Episode 19: Playworks Interview
Lindsay talks with student playwright Aaron Cargile who participated in the Arizona Thespians Playworks program. His short play was one of three chosen to be developed over the course of the festival and put up as a staged reading. A great listen for any student playwrights out there!
- Arizona Thespians
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Lindsay Price: Welcome to TFP, the Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello. I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening. Today we’re talking to a student playwright about his participation in the Playworks Program. But first, let’s do some Theatrefolk news. This podcast is going up the last week of November, which means that December is right around the corner. December is one of our quietest months. It makes sense. Schools are winding down, fall productions are over. What usually happens in December is that Craig and I, we take a little break. We don’t do a daily blog. Sometimes we go on vacation. It’s really lovely to always know that December is going to quiet so we can make plans if we want. Now having said all that, and this is the reason that this is Theatrefolk News, is that, yes, usually things are quiet here at global headquarters, except when it comes to our podcast. That’s right. TFP is rolling right along and there will be podcast episodes into December. We won’t take a break until it’s closer to Christmas. There are still three, I said three, upcoming podcasts in December. One of which is going to be a YouTube fireside chat on Les Miserables. Can’t wait to that. Lastly, where, oh where, can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on the stitcher app and you can also subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on the word theatrefolk.
Episode 19, Playworks Program. I was recently at the Arizona Thespian Festival where I participated in the Playworks Program as a director and a playwright mentor. Playworks is a fabulous, fabulous opportunity for student playwrights. Students, they submit a short play and then a couple are chosen. In Arizona, it was three. Those three plays get one-on-one feedback. They get some development with a professional playwright and then they get to see their play go up in a heightened staged reading. It’s on its feet. We had a whole day to rehearse. It’s not just a cold reading. It’s a very, very warm reading with action. For my playwright, Aaron, this was going to be the first time he would have seen his play, this play, his first play, in front of an audience. So let’s hear what Aaron has to say about participating in Playworks. Hello. I’m here at Arizona Thespians, and I’m here with…
Aaron Cargile: Aaron Cargile.
Lindsay: Aaron Cargile. Awesome, Aaron. You are a participant in the Playworks Program.
Aaron: Yes, I am.
Lindsay: Playworks is a pretty interesting program.
Aaron: It’s very interesting.
Lindsay: What it is student playwrights from all over your state in Arizona can submit a… How long does the play have to be?
Aaron: Six pages.
Lindsay: Six-page play. They choose three to go up at festival. Basically it’s you get feedback and then we gather on the Friday, had auditions, you got some more feedback, you did a pretty substantial re-write, you met with a director playwright mentor which happens to be me for your play, and then in just over an hour, the three plays are going up.
Aaron: Yes, it’s really exciting. It’s very similar, from what I’ve seen, to a 48-hour film contest in the way it’s just really rapid fire.
Lindsay: It’s very intense, isn’t it?
Aaron: It is very intense, and there’s no room for stopping. Thankfully, my play is very straight forward, not a lot of…
Lindsay: Let’s talk about your play. Your play’s called what?
Aaron: All’s Well That Pays Well.
Lindsay: And what made you write it?
Aaron: Basically, you see it a lot. It’s this whole story of a ghost who comes back and helps someone who’s alive. You see it in countless movies and plays.
Lindsay: And the main character in your play is suffering from writers’ block.
Aaron: Yes. He is a teenage playwright. He is writing a class one act. His deadline’s in six hours. They’re going to take this one act to a really prestigious festival. It’s going to be the life or death of the theatre department, a really big event. He’s not very talented when it comes to writing. He’s got a really bad case of writers’ block. So basically the ghost of William Shakespeare approaches him.
Lindsay: And seems helpful.
Aaron: Yes, he seems very helpful but his advice is not quite what the young playwright expects.
Lindsay: Right. How long did it take you to write it?
Aaron: It’s been about a couple months. I would say no more than a week and a half, two weeks.
Lindsay: Yes? And did you… Now I know this wasn’t your first… When you were going to do something for Playworks, this wasn’t your first idea, right? You had something that was a bit longer?
