David Eshelman is associate professor of communication and director of the theatre program at Arkansas Tech University, where he is founder and artistic director of the Arkansas Radio Theatre. His stage plays include The Witches' Game, A Taste of Buffalo, and Who's that Ghoul? Radio plays include Vim and Vigor, Trees Hate Us, and the ongoing action/adventure series Concealed Carrie: Diamond State Crime Fighter.
How long have you been working on this script?
We have been working on this script for three years (if Charlie or Charley say otherwise, they are probably right).
Where did the idea come from?
I was approached by Charley Sandage and Charlie Crow about an idea for a musical based on the Brooks-Baxter War, an episode in Arkansas history. They thought the situation was so complex that it needed a whole musical, not just a song or two. There aren't that many people in Arkansas who write musicals, so they found me and showed me some character sketches and some ideas for songs. From our meetings, I fleshed out the characters and developed a plot. They kept coming up with songs.
What iterations of the script have occurred (prior readings/revisions)?
It is hard to keep track of revisions, but there have been many, many changes. We had two private readings before this festival---one at Arkansas Tech (where I work) and one at TheatreSquared in May.
How has it changed over time?
The eight characters connected to a tavern in Little Rock, the ones who help us experience the impact of the Brooks-Baxter War, have not changed much; however, this is a big, big play. It has ten characters and multiple plot lines. I believe that over time and certainly during these first days of the festival these plot lines have been clarified.
What is your goal for this particular workshop - what would you like to see happen with your script during the weeks of working on it here?
I would like to see the play with music. It is hard to write something and know that music is a part, but not be able to hear the music. Also, I am taking this opportunity to check all the different characters, to see if the play makes sense from their perspective. With playwriting, there are lots of loose ends that are hard to see until we have actors.
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?
In Russellville, I have to do all the new play developing on my own. I think that I do a good job instilling in my students a sense of the importance of playwriting and of their own minds as thinkers. But it is nice to be here, where I don't have to be a one-man show. Here, for two weeks, I can be a playwright wholly and not have to worry about directing, dramaturging, and teaching my cast.
Why are development workshops important for new plays?
First, there is almost nothing we can do that is more important to the health of theatre than to create new plays. Cultures are remembered by their plays. "A Little War in Little Rock" is about Arkansas. It is important not only to the U.S., but also to our state that our culture is preserved in dramatic literature. As I tell my students, if we don't write about Arkansas, no one else will. New play development workshops are committed to the importance of new dramatic literature. They provide the resources to make new plays happen. "A Little War in Little Rock" would be a shadow of itself without the resources from this festival. I would have to make everything up in my head---and I would never really know if it worked on stage.