane asylum on what is now Roosevelt Island in 1887 New York City. Later, she went on to circle the globe by herself, report from the battlefields of WWI, invent stackable garbage cans and redesign the oil drum into more-or-less the form we still use today. She was a living example that showed generations of women how wide the possibilities were for them. I decided that I didn’t want to tell the story of what Nellie Bly did. Instead, I wanted to write about why what Nellie Bly did was important. And to do that (stay with me here), I had to set part of it in the Stone Age, with Stone Age mythology. That’s how I wrote it. I brought it to my writer’s groups (The Actors Studio PDW, the EMG Playwriting Workshop and the Workshop Theater Co.) and then when it was as good as I could make it, I submitted it to a few places, but mostly I let it sit on my computer. Except, I submitted it to Gulfshore Playhouse because my friends said I should (yay!) and then I was accepted (yay!) and paired with director Jeff Binder (yay!).
Jeff and I had a phone call last week, and I brought up the Stone Age stuff. I asked (rather bravely, I thought) whether he wanted to see if the play would work better without those elements? Jeff replied that the week was for me to work on whatever I wanted to…and also added that he felt that those elements made the play more theatrical, more interesting. I felt a warm, happy wave wash over me, and then Jeff made a point about a different part of the script, showed me something I didn’t see before, and got my mind going about that.
I’m writing this two days before I come down. Can’t wait to see how my play evolves during the course of the week!
For information about The New Works Festival go to https://www.gulfshoreplayhouse.org/event/new-works-festival/.