Aaron: Yes. It was a bit longer. It was really good. I really liked that and I want to use it for something at some point but it just didn’t really fit this very well. And after having the idea, I realized it really kind of fit the thespian conference theme.
Lindsay: Very much.
Aaron: Shakespeare’s obviously a synonym for theatre.
Lindsay: Why did you want to enter this contest?
Aaron: I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’ve always enjoyed creating, whether its music or film or anything.
Lindsay: Is this your first play or have you written before?
Aaron: I have written skits and I’ve kind of dabbled in it but this was my first serious effort to. But this is not the first time I’ve written. I’ve been writing for a long time.
Lindsay: But as a play, as one that has a beginning, middle and end and characters? More than a sketch, anyway.
Aaron: Yes. I don’t remember there being any others. I think this is the first big one.
Lindsay: Right. And once you found out that you were one of the three, what kind of feedback did you get?
Aaron: When I realized, it was on Halloween when I found out, soon after I got an email from the guy who’s running Playworks. He basically told me to incorporate more Shakespeare quotes and cliches, which is interesting because he said that’s not the advice he usually gives. The advice is usually get rid of cliches, get rid of things people expect to see. I went through that, added some quotes. And then he wanted more action. So I involved an interesting fight scene. It’s been pulled off really well throughout production.
Lindsay: Considering we only had, basically we had about three hours to put the whole thing up. Then what was your response? Then what happened yesterday as we got together and we heard, there was a staged reading of the three scripts, what was your initial reaction when you heard your script read aloud?
Aaron: I had heard it read aloud before, not all together, but I approached my actors who were going to read it and I had heard them read stuff and I thought it was pretty good. For me, the moment when it kind of, not necessarily weird in a bad way, but when it started kind of a little surreal was when the auditioners where reading it. Because these were people who I didn’t know who were giving it interpretations I hadn’t thought of and it was really kind of surreal to see something you wrote being read by people you don’t know and the jokes were actually funny, even to me.
Lindsay: And what I told you yesterday was – all the auditioners were basically reading the same scene – so we heard this same joke about 12 times, and it made me laugh every time. I said, ‘That’s when you know you’ve got something that works because it’s funny over and over and over.’ Then you have to think about it, too, when an audience is looking at your play, they’re only ever seeing it once so it’s even better if you can get that something that works in repeat than when it does in initial.
Aaron: The best jokes that I’ve noticed are the ones that you can think back on weeks or months later and still laugh at.
Lindsay: We had this conversation yesterday, too, about what’s entertaining and what’s fluffy and what’s not and that you can still have something that’s entertaining that resonates a week or two weeks later and then that’s the real, that’s what we should be doing instead of writing things that just disappear from your head.
Aaron: Yes. There’s a song writer who talked about pop music this way. He refers to it as ‘refrigerator buzz’, and I have to agree with that. That’s a lot of forms of art. It’s not, it’s kind of in the background. It’s kind of this buzz. It might as well not be there. You, unfortunately, see that a lot in movies. You see it a lot in plays and music. But the ones that really resonate, those are the ones you keep going back to, not necessarily just the temporary ones that are cliche or not very good.
Lindsay: Yes. That are just ice cream. It melts and it’s gone. I think that’s a real, as I said, I think it’s harder to write a good comedy than it is to write a drama because I think it’s really easy to go to the woe is me but to make people laugh is special.
Aaron: Yes. And I think it depends on what kind of comedy you’re trying to do. Obviously comedy, in the art form, there are many different styles of it. I think people’s strengths are in different areas.
Lindsay: It’s interesting you say that because I think that your play works both ends of the spectrum. You’re dealing with the verbal comedy, just in playing with those verbal cliches of Shakespeare and just the banter between the two characters. But then also it was really important to you to have that physical comedy, to have that fight. You fought to keep the fight in.
