Steven Wilson returns to TheatreSquared, where he served as dramaturg for John Walch’s What God Hath Wrought at the 2014 Arkansas New Play Festival. His directing work has been seen at LiveWire Chicago Theatre with Mat Smart’s The 13th of Paris and at A Red Orchid Theatre, where he staged the world premiere of Craig Wright’s adaptation of Homer’s The Iliad and the Chicago premiere of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, which was the catalyst for his founding of A Red Orchid Theatre’s Youth Ensemble. Most recently, he directed Green Day’s American Idiot for The Hypocrites and served as assistant director to Anne Kauffman at The Goodman Theatre for their production of Lorraine Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.
How does working on a play in development compare to working on a published script?
Working on a play is a process no matter whether it is new or published. All the collaborative artists involved are constantly learning new things about the play during the process. The biggest difference with a development process is the ability to make palpable changes to the play as you are working with it, making it better so that at some point the script could be published and have a longer life.
Do the directors/actors/designers need to have a different kind of skill set to work on a play in development (new pages everyday)?
Patience and being malleable are important qualities when it comes to making art. I believe that these qualities get pushed even more when working on a new play because changes will be made. Often these changes can be large and make a dramatic effect on another collaborator's work. Everyone needs to understand that we are in service of the play and we all working together to try and figure out what is best for the play. This may mean that some of the work that gets done is no longer part of the play because it is no longer in the play's best interest. An actor may fall in love with a line that gets cut, I may fall in love with a scene or a piece of staging that no longer belongs in the play, etc...Everyone needs to be able to sacrifice a little in order to make the play the best it can be.
What is the relationship between a playwright and a director look like?
Every director/relationship is different. Ideally it's an artistic collaboration and any collaboration is going to be different depending on the personalities that are at the table. Part of good collaboration is figuring out how to collaborate. Gayle and I have trust which is very important in collaboration. We trust one another to know that we have the play's best interest in mind. Gayle can offer me staging ideas that help make the play better. I have the ability to offer Gayle script suggestions. We can do this because we do not look at it like we are stepping on each others toes. In fact, the entire collaborative team (designers, actors, etc.) should have the opportunity to teach one another about the play. That makes for great collaboration.
How do you think the Arkansas New Play Fest compares to other new play development workshops that you have been part of in the past?
The Arkansas New Play Fest does a great job at identifying the different stages of development that plays go through and recognizing the needs for each play. For this particular process, we have the unique opportunity to put the play in space with designers and actors. That is unique to many development processes which are often limited to purely staged readings behind music stands. Staged readings are incredible development tools but in the case of Andromeda, the script was ready for the next step after the staged reading. Gayle and I have been working on the play for almost a year and have had staged readings in Pittsburgh and Chicago. Here at the Arkansas New Play Festival, we will get to take another crucial step by putting the play on it's feet in a workshop production. The play is still is script development, it can/will change, but now we can let design elements and movement influence the play which can only make it stronger.
How do you personally like working in Arkansas?
This is my second time working in Arkansas and I feel spoiled. The beauty of the state, coupled with the incredible treatment you receive here by all the staff at TheatreSquared is very special. It is almost like every potential obstacle is removed so that all the artists here can just focus on creating. Just like any type of work...if the workplace is a happy one, then the results of the work will be positive. This is a beautiful workplace.