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BWW Blog: Embracing Development- The Fearless New Play Festival

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Like the developing plays in this festival, we are always allowed to change and grow.

BWW Blog: Embracing Development- The Fearless New Play Festival

Radical kindness. Radical rigor. Radical community. These are the three values of this year's Fearless New Play Festival. Every other year at my school (University of Maryland), a handful of playwrights are selected to present their developing plays in a mini "play festival," complete with actors, directors and crew plucked from our theatre department. The Fearless New Play Festival is a reading, not a performance. The spotlight is not on the actors, but on the playwrights- who get to hear their developing words read aloud for an audience, potentially for the first time. The rehearsal process puts the playwright in control, helping them convey their meanings and words with all those listening. This was my first FNPF, and I had NO idea what to expect...so seeing my name on the cast list brought some mixed emotions. Excitement? Of course. But, also a slight undercurrent of exhaustion thinking about performing in yet another Zoom play. Since March, I'd been acting through electronic boxes. Zoom made it way harder to focus at rehearsals, turned stage directions into box directions, and of course...it took away the excitement of a live audience. I missed the electricity of the stage, the way time flies at rehearsals when you're surrounded by friends, the thrill of performing off book for the first time. I honestly wasn't looking forward to going through the Zoom staging process all over again. Little did I know that not only would FNPF be different from all other Zoom productions thus far, but different from pretty much anything I'd ever been a part of. The Fearless New Play Festival is happening this weekend, so I wanted to take space for an article just to write a little about the experience and what it taught me about character development, theatre, and life in general.

The festival process started off with a discussion panel featuring many successful woman artists: playwrights, actors, dramaturgs, etc. all engaged in a conversation about the power of developing plays and the accomplishments of theatre in general. I loved listening and learning from them, watching these women become best friends over the course of a 90-minute Zoom call. It really spoke to the connecting power of the arts and how strangers in rehearsal can become lifelong friends overnight. We all got to ask the panelists some questions, have them answered, and start getting pumped up to begin developing our own plays. I was wowed by the artist panel, but still not the most excited for rehearsal. As we got assigned to our breakout rooms, I dutifully prepared myself to ignore the temptations of reading my lines from my computer screen, shifting positions in front of my Brady Bunch square. And then, rehearsal started.

The first thing I realized was that these plays truly are not finished- we were reading through constantly developing excerpts before having the chance to give the playwrights ideas about how to better their work. The expectation of FNPF was not to memorize our lines for a virtual performance, but to truly provide a service to the playwright- bringing their words to life, developing their written characters, and asking them as many questions as we could think of. Rehearsal was not spent staging Zoom blocking or talking about memorization. Instead, we got to focus solely on character development and engage in read throughs. The idea was that every rehearsal would bring new pages and developments from the playwright and changes in our characters based on the questions we asked and choices we made during rehearsal. The process felt like one huge brainstorming session, actors surrounded by playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, and stage managers all focused on the same goal. Bring a play to life. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and now I've seen firsthand (kind of) what that means. We all got to offer our own ideas and suggestions, then see them reflected in the playwright's changing work. We were starting a performance from the ground up. It was one of the coolest, most different things I had ever been a part of.

As rehearsals went along, I eventually found myself hitting some character blocks- as one typically does at some point throughout rehearsal. I was struggling with a few of my character's objectives and lines during the last read through, and felt my inner frustration begin to grow. But then, due to my director's guidance, I had a character breakthrough! At the LAST rehearsal before tech. If this was in a normal production, I would have wanted way more time to develop and hone this new aspect of my character. But, no worries at all! This was FNPF! The point of this whole production was to encourage constant development and change. I may not even be reading the same SCRIPT every tech rehearsal- much less have the same aura about my character. This process of drastic change and growth during final rehearsals felt new to me, but also very welcome. It brought me back to the world of live theatre, embracing that constant change and uncertainty of each performance.

As actors, we are always learning to embrace character growth and change, hopping from one story to the next and the next. I had almost forgotten about that magic and was thankful to FNPF for reminding me it still existed. Not every line, not every character, not every choice has to be perfect or set in stone. Everything is allowed (and even welcome) to change. This applies to theatre as well as life. These Zoom filled days can feel monotonous, and sometimes we forget just how special the day to day can be. FNPF reminded me to not only embrace the ability to constantly change and better my characters but also recognize the little ever-changing joys in my life. Like the developing plays in this festival, we are always allowed to change and grow.

Fearless New Play Festival streams this weekend, Nov 19-22 at 7:30. Visit tdps.umd.edu for more.


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