A few weeks ago, I sat down with Chloe Scully, a junior media and communications major with a theatre minor, to talk about TheatreCOM’s New Playwright’s Festival and some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of directing and producing plays.
Can you start with an overview of New Playwright’s Festival?
The New Playwrights Festival is a festival in which we turn scripts written by UMBC students into actual plays and it’s directed, acted by and produced by UMBC students. It’s a bigger version of the 24-hour Playfest that TheatreCOM also does in the fall.
What piece are you directing?
I’m directing a piece called “Love Letters” that Nell Quinn-Gibney and Ali Mark wrote. Basically, this guy, a grad student, puts an ad in the Lonely Hearts newspaper section, and there are two best friends, Sarah and Rachel, and Rachel’s like “Oh, you can’t form a meaningful connection with someone via letter writing. It’s too outdated.” And Sarah’s like, “Bullshit,” and they end up making a bet on it and Sarah writes letters to the grad student, Andy. We see into each of their lives and it’s a really cute play.
Why did you want to direct this piece?
I told [the TheatreCOM board] that I wanted to direct a piece, but I wanted to see a little description of each, so that if I did get a choice, I could choose. They sent me three pieces. One was a film noir, another was a ten-minute, one scene play, and then there was “Love Letters.” And I thought “Love Letters” sounded cute and Nell and Ali are great, so let’s do this one.
What are the other pieces about?
The film noir is a murder mystery — that’s all I really know about it — but the one scene play was written by Steven Gondre-Lewis, and basically there’s this girl who had been raped by a neighbor, and her entire family knew, but they didn’t report him yet. The neighbor is arrested for murdering his wife, and the dad… knows that the neighbor isn’t guilty of murdering his wife — the play is basically a question of whether or not the family should let the man rot in jail because they know he did something wrong, but don’t know if it is okay for him to be in jail for the wrong thing.
Have you had any challenges so far in directing the piece?
I would say scheduling. I got an amazing cast, which I was really lucky in getting, but because they’re so amazing, they’re also in a bunch of other things or in “Legally Blonde” — literally everyone except for two of my cast are in “Legally Blonde” in some major capacity. So they aren’t able to make most times anyways. Another issue is that my play has a lot of props, but thankfully, I’ve been able to figure that out pretty quickly. I’ve been going to Facebook and asking if anyone has this or that. I’ve gotten everything except for four items, and I can receive funding for those, so we’re good. I just didn’t want to have to go to the TheatreCOM board and be like “So I have 20 things I need to buy for this and it’s going to be about $100 altogether.” Now, it should only be about 10 bucks and we’ll be fine.
How does funding work?
So we have to make a prop list. So what I did first was go and see what I could get on the prop list from a bunch of other people, see what the cheapest way to make it was, and then whatever I couldn’t get, I put in a list. [For example] I have to make some Blockbuster T-shirts for my play because two of the characters work at Blockbuster, so [in the list, I’d write that] I need two white T-shirts and some iron-on transfers. The T-shirts should be this much and here’s a link to prove that I’m not just making up a number, and here are the iron-on transfers and here’s the price and a link to prove I’m not making up a number again. I do that for a couple items, and then what I did was provide a final price for what I need, a list of what I already have from people [as far as props or outside funding] and a price for what I’m willing to spend outside of what I already have, and then that’s normally how much I need from the board. And then they’ll send me back an email saying they can provide funding for this and this and this or not for this because of whatever reasons, but it typically works out, and then we’re good.
What is the significance of this piece to you?
I like the whole love letters aspect of it and them writing to each other because that’s actually how I found my current boyfriend. We just wrote letters for a long time before we started dating — we’ve known each other for four years and just started dating a year and a half ago, so we started with letters and then Facebook messages and Skype calls because he moved. So it has a little sentimental value to me. I also just love the characters and the people who wrote it.
What would you like the audience to take away from this play?
You can find love in any way. Though writing letters may be a bit outdated, it’s still a very good way to talk to someone. The piece does not really have a lesson as much as it’s a character study, so I want [the audience] to leave loving the characters — thinking like, this [character] is my new best friend.
The New Playwrights Festival will be held on April 15 and 16 in the Sportszone. Tickets are available at the CIC and are free for UMBC students and $5 for non-UMBC students. “Love Letters” will be performed on the 15th.