I am thrilled to have my first full length play About A Girl receive its premier performance as part of the Capital Fringe Festival. It’s been over three years since I started writing it, and what an amazing journey.
There has not been a time when writing was not a part of my life. When I was in 2nd grade I wrote a poem about a Halloween cat. My teacher had it blown up on an overhead projector onto a big sheet of paper taped to the black board. The entire class drew little pictures on it and I had the honor of drawing the cat. I was hooked.
My background is narrative history. I have had a few books published, but after years in this field I had hit a major writer’s block. I just could not get into the project I was working on. I still wanted to keep writing, but what to write?
I was working at The Historic New Orleans Collection. The Collection not only is the leading institution on the history of the Crescent City, but it is the largest holder of the papers of Thomas Lanier Williams, publishing the Tennessee Williams Quarterly and even owning a house where young Tom rented a small attic apartment on his first stay in the city. The ghost of Tennessee was looking over my shoulder and gave me the idea to start writing for the stage.
I moved to Alexandria, Virginia in 2010 with the determination to write plays, but how? I didn’t have a clue. I got lucky. One of the leading community theaters in the country is The Little Theater of Alexandria. Their Governor of Education, Roland Gomez, had just begun play writing classes under the amazing teacher Rich Amada. I volunteered at the Little Theatre doing anything and everything to learn the ropes. Community Theatre is an excellent classroom, much cheaper than an MA, and started taking Rich’s classes. He was Obi Wan to my Darth Vader, and I soaked up his lessons on plot, character, dialogue and stakes; all actions must have consequences, big ones.
I had finished a ten minute play and was determined to write a full length for the first time, but what to write about? I had heard it said that you should write what you know. My high school sweetheart came from an abusive background. My first experience with love was also an experience of being ill equipped to help her in her struggle with the anxiety, depression and substance abuse that was the result of being a child of an alcoholic and abusive father. How do you cope with that when you’re only eighteen years old and don’t have your own answers, much less hers?
About A Girl is not autobiographical, at least not entirely. I had seen this little girl that I cared so much about struggle with the most intense feeling of powerlessness. She was in her own mind a victim, but what if she had stopped being a victim and took control? One of the lines in the very last scene of the play reads “I want to tell you a story. It’s about a girl.” This is a story about that girl, Justine in the script, who finds the courage to take control; but it is also the story of another kind of girl. It’s the story of Jett Briggs, a kick ass, take names kind of girl. She thinks she can handle anything that life throws at her, but can she?
So I had written a play about a girl, wither its Justine or Jett it’s up to the audience to decide, but what to do with it? Again fate steeped in. Roland Gomez and Rich Amada selected my play for a table reading. They cast the actors, but at the last minute the actress set to play Jett dropped out. I had to find a replacement. Heather Norcross stepped in. Heather had come on the LTA scene around the same time as I did, and I knew what an amazing actress she was. I asked her to read the part, and luckily she agreed. She was my ringer. When none of the other actors asked any questions about their characters, she did her homework to find out who Jett was and what her motivations were. I knew in a play about choices I had chosen well. Heather was every inch the bad ass that her character is supposed to be, but also had the instincts to show Jett’s vulnerability. Little Miss Norcross has been with About A Girl ever since.
So how do I go the next step and get About A Girl on the stage? Capital Fringe Festival 2014. I knew of Capital Fringe’s reputation as a first rate organization with the resources to insure that my play would not die an untimely death. I filled out the paper work, and low and behold, I was accepted.
Now what do I do? I had to find a director that not only had the skill to get this play up and running and answer all the technical questions I didn’t even know I ‘d be facing, but with the intelligence and artistic sensibilities to interpret the story. Again I got lucky. I had worked with Eddie Page when he directed Witness for the Prosecution at LTA and knew he had all the qualities that I was looking for in a director. He has kept his firm hand on the wheel throughout the process, clearly understands the subtext of my story and my characters, and has been an amazing captain of the About A Girl ship. I have been blessed to have him direct this play.
Eddie and I decided that we’d workshop the play to get it ready for production. We already had Heather, now we needed to find three other actors. The male lead, Ashley Cooper, had a solution close at hand. Heather’s husband, Ben Norcross, is an up and coming actor who has the looks and that certain panache needed to be a leading man. Problem solved on that one.
Now for Justine. This is a role that calls for talent with a capital T. The audience has to make her pain their own and realize her underlying strength. She has to cry, puke, have a panic attack and be funny, all in the course of seventy-five minutes. The only person I knew who could do all of that was Jenni Patton. Jenni can pull off both comedy and drama with equal amounts of success. She is a quick study with deep understanding of character and is so easy to work with. Once again, I got lucky with the perfect addition to the cast.
We were not able to fill the role of Meat McKenzie. It’s a difficult role and not anyone can do it. It calls for a redneck with intelligence, and that’s not easy to find. We decided to wait and hopefully we could find that perfect actor with the talent needed for the part.
It was late winter of this year, way too early to go into full rehearsal for a play that was going to go up in July, but we didn’t want to wait around. We wanted to work. We were able to present the final scene of the play, which we knew was one of the most challenging, as part of an Open Stage Event at The Fridge on 8th Street in DC. The scene calls for a fight scene, and this is when Michael Page stepped in. Michael is a multitalented young man who became not only our fight chorographer, but our lighting designer and much much more. We could never have pulled this show off without him. This production was such a success that Star, the head of Open Stage Events, allowed us to put on another in the spring. Both of these performances allowed us to rehearse parts of the play, put them on stage, realize that an audience would respond positively to our work, and build a base of support for the Fringe show in July.
Promotional photographs forced our hand on who the perfect Meat was going to be. Heather suggested the talented Matt Williams. I knew Matt from his work primarily in musicals (he has the most amazing singing voice), but could he pull off Meat with all Meat’s rowdy ways? The first time Matt put on the cowboy hat and started drinking straight from a bottle of Southern Comfort, we knew we had our Bubba. The cast was complete.
We have now been in rehearsals for over two months getting ready for the stage. We have recruited other very talented members of the crew including Sound Designer Alan Wray, Assistant Stage Manager Austin Fodrie, and Stage Manager/Public Relations Director Becky Patton. I do not know what I would have done without Becky and her excellent and well-designed public outreach for the show.
Please come out and support About A Girl. We worked very hard getting the show ready for your enjoyment. So kick your boots off, sit back and enjoy the show. Thank you for your support.
Ashley Cooper- Benjamin Norcross
Justine Courson- Jenni Patton
Jett Briggs- Heather Norcross
Meat McKenzie- Matt Williams
Goethe Institut- Gallery
812 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Out show dates and times:
Friday July 11: 8:15 pm
Tuesday July 15: 6:00 pm
Sunday July 20: 4:45 pm
Wednesday July 23:8:15 pm
Saturday July 26: 4:45 pm
PURCHASE TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (866) 811-4111.
Box Office locations:
Fort Fringe, 607 NY Ave NW WDC 20001
The Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE
Tickets can also be purchased at the door.
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