Aaron: Yes. The original draft didn’t have a fight and when I put it in there I really liked it because it made it even more absurd. I actually really very pleasantly surprised, very excited that the play’s a lot more physical than I thought it was going to be. When I originally wrote it, I basically imagined it was going to be two guys occasionally standing up and just talking to each other and nothing horribly interesting physically but it’s really very physical. It’s not all slapstick but I think it’s a really good balance of physical and verbal.
Lindsay: It does have a really good balance. What’s it like…? Because you’ve done it a couple times, one with really thinking you wanted to keep that fight in and then also today when we were in rehearsal you wanted, there was a joke that you wanted played with a different tone. We were trying to get it to go up and up, an escalation and you were like, “I want the pause before and after.” You stood up for yourself, which I love, and how did that feel? How did that feel to go, “Okay, I really would like it this way.”
Aaron: For most things, like minor interpretations that aren’t exactly what I thought, I don’t like people who are Nazis about that sort of thing. It’s really obnoxious. For the most part, I was just, ‘It’s great.’ But something about it, it just seemed like it was kind of rushed, and I felt like if I were watching something I think the pause will, the laughter will be more. Because it rushes so fast I felt like I didn’t really… I knew what it was going to be because I’d written it, obviously, but I didn’t really feel like it was going to be caught as well unless there was a pause for emphasis on it. I didn’t read a book or something that told me that. It was just kind of what I thought.
Lindsay: No, it’s just your instinct, right?
Lindsay: You know what? I have to say, there are some things you can’t really learn from books, and I think instinct is really one of them. I think it’s really important because a lot of, particularly writers just starting out, they can get really bombarded and sort of pushed in way to change another, and that’s why… When Dwayne was, he got a lot of different “You should do this, you should do this, you should do this.” At some point it’s like there’s a difference between offering an opinion about a play and saying, “You should change and do it this way.”
Aaron: Everybody who’s creative or does things that are creative, like write or paint or anything, everybody has a different idea of how to do things. That’s what really so great about creativity. Sometimes, like my idea for his play might have been in his original vision, which is the most important obviously because it’s his play, might contrast but it’s good to hear, for me at least, to hear alternating opinions. Like my original play, not this one but the other one, there’s this guy I know. He’s very… I knew that he would give me a criticism of my play that might have been too harsh, but I went to him anyway because I wanted to hear what he had to say. He’s a nice guy and everything but I knew that he was going to give me a really harsh criticism, not a mean criticism but a very straight up. I like it because even though I didn’t agree with everything that he was saying, I just wanted a different view on it.
Lindsay: Yes. It’s really important. You can’t send a play out into the world not… The plays going to be viewed by, best case scenario, by hundreds, thousands of people, and all of those people have differing opinions. And if you only know your own opinion, then you’re not putting the play forward.
Aaron: And you don’t want to put out messages that you don’t want your play to be associated with. Obviously mine in this case was a very straight forward piece. There’s really no way I think you could misinterpret it.
Lindsay: I think it’s very clearly laid out.
Aaron: Very clearly laid out. But some plays, which you wouldn’t want to give only one opinion on it. You might be making a play talking about how horrible something like let’s say racism is but then the way you present is off so when people see it they think it supports racism.
Lindsay: Right. And if you hadn’t got that offering of opinion…
Aaron: And if you hadn’t got that then people think you’re a horrible person and they might not appreciate the work for how much it’s worth.
Lindsay: So how do you handle criticism when it comes your way? For your artistic stuff.
Aaron: For my artistic stuff, usually people I ask they give me constructive criticism. They don’t give me, “That was horrible. Go do math.” I usually take it… It kind of just depends to me, it kind of depends on the person and it kind of depends on what I have in mind. Like if they gave me a suggestion which I liked but I totally think would not work for the play, sometimes people will give me comedy suggestions which are, sometimes I’ll think, wow. That’s great. I’ll have to put this into my play, and there are some where as funny as that is, it’s going to derail. I can remember I was telling somebody about the thumb-biting scene, which was a discussion with somebody else resulted in that idea. I was talking to somebody and what if they bit his thumb off? Because in the scene one character bites another character’s thumb. I’m like in certain comedies, if done right, that would have been hilarious but would have completely derailed what I was trying to do. There’s a straight dialogue scene after and it’s hard to deliver straight dialogue with you…
Lindsay: With a guy with no thumb.
