Anatomy of a Premiere — Part One: Pick Me, Pick Me!

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January 25, 2013 by T. Gregory Argall

Whenever logistically feasible I like to see productions of plays I’ve written. It’s interesting to see what other directors have found that I may not have even realized was there. Also, It’s important to understand that I have a very loose definition of “logistically feasible.” If there are roads between here and there, I will definitely try to use them. For instance, last April some friends and I traveled to Iowa to see not one but two separate productions of “Self-Help For Dummies,” a comedy I co-wrote with Todd McGinnis (which has since been re-titled “Self-Help By Dummiez” because… lawyers). We met some wonderful people and they entertained us thoroughly. I kept in touch with several of the people I met on that trip because, well, that’s the whole point of meeting people.

Also during last April I was working on the script for a new play, as part of Script Frenzy. Similar to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, Script Frenzy was organised by the Office of Letters and Light every April with the challenge of writing one hundred pages of script in thirty days, from April first to thirtieth. Sadly, Script Frenzy no longer exists due to funding issues, but I participated for several years and have some very promising works to show for it (including an optioned screenplay). After one of the Iowa performances, while schmoozing with my new-found mid-west peeps, I dropped some vague hints about the plot of my then half-finished script. I was rewarded with indications of polite interest and then we may have played beer pong. I’m not sure. Details are kind of fuzzy regarding later in the evening.

Eventually my friends and I came back across the border and returned home. I kept writing and reached my target (and the end of the play) ahead of the month-end deadline. The next step was to gather my loyal band of Actor-Knights for a read-through. Loyal they may be, but my Actor-Knights are not above giving me a metaphorical punch in the nards if it will improve a script. I know from experience that if a line, or a scene, or an entire script doesn’t work, they will tell me in no uncertain terms just how much it sucks. I sometimes feel like Harry Chapin playing songs for his brothers. But this time it was different. The notes I received were mostly for typos and spelling errors. Encouraged, I made a couple of minor tweaks (and a lot of corrections) on the second draft, then shared it with some of my new friends in Iowa.

A few weeks later, on a beautiful summer day, I received a message informing me that the play selection committee of the Opera House Players would be reading the script that afternoon. Here’s the thing about the Opera House Players… They do things with style. There are no half measures with them. So when the play selection committee meets, it’s not in some stuffy room, hunched over, blandly reading lines. Hell, no. They read my new play while relaxing on a grand boat drifting on the Mississippi River. While sipping Bloody Marys!

No, really. Here’s a picture….

OHP reading

(I’ve been told the photo was taken during the intermission, so, that’s why no one is looking at the script. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it. Seems plausible.)

Later that day I received a message asking if I would grant permission for the Opera House Players to do the premiere production of the play, “The Accidental Hit-Man Blues.”

I’ve had some degree of success as a writer, but I still get a warm, squishy thrill inside every time someone says they want to produce one of my scripts. I hope I always will get that thrill. I don’t want to get into the mindset where such a compliment become mundane. But I played it coy and aloof as we worked out the details, hoping that they wouldn’t hear the squeals of delight from my inner child, echoing across the hundreds of miles between us. They probably did, but were polite enough not to mention it.

Arrangements were made, dates were set, wheels started turning. In just a few months I had gone from initial story idea to confirmed production commitment.

And so I did the Happy Dance. And an enthusiastic dance it was.


Next: Finding the cast and crew.

TAHMB front cover


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