Aspiring playwrights write countless scripts each year, with most only going so far as the author’s computer screen.
But College sophomore Seth Simons saw his most recent play staged Sunday, as Front Row Theatre Company produced Minuet – A Lullaby in Harrison’s Heyer Sky Lounge.
Representatives from Front Row and the Kelly Writers House chose Simon’s script from about half a dozen competitors as the winner of the 2012 New Playwriting Fellowship.
The fellowship gave Simons the opportunity to work with playwright and first-ever resident writer of the Kelly Writers House ArtsEdge Residency Greg Romero on his script and with Front Row to perform a staged reading. Simons also received a $500 prize.
“I was really excited,” Simons said. “As a playwright it’s virtually impossible to hone one’s craft without hearing and seeing the writing and having actors perform. It’s incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to workshop this play with live people rather than voices in my head.”
The play traces an 8-year-old girl’s encounter with a talking owl and how their experiences reflect on her relationship with her aging grandfather.
The play’s whimsical approach to tough issues like love and death appealed to the judges of the competition and actors in the production.
“It’s very different, but very good,” said Minuet director and College freshman Zach Baldwin. “I had so many ideas just upon reading it. I was so inspired … and that doesn’t always happen when you read a script.”
The five actors played a variety of roles ranging from a college-age daughter to a storytelling tree. Simons and Baldwin worked with the cast for a week of rehearsals and changed the script several times along the way.
“It’s the most interesting theater experience I’ve had at Penn,” College sophomore and cast member Candace Logan said. “It’s a completely different way of doing a show. I’ve never done one that’s as underdeveloped and experimental.”
Simons has worked on the play for over a year, starting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts before transferring to Penn last fall. The English major hopes for a career as a professional playwright and was recently commissioned by Walking Fish Theatre in the Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood to write a full-length play. That play may or may not be Minuet, Simons said.
“It was unique and beautiful to read,” College junior and Front Row’s Chair Becca Kaplan said. “We thought it would be interesting to see how it would be translated onto the stage since it was so non-traditional.”
About 25 students attended the reading, where cast members performed on a minimalist set and with their scripts in their hands because of the short rehearsal time.
Sofas stood in as beds and instead of normal sound effects, a person stood offstage announcing the effects — like a wind blowing or a heart beating — as they happened.
“There were things that lined up with what I thought and things that didn’t,” Simons said about Baldwin’s staged interpretation. “But that’s not a bad thing … I don’t want things to be exactly how I thought them. That would be boring and wouldn’t teach me anything.”
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