Lindsay: For sure. So are you nervous?
Aaron: A little bit. I am very confident in my actors and in the way it’s done. I have no worries about the play. I’m just kind of, I’m interested in seeing what the reception is. There’s that part of me which is concerned because I believe there is one winner chosen out of the three, correct?
Lindsay: Is there? I have no… I don’t know.
Aaron: I think so. I remember last year there was.
Aaron: A part of me is ‘I want to win’, but I think to a certain extent I already have won in many ways because even if I don’t win, which is obviously perfectly fine, I’ve seen one of my own works produced. I had the chance to come out here and do this. Only 3 out of 14 people got it.
Lindsay: There was more than that. There was like 20.
Aaron: I was lucky enough to get a spot in that, so I feel like worst case scenario I’ve already got the wonderful finished product.
Lindsay: And you have this experience of what it’s like to get a script, get feedback, make those revisions but still thinking about staying true to your vision and have people say it out loud and actually perform it and then get an audience reaction. You are a playwright now.
Aaron: Yes. And it gives you a kind of a taste, I think, too of what the reality is of it and what the benefit is of it. Because it’s easy in almost any artistic thing to just go, have this really idealistic portrait – I’m a playwright, I’ve got this image in my head, I’m going to write it down and it’s going to be produced perfectly the exact way I imagined it and everybody’s going to love it because everybody sees the things the same way I do.
Lindsay: Because everyone’s in my head.
Aaron: Because everyone knows how much of a genius I am. But you’ve got to face the reality – my thing isn’t perfect. Most playwrights, I’m sure, don’t think that their thing is perfect.
Aaron: More harsh than anybody else.
Lindsay: It’s never finished sometimes. You’re never finished. You’re never satisfied.
Aaron: You’ve got to know when to let it go. But it also gives you the thing of I’m hearing this read by somebody and they’re laughing and the audience is laughing. It’s really been a great experience and I’d like to continue writing for the stage in the future for other things.
Lindsay: Cool. When I knew that playwriting was for me was the very first play and I sat in the back of a theatre and I sat on the floor because it was kind of like this where there were just chairs like that, and I was hearing the audience reaction. It was just like, “Oh! That’s cool.” I love laughter but then I also love that when no one is moving, when it’s just dead silence. They’re not shifting and they’re not thinking.
Aaron: That, in my opinion, when you can make your audience cry, I think is more of a, I would think, a payoff than making them laugh because if a guy walks in in a clown suit, you laugh.
Lindsay: Somebody’s going to laugh.
Aaron: Somebody’s going to laugh just because there’s comedy. Comedy is great. I wrote one. I love it. But to make somebody cry they have to be emotionally invested in it, they have to take it seriously, they have to understand the circumstances. And that, in my opinion, is much more audience involvement than just laughter.
Lindsay: There you go. There’s your next play.
Lindsay: You have to think about that drama and how they’re going to cry.
Aaron: The sequel.
Lindsay: The sequel, yes, where Eddie is still sitting there…
Aaron: And Sophocles visits him.
Lindsay: That’s right. Alright. Awesome. Thank you very much, Aaron.
Aaron: It’s going to be great.
Lindsay: I think that it is going to be great. I think your actors are, we chose well.
Aaron: We chose very well. I’m very, very proud of them.
Lindsay: Yes. Me, too. They worked their butts off this morning so it’s all going to be good.
Lindsay: Awesome. Thanks.
Aaron: Thank you.
Lindsay: So after our talk, we went right into the Playworks performance where All’s Well That Pays Well was the very last play to be performed. We had to sit through all the other plays, on top of that some short film winners and a readers’ theatre performance before getting to Aaron’s play. I have to say it rocked the house. The audience loved it. There was laughter from beginning to end. It was awesome. And I was so pleased, so happy for Aaron. He was thrilled. It just couldn’t have gone better. Just what a great experience. That’s where we’re going to end. That’s it. That’s all. Take care, my friends. Take care.